Veterinarians have estimated that more than 88 million pets are far too heavy and this tendency towards chubbiness is causing injuries, illnesses and even shortening life spans. Unfortunately, there is a serious disconnection between what veterinarians tell owners and what the owners see in their pets.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) surveys veterinarians and owners each year to find just how overweight our pets are. Recent surveys have shown that 53% of dogs and 55% of cats are classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarians, but 15 to 22% of owners see those same pets as normal weight! In the words of APOP founder, Dr. Ernie Ward, pet owners have now normalized obesity and made fat pets the new normal.
What’s even worse is that despite veterinarians’ warnings, the numbers of fat pets continues to grow. In recent years, pets classified as obese (greater than 30% above normal body weight) have increased after each survey. This means that more and more pets are at higher risk for a variety of weight related problems.
Carrying excess pounds can cause pets to develop breathing problems, kidney disease and aggravate arthritis. Cats are extremely prone to acquiring Type 2 diabetes when they are overweight and any anesthetic procedure for your pet is automatically more of a risk because of increased body fat.
Above all, excess weight will shorten a pet’s lifespan. A landmark study has shown that pets who intake a limited amount of calories actually live almost two years longer than pets without calorie restriction.
Pet owners are the major gateway to both preventing our pets from becoming obese and in helping them lose the excess fat. After all, it’s the owner who controls the pet’s access to all foods!
So, if your veterinarian has diagnosed your pet as overweight, first, don’t despair. Your veterinarian is happy to develop a plan that will safely and effectively lose the extra pounds. Next, use tools like a Body Condition Score chart http://www.hillspet.com/weight-management/pet-weight-score.html to more fully understand what an overweight pet looks like.
Involve your whole family in the pet’s weight loss process. Assign one person to be the pet’s primary feeder and make sure that no one else in the family is providing non-approved treats or snacks on the side. It may not seem like much, but even a couple of dog biscuits each day can add an extra 50-100 calories. That’s almost 25% of a small dog’s total daily requirement!
For obease pets, your veterinarian will recommend a prescription weight reducing diet for your pet. Although you might be tempted to continue feeding the previous brand of food at smaller portions, this practice could actually lead to nutritional deficiencies. Reduction diets are specially formulated to provide the right amount of all nutrients while still limiting the amount of calories.
You may need to change your pet’s feeding schedule too. Most pet owners leave food out for their pets all day (free choice feeding) and that often leads to the obesity problem or they only feed a large amount once a day. By feeding a the right amount twice or even three times a day, you can actually help your pet lose more weight.
Increasing your pet’s exercise is also a crucial component to weight loss. Once your veterinarian gives the okay, try to work up to two 20 minute walks per day or even one hour long walk. The extra benefit is the positive effects on your health also!
For cats use kitty toys to encourage play and movement. Teasers on strings and even laser pointers can keep your cat moving and a couple of twenty minute sessions each day will help your feline burn more calories.
Once you have started the process, your veterinarian will want to see you for regular weigh-ins and consultations to make sure you are meeting goals and adjusting as needed. .
This is a serious issue and has proven affect on longevity. We all want our pets to be with us for as long as possible, so helping them lose excess weight is just one way we can help make that happen! More
According to veterinary experts, each year hundreds of thousands of our canine and feline friends are exposed to dangerous poisons in the very place where they should be safe. From corrosive cleaning agents to supposedly healthy snacks, our homes can harbor a wide variety of potentially hazardous materials.
The Animal Poison Control Center of the ASPCA handles almost 200,000 calls every year from worried pet owners. Additionally, the Pet Poison Helpline reports their call center handles another 100,000 reports of animal poisonings annually. So, what are the problematic substances in our homes?
Both of these organizations show the number one reason for calls is human medications. From Tylenol, Advil and other over-the-counter products to prescription antidepressants, pain medications and heart pills, drugs meant for people find their way into our pets far too often. In some cases, sneaky pets will gobble up tablets dropped by their owners, but in many instances, these drugs are purposefully given to dogs or cats in a well meaning but wrong attempt to treat some illness or pain.
Human medications can and do cause serious problems for our pets. Their different metabolism and small sizes often means that a common drug like acetaminophen can be deadly. A single 500 mg Tylenol can actually kill a cat!
Next up on the list are products designed to help our pets, like popular flea medications and other insecticides. In general, the topical drops are very safe, but when used incorrectly, the consequences can be severe. Our feline friends are especially susceptible to the mis-use of these products and more than half of the calls to poison hotlines involve cats exposed to insecticides. Organophosphate products designed to protect plants from marauding insects are often involved in poisonings of both dogs and cats.
We have all heard that feeding “people food” to our pets can be problematic and the number of calls to both poison centers confirms it. Chocolate can cause serious heart arrhythmias, garlic and onion ingestion can lead to red blood cell abnormalities and the artificial sweetener, Xylitol®, has been implicated in liver failure and death in dogs. Even supposedly healthy foods aren’t necessarily safe. Macadamia nuts cause dogs to become weak and unable to walk and grapes and raisins will create kidney failure in some dogs. Unfortunately, the exact reason why this happens is not known.
Beyond these very common items, household cleansers, automotive products, rodenticides, dietary supplements and even veterinary drugs also have a strong potential for problems.
Pet owners can protect their four legged friends by following a few common sense rules.
First, we are accustomed to “baby-proofing” our homes, why not consider “pet-proofing” it as well? Make sure that any potentially dangerous chemical is safely secured behind closed or even locked doors. Antifreeze, kitchen and bath cleansers and drain products need to be kept out of a pet’s reach and spills should be cleaned up immediately.
Next, any medication, human or veterinary, should be kept in a medicine cabinet or area where a pet will not have access. If you are worried about dropping pills, take your medicine in the bathroom with your pets locked on the outside!
Never give your pets any medication unless ordered by your pet’s veterinarian. As mentioned above, the wrong dosage or even a seemingly safe human drug can be deadly to your pet. Always check with your veterinarian, not the Internet, whenever you have questions about medications your pet is receiving.
Finally, take action if you suspect your dog or cat has ingested something harmful. Calling your veterinarian or an accredited veterinary organization should be the first step. Both the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center and Pet Poison Helpline have call centers open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These specialists can help you decide if your pet needs immediate veterinary attention or if it’s okay to wait. Each group charges a small fee, but isn’t that a tiny price to pay for peace of mind and your pet’s well-being? More
Pets are important and cherished parts of our family lives. After all, where else can a person find such unconditional love and affection as well as the scientifically proven emotional connection we call the human-animal bond? Yet, despite this powerful relationship, animal shelters and rescues are still inundated annually with millions of dogs, cats and other pets that are relinquished for a wide variety of reasons. So, how can we help make sure pets find a “forever home”?
Most people can understand that our animal friends need an appropriate diet, fresh water and necessary veterinary care. But, many fail to see that there are other, less tangible needs that should be addressed if our pets are going to remain in our homes.
In other words, are we first making good decisions when bringing a new pet into our family and then, are we providing the mental, grooming and behavioral requirements of our pets to have a rich life?
The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) spent one year in 12 selected animal shelters across the United States to find out why pet owners give up their pets. Of the 2000 canines sent to shelters, more than 45% of owners cited some sort of behavior issue as one of the reason for relinquishing their dogs. For the almost 1400 felines, human and personal issues (allergies, no time for the pet, new baby, etc) were the most common reasons for surrender.
“The biggest problem we see with dogs is the unruly, untrained adolescent animal who has become too much of a handful for the family,” says Dr. Martha Smith, Vice-President of Animal Welfare at the Animal Rescue League of Boston. “We spend significant time and energy giving these dogs some basic obedience training and that helps with their adoptability, getting them into a loving home more quickly.”
The NCPPSP study confirmed Dr. Smith’s comments. Almost 50% of the dogs relinquished were between 5 months and 3 years of age and 96% of them had not received any obedience training. In addition, 33% of the dogs and more than 46% of the cats surrendered had not been to a veterinarian.
What can we learn from this in order to be better pet owners and make a real difference in the numbers of pets in shelters?
The first step is to completely understand all of the needs of the pet you want to adopt and then make a proper selection. Highly active dog breeds, like Australian Shepherds or Irish Setters, may not be suited for a life in a city apartment. Similarly, an older cat could be less tolerant of very young children and be likely to nip or scratch.
Next, be careful if you decide to adopt a “free” dog or cat advertised locally or one from a friend. While the pet may be free, there will still be a variety of on-going expenses. These include good food, vaccinations, parasite prevention and even grooming. Some may have more involved issues and it is the responsibility of the adopting family to provide proper care.
Good behavior/training and mental stimulation (or environmental enrichment) is often ignored. There’s an old adage that a tired dog is a good dog and owners should always find time for interaction and play with their canine friends. The same is true for cats.
Finally, pet owners should always be prepared for some sort of animal emergency. Traumatic injuries and serious illnesses are common occurrences and, sadly, many owners will either surrender the pet to a shelter or euthanize this beloved family member simply because of the cost. Plan for these emergencies and major illnesses in advance with a pet health savings plan or a well-researched pet insurance policy. People who use their pet health insurance policy say they could not live without it. Such policies will often times save the life of your best friend.
Your veterinarian is a perfect source of advice on any of these topics. The whole veterinary team wants to see your family stay together, including all of the furry, four legged members. Working with your veterinarian and making good decisions can help you become a truly dedicated and responsible pet owner – and that’s best for everyone More
From simple heartworm tests to complex, multi-parameter chemistry profiles, blood screenings are a vital tool in your veterinarian’s arsenal for finding and treating many different diseases. Whether your pet is in the hospital because he is sick or because she needs surgery, many veterinary clinics can now decide what lab work is needed and run those tests immediately.
Not only is this type of diagnostic assessment helpful with sick pets, but our healthy animals are benefiting as well. Early signs of many different illnesses will first show up in a blood profile, long before any outward, clinical symptoms are seen.
Historically, veterinarians have used large reference laboratories to process their patients’ samples, but in recent years, counter top and “point of care” instruments have surged in popularity. One main reason is that veterinarians can now have answers to your pet’s problems in minutes, rather than hours. That, of course, helps the doctor make crucial medical decisions and possibly start treatment earlier.
Another reason for the success of in house blood analyzers is that the sophisticated automation and equipment have helped minimize errors that plagued early attempts. Companies like Heska, Abaxis, Idexx and others have developed compact devices that use patented technology and modern optical scanners to reliably provide results in urgent situations.
So, now that your veterinarian can do these tests in the clinic, what exactly is he or she looking for?
Whether your pet is sick, needs some sort of anesthetic procedure or maybe just a senior check up, the most common set of blood work will involve a complete blood count (CBC) and a chemistry profile. Depending on symptoms and the patient’s overall status, the chemistry panel may just cover a few key parameters or it may be all inclusive.
CBCs are a measure of the different types and numbers of cells in the blood. Patients who have too few red blood cells are considered anemic and may have difficulty delivering precious oxygen to the body’s tissues. White blood cells are the microbial defenders of the pet. These soldier cells patrol the body and attack invading bacteria, viruses and other foreign organisms. When a CBC shows a high white count, your veterinarian may be concerned about some sort of active infection. Conversely, low white blood cell counts could mean the cells are depleted from a chronic infection or, in the case of puppies and kittens, could be a sign of a parvovirus.
Chemistry panels will look at key enzymes and metabolic products to determine the health of internal organs. Everyone understands that a high glucose level on a chemistry panel probably indicates a diabetic animal, but less well known are indicators like Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP), Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN), Creatinine and about two dozen others. Veterinarians can identify kidney disease, liver disease and many issues, including some cancers, from these key components of a pet’s blood work.
Combined with the pet’s symptoms, environment and other factors, your pet’s doctor will use the results of blood work run in their clinic to give you an accurate diagnosis. When you get the results, avoid the temptation to consult Dr.Google. It is possible to find some good information, however, without a complete picture, some well meaning, but un-informed individuals online may lead you to question your veterinarian’s findings.
It’s important to know that some specific or special testing will still need to be sent to reference laboratories. In either case, diagnostic blood work is a powerful tool to help your veterinarian take the best possible care of your pet. That gives you peace of mind and a better understanding of your pet’s health and provides vital information for any future medical needs. More
Our pets depend on us to keep them properly fed and in the best health. But for most pet owners, the overabundance of different types of pet foods as well as the enormous number of brand names is often overwhelming. Then, Internet chat rooms and forums are simply full of a wide variety of opinions on what is the “best” pet food. How can the average pet owner make the best decision when it comes to feeding their pets?
Thankfully, there are experts in the area of pet nutrition. Diplomates from the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (acvn.org) are specialists whose focus is the advancement of veterinary nutrition. Put another way, these knowledgeable veterinarians know what makes a good pet food!
Dr. John Bauer, a veterinary nutritionist with the Texas A&M University, College of Veterinary Medicine says, “When it comes to choosing a diet for your pet, the first thing to think about is the life stage. Is it a young, growing puppy or kitten or is it a mature adult trying to maintain body size?”
In other words, puppies and kittens have different nutritional requirements than adult dogs and cats or even senior pets. So, a food that is adequate for all life stages may actually have too much of certain nutrients for some geriatric pets. One way to determine if your pet’s food is meant for all life stages is to look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the bag. If the nutritional adequacy statement reads “complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages”, then pet owners know that the food has enough nutrition for pregnancy, lactation, growth and maintenance. If the label states “complete and balanced for adult maintenance”, this food is appropriate for adult pets only and not young, growing animals.
“Another important thing to look for is whether or not the food has undergone feeding trials,” adds Dr. Bauer. Again, the AAFCO statement is helpful. Foods that have been fed to animals prior to marketing to consumers will have a statement similar to “AAFCO animal feeding trials substantiate…” or “Feeding trials show…”. This is a good sign that the company has invested in the due diligence to make sure pets willingly accept the diet and stay healthy on it.
Foods can also be created to meet specific guidelines. If the bag of food simply states that “Brand X is formulated to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles”, then the food was not fed in any regulated manner to animals prior to its delivery to store shelves. Although this does not mean that the food is poor quality or even bad, most pet owners would prefer that their pets are eating a food that has proven to do well for other animals.
Finally, the reputation of the company making the food is an important consideration for pet owners. Does the manufacturer use a veterinary nutritionist to help develop and maintain the diets or is the food one that just has a celebrity endorsement? Does the company engage in beneficial nutritional research or do they simply follow the most recent dietary fad?
Although the Internet is full of opinions and folklore about pet foods, the best source of nutrition information will come from your veterinarian. He or she not only has the needed schooling to help you understand your pet’s dietary needs, but many veterinarians will also attend continuing education lectures to keep up to date with the latest advances in animal nutrition. In addition, your veterinarian understands your pet’s unique needs and any specific concerns you might have about pet foods. Anonymous strangers in online chat rooms or forums simply won’t have that knowledge or the same level of concern. More