Thursday, February 28, 2013

Puppy Diets

Meet Bailey.
She comes in tonight for her first puppy exam...
and to be smothered in kisses from everyone in the building.
The first puppy visit is a long one, because there is so much to talk about...
and soo many kisses!
'An important part of your puppies first visit to the vet is to discuss the food you are feeding. We call it discussing the 'diet'. (I know that sounds confusing, because on the human side 'diet' is so synonymous with weight loss, but on the veterinary side we use diet to talk about food. And if your dog needs to "go on a diet" we call it a 'weight loss plan').

I have said it before, "we are what we eat, and you get what you pay for." It is imperative to feed good food so your puppy grows up to be strong and healthy. A good diet is one of the single most important things that you provide your puppy.

I know that many breeders recommend a specific food. I also know that in many cases they provide you with a starter pack. It is important to remember that your puppy is coming to a new home which is stressful, and  this stress often manifests as a soft stool for the first few days that your puppy is with you. If you are also changing the diet concurrently then this can cause even more stress on their sensitive delicate system. Because of the stress that a new home can cause I usually recommend a gradual diet change. The way we recommend to gradually change the diet is to add 1/4 of the new food to 3/4 of the old food for a few days (sometimes even for a week), then switch to 1/2 and 1/2 for a few days, then 3/4 new with 1/4 old for a few days. This should help their gastro-intestinal system acclimate easier and lessen the chance of diarrhea. D

When I meet a new puppy I always ask about what they are being fed. If I am asked what I recommend I always reply "a high quality commercially available puppy food, small breed for small breed dogs and large for large breed, for their first year."  I have my commercially available preferences and I discuss them. We also review how often to feed, (I say three times a day if they are under four months old, and twice a day from four months on). If you have your own preference we talk about that. I also remind new parents to not let some kid at a big box store convince you that their brand is better, and for god’s sake don’t let a t.v. commercial do it. Get credible advice from credible people. Ask lots of questions, let your puppy guide you on kibble size, and taste preference. Feed twice a day forever, and monitor to make sure that they are eating an appropriate amount daily. I can't even tell you how many clients bring their dogs to me saying things like, "I think its been a few days since he ate, I don't really know, I just leave food down." Wouldn't you know if you hadn't eaten in days? Wouldn't that concern you? It concerns me. I want to know every 12 hours how much and how well my pups are eating. I worry after 1 missed or partially eaten meal. I go to the vet after 2 poorly eaten meals and start looking for a reason why.

Ask about whether your puppy is underweight or under muscled. It is important to be feeding for a healthy weight and then to maintain that weight through their senior years. Obesity is becoming a huge problem in America's dogs and people alike, so we vets are very careful to not let our dogs and puppies become overweight. We assess whether a pet is overweight by the loss of taper at the waist (see the blogs about waistline at ). She should have a waistline whether you are looking at her from above or from the side. Your vet can help you with this. Keep fresh water available at all times. I wash the water bowl and every morning, and the food bowls after each meal. I also add a little wet food with the dry for breakfast and dinner. I do this simply to keep the pups interested in their food. But wet food isn't necessary. I actually have no preference over wet or dry, just stick to a high quality food. (Wet food diets stick to teeth so remember to brush teeth daily). I recommend that you leave the food down for about 30 minutes. If they don't finish the food in this time throw it away and repeat the same for dinner. I discourage leaving food out all day for few reasons. First, wet food will spoil. Second, it attracts ants. Third, it encourages over eating (because you aren't measuring and ALL of us over eat if the buffet bar stays stocked and available all day. And lastly, you always want to know how much they are eating at every meal. If you find that she isn't eating well, or at all, you will know sooner versus later.

If your pup isn't eating well, or if it appears that they are getting bored with their food try to add a little more wet food, or you can add a little bit of boiled skinless boneless chicken or rice. I always hesitate to say add anything, because before we know it your puppy will only eat chicken and rice and your well formulated nutritionally complete food has been replaced by foods that are not appropriate by themselves for a growing puppy.

A few last bits to mention. Treats. Use a very good high quality treat, or use the puppy food. Remember that treats also have calories, and if you are doing handfuls of them it might discourage them from eating a good daily diet, or cause excess weight gain. Raw hide, I am not apposed to them, but they are empty calories, and they are choking hazards, so only use them infrequently and don't use them as a pacifier. If your puppy is so rambunctious that you find yourself offering a raw hide chew to quiet them, then I would suggest it is time to go out in the yard and play. A tired puppy is a happy pacified puppy.

Dawg Blogger Survey on Obesity

A few weeks ago I was asked to voice my opinion on a survey a fellow Twitter and dog expert/blogger extraordinaire Jana Rade. She asked; 

Veterinarians Answer: What Is The Biggest Toll Our Dogs Pay For Obesity?

Here are the answers that she received: 
56 percent of American dogs are obese! That is more than every other dog.

When our vet saw three patients in a row who were at ideal weight, he was so excited at the rare occurrence, he had to blog about it!

I started the Show Off Your Dog's Waistline campaign so we get it in our heads what a healthy dog should look like.

To compliment the campaign, I asked my veterinary friends what they consider the biggest toll our dogs pay for obesity.

The biggest toll that dogs pay for obesity is their life. 

Obese dogs suffer similar fates as humans, with higher prevalence of diseases such as diabetes and arthritis.

Many of my patients suffer from arthritis and other joint dysfunction, so I am constantly telling my clients that diet restriction and weight loss is vital to the comfort of their dog; less weight is less stress on the joints and for a dog with joint dysfunction that means a better quality of life.

One study, A longitudinal study of the influence of lifetime food restriction on development of osteoarthritis in the canine elbow, of a group of Labradors had interesting results on life span as well. Diet restriction of 25% reduction in calories resulted in a 1.8-year extension in median lifespan of that group of dogs.

So yes dogs pay a toll and it is with their life! Considering Labradors median age is only 12, 2 years is a huge increase in life for them.

—Dr. Daniel Beatty, DVM, Dog Kinetics
    Dr. Dan on Facebook and Twitter 


Far and away the biggest problem exacerbated by obesity in larger breed dogs is arthritis. 

In fact, if an overweight dog is having issues with arthritis, weight loss is my top of the list recommendation above any medications, supplements, or acupuncture.

In smaller breeds, obesity tends to intensify issues withhormonal imbalances and heart disease.

In the smoosh faced breeds of dogs, being overweight can put them over the top in terms of respiratory difficulties. It's one thing to supply enough oxygen through tiny nostrils and tracheas for a 10 pound critter. Add another five pounds of fat, and the effort to oxygenate becomes all the more pronounced.

—Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM, Speaking for Spot
    Dr. Kay on Facebook and Twitter 


The biggest toll our dogs pay for obesity is the day-to-daydifficulties in routine activity that increased weight causes. 

Things that should be fun or at least easy like climbing stairs, taking a walk or playing ball take more effort. They are often reluctant to do physical activities they love because things make them tired and winded and may make their joints ache.

One of the most rewarding aspects of helping a patient (dog, cat, guinea pig...) lose weight is seeing them get that spark back. Even before they reach their ideal weight, they feel healthier and lighter and start wanting to do the things they love more often, which is only more motivating for them and their parents to continue to help them reach their goal weight!

—Dr. Shawn M. Finch, DVM, Riley & James 
    Dr. Shawn on Twitter 


While it's true that obesity predisposes dogs to many serious diseases (cruciate ligament ruptures, intervertebral disk disease, osteoarthritis, congestive heart failure, Cushing's disease, skin disorders and some types of cancer, to name a few), I think the biggest toll a dog pays for being overweight is simply an inability to enjoy life to the fullest.

The last time I took my boxer to the dog park, two fat labs were doing their best to keep up with the pack, but eventually were forced to sit in the shade and pant while the rest of the dogs carried on. They wanted to play, but their weight prevented them from doing so. Sad. 

—Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, Fully Vetted
    Don't forget to check out  Dr. Coates' own survey, asking dog and cat owners
    what is their biggest frustration. So don't pass on YOUR opportunity to vent!


The biggest toll our dogs pay for obesity is pain.

Arthritis is worsened and sometimes caused by obesity.

Overall reduced quality and quantity of life. 

—Dr. Rae Worden, DVM , Fergus Veterinary Hospital
    Dr. Rae on Facebook and Twitter 


I believe pet obesity occurs because pet owners, parents or caretakers (depending on the preferred term and audience) don't take the time and effort to inquire/ration/or execute veterinary orders. Like book-keeping, calories need to be tracked going in as they are expended.

Is it the chicken or the egg? Is the dog demanding food because it's truly hungry, or is the owner filling the dish because it's the dog's conditioned response to beg and then get rewarded?

Weight gain happens when net calorie intake exceeds expenditure, and it gets saved in storage. A simple way to manage this is to follow feeding protocols outlined by your veterinary advisor, and using a weigh scale to double check.

Would you keep your foot on the accelerator, even on the highway, for an extended period of time and not check the speedometer? Bet you can't.

Often, owners are unable, for many reasons, to provide the necessary exercise workout their dogs need on a daily basis. It is said a lot of dogs take after their owners. Pet ownership requires planning, commitment, and follow through.

The list of  medical sequelae due to obesity that I see in dogs include: increased forces and therefore wear and tear on joints, increased fatigue and decreased activity, increased cardiovascular effort, increased risk of diabetes, decreased hygiene (due to girth some dogs can't reach around to inspect and clean), high blood pressure, and often shortened life span. Moreover, the dog's satiety thermostat adjusts itself to the new norm, and it's even harder to lose the weight by reducing food intake alone.

I'd say the biggest toll to our dogs pay for obesity is a shortened and reduced quality of life. To me, that's unacceptable.

—Dr. Jonathan Mitelman, DVM, Vet's Toronto
    Dr. Jonathan on Facebook and Twitter


Dogs live “accelerated” lives.  We’ve all grieved this reality.  But did you know that you hold the power to influence your dog’s lifespan through diet?

It’s true.  Leaner pets live longer.  In 2001, a fourteen year, landmark study proved that maintaining dogs’ ideal body condition extended their median life span by 15 percent.  That translated into nearly two additional years of life for those dogs.

Question:  What is the biggest toll our dogs pay for obesity?
Answer:  2 years of life

Most of my patients are overweight.  It is almost startling when a dog with a normal body condition score presents for an appointment, because it is so uncommon.  Since these furry family members don’t serve themselves, this is 100% preventable.  Contemplate the gift of two additional years with your canine companion!  Let this motivate you to heed your vet’s advice about weight management.

—Dr. Julie Buzby, ToeGrips
    Dr. Julie on Facebook and on Twitter


Short answer:
A shorter life span with more pain and illness during the course of that life.

—Dr. Lorie Huston, DVM, Pet Health Care Gazette
    Dr. Lorie on Facebook and Twitter


The biggest toll on our pets that results from obesity is thepotentially irreversible effect that being overweight has ason all canine body systems.  The bones, joints, heart, lungs, digestive tract, glands (liver, kidneys, adrenals, pancreas, etc.), skin, and nervous systems are all detrimentally affected by the cumulative stressors caused by being overweight or obese.

Besides the negative health implications for our pets, there are significant financial costs associated with diagnosing and treating obesity related conditions that can be minimized or avoided if a health body condition score (BCS, see Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Body Condition Scoring Chart) is maintained throughout a pet's lifetime.

 —Dr. Patrick MahaneyThe Daily Vet
     Dr. Patrick on Facebook and Twitter 


There are many tolls that overweight/obese dogs pay.

To name some of them; joint disease, heart disease, endocrine disease (diabetes), cancer, dermatologic complications, the list goes on and on.

But the single biggest toll that I see obese dogs pay is their lack of a happy healthy life.

Fat dogs are not happy dogs. They may wag their tail, they may beg for food, but when you see an overweight dog that has lost their excess weight and regained their vigor and love for life it is magic! I have seen dogs who act and behave like they are years younger. They play, they interact, they are curious, and just happy. Their parents always tell me how they cannot believe how different their dog acts and how they never knew how much that excess weight was weighing them down.

Being healthy is the biggest key to happiness, ask any sick or fat dog. Our health is the greatest gift we have, cherish it, foster it, and promote it.

Medicine can't change our genetics but diet and lifestyle can change and improve almost everything else.

There are many products, diagnostics, diets, supplements, tricks, and perhaps even a few lifestyle changes available to help you and your pup be on their way to a more youthful vibrant and longer life, and maybe/hopefully, you both can make a whole lot less visits to my veterinary office!

—Dr. Krista Magnifico, DVM, Diary of a Real-Life Veterinarian
    Dr. Krista on Twitter 


As in humans, obesity in dogs can increase the risk of many diseases, damage a dog’s musculoskeletal and respiratory integrity and take a toll on our emotional, psychological and financial well-being.  Obesity reduces the average life-span of a dog by 15%. Why? Studies have shown that adipose tissue (fat) is the biggest endocrine organ in an obese pet’s body producing hormones and cytokines that create aconstant state of chronic inflammation.

This increases the risk of diabetes, liver disease, pancreatitis, endocrine disease and cancer. It is a double-whammy on a dog’s body when the extra weight is added creating stress on joints leading to injury, arthritis and chronic pain. Small dogs often develop respiratory disease and hyperthermia, often fatal, because the increased weight and fat stores restrict their ability to breathe easily.

But I think the biggest toll of pet obesity is the emotional devastation that occurs when our pet dies or when we choose to euthanize because we can’t afford to treat diseases caused by obesity. We are killing our pets with love and the guilt that comes with it is heavy.

When our vet gently or not so gently scolds us for letting our dog become fat, it reminds us we are not doing right by our pet; our dogs rely on us to do the right thing and that means proper nutrition and managing a healthy weight.  Unfortunately, many think that obese pets are “cute and cuddly”, especially cats.  This perception is something we all must fight if we are to keep our pets healthy.

In my opinion, guilt is a wasteful emotion. If your dog is obese, you can choose to change that and I guarantee you will feel good about it.

It is important that your vet rules out any medical conditions that contribute to obesity; hypoadrednalcorticism and hypothyroidsim are two conditions whose symptoms include obesity, poor skin and low energy levels.  After that, commit to a life-long wellness program that includes a healthy diet and a good dose of exercise – a 20 minute walk a day goes a long way.  Talk to your vet about nutrition. Commit to feeding your dog on a regular schedule in measured amounts rather than having a bowl available for constant feeding.  It seems like giving treats is the biggest pitfall in many people’s diet program for their dogs. Your vet can incorporate treats into a weight loss program. I also suggest trying healthy treats such as frozen carrots and green beans. My dog Flash particularly likes fresh, crunchy sweet pea pods. They are low in calories and high in fiber, both good for weight loss.

I applaud Jana and Jasmine’s Show Off Your Dog’s Waistline campaign to increase the awareness of obesity.  And I applaud all the caring dog caretakers who help make their dogs’ lives healthier and happier.

—Dr. Karel Carnohan, Animal Nutrition and Wellness Services
    Dr. Karel and Facebook and Twitter


Obese pets are often misunderstood as "just getting old" when their poor joints start to weaken from carrying around all that extra weight. The countless times I've seen a formerly tired and lame dog act years younger after significant weight loss have inspired me to take a more active approach to encouraging weight loss in my patients.

—Dr. Greg Magnusson, DVM (Leo's Daddy), Leo's Pet Care
    Dr. Greg on Facebook and Twitter 


Recently I read an article asking, if there was a way you could extend your dog's life by two years, would you do it? 

Well, there is! You can extend your dog's life by keeping them thin. You can make their life longer AND better. Would you do it?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Housebreaking: This is usually the first and one of the most important tasks for a new puppy to learn. Having a puppy who can tell you what they need and their ability to distinguish the difference between your house and the great outdoors when it comes to toilet training is an important thing to learn and the beginning of the new dialogue you and your new puppy will share.

I think that crate training will help with housebreaking so I usually recommend teaching both from the beginning. (To learn more about crate training please see the following link ).


When you are thinking about bringing home your new puppy have a plan for how you want to raise them.  Be prepared for the new arrival by discussing the house breaking and training plans with the whole family to identify what might work best for you. Ask everyone who will be participating in the training to agree to the plan and work together to execute it.  My advice is to start training on day 1 for what you want your puppy to do 365 days from that.

There are a few items to think about with your family before deciding how to housebreak your puppy. If you want to train your puppy to use pee pads in the house then start training with pee pads and for pee pads. But be prepared for a lifetime of pee pads, or a tough time re-training when you decide you want to try training to go to the bathroom outside. If you reside in a place that has cold winters, then the smaller your dog is, and the closer to winter that you get your dog, the harder it is to housebreak them. It's is a big challenge to take a four pound puppy outside every two to three hours when it is freezing cold. They don't want to be outside, you don't want to be outside, and they don't understand why you are still outside one minute after you get there. When the whole purpose is to be training you have to start training on day one and winter makes that hard.

Here's how my family succeeded with housebreaking our puppies. Before the arrival of our little bundles of barking we placed jingle bells around the front door knob. We also got leashes and attached them to their harnesses. For puppies I like harnesses because I think they are safer. They do not tug on their throats (this is very important for small breed dogs because they are predisposed to tracheal  weakening) and they are less likely to be squiggling out of them. Alongside the leashes/harnesses are baggies to clean up poop and treats in a baggie. We call it our 'go kit'. When we came home we carried our puppies out of their crates and to the front door. We put their harnesses on and attached them to their leashes. Every time we took them outside we rang the bells very hard (to create a strong jingle) as we opened it. Once outside we carried them to their designated potty space. Once here we used our cue words to instruct them that it was "time to go potty." We would say this over and over until they urinated or defecated. As with every aspect of training we always reward good behavior, so as soon as they go potty we would reward them with a treat and lots of praise. Do this every single time. Consistency, patience, kindness, and rewarding all of the good behaviors are the simple formula for success in everything you do with your puppies. Puppies learn very quickly so make every interaction part of training.


Never scold if they soil in the house. They need some time and consistency to learn your house, and how to tell you what they need. Only correct your puppy if you catch them in the act of going to the bathroom in your house. If you catch them posturing to urinate or defecate just pick them up, carry them to the door, ring the bells, grab the leash and harness and take them to their potty spot. And remember to reward her for finishing there. If you find that they have had an accident in the house it’s too late to correct her. Never yell, scold, or rub their nose in it. It just teaches her to be afraid of you. If you miss the act of them gong to the bathroom in the house it is an accident and it is a reminder that they don't have your system of notifying you and understanding what you want from them.


If you find that your puppy is still having accidents in the house after what you feel has been an adequate and consistent training period then I recommend trying the tether line technique.  Puppies sneak off to go to the bathroom and finding it later won’t help you housebreak them. So keeping them tied to you at all times inside allows you to be monitoring them. If they posture to go to the bathroom you will know immediately and you can resume training by taking them outside. If they can't be tied to you then put them in their crate or on someone’s lap. This means that they will not be allowed to sneak off and disappoint you. I say all the time, “don’t give them an opportunity to disappoint you” by keeping them in one of three places; tied to you, on your lap, or in their cage. If you have a month of perfect potty attendance then you can go back to offering them free reign of the house.

OK, veterinarian peeve. You and I know when the last time we ate, drank, peed or pooped was. We also need to know these about our pets. They can’t tell me, so, you as their owner need to be monitoring and reporting back to us for them. Most of my clients will bring their pet in for constipation when in fact they have had diarrhea for days. They see their pet outside posturing repeatedly to defecate and think they are constipated. Also, I see tons of pets for “blood in urine” after the first snowfall of the season. I know these pets have likely had bloody urine for weeks, (god forbid since last spring), because they see the blood in the snow, but never saw the blood in the urine when they are peeing in the grass. The hope is that you are observing for any possible problem before they become a problem. If your dog is peeing 20 times a day, that’s probably a problem. If the stool is soft, abnormal colored, etc. we want to know asap.

The biggest reasons that pets are surrendered at shelters are for behavioral issues. I believe that any behavioral problem that becomes an issue with a puppy is solvable. Ask for help, ask early, and tackle it collectively. Your veterinarian, veterinary staff, friends, family, and adoption agents will help with anything you need, you need only to ask.

If you have a pet question of any kind please join us at We are a free open online social media platform dedicated to helping people take better care of their pets. Anyone is free to join, ask, or answer questions, share pet photos, or invite others to use your pet centered service.

I can also be found at Jarrettsville Vet in Harford County Maryland. Or on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.

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Crate Training

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Crate Training

I know that there is some debate about crate training.

My job, as the veterinarian, is to help keep your pet safe. But I also understand that your puppy also needs to be happy, socialized, and that they are a part of your family. I recommend crate training because I believe that your pet is safest when they are in their own home and unable to get into trouble freely roaming about yours. I have seen dogs and puppies befall terrible accidents and even some fatal tragedies because they weren't safely tucked away in their own bed.

I was just at a veterinary conference the other day. We were discussing orthopedic surgery. The lecturer mentioned many times that "for those dogs that were crate trained recovery from surgery was much easier and their recovery much more successful." You see we cannot always be with our pets, and they from time to time will need rest and relaxation as part of their recovery process so being able to put them in a crate where they are calm and comfortable allows their bodies to heal. From my own experience my 17 year old beagle who now cannot see or hear very well and who wanders randomly at all odd hours of day and night, and who has also become urinary and fecally incontinent has had to re-discover her crate as a method of keeping her safe and sound from the mishaps of falling down stairs, getting stuck in corners and crevices of our home and in her inability to remember her house-broken training.

There are a few ground rules to talk about before we go into the thoughts, methods, and reasons for crate training.

A crate should never be used for punishment. It is only to be used as a safe haven. I think that putting a puppy in a crate (although they will hate it for a while until they are used to it) is the safest place for them. It should be big enough for them to be able to get up and walk around and have room enough for a bed. Be careful with bedding. Aggressive chewers should not have anything they can chew up and ingest. And a stressed puppy is very likely to use their bedding as a pacifier, which is treacherously dangerous. I usually don’t recommend leaving water in the crate, but if you are going to be away for longer than 6 hours it’s a good idea to leave them some water. Leave just enough for a few hours, not enough to drown in, or soak the bedding, just in case it gets knocked over. Puppies are usually not able to hold their urine for longer than 6 hours until she is over 6 months old. So leave lots of washable bedding in their crate just in case they have an accident.

The secret to crate training is to gently, quietly and calmly put them in the crate. Here's what I do; I give them a treat and tell them that "I am going to be back soon, that they are a good dogs, and that I love them." I then close the door and walk away. Don’t try to talk them into calming down. They are not going to listen, or understand you, and they will think that you are talking to torture them. If you stand there and try to reason with them you will feel terrible and break down and let them out. This teaches them that if they cry long enough and pitifully enough that you will buckle, give up, and reward them with release. Within a few days, if you stay strong, they learn that their crate is their space where they are safe and secure. Most of my clients leave the crate door open when their pet isn't in it and often tell me that if the house gets loud or if they want a nap they head to their crate and put themselves to bed.

Never yell at them in their crate and never punish them by putting or forcing them into the crate. Their crate is their safe, comfy, home, and we never want to make them afraid of their safe home.

When you come home go to the cage, open the door, pick up your puppy and go immediately to the door to take them outside. Don’t make a huge deal about your arrival. The idea is to keep everyone's emotions on a level plane as much as possible. Separation anxiety happens to pets that become so dependent on their parents that they cannot function without them. Your puppy will be happy to see you and you can give them lots of praise when they go out and go to the bathroom, but we are not building an unhealthy obsession with reuniting.

Charlie, running to his crate. He knows a snack awaits!

Charlie sleeps on the bed right next to his crate every night.
His crate is always open and he is  comfortable in  the crate, or on his bed right outside the crate.

For the next few weeks I would suggest you dispose of the feces every time they defecate. This helps get everyone in the practice of keeping a clean, disease, and parasite free environment, and some pets have the yucky habit of eating poop, which is easier to avoid then to try to resolve if it starts. Every puppy needs to learn how to be house broken, and how to hold their urine and feces, so expect that they will have accidents until their new routine with you is understood. Be consistent and always, always be patient and kind.

Everything is trainable if you are patient and kind.

Try to stick to a routine with everything you do. It will help them learn faster, they will trust you, and they will stick to you for protection, guidance, and love.

If you have a crate training or puppy training question, please visit We are a free pet centered community created to help you take better care of your pets. Pawbly is free to use and open to everyone.

You can also find me at the clinic, Jarrettsville Vet, where I see appointments. We are open 7 days a week and we specialize in assisting with many types of behavioral issues.

I am also on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

How to Maintain Your Pets Weight Loss

This came from a reader of yesterdays blog.

I thought it was a good question and it would help others, so I am posting the question and my answer..

From Veglils,

"On the subject of ideal weight for your dog -- if your dog has been on a weight-managing food and has reached an ideal weight, do you stay on that food or switch to a regular age-appropriate food?"

My answer
This is a great question!

There is not a simple answer. In almost all cases the answer needs to incorporate a maintenance diet, a good continual monitoring plan, and still be addressing how the pet got to be overweight in the first place. 

Because most pets have a multitude of factors that participated in the weight gain we need a multi-faceted approach to help maintain the weight loss and avoid the weight being regained. Whatever contributed to their demise is likely to still present and creep back into the picture. 

If you were given a specific food (like a veterinary prescription food) and used it to lose the weight then the pet food manufacturers have a computer program to help you find your maintenance plan. Hill's and Purina both have these programs, they really help. They will advise you about which food to feed and how much. By plugging in the desired maintenance weight and a few other items they tell you exactly how much they recommend you feed of one of their maintenance diets. 
Remember that most prescription diets are classified as 'weight reducing' or 'maintenance' diets. They use all sorts of ingredients to help keep your pet feeling full but not absorbing the calories. If one diet doesn't work for you try another. 

For some clients an over the counter food is their only option for long term feeding. So, we have to find a measured quantity to feed, based on weight to maintain (see the food bag for this amount, and use a real-official measuring cup), and remember its important to maintain a steady activity level. Simple weight maintenance formula calories in has to equal calories burned. 

Re-weigh your pet every month. The scale never lies! If you find your pet is gaining weight reduce your feeding amount by 20% daily and re-check the weight in 2 weeks. Also scrutinize the hidden calories your pet might be getting, like snacks. Are they getting too many? If you are on a good measured diet then snacks are often the biggest hidden culprit to a pets weight gain demise. Is your pet getting enough exercise? There is no diet plan in the world that works without increasing your pets metabolism. So get moving! Burn those calories! And then maintain that high metabolic rate after you reach your target weight.

If you are having difficulty maintaining see your vet. They will help you find any hidden road blocks, pitfalls, and try to identify any medical reason for the mystery.

So, its not any easy answer. Every pet is unique and every client has different abilities. 

If your pet is not at great risk for regaining the weight try a good OTC food, be strict with amounts, and weigh your pet on a scheduled basis.

If you struggled to get the weight off, or have any other underlying health concerns try to stick with a prescription diet for maintenance. But remember this is likely to be the diet your pet will be on long term.

I hope this helps.


Friday, February 22, 2013

My Dogs Waistline

Waiting for dinner.

As a veterinarian I give a whole lot of advice. It's my job after all, educating, treating, advocating, and assisting people to learn about their pets needs. These needs are multifaceted complex and evolving. It is one of the many reasons I love being a veterinarian.

Today's subject is assessing your pets waistline. We often use the description of your pets waistline to describe assessing your pets weight. A defined waist is one of the ways we determine optimal body condition score. When assessing whether a pet is overweight we use the top and side view of the body profile. We want to see a taper at the waist when viewed from above and from the side. Here is a very good chart from Hills to help identify your pets body condition score (BCS).

Even as I stand in the examination room discussing a pets examination findings I sometimes get caught in the ever sticky predicament of having to admit that the advice I am giving isn't always the advice I am adhering too.

As my grandmother used to say, "Do as I say, not as I do." (In the spirit of full disclosure this was always in reference to her chronic consistent chain smoking, something that neither I nor my pets do).

When I received a request from uber-blogger Jana Rade, whose amazing blog can be found at, or on Twitter @DawgBlogger,  I thought "OK, time to put my money where my mouth is." She asked me to complete the mini dawg blog survey to "Show Off My Dogs Waistline" campaign.

So here it goes:

Exhibit A, Savannah, my 16 year old beagle mix. She has lost much of the muscle mass in her rear legs over the last two years, and we struggle to keep her active, mobile, happy, continent, and ambulatory. She has difficulty keeping standing when eating or drinking, and can no longer get up stairs, or sometimes even onto her 5 inch high bed. She has moved from her 5 inch high bed basket to the bed on the floor. Even the bed on the floor gets 'missed' sometimes. I usually find her close to the bed, but either partially in, or almost on it.

As a true beagle she spent most of her life pushing the bulging waistline. She has always been, and remains, very highly food motivated. Keeping her at a healthy weight was a challenge until she approached 13 years old. Thankfully she still loves to eat a snack and we keep her on a very high quality dog food. She eats twice a day, gets a few good quality snacks in between, and is kept warm, visible, and safe if outside. Managing a geriatric pet is a challenge. Keeping her happy and healthy is a combination of good advice, persistence, and being flexible with your plan. I advise my clients with geriatric pets to keep a little bit of meat on the bones so  that if they get challenged by a disease or illness they have a bit of fat on reserves. Also, we want to maintain lean body mass, not fat, but muscle on these guys. Keeping them active and ambulatory is the only way to maintain muscle mass. It is the aging challenge for all of us. There are many little tricks to try, monitor eating every meal and every day, and any amount of unplanned weight loss in an older dog is reason to go see your vet immediately.

Side View of Savannah. 

Top view, note her back legs are splayed in front of her, and she is barely on her bed.

Exhibit B, Charleston. My three year old pit bull mix. He is built like a pit bull, thick, long, and muscular. He is inside with me most of the winter. Snuggled on his bed, hibernating with his brother until the spring erupts, when they both hit the fields in search of trouble. He, like me, is a bit softer and rounder in the winter then we, (oops, I mean he) is in the height of swim suit season. (I promise we both will be leaner, lighter, tighter, and trimmer in June. I'll post an updated picture of his waistline and use it as the reference for us both then).

Side view of Charlie.
Top view of Charlie.

Exhibit C, Jekyll, the three year old beagle. He is a powerhouse. He has to be. He is Charleston's best friend, wrestling buddy, and refuses to let his long legged pittie brother get the best of him. Where Charleston is fast and has an elegant antelope stride, Jekyll is the torpedo-like bullet. I call him the sand bag. If he wasn't so strong, round, and solid Charleston would have broken him years ago. He has the stop, drop, and roll while Charleston plows over him like a master stunt-dog on their daily rumble-run-and-play sessions. All of my veterinary and non-veterinary friends think that my little Jekyll is fat. And here I go sounding just like my guilty clients I persistently reply, "He is not! He is solid, strong, muscular, athletic, and he has short little legs." (Sigh of slight admonition....)

Jekyll side view.

Jekyll from the top.

In my defense, my puppies (Charlie and Jekyll) run four miles with me 3-4 times a week in the winter and 5-6 times in the summer. They are very active pups and on a high quality commercially available diet. I monitor their waistline, muscle mass, coat, teeth, nails, ears, joints, mobility, gait, mentation, eating, urinating, and defecation habits daily. I know that a slim waistline is very important. It is a critical part of overall health. My two beagles have some weight challenges, they are after all beagles, and beagles LIVE for food, but I have also provided them lots of exercise, a very good diet, minimal treats, and measured amounts of food. I would say that the pups are BCS 3/5, Jek pushes 4/5 but he is all muscle, and Savannah is 2-3/5, she is what we vets call sarcopenic which is a loss of lean body mass that occurs with aging.

If you are concerned that your pet has a large waistline, or if you ever have any questions about any aspect of your pets health sit down with your vet to discuss them. There are often important medical reasons that can cause or contribute to your pets appearance, and there are many ways to help identify what is contributing to their BCS. We have advice to help get and keep your pet in tip-top shape and keep them there.

"Oh mom, wake us up when it's summer!"
"See mom, I look good! I'm the most handsome pup ever,
and so adorable, and charming, and  irresistible!"

"Yes, Jekyll, you are all of those things, and more."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Puppy Primer, The First Instructions.


How incredibly exciting is having a new puppy? 

Those little feet, the happy wag, the endless kisses, and the silly adorable play. It is the magical moments of a new life and the joys of learning about all of the new things to sniff, chew, toss, squeak, and discover. 

Along with the endless entertainment of a new puppy comes the responsibility of a new life. There is a lot to learn, remember, and protect your new pup from. But don't worry there is an army people available to help you. Ask for help, ask for advice, and know that every step of the way there are resources of every kind available to you. Here's the advice from a vet, but seek out friends, family and your puppies first family. 

We are all here to help you build a strong life-long bond. 

My first piece of advice is to see a vet within the first three days of  getting your new puppy. 

Until that time pick up all feces and keep your puppy in your yard and away from other pets. I know it sounds harsh and strict, but I have seen a new puppy become very sick very quickly and then get every other pet in their social circle sick. Play it safe and keep your puppy away from other puppies and dogs for the first few weeks. After they are 6 months old and have completed of their vaccines your puppy is fine to go out and see the world. Until then think of your puppy as having an "immature immune system". Even if you are getting shots every three weeks your pup still may not be able to face and defeat a challenge from a disease, even one that they have been vaccinated for. 

Another small note with the importance of a 'new pet visit'. If the breeder or adoption agency says 'up to date on shots' it is still a very good idea to see your vet as soon as possible. They will help you identify what your vaccine schedule is, whether or not you need any monthly preventatives, and give you lots of helpful advice. Their advice is well worth the minimal cost and the safety and well-being of your puppy.

Even as I ask you to keep your pup sheltered I do not want to tell you to keep them from being socialized. It is very important to expose your puppy to other pets so that they are not afraid of, or unable to interact with them. Most pets develop fear as a result of anxiety. The anxiety in many cases stems from either not having been exposed to other animals, or from not being allowed to learn how to act around others. Puppy classes are a wonderful way to safely introduce your puppy to others, and also how to effectively communicate with your puppy. Invite the whole family to go to class. You can all learn the new language of puppy talk together. And that way you can all help in the raising and rearing of your puppy.

If you have a small dog, the ability to make multiple return visits, or if you have any concerns about a vaccine reaction, I recommend that the vaccines be split up. 
I try not to give more than two shots per visit to the little, young, or sensitive pups. 

A microchip is a very safe, effective way to reunite you with your pet should you ever be separated  Have your puppy micro-chipped at your first visit. Puppy-napping has become a more and more common crime, especially in a depressed economy. A microchip can be easily and quickly placed and will not be painful if done by an experienced person. Remember to register your puppy immediately, and remember to keep your information updated should your puppy need to find you. 

Ask your veterinarian what they recommend for heartworm prevention and flea and tick prevention. At our clinic we advocate they be used monthly. Heartworm preventatives prevent heartworm disease, which can be expensive to treat and fatal. Many preventatives are also monthly de-wormers. Every monthly pill will treat and prevent some of the most common intestinal worms. I tell my clients that "for all that we do for our pets in my opinion you get the biggest bang for your buck with heartworm prevention." I also recommend that it be given monthly year around so your pet is not at risk of getting heartworm disease. If you forget to give your pet a pill for longer than 6 weeks it is recommended that your pet be re-tested for heartworm disease before resuming the monthly prevention. The cost of the heartworm test is often more expensive than the skipping of the three months that you think your pet doesn't need to be treated. These products are dosed by your pets weight. Make sure that your pet is given the correct dose based on their size.

We also recommend a good monthly flea and tick preventative. In our neck of the woods we need this product because the ticks around the Mid-Atlantic region carry of Lyme disease. Along with the yearly vaccine the use of this product monthly will protect them
well against the dangers of Lyme disease.

For dogs less than twenty pounds I recommend using a harness and a leash to walk her. The harness is safer  than a collar, so they doesn't traumatize their trachea if they pull on the leash, and also that if you need to tug them quickly away from any dangers so that it won’t pull on their trachea. Smaller dogs have weaker cartilage so less trauma to the trachea is safer. With this said, discourage them from pulling. Being good on a leash is good manners.

For larger dogs I recommend a sturdy heavy 6 foot leash. Big dogs on retractable leashes can be catastrophic. If they lunge or run the leash can break, or it can pull you off your feet. I have seen many dogs hit by cars, run away, or people injured due retractable leashes.

The best thing that you can do for them is take them everywhere with you. Let them be the other kid and show them the world so they aren't afraid of anything.

If you find that your puppy is requiring too much time and attention and that they have too much energy for you to adequately get them tired then I would suggest that you get another puppy. I know it sounds crazy but two puppies can be easier than one. They tire each other out, they have far fewer behavioral issues (because they are happy and tired), and they will take some demands for attention off of your plate. I swear by the two puppy theory. I spend all day working and my puppies have each other to snuggle with, play with, and interact with. I know that they are happier because they have each other. My husband and I are happier too. Watching them play wrestle, sleep cuddled up together and being able to tell them to play with each other so that every so often we can actually spend a few moments together is a blessed thing.

Our Puppies.
Charlie and Jekyll doing their morning wiggle dance

Take lots and lots of pictures, and please share them with everyone. And never hesitate to call your vet, friends, breeder, or adoption center if you have any questions or concerns. We are all here to help.

If you have any puppy (or any other kind of pet question) you can find answers anytime, and always free at Pawbly, or you can find me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.