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FAQ: HEALTH & LIFESTYLE

Health & Lifestyle

My pets are eating grass. Why?

Dogs and cats will often “graze” as a normal behavior. There are various types of “cat grass” that can be purchased for indoor growing to offer your cat something appropriate to chew on instead of your household plants. If dogs are grazing excessively to the point that they are vomiting, you should contact your veterinarian. Your pet might be suffering from an upset stomach.

My pet has diarrhea every once in a while. Could it be the food I am feeding?

Diarrhea or soft stools is a common complaint from pet owners, especially dog owners who walk their dogs on a leash and cat owners who are responsible for cleaning out the litter box. Dietary intolerances can certainly cause digestive upset, leading to vomiting and/or diarrhea. However, if your pet is not tolerating something in their regular diet, you would expect to see signs of digestive upset everyday, not every once in a while.

For dogs that have occasional diarrhea, the most likely culprit is something they ate that was not part of their regular diet. This could be a treat or it could be something tasty that they found in the yard or on your walk around the neighborhood. It is impossible to prevent a dog from EVER picking something up and swallowing it that they should not. Some dogs do this very infrequently but some dogs do this on a daily basis. If the diarrhea occurs every time you feed a certain type of treat or a certain type of people food, try stopping this particular item and see if the problem stops.

If your dog seems to occasionally suffer from a bout of diarrhea, talk to your veterinarian about adding a probiotic into your routine. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that support good digestive health. Yogurt is an example of a food that contains probiotics. Plain, nonfat yogurt added to your pet’s dish once in a while may work wonders (not all pets tolerate yogurt and this is not recommended for all types of pets so talk to your vet first).

Cats with diarrhea are a bit trickier. Intermittent diarrhea is not that common in a cat. Stress may cause diarrhea, but it more typically causes blood in the stools. If your cat has diarrhea one day and then is fine for months, there is probably not anything that needs to be done. However, if your cat is having intermittent diarrhea, a trip to the veterinarian is warranted.

My dogs are eating feces. Why do they do this?

This is a behavioral problem, not a medical concern. Dogs that eat their own feces or more commonly, eat the cat’s feces, are doing so because they like it, they’ve seen another dog in the household doing it and don’t want to miss out or maybe they are bored. Walk your dog on a leash, immediately pick up the feces, and separate your dogs when they go out after meals to help break the cycle. As far as keeping them out of the litter box, the best you can do is put the box somewhere that is not accessible to the dog. My old beagle never bothered the litter box until I got a new puppy. Then she decided she could not pass up those little treats in the box. Well of course the puppy decided he better join in. Now I have the litter box barricaded in a part of the basement that the dogs can’t get to. Not too nice for the cats, but so far they don’t seem to mind and at least they are not getting interrupted during their bathroom breaks.

My cat has bladder problems. Do you have a diet for this?

We do not manufacture any prescription formulas for the treatment of urinary tract disease in cats. All of our adult cat formulas are designed to maintain a urine pH of 6.1-6.4. This is adequate to prevent struvite crystals from forming. In most cases, this is also appropriate to help prevent calcium oxalate stones, but some cats may need a diet that produces a higher urine pH, such as a senior cat formula.

Feeding a canned product is thought to help prevent stone formation by increasing the total water intake and thus diluting the urine. Cats normally have concentrated urine and diluting it seems to help prevent urinary tract problems. Also, cats with chronic urinary tract problems seem to have an excessive response to stress. Any stress in their environment can trigger a flare-up of bladder trouble. Sometimes even a diet change (even when switching to an appropriate diet) can trigger the development of a problem.

Any cat with a history of medical problems such as bladder stones should have a thorough check-up and a nutritional consult with his veterinarian. If changing diets, switch very gradually (2-4 weeks) to help prevent a problem.

Is it ok for me to feed my pet table scraps?

It is really best if you do not feed your pet table scraps. Some individuals choose to add human foods to their pets diet for variety, freshness and flavor. This is not necessary, but is not necessarily harmful as long as you choose wisely and your pet still eats adequate amounts of a complete and balanced diet so that nutritional deficiencies do not result.

The problem with table scraps is really the way that we cook. We often use seasonings that are too strong or even potentially harmful to pets. Garlic and onion are two things that pets should not consume. The way we prepare our meats is also problematic because of the high fat content. When veterinarians suggest feeding meat to a dog because of an upset stomach, we always say that the meat should be boiled. This gets rid of most of the fat in the meat. Rarely do we boil meat that we are going to be eating for our evening meal.

Feeding from the table encourages begging during meal times. Feed your pet his own healthy meal during your regular meal time. This will ensure that he is satisfied and will not be begging for a morsel from the table. Feeding table scraps also encourages finicky behavior. Your pet may begin “holding out” for the stuff that comes from the table. You may interpret this as your pet not enjoying his food as much when this is not really the case, he just is not as hungry because you are feeding him from the table and he knows he might get something if he just skips that kibble in the bowl.

Do yourself and your pet a favor and feed a healthy, balanced diet that is designed for pets and stick with it. If you want to give a treat, try a spoon of canned food, a treat or biscuit, or even a dental treat to help keep the teeth clean.

I've been hearing a lot about the rotation diet. What is it and should I feed it to my pet?

The rotation diet is exactly what it sounds like, a rotation of the foods that you present to your pet. Certain manufacturers of pet foods are strongly advocating the rotation diet and since it is getting some time in the press, you are hearing about it. Why should you rotate? Well, the wisdom behind this diet is that nutritional deficiencies may result when a pet is fed a single food every day because of the inability of that pet to process a certain ingredient or because of something lacking in the diet that no one is yet aware of (think taurine in the 80’s – no one knew that taurine had to be added to cat foods). Another reason that is brought up as a possible benefit for rotating foods is the possible decreased risk of the development of food allergies by providing a varied diet. Food allergies are not common in pets, but when they do develop, it is after prolonged exposure to a particular protein source. By varying the diet, possibly the body will be less likely to develop an allergy to a particular food.

Rotation can be done daily, weekly or monthly (or even quarterly, yearly, etc) As a veterinarian, I feel that a monthly rotation would be the most frequent that I would recommend to my clients that would like to try the rotation diet. I’m afraid that daily or even weekly rotation might result in more digestive upset for the pet. The changing of the diet is always a potential trigger for digestive upset and a gradual switch from one food to the next is highly recommended.

The rotation of proteins that you present to your pet will offer different sources of the various essential amino acids that your pets need. However, foods that are on the market as complete and balanced must contain all of the essential amino acids that your pet needs to thrive so the benefit of changing proteins may not be a realistic one. If you are already feeding a diet that has protein from several sources, you are feeding your own sort of “rotation” without ever changing the food.

Advocates also suggest rotation between dry, canned and frozen/raw foods. I’m not sure that I see any nutritional value to this type of rotation. I would be most concerned that a pet would develop a preference for one type over the other and would refuse the other types. The biggest concern would be the pet that develops a preference for canned food, which is soft and can encourage the more rapid development of dental disease. Pets certainly consume more water in their food if they eat canned or frozen foods but most pets will make up some of the difference by drinking more water if they are fed dry foods only. Cats with bladder disease may benefit from increased water in their diet, but I would recommend choosing canned food and sticking with it for these cats.

Are there great success stories behind the rotation diet? Of course. But there are also great success stories behind every feeding method. We receive testimonials on a daily basis from pet owners feeding our foods and often feeding only one recipe. There are millions of pets out there that eat the same food every single day and are happy and healthy. Choose the method of feeding that works best for your schedule, your budget and your pet. Signs of a healthy pet are: bright eyes, shiny coat, good appetite, high activity level and playfulness. Talk to your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns about how best to feed your pet.

How much water does my pet need?

Your pet should have free access to fresh water at all times. Most pets will drink the amount of water that they need. In very rare situations, dogs can develop a behavioral condition called psychogenic polydipsia. This simply means that a dog drinks excessive amounts of water with no apparent medical cause. This can be a real challenge to diagnose and treat, so if you suspect this, make sure to work very closely with your veterinarian.

Pets that are outdoors or very active will drink more water than pets that live indoors or lead a sedentary lifestyle. Monitor how much water your pet typically drinks. If he is suddenly licking the bowl dry faster than before, a visit to your veterinarian is important. An increase in water consumption can be an indication of many different health problems including: diabetes, kidney disease and even infections.

How does a dog or cat get heartworm?

Dogs and cats get heartworms when they are bitten by a mosquito that is carrying the larvae. If the dog or cat is not taking a heartworm preventive, the larvae that are injected into the bloodstream will circulate and grow and develop into mature heartworms. This takes about 6 months. If the dog or cat is taking a preventive medication, the larvae will not be able to develop into adults and the pet will not become infected.

Adult heartworms live in the blood vessels of the lungs and also in the heart if the numbers are very high. This can lead to congestive heart failure. Dogs may have infections with hundreds of worms, while cats may only have a few worms.

Often the first symptom of a heartworm infection is weight loss, especially in dogs. Once there are symptoms of heart failure, such as exercise intolerance or coughing, the infection is advanced. There is no treatment for heartworm infection in cats. Dogs can be treated with a poison that will kill the worms. The treatment is expensive and requires that your dog be kept very still as the worms can break loose and get into the small vessels of the lungs and act like a clot.

Heartworm infection is most common in the southeastern United States. It is also most prevalent where the population is high. Living in a lower risk area does not necessarily mean that your pet will not get heartworms. Do the right thing and talk to your veterinarian about the best preventive to keep your pet safe and healthy.

How do I know if my dog is considered a small breed? Or a large breed?

The typical cut-off weights that are used for large breed dogs are 50-55# adult weight. For small breed dogs, typically less than 20-25# adult weight fits the bill.

How do I get rid of fleas?

Fleas are a common problem for dogs and cats and are the number one cause of allergies in pets. Flea allergy dermatitis can occur even after the bite of a single flea, so you will not necessarily see the evidence of an infestation on your pet.

The best medicine in this case is prevention. Depending on what climate you live in, you may be able to use seasonal prevention or possibly year-round prevention. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you which method is best in your part of the world.

The best medications to use are those that you purchase from your veterinarian. There are several different brands available and most veterinarians will offer several varieties or possibly just their favorite brand. These topical medications are applied to the surface of the skin and are absorbed into the fatty layer of the skin. They are not absorbed into your pet’s circulation so are non-toxic. Most products are applied monthly and will prevent fleas from getting onto your pet and taking a bite.

Use caution when considering a natural remedy or preventive. Garlic is toxic to pets and has not been proven to be effective for flea control, so think twice about using this for your dogs or cats. If you want to choose a natural preventive, talk to a holistic veterinarian about which substances are safe to use.

How do I add a new pet to my household?

Introducing a new pet into the household can be a fun and rewarding process with proper planning. First, think very hard about whether or not your household is ready for another pet (or even a first pet). If this is your first pet, consider all members of the household in your decision. If you have a toddler, it might not be a great idea to get a puppy and certain breeds of dogs can be problematic with young children. Research the breed that you are interested in and choose wisely. There will never be a shortage of dogs in this world so if you decide it would be best to wait, then wait. NEVER go to the store to pick up some milk and bring home the “cutest little puppy that they were giving away in the parking lot”. Unless you were already planning to add a puppy to your household, you will likely be unprepared and sorry.

So, you’ve made the decision to add a pet to your household and you have researched and have purchased all the required items. Oops – we need to know what the required items are.

For cats:
Stainless steel or glass bowls for water and food
Litter box
Litter
Food (You might want to find out what your new pet has been eating so you can get the same food, at least initially. You can always change later.)
Nail trimmers
Collar (breakaway) and ID tag if your cat will ever be venturing outdoors
Scratching post/cat tree/perch/bed – these are not all necessary, but one or two would be nice

For dogs:
Stainless steel or glass/ceramic bowls for water and food
Leash
Collar (consider a Gentle Leader or Promise Collar, these are head halters that give you better control and prevent your dog or puppy from pulling on the leash)
ID tag
Nail trimmers
Crate or kennel with a soft bed for sleeping
Toys for chewing – these are a must for teething puppies

Now we are ready for our new pet’s arrival home. If you have dogs at home and are bringing home a cat, it would be best to put your dogs away and allow your new cat to explore the house undisturbed. Let the cat approach the door behind which the evil dog beasts are hiding (just kidding), so that she can sniff her competition. Show her the litter box and any cat trees or hiding spots you have selected for her. When you introduce the dogs to your new cat (especially if they have not been around cats before), put the dogs on a leash and let the cat be loose. Maintain good control of the dogs at all times and let the cat choose how much and when to interact. Well-mannered dogs can easily be told to leave the cat alone and the transition should go smoothly. If your dogs are not well-mannered, consider spending the money on obedience classes before you expand the pet population in your home.

If you have dogs at home and are bringing home a puppy or a dog, the procedure should be very similar but all dogs should be leashed and under control during the face-to-face introductions.

Now if you have a cat or cats at home and are bringing some new invader into the house, be prepared for some resistance. This is especially true if you have had one or two cats for a long time and they have never had to deal with anyone else in their space. Potential behavioral problems that can occur are inappropriate elimination, fighting, hiding, and anorexia. Watch closely for any of these things, and intervene immediately. Talk to your veterinarian about specific methods of intervention.

So, follow the same steps listed above. Allow the cats to meet through the closed door first. You should probably not allow face-to-face interaction for several days. Give everyone their own food bowl and their own litter box. You might throw in one extra litter box just to prevent problems. Make sure that all the cats have their own special places to sleep or rest. If you are bringing a dog home to your cat, you might see some of the same problem behaviors. Your cat may just try and avoid the new dog, so make sure that your cat can easily get to food and water and especially the litter box without being bothered.

Whatever you do, do not rush the process or everyone might end up unhappy. Keep in close contact with your veterinarian and address any problems as soon as they occur. Usually, a well-balanced household with lots of happy pets can be achieved with a relatively small amount of work.

How can I tell if my pet is too fat or too thin?

Veterinarians do not really talk about weight as much as they did in the past. Body condition score is now more commonly used for assessing whether a pet is too fat or too thin. It is not very common that we see a pet that is too thin, as the obesity epidemic in pets is mimicking that of the human population in the United States. Nearly half of all pets that are seen in veterinary clinics are overweight or obese. If a pet is too thin, there is often a medical explanation.

If you are concerned that your pet is too thin, please contact your veterinarian right away. To determine whether your pet is too thin, look at them from the top and the side. If you can see the outline of each rib, your pet is too thin. Also, if you can see the actually hip bones when looking down on your pet, this is also an indication that your pet is too thin. If you are seeing these things but your pet has a large belly, there is most likely a medical problem that needs to be addressed immediately. In this case, your pet’s weight may be normal, but the body condition score is too low.

A normal, healthy pet will have a nice waistline and a tucked up abdomen. From the side, your pet’s belly should go up at the end of the ribs. You might be able to see the last rib and this is ok, but you should not see more. If you don’t see any ribs, this is probably ok too, just rub your hand gently across your pet’s ribcage. The ribs should be very easy to feel, with very little fat between the ribs and the skin. From the top, your pet’s waist is very visible. Between the rib cage and the hips should be a nice indentation. Unless your dog is very furry, you will probably be able to see the outlines of the major muscles in their legs.

If you think your pet is too fat, he probably is. If you have to press your hand against your pet’s side to feel the ribs, there is too much fat. Also, if you look at your pet from the side and the abdomen does not go up at the end of the ribcage, there is too much fat in the belly. And finally, when looking from the top, if your pet is a solid sausage with no waistline, he is too fat.

Being overweight is not only a burden to your pet’s bones and joints, but is also a health hazard. Dogs that are overweight are more likely to suffer from pancreatitis and heart disease than dogs that are at a healthy weight. Research has proven that dogs live longer when they are kept at an ideal lean body condition than if they are allowed to be overweight. Cats that are overweight are susceptible to type 2 diabetes, just like people. They are also more likely to suffer from breathing problems and fatty liver disease.

Talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s body condition score and start making an effort to get your pet to the ideal lean condition.

Do I need to brush my pet's teeth?

Brushing your pet’s teeth is the best way to remove plaque from the surface before it can become hardened into tartar. Plaque is a soft substance that is made up of food particles and bacteria. When the minerals in the saliva bind to the surface of this plaque, it becomes hard. This is called tartar and must be scraped off the surface of the teeth, usually under general anesthesia during a procedure called a dental prophylaxis.

Most pets age 2 and older have some degree of dental disease. Dental disease is progressive and if it is allowed to continue, it becomes irreversible and leads to illness, mouth pain and tooth loss.

Start brushing your pet’s teeth when they are young. Use a gauze pad or small piece of cloth, apply a pea sized amount of pet friendly toothpaste, and rub the surface of the teeth gently. It is best to do this when your pet is calm and relaxed and not when it is play time. Your pet will soon become used to the brushing and you can use a soft toothbrush to brush the teeth as your pet grows. Daily brushing is most effective.

If you are looking for something a bit easier to keep your pet’s teeth clean, consider a dental treat that is endorsed by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). There are several brands of treats that have gone through extensive testing to prove their effectiveness. Diamond Pet Foods manufactures one such treat, under the brand name Bright Bites. If you are having a busy day and miss the brushing time, you can use the treats as an alternative. Some people (myself included) choose to use dental treats as the main method for maintaining a healthy mouth with an occasional tooth brushing session thrown in for good measure!

Can high protein affect my dog's behavior?

Possibly. SOME dogs, but certainly not all dogs, develop aggressive behavior when they are eating a high protein diet. Lowering the protein content in their food may help reduce the aggressive behavior. This is a rare situation and most aggression disorders are behavioral or medical problems that need to be addressed with a veterinarian and a behavior specialist. Aggressive dogs are dangerous and their aggression should be treated at the first sign by a professional.

Are your foods hypoallergenic?

We get this question quite often and the answer is no. There are very few truly hypoallergenic diets in the marketplace and the ones that are out there are available only through veterinarians. Limited antigen diets are another story altogether. Limited antigen refers to a diet that contains only one protein source and one carbohydrate source. Usually, the protein source is something unique that many pets have not been exposed to before. An example would be a fish and potato diet.

Although we do not have any hypoallergenic diets, or true limited antigen diets, sometimes changing to a diet that contains different ingredients than the one you are currently feeding can eliminate some skin problems. All of our foods contain omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, nutrients that help protect the health of the skin and help decrease inflammation. Talk to your veterinarian to determine which type of diet is best for your pet.



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