Your Pet - Skinnier!
by Joshua Bub, DVM
August 2nd, 2012
“Wow, Alli’s gotten a little pudgy there, Josh.” This was the first thing my sister said when she came to visit me a few years ago and saw my normally trim 54 pound dog Alli. I looked at Alli and then back at my sister in disbelief. “She doesn’t look any different to me,” I said. Sure enough, I weighed her that same day – 62 pounds. I normally consider myself very in tune to the weight of dogs (as most vets are), but this completely snuck up on me. Seeing my dog every day, I just didn’t see her ~15% weight gain over the course of the year. Obesity is one of the most common things we talk about to pet owners during their pet’s annual exam. My goal in writing this post is to make you more comfortable determining if your pet is at a healthy weight, and if not, helping you get your pet there.
Before I get started, it’s important to point out that obesity in pets is a common and serious problem. Recent statistics show that approximately 40-50% of pets are overweight. I’ll repeat that again because it is a shocking and important fact – 1 out of every 2 pets is overweight. That means 1 out of every 2 pets out there is at a significantly increased risk for arthritis or other joint problems, diabetes, etc. So, how do you determine if your pet is in the 50%? Looking at weight alone is largely unhelpful unless you’re comparing your pet’s current weight to previous weights. What veterinarians commonly look at is your pet’s body condition score. A body condition score (or BCS) looks at the distribution of fat, and appearance of certain parts of your pet’s body to determine if it is at an appropriate weight. At every exam, our veterinarians give your pet a score from 1-9 to determine if it is at a healthy weight. The scoring system (that was developed by Purina) is shown on the pictures to the right (click to enlarge). A BCS of 5 (4 for some dogs who are prone to joint problems) is an ideal body condition. Using these pictures, you can grade your pet at home and determine if they are an ideal weight, underweight, or overweight. If you’ve determined your pet is a BCS 6, 7, 8, or 9, then read on!
The weight that pets gain or lose is usually a simple balance of calories ingested versus calories expended. The simple solution to weight loss is to either decrease the amount of calories fed, or to increase the calories expended. Increasing calories expended is the easiest to talk about because it is accomplished by exercising your pet more. For dogs, something as easy as a 20-30 minute walk every day can help burn calories that they aren’t burning if their normal day involves sitting around the house. Light, frequent exercise is better for overweight dogs than intense, infrequent exercise such as a 3 mile run or hike once a week. Exercising cats can be a bit more difficult. One tip is to hide some kibble from their normal meals (if on dry food) around the house in difficult to reach areas. This will make them be active and “hunt” for their food during the day. If your cat plays with toys, interacting with them to get them moving a few times per day is helpful. Laser pointers can also be great exercise for cats as well (use caution with dogs as I’ve seen dogs develop obsessive compulsive type behaviors). If you know your pet isn’t getting as much activity lately, the easiest and healthiest thing to do is exercise!
By far the most common reason pets are overweight is excessive intake of calories. It’s important to understand about how many calories your pet needs, and how much you’re providing with their normal meal. The chart to the left is a good approximation of the amount of calories required per day for an average (spayed or neutered) dog and cat. This can be adjusted up or down depending on your pet’s activity level.
Many bags of dog food will list the amount of calories in each cup somewhere by the nutritional information. Let’s take a 40 pound dog for our example and a bag of dog food. This particular food contains 340 calories per cup (listed as kcal/cup) and the bag recommends feeding our 40 pound dog 2-2.5 cups per day. This gives 680-850 calories per day which matches up nicely to our chart. Now think about the extra things your pet gets during the day. Let’s give our 40 pound dog a pig ear today. That’s it, just a single pig ear. That pig ear has 230 calories. That’s equivalent to a normal human drinking six 12 oz cans of cola at a whopping 840 calories. OK, that may be too much you think, how about a dental chew that you picked up from the store. Most dogs get something like this every day. At 90 calories, that’s equivalent to you eating a hot fudge sundae every day of your life, at an extra 330 calories per day. With even regular, moderate calorie treats; it’s easy to see how the extra weight can sneak up on your pet. It’s even more dramatic for a 10 pound dog, where even giving a single biscuit at 40 calories is like you eating 2 doughnuts!
So, my recommendation for helping decrease your pet’s caloric intake: eliminate the moderate or high calorie treats, stop feeding unhealthy table scraps, and try giving your pet healthier, lower calorie treats. See if your pet likes carrots, celery, or small pieces of plain rice cake. Try buying canned food and cutting it up into small bites and freezing it to use as treats. Some pets even like ice cubes! At the very least, look for a lower calorie treat, your pet probably won’t know the difference! The key is realizing that although we like to show love to our pets by giving them treats and table scraps, if given improperly, these are the things that contribute the most to pet obesity.
You’ll be happy to know that my dog Alli is now at 53 pounds and a BCS of 4.5/9, but it was so easy to lose track of her weight, how much she was eating, and her decreased exercise, and before I knew it she was overweight. So I encourage all of you to look at your pets, using the Body Condition Score, try to determine if they are overweight. Look at what they really eat during the day, look at the exercise they get, and see if you can make any changes. If you are unsure of things, have questions, or need help, call your veterinarian!
Aspirin - A Veterinarian's Worst Nightmare, Sometimes...
by Joshua Bub, DVM
May 31st, 2012
It’s the middle of the night and your dog Fluffy is acting uncomfortable. She won’t settle down, didn’t eat her dinner that night, and you feel like you just need to give her something to help her feel better until you can get her to the vet the next morning. You heard from one of your friends that dogs can take aspirin, so you decide to give her just a half of a normal adult aspirin to settle her down until the morning (you of course know to never give a dog or cat ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or other human anti-inflammatory medications). The next day you bring Fluffy to see your veterinarian and recount what happened the night before. When you tell your vet that you gave Fluffy an aspirin the night before, your vet noticeably pauses before letting you know that may have been a bad idea. Let me give some you a glimpse of what went through your vet’s mind in that brief second.
What dose of aspirin did Fluffy receive? – The most common sized aspirin tablets are 81 mg tabs and 325 mg tabs. Usually an overdose isn’t a problem with a single dose, but if Fluffy is a 10 pound dog and got ½ of a 325 mg tablet – that is an overdose. Even at a normal dose, aspirin has been shown to cause microscopic gastric bleeding in dogs and a single dose can significantly impair platelet function, causing the blood to clot less effectively.
What other medications is she on? – Aspirin is a drug, albeit an over the counter one. As such it has interactions with many other drugs. The most notable ones include: other anti-inflammatories, steroids, heart medications and diuretics, anti-seizure medications, and certain antibiotics. Side effects from drug interactions can range from something as benign as prolonged duration of certain medications, to something as severe as gastrointestinal ulceration/perforation, liver failure, or kidney failure.
How does this affect what medications I can give her today? – This is probably the most common concern that vets have when their patient has taken aspirin. Aspirin takes about 3-7 days to completely wash out of the system. This limits our choices for treatment of your pet’s problem. For example if Fluffy was unable to settle down because she has bad arthritis, we cannot start a safer anti-inflammatory medication for a few days without risking significant side effects. If she ends up having a slipped or bulging disk in her back, we can’t start steroids right away for the same reasons.
How will this affect her current condition? – With certain diseases, aspirin is the last thing we would want to give Fluffy. For example, if she was restless because she had gastroenteritis, aspirin would make the problem worse by making her more likely to develop gastric ulcers. If she was restless because she had a splenic tumor that was bleeding (hopefully not!), aspirin may have made the problem worse by making it harder for the blood to clot. Also, if she has a condition requiring surgery, the surgery will now be more difficult due to aspirin’s platelet inhibition.
Does Fluffy have any concurrent health issues? - If Fluffy has liver or kidney disease, aspirin can be very harmful and may worsen the disease. If she has blood or clotting disorders, aspirin may make her spontaneously bleed from her internal organs. Aspirin can even be dangerous in pets with asthma.
I know what you’re probably thinking, that’s a lot of things to think about in a split second! Unfortunately, we encounter this problem in practice more than we would like, and most of us have gone through this list in our mind many times. My purpose with this article is not to scare you, because Fluffy is usually fine in this scenario, but the potential exists for some very bad things to happen. Aspirin is not inherently a bad drug, it has many very beneficial uses, and many of our patients are on aspirin for various conditions and doing well. However, its use should always be under the supervision of a veterinarian to make sure that side effects are monitored, drug interactions are accounted for, and an appropriate dose is given. So my advice is the same as it is in every article I write, call your veterinarian (or in this case wait until the morning), we’re here to help! Oh, and Fluffy was fine, it turns out she had an upset stomach from eating some “treats” from your cat’s litter box the day before…
Socializing Your New Pet
by Joshua Bub, DVM
Jan. 11th, 2012
Think about your fondest memories from when you were young – warm cookies fresh out of the oven that your mom made, Thanksgiving dinner with your family, opening presents on your birthday. These were all very positive experiences when you were young and impressionable, and many years later, that smell of cookies still brings about good feelings. Now think about your fears – heights, spiders, snakes, the dark, enclosed spaces - hopefully no one is afraid of all of those or I may have lost a few readers… Our pets have the same types of feelings. For my dogs - chew toys with squeakers, grabbing the leash for a walk, and putting on socks set off something inside their head that makes them burst with excitement (don’t ask me where that last one comes from). Unfortunately my older dog Alli also has some fears that make her tremble - most notably loud noises, not being near me, and the dreaded nail trimmers. At this time of year we see a lot of puppies and kittens that have found new families over the holidays, and so I thought it would be appropriate to talk about how to properly socialize your new pet to give it a good outlook on life!
Before you point to me as a bad example of how to socialize your puppy (or kitten), we need to discuss the socialization period and how it affects future behavior. I rescued my dog when she was 6 months old, the main socialization period in puppies and kittens is between 4 and 16 weeks of age. At 4 weeks of age (give or take a week), their brain and spinal cord have developed and matured and they have a natural motivation to approach unfamiliar objects and people. Throughout puppyhood, there is a slowly increasing tendency to react fearfully to anything new. At some point, usually 14-16 weeks, this fearful tendency will eventually outweigh their curiosity, and this is usually when the socialization period ends. At this point, the experiences during the socialization period have formed such strong associations in their brains, that happy memories and fears are ingrained almost to the point of being an involuntary reflex. There is a lesser period of socialization that occurs at some point during adolescence (some believe 4-6 months, some up to 12 months), but the main one happens at a very early age. My dog already had some fears and phobias when I got her that likely developed during her socialization period. All was not lost though, as I was able to help her (mostly) overcome these fears through other behavioral techniques (desensitization and counter conditioning – a topic for another article).
The core of puppy and kitten socialization is exposing animals to novel stimuli in a positive and non-threatening manner, and avoiding negative stimuli. An important point to make is that socialization is not just about keeping your new pet away from bad things, but exposing them to as many new things (in a positive manner) as possible. It’s not enough to have your friends come over to the house, or to bring other pets around your new puppy or kitten, they need to be exposed to EVERYTHING! A puppy or kitten that has not been exposed to, let’s say, a tall man, or a nail trimmer, may react fearfully to that thing when they are older, even though they’ve had no prior experience with it.
To give you a good example of what kind of things you can do to socialize your puppy (or kitten), I’ll go through what happens during a typical day at puppy and kitten socialization at Mesa. Typically, our assistants will bring the puppy around to meet everyone in the hospital. While meeting us, the puppy is usually wagging its tail, running from person to person, and loving life (and the treats we give). They will be exposed to the sights, sounds, and smells of other dogs in the hospital while doing this, along with other pets here for socialization. They will get their nails trimmed, ears cleaned, listen to a soft thunderstorm CD, all while getting attention and treats. If at any point the puppy seems scared or is not enjoying things, the attention is scaled back so as to not overwhelm the puppy. These experiences have now formed a positive association in their brain, so powerful that they may even enjoy coming to the vet in the future!
When you get your new pet, I would encourage you to begin socialization right away, but in a controlled environment. I believe the benefits of socialization far outweigh the risks (such as exposure to infectious disease), as long as we minimize the risks. Do not bring your pet to uncontrolled areas such as the dog park, pet store, or any area where unvaccinated and non-dewormed pets may be present; there is a risk of your pet catching something. However controlled environments such as certain puppy classes, a friend’s house, or even our hospital, are excellent opportunities! Bring your new pet in the car with you frequently and give it treats, give it a bath at home and spread treats around the edge of the tub, touch its feet and ears while giving treats; did I mention you should buy lots of treats? After all, food is the number one motivator in dog training. Make sure you back off and give your pet space if it feels overwhelmed. I also encourage new pet owners to give your pet some “me-time”. Have a crate or safe gated area with toys (food stuffed toys are best) where your new pet can learn to entertain itself and develop some self-confidence. This can help prevent over-attachment and separation anxiety issues in the future. Continue this socialization program even past 16 weeks of age as dogs and cats are always able to learn.
Socializing a new puppy or kitten is hard work, but having a well-behaved and socialized pet pays off in the end, not to mention that a few months of work gives your pet a great head start to a happy life. If for some reason you’re not able to devote that much time to your new pet, I highly recommend bringing it in to Mesa for socialization; playing with puppies and kittens is one of the harder parts of our jobs, but we’ll make the sacrifice!