Why It’s so Hard to Cut Kitty’s Calories

By Dr. Karen Becker DVM


Estimates are that around 60% of cats in the U.S. are not only overweight, but obese. Owners of obese cats are often advised by their veterinarians to do the obvious — restrict the amount of calories kitty eats. However, this is apparently easier said than done, based on the low rate of compliance.
To try to answer the question of why it’s so difficult for cat parents to comply with recommendations to restrict how much their pets eat, scientists at Nestlé Purina Research set out to determine how much of an effect calorie restriction has on the feeding patterns of cats.
Specifically, “the objective of the present work was to better elucidate the impact of calorie cut-off on individual cat feeding behaviours, as well as on interactions between cats during food anticipation.”1
6% Reduction in Calories Has Dramatic Effect on How Cats Eat
For the study, the researchers assigned 80 domestic cats to two groups (40 per group) that were balanced for sex, age, weight, and body condition score. Cats being cats, several who “couldn’t adjust to their social group” were sent on their way, leaving 38 cats in the test group and 31 in the control group.
All the cats were fed the same commercially available diet on the same schedule. Canned food was the morning offering, kibble was served in the afternoon and overnight, along with very occasional treats. The test group of 38 cats was mildly calorie restricted (6%), which was accomplished by cutting off access to additional food when their allotted calorie intake was reached. All cats were monitored for 9 months, at which point the calorie restriction was ended.
The cats were free fed and typically consumed about 30% of their calories in the morning serving of wet food and 70% in dry food over the remainder of the day. However, the cats in the calorie restricted group quickly changed to rapidly consuming 70% of their calories in the first meal, leaving only 30% of their calories for the rest of the day. The cats in the control group, who continued to be free fed, didn’t change their eating behavior.
“While the control cats’ feeding behaviour remained unchanged throughout the trial, the study cats ate fewer but larger meals, came back faster to the food bowl after each meal, and ate their meals faster on the caloric restriction regimen compared to ad libitum feeding,” explained lead study author Séverine Ligout, PhD, in an interview with International Cat Care.
“However, one month after returning to ad libitum feeding, the study cats’ eating behaviours had returned to their baseline levels, showing that cats were able to readjust their feeding behaviours back to normal.”2
Calorie Restriction Also Increases Conflicts Between Cats
The researchers also observed an increase in conflicts between the calorie-restricted cats just before the first meal of the day. According to the researchers, it is likely linked to higher hunger and food motivation, since the cats have fewer calories to consume and they consume them faster, which leads to a longer period without food between the evening meal and breakfast the next morning.
The higher food motivation undoubtedly creates tension when several cats approach the food bowls for breakfast, leading to an increased likelihood of negative interactions. This behavior has been termed “irritability aggression” in other scientific studies and can be loosely compared to the hunger-driven irritability in humans known as “hangry” (a combination of hungry and angry).
“[The] conflicts consisted of avoidance of each other, one cat displacing another from a location by staring or approaching, lifting a paw in a threatening manner (i.e., as if to swat the other cat with its paw), and some cats actually made contact with another when swatting with their paws,” said Ligout.
“Thus, it looked like cats, just like us, are no strangers to the “hangry” (hungry + angry) feeling of hunger-driven irritability! Although no physical harm occurred during the study period, these interactions have the potential to impact negatively on the cats’ mental wellbeing and therefore welfare during the caloric restriction period, at least at actual feeding times.
These cats were housed in an enriched manner that allowed them to distance themselves from one another using space and physical structures, allowing them to avoid further conflict. In addition, their welfare was continually monitored throughout the study by veterinary professionals.”

Pet Parents Tend to Cave-in to Their ‘Hangry’ Cats
The researchers concluded that restricting the calories cats consume can change their feeding behavior significantly. Specifically, they eat larger meals faster, consuming their daily calorie allotment more quickly, which is outside the normal feline behavior of eating multiple small meals throughout the day.
So, while calorie restriction is a common strategy that humans employ when addressing feline obesity, from the cats’ perspective, it not only results in less food to eat, but also removes their sense of control over certain aspects of food availability and how much to eat.
Given that kitties like to feel in control of their living environment, it makes sense that they get “hangry” when their human attempts to restrict their food intake. According to the researchers, this leads to begging behavior, which then leads to lack of owner compliance.
Carnivores Fed Like Herbivores Results in Metabolic Confusion
Ideally, not allowing cats to free feed and become overweight is always the best advice when it comes to intentionally creating long-lived, disease-free cats. Cats, like other carnivores who remain well-muscled and lean throughout their lives, maintain innate metabolic flexibility when they’re at their ideal body weight and have periods of digestive rest in between meals.
Unlike carnivores, vegan animals (such as cows, goats and horses) need to nibble almost constantly to maintain their metabolic and physiologic wellbeing. The problem is when people feed their cats like goats, creating unhealthy and delicate metabolic butterflies that are prone to all sorts of health problems, especially when dieting.
As cats spend their days nibbling more and more, they can lose their ability to be sensitive to insulin and a variety of other metabolic hormones and end up with an overburdened liver and gallbladder and a sluggish and overworked digestive tract.
Many cats who nibble 24/7 lose their ability to effectively metabolize fatty acids at a normal rate, making them more metabolically fragile and prone to fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis) if they skip meals. This is the exact opposite of how nature wired cats to be — resilient, athletic, stealthy hunters who stalk their prey and take long naps in between meals.
As guardians, we often unknowingly fail cats in all sorts of ways. We feed them far too much and far too often and we feed them ultraprocessed, high carb foods, which only fuels the problem. By the time we realize we’ve created hangry addicts, it can be really difficult to switch gears. If you find yourself in this position, working with an integrative feline veterinarian or health coach who can help you map out a strategic, safe and effective plan is the best approach.
Pro Tip: Encourage Hunting Behaviors at Mealtime
The researchers recommend strategies such as puzzle feeders and/or dividing food into multiple smaller meals to help mitigate “hangry” behaviors. This advice makes sense, as wild and feral cats are always on the move in search of their next meal.
Many domesticated cats, on the other hand, are free fed at the same location every day. The more you feed, the less interested your kitty is in “hunting” — which is good exercise — around the house. If the only time you see her in motion is when she’s walking to or from the buffet, she’s getting zero exercise.
My mom adopted two older, obese cats just over a year ago. We weaned them off kibble and onto raw food in a series of small steps and very slowly, so as not to create stress. They were free fed kibble their whole lives (hence the obesity), so first we transitioned them to scheduled feedings: 6 small meals a day. Then after a few weeks we reduced them to 4 meals and then 3 meals a day.
Next we transitioned them from dry to canned food (this took about a month), then weaned them from canned food to cooked commercial food (we used Smalls), then onto raw food. The entire process took over 3 months.
Lastly, we separated their daily food allotments into several small portions at dusk and dawn and placed them in different locations around the house for them to find (we feed them in separate parts of the house while they are “hunting” to make sure they don’t eat each other’s food). I recommend making use of indoor hunting feeders, which encourage natural feline behaviorsand provide mental stimulation as well.
Also consider putting food bowls or the hunting feeders at the bottom and top of as many flights of stairs as you have to encourage muscle-building exercise throughout the day.
A recent study suggesting cats may be healthiest being fed just once a day had many feline fanciers up in arms. If people suddenly cut meals for the majority of indoor, under-exercised, overfed cats all sorts of bad things can happen.
This study demonstrates the behavioral component of “dieting” cats and the correct assumption that the entire process of changing a cat’s food, food volume or feeding schedule is stressful and must be done very slowly (and patiently).

Pet Parents Tend to Cave-in to Their ‘Hangry’ Cats
The researchers concluded that restricting the calories cats consume can change their feeding behavior significantly. Specifically, they eat larger meals faster, consuming their daily calorie allotment more quickly, which is outside the normal feline behavior of eating multiple small meals throughout the day.
So, while calorie restriction is a common strategy that humans employ when addressing feline obesity, from the cats’ perspective, it not only results in less food to eat, but also removes their sense of control over certain aspects of food availability and how much to eat.
Given that kitties like to feel in control of their living environment, it makes sense that they get “hangry” when their human attempts to restrict their food intake. According to the researchers, this leads to begging behavior, which then leads to lack of owner compliance.
Carnivores Fed Like Herbivores Results in Metabolic Confusion
Ideally, not allowing cats to free feed and become overweight is always the best advice when it comes to intentionally creating long-lived, disease-free cats. Cats, like other carnivores who remain well-muscled and lean throughout their lives, maintain innate metabolic flexibility when they’re at their ideal body weight and have periods of digestive rest in between meals.
Unlike carnivores, vegan animals (such as cows, goats and horses) need to nibble almost constantly to maintain their metabolic and physiologic wellbeing. The problem is when people feed their cats like goats, creating unhealthy and delicate metabolic butterflies that are prone to all sorts of health problems, especially when dieting.
As cats spend their days nibbling more and more, they can lose their ability to be sensitive to insulin and a variety of other metabolic hormones and end up with an overburdened liver and gallbladder and a sluggish and overworked digestive tract.
Many cats who nibble 24/7 lose their ability to effectively metabolize fatty acids at a normal rate, making them more metabolically fragile and prone to fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis) if they skip meals. This is the exact opposite of how nature wired cats to be — resilient, athletic, stealthy hunters who stalk their prey and take long naps in between meals.
As guardians, we often unknowingly fail cats in all sorts of ways. We feed them far too much and far too often and we feed them ultraprocessed, high carb foods, which only fuels the problem. By the time we realize we’ve created hangry addicts, it can be really difficult to switch gears. If you find yourself in this position, working with an integrative feline veterinarian or health coach who can help you map out a strategic, safe and effective plan is the best approach.
Pro Tip: Encourage Hunting Behaviors at Mealtime
The researchers recommend strategies such as puzzle feeders and/or dividing food into multiple smaller meals to help mitigate “hangry” behaviors. This advice makes sense, as wild and feral cats are always on the move in search of their next meal.
Many domesticated cats, on the other hand, are free fed at the same location every day. The more you feed, the less interested your kitty is in “hunting” — which is good exercise — around the house. If the only time you see her in motion is when she’s walking to or from the buffet, she’s getting zero exercise.
My mom adopted two older, obese cats just over a year ago. We weaned them off kibble and onto raw food in a series of small steps and very slowly, so as not to create stress. They were free fed kibble their whole lives (hence the obesity), so first we transitioned them to scheduled feedings: 6 small meals a day. Then after a few weeks we reduced them to 4 meals and then 3 meals a day.
Next we transitioned them from dry to canned food (this took about a month), then weaned them from canned food to cooked commercial food (we used Smalls), then onto raw food. The entire process took over 3 months.
Lastly, we separated their daily food allotments into several small portions at dusk and dawn and placed them in different locations around the house for them to find (we feed them in separate parts of the house while they are “hunting” to make sure they don’t eat each other’s food). I recommend making use of indoor hunting feeders, which encourage natural feline behaviorsand provide mental stimulation as well.
Also consider putting food bowls or the hunting feeders at the bottom and top of as many flights of stairs as you have to encourage muscle-building exercise throughout the day.
A recent study suggesting cats may be healthiest being fed just once a day had many feline fanciers up in arms. If people suddenly cut meals for the majority of indoor, under-exercised, overfed cats all sorts of bad things can happen.
This study demonstrates the behavioral component of “dieting” cats and the correct assumption that the entire process of changing a cat’s food, food volume or feeding schedule is stressful and must be done very slowly (and patiently).

Why Is My Dog Scared of Everything?

Reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM
By: Victoria Schade


If your dog is scared of literally EVERYTHING, then you understand that life with a fearful dog can be limiting.
Instead of greeting the world with a confident walk and a wagging tail, a fearful dog might shy away from anything new, or worse yet, react preemptively to avoid a new situation altogether.
It’s not easy for a pet parent to admit that their dog is scared of everything because trying to work through those fears can be overwhelming.
Fearfulness does have a place in the wild; it increases an animal’s chance of survival by keeping them away from danger. But when your dog is acting strange and scared in everyday life, it’s stressful for both ends of the leash and can even have long-term health implications.
Let’s take a look at why certain dogs are scared of everything, how to recognize fearful behaviors, which situations trigger fear, and how you can help your dog deal with their fear.
What Makes a Dog Scared of Everything?
Dogs that seem scared of everything can be products of nature and nurture. A dog’s genetic makeup, early experiences, environment and daily life can all have an impact on their temperament.
Lack of Socialization
A common reason for fear in dogs is a lack of positive exposure to new people, animals and environments during the critical fear period of the puppy socialization process.
This important developmental stage in a puppy’s life occurs between 8 and 16 weeks of age, when pups need to have a variety of pleasant interactions with the world around them.
Puppies that don’t have positive exposure to the world around them might be more likely to be wary of anything new or unusual. This can lead them to be scared of things we wouldn’t associate with fear, like people wearing large hats or having a stroller/skateboard/skater go past you.
Genetic Predispositions
However, some nervous dogs might also have a genetic predisposition to fearfulness or shyness. Puppies born to anxious mothers are more likely to be fearful as well.
Traumatic Experiences
For some dogs, all it takes is a single traumatic experience to create lifelong fear responses. For example, a dog that’s caught off guard by firecrackers during a walk might then generalize that fear response to any loud noise—like a car door slamming—and might also develop a fear of walking anywhere near where it happened.
Pain
It’s important to note that some behaviors that look like fear might be related to pain. Dogs that seem “hand shy” and nervous about being touched might actually be dealing with an undiagnosed medical issue.
Your veterinarian can help you determine whether your dog is experiencing pain or suffering from fear-based issues.

Recognizing Fear in Dogs
The first step to helping a dog that’s scared of everything is understanding their body language.
Some fear displays are hard to miss—like a trembling, hunched-over dog that has their ears back and tail tucked. But learning to recognize subtler fear reactions will allow you to intervene before your dog’s fear escalates.
Some of the telltale signs of fear in dogs include:
• Trembling or shivering
• Hunched body with head down
• Ears back
• Tail tucked
• Hair standing up on the neck and back
• Growling
• Showing teeth
A dog that’s afraid might also show these more subtle signs:
• Freezing in place
• Moving in slow-motion
• Repeatedly licking their lips
• Yawning frequently
• Trying to move away from the stressor
• Panting heavily or suddenly stops panting
Keep in mind that some behaviors that look like aggression, like leash reactivity and barking, can also be signs of an underlying fear of something.
Common Things That Dogs Are Scared Of and How You Can Help
Many dog fears are universal—it’s rare that a dog actually enjoys a trip to the vet—however, a dog that’s scared of everything might have a difficult time coping with common, everyday noises or encounters.
Loud Noises
It’s almost impossible to avoid having a startle reflex when you hear an unexpected loud noise, but dogs that are scared of everything will react more dramatically to noises.
For example, a typical dog might jump at the sound of a dropped pan, but a fearful dog might run, hide and then refuse to come out.
How to help:
If your dog only reacts to certain types of noises, like sirens or fireworks or thunder, you can use behavioral modification to help your dog learn to tolerate the sound. Use a recording of the sound to gradually desensitize him to the noise by playing it at a low volume and pairing it with treats.
Increase the sound over a series of training sessions, watching your dog’s body language to make sure that he isn’t becoming uncomfortable with the noise. If your dog is trying to cope with ongoing scary sounds like construction noise, use a white noise machine to muffle the sounds.
Children
Kids can be fast, loud and unpredictable, and because of that, they can be challenging for even the most even-tempered dogs.
But dogs with generalized fear reactions will find children even more distressing, particularly because a child doesn’t understand canine body language and will have a hard time recognizing when a fearful dog is trying to get away.
How to help:
If you don’t typically have children in your home, it’s easiest to manage your dog’s behavior by keeping him in a safe, quiet space when small guests visit.
If you discover that your new dog is fearful around your own children, make sure that he has an area where he can spend time away from them. Then you will need to find a positive-reinforcement dog trainer to help you assess the situation and create a training plan that keeps everyone safe.
Other Dogs
Unfortunately, not every dog wants to be friends with his own kind, particularly timid dogs. If a dog hasn’t had the opportunity to meet dog friends and develop canine language skills, he might wind up feeling overwhelmed when faced with other pups.
How to help:
Helping fearful dogs learn to feel more confident around other dogs requires a slow approach and a good understanding of canine body language. You will need to slowly work through dog introductions in order to keep your dog feeling comfortable.
For dogs that are mildly uncomfortable around other dogs, you should find a mellow, dog-savvy dog and try walking them together, at the same pace but with distance between them. When both dogs seem relaxed, gradually begin to bring them closer together, making sure that they remain calm and happy as they get closer.
Keep early introductions short and end sessions before the nervous dog gets overwhelmed. And remember that making friends with one dog doesn’t mean the behavior will generalize to all dogs.
Strangers
Some dogs are uncomfortable around people that look different from their family (for example, large men with beards or people wearing hats and bulky jackets), but dogs that are afraid of anyone outside their family can make going into public or having guests over traumatic.
How to help:
Using desensitization and counter-conditioning can help a stranger-shy dog start to overcome his fears.
To begin, figure out your dog’s “buffer zone”—the area at which he can remain calm when faced with a stranger. Then have the stranger come into view at the edge of that buffer zone and feed your dog a bunch of extra-special treats that he doesn’t normally get.
Continue giving treats while the person is in view for a few seconds, then have the stranger disappear.
Gradually bridge the gap between your dog and the person over a series of training sessions. Always watch your dog’s body language to make sure they remain calm and confident throughout the training process.
Going Outside
Sometimes the world outside your front door is a scary place. Dogs that move to a different environment, like from the suburbs to the city, might find the noise and crowds in their new neighborhood overwhelming.
Similarly, a traumatic experience outside, like having a fight with another dog, can be enough to create an overwhelming fear of going outside.
How to help:
Dogs that are afraid to leave their home can benefit from a training process called “shaping.” Shaping makes it easier for dogs to face their fears by breaking behaviors down into manageable steps and rewarding the dog for making progress toward the finished product.
Pet parents can begin the process by standing near the door with a handful of treats. When your dog makes any movement towards the door, mark the behavior with a clicker or verbal marker like, “good!” then toss a treat to your dog. Continue to build on and reward each step towards the door until your dog is able to cross the threshold.
Be Patient With Your Dog
Keep in mind that a fearful dog should always set the pace for training. Trying to push a nervous dog beyond his comfort zone could derail the training process, so be patient and encourage your fearful pup as he learns to be a more confident dog.
Talk with your veterinarian about pairing training and desensitization efforts with natural, holistic calming supplements or pheromone collars. Sometimes, medication is very helpful to calm some dogs in certain situations if natural options have not worked. Also, working with a veterinary behaviorist may be the best option if all other routes have failed.
By: Victoria Schade

What to Feed a Cat With a Sensitive Stomach

By Liz Bales, DVM

 

Does your cat have a sensitive stomach? Do they consistently vomit or cough up hairballs? Believe it or not, hairballs aren’t normal for cats; their bodies are made to pass the hair that they ingest from grooming.

So these could be signs that your cat is sensitive to something in their food.

Gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances are commonly caused by poorly digestible foods, food allergies or food additives/flavorings/preservatives.

Many times, a diet that’s formulated to address your cat’s sensitive stomach can ease and even resolve the problem. But it’s important to not immediately jump to changing your cat’s diet without getting your vet’s input.

Here’s what you should do if your cat has a sensitive stomach and how you can help them find the right diet.

Talk With Your Veterinarian to Rule Out Other Medical Issues

Vomiting can be a sign of many different illnesses, not just a sensitivity to food. And coughing up a hairball can look very similar to general coughing and sneezing in a cat—which could actually be signs of feline asthma.

If your cat is vomiting food or hairballs once a month or more, or is also losing weight, a veterinary visit is recommended.

You should also try to get a video of your cat when they are exhibiting these behaviors so that your veterinarian can see what you see at home.

At the vet’s office, your veterinarian will check for clues as to what is causing the stomach upset. They may recommend diagnostic tests like blood work, X-rays or an ultrasound to find the cause of the GI upset.

By ruling out other medical issues, you can make sure they get right medical treatments for any underlying issues.

How to Find the Best Food for Your Cat’s Sensitive Stomach

Once you’ve dealt with any other health issues, you can work with your vet to figure out the best food for your cat’s sensitive stomach.

Your vet will be able to guide you towards foods that fit your cat’s nutritional requirements, while you can narrow it down by your cat’s food preferences to find the perfect match.

Here are some options your vet might suggest for finding a food for your cat’s sensitive stomach.

Start With a Diet Trial

Once your cat gets a clean bill of health from the veterinarian, a diet trial is the logical next step. Diet trials are a way to narrow down your cat’s food options until you find a food that suits their sensitive stomach.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” diet for every cat. Your cat will have an individual response to each diet. So, work with your veterinarian to find the most suitable food for your cat’s needs.

It can take up to three or four months for your cat to clear the old diet from their system so that you can completely evaluate the new diet.

What to Look For in the New Diet

The best foods for a cat with a sensitive stomach will be highly digestible and contain no irritating ingredients. Highly digestible diets have moderate to low fat, moderate protein and moderate carbohydrates.

Many of these diets have additives that improve intestinal health, like soluble fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and increased levels of antioxidant vitamins, and they contain no gluten, lactose, food coloring or preservatives.

Try a Hypoallergenic Diet

Cats can experience food allergies that cause gastrointestinal upset. Of all the components of the diet, the protein source is the most likely to cause food allergies.

Your cat can be allergic to any protein that they have been exposed to. For example, rabbit and chicken may both cause a food allergy. But, if your cat has never eaten rabbit before, their immune system hasn’t been sensitized to it, and they are unlikely to be allergic to it.

Some studies show that beef, chicken and fish are the most likely to cause allergies. The best cat food for helping cats dealing with food sensitivities for certain protein allergies are hypoallergenic diets.

Types of Hypoallergenic Diets for Cats

There are three main types of hypoallergenic diets:

  • Limited ingredient
  • Veterinary prescription food with a novel protein
  • Hydrolyzed protein

Limited ingredient diets typically contain only one protein source and one carbohydrate source, and they can be purchased without a prescription, like Natural Balance L.I.D. Chicken & Green Pea Formula grain-free canned cat food. However, these diets are not regulated to ensure that they don’t have cross-contamination.

For more highly allergic cats, veterinary prescription diets with novel animal proteins contain a single-source protein and are produced in a facility that prevents cross-contamination.

Hydrolyzed protein diets, which also require a veterinary prescription, break down the protein to a size that’s less likely to be recognized by the immune system, like Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed Protein HP dry cat food.

Try Simply Changing the Form of Cat Food

Your cat’s stomach sensitivity may improve by just changing the type of food that you feed.

For example, if your cat is experiencing stomach sensitivity on dry food, it is reasonable to try a low-carb, higher-protein canned food diet, like Royal Canin Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Gastrointestinal Moderate Calorie canned cat food or Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets EN Gastroenteric Formula canned cat food.

Likewise, if you are feeding wet food, you may do a trial of a dry food diet with a dry food like Royal Canin Sensitive Digestion dry cat food.

Try a Different Feeding Routine

Cats that eat large meals are more likely to vomit very soon after eating—tongue-in-cheek, we call this “scarf and barf.”

With a stomach the size of a ping-pong ball, cats, in particular, are physiologically and anatomically designed to eat small, frequent meals. They are designed to hunt, catch and play with many small meals a day. Eating one large bowl of food a day can lead to frequent regurgitation.

In general, small, frequent meals are best. This results in less gastric retention of food and increases the amount of food that is digested and absorbed.

You can recreate this natural feeding behavior with the award-winning, veterinary recommended Doc & Phoebe’s indoor hunting cat feeder kit.

Instead of filling the bowl twice a day, use the portion filler to put the food into each of the three mice and hide them around the house. This natural feeding style provides portion control, activity and stress reduction that has shown to decrease or eliminate vomiting.

By: Dr. Elizabeth Bales, DVM

 

The Dog Scoot is not the Dance you want to See!

By Dr. Karen Becker DVM

 

The ‘What’ and ‘Why’ of Canine Anal Glands

Your dog’s anal glands or sacs are small and oval-shaped and sit just inside the rectum on either side of the anus at about the 8:00 and 4:00 o’clock positions. They’re located within the muscle of the anal sphincter and the tiny openings to the ducts aren’t easily visible along the anal mucosal junction.

The glands secrete an oily substance with a potent odor that humans perceive as unpleasant, to put it mildly. This fluid may function as a territorial marker in the world of canine communication, allowing dogs to leave personal biochemical information for other dogs to investigate.

When your dog poops, if the stool is of normal consistency, the oily fluid is expelled from the anal glands through tiny ducts and onto the feces. Anal glands empty from the pressure of the stool as it passes through the rectum and anus. This is a useful design of nature, but unfortunately, today’s dogs often have loose stools or irregular bowel movements that don’t provide sufficient pressure against the anal glands during evacuation.

“Scooting,” as the behavior is affectionately called, signals an itchy or irritated backside. Once in a great while, the problem is caused by tapeworms or other parasites in which case there are usually other symptoms such as weight loss, poor coat or skin condition, a distended or painful abdomen, or diarrhea.

You might also see worm segments near your dog’s anus, but other parasites that cause an itchy anus and an irritated rectum are microscopic and require a stool analysis for correct diagnosis.

Scooting can signal a problem like a perianal tumor or irritation caused by diarrhea or a perineal yeast infection, but most often the reason is an anal gland issue. Your dog is dragging or scooting her bottom across the floor to try to relieve the discomfort of inflamed, infected or impacted anal gland(s).

Impactions, Infections, Abscesses, and Tumors

When a dog’s anal sacs malfunction, it’s most commonly a problem of impaction. This occurs when the oily substance builds up in the glands and thickens and isn’t expressed, resulting in enlargement and irritation of the glands. Anal gland infections are usually bacterial in nature and cause irritation and inflammation. As the infection progresses, pus accumulates within the anal gland.

An anal gland abscess is the result of an unaddressed anal gland infection. The abscess will continue to grow in size until it eventually ruptures. My recommendation for these extreme cases is to infuse the anal glands with ozonated olive oil or silver sulfadiazine (diluted with colloidal silver).

Anal gland tumors, classified as adenocarcinomas, are usually malignant. Occasionally anal gland tumors cause elevations in blood calcium levels, which can result in significant organ damage, including kidney failure.

Other contributors to anal gland problems can include obesity where there is insufficient muscle tone and excess fatty tissue, certain skin disorders, and infections. But in my experience, the three most common causes of anal gland problems in dogs are diet resulting in loose stools, trauma to the glands, or the position of the glands.

Cleaning Up Your Dog’s Diet

The unnecessary carbohydrates found in commercial pet food are allergenic and inflammatory, especially to your dog’s digestive system. The last part of your dog’s digestive tract is her rectum, anus and anal glands, which tend to be excellent indicators of food-related irritation.

If your dog is experiencing recurrent anal gland issues it means there’s systemic inflammation present and the first thing you should do is address the most logical causes of inflammation, the first step being food. Eliminate excess inflammatory foods from her diet, including all sources of grains and legumes. Stop feeding any food that contains corn, potato, legumes, oatmeal, wheat, rice or soy.

I also recommend ordering a NutriScan test to identify food sensitivities, followed by a novel diet depending on the results of the scan. When a dog is having a reaction to something in her diet, her body needs a break from that food. After determining her food intolerance(s), my recommendation is to introduce a novel diet to promote healing. This means transitioning her to a different food she isn’t sensitive to made up of ingredients her body isn’t familiar with.

Unfortunately, many dog foods claiming to contain “novel proteins,” don’t. In addition, pet food mislabeling is a widespread problem, so if you’re planning to go with a commercially available processed novel diet, be aware it will almost undoubtedly contain ingredients you’re trying to avoid.

The very safest approach, especially for the first few months, is homecooked meals that allow you to control virtually everything that goes into your dog’s mouth. Second best is a human-grade commercially available fresh food containing an uncommon protein, produced by a company you trust.

A common reason for sudden anal gland issues is an episode of acute diarrhea. If there is suddenly no pressure from firm feces to expel the contents of the glands, secretions can accumulate quickly, leading to scooting.

If your dog’s poop is frequently unformed, soft, or watery, her anal sacs aren’t consistently getting the firm pressure they need to empty on a daily basis and recurrent scooting may be seen. Feeding a nutritionally optimal, species-specific diet will address both food sensitivities and intermittent poor stool consistency.

Adding probiotics, fiber (for example, 100% canned pumpkin or slippery elm powder) and digestive enzymes to her diet can also assist in creating consistently firm stools. Address an episode of loose stools immediately with these suggestions and a bland meal to correct the bowel imbalance before it creates anal gland issues.

If your dog has regular episodes of diarrhea, you need to investigate the root cause as soon as possible. The most common reason pets have poop issues are problems with their food. You can find an in-depth discussion of food sensitivities and the havoc they can wreak on your pet’s health here.

Has There Been Trauma to the Anal Glands?

Many injuries to dogs’ anal sacs are caused by well-meaning but misguided groomers, veterinarians, and even pet parents. Many groomers are in the habit of expressing the anal glands of every dog they groom, as a part of “included services,” along with cleaning ears and trimming nails.

Routine expression of healthy anal glands is unnecessary, unpleasant for both dog and human, and potentially harmful, so if you take your pet to a groomer, make sure to mention that no anal gland expression is necessary. Over time, regular manhandling of these little sacs can interfere with their ability to function as nature intended.

Some veterinarians offer anal sac expression as an included service for pets who are being anesthetized for some other procedure. In addition, many veterinarians immediately express the anal glands if the owner mentions their dog scoots now and then. This approach doesn’t identify or address the cause of the problem, only the symptom.

And then there are dog parents who feel it’s in their pet’s best interest to express their anal sacs on a regular basis. Just as manually draining other glands in your pet’s body is unthinkable, expressing healthy anal glands can create problems.

If your dog is having recurrent or chronic anal sac issues, it’s important to identify the root cause rather than repetitively treating the symptom by manually expressing the glands.

The anal sacs are delicate little organs that can be easily injured through squeezing and pinching. They were designed to function optimally without assistance. Trauma to the glands causes tissue damage and inflammation, which in turn causes swelling. Swollen glands can obstruct the exit duct through which the fluid is expressed. If blocked secretions build up and thicken in the glands, it can lead to impaction and anal gland infection.

Sometimes, the Problem Is Structural

Certain dogs have anal sacs that are located very deep inside their rectums. As stool collects in the colon, the pressure should cause the glands to empty. But if a dog’s anal glands aren’t adjacent to where the greatest amount of pressure builds in her large intestine, they won’t express properly.

This is a situation that may require surgery to correct because the location of the glands is dictated by genetics.

Final Thoughts

If your four-legged family member is having anal gland issues, your veterinarian should investigate thoroughly to determine the cause of the problem rather than just treating it symptomatically by manually expressing the glands.

It’s important to try to re-establish the tone and health of malfunctioning glands using a combination of dietary adjustments, homeopathic remedies, and natural GI anti-inflammatories. Sometimes manually infusing the glands with natural lubricants or herbal preparations can help return them to normal function.

The goal should be to resolve the underlying cause and return your pet’s anal glands to self-sufficiency. If your dog doesn’t have anal gland issues, I recommend telling both your groomer and your veterinarian to leave these little glands completely alone to avoid problems down the road.

 

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Is a Thyroid Problem Causing Your Pet’s Wasting or Obesity?

Is a Thyroid Problem Causing Your Pet’s Wasting or Obesity?

By Dr. Karen Becker DVM

Both dogs and cats experience disorders of the thyroid, but they’re usually affected in different ways. Dogs much more commonly develop hypothyroidism, or low thyroid hormone (thyroxine) levels, in the age range of 2 to 7 years.1 Cats, on the other hand, almost always develop hyperthyroidism, or high thyroxine levels, and it tends to occur in middle-aged and older kitties.

Thyroxine is an extremely important hormone in the body, playing an essential role in food metabolism, growth and development, oxygen consumption, reproduction and resistance to infection.

Causes of Canine Hypothyroidism

Your dog’s thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped organ in his neck at the base of his throat, with one lobe on each side of his trachea. There are a variety of things that can cause this little gland to fail. One is an immune system disorder called autoimmune thyroiditis, which means the body is attacking the tissues of the thyroid gland.

In response, the thyroid will first try to compensate by producing more and more hormone (thyroxine). But after a while, the gland becomes depleted. It’s at this point your dog develops symptoms of the disorder and is diagnosed with hypothyroidism.

Another way your dog can become hypothyroid is if the gland begins to shrink with age or becomes inflamed, producing less and less hormone over time, until eventually it doesn’t produce enough to support normal biological processes. A nutritional deficiency of iodine, tyrosine or the body’s inability to convert the amino acid phenylalanine to tyrosine can also result in hypothyroidism.

Other potential causes of hypothyroidism include certain medications, especially corticosteroids and exposure to endocrine disrupting toxins, including antigens in vaccines, which can ultimately lead to immune-mediated disease in the gland.

Symptoms to Watch For

Because an underactive thyroid affects so many bodily functions that rely on thyroxine, symptoms of the disorder vary widely and can be different from one dog to the next. Lack of energy, evidenced by frequent napping, exercise intolerance, or loss of interest in running and playing, is a hallmark sign of hypothyroidism. Other symptoms include:

Weight gain without increase in appetite or calorie intake Discoloration or thickening of the skin
Low tolerance for the cold Chronic infections of the skin or ears
Dull, dry, brittle, thin or greasy coat, dark coats can become reddish-brown Depression or mental dullness
Hair loss or failure to regrow clipped hair Slow heart rate
Dry, itchy skin and flakey nails Significant behavioral changes (e.g., aggression, head tilting, anxiety, compulsiveness, seizures)

If you suspect your dog has developed hypothyroidism, in addition to making an appointment with your integrative veterinarian, I encourage you to review this article for much more information on how the condition is diagnosed, including appropriate tests, and treating both simple and autoimmune forms of the disease.

It’s important to remember this condition doesn’t happen overnight and long before the diagnosis of clinical hypothyroidism there’s always declining thyroid levels, or “sluggish” hormone production (another great reason to include thyroid testing on your pet’s annual bloodwork).

If your dog’s thyroid levels are dropping over time but are still within range, “borderline” or “low normal” levels can be bolstered with a variety of thyroid stimulating nutrients, herbs and glandulars. I recommend partnering with your proactive vet to institute a protocol as soon as thyroid levels aren’t optimal to prevent fulminant disease.

 

Causes of Feline Hyperthyroidism

Feline hyperthyroidism is the most commonly diagnosed endocrine disorder in domestic cats, especially senior kitties. In fact, 95% of cats with hyperthyroid disease are 10 years or older.2 The disorder is typically caused by a benign tumor (adenoma) on the thyroid gland that causes overproduction of thyroxine, a situation that can cause serious, even life-threatening symptoms in cats.

Exposure to flame retardant chemicals (polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs) has been linked to the development of hyperthyroidism in cats. PBDEs are recognized endocrine and thyroid disruptors.

In a 2015 study, researchers analyzed the blood from 60 pet cats for the presence of flame-retardant chemicals. The objective of the study was to evaluate the differences in the levels of chemicals in healthy cats vs. cats diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Of the 60 cats in the study, 23 had normal thyroid function and 37 were hyperthyroid.

The study results showed that the hyperthyroid cats had higher blood levels of PBDEs on a fat weight basis; in essence, endocrine-disrupting environmental chemicals are making their way into our feline’s bodies at alarming rates.

Another earlier study suggested that flame retardant chemicals in house dust are linked to thyroid disease in cats. The study authors concluded that cats are primarily exposed to flame retardant chemicals by ingesting house dust — which occurs when they groom themselves.3

Housecats seem to have extraordinary exposure to PBDEs. In 2012, Swedish researchers demonstrated that serum PBDE levels in Swedish cats were about 50 times higher than in the Swedish human population,4 and a 2007 study showed that PBDE levels in U.S. cats were 20 to 100-fold greater than median levels in U.S. adults.5

A more recent study sheds even more light on the connection between flame retardant compounds and feline hyperthyroidism, suggesting that fish-flavored cat food could be a culprit.6 Scientists evaluated cat food and feline blood samples and discovered that the type of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and PBDE byproducts found in both the food and blood samples are derived from marine organisms.

The researchers were also able to simulate the way in which the bodies of cats convert the type of chemical present in the food into the type of chemical seen in the cats’ blood samples.

Based on their results, the team concluded that the byproducts detected at high levels in cats’ blood samples likely came from fish flavored cat food and not exposure to PCBs or PBDEs. However, further work is needed to determine the link between the metabolites (byproducts) and hyperthyroidism.

Symptoms to Watch For, Especially in Cats Over 10

About half of all kittiesthat develop hyperthyroidism have an increased appetite, but ultimately, about 90% of them lose weight because a side effect of excessive thyroid hormone levels is an increase in metabolism.

Other symptoms of hyperthyroidism include high blood pressure; frequent vomiting; increased body temperature, heart and respiration rates (due to the up regulation of metabolic processes); hyperactivity, restlessness, nighttime yowling and eye problems in undiagnosed/untreated cases.

A combination of increased appetite, weight loss and sudden, unexpected bursts of energy in an older cat is a definite sign he or she may have an overactive thyroid. It’s important to make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

If you suspect your kitty is hyperthyroid, in addition to making an appointment with your integrative veterinarian, I recommend reviewing this article for very important information on appropriate diagnostic tests, as well as information on how to both treat and prevent the disease.

 

 

Defining Senior Age in Dogs

Reviewed and updated for accuracy on May 13, 2019 by Dr. Hanie Elfenbein, DVM, PhD as seen in PetMD

 

Our pets are family no matter their age. We love senior dogs just as much as when they were puppies, but some of us might be in denial when it comes to admitting that they’ve entered their senior years.

And it can also be confusing knowing exactly when you should call your pup a senior, especially when that range is different for different breeds and sizes of dogs.

Here’s a guide for determining when your dog is truly considered to be a senior and recognizing signs of health issues so you can adapt her care to fit her needs.

Is There a Set Range for a Senior Dog’s Age?

According to the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the term “senior” can describe an aging pet, but the number of years a pet is considered to be “senior” varies.

Identifiers such as weight, breed and the state of their organs can also help determine if your pet has reached old age.

“Though many old guidelines talk about seven dog years being equal to one human year, the size of the dog really depends on the extent to which you can follow that rule,” says Dr. Heidi Lobprise, DVM, DAVDC, and spokesperson for the International Veterinary Senior Care Society.

For example, large dogs will typically age faster than smaller dogs. “For a dog between 20-40 pounds, these guidelines are more effective, but it’s not uncommon to see a geriatric Great Dane at age 7 or a Chihuahua in [his] 20s,” Dr. Lobprise says. 

In most cases, however, dogs can be considered senior between 5 and 10 years old.

“The terms ‘geriatric’ and ‘senior’ also differ,” Dr. Lobprise says. “While a dog may be considered senior, they’re likely still healthy or just beginning to experience signs of aging. Geriatric animals are at the older end of the aging spectrum and often experience more health-related issues.”

Signs of Aging for Senior Dogs

“There is a wide range of factors to help you recognize signs of aging in your pet—many of them similar to the signs of aging in people,” Dr. Lobprise says. Some of these factors may be more obvious, like an intolerance to exercise or limited mobility, while others are much more subtle.

Your pet’s behavior may also help indicate signs of aging. While cats don’t always show that something is wrong until their issues become more advanced, many dogs are more demonstrative and vocal with their discomfort.

Here are some things to keep an eye on:

Eating Patterns and Weight

You’ll want to monitor your dog’s eating patterns and body weight, as obesity can cause issues, including osteoarthritis and diabetes. A too-thin animal or dog that won’t eat could be having dental or stomach issues.

Sleeping Patterns and Cognitive Health

Sleeping patterns and cognitive behavior are also things to look out for. A dog that isn’t aware of his surroundings or has difficulty recognizing people may be experiencing early canine dementia.

Drinking Patterns and Urination

“A less obvious but just as important sign of aging is how much your pet is drinking and urinating,” Dr. Lobprise says. How much your pet is or isn’t drinking can be indicative of many problems, from endocrine issues to kidney disease.

Urinary incontinence in female dogs may also be a sign of trouble. It’s challenging to watch for, especially in multi-pet households, but should be monitored if possible.

Monitoring your dog’s urination and defecation on walks can be a useful tool. Even if both are normal, you may notice your senior dog being slower or more resistant to posturing.

Lumps and Bumps

Being aware of your pet’s overall body condition may also help you spot any abnormalities, like cancer.

“We’re keeping animals healthier and healthier now, and as our pet population is graying, an eventual cause of death is cancer, especially in specific breeds,” Dr. Lobprise says. “We need to be aware of lumps and bumps.”

Many dogs develop lumps and bumps while they age. Not every lump will need to be tested or removed, but keeping track of them can avoid problems. Lumps that are new, growing or are different from the other ones on your pet can indicate a problem.

Recognizing Common Diseases for Senior Dogs

“A very common and preventable disease that is prevalent in senior pets is dental disease,” Dr. Lobprise says. “While it’s not always a serious disease to have, it is one worth paying attention to and can change your dog’s demeanor if treated early and effectively.”

You can spot periodontal disease by smelling your dog’s breath and regularly checking their teeth and gums for signs of bacterial infection, such as inflammation, reddened gums and tartar.

Left untreated, dental issues can impact a dog’s heart, kidneys and the rest of the body. If dental disease is causing discomfort, it may make your dog not want to eat, which can lead to all sorts of other problems; that is why your veterinarian recommends regular dental cleanings.

Kidney and liver disease can be an issue for both cats and dogs, as can heart valve disease. Endocrine issues, including those impacting the adrenal glands and thyroid, can also affect aging dogs.

Hypothyroidism can make older dogs feel lethargic and potentially gain weight.

Unfortunately, Dr. Lobprise says, it’s more common for multiple problems to compound each other in senior pets than in younger animals.

Your pet’s cognitive function is also a common issue; are they aware of their surroundings? Do they recognize their people? There are minor, natural declines in cognition as a part of the aging process, but as it advances, it can disrupt a pet’s quality of life.

Working With Your Veterinarian

Dr. Lobprise recommends getting senior animals checked by their vets at least twice a year, complete with blood work, urine analysis and a full body examination, in addition to yearly dental cleaning, if needed.

Unfortunately, however, the AAHA reports that only 14 percent of senior animals have regular health screenings as recommended by their vets. Having just an annual exam may [allow an issue to] progress into something worse that can impact the life span of your dog,” Dr. Lobprise says.

“Whether it’s kidney disease, heart disease or cancer, the earlier something is caught, the better,” Dr. Lobprise adds.

Talk to your veterinarian about what and how much your pet is eating, as different conditions will require different dietary needs to maintain a healthy weight. Some senior pets benefit from prescription dog food diets aimed to help treat specific diseases.

You should also take into consideration their lean muscle mass and body score. Your pet could be the same weight as always, but they may be retaining fluids and losing muscle as a result of some illness. To help keep track and recognize changes in your dog’s weight, you can take photos or keep a body score chart at home.

Depression and anxiety can also be issues with older pets, so you’ll want to discuss this and any other behavior-related issues with your veterinarian. Your vet can provide you with prescription pet medication to help ease anxiety and behavior modification training tools, but you’ll also want to make sure their lives at home are as comfortable as possible.

“When looking at the senior or geriatric pet, there will be some rough days,” Dr. Lobprise says.  

As a pet parent, you can help your pets thrive in their senior years by first admitting that they are indeed seniors, taking them twice a year to the vet for a checkup, and looking out for any issues that require your vet’s immediate attention.

By: Jessica Remitz

 

At What Age Are Cats Fully Grown?

Reviewed for accuracy on September 30, 2019, by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM as seen in PetMD

 

When a child finally turns 18 years old, they are generally considered to be an adult.

But what about our feline family members? At what age are cats fully grown? How do you know when to start feeding them adult cat food?

Your cat will hit several different milestones that signify that she’s becoming an adult cat, but there’s no one magic age where a cat stops growing and maturing.

Although there’s no definitive age, there are general age ranges where most cats generally stop growing and reach adulthood. Here’s what you can expect as your cat makes that transition.

When Do Kittens Stop Growing?

“Kittens usually stop growing at approximately 12 months of age,” says Dr. Nicole Fulcher, assistant director of the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America, although they still may have some filling out to do. “A 12-month-old kitten is equivalent to a 15-year-old person. They are considered full-grown at 18 months of age—which is equivalent to a 21-year-old person.”

Even though many cats stop growing at 12 months, not all cats are done growing at this age. But if they are still growing, it will be at a much slower rate, generally from 12-18 months, so you can expect your cat to be very close to their full adult size at this point. But there may be some cats that can take up to 2 years to be fully grown.

Large breeds, in particular, can take longer. Maine Coons, for instance, might not reach their full size until they are 2 years old or so.

Milestones for Growing Cats

Here are some important milestones for kittens as they become adult cats:

  • Months 3-4: Baby teeth start to fall out and are replaced by adult teeth; this process is usually complete by 6 months of age.
  • Months 4-9: Kittens go through sexual maturation.
  • Months 9-12: A kitten is almost fully grown.
  • 1 year+: Kittens are just reaching adulthood.
  • 2 years+: Kittens are socially and behaviorally mature.

When Should I Feed My Kitten Adult Cat Food?

The right time to transition your cat from kitten to adult food is dependent on many factors. For most cats, around 10-12 months of age is appropriate.

However, a young Maine Coon who is struggling to keep weight on could probably benefit from remaining on kitten food until they are 2 years old or even longer. On the other hand, a kitten who is maturing quickly and becoming overweight on kitten food might benefit from switching at around 8 months of age.

Ask your veterinarian when your cat is ready to make sure you are meeting her nutritional needs.

How Often Should You Feed Kittens?

Most kittens should be fed free-choice until they are around 6 months old because of their high energy requirements.

“From 6 months to a year, an owner can feed three times a day,” says Dr. Jim Carlson, owner of the Riverside Animal Clinic, located outside of Chicago.

After a year, offering meals two times a day will work for most cats, but more frequent, smaller meals may continue to be beneficial for others.

By: Deidre Grieves

 

Going to Foster a Dog?

By Dr. Karen Becker DVM

 

Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to bring a foster dog into your home — or you’re seriously considering it. This is an altruistic act that will change the animal’s life forever, and is key to helping the approximately 3.3 million dogs that enter U.S. animal shelters annually.1

Not only is there simply not enough room to keep every dog in need of a permanent home in a community animal shelter, but such shelters are notoriously stressful places to be. As a result, dogs don’t show their true personalities, making it harder for them to get adopted.

It’s also common for animals to become sick in shelters, and the typical animal shelter environment, with its concrete floors, kennels and chaotic environment, is so traumatic for many dogs that it brings out behavioral issues, like fearfulness or excessive barking, that may keep them from getting adopted.

Imagine, then, that a dog that would otherwise end up cowering in a corner in a shelter kennel is able to instead spend his days waiting for his forever family while cozying up on a couch, in a home, with a temporary family to show him love and get him used to the routines of a household environment. Fosterers like you make that possible.

Getting Prepared for Your Foster

Once you fill out an application to foster a dog, be aware that your new foster could arrive sooner than you expect, so it’s a good idea to get prepared right away. While the animal shelter or rescue group that you’re fostering for will typically pay for veterinary care for the animal, you’ll need to supply basics, like food, shelter and other supplies.

Not knowing the personality of the animal you’ll be fostering, it’s also smart to prepare your home for your new guest much like you would do for a human toddler coming to visit: put away all items on the floor you don’t want investigated, keep electrical cords out of reach, and close off rooms you don’t want the foster pup to have access to.

Items to have on hand include food and water bowls (preferably non-plastic), a leash and harness, a pet bed, toys, food and treats. You’ll also need poop bags and a crate or pen. If your foster has had a negative experience with the crate, time in your home is a perfect opportunity to help them reframe this experience.

Next, decide where in your home you plan to keep these items, particularly where your foster dog will sleep, eat, go to the bathroom and spend time in his crate.

The biggest part of being prepared for a foster animal is knowing that your time with your pup will vary, and you’ll be working together to develop a relationship during this time, as well as care for a dog that may come with physical and behavioral challenges that need to be positively and appropriately addressed.

According to Second Chance Rescue, based in New York, the average time a dog spends in foster care is two weeks, but some dogs get adopted in a couple of days, while others may spend a month or more in foster care.2 In addition to caring for the dog in your home, some rescue organizations will ask their foster volunteers to bring the animal to adoption events to increase their chances of being adopted.

Making Your Foster Feel at Home

As soon as you bring your foster pup home, show him where to use the potty and where he can find a safe place to rest. This will help the dog feel less anxious, as he’s just been through a number of sudden, unpleasant experiences. You’ll want to do your best to keep his first hours and days in your home as calm as possible to help him feel at ease.

According to Karen B. London, Ph.D., who co-authored the book, “Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home,” “For introductions, that means having him meet every person in your household one at a time in a calm way with no pressure and perhaps some treats or toys if he likes them. He should also meet other dogs, cats and any other species in your household one at a time, with a break between each introduction.”3

During this time of transition, London also advises keeping the dog on a leash when you take him outside, even if you have a fenced yard. A stressed-out dog may run away and be difficult to convince to come inside when you call him, and he may also appreciate having you nearby when he’s outside.

Helping your foster dog feel safe, secure and loved is the primary goal of foster care. While you may want to engage in some brief positive training sessions, the goal right now isn’t to teach him obedience but rather trust and acceptance.

“He may know a lot or he may not even know his name or how to sit when asked. Perhaps he is too overwhelmed to learn much right now. Keep training relaxed and low-key. Consider it a fun way to interact with him rather than a way for him to learn any particular skills,” London says, suggesting that you want your foster dog to associate you with love and attention more than anything else.4

Fostered Animals Are More Likely to Get Adopted

Fostering a dog is rewarding for those who want to make a difference in a dog’s life without making the full-time commitment to adopting. And it’s a proven fact that fostering makes an immense difference to animals, helping dogs to get adopted into permanent homes.

In a comparison of 30 dogs put into foster care and 30 dogs that stayed in a shelter for one week or more, those given foster care had significant improvements in behavior and wellbeing. Specifically, dogs in foster care were rated as being more playful, happier, friendlier and confident than the shelter dogs, as well as showing less signs of insecurity, anxiousness, barking and repetitive behaviors.5

Not only will your love help your foster find a home faster, but it will open up space in shelters and rescues so more animals can get the help they need. It’s a win-win scenario for everyone involved — and sometimes foster parents even end up falling for their foster and becoming their permanent home.

The possibility of “foster failure” is just one more part of the job to be aware of, but when it happens, it’s still a winning scenario for everyone.

 

 

The Best Food to Avoid Shrinking Kitty Syndrome

By Dr. Karen Becker

If you’re a cat person, you’ve probably noticed that many kitties seem to get thinner as they get older. This isn’t your imagination — in fact, research shows that a decrease in body weight is quite common in kitties over 11 years of age.1

There are a variety of reasons older cats lose weight. Today I’m discussing dietary considerations, but it’s important to note that other factors, such as stress and certain diseases can also play a role. For more information on those issues, read Shrinking Kitty Syndrome.

Studies show that both protein and fat digestibility decrease in cats after age 10.2,3 Dietary fat contains more calories per gram than either proteins or carbohydrates, so if older cats’ ability to digest fat is limited, it can have a major effect on their ability to extract calories from food.4

Research also shows that about 20% of cats 14 years of age and older don’t digest protein efficiently.5 A compromised ability to digest both fat and protein is likely a major reason senior and geriatric cats lose both fat and muscle mass.

The cause of this phenomenon hasn’t been identified, but in my opinion, long-term consumption (often a lifetime) of ultra-processed cat food containing poor quality, hard-to-digest ingredients plays a significant role.

Reducing Your Older Cat’s Protein Intake Isn’t the Answer

For many years, the veterinary community’s answer to the problem of reduced protein digestibility in older cats was reduced protein diets to mitigate compromised kidney and liver function. However, reduced protein cat food can be a recipe for disaster, because we now know aging cats actually need more protein than their younger counterparts.

In the 1990s, retired veterinary nutritionist Dr. Delmar Finco discovered protein requirements actually increase as pets age. He demonstrated that even in animals with kidney failure, restricting protein didn’t improve their health or longevity.6

In fact, Finco’s research proved cats on low protein diets develop hypopro­teinemia, which is an abnormally low level of protein in the blood. The cats had muscle wasting, became catabolic (lost both fat and muscle mass), and lost weight. The more protein was restricted, the sicker these kitties became.

Finco discovered it was the level of phosphorus in foods, not necessarily the amount of protein that exacerbated kidney disease, and thanks to his groundbreaking research, veterinary recommendations have changed.

These days, we recommend a diet containing excellent quality (human grade) protein that is highly digestible and assimilable for animals struggling with under-functioning kidneys and livers. We also recommend restricting phosphorus in the diet, but not necessarily protein.

If your cat is in the later stages of kidney failure, as defined by the International Renal Interest Society (IRIS), a reduced amount of protein is suggested, but should still be offered in a high-quality, kidney-friendly fresh food format.

We now know that cats, as true carnivores, require lots of high-quality, human grade animal protein not only to maintain good organ and immune function, but also to maintain healthy muscle mass as they go through life and the aging process.

Not All Protein Is Created Equal

The quality of the protein you feed your senior cat is of utmost importance. Highly digestible and assimilable protein, coupled with high moisture content, is the type of nutrition that causes the least amount of stress on your kitty’s aging organs.

It’s sort of a well-kept secret, especially among ultra-processed pet food manufacturers, that protein quality is extremely variable. There are highly assimilable and digestible animal proteins (proteins your cat’s body can easily absorb and derive nutrition from), and there are plant proteins that are both biologically inappropriate and difficult to process.

All protein has a biologic value, which is its usable amino acid content. Eggs have the highest biologic value at 100%. Fish is a close second at 92%. Feathers, as you might guess, have zero biologic value. They are technically animal protein, but they are neither digestible nor assimilable.

There are also foods that are high in (plant) protein but biologically inappropriate for cats. Soy is a good example, with a biologic value of 67%. Many popular pet foods contain soy as a protein source, as well as corn. This is an inexpensive way for pet food manufacturers to increase protein content on the guaranteed analysis printed on the label. But because soy and corn are not species-appropriate, they don’t belong in your cat’s diet.

Since digestion and assimilation are not always measured for pet foods, manufacturers are not penalized for adding protein that has little to no nutritional value for the species of animal eating it. Call your pet food manufacturer and ask if their meat is human-edible quality. “Feed-grade” meat is substantially cheaper (and potentially much less assimilable), which is why 99% of pet food companies use it.

In addition to corn and soy (as well as other grains) that are inflammatory and incomplete proteins for carnivores, there are many other reasons not to feed carbohydrates to cats. Mycotoxins, GMO’s, glyphosate exposure and sugar load (which leads to lifestyle-induced diabetes), as well as obesity and arthritis are all solid reasons to avoid offsetting high quality protein with cheap fillers.

The Best Diet for Most Older Cats

Some foods are metabolically stressful; for instance, grains and potatoes prompt a big insulin release. The nutrition that generates the least amount of metabolic stress for most cats, regardless of age, is whole, unprocessed, organic, non-GMO, and minimally processed (raw or poached). This of course includes human quality animal meat, which should be the foundation of your kitty’s diet throughout her life.

Foods that have not been highly processed are the most assimilable for a cat’s body. All the moisture in the food remains in the food, whereas foods that have been extruded (most dry food) can have drastically depleted moisture content — as low as 12%.

If you can’t feed fresh food (raw or gently cooked), second-best is a dehydrated or freeze-dried balanced diet reconstituted with plenty of water. Your cat’s kidneys and liver can be further stressed as a result of chronic low-grade dehydration, so all foods served dry can pose a problem long term.

I recommend serving your cat food in its natural state to provide needed moisture, and to insure the highest level of biologic assimilation and digestion. That means feeding a nutritionally optimal, antioxidant rich, species-specific diet that includes omega-3 essential fats, such as krill oil.

Moisture is an aging cat’s best friend, so encourage yours to drink by offering a variety of glass, metal or food grade ceramic water bowls around the house or a drinking fountain, in addition to minimizing (or preferably eliminating) dry food.

However, if your kitty is addicted to terrible food, adding a whole body supplement, such as Feline Whole Body Support is a good idea. Adding bone broth to a dry food addict’s meal is also a great way to increase hydration and fluid balance.

Additional beneficial supplements include SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) as a safe and effective way to stall mental decline, improve mobility and assist in liver detoxification. Consult your integrative veterinarian for the right dose size.

Periodic detoxification with milk thistle, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and dandelion can also be very beneficial, as can providing super green foods in the form of fresh cat grass to nibble on. Chlorophyll, chlorella or spirulina can also be offered in supplement form to enhance your cat’s detoxification processes.

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have been shown to be safe for cats and can improve brain energy metabolism and decrease the amyloid protein buildup that results in brain lesions in older pets. Coconut oil is a rich source of MCTs and may also reduce hairball issues. I recommend 1/4 teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight twice daily for basic MCT support, if your cat will voluntarily eat it.

For aging kitties with a cognitive shift that makes them prowl the house at night and vocalize, consider low dose melatonin, which is not only a sedative with a calming effect, but also an antioxidant. I also use rhodiola, chamomile and l-theanine with good results.

Tips for Encouraging Your Cat to Eat

If your kitty is eating ultra-processed pet food, again, my first recommendation is to try to slowly and safely transition her to a balanced, fresh, organic, non-GMO, species-appropriate diet made with human grade ingredients. Whether her diet is fresh or processed, however, the goal should always be to make sure your cat eats something.

Unlike dogs and humans, it’s dangerous for kitties to go any length of time without nourishment, as it can lead to a potentially fatal liver disease called hepatic lipidosis. Keeping your older cat well-nourished can require creativity along with some gentle prodding, and lots of patience. Things you can do to tempt her include:

Warming her food to bring out the aroma
Offering gently cooked food with a strong smell or topped with a sardine (packed in water)
Offering new food from a paper plate in case she’s developed an aversion to her food bowl for some reason
Offering a small selection of different flavors and textures of canned cat food or home cooked meat or bone broth
Enticing her with species-appropriate human food she has enjoyed in the past, such as warm baked chicken or salmon
If she’s addicted to dry food and refuses everything else, try adding warm water to each meal or add an aromatic enticement like tuna juice, warm goat’s milk, chicken broth or bonito flakes

It’s also important to make kitty’s mealtime a very low-stress, pleasant experience. Make sure you feed her in a calm, quiet environment that is optimally comfortable.

 

9 House Hunting and Moving Resources for Pet Owners

By Cindy Aldridge

 

Moving is stressful on we humans — and it’s no easier for the animal companions we share our homes and lives with. However, there are some steps we can take to make the house hunting and moving process a whole lot easier on ourselves and our beloved animal companions. For some tips on finding a pet-friendly home, planning a safe move, and helping our animal companions to settle into their new living environments, check out the nine resources below!

Find a Pet-Friendly Home

Looking for a Rental? 13 Steps to Finding Pet-Friendly Housing

Tips for Buying a Home With Pets

Parma Housing Market: House Prices & Trends

Plan a Safe Moving Day

Find a Moving Service Online

Tips on Moving With Your Pet

Find the Top 10 Pet Sitters Near You

Help Your Pet to Settle In at Home

Diane Weinmann Animal Communication and Healing Services

Tips for Settling Pets Into a New Home

10 Quick Tips for Conquering Pet Odors

 

When looking for a pet-friendly home or apartment, don’t underestimate the importance of working with an experienced real estate agent — even if you’ll be renting. Your agent can help you to find a home that meets the needs of you and your animal companions — whether you need parks and trails nearby, a fenced-in backyard, or a specific type of flooring for your pet. Whatever you’re looking for in your new home, an experienced real estate agent can help you to find it!