The Truth About the ‘Special Food Needs’ of Small Breeds

The Truth About the ‘Special Food Needs’ of Small Breeds

By Dr. Karen Becker comments by Diane Weinmann

Those of you with small dogs may have noticed that the pet food marketplace is exploding with diets created for the so-called “special needs” of small breeds. Clearly, the processed pet food industry has found another cash cow: dog food formulas marketed to owners of small breeds.

According to the PetfoodIndustry.com, “… as smaller dogs appealing to both millennial and baby boomer lifestyles increase in popularity, the pet food industry is taking note.”1

According to the article, millennials (now the largest demographic of pet owners) aren’t moving as quickly toward home ownership as previous generations, instead choosing to remain in apartments or condos as city dwellers. Baby boomers are becoming empty nesters, downsizing to smaller living spaces, and doing more traveling.

Neither of these lifestyles is conducive to owning a large dog (or so the theory goes), but since both groups still want to be pet parents, small dogs are the solution.

“Small dogs, which are more portable, more likely to meet apartment weight limits,” writes the author of the article, “and can in some cases even be trained to be completely indoor animals, with litter or puppy pads ensuring they don’t need to go down an elevator or several flights of stairs to find relief in the nearest patch of grass.”

As an important point of clarification, no dog should be a “completely indoor animal.” Walks outdoors, visits with friends and family with yards, adventures to the dog park, and other pet-friendly outings are essential in keeping dogs of all sizes and ages exercised, socialized, mentally stimulated, and grounded to the earth.

Big Pet Food Wants Us to Believe Small Dogs Need Special Diets Simply Because They’re Small

The processed pet food manufacturers would like to convince you that small dogs have unique health issues and nutritional requirements that only they can meet. This is a red flag for me, because processed pet food isn’t the answer for the health issues faced by small dogs (or any size dog), and it’s certainly not the answer to small dogs’ (or any dog’s) nutritional needs.

Processed pet food producers want to position small dogs as so different from “real” dogs that they need specialized diets. In fact, one “global director — nutrition and technical communications” for a pet food company goes so far as to say, “They’re not carnivores.” Actually, yes, they are. All dogs are.

Canines are scavenging carnivores, and need to be, in order to maintain health. Making dogs omnivores or vegetarians creates metabolic disease; however, it’s the stance the pet food industry must take to sell the biologically inappropriate products they produce.

If Big Pet Food’s pitch is successful, it opens up limitless opportunities to expand their product lines and develop marketing plans to sell diets specifically for small breed dogs. Now, these diets will be, for all intents and purposes, identical to diets for every other size dog — it’s really only the marketing, packaging and kibble size that will be different.

And you can bet there won’t be any independent (or even company-sponsored) pet food research substantiating the claim that toy and small breeds have a totally different set of nutritional requirements than other sized dogs. There also won’t be any long-term studies determining the safety or efficacy of feeding these fast-food diets for the lifetime of a pet.

From what I’ve been able to tell comparing formulas for small dogs and regular formulas, the differences are primarily in package sizes, product names and the way they’re marketed, and in some cases, kibble size.

Obviously, repackaging standard formulas and giving them cute names like “Wee Bits” and “Mighty Minis” does nothing to address the supposed “unique health issues and nutritional needs” of small dogs as advertised by pet food companies, but they don’t expect dog owners to connect the dots.

So that’s Big Pet Food’s play for the hearts and minds of small dog parents. Hopefully all of you reading here today won’t be fooled.

Your Dog’s Size Shouldn’t Dictate His Diet

In an ideal world, processed pet food manufacturers would put their significant resources toward getting the basics of canine (and feline) nutrition right and focus less on finding ways to re-engineer existing poor-quality formulas to expand their product lines.

Dry pet food with little or no high-quality animal protein and minimal moisture, but plenty of grains, carbs, starches, allergenic ingredients, non-nutritional fillers, synthetic amino acids, vitamins and minerals, additives and preservatives, is not species-appropriate nutrition for any dog, regardless of size. The fact is, when comparing a Great Dane to a Yorkie, they are all canine, specifically Canis lupus familiaris.

What is becoming apparent, through new canine DNA studies, is that a dog’s evolutionary lineage can play into expressed behavior traits and may dictate dietary preferences. For instance, dogs that evolved from northern parts of the world (Akitas, Huskies, Malamutes, etc.) may crave a diet higher in fish (or omega 3 fatty acids), which was a part of their evolutionary nutrition many moons ago.  Diane’s husky, Neko, loves all fish in his food.

In theory, customizing macronutrients and ingredients to a dog’s genetic lineage may prove to quite beneficial, but this isn’t what Big Pet Food is doing with their “breed specific” diets.

Sadly, humans have chosen to breed certain types of dogs down to sizes so small their organs often don’t function normally. And the AKC and other kennel clubs still condone (and paper) inbred animals. Since nature doesn’t design dogs to be that small, health problems are to be expected, including congenital organ problems which may require owners to feed a lower protein diet.

But assuming all small breeds require low protein diets is misguided. Certainly size, energy output and health problems are a consideration when determining any animal’s nutritional requirements, but a dog is still a dog — a carnivorous canine.

Those of you who have been readers for years know how I feel about this topic: unless breeders complete every possible genetic test for both parents and intentionally breed for “reparative conformation” (so the next litter may carry fewer genetic predispositions), they shouldn’t be breeding, and smaller isn’t better.

That being said, there are some small dogs who are born with poorly functioning livers or kidneys and must be on customized diets their whole lives: this is a result of bad breeding, not an evolutionary adaptation from being small.

Tips for Feeding Small Dogs

It’s very easy to overfeed and under-exercise any dog, and especially a small one, so it’s important to start out on the right foot and stay there.

Currently, AAFCO doesn’t link feeding instructions on dog food packaging to a dog’s energy requirements, so according to the bag or can, a super active 10-pound dog and a super lazy 10-pound dog should eat the same amount. Common sense says this can’t be true.

  1. Ignore pet food advertisements that suggest healthy small dogs need special diets.
  2. Calculate how much food your dog needs each day, then scale that amount up or down, depending on activity level.
  3. Feed an optimally balanced, species-appropriate, fresh food diet to your little one. Regardless of her size, your dog needs the right nutrition for her species, which means real food that is made from healthful ingredients (not feed-grade, rendered, slaughter house waste), high in human-grade animal protein and moisture, with low or no grain content or starches/carbohydrates.
  4. Practice portion control — typically a morning and evening meal, carefully measured. A high protein, low carb diet with the right number of calories, controlled through the portions you feed, will help your small dog remain at a healthy weight. And don’t forget to factor in any calories from treats.
  5. Use small training treats — Tiny dogs need only tiny training treats. Otherwise, you’ll have a not-so-tiny dog in no time. Anything more than, say, a treat the size of a quarter of a pea, is too big. You can buy or make treats to break into very small pieces; you can also use your dog’s regular food as treats.
  6. Regularly exercise your dog — Daily exercise, including at least 20 minutes of consistent aerobic activity, will help your pet burn fat and increase muscle tone.
  7. Evaluate your dog monthly — If she is losing weight, adjust calories. If she is gaining weight, adjust calories.
  8. Small and toy breeds are prone to dental disease because 42 teeth in one tiny mouth leads to crowding, and crowded teeth get dirtier faster. A raw diet and recreational raw bones or nontoxic dental chews will help keep plaque and tartar under control, but small breeds also need to have their teeth brushed daily, as well as routine veterinary dental exams.

The key to keeping your small dog healthy has nothing to do with offering “wee” or “mini” sizes of biologically inappropriate pet food. Help your little one stay at a healthy weight and nutritionally fit with a high animal protein, moisture rich diet fed in controlled portions, and augmented with plenty of physical activity.

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5 Questions to Ask Before Saying ‘Yes’ to Expensive Surgery

5 Questions to Ask Before Saying ‘Yes’ to Expensive Surgery

By Dr. Karen Becker and comments by Diane Weinmann

Some of the most difficult decisions we make as pet parents involve the treatment and ongoing care of an animal companion who is seriously ill or incapacitated.

Veterinary medicine is evolving in terms of new treatments, but just because a treatment is available doesn’t mean it’s appropriate in every situation. In fact, sometimes, refusing treatment is actually the best decision a person can make for their pet’s quality of life.

Asking the Right Questions

Receiving the news that a dog or cat is seriously ill or injured is extremely upsetting for most pet parents, but it’s important to keep your wits about you so that you can formulate the right questions to ask your veterinarian.

At a minimum, you need to know what’s wrong with your pet, the extent of the illness or injury, what treatment options are available and associated costs, and the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each type of treatment.

Armed with this information, I recommend you take a day or two to think things over and write down any additional questions or concerns that arise. This is also a good time to consider a second opinion, perhaps with a specialist such as a veterinary cardiologist, oncologist, or surgeon, depending on what’s wrong with your pet. Questions to ask yourself as you contemplate your pet’s treatment options:

  • What is in the overall best interests of my pet? This is a gut check to ensure it’s your pet’s interests and not your own that remain your primary focus.
  • How difficult will treatment be for my pet? If, for example, your cat is stressed out by car rides and veterinary visits, a course of treatment that requires lots of both will add to her discomfort and anxiety.
  • Will the recommended tests and treatments change my pet’s outcome? Unfortunately, sometimes “doing everything possible” in terms of diagnostic tests and treatments delivers no benefit whatsoever beyond helping pet parents feel they “did everything possible.”
  • Will the treatment offer my pet an improved quality of life? This is arguably the most important consideration.
  • What can I realistically afford in terms of financial and time commitments?

Planning Ahead

Preparation is priceless. I recommend establishing treatment boundaries before you find yourself in a situation in which your emotions are running high and you’re more apt to make decisions you may later regret. Some of the situations below are extremely difficult to contemplate, but whenever possible, it’s best to do so with a clear head. Things to consider:

  1. How will I pay for my pet’s treatment? You can find information on pet health insurance, other options to pay for pet care, and preventive care tips in my article One of the Most Neglected Aspects of Pet Ownership.
  2. How far will I go with treatment for my pet? Generally speaking, it makes little sense to put an elderly pet through a course of treatment (e.g., an amputation, back surgery, or removal of a major organ) that probably won’t improve and may even detract from his quality of life.
  3. How many invasive procedures will I allow my pet to undergo? Set an “invasiveness tolerance level” for your animal based on your own feelings and beliefs — your wise inner voice. For example, an ultrasound is a three-dimensional image taken with an external device that is entirely non-invasive but could be stressful for your pet.

Exploratory surgery, on the other hand, is the definition of invasive. Your pet will be put under general anesthesia, opened up, and her internal organs explored. If you’re unwilling to put your pet under the knife but you’re okay with an ultrasound, write it down so you know in advance how you feel about invasive procedures.

  1. How far will I let my pet be pushed? This involves assessing your pet’s individual stress tolerance level. If you must pack your elderly housecat off to an emergency clinic with dozens of barking dogs, bright lights, odd smells and strange people, it can be overwhelmingly stressful for her.

In such a case, you may decide not to put her through certain procedures — even if they’re warranted and you’d prefer they be done — because you know she’ll very likely have an emotional meltdown simply from the stress of the situation. Identify your pet’s stress threshold and make a decision ahead of time not to go beyond it.

  1. How do I feel about resuscitation and other end-stage issues? If your beloved pet slips into a coma at an emergency animal hospital, do you want the staff to perform CPR, or are you prepared let him go? If you want your pet saved at all costs, will you be able to manage a critically ill animal, perhaps on life support?
  2. How do I feel about euthanasia? Sort out your thoughts and feelings about euthanasia. Think about whether you agree in principle with it. If you must euthanize your pet, would you want it done at home? Which family members would be involved? How about your children, if you have any, and other pets?
  3. How do you want your pet’s remains handled upon death? Do you want to take her home for burial? Would you like her cremated and the ashes returned to you? Or would you prefer to leave the remains at the clinic for disposal? Try to give the situation some thought before the time arrives. Only you know what’s best for your pet, and for you and your family.

Taking Care of Yourself While You Care for Your Pet

Sharing your life with a pet brings immeasurable amounts of joy and unconditional love, but when your pet becomes ill, caring for him can take a toll on your mental health. Researchers assessed what they called “caregiver burden” in 238 owners of a dog or a cat.

It’s well known that caregivers of human patients facing a chronic or terminal illness experience heightened levels of stress, depression and anxiety, so the researchers set out to determine if the same held true for pet caregivers.

As you might suspect, the answer is yes. Compared to owners of healthy animals, the results showed greater burden, stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as poorer quality of life, in owners of pets with chronic or terminal disease.1 In turn, the feeling of higher burden was linked to reduced psychosocial functioning.

It’s important to remember that you can’t care for your pet unless you care for yourself first. Practice positive self-care, from eating right to getting enough sleep, and reach out for support when you need it.

For many, the emotional toll is the hardest part of caring for a sick pet, which is why expressing your thoughts and feelings is crucial.

You needn’t keep your emotions bottled up; what you’re feeling — perhaps failure, frustration, inadequacy or guilt — is valid and by sharing your thoughts — in a journal, with a friend or in a support group — you can ultimately move past them and let them go. The International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (IAAHPC) states:2

“We encourage you to reach out to like-minded individuals in your community and online who have experienced similar situations, and ‘get it.’ Look to your local animal shelters, veterinary association, and pet funeral homes for pet loss support groups. Human hospice programs in your community offer grief and bereavement services to the public (interview them for their views on pet hospice first).”

In addition, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with decisions and information regarding your pet’s illness, ask for explanations from your veterinarian, and realize that you don’t have to shoulder the burden alone. If you need a moment to regroup, ask a close friend or family member to care for your pet so you can focus on stress relief.

“[T]he ability to think clearly will directly affect how effective you can be in your care for your animal companion,” IAAHPC notes. “Respite, or some time away from caregiving, can be important to your continued well-being.”

Despite the stress and, oftentimes, uncertainty, there can be great solace in being there for your pet when he needs you most. Sometimes, if you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed the best thing you can do is to simply sit and be with your pet in the present moment.

As an alternative, consulting with an animal communicator, like Diane Weinmann, to obtain the wishes of your pet, along with signs that they will display if they are ready to transition into spirit and if they want assistance with that journey can also take the uncertainty of the situation away.

Take some deep breaths, practice mindfulness or meditation, and your calmness will likely be felt by your pet as well.

 

Got yourself a Door Dasher?

Got yourself a Door Dasher? 

By Dr. Karen Becker DVM

Many of you who have dogs or have friends or family with dogs are familiar with the phrase “door darting.” Door darting is what happens when an unrestrained, untrained dog spies an open door and dashes through it to parts unknown.

The frustrated owners of these dogs are uniformly desperate to get the situation under control. Not only is door darting dangerous, it can also be embarrassing when there’s a visitor at your door who witnesses your furry family member making his wild-eyed escape.

So why does your extravagantly well-kept canine companion, who wants for absolutely nothing, launch himself out open doors like he’s leading a prison break? In the words of certified dog behavior consultant and dog trainer Pat Miller, because it’s fun!

“The outside world can be endlessly reinforcing for a dog,” Miller writes in Bark magazine. “If you have an ‘investigate-and-sniff-everything-on-walks’ kind of dog, you know that from experience. The door-darter has also learned that dashing outside is a great way to get his couch-potato human to play with him — which is also very reinforcing.

Finally, if you’ve ever made the mistake of being angry at your dog when you finally got your hands on him, you’ve taught him that being captured makes good stuff go away (he doesn’t get to play anymore) and makes bad stuff happen (you yell at him).

Making good stuff go away is the definition of ‘negative punishment’ and making bad stuff happen is ‘positive punishment.’ Basically, he’s punished twice, and neither punishment is associated with the act of dashing out the door! Rather, both are connected with you catching him, which will make it even harder to retrieve him the next time he gets loose.”1

Profile of a Door Darter

Many canine escape artists are first and foremost in dire need of more physical exercise and mental stimulation. Often, they are high-energy breeds, or dogs who spend all day inside by themselves. Generally speaking, dogs who aren’t given sufficient opportunities to exercise and explore are much more likely to seek out those opportunities for themselves.

A dog who is well-exercised through structured activities (walking, running, hiking, playing fetch, trips to the dog park, etc.) is typically more relaxed and compliant than an under-exercised dog.

Another consideration is your dog’s breed and temperament. Some breeds naturally prefer to stick close to home and their humans, while others are more inclined to be adventurers. For example, certain dogs, including some terriers, were bred to work independently and at a distance from humans. Those dogs are more likely to feel the urge to dash out the door than dogs bred for companionship.

Breeds whose nature is to track and hunt wildlife (e.g., scenthounds and sighthounds) are also more likely to run out an open door to pursue an enticing smell or a small animal.

Dangers of Door Dashing

The dangers for a dog running free through the neighborhood are countless. They include being hit by a moving vehicle, encountering an aggressive dog or wild animal, or getting lost, stolen, or picked up by animal control. There’s also the possibility a dog running wild could knock over a small child or an elderly person or run through a neighbor’s open door or backyard gate and cause a problem.

Unfortunately, most door darters, even after being scared or hurt during an escape, aren’t able to associate the act of running loose with the consequence of fear or pain. As soon as there’s another opportunity to bolt through an open door, these dogs are in the wind once again.

The thrill the dog gets by running loose and having the opportunity to chase other animals (or people) provides instant reinforcement and self-reward for the behavior.

Taking Action: First, Get Your Dog Back

Just as preventing your dog from darting out the door is easier said than done, so is retrieving him in many cases.

“An accomplished door-darter is often an accomplished keep-away player as well,” writes Miller. “Don’t chase your dog; you’ll just be playing his game. Play a different game. Grab a squeaky toy, take it outside and squeak. It may be counter-intuitive, but when your dog looks, run away from him, still squeaking.

If the dog chases you, let him grab one end of the toy. Play tug, trade him for a treat, then squeak and play some more. Let him follow you, playing tug-the-squeaky, into your fenced yard, then close the gate (or into your garage or house, if you don’t have a fence). Play more squeaky with him.”

If your dog happens to love trips in the car, Miller suggests asking him if he wants to go for a ride. Open the door, wait for him to jump in, and take him for short ride. If he loves taking walks or visits to the dog park, offer them instead. The idea is to propose an alternate activity he enjoys so you can get him back under your control.

Once you have him back, no matter how upset you are, do not punish him. Don’t yell, don’t even calmly read him the riot act. And don’t take him back inside immediately, Miller advises, because that’s punishment, too. Stay outside and play with him a while.

“I promise, if you punish him or march him sternly back into the house, he’ll be harder to catch the next time,” she writes. “Instead, happily and genuinely reinforce him with whatever he loves best.”

Needless to say, all dogs, and especially escape artists, should wear an up-to-date ID collar or tag at all times. If your dog is microchipped, make sure to keep his registration current in the microchip company’s database. Other methods for identifying pets include GPS tracking devices and permanent tattoos.

If you have a dog that is a genuine Houdini, I recommend you also safeguard him with a multitude of restraints. I always recommend that pets have a standard up-to-date ID collar or tag in addition to whatever other ID method you choose, since the easiest, fastest way for someone who has found your pet to find you, is to take a quick look at the contact info contained on his tag or collar.

9 Tips for Curbing Door Dashing

There are many different ways to train dogs to perform desirable behaviors. The steps listed below are among several that can be used to successfully teach your dog not to dash out open doors.

The most effective and humane training method, and the one I always recommend, involves setting your dog up for success, using positive reinforcement to train the behaviors you want to see more of, and ignoring (not punishing) undesirable behaviors.

With a door darting dog, the first order of business is to put an immediate and permanent stop to her ability to scoot out the door. This means gaining the cooperation of everyone in the household, and all visitors to your home.

  1. Doorknob rule — A technique many people use is the dog-doorknob rule. Everyone living in and visiting your home should be trained not to turn the doorknob until they know where the dog is and ensure she can’t get loose and get to the door. The door should never be opened until the dog is secure, which means confined in another room, on a leash someone is holding, or reliably following a verbal command to “stay” or “wait.”
  2. Secure the yard — If you have a fence around your yard or a driveway gate, make sure to close and even lock any access points so that in the event someone breaks the doorknob rule, you’ve got a second opportunity to recapture your escapee before she disappears down the street.
  3. Leash rule — Until your dog is trained not to run out the door, keep a leash on her at all times throughout the day when someone is due to enter or leave your home. If there tends to be constant activity at your door, it means your dog will be on leash most of the time in the beginning. Yes, this is a pain, but remember the goal is to put an immediate and permanent stop to her ability to bolt out the door.
  4. Before training sessions, take your dog out to relieve herself — Before attempting any at-the-door training, make sure your dog has an opportunity to relieve herself. If she really needs to go, she might wind up confused about what you want from her, since she’s accustomed to charging out the door to go pee or poop — an activity you normally encourage.
  5. Teach a “back” command at the door — While inside your home, grab some training treats and go to the door with your dog. As you open the door, tell her “back.” As you give the command, shuffle your feet forward toward her, which should cause her to back up to avoid being crowded.

When she backs up, immediately give her a treat. Repeat this exercise as often as necessary until she automatically backs up whenever the door starts to open.

  1. Teach a “wait” command at the door — Again, grab some treats, go to the door with your dog, and tell her to sit. Hold a treat close to her nose with one hand, tell her to “wait,” and open the door with the other hand. If she stays still, give her the treat and lots of praise. If she dives for the door, close it, tell her to sit again, and repeat the exercise. Continue training the “wait” command until she sits and waits at the door reliably.
  2. Teach “back” and “wait” at every door — Don’t assume once your dog is consistently following “back” and “wait” commands at one door that she’ll do the same at another door. Habituate her to the behavior at all entrances to your home by practicing at each door a couple of times a day.
  3. Introduce distractions — Once your dog is reliably obeying your commands at each door, clip on her leash, grab some treats, and begin introducing distractions so that you can teach her to pay attention to you in a distracting environment.

For example, have people arrive at the door to greet you while she waits beside you. Bring her to the door for package or mail deliveries. Ask a neighbor or friend with a dog to stand on the sidewalk or curbside in front of your house and open the door so your dog can see them.

  1. Never let your guard down — Preventing escapes and training your dog to behave properly at the door should extinguish most door-dashing behavior. However, it’s impossible to extinguish your pet’s natural curiosity, nor would you want to. So, it’s important to never let your guard down when it comes to your adventurous canine companion and open doors.
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How to Measure Your Cat’s Pain Just by Looking at Her Face

How to Measure Your Cat’s Pain Just by Looking at Her Face

By Dr. Karen Becker

 

When it comes to determining if your cat is in pain, the struggle is real — for both of you. As almost any cat parent can tell you, our feline friends are masterful at keeping their illnesses, aches and pains hidden from us.

This is by design, because while cats in the wild are accomplished hunters, smaller wildcats are also prey for larger animals. Showing illness, pain, or any vulnerability in that setting invites predation. That’s why your cat, and all cats, are wired to appear “normal” while dealing with significant illness or discomfort.

To complicate things further, since kitties tend to hide or keep to themselves when they’re not feeling well, it’s easy to misinterpret or simply overlook signs your furry family member is hurting.

The good news is that researchers are hard at work trying to solve this frustrating puzzle by developing tools both veterinarians and pet parents can use to decipher the body postures and behaviors most commonly seen in painful cats.

Interpreting Changes in Feline Facial Expressions as a Measure of Pain

A brand-new pain measurement tool for use with cats is the Feline Grimace Scale (FGS), which was recently validated, and the results published in the journal Scientific Reports.1

To develop the scale, researchers at the University of Montreal conducted an observational, case-control study of 31 privately owned cats in pain and 20 pain-free control cats. The kitties were videotaped undisturbed in their cages, and the researchers assessed their facial expressions using screenshots from the videos.

Next, two observers independently compared screenshots of the two groups of cats (painful and pain-free) to evaluate differences in facial expressions. The researchers then categorized, tested, and scored five “facial action units” (ears, eyes, muzzle, whiskers, head) that signal pain in cats:2

  • Ear position — Ears facing forward, ears slightly pulled apart, or ears flattened and rotated outward
  • Orbital tightening — Eyes opened, eyes partially opened, or eyes squinted
  • Muzzle tension — Muzzle relaxed (round), muzzle mildly tense, or muzzle tense (elliptical)
  • Whisker position — Whiskers loose and curved, whiskers slightly curved or straight, or whiskers straight and moving forward
  • Head position — Head above the shoulder line, head aligned with the shoulder line, or head below the shoulder line or tilted

Each facial action unit receives a score of 0, 1, or 2. A score of 0 indicates absence of pain in the facial action unit, 1 is moderate appearance of pain or uncertainty, and 2 is obvious appearance of pain. The maximum total score is 10; a total score of 4 or more means the cat is in pain and needs analgesia. You can see images of cats in which pain was absent, moderately present, or markedly present here.

The FGS was designed primarily for use by veterinarians, but the developers are working to validate its use with other veterinary care professionals as well as pet parents.

Your Cat’s Behavior Is Also a Window to His Pain

A 2016 study headed up by researchers at the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln in the U.K. investigated signs of pain in cats.3 Signs of feline pain are primarily behavior-related, which is why I always encourage cat guardians to observe kitty’s behavior for signs of a problem.

The U.K. researchers surveyed an international panel of 19 veterinary experts across a variety of disciplines. The experts were first asked to list disorders they considered to be consistently, inherently painful in cats. Next, they were asked to evaluate pain-related behavior in cats according to the following criteria:

  • Presence of the behavior in acute and/or chronic conditions and/or conditions not known to be painful
  • Reliability of the behavior as an indicator of pain
  • The likelihood the behavior would be present in a cat who is experiencing a low level of pain
  • The likelihood the behavior would be present in a cat who is experiencing a high level of pain

Based on survey results, the researchers identified 25 signs considered sufficient to indicate pain. However, no single sign of the 25 was considered necessary for a cat to actually be in pain.

25 Signs Your Cat Is Hurting

The 25 behavioral signs considered by veterinary experts to be reliable and sensitive for the assessment of pain in cats, across a range of different clinical conditions” are:

Lameness Hunched-up posture
Difficulty jumping Shifting of weight
Abnormal gait Licking a particular body region
Reluctance to move Lower head posture
Reaction to palpation Blepharospasm (eyelid contraction)
Withdrawn or hiding Change in form of feeding behavior
Absence of grooming Avoiding bright areas
Playing less Growling
Appetite decrease Groaning
Overall activity decrease Eyes closed
Less rubbing toward people Straining to urinate
General mood Tail flicking
Temperament

The researchers concluded:

“These results improve our knowledge of this topic, but further studies are necessary in order to evaluate their validity and clinical feasibility (especially in relation to different intensities of pain) to help vets and caregivers of cats recognize pain in this species effectively and as early as possible to maximise cat welfare.”

Another Pain Measurement Tool: The Feline Musculoskeletal Pain Index

Cats suspected of suffering with musculoskeletal pain are much easier to evaluate in their own homes vs. a veterinary clinic, because they’re less stressed and more likely to move around. The Feline Musculoskeletal Pain Index (FMPI) is designed to be used not only by veterinary staff, but more importantly, by cat owners.

“Using language accessible to cat owners, the questionnaire asks a series of simple questions about movement, behavior, sleep and mood,” writes feline practitioner Dr. Elizabeth Colleran.

“Pain associated with bones, joints and muscles results in compensatory behavior alterations that can be seen by a caregiver who’s known the cat for a period of time. A score is attached to the completed form which is used to evaluate the degree to which the cat has changed over time.”4

If you’re interested in the FMPI, visit PainFreeCats.org. The questionnaire can be downloaded or filled out online and repeated over time to see how your cat is progressing. It’s also important to discuss the results with your veterinarian. Since your cat’s health will naturally change over his lifetime, the FMPI can help you track trends, identify patterns of behavior, and make adjustments to his treatment protocol as necessary.

The Importance of Managing Your Cat’s Pain

As your kitty’s primary advocate, it’s important to realize that pain is a serious medical problem requiring treatment. Chronic pain can cause inactivity and loss of overall quality of life. It can also damage the bond you share with your cat if her personality or behavior changes or she becomes aggressive.

In addition, when pain isn’t managed effectively, it can progress from what we call adaptive pain — pain caused by a specific injury or condition — to pain that is maladaptive. Maladaptive pain can be of much longer duration than normal pain and considerably more challenging to treat. One of the best ways to avoid “pain wind up” from the beginning is to effectively address pain immediately.

I regularly see clients who are fearful of using appropriate pain drugs immediately after surgery (usually Buprenorphine) and opt instead for natural support. In my opinion, even the most potent herbs and nutraceuticals won’t address moderate to profound pain to the degree necessary to be considered humane, post-surgery.

After the patient’s pain is well managed on appropriate pharmaceuticals, the vast majority of cats can be weaned onto all-natural protocols (or a blended protocol including a reduced amount of pain killers) that do a great job of handling mild to moderate pain.

Alternative Approaches to Pain Management

Since felines are physiologically very unique, there are few effective pharmacologic agents that can be safely given long-term to control the pain of chronic conditions like arthritis.

Fortunately, there are a number of alternative therapies that can alleviate your kitty’s pain naturally, including chiropractic, therapeutic massage, stretching exercises, acupuncture, laser therapy, and the Assisi loop, which is a form of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy.

There are supplements that can be added to an arthritic cat’s diet to provide the raw materials for cartilage repair and maintenance and slow down progression of the disease. These include glucosamine sulfate, methylsulfonyl­me­thane (MSM), and eggshell membrane.

If your cat is overweight, it’s important to safely diet her down to a healthy weight to decrease the amount of inflammation in her body, since inflammation is a primary feature in all types of pain. It’s also important to feed an anti-inflammatory diet, which means eliminating pro-inflammatory foods that create inflammation and make the pain cycle worse.

Eliminate all grains in your cat’s diet, as well as foods in the nightshade family, such as potatoes, which are found in most grain-free cat foods. Grain-free processed diets aren’t carbohydrate-free, and carbs create an inflammatory response in cats.

Homeopathic remedies and nutraceuticals often work wonders for cats dealing with chronic pain, as does cannabidiol (CBD) oil. Many kitties also tolerate turmeric and omega-3 fatty acids, Esterified Fatty Acid Complex (EFAC), as well as boswellia added to their food, all of which help naturally reduce inflammation.

I recommend working with a integrative veterinarian to determine how to best treat chronic pain conditions in cats.

Panic Attacks in Dogs

Panic Attacks in Dogs

As seen in PetMD and comments by Diane Weinmann

 

Anticipating a fearful or negative experience with certain people, objects, animals, or situations can lead to anxiety.

But when does anxiety veer into panic? Can dogs have panic attacks? Here’s everything you need to know about panic attacks in dogs.

Can Dogs Experience Panic Attacks?

Dogs can certainly experience panic attacks, similar to people. People who suffer from panic attacks report a sudden feeling of intense fear.

They may experience a physiological response, such as an elevated heart rate. They may also sweat, tremble, be nauseous, and have a headache.

Usually, there is no specific trigger, but the panic attack can occur during times of high stress.

How Can We Tell If a Dog Is Having a Panic Attack?

Of course we cannot ask a dog how they feel, but we can look for the signs of panic, such as:

  • Sudden panting
  • Pacing
  • Trembling
  • Excessive salivation
  • Looking for a place to hide
  • Seeking their owner’s attention in a frantic manner
  • Pawing or jumping up on their owner
  • Digging in the bed, closet, or bathroom
  • Vomiting
  • Gastrointestinal upset (immediate defecation or diarrhea, for example)
  • Urinating

One of my canine patients who was experiencing panic pulled out the drawer under the oven and tried to hide in the opening.

How to Tell the Difference Between Anxiety, Phobias, and Panic Attacks in Dogs

Is your dog having anxiety, suffering from a phobia, or having a panic attack?

Phobias vs. Panic Attacks in Dogs

How we distinguish a phobia from a panic attack is based on a presence of a trigger. If there is a specific trigger that elicits those intense reactions from your dog, then it may be classified as a phobia.

People with phobias have described it as experiencing an irrational fear of something. This feeling can be similar in dogs.

The trigger can be a sound, person, object, location, or situation. Many dogs experience phobias to thunderstorms and fireworks.

Usually there is no trigger that causes the panic attack in a dog.

Dog Anxiety vs. Panic Attacks

So what about anxiety?

Anxiety comes when your dog is dreading a specific event or situation. The anticipated threat can be real or perceived.

An example is a dog showing signs of anxiety before a vet trip. They have picked up on the cues that they are going to the vet, and become anxious about the encounter.  Another example is when Diane’s dog comes to get her, panting loudly, when no one is awake to let him out in the early morning to pee/eliminate.  He sleeps with my son but if he isn’t home then he relies on me to let him out—he just has to wake me!  Some signs of anxiety in dogs include:

  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Vocalizing
  • Eliminating inappropriately or involuntarily
  • Soliciting attention from their owners
  • Pulling ears back against their head with the head lowered and tail hanging down or tucked under the abdomen

Tips For Helping Dogs Cope With Panic Attacks

Dogs that experience panic attacks should receive a thorough physical examination from their veterinarian. Diagnostic tests may be performed to rule out any medical causes for the reactions. Diane recommends the Bach flower essence “Rescue Remedy” 4-5 drops giving directly in your pet’s mouth to help them cope with stress.

Provide Plenty of Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Pet owners should also make sure they provide plenty of physical and mental exercise for their dogs—as long as their veterinarian approves the level of exercise.

A minimum of a 15-20 minute walk and/or 15-20 minutes of play every day can reduce a dog’s stress levels.

Providing your dogs with puzzle toys to work for their meals can also help stimulate and tire out their brain.

Short training sessions can be helpful to keep your dog mentally occupied as well.

Offer Comfort to Your Dog During a Panic Attack

If your dog is having a panic attack and he comes to you for attention, you can pet, hug, or hold him if that helps ease the signs of his panic. You can also diffuse lavender essential oil or pet on Calm-A-Mile oil from Dr. Melissa Shelton DVM. http://www.animaleo.info/order-animaleo.html

Depending on how intense the episode is, you can try to:

  • Distract and redirect your dog to play with toys
  • Take your dog for a walk
  • Practice basic dog obedience cues or tricks for high value-treats

Other dogs may enjoy being pet, brushed, or massaged by their owners.

You should also provide a place for your dog to hide. Play calming classical music and make sure the space is free of external stimulants (house traffic, other pets, etc.). You can also use dog pheromone sprays or plug-in diffusers to help reduce anxiety in that location.

Look Into Supplements or Medication to Help Manage Your Dog’s Panic Attacks

Some dogs may benefit from the use of natural supplements such as l-theanine or l-tryptophan. Both are ingredients that have a calming effect on animals.

However, if your dog experiences intense panic attacks, where they are hurting themselves by trying to jump through windows or chewing or digging through the walls, they need to see their veterinarian to have antianxiety medications prescribed for them.

Antianxiety medication can be used as needed. In some cases, a pet may benefit from a daily maintenance medication to keep them calmer overall.

If your dog is experiencing panic attacks on a regular basis, then the maintenance medication can help them cope with these episodes. It may also reduce the frequency and duration of the panic attacks.

Avoid Punishing Your Dog

Just like with humans, getting angry at someone who is experiencing panic will rarely resolve the issue. In most cases, it will only make it worse.

So, yelling at your dog, spraying them with water, forcing them to lie down, or using a shock collar is not going to help a dog that’s experiencing a panic attack.

These techniques will only increase fear and anxiety. Your dog cannot control their emotions or physiological responses in these scenarios. If they could control themselves and choose another option, they probably would.

No one who has experienced a panic attack reported that it was a pleasant experience and wanted to experience another. Your dog needs your love and support to help them through their time of need.

By: Dr. Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB

The Most Common Dog Health Issue – Are You Doing Your Part?

By Dr. Karen Becker

 

Dental disease remains the most common medical problem in dogs today, with the majority suffering some form of periodontal (gum) disease by the age of 3. The reason for this is most family dogs don’t eat the kind of food that helps keep their teeth clean.

In addition, most dogs don’t receive regular home and/or professional dental care, and they don’t show signs of discomfort or pain until there’s a significant problem in their mouth.

Unfortunately, the risk of painful mouth conditions — in particular, gum disease, tooth resorption and oral cancer — is dramatically increased for older dogs. This means that for your senior or geriatric pet, proper dental care is especially important.

Oral Disease Can Set the Stage for Heart Disease

When plaque isn’t removed from your dog’s teeth, it collects there and around the gum line and within a few days hardens into tartar. Tartar sticks to the teeth and ultimately irritates the gums. Irritated gums become inflamed — a condition known as gingivitis.

If your dog has gingivitis, the gums will be red rather than pink and his breath may be noticeably smelly. If the tartar isn’t removed, it will build up under the gums, eventually causing them to pull away from the teeth. This creates small pockets in the gum tissue that become repositories for additional bacteria.

At this stage, your pet has developed an irreversible condition, periodontal disease, which causes considerable pain and can result in abscesses, infections, loose teeth and bone loss.

When periodontal disease is present, the surface of the gums is weakened. The breakdown of gum tissue allows mouth bacteria to invade your pet’s bloodstream and travel throughout his body. If his immune system doesn’t kill off the bacteria, it can reach the heart and infect it.

Studies have shown that oral bacteria, once in the bloodstream, seem able to fight off attacks by the immune system. What many pet parents don’t realize is there’s an established link between gum disease and endocarditis, which is an inflammatory condition of the valves or inner lining of the heart.

Researchers also suspect certain strains of oral bacteria may lead to heart problems. Some types of bacteria found in the mouths of dogs produce sticky proteins that can adhere to artery walls, causing them to thicken. Mouth bacteria are also known to promote the formation of blood clots that can damage the heart.

How quickly these events take place depends on a number of factors, including your dog’s age, breed, genetics, diet, overall health, and the frequency and quality of dental care he receives. It’s also important to realize that some pets will require regular professional cleanings even when their owners are doing everything right in terms of home care.

Why Dental Procedures to Treat Moderate to Severe Oral Disease Require Anesthesia

Veterinary dental cleanings for dogs with moderate to severe oral disease require general anesthesia, because a truly thorough oral exam and cleaning (and extractions, if needed) can’t be accomplished on a pet who is awake. It’s dangerous to use sharp instruments in the mouth of a conscious animal, and needless to say, the procedure is very stressful for the pet with significant oral disease.

Prior to the oral exam and cleaning, your pet will undergo a physical exam and blood tests to ensure she can be safely anesthetized for the procedure. The day of the cleaning, she’ll be sedated, and a tube will be placed to maintain a clear airway and so that oxygen and anesthetic gas can be given.

An intravenous (IV) catheter should also be placed so that fluids and anesthesia can be administered as appropriate throughout the procedure and your pet should be monitored by sophisticated anesthetic monitoring equipment. Make sure your veterinarian does both these things.

If you’re wondering why pets require general anesthesia and intubation for a seemingly simple procedure, there are a number of benefits:

·         Anesthesia immobilizes your dog to ensure her safety and cooperation during a confusing, stressful procedure

·         It provides for effective pain management during the procedure

·         It allows for a careful and complete examination of all surfaces inside the oral cavity, as well as the taking of digital x-rays, which are necessary to address issues that are brewing below the surface of the gums that can’t been seen and could cause problems down the road

·         It permits your veterinarian to probe and scale as deeply as necessary below the gum line where 60% or more of plaque and tartar accumulate

·         Intubation while the patient is under general anesthesia protects the trachea and prevents aspiration of water and oral debris

What Actually Happens During Your Dog’s Dental Cleaning

While your pet is anesthetized, her teeth will be cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler as well as a hand scaler to clean under and around every tooth. Your veterinarian will use dental probes to measure the depths of the pockets in the gum around each tooth, and x-rays should be taken.

Most vets use digital technology now, so you don’t have to panic about overwhelming radiation exposure from dental x-rays. Digital x-rays are important because they identify issues we can’t see externally.

I’ve had patients require a second anesthesia and dental procedure within several months of the first, because x-rays were refused, and a retained baby tooth or festering tooth root infection wasn’t caught on the first go-round. The only way to know what’s happening below the crown of the tooth is to check by taking a digital x-ray.

Once all the plaque and tartar are off the teeth, your dog’s mouth will be rinsed, and each tooth will be polished. The reason for polishing is to smooth any tiny grooves on the teeth left by the cleaning so they don’t attract more plaque and tartar. After polishing, the mouth is rinsed again.

Average Costs for Canine Dental Procedures

The cost of veterinary dental procedures is influenced by a number of factors, including where you live, and the degree of disease involved. Some veterinary practices bill for dental work according to the type of procedure performed, while others price their services based on the time it takes to complete a procedure.

An oral exam, x-rays and cleaning with no tooth extractions usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour. Average costs range from around $300 to $1,000, plus x-rays at $150 to $200. Veterinary dental specialists often charge more.

It’s important if you comparison-shop to ensure quotes on the low end don’t involve skimping on important items that help ensure your dog’s safety, such as pre-op screening, IV fluids, x-rays, and certified veterinary technicians. Ask for itemized quotes.

Extractions are typically priced according to the type of tooth and the time and work needed to remove it. There are simple extractions that can run as little as $10 to $15, elevated extractions that can average $25 to $35, and extractions of teeth with multiple roots, which tend to be the priciest — up to $100 in some cases.

Root canals are commonly priced by the root. A root canal on a tooth with three roots can range from $1,000 to $3,000, hence most owners opting for extraction.

Tips to Help Keep Your Dog’s Mouth Healthy

·         Feed a nutritionally balanced, species-specific, fresh food diet, and feed it raw if possible. When your dog gnaws on raw meat, it acts as a kind of natural toothbrush and dental floss.

·         Offer recreational bones and/or a fully digestible, high quality dental dog chew to help control plaque and tartar. The effect of dental chews is similar to raw bones, but safer for power chewers or dogs who have restorative dental work and can’t chew raw bones.

·         Brush your pet’s teeth, preferably every day. If every day is too tall an order, commit to do it several times a week. A little time spent each day brushing your dog’s teeth can be tremendously beneficial in maintaining her oral health and overall well-being.

·         Perform routine mouth inspections. Your dog should allow you to open his mouth, look inside, and feel around for loose teeth or unusual lumps or bumps on the tongue, under the tongue, along the gum line and on the roof of the mouth. After you do this a few times, you’ll become aware of any changes that occur from one inspection to the next. You should also make note of any differences in the smell of your pet’s breath that aren’t diet-related.

·         Arrange for regular oral exams performed by your veterinarian. He or she will alert you to any existing or potential problems in your pet’s mouth, and recommend professional teeth cleaning under anesthesia, if necessary.

Daily homecare and as-needed professional cleanings by your veterinarian or dental professional are the best way to keep your pet’s mouth healthy and disease-free. They’re also important for dogs with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and kidney failure.

New Urinary Tract Infection Test Yields Results in Minutes

 

New Urinary Tract Infection Test Yields Results in Minutes

By Dr. Karen Becker

If you’re a regular visitor here and read my Healthy Pets newsletters, you’re probably aware that I have a major issue with the overuse of antibiotics in veterinary medicine. One reason is because like people, pets can develop allergies to medications that are overprescribed. In addition, antibiotics have side effects, many of which are long-term.

Another reason is antibiotic resistance, a rapidly expanding and deadly menace, which is the result of too frequent and unnecessary use of these drugs. In addition, antibiotic residues are passed up the food chain, so even if your veterinarian hasn’t over-prescribed them for your pet, there’s a good chance your animal companion is exposed to them regularly through the food he eats.

Dogs and cats ingest antibiotics when they eat food containing the meat of animals that were factory farmed, which includes about 99% of pet foods on the market today. The exception would be if you’re buying free-range, organic meats and making your own pet food, or if you’re purchasing one of a very small handful of pet foods that contain free-range, organic meats.

The Test You Should Insist on Before Giving Your Pet an Antibiotic

It’s important to understand that viral and fungal infections do not respond to antibiotics. Administering these drugs to treat a non-bacterial infection is a classic example of indiscriminate overuse, and I see it happen entirely too often in veterinary medicine. Veterinarians don’t know exactly what to do with a sneezing or coughing or itchy pet, so they send the owner home with an antibiotic.

That’s why I always urge every pet parent to insist on a bacterial culture and sensitivity test when your dog or cat is suspected of having or is diagnosed with an infection. Before you agree to a course of treatment, if your veterinarian doesn’t suggest it, insist on that test.

A culture is simply a sample from the affected area. It could be a sterile swab dipped in urine, or a swab of infected tissue, skin, or ear discharge. The sample is incubated and monitored for organism growth, which typically starts the following day. When colonies of organisms form, each one is tested to determine what type of bacteria is present.

The sensitivity portion of the test involves placing tiny amounts of different antibiotics on the organisms to see which ones the bacteria are the most sensitive (susceptible) to. The minimum inhibitory concentration, or MIC, is the lowest concentration of antibiotic that prevents visible growth of bacteria, allowing the veterinarian to choose the correct antibiotic and dose to successfully treat your pet’s infection.

The decision-making process must also involve choosing an antibiotic that can be administered by injection, orally or topically for optimum results in the specific area of the body where the infection is located.

If your veterinarian prescribes an antibiotic without a culture and sensitivity test, he or she is making a guess at what type of organism is present and the best antibiotic to treat it — a practice known as empirical prescribing. Although lots of vets are very good guessers, given the growing danger of antibiotic-resistant strains of disease-causing bacteria, in my opinion, there’s no longer any room for error.

Each time an unnecessary or inappropriate antibiotic is prescribed, the potential for resistance increases. A bacterial culture and sensitivity test gives your veterinarian two very important pieces of information: the precise organism causing the infection and the best antibiotic to treat it.

Only in an emergency situation should your veterinarian prescribe an antibiotic before the bacterial culture and sensitivity test can be performed. He or she can then switch medications if necessary when the test results arrive.

A culture and sensitivity test takes a little extra time, usually a minimum of 72 hours, so you should be prepared to leave your veterinarian’s office without a definitive diagnosis of exactly what type of bacteria is growing, and without a prescription. Rest assured the additional time it takes to identify the type of bacteria present and the medication needed will allow precise treatment of your pet’s infection rather than a risky hit-or-miss approach.

A New In-House Culture and Sensitivity Test for Urinary Tract Infections

With all the above said, I was very encouraged to learn recently of a new urine test developed by a company called Test&Treat.1 It’s an in-house test (meaning it can be performed right in your veterinarian’s office) that identifies urinary tract infections (UTIs) in pets and the best antibiotics to treat them. Signs your dog or cat may have a urinary tract infection include:

Suddenly urinating in the house or outside the litterbox Constant licking of urinary openings
Visible blood in the urine or litterbox; dark or cloudy urine Loss of bladder control; urine dribbling
Frequent trips to the litterbox; inability to pass urine or passing very little Vomiting, lethargy, lack of appetite
Straining to urinate; hunched posture; crying out in pain Drinking more water than usual

The “U-treat” test results are produced in minutes, which means veterinarians don’t need to play a medication guessing game while they wait for the results of urine samples that had to be sent to an outside laboratory. It also means your pet can begin receiving the correct therapy right away. According to VetSurgeon.org:2

“In addition, the company says that the test will help support the responsible use of antibiotics, which is particularly important given that Enterococci strains identified in canine urinary infections have been found to be resistant to three or more antimicrobials.”3

The U-treat test has two steps. The first step detects the presence (or absence) of a bacterial urinary infection and takes 5 minutes. The second step tests antibiotic susceptibility, and the results show the best choice of antibiotic as well as those that won’t work due to antimicrobial resistance. Step two takes 45 minutes.

U-treat was evaluated in cats and dogs at the University of Tennessee. According to VetSurgeon.org, the test demonstrated high levels of sensitivity (97.1%) and specificity (92%), compared to lab tests. U-treat is currently validated for use in dogs and cats and is being looked at for use in horses as well. It may also at some point cross over for use in human medicine.

Be Sure to Give Your Pet Antibiotics Exactly as Prescribed

A bacterial culture and sensitivity test will ensure your dog or cat heals more quickly and thoroughly. In addition, giving the proper dose of the antibiotic at the proper intervals and using up the entire prescription is important, even if your pet seems to be fully recovered before the medication has run out.

This will ensure the infection is fully resolved and prevent your pet from having to take another full course of antibiotics because the first one wasn’t finished, and the infection wasn’t effectively cleared.

Also Be Sure to Replenish the Healthy Bacteria in Your Pet’s Gut

It’s important to recognize that antibiotics literally mean “anti-life.” They indiscriminately kill off all bacteria, both the good guys and the bad guys. If your dog or cat has been treated with antibiotics, the trillions of healthy bacteria in her digestive tract have also been destroyed, which can set the stage for additional health problems, such as digestive upsets, intermittent diarrhea, poor food absorption, and dysbiosis (leaky gut syndrome).

It’s important to reseed your pet’s gastrointestinal (GI) system with friendly microorganisms — probiotics — during and after antibiotic therapy to reestablish a healthy balance of gut bacteria. This will also help keep your dog or cat’s digestive system working optimally and her immune system strong.