Heart Disease: Linked To Your Dog’s Diet? - 10/14/2018
We all know that what we eat can affect our overall health, the same is true for our pets. But recent research is looking at if some of the foods we think are healthy for our pets could really be causing a certain type of heart disease. While there is still lots of research being done on this topic, recent studies are finding a small correlation between some specialty diets and heart disease.
These diets include:
some homemade diets
limited ingredient diets
vegan dog foods
At this time, nutritionists and cardiologists are wondering if the rise in heart disease with dogs fed “non-conventional” diets is due to the level of taurine in the food. Taurine has long been known to be a cause of heart disease in cats, but now researchers are wondering if this could be linked to heart disease in dogs as well. Taurine is a protein found in meat. Higher levels are found in meats such as beef, chicken and lamb. The problem lies in that these are also the sources of protein most commonly found in food allergies. It is not fully known at this time if taurine is truly the cause of this increase in heart disease in breeds not commonly diagnosed with heart disease, or if there is another factor.
So what should I feed my dog?
Some dogs have to be fed a diet without chicken, lamb, or beef due to severe food allergies. What is important, is in these dogs, is that a veterinarian listens to their heart one to two times per year to monitor for any changes. The grain-free trend of recent years is actually not founded on food allergies, but mostly marketing. There are very few truly grain intolerant dogs out there. Dogs are designed to eat a combination of protein, vegetable, and yes… grains. It’s just finding the proper balance of these ingredients that make any one dog food better than another. And of course, calorie content is important to monitor as well. We would be happy to discuss your pet’s nutrition recommendations at any time.
What type of heart disease are we talking about?
Dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, is what cardiologists are starting to see an increase incidence of in recent years. This type of heart disease causes the chambers of the heart to stretch out and makes it more difficult for the heart to adequately pump blood through the body. This can ultimately lead to heart failure.
How can I tell if my dog’s diet is going to lead to heart disease?
Annual exams (biannual exams if your pet is over 10 years old), will allow us to listen to your dog’s heart to detect any murmurs that could be indicative of heart changes. We may then recommend other diagnostics to better assess your pet’s heart. A chest x-ray can look for changes in the size of your dog’s heart and an electrocardiogram can determine changes to your dog’s heart rhythm. An exam by a veterinary cardiologist and an echo-cardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) is the only true way to diagnose DCM. If you notice any signs of heart disease: coughing, exercise intolerance or labored breathing, please call your veterinarian right away.
Fortunately, though, we do know that early spaying of female dogs and cats makes the chances of breast cancer developing almost a non-issue. Spaying your pet before their first heat cycle can be completely preventive to dogs and cats developing breast cancer! Also, spaying as soon as a pet is done breeding is also a huge step in limiting future mammary cancer development.
If you have chosen a female dog or cat to be part of your family, be sure to discuss with your veterinarian all the potential risks and benefits for spaying and decide what is the best plan to limit your pet’s potential risk for developing mammary cancer.
In support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, our staff is dedicated to educating our clients and the public about the risks of Canine and Feline Breast Cancer. Throughout the month you may see any number of our staff members rocking their “Cancer Bites” awareness t-shirts!
How To Choose The Proper Collar Or Harness For Your Dog! - 10/02/2018
Let’s take a walk! Today, in honor of National Walk Your Dog Week we are going to talk about ways to make your walk with your best friend more enjoyable for everyone involved.
The top complaint from pet owners trying to walk their dogs is pulling. There are numerous products on the market designed to help with pulling, but how do you know which one to use? This is yet another time I will say “an ounce of prevention goes a long way”. Dogs innately do not know they should not pull on a leash; so, if no one ever taught them differently it’s a tough habit to break.
So, let’s start with some tips:
Having a collar and leash on is often a new feeling for puppies. Most of the time if you leave the collar on them after about 24 hours they will stop bothering with it. Having a leash on is a different story. Suddenly having someone applying pressure, telling them to go a different way, can be daunting.
The first thing we recommend is when you are doing training with your puppy is to have them drag a light leash behind them. That gets them use to the feeling and the weight of leash.
PRO TIP: Do not keep their poop bag dispenser attached to the leash while training; they are big and clunky and can be frightening for puppies.
Next encourage your puppy to follow you. If they are pulling ahead or refusing to move forward, then stop putting the pressure on the leash and instead get down to their level and make it fun to follow you. Use treats, toys, even a stick or leaf nearby that they might be interested in to entice them to follow you and reward them when they do!
Avoid picking up your dog if they are refusing to move, unless you feel they are so overwhelmed/scared that they don’t want to move. The last thing you want is to carry an 80-pound Labrador home because they didn’t feel like walking anymore!!
Also avoid continuing to go forward when/if the puppies are pulling on the leash. Again, we don’t want to reinforce bad habits. While it might be cute at 10 weeks old that they are pulling towards people to say hi, again an 80-pound Labrador pulling you over to say hi to people is no longer cute!!
RECAP: If they are pulling you can do several different things:
Start walking in a different direction
Stop and refuse to move forward until there is slack on the leash
Ask them for an alternative behavior (sit, hand touch, etc.)
If they are pulling to go towards a person/another animal:
Don’t let them become “rude greeters” and rush up to a person or another dog. Some people are scared of dogs and will find this rude and potentially even scary. Most dogs do not appreciate strange dogs barreling up to their face, this can often spark a fight between a normal friendly dog if they are greeted so abruptly and rudely.
In the same manner do not let people or other dogs rush up into your dog’s face. Shy and timid dogs can find this interaction overwhelming cause them to bite or become more fearful. Don’t ever feel bad about telling someone not to interact with your pet if you are training them or you think it might overwhelm them. It is easier to prevent a bad interaction then to help them get over it.
Again, if they are pulling towards something else ask them to sit first and then reward them when they stay in position while either the person/dog either passes or comes towards them. If they get up from the position, then ask the person to stop coming towards you and reset the dog in the sit position. Only let them say hi when they are listening and remaining sitting or lying down. We suggest having a release word to let the dog know they are ok to interact with the person or dog.
Now let’s do a brief overview of different types of equipment you can use for walking your dog:
Martingale collar – these types of collars will cinch down when pressure is applied, but have a stopping point so they cannot choke the dog. These collars are ideal for dogs with big necks and smaller heads, like greyhounds, that could easily slip out of a regular buckle collar. These come in a variety of either all fabric, chain or a combination of the two. We recommend the fabric ones as they are least likely to cause damage to a dogs’ airway if they are continuously pulling.
Gentle leader/Halti – these type of head halters/collars use the same principle of using a halter in a horse. When the dog pulls pressure is applied to the weakest point of their neck (right behind their ears) and then they are turned back to look at you. These are especially nice for dogs who cannot wear a collar or harness for either medical or behavioral reasons. These are nice in that the dog can still pant, drink and eat treats with them on. Brachycephalic breeds, like pugs, Boston terriers, bulldogs, etc. should not wear gentle leaders because they cannot be properly fitted to them and risk putting to much pressure around their eyes and nose (causing elevated eye pressures or trouble breathing).
PRO TIP: Many dogs have a strong aversion when these are first used because of the strap that goes over the nose. Heavy positive reinforcement can help them get used to it. We recommend feeding them with the gentle leader on for at least the first week to help increase the positive association with it.
Regular harness (clips over the back) – these harnesses are not designed to help with pulling. In fact, for dogs who already pull hard on the leash a regular harness will often allow them to pull even harder because they get can leverage from their chest and front legs to pull. For dogs with collapsing trachea, Brachycephalic breeds, etc. these are the best choice for walking because they do not put any pressure on the airway even with pulling.
Easy walk/front clip harness – these harnesses put pressure on the dogs’ shoulders when they pull to encourage them to stop. Like the gentle leader, by having the clip in the front, it also works to redirect the dog back towards you when they are pulling. These should not be used on dogs with shoulder problems.
Prong collar – these collars work by putting pressure on the dogs’ neck giving them a “correction” when they pull. To be effective when the dog starts to pull a “correction” should be given that is a quick snap and release. The collars become ineffective when you have continuous pressure on them because the dogs learn to “pull through the pain”. These collars should not be used on dogs with spinal or airway problems. Also, if not used properly, the constant pressure to the neck and airway can cause future breathing problems.
It is important to mention that any training tool, if used improperly can cause problems. If you have trouble walking your dog, we recommend you either contact a trainer or our office to enroll in an upcoming training class. Let’s get back to enjoying walks with your dog!
Boredom Behaviors: Curbing your dog’s bad habits! - 09/04/2018
Enrichment should be an important part of every pets’ life. It helps them get out their natural urges in acceptable ways that allow us to live better together. By providing enrichment we can decrease unwanted behaviors like excessive barking, destructive behaviors and attention seeking behaviors.
Here are some of the common unwanted behaviors we see in our companion dogs and ideas for enrichment to help combat them. For any of these behaviors remember we must provide a “yes” outlet for every “no” we tell them.
Digging – this is a very natural behavior, especially for breeds like terriers that were bred to chase animals that burrow into the ground. Digging is also used if the dog is either to hot or to cold; by digging up the soil they can either make themselves a nice bed to curl up in and stay warm or they can find cooler ground if it is a hot day.
The most common thing people recommend to prevent digging is to place their poop in the hole so they are deterred. While this does work to an extent most dogs will just choose a different location to dig in.
For dogs that love to dig: have an area of the yard they are allowed to dig in and encouraged to dig in, or get a kids sandbox and fill it with sand to use as an appropriate area to dig. If you do use a sandbox, burying their toys, treats, etc. can help encourage them to use that spot instead of other ones in the yard.
Jumping Up – this is most often an attention seeking behavior. We often unintentionally reinforce this when they are puppies because we think it is cute for puppies to jump up.
The best way to combat this behavior is to never allow it to begin with. Unless you are ok with your adult dog jumping on you then you should not allow your puppy to jump up. Instead only give them attention when they have “four on the floor”.
If this behavior is already established and no longer wanted it will be harder to fix. It is best to then ignore the dog until they have “four on the floor”. This includes NO TALKING to the dog while jumping or even trying to push the dog back down. Any interaction, even a negative one at this point is giving the dog attention which is what they want.
You can also start to teach your dog an alternative behavior when greeting people such as a hand touch or other fun game to give them a new focus instead of jumping when meeting someone.
This is a tough one and really to tackle it you have to get at the root cause of why the dog is barking. Are they barking because they are bored, are they alerting you to something going by the house, are they anxious, is it because they are a vocal breed are they trying to get your attention?
Once you know why they are barking you can start to get the barking under control. The biggest take home with this is that we do not recommend things like bark collars, spray bottles, yelling at the dog, etc. to combat the barking. While those options are appealing because they often cease the behavior immediately, they do nothing to get at the root of why the dog is barking. It tends to be more of a short term solution. If there is any anxiety causing the barking the anxiety will likely worsen, even if the barking subsides.
If you are able to teach the dog to “speak” on cue, and then subsequently, a “quiet” on cue can help you get the behavior under control while letting the dog only do one or two barks.
If the barking is at a specific location, then setting up practice runs and rewarding the dog for quiet can also be helpful. An example is if the dog always barks when the doorbell rings. Do repetitions where you ring the bell and then treat the dog for remaining quiet. Once they start to become desensitized to the bell ringing the behavior usually lessens or goes away all together.
Chewing Inappropriate Objects
This behavior for most dogs starts as puppies and really occurs due to inadequate supervision as puppies. These dogs start to develop a preference for certain types of material and then think its fun to chew up those things in the household.
Prevention is key here! Puppy proof your house and then keep a watchful eye on the puppy so they do not have the opportunity to chew inappropriate things.
If you find them chewing an object you don’t want them chewing, then a firm “no” while redirecting their attention to an appropriate chew toy will work well.
If you have an adult dog that is chewing things, then you need to get back to basics and puppy proof the house all over again. It is unrealistic to expect your dog who loves to steal and chew socks to not steal them when your kids leave them all over their bedroom floor. Set your dog up for success! And give them appropriate, fun things to chew on at home (these include nylabones, kongs stuffed with food/treats, etc.)
This is a common problem and a hard one to break. The reason it is hard to break is, like jumping up, it is a self-rewarding behavior.
Again, set yourself up for success and manage your household! That means if you have a chronic counter surfer, food cannot be left out on your counter. EVER! If you need to run out for a quick errand, talk on the phone quick, etc. your dog needs to be crated or confined to another area, so they do not have access to the food.
Reward your dog when they chose to lay and watch you prepare food instead of trying to steal it.
Lastly DO NOT offer your dog food from the counter. Do not offer them anything that is prepared on the counter, and feed them in a separate area.
Cats are “opportunistically domesticated”. Cats initially became domesticated because they helped control the rodent population and therefore people found them acceptable to live with. For us that means that unlike with dogs’ people did not selectively breed cats for traits that would make them better companions. The exception to this is certain breeds like, the Persians, Siamese, etc.
So, for most people the behaviors they find annoying in cats are 100% natural and have never been selected against. But we can learn to find enrichment activities for our cats that give them access to their natural behaviors while keeping our households in the state we would like them in.
Cats scratch things in their environment both as a way of leaving their scent to mark territory and to help sharpen and maintain their nails. Sometimes they have preferences for different textures or they are trying to mark their territory causing them to pick certain areas of the house to scratch at.
If there is an area of the house that they are consistently scratching using something like double sided tape in the area will deter most cats from scratching a certain area. Just next to that space you should place a scratching post for them so that you give them the opportunity to scratch on an appropriate object.
Use different types of scratchers throughout the house to give them options. Most cats prefer upright scratchers, so they can flex their nails while they scratch.
Cats that tend to go more towards carpeting may benefit from a flat scratching post.
Using things like cat-nip or treats can help entice them to use scratching posts.
Most cats prefer to jump onto objects and watch the world go by. This is a normal behavior. The most common place cats jump up and are not wanted is the kitchen counters.
First if they are on the kitchen counters and you don’t want them there, make sure that food is never left out unattended on the counter. If it is and they can consistently steal and eat the food, then they are being reinforced for the behavior of jumping up. Also, do not offer them food directly from the counter to help lessen the value of being on the counters itself.
Next place a cat tree or other object they are allowed to be on right next to the counters. Then encourage them to use the cat tree by using either cat nip or treats to get them up on it. This will allow them to still watch what you are doing without being in the food you are preparing. It would also work to place shelving they are allowed to be on in the same area so again they have a place to watch from.
Some cats, especially younger kittens and cats enjoy hiding and then pouncing on you when walking by in an effort to entice you to play. Some cats will find it fun to make your house into a speedway at 3am, causing mayhem. Remember, cats by nature are either nocturnal or crepuscular (meaning most active at dawn and dusk). The reason behind this behavior is that is the time when most of their prey would be naturally active in the wild.
One important note for cats that like to wake you up at night or very early in the morning, is to ignore them. If you wake up and give into them by either playing with them or feeding them they will only continue to pester you. So, try your best to get them tired out prior to bedtime and ignore the behavior, especially when it first starts.
The best way to combat this is to give them appropriate outlets for their play.
Set aside 10-15 minutes daily to play with your cat using a laser pointer, feather toy or other toys they enjoy to help tire them out. Having an object like a feather toy that they can actually “hunt, catch and kill” is a very good outlet for them. If possible, after letting them enjoy that activity, offer them a meal to help simulate what their natural environment would be.
For cats that are especially active, creating an obstacle course throughout the house, and using either the laser pointer or treats to lure them through it, can help burn off additional energy.
Also, be sure to have different sized cat trees and shelves they can climb around in the house and place them near windows, so they can watch the world go by.
Cats that are especially fascinated with the outdoors can be trained to wear a harness and leash and go for walks outside. Another option is to build an enclosed space or “catio” that they can safely be in to explore the world. If you chose to let your cat out in your fenced yard placing another piece of fence, chicken wire or even netting at a 45-degree angle from the top of the fence into the yard will prevent almost all cats from being able to climb over the top of the fence. If you do not want to let them in the yard, then doing an edible grass in the house that they can snack on is another option.
Another great option for enrichment is having a fish tank for them to sit near and interact with.
Some cats, just like people, tend to overeat, especially if they are bored. For this reason, we do not recommend free feeding cats. Instead, meal feedings will help deter them from overeating. If they still tend to pig out at meal times, then using food dispensing toys is the next step. The food dispensing toys will do two things – first, it will make them work for their food and help burn some calories and second, it will help prevent them from overeating. They are a lot less likely to overeat if they have to actually work to get the food out.
Enrichment ideas are used for our pets to help them be able to express their natural and instinctual desire in a way that we find acceptable within our lives. For more tips to help you live in harmony with your feline friends, reach out to our staff!