Tag Archives: pet health

Lameness In Cats

My kitty tMonday cat has a flatook a tumble.  It’s certainly not the first time she made a misstep or that she has fallen off the stairs. But a fall for a cat of fifteen is not the same as it is for a cat of five. And although at first Morwen seemed fine and hopped back up immediately and started back up the stairs swatting the offensive kitten who caused her fall, later that night I noticed she was limping on her right hind leg and stopping to rest after a few steps.

The next morning, I took her to the veterinarian who poked and prodded and then recommended x-rays. She found signs of osteoarthritis in Morwen’s hips (not unexpected for a kitty her age,) but no signs of breaks or muscle tears. When Morwen wasn’t better in another week, an MRI and bloodwork were taken – again showing no issues beyond the general wear and tear you’d expect on a kitty of fifteen. Having ruled out more serious conditions like renal disease, Diabetes, and tumors, was well as a muscle tear or break, the vet recommended ‘bed rest’ and gave her Metacam for pain.

Now Morwen is on a long road to recovery that, given her age, may take a few weeks’ (or even a few months’ ) time. Cats are not great fans of ‘sitting still.’ So Morwen is now confined to a very small room with stairs that allow her to move from the bed to floor without jumping and a large pillow placed so that she has a good view of the bird feeder.

Lameness in cats can have many causes and, although I had seen Morwen fall, we did full blood work to rule out issues like Diabetes and renal failure. X-rays, in addition to detecting things like breaks and even severe tears, can also be used to look for tumors or even a thrombosis – both causes for concern with lameness comes into play suddenly.

pet emergencyMorwen’s sprain/muscle strain is complicated by underlying osteoarthritis which, before her fall, wasn’t noticeable. True, Morwen uses the ‘kitty stairs’ rather than jumping more than she did in the past, but she never openly limped even during cold or wet weather like my Maine Coon, Tig. Maine Coons are genetically prone bone and joint conditions and Tig, who could stand to lose a few pounds, has been on preventative glucosamine/chrondrotin supplements for years. She also makes ready use of the sets of stairs I installed years ago for my geriatric cocker-spaniel, Lady, who has, long since crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

Morwen, compared to Tig, is positively spry even though they are only a year apart in age – Tig being the elder. But a muscle sprain (or worse a tear) can take more time to heal than even a break. This is as true in pets as it is in humans. Morwen’s sprain (and the x-rays and MRI its diagnosis required) brought to light the beginnings of osteoarthritis which, now, we can deal with using preventative care.

Osteoarthritis is caused by the gradual breakdown of the protective cartilage that covers the ends of the joints. There is no real cure for this progressive disease—although there are several ways to slow its progress. Approximately 25-30% of family pets suffer from osteoarthritis and it is relatively common in the human population as well.  his particular form of arthritis is usually seen in older cats (and dogs,) but can occur in middle-aged animals that are highly active. Obesity in pets is often a contributing factor and some breeds of cats and dogs are genetically predisposed to this condition.

Morwen is now on an ongoing regime of glucosamine and chondroitin, as well as VETiONX® Promaxol™ for pain management. I also switched her senior care pet food to a brand with a higher amount of Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids, as well as glucosamine, and invested in a pet massager with a heating option. Morwen is already a fan of her pet heating pad, and, for the next month or so, has bi-weekly laser therapy sessions scheduled at the vet.

cat friendsSince NSAIDS are dangerous for cats, heat therapy is a great alternative for cats with pain management issues.  Morwen already had a heated bed, but I have purchased a heating pad to put under her favorite perch as well as a heated disc (that can be re-heated in the microwave and slipped under her when she isn’t sitting near an electrical outlet). I’ve also added heated massage to her therapy and laser therapy, as well installing a few additional pet steps so that Morwen can more easily reach the beds and window sills.

While my cocker-spaniel, Lady was recovering from her ACL injury, she used water therapy. But water therapy isn’t usually an option for most cats although my Maine Coon, Tig, enjoys swimming. I would highly recommend it for water-loving cats (There are a few!) as well as dogs since it allows pets with diminished mobility to exercise and reduces stress on the joints.

Although Morwen isn’t a candidate for surgery, cats suffering from secondary (traumatic) arthritis can sometimes benefit from surgery and more aggressive treatment. Traumatic arthritis is caused by trauma to the joint and chronic sprains. Cats involved in severe falls or car accidents often suffer this type of arthritis. X-rays and MRIs can identify  arthritis of this type. It is usually treated using heat and water therapy, massage, and glucosamine and chondrotin, as well as arthroplasty procedures, such as hip replacements. Arthrodesis or permanently freezing of a joint is sometimes used when a joint is particularly unstable. Your vet can provide you with a range of options depending on your pet’s type of arthritis, age, and activity.

Although the prognosis for cats with joint disease is good, in most situations you can expect to see a slow progression of the disease with time. This is especially true with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, a rare autoimmune condition in cats that can strike at any age and causes degeneration in the joints and tissues. Symptoms for all types of arthritis include:  reduced motion, limping or favoring one side of the body, general lethargy, fever, loss of appetite, and reluctance to climb and jump.  If your cat is not very active, then it may be very difficult to evaluate lessened activity. Morwen has always been very active cat and her change in activity was noticeable. Some of my other kitties (I’m looking at you, Tig!) are much less active—literally lying on cushions for hours and mewing when moved—so diagnosing a decrease in activity would be very difficult in their cases.

If you have an older pet, your vet will usually include a joint assessment during his (or her) geriatric check-up. But, like Morwen, your pet may hide their condition until something more traumatic, like a fall, makes it evident. Cats are notorious for hiding their pain, unlike dogs who will usually seek out their owners to let them know something is wrong. If there is any change in your cat’s behavior for more than a day or two, it is always best to visit your veterinarian. Hiding under beds or in closets, seeking out dark places, or refusing to socialize with other pets could be a sign that your cat is feeling under the weather. Any indication of pain in a pet should not be ignored.

feral care5Arthritis, though less common in cats than in dogs, is a growing problem as our pets live longer lives.  Just as arthritis is more common in older humans, it also develops more frequently in older pets. So, if you have an older cat (or dog,) keep a sharp eye for changes in their behavior. Make sure that they stay slim—no easy task.  And you might want to start them on glucosamine and chondrotin supplements on a lesser preventive dose just in case.

No one likes to think that their pet is getting older, but your pet can grow old with grace, and, hopefully, with proper care, live a long life with relatively few health problems.


Good News For FIV+ Kitties And Those Who Love Them

cat wellnessFinally, some good news for FIV  (the feline immunodeficiency virus) positive kitties and those who love them:  Dr. Annette L. Litster of Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine conducted a long-term study which shows that FIV+ cats can live with negative kitties without infecting them and that mothers infected with FIV do not pass their virus on to their kittens.

This is big news to shelters and many veterinarians who regularly recommend infected cats be killed, but not for those who love and care for FIV+ kitties. Even those shelters who do accept special care kitties like those with FIV often recommend that they only be adopted into homes with other positive kitties or that they be the ‘single’ cat for a family. This study clearly shows that there’s no need for these precautions.

As someone who has cared for a FIV+ kitty for many years and whose vet not only deals regularly with FIV+ kitties, but has one of her own, I can bear out the truth in these numbers. Not only have I never personally seen a FIV+ cat pass their infection on to another cat through day-to-day space sharing and interactions, but I’ve never heard of it being done from anyone else who cares for these cats. FIV is hard to transmit. Infection is primarily confined to male, free-roaming cats who fight and is transmitted through deep bites. Casual “play” bites that you see from cats who are housemates do not lead to infection. FIV is not spread by sharing food dishes, grooming, or other close interactions.

Although the two are often confused, FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) is a very different disease from FeLV (feline leukemia virus) which is easily transmitted through casual contact. These two diseases are retroviruses. Both affect the immune system, but the feline immunodeficiency virus does not easily cross the mucous membranes. This means that a cat can’t catch FIV through things like sharing a water dish or grooming another kitty.

FIV kitties can, but don’t always, require extra care. Basically, a FIV+ cat has a compromised immune system. That can mean that they catch things like colds more easily, but it doesn’t always. I’ve known FIV+ kitties who have lived very long lives (18+ years) without any complications. FIV+ cats need to avoid stress and have a healthy diet and exercise (as do all kitties). They can be prone to respiratory and gastrointestinal issues, as well as dental health issues so they need regular teeth cleanings. But their overall health risk is no greater than that of certain breeds of cats with genetic predispositions to certain illnesses. Best Friends Animal Society, who has a great deal of experience with special needs cats of all kinds, has recommended mixed households with FIV+ and negative kitties for many years.

Hopefully, these new and highly-publicized findings will make the world brighter for kitties with FIV and give them the same chance of adoption as other cats. So if you fall in love with an FIV+ kitty at a shelter or a cat that you are caring for tests positive, please don’t hesitate to give them a home with your other cats. And please spread the word that FIV+ kitties deserve a chance to live to your friends, family, and other cat-care providers!


So Your Cat Has A Heart Murmur

cat wellnessThere’s probably nothing more frightening for a pet owner than hearing that little “humpf” from their veterinarian while they’re listening to their kitty’s heart. But just because your cat has a heart murmur doesn’t mean that something is seriously wrong with your cat. Heart murmurs are common in cats of all ages and something that vets encounter on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

Simply put, a heart murmur is just an out of the normal sound heard through a stethoscope. They’re the result of turbulent blood flow which can be caused by a lot of reasons including fear and stress. So that instead of producing the normal “lub-dub” sound that your kitty’s (and your own) heart normally makes, a heart murmur will have a whooshing sound that some vets refer to as being “sloushy.”

Heart murmurs in cats are graded on a scale one to six. A grade one murmur can barely be heard even with a stethoscope and can be very hard to detect. The grade six murmur is the easiest to detect and can sometimes be so loud that it obscures normal heart sounds. With severe heart murmurs, you can feel the murmur through your kitty’s chest.

Heart murmurs are very common in cats. Many are undiagnosed and maybe as many as one third of cats may have this condition. Although a murmur may signify a problem with the heart or its blood vessels, around half the cats diagnosed with a heart murmur don’t have any underlying heart disease, and many of those who do may not develop symptoms.

The turbulent blood flow that causes a murmur is usually caused by a structural defect in the heart.  In younger cats, it could be a congenital condition, a defect with which they were born.  In older cats, it is usually a defect that they acquired over time.

Unfortunately, sometimes kitties with heart disease show no signs of illness. That’s why it’s important to investigate a heart murmur or any signs of illness in your cat.  The problem with murmurs, especially low scale ones, is that they can come and go. You vet may hear one during an exam, but not on a recheck or even a few minutes later. Murmurs are easiest to notice when a cat is stressed and their heart rate is elevated, but may be gone a few minutes later when a cat has calmed down. Some kittens may have a heart murmur when they’re first seen for testing which may disappear over time. But with older cats, it can be harder to determine just what a murmur may mean.

On its own, a heart murmur is not a reliable indicator of heart disease and can be found in sometimes even in healthy cats. If the murmur does not appear to be due to a functional problem, your kitty may not need any treatment. But depending on your cat’s age, the grade of the murmur or other symptoms, your vet may want to do some extra testing.

If your kitty has other signs of illness like as weight loss, poor appetite, vomiting, or increased thirst, your vet will likely recommend a blood profile and/or a series of x-rays and echocardiogram to help determine if your cat has a non-heart-related problem that may be causing the murmur. A predisposition for heart conditions are hereditary in some breeds like Maine Coons, British Shorthairs, Ragdolls, Rex and Persian cats, but the disease can also affect other breeds including mixed breed kitties.

If you see any of these signs of illness in your kitty or if your vet detects a heart murmur, it’s always best to check it out with additional testing. Signs of heart disease in cats include:

  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain and inability to walk on the hind legs caused by thromboembolisms, a type of blood clots. One of the first noticeable signs of thromboembolisms in some cats is weakness or inability to walk on the hind legs.
  • Depression, fainting, or weakness
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss or gain/swollen abdomen
  • Restlessness

Most heart murmurs are identified during routine checkups and many healthy cats with a heart murmur never develop any problems with the heart’s function. Even kitties with a mild heart condition may never develop symptoms. Cats with mild cardiomyopathy may not need any initial treatment although in time they may need beta-blocker medications and other vitamins and supplements.

Remember a heart murmur doesn’t necessarily mean that your furry friend is doomed. And even if they are determined to have an underlying heart condition, there are still plenty of things your vet can do to help your kitty live as healthy and long a life as possible. So if you do hear this diagnosis, don’t stress. Get the facts, investigate, and help your vet make sure that your kitty has the best care possible.

Help Your Pet Beat The Summer Heat

Summer is a great time to bond with your pet. Long summer drives, time spent in the park, hiking, gardening, and even taking a few pet-friendly road trips. But the summer months can also be dangerous for pets (and people). Here are a few tips to help your pet beat the heat this summer.

Keep An Eye On the Thermometer And Watch The Heat Indexresting2

Extreme humidity can be as dangerous heat to pets. Since animals pant to cool themselves (instead of sweating,) high humidity can prevent them from cooling down. If you suspect your pet has heat stroke, get them into a cool area immediately, apply cold towels or ice packs to their head, neck and chest, give them small amounts of cool water to drink, and take them to a veterinarian. Pets with short muzzles are particularly prone to heat stroke.

Practice Summer Style

Pets are just as susceptible to sunburn as you are – especially light breed dogs. Fur is one of the ways that pets protect themselves from winter’s cold and the dangers of extreme sunlight. So if you do shave your pet in the summer, please be sure to leave enough fur to protect them from the summer sun. There are some pet-safe sunscreens on the market if you and your dog plan to hit the beach this summer. My favorite is Petkin’s Doggy Sunstick, but there are many other good all-natural products available.

Spent Some Time In The Shade

If you plan to spend the day outdoors, be sure to take time in the shade. Whether you’re running, playing, or just hanging out at the beach, your dog (and you) could benefit from some time out of the sun, as well as some fresh, cold water. Be sure to pack plenty of water (and ice) for you and your furry friend along with your sunblock. If you’re packing a picnic or lunch to go, consider a frozen treat for your pet like Frosty Paws or DIY peanut butter popsicles for dogs.

Be aware that many products that are safe for dogs and even for horses are not safe for other pets, like cats. So be sure to read carefully. This goes for sunscreens as well as products like flea and tick repellent.

Don’t Let Summer Storms Get You Down

Be ready for summer weather. Summer storms can put a real damper on summer fun – especially if your A/C goes down during a heat index warning or if you live in areas prone to flooding. Have a pet emergency plan in place just in case.

Pets And Parked Cars Don’t Mix

Never leave your pet in a parked car under any circumstances – even with the air conditioning running for a few minutes. On an 85-degree day the temperature inside a car with the windows opened slightly can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, the temperature will reach 120 degrees.

If you see a pet trapped in a locked car, get help immediately. Call your local police department’s non-emergency number and/or animal control, and wait by the car until they arrive. If you have bottled water, you may be able to help the pet if the window is cracked and they are in distress. Some states do now allow police, animal control officers, and good Samaritans to break car windows to save pets.

Remember that even though the summer can be a fun time, it can also be very stressful for pets. Your pet may have a tendency to “overdo” summer fun so it’s up to you to make sure they stay safe. Have a great summer and please be sure to check out the resources below for more information.


Humane Society of the US: http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/pets_safe_heat_wave.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

ASPCA: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/hot-weather-tips

Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/pet-safety/protecting-pets-from-heat

Pat the Cat

Pat the Cat It was a dark and stormy night—one of those early autumn thunderstorms that rattles the eaves and deposits a hundred stray branches in my yard.  A wet and noisy night that sends cats scurrying to the basement to hide under the pool table or to form shaky little cat-lumps under the bed-comforter.  Thunderstorms were always Lady’s great fear—the combination of thunderous booms with the occasional light show sent shivers through her little Cockerspaniel heart.  As for myself, I always worry that the lawn furniture will end up in the street and usually awake to find that one or two terracotta pots didn’t survive the night. 

 But, this particular night, silent due to storm-struck cats, I heard a tiny meow.  Peering out the window into the wet I thought I could see a small shape huddled on my doorstep. After opening the door slowly so as not to scare her, I found a dainty Maine Coone kitten holding up one wet paw.  Her collar says her name was Pat.  Pat the Cat—a nursery rhyme name if ever there was.  And, instead of running to the safety of the bushes, she promptly mews and steps slyly onto the living room carpet.

 I can tell right away that Pat is a cat who is used to the finer things.  She doesn’t like being picked up and locked in the garage.  She doesn’t like the plastic “guest cat” bowls into which I pour her kibble and water.  And, most of all, she doesn’t like being left alone while she hears me and my other cats just outside the door. 

 But, not knowing Pat or her vaccination history (or lack thereof,) I can’t risk bringing her inside with my other cats.  The garage is safe and warm and most importantly dry.  Though the garage may have a spider or two lurking in the rafters and few mole-crickets under the stored garden pots, it is a cat-friendly environment.  Pat will just have to get used it to for a few days until I hopefully locate her owners.  My ferocious quartet of divas sit pawing at Pat’s door and making hissing noises until I chase them upstairs.  There is an enemy in the house—no matter than she weighs only three pounds.

 Pat’s collar has a phone number and no address.  The phone number is, remarkably, from another town.  I call and leave a message.  And, hope that someone would return my call in the morning.  How could a kitten end up twenty miles from her home?  Was she stolen, transported by accident in a home delivery truck, or perhaps her people had just moved and haven’t had a chance to update her collar.  I am anxious to find out Pat’s story.  And, when I check on little Pat, I find her a little dusty, but contently curled up on an old blanket.  Her kibble has a good-sized dent in it and the toy mice and balls that I had left for her are scattered to the four corners of the garage.

 In the morning, there is still no answer from Pat’s number.  I check www.Petfinder.com  and call the local shelters to see if anyone had called about a missing Pat.  No posters in any of the three local vet’s offices, no word at the animal shelters, nothing online about Pat.  Surely, someone is looking for a tiny lost Maine Coon!  Her collar is dark blue leather with tiny silver rhinestones and a breakaway clasp.  Someone has made sure to add a reflective strip to keep Pat safe from cars.  And Pat is, herself, very fat and well-groomed.  Just from looking, you can tell that Pat is a very loved cat and one who hasn’t been on her own for long.  After drying out from the storm and polishing off her kibble, Pat makes sure to groom each of her paws–although she doesn’t seem to have mastered the art of cleaning her nose.  I watch her drink kitten-milk contently and look up with milk-rimmed whiskers.

 Pets are lost all the time.  My neighborhood is full of flyers with captions of Lost Dog and Lost Cat.  Occasionally, a Lost Parrot or Lost Gerbil adds themselves to the wanted boards and telephone poles on our streets.  My vet has a board devoted to notices for missing and found pets.  And, we have several in-city online sites devoted to finding lost animals. 

Still, despite their owners’ vigilance, many pets are never found.  They find new homes, they end up in shelters, and they sometimes meet with bad ends.  I’ve known pets who disappeared for months only to return home and some that despite their owners’ endless searching never reappeared.  I have, myself, taken in several found cats whose owners (if they had any) I was never able to locate.  I hope Pat isn’t one of these lost cats.  I hope that someone is searching for her and that they will very shortly have their pet back in their lives. 

After taking Pat (and a found cat poster) to the vet, I find that she is not microchipped.  No surprise there—most pets in my neighborhood are sans microchip.  The only microchipped pet in my neighbor, other than my own, that I know is Ryder—microchips are a requirement for pets that émigré to France, as my neighbor and her cat are planning to do.  Many countries in Europe now require microchips for pets along with other standard vaccinations as a prerequisite for admittance of pets from abroad.  This is not the case in the US, and most pets remain un-microchipped and unlikely to returned home if they are lost. 

 Lost pet sites advocate thinking of found animals as “lost” as opposed to “stray.” And, Pat certainly seems to fit that bill.  A gregarious little cat, I’m sure that on a sunny day she would’ve paraded up to the first human she saw and demanded help (and soft food).  Still, after three days, I can find no trace of Pat’s owners.  I continue to leave voice mail messages with no reply.  I email found cat posters to the shelters near Pat’s phone number and call the vets in her town.  Still no luck.  Pat continues her hiatus in my basement and my cats continue to grouse. 

Finally a full ten days from finding Pat, I receive a frantic phone call at work.  It is Pat’s owners—they want to know if I still have little Pat.  I tell them that I do and they arrange to pick up their kitty.  It turns out that they were on vacation and left Pat with a friend in my neighborhood.  How Pat has escaped or why her temporary sitter did not see her posters is a mystery.  But, Pat’s owners are so happy to have her back.  Pat practically jumps into their arms, purring and rolling, her little eyes fill with happiness.  Pat’s story, it seems, does have a happy ending.

 Still, Pat’s AWOL status has me worried.  How many Pats, I wonder, are there out there who never find their way home?  How many little kitties, dogs, lizards, and gerbils end up far from their owners?  Some probably find very good new homes.  Many are probably adopted by people who believe they are taking in a stray dog or cat.  After days, weeks, or months on their own, many cats and dogs (and certainly most house pets) have a scruffy appearance.  Lost cats and dogs are sometimes shy or aggressive and may seem feral to those that find them.  But, that doesn’t mean they are feral.  They may just be far from home, out-of-depth in a neighborhood that isn’t their own.  Without the familiar sites and sounds of home, some animals hide and others shiver and cower when people approach.  Although cowering or aggression responses can indicate abuse, in many animals they indicate only fear. 

 I worry about all these little furry souls out in a big, hostile world, where an outstretched hand could be a friend—or any enemy.  And, I’m not really sure what to do.  Pat’s owners may’ve begun checking shelters and websites if I hadn’t called, but they may’ve not known best how to find their kitty.  If they had been gone for a month instead of a week, Pat’s posters would have, most likely, been covered with the pictures of newer lost pets.  They may’ve never found their cat and never known whether she was safe and sound in a new home or lost in the wild. 

 It is heart wrenching to think of all the lost animals that are out there.  Every lost poster has a story behind it—a little girl without her tabby or a little boy searching for a beagle or an iguana.  These pets are loved and though they may find a new hearth and home, their loss leaves a hole in their first owners’ lives.   So, they next time you see a roaming dog or take in a lost cat, remember to check the lost pet sites.  Keep your eyes peeled for posters and make a few calls to shelters and local vets.  Check for missing animals not just in your town, but a few zip codes away as well.  You never know just how far an animal has traveled before finding his or her way to you.

Amazing journeys are real and some stories do have happy endings.  But, most of all be thankful for your own pets and mindful of their safety.  Even inside pets need collars.  Keep recent digital and hard copy photos of all your pets, as well as good vaccination records for identification purposes.  Think about microchipping—especially if your pets are sometimes outdoors.  And, make a list of places to look before you need them—hopefully you never will!

Give Your Dog Something to Smile About – Pet Dental Health

I brush my dog’s teeth everyday and she’s actually come to enjoy it.  True, it might have something to do with the chicken-flavored toothpaste, but regardless she opens her mouth whenever she sees me reach for her toothbrush.  For many years, doggy dental hygiene was a matter of snickers.  If my friends caught me brushing my dog’s teeth ten years ago, they’d laugh into their hands.  Now, they all have toothbrushes for their own dogs and most of them bring Fido in for more professional cleaning once or twice a year.

 The truth is that even with today’s greater awareness of the need for doggy dental care, veterinarians estimate that up to 85% of dogs older than four years suffer from some sort of periodontal disease.  Dogs can develop cavities, but they occur much more rarely than they do in humans since dogs consume less of the high-starch foods that cause tooth decay.  After all, you hardly ever see a dog munching a candy bar!  Gum disease, however, effects dogs frequently. 

 Dogs, just like humans, develop plaque.  Plaque, untreated, becomes tartar that irritates the gums.  Plaque can be removed by daily brushing, but tartar (that yellowy brown muck that settles on the teeth) must be removed by a veterinarian while your dog is anesthetized.  Untreated tartar eventually develops into gum disease and often results in tooth loss.  Symptoms of oral problems include bad breath, bleeding and/or discolored gums, and tooth loss. 

 Dogs with dental problems may drool or run fevers.  A gum infection is, after all, an infection.  Severe gum disease can significantly shorten your dog’s life.  If bacteria from gum disease invades the bloodstream, it can attack the heart, liver, and, kidneys.  Dogs accumulate tartar at different rates depending on breed, diet, and the acidity of their saliva.  Some dogs, just like some people, just have better teeth than others.

 There are plenty of things you can do to help your dog maintain healthy teeth.  Brushing your dog’s teeth daily is vital to preventing plaque buildup.  Most dogs enjoy you brushing their teeth—providing that you find a toothpaste that suits their taste.  Lady, my cocker spaniel, won’t tolerate peanutbutter or minty toothpaste.  But, if you offer her beef or chicken flavor, she opens wide.  My cats, on the other hand, only like malty flavors.  If you have multiple pets, it may take some time to find the toothpastes that they all enjoy.  Luckily, the market is full of choices. 

 Toothbrushes also come in a wide variety of sizes and styles.  My cats use a thumb-brush (Imagine a cross between a thimble and your toothbrush), but Lady uses a child-sized toothbrush.  There are many great dog and cat brushes on the market, but for larger dogs a child’s toothbrush with an angled head sometimes works best.  There are also dental wipes for cats and dogs that absolutely refuse to have a brush in their mouths, as well as dental chews.  I’ve found over the years that the earlier in life that you introduce your pet to a dental care routine, the easier daily dental care becomes.  But, even an older dog can learn new tricks—Lady had her first tooth brushing when I adopted her at the age of three and she’s had no problem adjusting.

 Many dog food companies have started making tartar-removing treats and foods that aid in dental hygiene.  Generally, these crunchy treats act as an abrasive, scraping off tartar.  While they aren’t enough to remove tartar and plaque alone, they definitely will aid in your dog’s dental health.  Dogs who consume hard food as their primary food source, instead of canned foods, generally have cleaner teeth.  Again, the abrasive action of hard foods helps remove plaque and tartar from your dog’s teeth.  The same rule applies to cats or any other small animal.  Even hard chew toys can help dislodge bacteria and plaque. 

 Most importantly, your dog should have regular dental check-ups starting from a young age.  Prevention is always the best course of action.  Most adult dogs need a professional cleaning once per year.  However, some dogs and cats may need cleanings as often as twice per year.  My cat Peppermint had habitually bad teeth and needed a professional tartar removal twice per year.  Her sibling, Licorice, needed a cleaning only once every year and a half.  After your pet’s first professional cleaning, watch for tartar and plaque accumulation.  You’ll be able to assess your pet’s need for professional tartar control.  Usually, your veterinarian will assess your pet’s dental health during their yearly check-up.

 Dental health in pets is a very serious matter.  Good dental health can prolong your pet’s life and general health.  You love your dog (or cat)—give them something to smile about!  Good dental health is the right thing to do and given time, your pet will even enjoy it.

Trimming Down Your Pet

I’m at the dog park with my dog, Lady. We’re watching a puppy being trained to sit. “Sit,” the owner commands. The puppy sits. Immediately, his little mouth flies open like a baby bird’s and the owner tosses in a tiny marrow filled treat. The puppy chews and stands. “Sit,” the owner says. The puppy’s mouth opens again.

 Now, Lady isn’t exactly a slender pooch, but she is well within her weight limit. Although she is older (thirteen in August), her cocker spaniel/retriever heritage has allowed her to keep off those extra age-related pounds. She still likes a good squirrel chase and enjoys her walks. My cat is another story. Lothario likes to sit on a cushion. He likes to move off the cushion to eat his high-protein kibble and then he likes to move onto another cushion. Lo doesn’t like exercise. He does like lying in the sun, eating treats, and mewing loudly when I try to move him off the comforter. It’s no wonder than he has packed on extra pounds over the years and now he is being forced to lose them. Our veterinarian recently put Lo on a high-protein diet. He was also prescribed laser-pointer runs twice per day. Lo was not pleased.

 It is estimated that between 25-40% of America’s pets are overweight. Obesity contributes to a decreased lifespan, digestive disorders, skin maladies, increased surgical risks, arthritic and joint problems, heart and liver failure, diabetes, heat stroke, and myriad other problems. Obesity is especially dangerous for older pets who already have increased health risks. Lowering you pet’s weight is one of the easiest ways to prolong your pet’s life and overall health. Weight loss and dietary changes, even after years of obesity, have tremendous health benefits.

 Pets, like people, are prone to weight gain for a variety of reasons. Aging, breed, and inherited low metabolisms all contribute to obesity. However, the underlying reason for overweight pets, regardless of the contributing factors, is too much food and not enough exercise. When your pet consumes more calories than he can burn from his daily exercise, he grows plumper. But, there is good news! Unlike you and me who can open the refrigerator and choose a sugary treat whenever our heart desires, your cat or dog is reliant upon your feeding schedule. Reducing your pet’s caloric intact and increasing his exercise is relatively easy to do and has long lasting benefits for you and your pet.

Be warned, your pet will not be pleased. If your pet is anything like Lothario, he will eye you suspiciously when you switch his regular food over to a high-protein variety. Don’t be fooled by the reduced cal and lite varieties of pet food. Often they contain grain or corn as the primary ingredient, which means more carbohydrates. Some pets who begin a “lite” diet actually gain weight! Switch to a high protein diet and cut out those treats! It is hard to say no when your dog or cat is staring wistfully at the treat jar and nudging at your leg, but treats are the enemy. No treats and no “people food”.

 During the first few days following your switch to a new food, you may find that there doesn’t appear to be a very large dent in the food dish. Be assured that your pet will adjust to his new food and that a healthy dog or cat can easily go a day or two without feeding. Make sure your pet has plenty of fresh, clean water and his new food. Don’t fill the food dish to the top. You will want to measure out the appropriate amount of food for your pet (usually defined on the side or back of the food bag). If your pet is a nibbler, he may be eating much more than you realize. Grazing throughout the day, he’s packing in the calories even though it looks like he is eating very little.

Your pet will also need more exercise. If you have an older pet, this may be a problem. Older animals, some with arthritis and joint conditions, have difficulty exercising. You may want to add 10 minutes per day to your overall walking routine. It seems like a very small increase, but you’ll see the cumulative effect of this exercise within a few weeks. As pets shed pounds and exercise more, they gain more energy and are happier. Older pets who lighten their load, have an easier time with joint problems. Your pet will be more playful and will start to look to the door (or laser pointer) rather than his treat jar.

 Of course, before you begin any weight loss program, your pet should be examined by your veterinarian to rule out any health-reasons for his weight gain. Diabetes and thyroid conditions, among other diseases, can cause weight gains. It is important to test any pet with unexplained weight gain to rule out serious complications. But, if your vet determines that your pooch is pudgy or your cat is chubby, then he can advise you on a weight loss routine. There are plenty of great high protein pet foods on the market. Your vet probably has his favorites. He may prescribed pet supplements while your pet is dieting as well, especially if your pet is older.

 It is possible to trim down your cat or dog even if he has been overweight for years. This is a slow process, but the results are rewarding and lifelong. Eventually, you should be able to feel your pet’s ribs (without pressing down) when you run your hands along his side. Your pet should have an hour-glass shape, unless another shape is specific to his breed. We have all become so used to looking at round and block-shaped pets that when we see a healthy cat or dog, we label it as too thin. Most veterinary offices have a chart showing the correct shape of dogs and cats (as well as overweight and obese figures). Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the correct size for your cat or dog. Much like people, it is not the weight on the scale that indicates the right size for your pet, but rather his overall shape and muscularity. A muscular dog or cat may weigh much more on the scale, but will look more fit and trim.

It is so easy to overfeed our pets and to give them too many treats. But, it is important to break the cycle of overfeeding and treat-giving. A few treats are fine for a healthy pet, but try to find other ways to show your love. A game of catch or laser-pointer or a brisk walk will be enjoyed more by your pet and will increase his life-span. Show your love for your pet by giving him a little tough-love today. Lo is already starting to look more healthy after only a month of dieting. He’s more frisky and wants to play rather than lay. He still looks longingly at the treat jar, but now he gets excited when he sees the laser-pointer on the table as well.