Pet Advice & Ideas

New Year’s Goals for Pet Kids

Frenchie

Ah, January. A season for new beginnings, new resolutions, and some measure of regret for all the indulgences of the holiday season. If my gym is any indication, “get more exercise” is still on the top of most people’s list of New Year’s resolutions.

Fur kids don’t make resolutions, but if they did, half of them would be joining us in our pursuit of a healthier weight. Here’s a few facts about canine and feline weight you might not know:

1. More than half of dogs and cats in the US are considered overweight. It’s right up there with dental disease in terms of how frequently it is diagnosed. Because it creeps up slowly over time, many pet parents don’t even realize it’s happening until an annual vet check. Suddenly, your 12-pound cat is now 15 pounds. Yikes!

Tabby

2. Being overweight increases other health risks. Diabetes, joint disease, heart and lung disease, some forms of cancer and high blood pressure are all linked to excessive weight in dogs and cats. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same list we see in people. We all need to make an effort to go out and play, walk or run as a team!

3. Weight loss is a process. Some companion animals lose weight more easily than others, so it may take some experimentation to figure out the best course of action for your own dog or cat. One of the most common pitfalls is neglecting to measure food portions. When my dog Brody put weight on after my son took over feeding duties, I was shocked to realize that he was dumping food in the bowl without measuring. Brody was being overfed by almost 30%!

Whippet

4. Helping your fur kid be healthier can make you healthier, too! The Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that people who live with dogs are 34% more likely to walk at least 150 minutes a week. And if your fur kid is a puppy, guess what? You walk faster than people walking without a dog. Sometimes not in a straight line, am I right?

5. Pet kids at a healthy weight live longer. Dogs and cats at a normal weight have an average life expectancy up to 2.5 years longer than those who are overweight. So commit today and add more and better years to not just your own life, but your companion animal’s as well!

The great thing about weight, compared to other medical conditions, is that it is reversible. Talk to your veterinarian about the course of action that’s right for you. They can help you figure out your companion animal’s caloric requirements and ensure weight loss is done gradually and safely.

Here’s to a fruitful and healthy 2017, and successful squad goals!

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Compulsive Paw Chewing

Picture in your head a really itchy dog. Got it?

Now what did you see? Chances are, you envisioned a dog scratching away at his ears or belly, or maybe rubbing his rear end on the corner of your couch. And while all of this is indeed very common for itchy dogs, we often tend to overlook one of most frequent symptoms of allergic disease … paw chewing.

If you were to request a referral to a veterinary allergist, I would send you to a dermatologist. I know that’s odd compared to people, but we do that because in dogs, most allergic diseases manifest in the skin. Referred to as “pruritus” by veterinarians, the type of itchiness that we are talking about with allergic disease isn’t the minor irritation of a flea bite but the unrelenting, keep-you-up-all-night, horrifying discomfort that we humans associate with conditions like chicken pox or poison ivy. Yes, it’s bad for these little guys. Well-meaning pet parents try to dissuade their dogs from biting and licking by using e-collars or putting socks on their feet, but none of that addresses the underlying itchiness. As soon as the physical barrier is removed, they’re right back to the destructive reaction.

Oftentimes a dog begins by licking very gingerly at their paws. Being a good pet parent, you check their toes and pads for causes of the irritation, such as burrs, ticks or cuts, but – alas – find nothing. As the irritation worsens, the dog begins to chew instead of licking, plucking fur out and gnawing at their toes like they were little rawhide chews. After a while, the skin becomes weakened (or worse, broken) by the constant chewing, which almost invariably develops into secondary bacterial and/or yeast infections. Sometimes by the time the pet arrives at the vet, their poor little toes look like ground beef.

What are the types of allergic disease?

What causes this infernal itchiness? Chances are, it’s allergies. Dogs suffer from three main categories of allergic disease: fleas, environmental allergies (referred to as “atopy”) and food allergies. So, which one is your dog experiencing?

Flea allergies are the most common allergic disease in dogs. However, flea allergies result in itchiness primarily on the hindquarters and at the base of the tail. Atopy is the second most common form of allergic disease. Dogs react to the same environmental allergens that humans do … things like trees, grasses and pollens, molds, dander, perfume, dust mites, even cats and people! Depending on the cause, these allergies may be seasonal.

And, so, what remains are food allergies. Food allergies are the least commonly diagnosed form of allergic disease, although it may be underdiagnosed in canines. In our post "The Scoop on Grain-Free Pet Foods", we discussed the prevalence of food allergies:

Food allergies or adverse food reactions are abnormal reactions to ingredients found in everyday foods. Recent estimates indicate that less than 5% of skin diseases in dogs and cats are accurately diagnosed as being caused by a food allergy. Even though the incidence of adverse food reactions remains unclear, a lot of pet parents believe that grains are prime suspects. However, the most commonly identified food allergens among dogs and cats are proteins in beef, dairy, chicken, soy and corn. Food allergies can cause itchy skin alone or even gastrointestinal problems as well.

How are allergies diagnosed?

Truthfully, it takes a good bit of medical detective work. Flea allergies are the simplest … if you find fleas on an itchy dog, mystery solved! Atopy is diagnosed by ruling everything else out first since there is no one specific test for it. When it comes to food allergies, it takes a good bit more effort and time. Blood tests, even though they are available on the market, are somewhat unreliable. The only way to truly know if your dog is allergic to food is to perform a strict 8-12 week elimination trial with a hypoallergenic diet and see if the condition improves.

What does this mean for you? Many times, when a pet is experiencing unrelenting itching and paw chewing, we start treatment before arriving at a specific diagnosis to try and get the pet some immediate relief. Regardless of the actual cause of the allergies, eliminating potential allergens across the board can push them below the “allergen threshold” and help them feel better. When it comes to compulsive paw chewing, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Start with a trip to your vet. Your veterinarian will help you sort out the problem sooner rather than later; a detailed history will give her clues as to what type of allergy your dog may be experiencing. She can run tests, prescribe medications and determine whether your pup has secondary bacterial or yeast infections that require treatment.

  2. Check those toes! Contact dermatitis can occur when the skin comes in direct contact with an allergen such as grass. It’s always a good idea to give the paws a good rubdown with a damp cloth when your dog comes indoors after playing outside. Witch hazel is a gentle cleaner that can help with mild irritation. Whatever you do, avoid products that contain alcohol … ouch!

  3. Investigate your dog’s diet. Even for pet kids who don’t have food allergies, a high quality diet with a new protein source can reduce the immune burden. Omega-3 fish oils can help the skin remain an effective barrier against the environment.

  4. Consider other causes. If nothing else changes, don’t forget that itching is not the only reason pet kids chew on their feet. Pain from arthritis and anxiety are often culprits. Like allergies, arthritis pain and anxiety don’t simply go away on their own.

The take-home message here is, paw chewing is uncomfortable but treatable! While there are plenty of things you can do at home to help the symptoms, addressing the underlying cause is key to nipping those problems in the bud. With some attention and love, your dog can be back on his non-itchy feet in no time.

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

6 Winter Dangers for Dogs

The inherent dangers that frigid winter temperatures pose to animals are common knowledge. But you should also be mindful of the threats linked to other outdoor hazards, possibly lurking in your own front yard. Beware the six seasonal hazards outlined in this handy infographic … it might just save your dog’s life!

May Your Holiday Season be Golden

According to one recent study, upwards of 60% of pet parents buy their pet kids a Christmas stocking. My response is … ONLY 60%? Granted, I fall a little further on the extreme end of the pet-enthusiast spectrum. I don’t just do stockings … we wrap gifts, don holiday sweaters and even keep a goodly supply of festive cookies!

My beloved Golden, Brody, started joining in the holiday merriment as a pup. His first Christmas was 2009, as a bouncy little five-month-old filled with joy at this strange new festivity. The candy-cane shaped chew treats were icing on top of the holiday cake.

My dog gets super excited on Christmas morning. (The cat not so much, but that doesn’t deter me from trying.) He senses the excitement as the kids start tiptoeing around starting at 5 am, poking boxes and whispering their prognostications about what might be hidden inside each festive package. Brody plays along, sniffing at each gift in turn and standing patiently under his own stocking until it’s his turn to discover his holiday goodies.

He isn’t as excited about his ornament as I would like him to be, but hey, we can’t win them all. Maybe if they made scented decorations he’d be more appreciative.

Your dog’s enthusiasm may vary, of course. My dog Kekoa, who blessed our house until her passing in 2012, was not nearly as excited about donning holiday garb. She was quick to figure out that not tolerating costumes meant she got to skip straight to the treats. That’s what you call a “smart cookie”.

As we enter the 2016 holiday season, I’m reminded of how much he has changed since Brody’s first puppy Christmas back in 2009. He’s a little slower, short one ear we had to amputate, and grey around the muzzle. He’s like the Ghost of Christmas Present from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol … an amiable chap who lives in the moment, which seems to pass by in the blink of an eye.

Dogs are an ever-present reminder to stop and enjoy every moment, because you don’t get it again once it’s gone. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to enjoy many more Christmases together. Taking my cues from him, I’m trying not to worry too much about the future, but rather just taking in the precious moments and enjoying his lovable presence in the here and now.

So this year, instead of being sad about that little bit of grey already creeping into his coat, I’m remembering to be grateful for all the joy he has brought us over the years, thankful for him simply being who he is, and appreciative of the varied comforts our four-footed companions bring to the holiday season.

What are your favorite canine holiday memories? Share your story in the comments section below! Or, submit your very own holiday pet pics to our secure Dropbox account.

Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season! 

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

The Complexity of Canine Memory

Have you ever sat staring deeply into your dog’s eyes, wondering “I wonder what you’re thinking?” Sure, they give us clues here and there, but as whole, the workings of your dog’s mind remains a mystery.

But there’s mounting evidence that we may have underestimated their mental capacities. I know when I was going through school and we would use words describing the emotions the pets seemed to feeling - love, anxiety, fear - we were often shut down with a stern, “Don’t anthropomorphize!” It was assumed that only humans were capable of such human-like emotions.

As we’ve studied more the amazing bonds that exist between humans and dogs, we’ve gotten better insight into the inner workings of their doggie brains. And while it’s true that we can’t say with 100% certainty what a dog thinks and feels (because you’d actually need to be able to talk to a dog in order for him to tell you that), I can tell you that the more we learn about their inner workings, the gap between people and dogs is narrowing. Each new study offers amazing insight into how smart, individual, and yes – emotional – they really are.

One of the most common tropes we hear about dogs is, “They live in the moment,” which assumes they don’t spend too much time thinking about the past. But all of us who share our lives with dogs have seen them react to something in a way that indicates they sure do remember things, thank you very much! As a veterinarian, “white coat syndrome”, the fearful reaction of a dog to a veterinarian in a white lab coat, is so well-documented that many of us just stopped wearing the jackets entirely.

And now science is finally showing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that dogs remember much more than we previously thought possible.

A recent study of 17 dogs in Current Biology explored the idea of episodic memory in dogs. They began by training the dogs to “Do as I do”, i.e., to imitate their trainer’s behavior. In this case, the dogs were aware they were receiving a cue, a signal to say “pay attention to what I’m doing.”

Then the researchers repeated the experiment, but without giving the “Do as I do” cue beforehand. Regardless of what the person was doing, the dog was instructed to lie down. Afterwards, trainers gave the dogs the command to repeat what they had just observed. This forced the dogs to recall what they had observed using episodic memory. This form of memory centers around the ability to recall a specific event from the past, but you didn’t know you were supposed to remember it at the time it happened. Despite showing signs of surprise, the dogs were able to recall what they had seen and imitate the person’s actions.

By demonstrating this ability to mimic, the study designers showed that dogs are watching and storing what they see all around them. Like people, they appear to be dumping all of that input into a short term memory bank, and if the information isn’t needed, it gets tossed out. Much the same way I can tell you what I had for dinner last night but not last month, a dog’s brain is quite capable of assessing memories and storing those considered pertinent for survival. As a social species whose evolution is closely tied to ours, it makes sense that they actually think in many of the same ways.

So, the next time you do something embarrassing around your pup, don’t be so quick to think they won’t remember it. At least we know for certain they won’t be spilling our secrets via speech, right?

Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

Top Five Amazing Cat Facts

Russian Blue cat

I used to think I was a dog person, which lasted right up until I adopted a cat. While I’m still a huge dog fan, I no longer believe you have to prefer one over the other. There’s a reason cats are the most popular pet kids in North America!

Yes, cats are nothing like dogs: they are enigmatic, independent, sometimes aloof and always entertaining. Their completely unique natures are, in my opinion, their most endearing feature. It should come as no surprise that in addition to their one-of-a-kind personalities, they also have some pretty exceptional physical features and roles to play in our society. As a veterinarian, writer and cat enthusiast, it pleases me to no end to learn more about these fabulous furballs. Here are just five of my favorite unique cat facts!

1. Cats can use their mouth to smell

Have you ever seen your cat take a big sniff, then pull their mouth back in what looks like a sneer? That’s called the flehmen response, and it’s one of the wonderful, weird things that makes cats so unique. Cats have a special organ called the vomeronasal organ wedged up between the hard palate and the nasal septum. The vomeronasal organ is used to analyze pheromones, which is an important means of communication in the feline world. If you’ve ever gotten a good whiff of cat urine, you may make the same face … but unlike us, cats are actually gaining extra information from that stimulus.

2. Cats are well adapted to high-heat environments

Have you ever seen a cat pant? Hopefully not, because they aren’t supposed to. We all know that dogs use panting to dissipate heat, while humans sweat. Aside from a negligible number of sweat glands in the paws, cats do neither! Evolved from desert-dwelling creatures, cats have extremely efficient kidneys that can concentrate urine to a very high degree, meaning they can survive longer than other mammals with less water without becoming dehydrated. I watch my dark-coated cat Penelope seek out blocks of sunlight all the time … like many cats, she thinks “The hotter, the better!” Meanwhile my dog is laying on the coldest spot of floor he can find.

Striped Cat

3. You can’t top a cat’s night vision

Cats are unusual in that they have both predator and prey adaptations. One of their most unique features is their slit pupil, which allows the pupil to contract more quickly than the circular pupils of dogs and humans. This means they adjust more quickly to changes in ambient light. They also have the largest eyes of any mammal relative to their size! They have several other adaptations meant to ensure they can see well at night, including more rods in the back of their retina as well as a tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer of tissue that gives their eyes that eerie green glow.

4. Cats could have changed the course of history

In the Middle Ages, the Black Death swept through Europe, killing off an estimated 25% of the continent. The causative agent of bubonic plague, Yersinia pestis, was found to be carried by fleas who moved about the countryside on rodents. During the Spanish Inquisition, cats were condemned as evil and killed by the thousands. This cat depopulation allowed the rodent population to explode, extending the effects of the plague. Who knows how many lives could have been saved if only cats had been spared and out hunting the plague carriers.

5. Hissing is a unique feline vocalization

Have you ever heard a happy cat hiss? Probably not. Though not all cats hiss, those that do are invariably upset or frightened. Experts believe hissing may actually have evolved as a mimicry of a snake hiss, a way to warn someone that whatever they are doing, the cat is not at all happy about it. If you have a cat who hisses, consider yourself lucky! It’s a clear warning to stop whatever is upsetting them before they escalate to the next level, something usually involving claws or teeth.

Pet Kids Totally Acing This Halloween Thing

Pet Costumes

Earlier this week, we asked our readers to submit photos of their dogs and cats celebrating Halloween. So many of you responded and now we’re happy to share some of the spooky fun with you!

Adorned in a flattering ensemble, Kinzie is rocking a look she calls ‘Candy Corn Witch’.

Kinzie the candy corn Witch

No Halloween would be complete without a great pumpkin, and they don’t come any cuter or sweeter than Pumpkin Vasquez.

Pumpkin Vasquez

Oliver being totally chill and owning his role as Scary Biker Dude.

Ollie Biker

By far, our most highbrow submission goes to the classically inclined Ludwig 'von Big Boy' Beethoven.

Elise Big Boy

Granny Zelda was caught wearing her unmentionables, saying, “I can’t talk now, my stories are on."

Granny Zelda

Stella’s costume definitely raised some eyebrows.

Stella Groucho

Is it a bird? A plane? Nope, it’s Copper doing an excellent imitation of Superman! Looks like this Kal-El is hangry.

Copper Superman

Well, Hello Kitty! We’d trade all of our Beanie Babies for a few minutes holding Buttercup.

Ty Hello Kitty

Even though he’s not from Baskervilles, this hound is definitely on the case. Now we just need to find him a suitable Watson!

Wilford Sherlock

Simple, but always spooky, Wendell looks particularly ethereal in his ghostly garb.

Wendell Ghost

Slow and steady wins the race, says Luna, pulling off her turtle costume with aplomb.

Luna Turtle

It’s barely November, but Coffee is already gearing up for Christmas!

Coffee Reindeer

For all of you who sent evidence of just how awesome your companion animals are, we thank you from the bottom of our candy hearts! And to all of the dogs and cats who participated, we hope your bags were full of yummy, healthy treats!

Just because Halloween is over, it doesn’t mean that your companion animals don’t deserve high quality treats all year ‘round! Be sure to check our big selection of dog treats and our gourmet cat treats.

Keep in mind that we’re always interested when your pet kids do something cute, sweet or funny. Email your awesome pet photos to blogfun@lifesabundance.com.

Show Off Your Pet Kids' Costumes

Fonzi Dog

Dressing up for Halloween isn't just for humans anymore! If your dog or cat is donning a costume this year, we want you to share the adorable photographic evidence. Email your costume pics to blogfun@lifesabundance.com. Staff favorites will be posted the first week of November, so tell your four-footers to say "CHEESE!"