Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How Little Things for Our Pet's Make the Biggest Difference

As a veterinarian and pet parent to four dogs and two cats I have plenty of experience caring for pets both at the hospital and at home. While annual wellness exams, vaccines and monthly preventive medications for heartworms, fleas and ticks are essential to your pet’s health, there are also many things you can do at home to keep your cat or dog healthy and happy.

Frank, Poppy, Sparkel and Lilly

Start by Choosing Quality Pet Food and Treats

The old adage "you are what you eat" doesn’t just apply to humans. Choosing the right food and treats is the cornerstone to good pet health. Look for a high quality diet that is formulated for your pet’s specific lifestage and lifestyle. This will ensure that your pet is getting the proper nutrition to keep them fit and healthy. For example, I don’t feed my 13-year-old rat terrier, Sparkle, the same food as my 4-year-old Labradoodle, Frank. Sparkle needs a senior diet that is lower in protein and calories to keep her kidneys healthy and her figure slim. Meanwhile, Frank is a big, active guy that burns through more calories a day and needs a higher protein level to maintain his sleek, handsome physique. So I choose a different diet for each of my dogs that meet their individual nutritional requirements. You should talk to your vet about what's right for your pet.

Channel Your Inner Hairstylist/Hygienist

Have you established a grooming routine for your pet yet? If not, you better get on it ASAP! This should include frequent brushing of the haircoat and teeth as well as nail trims and ear cleanings.

My golden retriever-Australian shepherd mix, Poppy, has a very dense undercoat that requires weekly brushing to prevent her from getting matted and shedding ALL over my house. I make our weekly grooming routine a happy experience where she gets treats and we spend some quality one on one time together.

Lilly and Sparkle
Brushing your pet’s teeth multiple times a week is another essential part of maintaining healthy living. Take my Chihuahua, Lily, for example. She has a history of dental disease so I make sure to focus on that aspect at home. She also gets annual dentals cleanings under general anesthesia so we can perform a complete oral exam that includes probing under the gum line for any diseased teeth that need to be removed. To maintain her dental heath in between the cleanings, I brush her teeth regularly and feed a dental diet. At first Lilly wasn’t a huge fan of our brushing sessions, but I started slow to ease her into the routine and found a tasty pet toothpaste (beef flavor – yuck!) that she really likes. 

Make Pet Toys Work for You!

Watching my pets joyfully play with their toys never gets old to me. While they have plenty of balls and chew-toys to chase and tear apart, I also like to keep them entertained with feeding toys. This group of dog toys has been designed to dispense treats or food while your pet plays with them. It is a great way to stimulate your pet’s mind and make them work for their food, which is much more rewarding than just inhaling a bunch of kibble out of a bowl. 

Furla and Vegas
Don’t let the kitties miss out on this fun. Cats have an innate hunting instinct and feeding toys are a great way to satisfy that as well as help keep them slim. My cats were a touch overweight and no matter what food I fed them or how strictly I limited their calorie intake they were still not losing weight. I started giving them their dry food out of a feeding ball so that they had to actually move around to get their food rather than just plop in front of a bowl and chow down. This, combined with the right diet and strict calorie control, really made a difference in helping my kitties lose those extra pounds.

With any toy or treat that requires chewing it is critical to know what kind of chewer your pet is. My dogs love ripping apart their stuffed toys to find the squeaker; thankfully they never attempt to eat the stuffing. If one of them ever showed any interest in consuming part of their toys I would either eliminate this type of toy from the house or only allow them to play with it while strictly supervised. The same should be applied to rawhides and other bones as well.  Ripping off a giant piece of rawhide or bone and swallowing it whole is extremely dangerous as it can become lodged in the gastrointestinal tract and cause an obstruction.

Our pets bring so much joy to our lives through their companionship and unconditional love. In order to keep them as happy and healthy as possible, try to introduce a few of these tips to help maintain their wellbeing and form a stronger bond that will last a lifetime. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Choosing the right food for your pet (and holding pet food companies to higher standards)

Frank asking for dinner
Choosing what to feed your dog or cat is a very important decision for pet owners and one that can be overwhelming given the countless choices out on the market today.  Stores are stocked with row after row of different pet food brands containing clever marketing slogans to convince you they are the best for your pet.  As a veterinarian and obsessive pet owner, I am especially interested in nutrition because what you choose to feed has a direct result on the overall health and longevity of your cat or dog. 

For example, the type of food a puppy is given can affect how his bones grow and whether or not he may develop arthritis later in life.  This is even more important with large and giant breed puppies.  For these not-so-tiny guys, it is critical to choose a food that has been specifically formulated for their unique nutritional needs during the growth phase of life.  Feeding large breed puppies something that is too high in protein or has inappropriate calcium to phosphorus ratio may result in abnormal joint development.

Where it gets tricky is that even though a bag might claim it is formulated for large breed puppies, there are no specific regulations on what constitutes a large breed puppy formula.  This is why it is important to find a brand of food that you have researched and determined that they really know how to make a high quality diet.  Anyone can purchase a formulation for pet food, manufacture a product and sell it without ever feeding it to an actual dog or cat.  It is very difficult to tell from looking at the catchy logo on the pet food bag whether or not that diet has any research to back it up.

Pet owners should look to their veterinarians for specific recommendations on what food would be ideal for their particular pet’s lifestyle and life stage.   Both owners and veterinarians alike should call a pet food company and verify that they are following the minimum standards for developing and selling pet food.  What are those minimum quality standards?

What All Pet Food Companies Should Do

I feel that pet food companies should have veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists on staff developing their diets. Companies should perform feeding trials and extensive research on their diets to ensure that it is actually complete and balanced to meet the nutritional needs of the pets it was created for.  There should be safeguards in place to ensure contamination from toxins or pathogenic bacteria are not reaching our pets in the marketplace.  A pet food company should also have its own manufacturing plant to control exactly how a food is made, packaged, stored and shipped.

Finding a brand you trust is the first step, then you need to find a diet that fits your pet’s unique needs.  Again, this is where a consultation with your veterinarian can be so helpful.  You need to make sure that your pet is not overweight or obese. If so, perhaps he would benefit from a diet that is lower in calories.  Or maybe your senior kitty would benefit from some canned food to help increase her moisture intake to better support kidney function. 

Good nutrition is the foundation to a long, healthy and happy life with your pet.  Choosing a high quality food that best supports your pet’s particular lifestyle and life stage is the best way to achieve this.


To better help pet owners find that perfect diet for your beloved pet, Hill’s Pet Nutrition is offering a $10 off promotion on select Hill’s Science Diet products.  They have several foods within their product portfolio to meet your pet’s special needs and help you provide a healthier and happier life.  From weight loss, to oral care, to hairballs or joint health, they have a food to help manage your pet’s special situation or condition.  Check out www.ScienceDiet.com/GetHealthyHappy to download your rebate today!