Top 5 Important Questions to Ask About Pet Obesity

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Pet's with the diagnosis of obesity is not new, however, it is becoming more prevalent. This is an incredibly important issue because pets with obesity are at increased risk for developing serious weight-related disorders such as diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease, cancer, and more.

To help you better care for your dog or cat, we'd like to provide the top five questions you need to ask your veterinarian to keep your pet healthy. They are simple, non-embarrassing questions, and just may save your pet’s life.


#1 - Is my pet overweight?

This is the most important question you must ask your veterinarian – and one your vet may not be eager to answer. Believe it or not, many veterinarians are hesitant to tell you if your pet is overweight or has obesity. This is primarily due to the fact your veterinarian doesn’t want to inadvertently offend you. Weight issues are tricky and loaded with perceived judgment, strong emotions, and social stigmas.

As a concerned pet owner, you need to understand your pet’s weight is one of the most influential factors of longevity, quality of life, and disease prevention. To answer this question, your veterinarian will likely conduct a couple of measurements, determine a Body Condition Score (see charts below) and determine your pet's current weight status.

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Ask the question. Demand a thorough assessment. Don’t be offended if the answer isn’t what you expected. This isn’t personal; it’s your pet’s wellbeing.

#2 How many calories should I feed my pet each day?

We’ve got to be specific when it comes to feeding our pets. Don’t fall into the trap of inquiring, “How much should I feed?” You’ll probably get a generic, inaccurate response. You need to know the precise numbers of calories and nutrients your pet needs. That way, regardless of the type, brand, or formulation of food you feed, you can determine how much to feed. This is a subtle, but incredibly significant difference. Healthy nutrition is about feeding your pet proper nutrients, not ingredients.

Your veterinarian should then ask you a few lifestyle questions, perform a couple of calculations, and give you a narrow range of daily calories you should feed. Memorize this number. Find out how many cups or cans of your pet food this equals. Feed that amount. Don't forget to include any treats in your daily caloric counts. Less is best, as it can swiftly add up and destroy even the best dietary plans.

#3 How much weight should my pet lose in a month?

If your pet is like the majority of dogs and cats, it’ll need to shed a few unhealthy pounds of excess fat. You need to ask how much weight your pet needs to shed and how long will it take to reach a healthy weight. I prefer to think in terms of pounds per month due to practicality and performance. Monthly weight checks are practical and reasonable for even the busiest pet owners. A weight loss plan’s performance is critical to track and monitoring monthly trends is an accurate indicator of success or stagnation.

In general terms, a dog can safely lose 1 to 3-percent of its body weight and cats 0.5 to 2-percent per month. Many dogs can lose 3 to 5-percent and most cats should aim for about a half-pound per month. Losing weight isn’t easy or fast for pets, especially cats.

If you put your pet on a “crash diet,” they can develop serious medical conditions, including a life-threatening form of liver failure that can occur in less than 72 hours. Patience is essential with pet weight loss.

Most of my canine patients will have a 3 to 6-month weight loss plan and cats 6 to 12-months. Your veterinarian will probably formulate a step-weight loss plan that will gradually decrease the amount you’re feeding over a 1 to 3-month period. This will help curtail cravings, begging, and late-night pestering. Note I said “help,” not “eliminate.” There will be some unhappy pets when you institute a diet. Your veterinarian should provide you with tips on preventing these behaviors and transitioning to a new weight-loss diet.

#4 What kind of exercise should my pet do?

Most veterinarians and pet owners focus on how long a pet should exercise daily. While that’s an excellent approach, it is advised you ask what types of activities are best based on your pet’s species, breed, age, gender, and current physical abilities. Walking, swimming, agility, chase, ball retrieving, and remote-controlled toys – the opportunities for physical activity with your pet are limitless but determined by physical ability and intellectual interest. The general recommendation is that dogs need at least 30-minutes of physical activity a day and cats should strive for three 5-minute intense play periods. How you spend those minutes will determine if you do it or don’t and if you adhere to those activities. Make your outings enjoyable, entertaining, and interactive. They will be not only beneficial but also strengthen the bond between you and your pet.

Cat owners, please don’t forget to ask this question. Whether you play with a feather duster or laser pointer, move the food bowl, or use a hip, high-tech toy, engage your cat’s inner predator and encourage it to pounce, leap, and prowl every day.

If you want to get really technical, try out pet activity monitors. They’re a great tool to document how much your pet is walking or playing each day. Better yet, you can share these reports with your veterinarian to identify any deficiencies or ways to optimize your training.


#5 Is my pet at risk for a medical problem due to excess weight?

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This is a very serious question that you need to understand for your pet’s future. Dogs and cats with excess fat are at greater risk for developing diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and many forms of cancer. You need to have an honest conversation with your veterinarian to find out if your pet is potentially facing one of these weight-related disorders. If so, what can you do to reduce their odds of developing one of these conditions? Preventing disease is the primary focus of maintaining a healthy weight and proper nutrition. The most important decision you make each day about your pet’s health is what you choose to feed it. Choose wisely; your pet’s longevity and quality of life depend on it.

It’s never too late to reduce your pet’s chances of contracting one of these serious disorders. Early recognition and awareness is the best defense against many diseases. Begin by asking these questions.


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Why Walking Your Dog is Vital to Their Health

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Walking your dog is about much more than just potty breaks. Walking your dog provides them mental stimulation, physical exercise, socialization, and opportunities for behavioral training. Moreover, it gets both of you out and about all while helping to grow the bond you have with your dog.

Walking Provides Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Walking your dog regularly provides a basic foundation for physical and mental health. Like a child, your dog wants to know and explore the world. If they are confined to the house for too long, your dog will get bored, and boredom can lead to destructive behavior. Your dog is dependent on you to take them out to explore the sights, smells, and sounds of the world. This is why it’s also good to vary the places you take your dog as much as possible. You’ve probably noticed how busy (and excited) your dog gets when they are walking, so let them enjoy every opportunity to discover.

Walking is Good for Your Dog’s Health

A sedentary life for a dog can quickly lead to an overweight dog, which brings potential health problems with it. Even if your dog is active inside the home, they still need another outlet to expel their energy. You’ll benefit from having a well-exercised dog, as tired dogs tend to behave better. You will also help your pet avoid unnecessary weight gain, thus the health issues that come with it.

Walking Helps with Your Dog’s Socialization Skills

While you are out and about on your walks, your dog is likely to run into fellow canines. This is a great opportunity to help your dog learn acceptable ways of socially interacting with new animals. It will also help build your dog's confidence so your pet will be less afraid to make new friends. However, if your dog does show fear, try taking them to a training class to resolve that anxiety in a more controlled environment. Well-socialized dogs still like a bit of rough-and-tumble play with other dogs when out for a walk, but they’ll know when to stop and will come away without any battle scars. Walking your dog and exposing them to different dogs, people, and situations is a win for everyone.

Walking Your Dog is a Training Opportunity

When walking your dog, consider it a training opportunity. Dogs aren’t born knowing how to walk on a leash, so you’ll have to teach your dog how to follow your lead. While they are on the move, dogs are more inclined to be more receptive to learning. On these walks, you can begin teaching commands like, “sit,” “stay,” and “heel,” especially if you take treats along to use during the process.

Walking Your Dog May Not be Enough

Exercise needs are based on your dog's age, breed, size, and overall health, but a good rule of thumb is you should spend at least 30 minutes every day on an activity with your dog. Younger dogs and dogs bred for sports or herding activities may need much more.

If your dog has a yard to play in, walking isn’t the only form of exercise available. However, don’t expect your dog to create their own exercise routine just because you’ve put them outside. Dogs don’t self-entertain, so if you want to tire your pet out, play catch or fetch!

If you’re at work all day, consider taking your dog to a doggie daycare, hiring a dog walker, or asking a friend to take your dog out during those hours. Your pet will enjoy the company, and you’ll come home to a happier dog waiting to greet you.

Ready to get out of the house with your pup? With this insight, you’ll never look at a walk with your dog the same way again! Don’t have a dog of your own to walk? Volunteer with your local humane society or shelter and help enrich the lives of shelter pups.


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Tips for Training a Deaf Dog

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Even though they aren't able to hear commands, deaf dogs can be trained to obey their owners and commands. The process comes with its own set of challenges, requiring a bit of extra patience, but isn't outside the capability of most dog owners.

Some dogs are more prone to deafness than others: Dalmatians, Whippets, English Setters, and Jack Russell Terriers seem to have the highest instances of congenital deafness. But as dogs age, just like people, their sense of hearing often worsens over time.

For puppies who don't (yet) have hearing problems, consider incorporating hand gestures with voice commands when you train them. That way, if your dog loses its hearing as it ages, it is already familiar with the signs for the various commands.

Getting the Attention of a Deaf Dog

Before you can ask a dog to do anything, you must first have its attention.

There are a few things you can do to get a deaf dog to look at you, such as stamping your foot on the floor. Sometimes the vibrations coming through the floor are enough to turn your dog's attention in your direction.

Use a Flashlight

Some owners of deaf dogs use a flashlight to signal to their dog. You can train a dog to look at you by turning a flashlight on and off. Continue to do so until your dog turns to see where the light is coming from. As soon as the dog looks at you, reward it with a treat. The dog will soon learn that a flash of light means that it needs to look at you.

Use a Vibrating Collar

These electronic collars are different from those that give shocks to aid in training (which you want to avoid because they provide negative reinforcement to the dog). These simply vibrate when you press a button on a remote.

You can train a dog to look at you by pressing the button to make the collar vibrate, and continue doing so until your dog looks at you. As soon as the dog turns its attention to you, stop the vibrations and offer a treat.

Try Hand Signals

Many people train dogs by using hand signals for basic obedience commands. There is a standard hand signal most dog trainers use to teach each command, but you can also create your own hand signals.

Instead of giving a solely spoken command, you start off by making sure your dog's attention is on you, and then give the hand signal. You then train the dog to perform the command just as you would any other dog.

Use Sign Language

Most people communicate with their dogs for more than the basic commands, learning from the repeated connection between the words and the actions. You can communicate in a similar way with a deaf dog, but rather than using spoken words, you can use sign language.

Many owners of deaf dogs find it useful to learn a few simple words in American Sign Language and use them when doing everyday tasks with their dogs. You can also create your own signs for different words. As long as you and your dog know what the sign means, you should be able to communicate easily.


Reward Good Behavior

While many dogs find it rewarding to get verbal praise from their owners, this won’t be ideal for deaf dogs. Keep some small treats on hand to give your deaf dog positive reinforcement when it obeys a command correctly.

Once your dog has a good understanding of each command, you can use treats less frequently. Be sure in the early days of training when you're using a lot of treats that you cut back on your dog's meals accordingly.

Common Problems and Avoiding Them

Initially, deaf dogs may be startled by a person unexpectedly touching them to gain their attention, especially if they are touched while sleeping. Startling a dog can lead to it snarling or snapping out of fear, much in the same way a person might yell out if someone sneaks up and startles them.

Practice touching your dog very gently on its shoulder and back. Give it treats immediately following the touch. Try to do this often throughout the day, and soon your dog will learn that having someone touch them from behind means good things are about to happen.

A common mistake many new owners of deaf dogs make is not talking while they give their non-verbal commands. Just because the dog can't hear you doesn't mean you should remain silent; often your body language can appear unnatural if you give a command silently.

To ensure the visual commands come naturally to you and translate easily to your dog, go ahead and speak the words of a command as you perform the action.


Meet our featured deaf dog, Tater

The sweetest face!

The sweetest face!

Tater loves his owner, Amanda (who also is our office manager and technician).

Tater loves his owner, Amanda (who also is our office manager and technician).


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Disaster Preparedness: Prepare a Pet Disaster Kit

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Pets are family – do you have a plan for your pet in an emergency? Including pets in emergency plans helps your family’s ability to respond to an emergency. Be prepared: make a plan and prepare a disaster kit for your pet.


Leaving pets out of evacuation plans can put pets, pet owners, and first responders in danger. Even if you try to create a safe place for them, pets left behind during a disaster are likely to be injured, lost, or worse. Before a disaster strikes, find out what type of shelters and assistance are available in your area to accommodate pets and include pets in your family disaster plan to keep them safe during an emergency.


Don’t wait until it’s too late. Start today by including your pet in your family’s preparedness plans to protect the health of yourself, your family, and your pet.


Make a Plan

To get started, familiarize yourself with the types of disasters that could affect your area and consider your options for providing care for your pet(s).


Disasters can happen without warning, so be prepared:

  • Make sure your pet(s) wear collars and tags with up-to-date contact information and other identification.

  • Microchip your pet(s) – this is one of the best ways to ensure that you and your pet are reunited if you are separated. Always be sure to register the microchip with the manufacturer and keep your contact information up to date with the microchip company.

  • Purchase a pet carrier for each of your pets (write your pet’s name, your name, and contact information on each carrier).

  • Familiarize your pet with its carrier before a crisis.

  • Practice transporting your pet by taking them for rides in a vehicle similar to one you would be evacuating in.

  • Practice catching your pet, if needed.

  • Keep a leash and/or carrier near the exit.

  • Make sure you have proper equipment for pets to ride in the car (carriers, harnesses, pet seatbelts).

  • If you do not have a car, make arrangements with neighbors, family, and friends. You can also contact your local government to learn about transportation options during a disaster.

Sheltering in Place

When sheltering at home with your pet, make sure the room chosen is pet-friendly in the following ways:

  • Select a safe room, preferably an interior room with no (or few) windows.

  • Remove any toxic chemicals or plants.

  • Close off small areas where frightened cats could get stuck (such as vents or beneath heavy furniture).


Sheltering During an Evacuation

Contact your local emergency management office and ask if they offer accommodations for owners and their pets.

If accommodations are needed for your pet(s):

  • Contact local veterinary clinics, boarding facilities, and local animal shelters. Visit the Humane Society website to find a shelter in your area.

  • Contact family or friends outside the evacuation area.

  • Contact a pet-friendly hotel, particularly along evacuation routes.

  • Remember to take your pet’s emergency kit with you.

  • Make plans before disaster strikes for where you and your pets will go. Be aware that pets may not be allowed in local human shelters, unless they are service animals.

  • Check with:

    • Family or friends outside the evacuation area.

    • Pet-friendly hotels

      • bringfido.com or call 877-411-FIDO

      • dogfriendly.com or call 888-281-5170

      • doginmysuitcase.com or call 8880254-0637

      • pet-friendly-hotels.net or call 866-966-3046

      • pets-allowed-hotels.com or call 800-250-1625

      • petswelcome.com

      • tripswithpets.com


Prepare a Pet Disaster Kit

Prepare a disaster kit for your pet(s) so evacuation will go smoothly. Ask your veterinarian for help putting it together. Some examples of what to include are listed below; when making the kit, think about your pet’s basic needs, prescriptions, and paperwork.

Pet Disaster Kit Checklist for Dogs

Pet Disaster Kit Checklist for Dogs

Pet Disaster Kit Checklist for Cats

Pet Disaster Kit Checklist for Cats

Disaster Supplies for Pets

  • Leash, collar with ID, and harness

  • Appropriate-sized pet carriers with bedding and toys

  • Food (in airtight waterproof containers or cans) and water for at least 2 weeks for each pet

  • Food and water bowls and a manual can opener

  • Plastic bags for dog poop and a litter box and litter for cats

  • Cleaning supplies for accidents (paper towels, plastic bags, disinfectant)

  • Medications for at least 2 weeks, instructions and treats used to give the medications, and a pharmacy contact for refills

  • Flea and tick medication and heartworm preventative for 1 month

  • Documents

  • Photocopied veterinary records (rabies certificate, vaccinations, recent FeLV/FIV test results for cats, prescriptions, etc.)

  • Registration information

  • Recent photos of your pet

  • Contact information for you and friends or relatives

  • Boarding instructions, such as feeding schedule, medications, and any known allergies and behavior problems

  • Microchip information

  • A pet first aid book and first aid kit

  • Documents, medications, and food should be stored in waterproof containers


Protect Yourself from Injury and Illness

Emergencies can put stress on both people and animals, and natural disasters can contribute to the spread of some diseases. Exposure to inclement weather conditions, stagnant water, wildlife or unfamiliar animals, and overcrowding can put both you and your pet at risk for getting sick. Some diseases can be spread between animals and people, such as rabies, ringworm, leptospirosis, and diseases spread by mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks like West Nile and Lyme disease.

Knowing some practical skills ahead of time will help you be prepared to prevent illness and injury during a disaster.

How to Keep Yourself and Your Pets Healthy During a Disaster

  • Wash your hands after handling your pet, its food, or its waste.

  • Do not let your pet lick your face or hands.

  • Keep your pet up-to-date on all vaccinations and heartworm, flea, and tick preventatives.

  • Practice safe handling of your pet, because your pet may behave differently during a stressful situation.

  • Keep your pet in a carrier or on a leash.

  • Do not allow your pet to interact with other animals, especially wildlife and stray animals.

  • Report any bite wounds to medical personnel immediately.

  • Properly clean and disinfect cages and litterboxes. Wash your pet’s bedding regularly.

  • Avoid stagnant water, especially after flooding occurring after natural disasters.

  • Don’t allow pets to play in or drink contaminated water.


What To Do if You Are Separated from Your Pet

Make sure that your family is in a safe location before you begin your search.

If you are in a shelter that houses pets, inform one of the pet caretakers. Give the pet caretaker your pre-made missing pet handout.

Once you have been cleared to leave the shelter and return home, contact animal control about your lost pet.

Last, call or log into the microchip company to make sure all the information about you and your pet is updated and current.


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Osteoarthritis Rehab for Dogs

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Pain is often the main hindrance to starting a rehabilitation program. If a dog responds to pain management quickly, rehabilitation can begin as soon as possible and can continue based on the dog’s abilities. A rehabilitative medicine program can dramatically increase strength and mobility, improving the overall quality of life for dogs with osteoarthritis. In many cases, improvement can be seen within days. Regular exercise should continue long term but must be carefully controlled to prevent further injury.

What Is Rehabilitative Medicine?

Traditionally, treatment for osteoarthritis (arthritis) in dogs has focused on using medications to relieve joint pain and inflammation. Many veterinarians also incorporate joint supplements, weight control, and other management tools to give arthritic dogs more help. However, medications cannot improve a dog’s strength or fitness level, which directly affects a dog’s mobility. Rehabilitative medicine, also known by the term rehab, can help meet this therapeutic need. With proper undertaking, a rehabilitative medicine program can dramatically increase strength and mobility, improving overall quality of life for dogs with osteoarthritis. Some consider rehabilitative medicine a tool that is reserved for dogs recovering from orthopedic surgery or injury. However, because the principles of rehabilitative medicine are fairly universal, this therapy can also be very useful for managing dogs with osteoarthritis.

The overall goals of rehab are to improve a dog’s comfort, joint motion, and strength. During the early stages of osteoarthritis, pain relief is a primary goal, and rehabilitative practices can help accomplish that. As osteoarthritis progresses, the body undergoes other changes including reduced joint motion, loss of muscle mass, and decreased muscle strength. A well-structured rehab program can combat these complications as well.

What techniques and equipment used in rehab?

Pain is often the main hindrance to initiating a rehabilitation program. If a dog is in pain, even passive stretching and massage are uncomfortable. In contrast, if a dog responds to pain management quickly, rehab can begin as soon as possible and can continue based on the dog’s abilities. Pain medications, joint supplements, and other products can continue as needed to keep the dog comfortable, control inflammation, and promote a continued willingness to exercise.

The techniques and equipment needed for rehabilitative therapy vary depending on the needs of the patient but can include the following:

  • Stretching. Stretching exercises are an important part of any rehab program. Your veterinarian can show you how to do this properly. Moist heat can be used first to warm the muscles. Once the target muscles are warm, manual stretching can begin. In some cases, a hinged brace can be used to control range of motion for weak joints as they are flexed and extended to improve mobility.

  • Controlled exercise. Depending on a patient’s abilities, ramps, controlled leash walking, and agility courses can all be used as part of a rehab program. The key is to control the exercise and range of joint motion to decrease the likelihood of injury. If building ramps and purchasing agility course equipment is not convenient, pet owners can often achieve favorable results using controlled leash walks. The goal is to provide the dog with low-impact exercise (no leaping or jumping) to build muscle strength and tone without injuring the joints.

  • Underwater treadmill and swimming. Although generally only available in a clinic setting, an underwater treadmill is a very useful piece of equipment for patients undergoing rehab therapy. An underwater treadmill consists of a tank filled to a certain level with water (usually just below the dog’s hip area), with a treadmill at the bottom. Compared with walking on land, the underwater treadmill is easier on the joints and decreases the risk of injury. Compared with swimming, another popular method of rehabilitation, the motion of walking is advantageous because the action of walking is more predictable, and the patient’s speed can be easily controlled. In contrast, it is difficult to control speed for a dog that is swimming. Swimmers are also likely to flex their backs while swimming, making range of joint motion more difficult to control. Also, dogs walk with all four legs but tend to swim primarily with the front legs, so walking is a better exercise for dogs with rear limb problems.

Swimming does have benefits for dogs with osteoarthritis — it strengthens the forelimbs and develops core strength (chest and abdomen); this can be helpful for a dog that has lost overall strength because of chronic joint disease. However, the underwater treadmill is likely a better option for its ability to protect the joints, control range of joint motion, control level of exertion, and provide an overall conditioning and strengthening activity.

What are the therapeutic outcomes with rehab?

Your veterinarian may recommend and structure a rehab program for your pet or may refer you to a rehab specialist to get you started. Once a dog begins a rehabilitative medicine program, results are generally observed quickly. Pain relief can be the most rapid result. If a dog is having an arthritis flare-up, ice can be used with pain medication to provide quick relief. Improved limb use can be observed within days to weeks of initiating a program. However, progress depends on the degree of disuse that was present initially. A more chronically affected dog can be expected to take a longer time to respond. Improvements in overall strength can also be observed during the first few weeks of therapy.

Once initial improvements are made, the goal is to continue the program, modifying and increasing as necessary, to maintain the patient at a level where strength and mobility remain favorable. Ideally, regular exercise should continue long term but must be carefully controlled to prevent injury.


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