Your Pet’s First Aid Kit

 

It’s 7 pm on a Sunday evening and you walked into the kitchen just as your retriever polished off a bag of chocolate chips snatched from the counter.  You think, “Isn’t chocolate supposed to be poisonous for four-legged critters?”.  What do you do? Who do you call? In your haste to help your dog, you are unable to summon a rational thought. If only you had taken the time to put together the pet first aid kit your veterinarian had recommended, you could have had all the supplies and information you needed at your fingertips!

So you don’t have to experience the angst that accompanies the above scenario, I recommend assembling a basic first aid kit filled with the supplies and information you need to deal with any dog emergency.  Most of these tools are available online or at your local pharmacy. For dosing recommendations, check in with your veterinarian as species, breed, size, and pre-existing conditions may determine a safe amount to administer.

Most animal medical emergency kits should include a list of important phone numbers.  You’ll always want to be in contact with an animal health professional before taking matters into your own hands; a knowledgeable voice can be a great reassurance. The phone numbers at the top of your list should include: your regular veterinarian, a local 24/7 emergency clinic, and the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center (1-800-426-4435) or the National Animal Poison Control Center at 888-4ANI-HELP (888-426-4435), the Emergency Disaster Information Line (1-800-227-4645), and the Pet Travel Hotline 1-800-545-USDA before travelling across state lines. You should have your pet’s medical records readily available, so you can answer questions about previous reactions, currently administered medications, and vaccination status.

I also like to add the addresses of a few online sites where you can reference emergency dosages, toxicity calculators, and other information needed to perform basic first aid.  https://vetcalculators.com/chocolate.html will allow you to determine an appropriate action to take should your dog ingest various types of chocolate,  https://www.petmd.com/news/topics/alert-recalls?icn=petMD-utility_bar&icl=6_alerts updates pet owners on current food recalls, and https://www.avma.org/public/EmergencyCare/Pages/default.aspx has a wealth of information on CPR basics, travelling with a pet, basic first aid procedures, and handling injured pets.

A few necessary items in your pets’ first aid kit should include: a flexible digital thermometergauze for wrapping open wounds or to use as a muzzle for painful animals, non-stick bandages and adhesive white tape for covering wounds (or a self-adhesive bandage material), a blanket as well as a rigid board or stretcher for transporting an injured pet, a leash, an eye dropper or needless syringe for administering medication, 3% hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting, baby aspirin, adult or children’s Benadryl (diphenhydramine), saline eye wash, and activated charcoal for absorbing toxins.  Tweezers as well as good old soap and water can be used to remove a tick or foreign object from a paw and to flush wounds.
I like to keep a gallon of nursery water on hand for that purpose, as well as to help rehydrate an animal or cool a pet suffering from heatstroke. Pedialyte or another electrolyte solution will replace salts and minerals that are important for proper hydration, blood pH and nerve conduction. Simple sugarssuch as honey or maple syrup can be rubbed on the gums of dogs given too much insulin, having a seizure due to low sugar, or to puppies that may have a difficult time maintaining blood sugar due to illness or stress and are lethargic.

Sterile lubricant helps to cover a break in the skin barrier or ease passage of the rectal thermometer.  Cornstarch or quik-stop used with cotton tipped applicators (Q-tips) can stop an actively bleeding nail and a nail clipper (Miller’s Forge, orange handle at Petco.com) to trim a torn nail back to healthy tissue is needed. Most creams and ointments as well as Band-Aids or other small adhesives are easily consumed by dogs.  It’s better to keep an E-collar handy to prevent self-mutilation. Clippers aid in the removal of hair around a cut or laceration. Be sure to apply lubricant to the area to prevent the introduction of additional debris and clipped hair into the area.

As gentle and loving as your dog may normally be, an injured pet will often react out of fear and pain towards a caregiver. Using a muzzle when handling pets (except for those that are vomiting) is always prudent. An improvised muzzle can be created using gauze, a necktie, or strips of fabric and bandage scissors and should be considered when assembling your dog’s emergency kit. Latex gloves and Purell hand sanitizer can help protect your pet’s wound from human contamination. Towels or blankets can help to restrain a pet comfortably. You can only help your pet by staying healthy, calm, and safe.

Always remember that any first aid administered to your pet should be followed by immediate veterinary care. A portable carrier for smaller dogs will aid in safe transportation. First aid care is not a substitute for veterinary care, but it may save your pet’s life until it receives veterinary treatment.

Dr. Lisa McIntyre

 

Dog vs Lawn: Keeping the Your Yard Peaceful, Not in Pieces

urine spot

 

Many pet owners are frustrated when, despite countless hours of fertilizing, weeding, and seeding, their lawn is riddled with brown spots, holes, and severely “pruned” plants. Unfortunately, many dogs cause destruction just by doing what comes naturally.

Digging: The word terrier comes from Latin and means “earth dog”.  A common behavior of this group of dogs is burrowing underground to energetically hunt vermin and rodents.  They are tenacious and excellent diggers, and were bred to eliminate mice, rats and other furry pests from farms.  Hounds, such as the beagle and dachshund, use their exceptional sense of smell to root for groundhogs, voles, and rodents.  When they can’t reach their prey underground, they can track a rabbit above ground, sometimes digging under the fence to catch a rascally critter. While we see their destructive behavior as naughty, digging holes was once a dog’s job; it’s hard to fight the genetic code! Other dog breeds will dig holes to find a cool spot.  Malamutes and huskys are known to dig under the shade of a bush or tree to find the chilled soil underneath.  Border collies and other herding dogs are active pups who need alternate “jobs” if they are not out corralling sheep.  Without an occupation, they may take it upon themselves to become landscapers.  Beware the bored border collie.

How can you deter this canine bad habit and inbred behavior? Stop them from digging holes in undesirable locations by burying bricks or chicken wire with the edges well-protected and re-cover the area with soil.  After a few unfruitful attempts and scraping of the nails, they will move on to another activity.  Mulch beds with pinecones which is an unfavorable substrate for dogs to walk upon. Better yet, reinforce their natural tendency to dig by designating a sand pile or corner of the yard as an appropriate excavation site.  Place hidden toys or treats in these locations; training your dog to head to these locations isn’t hard if they are rewarded!

Plant Chewing/ Grass Eating:

Some dogs chew leaves and grass to relieve nausea, so it’s always best to rule out a medical problem with the vet.  Planting thorny bushes such as barberry, holly, or roses will discourage chewing, as will showcasing fast-growing shrubs like viburnum and euonymus   Unless you have a water-loving retriever, Havahart Spray Away or Contech ScareCrow are two motion activated sprinklers that may keep pets away from vegetation.  By placing them near tender new plants, a dog that attempts to nibble will get a squirt in face.  Gotcha. A product sprayed on plants that imparts a bitter flavor such as Liquid Fence or Lambert Kay’s Boundary spray may also eliminate chewing.  Repeated applications may be necessary to “remind” pets that the plant still tastes bad.  These same products can be used on rabbit pellets to deter snacking.  Rabbit poop is pretty irresistible, I am told; you may have more success installing rabbit fencing buried a foot deep near your yard’s perimeter to discourage them from taking up residence.

Lawn Burn/ Urine Scald: Brown spots of dead grass can be the bane of a dog owner’s existence.  Both volume and concentration of pet urine contribute to lawn burn-out. Urine contains high levels of nitrogen, a by-product of protein metabolism.  In small amounts, nitrogen can be a great fertilizer, hence the lush green ring of grass that can be found surrounding the brown spot. Though not exclusively a female dog issue, males do tend to urinate on shrubs or vertically growing plants in smaller bursts, especially if they are marking. So, the problem may be more noticeable if you have a female dog. What does not work to protect your grass? Adding pH modifiers to your dog’s diet such as tomato juice or baking soda has no proven benefit and may even harm your pet’s kidneys or digestive system. Modifying your dog’s body chemistry can have other unintended consequences such as encouraging the production of bladder stones.  What does work to eliminate or reduce the dog urine spots? The solution to pollution is dilution! I can’t remember if I learned this gem in chemistry class or when treating contaminated wounds… but it holds true. Watering your lawn within 8 hours of elimination dilutes the nitrogen in waste products.  The market is flooded with sprinklers that can be set on a timer if you don’t have an in-ground programmable sprinkler system.  Promote the consumption of clean, fresh water (tap is fine) by refilling your dog’s bowl often and offering ice cubes or watering down kibble.  Your dog’s urine won’t be as concentrated, and your lawn will thank you! Training your dog to eliminate on mulch or pea-gravel will also stop lawn burn.  This can be accomplished by repetition using a leash and an immediate reward.  Fescue and rye grass are species that are more resistant to burn than Bermuda or bluegrass and can be used when reseeding bare patches or as part of your overseeding lawn maintenance protocol.

By following these tips, man’s best friend won’t become your yard’s worst enemy!

 

 

Jump Around, Jump Around, Jump Up, Jump Up and Get Down! Fleas and Ticks, that is.

Image result for fleas

Fleas and ticks. Makes my skin crawl just thinking about them.  I regret to say, we have had both find their forever homes on my dogs over the years. Prevention has come a long way with topical products that can be applied as often as monthly or oral pills that are both tasty and effective at eliminating many life stages of the flea and tick.

I’m going to share some important facts regarding these creepy crawlies and hopefully convince you that year-round pest prevention is important!

Fleas are tiny parasites that require the blood meal of a mammal or bird to survive and reproduce.  While they need warm, humid temperatures to thrive (our friends in the south have particularly bad flea problems), the larvae and pupa can overwinter in the house or on animals like coyotes and rabbits and their dens, extending their life cycle from several weeks to many months. Fleas tend to hang out in the same areas that are popular with your dog and other wildlife: shady areas out of direct sunlight and direct foot traffic. The flea life cycle is complex, consisting of four stages: egg, larvae, pupa, and adult. Because some of these life stages occur off the host (your dog or cat), prevention and treatment targeted at several of these stages works best.

First off, we want to treat the environment and make it an inhospitable place for fleas to live.  Clearing brush, keeping grass cut short, and raking leaf piles are great at eliminating flea hide-outs. Inside, frequent vacuuming to stimulate egg hatching and laundering bedding daily is important if you suspect a flea infestation. Next, you’ll want to utilize one of the many products available from your veterinarian to kill adults, larvae, and eggs.  Some popular preventatives include Nexgard, Simparica, Revolution, Bravecto, Advantix, or Frontline.  Over the counter products can not only be ineffective (think flea collars), but dangerous to pets. Flea preventatives work by sterilizing the adult flea (flea birth control, if you will), others work via overstimulating the flea central nervous system.  Treated hairs can also work to kill larva and eggs in the environment. Because new eggs shed into the house or yard are constantly hatching, it is important to treat consecutively every month to kill emergent fleas. An adult flea can produce 500 eggs in just a few weeks!

A flea comb can be utilized to find live fleas on your dog, though most pet owners aren’t fast enough to catch a hopping flea. Tell-tale signs of a flea problem are itching or biting near the tail base and evidence of a black pepper-like granule (flea poop) in the fur that turns reddish on a damp paper towel.  That red coloration is digested blood.  Fleas can cause an allergic response to their saliva in some dogs; one bite can cause severe hair loss and scratching.  A heavy infestation can lead to low red blood cell count, transmission of tapeworms, or diseases such as the plague or typhus.

Similarly, ticks love to live in outdoor areas such as wood piles, yard clippings, or attached to hosts such as mice and deer. True opportunists, they wait to attach to an unsuspecting mammal as they brush past.  Ticks become most active as the temperatures rise above freezing.  This fools many dog owners into thinking they can forgo preventatives from December to March.  Unbelievably, and this time of year it is VERY hard to believe, we had 16 days above freezing in January!  Ticks don’t typically leave tiny poop calling cards like fleas.  Many times, they are not discovered on your dog until they have been attached for days to weeks and are engorged with blood. I’ve pulled many a tick off a client’s pet in February.

Ticks also have a four-part life cycle and other than the egg, each stage including the larva, nymph and adult needs a blood meal to survive.  The complete life cycle can take two years to complete and an adult tick can produce up to 3,000 eggs.  Frighteningly, the larva stage of the tick which will attach to a host animal is no bigger that the size of the period at the end of this sentence.  Imagine finding that in your dog’s fur!  Ticks are tremendously dangerous to dogs and humans because they transmit devastating and sometimes hard to treat diseases.  The deer tick is most commonly known for its ability to spread Lyme disease.

Image result for fleas

Because it takes 24 hours of tick attachment to infect a host with disease, prompt identification and removal is critical.  If you spend time outdoors with your pet, do a tick check of the skin and hair coat after returning home.  Ticks especially love to set up shop on a dog’s ear flaps.  If you see an imbedded tick, grasp its head as close to the skin as possible with a pair of tweezers. Pull the entire tick out in one swift movement.  It’s ok if you get a bit of dog with your tick… just clean the area with soap and water and apply a triple antibiotic ointment to the bite.  I like to flush the tick or perform evil experiments like dipping it in Frontline…don’t judge. Many of the same preventatives we use for flea control are also effective at repelling and/or killing ticks during that 24-hour window of attachment.  Consistent use is important and recognize if your dog is boarded or groomed, it can pick up parasites from other doggie friends. Yard treatments are also available to kill ticks and fleas.  It’s best to consult a company that specializes in such treatment as some chemicals can be harmful to humans on pets.

We wish for spring desperately this time of year.  With the proper precautions, you can make sure your furry buddy is safe from the external parasites sure to be jumping!

The Scoop on Poop

Why must inspiration always strike in the wee hours of the morning? Perhaps it is because we have had a dearth of calls regarding unusually colored stool and, let’s just say it, diarrhea.  Perhaps it is because I am dreading the dog waste to be revealed after the great snow melt this weekend. Or maybe I’m awake because of residual nausea after sifting through a retriever’s poop one of Barbie’s appendages …

barbie

Regardless, let’s get to the heart, or colon, of this article.  Poop.  What does the poop of a healthy dog look like? How do you know if your pet is in distress and needs medical attention? What are some common causes of loose or hard stools and what can you do to help? Is color of a dog’s poop related to their overall well-being?

 

Fecal consistency is primarily a function of the amount of moisture in the stool and can be used to identify changes in colonic health as well as other medical problems. Ideally, in a healthy animal, stools should be firm but not hard, pliable, segmented, and easy to pick up. One to two bowel movements daily are ideal. As a veterinarian, I identify poop based on a scoring system.  A healthy dog should have a Score of 2 on the poop scale.

dog scooping

 

Score 1

  • Stool very hard and dry
  • Much effort required to expel feces from body
  • No residue left on the ground when feces picked up
  • Often expelled as individual pellets

Score 2

  • Stool firm but not hard
  • Pliable and segmented in appearance
  • Little or no residue left on ground when picked up

Score 3

  • Stool log-like
  • No segmentation visible
  • Moist, shiny surface
  • Leaves residue but remains firm when picked up

Score 4

  • Feces very moist (soggy)
  • Distinct log shape
  • Leave residue and loses form when picked up

Score 5

  • Feces very moist
  • Loses shape (piles rather than log shape)
  • Leaves residue and loses form when picked up

Score 6

  • Feces has texture but no defined shape
  • Occurs in piles or looks like spots
  • Leaves residue when picked up

Score 7

  • Feces watery, flat, with no texture
  • Occurs as a puddle
  • Leaves residue when picked up

If you google “purina fecal scoring chart”, you will find some visual images of the poops mentioned above.  GOOD MORNING!

 

In general, a pet that has acute, chronic, or even intermittent diarrhea should be examined and some basic labwork run.  Especially concerning is the pet with diarrhea, weight loss, and/or lethargy; concurrent vomiting also necessitates a call in to your pet’s doctor.  Your vet (me) will want a detailed history of your pet’s activities, diet, stresses, frequency and consistency of stool, difficulty in passing stool, blood or mucous in the stool, and any other predisposing factors such as exposure to parasites or eating from the garbage can (you know who you are).  I like to talk about your pet’s bowel movements as much as you do, so share!  And speaking of sharing, when I ask for a fresh fecal sample, just a marble-sized amount will do.

The causes of diarrhea are many and in deducing the reason for distress I am reminded of a wonderful saying I learned in veterinary school: GOOD MEDICINE IS NOT FAST MEDICINE.  This can be difficult to remember if your pet doesn’t feel well and you have just replaced your carpeting.  Or are hosting a baby shower.  Or forgot to put on slippers while on the hunt for your morning coffee.

 

There are two general categories of diarrhea: Acute (sudden onset) and Chronic (long term).

 

ACUTE (sudden onset) DIARRHEA: diet change (including eating poopsicles or part of a rope toy), drug or toxin induced diarrhea (Halloween chocolates look better going in than out), parasites, viral or bacterial infection.  Occasionally an extra-intestinal problem such as pancreatitis, bloat, or liver disease will lead to acute diarrhea.

 

CHRONIC (long lasting) DIARRHEA: the causes may include some of those mentioned above as well as a host of other diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, fungal disease, pancreatic disease, food allergy, protozoal diseases (toxoplasmosis), bacterial overgrowth, cancer, liver and kidney disease, irritable bowel syndrome, many more.

These cases can be very challenging to diagnose and even more difficult to treat.  Chronic diarrhea is often managed, not cured, and relapses during times of physical or emotional stress, dietary indiscretion, or just ‘cause are common.

 

A color change in your dog’s poop can be indicative of a problem, even if the consistency is normal.  Light brown to dark brown is normal based on your dog’s diet.  Black and tarry poop may indicate the presence of digested blood in the stool, fresh blood with mucous is common with large bowel disease, and white stool can occur if there is a problem with bile excretion or liver disease.  Yellow or orange poop can also be present with liver disease or if the stool is moving too quickly through the GI tract. Certain antacids or medications can affect the color of the poop. Dogs that like to eat grass or have ingested certain toxic mouse baits can have green-blue colored stool.

 

What can you do if you suspect a poop problem?

Keep an accurate history of your dog’s habits including appetite, frequency and effort of bowel movements, and environmental changes such as boarding.  You should have a Pet Butler technician (or your teenager) frequently scoop poop to minimize spread of disease and yard contamination as well as to monitor your pet’s poop for spaghetti or rice grain type parasites, color, or consistency change. For acute causes of diarrhea (i.e. Grandma gave the dog some Thanksgiving leftovers), we often recommend fasting for 24 hours with access to water only if your pet is not lethargic or vomiting.  Then, we gradually resume feeding limited amounts of a bland diet which can include boiled chicken or ground turkey, scrambled eggs or cottage cheese and a bland carbohydrate source like rice or pasta in a 1:4 ratio.  To get the gut back on track, small frequent meals are best with a gradual return to the pet’s normal diet.

 

Fiber is fabulous!  It is the great poop regulator and is as close as the plain canned pumpkin at Trader Joe’s. Because it contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, it can bind some of the excess water in the intestinal tract, bulking up the stool and slowing digestion. The insoluble fiber in pumpkin can benefit those suffering from constipation, but it is best to avoid feeding too much insoluble fiber since it can act as a natural laxative.  Helpful if you are constipated, not if the stools are already loose!

 

I hope this helps clear up some of the deeper, darker mysteries of your pet’s gastrointestinal system. Keep that yard clean!

 

Dr. Lisa McIntyre

The Welcome Waggin’

 

Vaccinations: The Science Behind the Shots

Few issues in veterinary medicine are as controversial as the debate about administration of vaccines to our dogs and cats.  Long considered part of the annual visit, responsible health care, and credited with conquering some of the fiercest infectious diseases, vaccines are also suspected of creating vulnerability to certain illnesses and chronic conditions such as anemia, arthritis, allergies, gastrointestinal and thyroid disorders and cancer.  While there are few people who will advocate from refraining from the use of vaccinations altogether, what vaccine protocols will protect our companions without putting them at unnecessary risk? It is a difficult question, with no one-size-fits-all answer.

To determine which vaccines are necessary for your pet, you and your veterinarian must start with an individualized risk-benefit assessment. Questions you may ask yourself include: Does my pet come into contact with other animal companions? Do we have wildlife in our area or on our property? How much time does my pet spend outdoors? Does my pet board, get groomed, go to dog parks or dog shows? Do I have other pets and do all animals receive a heartworm and flea/tick preventative? Do I travel with my pet or volunteer at a shelter?  Does my pet have any chronic conditions?

Vaccines are traditionally divided into core, or essential, groups, and non-core vaccines.  These determinations are based on the likelihood of exposure to the infectious agent, the severity of the disease contracted by infected animals, and zoonotic potential (a disease such as rabies that can infect humans as well as animals).  It is recommended that animals receive core vaccines, with the need for non-core vaccines being determined on an individual basis. Core vaccines, based on the American Animal Hospital Association’s and American Association for Feline Practitioner’s recommendations are as follows:  Distemper, Adenovirus/Hepatitis, canine Parvovirus, Rabies, feline Parvovirus/Panleukopenia, Herpesvirus, and Calicivirus. Non-core vaccines include: Bordetella, Parainflueza, Coronavirus, Lyme, Leptospirosis, Chlamydia, Feline Infectious Peritonitis, Feline Leukemia, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, and Canine Influenza.

Frequency with which to vaccinate is perhaps the most confounding decision we must make as part of the veterinarian-owner pet care team.  This is where a basic understanding of the immune system and how it operates becomes critical.  When exposed to natural disease or a vaccine, memory cells (cell-mediated line of the immune system) become primed to recognize the infectious agent should the animal become re-exposed and antibodies can be produced (humoral line of the immune system).  If maternal antibodies are still present, the animal is ill/stressed, doesn’t respond to the vaccine due to immaturity, or there is a problem with the vaccine itself, it is possible to have an animal that was vaccinated but not adequately protected.  Additionally, an animal that becomes ill, stressed, or immunosuppressed later in life, or is exposed to an overwhelming challenge of the organism may become sick despite adequate vaccination.  Thus the true immune status of an animal is determined by many factors including antibody levels, activity of memory cells, health of the animal, and type of disease challenge. In many cases, health professionals encourage vaccination with the thought that the majority of individuals will be protected (herd health), and the disease causing organism will not have the opportunity to infect a community causing an outbreak.

There has been much discussion on the value of checking antibody titers to certain viral diseases such as canine Parvovirus, Distemper, and feline Panleukopenia, Herpesvirus, and Calicivirus.  A titer is a measurement of how much antibody to a particular agent is circulating in the blood at that time.  Titers are expressed as a ratio and indicate how dilute the blood was made before detectable levels of antibody disappeared.  A titer test does not measure immunity, because as we know, immune status of an animal is dependent on multiple variables.  A high titer is strongly correlated with recent infection or good immunity, but a low titer does not necessarily mean the body won’t produce an effective immune response if challenged.

What to do? Our practice has determined that in light of all of the information presented by the AAHA and AAFP and after evaluating duration of immunity studies conducted by the vaccine manufacturers, we will take a cautiously progressive approach to vaccination.  Puppies and kittens will receive regular boosters of core and select non-core vaccines every 3-4 weeks until 16-18 weeks.  After one year of age, dogs will receive a booster of DAP and cats a FVRCP as well as a three year Rabies vaccine; other non-core vaccines will be based on risk assessment.  At two years of age, most dogs will continue to receive non-core vaccines and a three year DAP vaccine.  In future years, they will receive non-core vaccines annually and DAP and Rabies as they come due on a rotating three year basis. Cats will similarly be vaccinated for FVRCP every three years in place of DAP. For our feline patients, we have selected non-adjuvanted vaccines shown to be associated with fewer adverse events including some cancers. The vaccination schedules of senior pets or those with medical conditions will continue to be assessed on an individual basis, as we do with all of our patients. We will also work with owners who chose to perform viral vaccine titers in lieu of core vaccine requirements excluding Rabies.

2018: The Year Your Dog Loses Weight!! (and the Year of the DOG)

lab

HO, HO, HOLY COW! Now that it is 2018, we wearily rub the sleep out of eyes and take a tentative step back into reality.  Our pants are a little more snug, dry needles are falling off of the Christmas tree still in the corner, and the dog looks up at us and seems to communicate, “Me too.  I feel like an ottoman with legs”.  Time to get moving and regroup! After we purge the last bit of fruitcake and eggnog from the fridge, we owe it to our pets to take charge of their health and well-being. That starts with weight assessment and management, and it doesn’t have to be difficult.  The trick is knowing where to start and being consistent.  And the payoff is huge; a landmark study published in 2002 by  Nestlé Purina’s showed that maintaining a dog’s lean body condition extended their median life span by 15 percent. For the Labrador Retrievers in the study, the statistic translates into two years. 1

 

Placing a call to  your veterinarian is the first thing you  should do. At the appointment, it helps to bring your pet’s food, treats, and measuring cup; taking it one step further, an accurate log  of your pet’s food intake over a week or two is ideal.  By having all family members write down what is fed, your vet gets an accurate picture of nutritional intake.  Don’t stop there! Record any activity your dog has engaged in during that same time period.  We aren’t necessarily counting calories expended, but gauging a rough level of activity.  A pug on a couch doesn’t use the same amount of energy (calories) as a border collie who chases a frisbee 2 hours a day.

Your veterinarian is going to weigh your dog.  You can monitor weight at home by weighing yourself (gasp), then weighing yourself holding your dog, and subtract your weight to get your pet’s LBS.  Make a note of it on your food and activity log.  If you have a large or giant breed dog, many vet clinics and pet stores will happily let you walk in and get a weight on their oversized scale.  Because of variability in breeds and body types within the breed, charts will list a healthy weight range for each breed.  Taking a look at the AKC guide to breed weights, we see that a Boston Terrier may weigh anywhere from 12-25 pounds. 2   That’s a HUGE degree of variabilty and isn’t particularly helpful, especially if you have  a mixed breed dog.  Veterinarians and knowledgable pet owners are more likely to rely on a body condition scoring chart to assess weight.  One of the most popular is the Purina Dog Condition Scoring Chart. It can be found online at: https://oregonvma.org/files/Purina-Dog-Condition-Chart.pdf. 3 This chart allows owners and medical professionals to  evaluate a dog based on three criteria and assign them a value from 1 (emaciated) to grossly obese (9):  feeling the fat pad over the ribs and determining if the ribs are able to be easily visualized, evaluating a dog’s waist profile and thickness from above, and assessing their abdominal tuck.  A dog at its ideal weight should be about a 4-5/9.  Anything above or below, and you’ve got a problem!  Each point on the scale correlates 10% over or under their ideal weight.  For example, a golden retriever that is an 8/9, is roughly 30% overweight.  Instead of weighing 100 pounds, he should weigh 70. (100 pounds x 0.30 = 30 pounds overweight). 4

Armed with your dog’s body condition score, food intake, activity level, diet fed, his rough weight in pounds vs. ideal weight, you can start to make some adjustments in how you feed and exercise your pet. Know that you are not alone. It’s estimated that roughly 45% of dogs in the US are overweight or obese. 2 These staggering numbers contribute to their overall quality of life in a number of ways: overweight pets are more likely to develop diabetes, arthritis, respiratory illnesses, skin infections, and cancer in addition to the relative immobility obesity fosters.  5

Dogs are physiologically built to thrive on 2-4 small meals a day. Free choice feeding can lead to overeating when bored.  The choice of what to feed can be a complex one.  Again, enlist the help of your veternarian who will likely recommend a food or foods based on your dog’s size, breed, health status (pre-screening for diseases like Hypothyroidism, heart disease, Cushing’s disease, arthritis, and others to make sure there are no other medical issues contributing to your pet’s weight gain), activity level, and age.  Just reducing your dog’s caloric intake of his regular diet and treats could also deprive him of essential nutrients.  In general, a diet higher in protein and lower in fat and calories per 8 ounce cup can help your pet achieve 1-2% loss in pounds per week. Canned foods, though more expensive, tend to be more filling and also contain a higher percentage of protein as fed. Dog Food Advisor https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/  has a handy calculator that can aid you in determining the amount of calories to feed. 6  Be careful; the labels on the back of dog food bags and cans are the estimated amounts to feed a dog at their healthy weight.  We are looking to lose!  Also recall that treats count. Ice cubes, carrots, apple slices and green beans can be an appealing substitute to high calorie bones and chews.   BalanceIT is a company that will develop a home cooked recipe and supplements exclusively for your dog to meet their individual needs.  Started by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, professional recomendations can aid even a finicky dog or one with food allergies to lose weight. https://secure.balanceit.com/. 7

If your dog is cleared to resume exercising, start with a 5-10 minute walk several times a day.  If you are able, incorporate some hills and swimming which help to build muscle and increase your dog’s metabolism.  When the weather is chilly, we play “find the kibble” in the house after hiding individual pieces under rugs, on chair rungs, and in plastic water bottles or boxes.  One of my dogs is fed three times a day by rolling a kong toy filled with kibble. The mental stimulation is a good replacement for physical exercise on cold days, and the dogs don’t realize they are expending as many calories as they are eating! Keeping a weight loss and activity log can assist in tracking the weekly weigh-in and fine tuning your dog’s program to achieve optimal results. Measure, measure, measure (even keep a baggie of food for your dog’s daily ration if needed).  Who knows, you may find that by increasing your awareness of calories in, calories out, you reach your own weight loss goals!

savvy

http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/purina-releases-results-first-life-span-study

2 http://www.akc.org/content/dog-care/articles/breed-weight-chart/

3 https://oregonvma.org/files/Purina-Dog-Condition-Chart.pdf

4https://www.aaha.org/public_documents/professional/guidelines/weight_management_guidelines.pdf

5 Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, Calabash, NC

6 https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/

7 https://secure.balanceit.com/