Posts Tagged ‘preventative care’

I (Still) Love to be Boring

Friday, January 7th, 2011

My first Riley and James post was entitled I Love to be Boring.  (I realize what a dork I am, but I still think that is hilarious.)  My point then (and now) is that I love my pets and my patients and would love nothing more than boring, nothing-to-report wellness exams time after time.

Truth-be-told, I love your pets too, and the pets I read about and the pets I hear about…I even love the pets in medical journal case studies:  “The cat presented with this super awesome disgusting lesion and the following history…”  “Oh no!” I yell and flip to the conclusion.  My family no longer jumps when I yell at my journals, and pats me sympathetically on the shoulder when I cry over them.

I LOVE treating very cool cases.  But do you know what would be even cooler than treating very cool cases?  If horrendous medical issues were so rare, we only read about them in journals!  And do you know what would be even cooler than that??  If horrendous medical issues were so super rare, that we only read about them in history books!

You laugh, but have you ever seen a dog accidently given “blue eye” by a vaccination?  Me neither!  Have you ever seen a dog with distemper?  Me neither!  A cat with rabies or plague?  Me neither!  Ok, those cases are still out there, but they are far less common than they used to be.  With continually advancing medical and surgical care, increased awareness of pet welfare, husbandry and behavior issues, we are approaching boring, and I love it.

Can we fix everything with appropriate husbandry and medical care?  Of course not!  Accidents and illnesses and aging will always be with us.  Life can be unfairly random, and sadly, every pet’s story ultimately ends the same way.  Still, we have to work with what we’ve got, and start from where we are.

I have decided to dedicate this year on Riley and James to The Pursuit of Boring.  Of course it will take more than a year, and of course we can only approach Boring, we can never actually reach it, but maybe, just maybe, someday we can say to our friends:

“Your cat is thirty and healthy?  That’s nice.  *yawn*  Well, I’m heading down to take my dog in for his wellness exam.  They never find anything!  Then I have to stop by the shelter.  They have a dog in that needs help, first one of the decade.” 

It could happen.

Pugs are Cute…”Table of Contents”

Monday, October 18th, 2010

A while back, I posted a series of Pug Health Articles written for Pug Partners of Nebraska.  Here is a list of those articles, in case you need to find them quickly!  They are not just pug-specific.  But the poor dears do lend themselves so well to health issue discussions!

Introduction:  Pugs are cute, but they do have issues.

(haha I still think that is a hilarious title!  Woo!  I crack myself up!)


Anal Glands


Dental Disease

Ear Care

Eye Care

Orthopedic Issues

Paw Care

Respiratory Issues

Skin Care

Weight Management

If there are other Pug (or any) topics you would like me to cover, please let me know!  I always thought Dave and Sara should get a Boston Terrier to match Riley the Great Dane’s markings, and a Pug to match James the Mastiff’s markings.  Don’t you agree??

Mona Lisa, the super cute Boston Terrier

Ebony (our gorgeous Lab Mix), James and Riley (also gorgeous!)

Typhoon, the super cute Pug

Bearded Dragon Care

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Shawn Finch, DVM and Angela Bucher, LVT

This is the second in my exotic pet care series, after “Taking Care of Your Exotic Pet, For Example, Your Guinea Pig, Which is Not Really All That Exotic.” Angela Bucher read that and said,  “You sure do take a long time to get to your point!”  As the first improvement, notice how short the title of this one is.  More importantly, Angela is a Licenced Veterinary Technician and experienced Bearded Dragon owner.  She provided all the information for this article.  She is as obsessed with preventative care as I am, and very knowledgeable on reptile (and normal pet) care.  So we teamed up to bring you this information on Bearded Dragons.


  • Someone who is obsessed with learning about Bearded Dragons and their care
  • Someone willing to dedicate the next decade or longer to having a Bearded Dragon in their family
  • Someone able to protect their people (especially kids and immunocompromised friends and family) from potential salmonella exposure
  • Someone who is dedicated to a new pet veterinary visit and regular veterinary visits for the sole purpose of preventative care, though their Bearded Dragon will not have vaccines that force a visit.  Even though their Bearded Dragon will never have severe end-stage metabolic bone disease* because of their excellent care at home, they will still visit faithfully for wellness exams

*the reason many lizard owners bring their pet in to the vet for the first visit, but not you!

Still here?  Good!  You are going to do awesome, future Bearded Dragon owner.


In our opinion, the best cages for reptiles are made by Cages By Design.  They come with water bowls, lighting and branches.  Make sure that you have a habitat that is at least forty gallons.  Your full-grown Bearded Dragon is going to be about two feet long, and will need some leg-stretching room.  If you can afford a larger habitat, bigger is generally better.


The best reptile lights, in our opinion, are made by Exo-terra.  You will need lights for heat, ultraviolet lights (UVA and UVB) and an infrared light for nighttime.  In a forty gallon tank, an ideal temperature gradient will be created with a 150 watt basking light at one end, a 100 watt general heat light at the other, and a 75 watt infrared light for night.  In a larger tank (and to assure consistantly proper temperatures in a forty gallon tank), place thermometers at either end of the tank.

Lights need to be changed every three months.  They will not have burned out by then, but their ultraviolet capacity wanes after about three months, and will no longer provide the UV rays in high enough amounts to metabolize their Vitamin D and calcium, which is a big deal for reptiles.

Bearded Dragons need a moderately humid habitat for optimum health and shedding.  An aquarium with a screened top will hold moisture in well while providing some air circulation.  Mist the habitat (and your Bearded Dragon if he or she likes it) every few days.

No heat rocks! But you knew that right?  They are so 1980’s.  And they cause the worst burns I have ever seen.  Lizards are cold-blooded.  They are not good judges of when they are getting too hot, and will unwittingly sit on heated rocks until they are very badly burned.  I am so glad I became a veterinarian after these evil things were no longer popular.  But they are still out there, in older, hand-me-down habitats.  So if you see them, throw them out.  Yes, even if they are not yours!  Your friend will thank you after you explain why you just did what you did.


The ideal bedding substrate is comfortable and easy to keep clean.  Calcisand is ideal.  If a Bearded Dragon happened to eat it, it could be passed without obstruction.  However, excessive ingestion can cause obstruction.  Do not use regular sand, even if it is from a pet store.  Use a litter scoop to clean the habitat daily and clean it completely once a week.


Infant Bearded Dragons should have a couple of very small crickets (smaller than their head) daily.  Bigger juvenilles should also have crickets.  Suppliment with calcium powder every other day.  A Bearded Dragon’s diet may be supplimented with commercial pellets, but pellets should not be the main diet.  At least half of a Bearded Dragon’s diet should be plant-based.


  • leafy greens, such as romaine and chard (no spinach)
  • bell peppers
  • strawberries
  • dandilion leaves
  • hibiscus


  • baby food
  • yogurt


Bring your Bearded Dragon in for a veterinary visit and examination when you first adopt him or her and then every six months.  Do not have your first veterinary visit be when they are sick if you can help it.  At every visit, we will do a thorough examination and weigh your pet.  We will discuss husbandry, normal baselines, preventing problems and answer all of your questions.


The most common disease by far from which Bearded Dragons suffer is metabolic bone disease.  If Bearded Dragons (and other lizards) do not obtain enough calcium from their diets, or cannot process the calcium they do get because of inadequate ultraviolet light, their bodies take the needed calcium from that stored in their bones.  This weakens their bones, causing swelling and pathologic fractures.  Almost one hundred percent of fractures in Bearded Dragons are due at least in part to metabolic bone disease.

Next most common is gastrointestinal obstruction, often from eating sand or other habitat substrate.  Medications to treat obstruction are available, and have been used with moderate success.  Because of the small size of Bearded Dragons, surgery for gastrointestinal obstruction is rarely an option, and the condition may be fatal.

Bearded Dragons are vulnerable to injury and many other illnesses.  They hide symptoms of illness well, so if you suspect anything is wrong, bring them in for a veterinary examination as soon as possible.  Better a false alarm than a serious condition not caught.


Most reptiles and amphibians carry salmonella (a bacteria that can make humans and some animals ill) in their gastrointestinal tract as normal flora and shed it in their feces intermittantly.  It is transmitted by a fecal-oral pathway, meaning that one would have to ingest feces to become infected with salmonella.  As gross as that is, it is not as difficult to become infected as it may seem.  It may take as little as petting your Bearded Dragon then eating a sandwich.  Or letting the area around the habitat become messy, having a child crawl through it then putting his hand in his mouth.

If you are going to have a pet reptile or amphibian of any type, including a Bearded Dragon, make sure you take the precautions necessary to keep everyone safe.  Keep immunocompromised people away from your pet.  This includes anyone on chemotherapy medications, people with HIV/AIDS or other immune-compromising conditions, very young children and elderly people.  Everyone, even those with healthy immune systems, should wash their hands after handling the Bearded Dragon or the habitat, and before eating.


After you have been a Bearded Dragon owner for several years, and if you would like to learn about breeding them, we will help you learn and find resources to prepare you for success.  Most owners are not equipped for all of the work and intense care that goes with breeding Bearded Dragons.  It is difficult to meet the nutritional, and especially the calcium needs of a breeding female Bearded Dragon.  Dystocia is a significant risk, either mechanical dystocia, if the female’s hips are not properly conformed to lay eggs, or medical dystocia (uterine inertia).  Either form can lead to egg binding, which can become a medical emergency.


Bearded Dragons do well as solitary pets.  They should not be housed with pets of other species, even other lizards.  The sex of a Bearded Dragon can be determined by probing, which should only be done by an experienced veterinarian, and is usually not necessary unless you wish to house two Bearded Dragons together.  Two females usually will do well in the same habitat.  A male-female pair can do well together if you intend to breed them.  Again, make sure you are ready for all that is entailed in breeding, if you choose to house a male and female together.  Two males will not usually do well together in the same habitat.  A glass partition can be placed between Bearded Dragons if you wish to house two in the same habitat but seperate from each other.

Bearded Dragons are gentle and intelligent.  They are excellent pets and companions for adults and children.  May you have many wonderful years with your beautiful lizard, and call or e-mail us if you have any questions!

Tell Angela Happy Birthday by donating to the

“Angela Wants A Bull Python” fund,

which doesn’t actually exist.  But you could start it!

(Happy Birthday Angela!  Thank you for everything!)

What I am Doing This Week: Resolving…Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

This week I am regrouping for the New Year!  I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  I love having the kids home on break.  I tend to obsess about goals, which has always been a kind of big thing for me.  I look back and look forward.  2009 was one of the best, most emotional, most difficult, most rewarding years of my career.  I must have forgotten to tell 2009 that I like boring.

Here you go, 2010.  This is an example of what I like.  Angela’s new Shaggy Puppy needs a routine exam.  Your next patient is the same.  So is the next.  So is the next.  I don’t need drama!  I don’t need excitement!  I have my veterinary friends and journals for that.  My own life, I want it boring.  Always.  K, thanks.

This week the veterinary team has kicked…they have been EXTRAORDINARY!!  haha  That’s more professional, huh?  They always are great, but in a difficult/busy/challenging week, I notice it more, I guess.  Our team is amazing.  Their love for pets, even when they KNOW they will get their hearts broken, their dedication and their amazing skill is really awesome to be around.  You guys rock.  Here’s to an amazing, but hopefully less eventful 2010!!

I got the book “Am I Boring My Dog?” by Dr. Edie Jarolim for Mom for Christmas.  I am going to have to get my own copy (to me, from me, Happy Valentine’s Day!) because Mom is hogging hers!  It is geared toward new pet owners, but you need it too!  And also, you will love her website and blog, Will My Dog Hate Me?

This is a sort of random place to put such awesome links, don’t you think?  I think my site needs a central location for cool links.  Coming soon…

Forty Things That Will Increase the Probable Lifespan of Your Cat

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009
Here is the next list…the balance to the doggy-do list…a list of things that I believe will increase the odds of a long and healthy life for your cat.
Thank you for your help creating this list!  And THANK YOU for being such awesome owners that you do not even need this list.  It has refocused me -yes Max the Cat is spoiled rotten, but what else can I be doing??  Here’s what I’ve got…
1.  Indoor cats live an average of thirteen years.  Outdoor cats live an average of three years.*
2.  Do not continue reading this list until Number One makes you gasp or cry or vow something.*
3.  Is your kitty indoors?  Will she be forevermore, no matter how she begs and carries on?*  Then you may continue!
4.  Ten years people!*  That is five times better than the study that showed skinny dogs live two years longer than normal weight or overweight dogs!  OK, OK, you have moved on, I will too!
5.  Have your cat spayed or neutered.  If you can not afford a surgeon, one will be provided for you…there are many options in Omaha and most other communities.  Kitties from Nebraska Humane Society are spayed or neutered before they are placed for adoption.  I know you though, you are a Cat Saver, and you have been known to snatch up kittens by their scruff and save them from oncoming cars.  If you are now looking into her cute little eyes, and wondering how you will afford your new “free” kitten, check out these awesome groups:
The Cat Spay/Neuter Connection –
Feline Friendz –
If you need help finding equally awesome groups to help with pet care costs in your community, let me know.  Omaha is not the only community with wonderful pet-loving people!
6.  Have one more litter box than you have cats.
7.  Keep a litter box on each level of the house.
8.  Keep the litter boxes as clean as possible.  It is ideal to scoop them daily and clean them weekly.
9.  Some cats prefer covered litter boxes, and some prefer uncovered.  Some prefer a deep box, and some shallow.  And every cat has a different opinion on the best cat litter.  Unfortunately, the only way to know is by trial and error.  All cats should have their boxes in as secluded an area as possible.  Make sure if there is more than one cat in the household, or dogs, that no one is getting “bullied” out of using the litter box.
10.  If your cat is urinating or defecating outside of the box, have a wellness exam done.  Bring a urine and fecal sample, or allow the veterinary team to collect and analyze samples.  Most common medical causes of not using the litter box are urinary tract infections and urinary crystals.  Other causes include GI upset caused by parasites or other tummy-upsetters, urinary stones, kidney disease, and even arthritis or other causes of pain.
11.  Sometimes a medical issue will occur and resolve, but your cat will associate the pain he felt with using his litter box, and now you have a behavioral issue.  Cats will also sometimes decide they prefer a different substrate than the litter – usually your daughter’s beautiful blue dress she was planning on wearing to church the next day.  Be patient and work with the veterinary team to use behavior modification to encourage him to use his box again.
12.  If there are litter box issues, behavioral or medical, or a combination of both, try the cat litter called Cat Attract.
13.  Choose a kitten or cat food that will keep your pet the healthiest.  For healthy adult cats, my favorite is Science Diet Indoor Cat.
14.  Take an entire week to introduce your new kitty to your resident kitties.  Start in separate rooms with closed doors.  Give the resident kitties run of the house as usual, and have the new kitty in a small room (bathroom or laundry room) with a comfy bed, food and water and a litter box.  Make sure the “mini-kitchen” and “mini-restroom” are as far away from each other as is possible in such a small space.  Some owners hesitate to “lock up” their new kitty, but I promise this will really help if you already have kitties at home!  And in the grand scheme of things, it is one week out of a lifetime.  After a week, move to supervised time together.  If that goes well, move to unsupervised time together and run of the house for the entire pride.
15.  Make sure you have a veterinary team and an emergency veterinary team you can trust.
16.  Keep your cat at a healthy weight.  You should be able to feel ribs and backbone when you are petting him or her, but not see them.  For ideas on this “simple” but not easy task…see the previous newsletter, Keeping Your Kitty at a Healthy Weight.
17.  Keep teeth tartar free, with brushing, chewies and professional dental cleanings done under anesthesia as needed.
18.  Bring your cat in for veterinary wellness exams twice a year.
19.  Get regular bloodwork screenings.  It seems to be a hobby for cats to develop chronic, but manageable diseases.  Some of their favorites are chronic kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, inflammatory bowel disease and fatty liver disease.
20.  After about seven years of age, consider a yearly thyroid check with the rest of the bloodwork.  Hyperthyroidism becomes more common in older cats.  It’s one of those super-serious diseases, that is very satisfying to treat because cats tend to do incredibly well with treatment.
21.  Get regular fecal exams.
22.  Get regular dewormings.
23.  Keep your pet flea-free.
24.  Keep your pet tick-free.
25.  Keep your pet heartworm-free.  Cats are not natural hosts for heartworms, but they are infected at the rate of roughly ten percent of that of dogs in any given community.  In Omaha, a dog has a ten percent chance each year of contracting heartworm disease if he is not on a heartworm preventative (ZERO PERCENT if he is!!), so about 1% of cats who are not on a heartworm preventative (again, ZERO PERCENT if they are) will contract heartworm disease in any given year.  Because they are not a natural host, heartworms have a more difficult time setting up shop in a kitty, but once they do, the damage is often much more severe, and the most common “sign” of heartworm disease in a cat is sudden death.
26.  Get core vaccines.  For cats, these include feline viral rhinotracheitis (herpes), calicivirus, panleukopenia and rabies.  Other vaccines may be helpful for your cat, depending on where you live and what he may be exposed to.  Outdoor kitties (sigh…please?) should be vaccinated for feline leukemia.
27.  Look through your environment as if you are a cat looking to get something stuck in your GI tract.  They especially like string and yarn.  I also knew a cat who enjoyed Nerf footballs, but I do not think that is typical.  Hide that stuff.
28.  Do the same with potential toxins.  My two least favorite (and cats’ favorites) are antifreeze and lilies.  Both super fun to eat, apparently, and super dangerous to their little kidneys.
29.  Feed small, frequent meals or free-feed.  Politely request that your cat stop eating just when his or her metabolic needs are met for the day.
30.  Provide strict supervision around kids until everyone is friends.
31.  I believe it is ideal to let cats keep all of their claws whenever possible.  Decide what you believe about declawing before your cat is mature or fat.  Then it is too late and you are stuck with four canine teeth and eighteen claws to watch out for.
32.  To manage a clawed cat, consider providing horizontal and vertical scratching posts, having regular nail trims done, using SoftPaws and not annoying your cat.
33.  Have a pet budget (food, litter box and litter, scratching post, toys, treats, grooming, training, veterinary care, other) and an emergency medical fund set aside.
34.  Use all positive reinforcement to train your cat.  HA!  If he agrees to being trained, that is.  Regardless, no negative reinforcement.  Cats can’t process it, and, of course, it is mean.  And you are not mean.  You are nice.  You are a cat person.
35.  Have fresh water available all of the time.  Consider providing running water or even a pet fountain to encourage adequate drinking.
36.  Provide plenty of fun, safe treats and catnip.  Catnip will not actually extend the life of your cat, but neither will it shorten it as some contend.  And it will make it more enjoyable!
37.  Laser pointers will not destroy your cat’s retinas and make him go blind.  Not exercising will eventually catch up with him though, so if he likes it, let him chase the little red dot.  He will have fun and get exercise, and you will…have fun.
38.  Have medical issues checked and treated early, and have chronic issues treated as often as needed.
39.  Cats are living longer than ever, because you (pet owners) are awesome.  Because cats are living longer,  we are seeing more and more things we never saw before.  I also think we are recognizing painful conditions in cats that we were missing in the past.  The most notable example of both of these is feline osteoarthritis.  If your kitty is not jumping like she used to, not grooming as well, not playing or interacting like before, have her checked.  We will do the same thorough exam as always, but we have more test options than ever before, and more options for treating acute and chronic pain than ever before.  Cats hide pain even better than dogs do, but I think the veterinary community is getting better at finding painful conditions than we were before, and we are not content to let your pet be in any pain, when we have the ability to find its source and cure or manage it.
40.  I know I started with averages, but do not go by averages.  Max the Cat is thirteen years old and completely healthy.  He was neutered by a veterinary student and grew up at Iowa State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital.  Having been raised by hundreds of animal lovers, he is the friendliest, most well-socialized cat I know!  He was one of two blood donors for two years, and was allowed to “retire” and join our family when I graduated.  I am not opposed to declawing, but Max was two years old and fat when we adopted him, so I did not declaw him, and he has been a perfect gentleman with all of his claws…to the dogs, the kids, even the couches.  Yup, he is the perfect cat.
Um, except that blue dress of #11 was sort of inspired by a true story…*I know I can be a bit of a smart alec when begging you to keep your cat inside.  For an excellent article that explains much better WHY the outdoors is such a dangerous place for cats, and how to keep them happy indoors, please read Darlene Arden‘s “Weighing the Safety Issues of Outdoor ‘Freedom’ Against Feline Happiness.”Article © 1999 Darlene Arden. First published in Catnip, February 1999, used with permission.  (Thank you so much, Pet Expert!!)
Here is a fun article that came out in Parade Magazine the same day as this one…Should You Adopt a Hard Luck Cat? by Dr. Marty Becker** and Gina Spadafori.**I want to be like Dr. Becker when I grow up, only prettier. In all seriousness, he is a veterinarian I very much admire.  He has done much to encourage and celebrate the human-animal bond, and I read his stuff whenever I find it!
Yup, all those different links go somewhere!  Check them out, especially Darlene Arden’s website and twitter.  I have been having fun linking to pictures and other great resources ever since Dave taught me how!

Forty Things that Will Increase the Probable Lifespan of Your Dog

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

This is a list of things that I believe will increase the odds of a long and healthy life for your dog.  Let this list be a fun launching pad/discussion starter/whatever, but not a guilt inducer and not an overwhelming task list.  We will probably not agree on every point, and that is ok, of course.  If you want more details on any of the recommendations or have suggestions to add, let me know!  Here’s what I’ve got…

1.  Start out learning everything you can about the dog you would like to adopt or now have.  Obsess about their breed (or mix of breeds, or your best guess), their origin, their gender, and their probable health issues now and in the future.  Some puppy basics can be found in “The Christmas Puppy.”

2.  Decide that in as far as it depends on you, you will keep your dog for the rest of his or her life.  Go over possible scenarios with your family and decide what things are “deal breakers” and how you will try to avoid them.

3.  This is an odd recommendation, but I promise it will help you keep the big picture in view through the unavoidable rough days, plus it will be nice to have…Have EVERY family member write an essay or draw a picture of what they love most about your dog.  If your dog is new, do it when they come home or as you get to know them.  If they are already a family member, I still recommend this.  When I wrote the “Pet Savers” newsletter, which was, in part, about Noodle the Poodle, we realized how many of Noodle’s issues were probably linked to his past, and started giving him much more slack and much more affection.  He soon was no longer leaving puddles of Poodle piddle in the house and has seemed like a much happier, calmer dog ever since.

In other words, remember how much you love your [Joy the Puppy] so when she [insert issue of the day here] you can  remember what an adorable [six pound fluff] she was, and look forward to the incredible dog she will someday be.  You know, for example.

4.  Use only positive reinforcement to train your pet.

5.  Vow not to support a puppy mill in any way when you obtain your pet.

6.  Choose a puppy or dog food that will keep your pet the healthiest.

7.  Find an incredible, kind groomer.

8.  Find a trainer who is knowledgeable and uses only positive reinforcement.

9.  Make sure you have a veterinary team and an emergency veterinary team you can trust.

10.  Meet your pet in his or her environment before you bring them home.

11.  If possible, have your other pets meet your new pet before you bring him home.

12.  Walk your dog as often as possible.

13.  Keep your dog just slightly underweight.  This has been shown to add an average of two years to a dog’s life!

14.  At a recent veterinary conference, a speaker opened with, “You know, leash laws ruined my orthopedic practice.”  Everyone laughed, but it is true that veterinarians see far fewer dogs who have been injured or killed by cars than they did a few decades ago.  And by “they” I mean old vets!  Keep your dog within your control, in your yard, in a fenced or otherwise safe area or on a leash.

15.  Keep teeth tartar free, with brushing, chewies and professional dental cleanings done under anesthesia as needed.

16.  Bring your dog in for veterinary wellness exams twice a year.

17.  Get regular bloodwork screenings.

18.  Get regular fecal exams.

19.  Get regular dewormings.

20.  Keep your pet flea-free.

21.  Keep your pet tick-free.

22.  Keep your pet heartworm-free.

23.  Get core vaccines.  For dogs, these include distemper, infectious hepatitis, parvo virus and rabies.  Other vaccines may be helpful for your dog, depending on where you live and what he may be exposed to.

24.  Safely socialize your pet to people and other dogs.

25.  Look through your environment as if you are a dog looking to get something stuck in your GI tract.  Hide that stuff.

26.  Do the same with potential toxins.

27.  Feed at least two meals a day.

28.  Provide strict supervision around kids.

29.  SLOWLY introduce your dog to new dogs.  Provide strict supervision if there is any question of how they will get along.

30.  Involve your dog in family activities.

31.  Have a pet budget (food, toys, treats, grooming, training, veterinary care, other) and an emergency medical fund set aside.

32.  Use all positive reinforcement to potty-train your puppy or dog.  Use every resource you have…friends, vet, trainer, books, internet.  This is a long process, but if it is done well, will save you much frustration in the years to come.  And it is never too late to brush up on or complete.

33.  Have your pet spayed or neutered.

34.  Keep your pet indoors.

35.  When they are not indoors, keep your pet in a comfortable environment.

36.  Have fresh water available all of the time.

37.  Give treats that enhance your dog’s life.

38.  Have medical issues checked and treated early, and have chronic issues treated as often as needed.

39.  Avoid/aggressively treat arthritis.  Feed large and giant breed puppies for slow, steady growth.  They will still grow as large as they should, but you will greatly decrease their likelihood or severity of joint issues.  Have existing arthritis treated with joint-sparing exercise and nutraceuticals and medications as recommended by the veterinary team.  There are even surgeries available to avoid and minimize arthritis in some cases.  This is one of the biggest “non-lethal” killers of pets.

Our Herbie was an otherwise healthy 16-year-old, but had to be euthanized when his arthritis got so painful it would wake him up and scare him.  Of course, lots of things scared Herbie, (including mirrors, and walls, and Russ, when Herbie would forget who he was) but he was such a fun-loving dog, we hated to see him in too much pain to enjoy life.

40.  As your dog ages, he or she will slow down and may even forget things, including house training.  Have new behaviors and abnormalities assessed to determine if there are underlying medical issues that could be treated.

Give your pet some grace in these years.  They will not be the puppy they once were.  Every so often, compare the quality of their life as an “old dog” to when they were young or middle aged and make sure life is still good.  Can she get around well?  Does she still eat well?  Does she still like being with the family and doing many of the things she used to do?  Walks may be slower, but are they still enjoyable?

Now step back and admire your beautiful dog, and continue on as you have, for you have brought her successfully to this stage of life, and you both deserve to enjoy it together.

Taking Care of Your Exotic Pet, For Example, Your Guinea Pig, Which is Not Really All That Exotic

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

In keeping with this year’s wellness theme, this newsletter is about the care of “exotic” pets…kind of an overarching view of my thoughts on wellness care beyond cats and dogs.   We have talked about keeping dogs and cats healthy through appropriate diet and exercise.   Let’s talk about expanding our healthy lifestyle mindset to other species.

We will use guinea pigs as our template, because I like them, and they are cute.   My point in doing that, I guess, is to emphasize that if an animal is appropriate for a pet (Please do not adopt a tiger cub or Komodo dragon…or a prairie dog, for that matter) there are similar steps to take, regardless of species, to become a proficient pet owner.

I would say we are about fifty years behind in the pet care of species that are not dogs and cats.  That is, fifty years ago, dogs and cats dealt with nutrition and lifestyle issues that, thankfully, I have only seen in veterinary textbooks.  Because we have honed our care of these common friends so well, we are often able to have them in our lives for the full extent of their domestic lifespan, and well beyond the lifespan they would have in the wild.

Our other pet friends are not as fortunate.  Exotic pets often become ill because we just don’t know as much about taking care of them as we do about dogs and cats.  I think we are on the cutting edge of extraordinary advances in this area, and with all of the information that is out there, knowledgeable experts and the accessibility of information on the internet, we can make that half century leap, and take as good of care of our exotic friends as we do of our dogs and cats.

In fact, you, as owners of these pets, have been as helpful to me as anything I have learned in my veterinary training, experience, reading and continuing education.  You are proactive about learning about the care of the pets you own, and have been so generous to share what you learn and what you experience.  It seems only natural that we should take it even farther…share with each other and with other pet owners and potential pet owners.  If I never have to treat another rabbit with bumblefoot, or guinea pig with scurvy, or lizard with bone disease, and you (and everyone we reach) never has to watch a pet struggle through these or other husbandry-related diseases, it will be well worth all the work we put in together.

So here is my guinea pig “example.”  I hope that if you actually own a guinea pig, the information is helpful to you.  But for all of us, I hope it gets us thinking about how we can set up all of our pets for the best possible odds of a long, healthy life.

We own one guinea pig, a male American Shorthair named Piggy.  He is five years old, and I have not told him that the “average” lifespan of guinea pigs in captivity is five to eight years.  We are all hoping to have him around long after our daughters have left for college…maybe their own kids could even meet him.  As of today, he is healthy and happy, so I will tell you what I have learned from my obsessive reading, veterinary training and experience, and hanging out with Piggy.

First, and most importantly, guinea pigs need Vitamin C.  Guinea pigs and primates are the only mammals whose bodies do not manufacture this particular vitamin.  Most every guinea pig resource tells us that they will get enough Vitamin C from their food/water supplement/fruits/vegetables.  Here is the hitch.  There is not enough in their food.  There is not enough in their water supplements.  There is not even enough in the awesome citrus and veggie snacks you feed them.

Close this newsletter and grab your car keys.  Or if you are way cooler than me (odds are you are), track this down on the internet and have it shipped to you…chewable 25 mg Vitamin C tablets.*  Your piggy needs twenty-five milligrams of oral vitamin C a day.  I know…I usually make broader statements.  25 milligrams.  Not water drops.  Not orange wedges.  An actual chewable tablet.  Of course my reasons for insisting are selfish.  If you all start today en masse, and I never again see another scurvy-related problem, I will be indebted to you forever.

Vitamin deficiency related diseases are some of the most heart-breaking to treat in any species, even humans, I hear.  Here is a list off the top of my head of some conditions caused by or worsened by low levels of vitamin C.  For the final draft, maybe I will try to be more scientific and look up every possible disease.  Probably not.  For starters, that’s not really my style, and I am afraid it would make this kind of boring.  But more importantly, I suspect that even the brightest and best of the scientific/exotic/veterinary community does not know the full extent of the good vitamin C does for a guinea pig, or you and me for that matter.

Back to the list:  upper respiratory disease, pneumonia, dental disease, conjunctivitis, unthriftiness, pododermatitis, arthritis and other joint-related diseases, immune-related conditions and bladder issues.  Vitamin C is also involved in maintaining a strong immune system, wound healing and recovery from illness in general.

OK, you have your vitamin C.  Next most important (yes I believe that one little tablet is more important than the entirety of the rest of the diet), is the rest of the diet.  Your guinea pig needs an endless supply of timothy hay.  Really, a bottomless bowl.  Some owners use “hoppers,” those little wire things that hang on the outside of the habitat and allow the guinea pig to pull hay as needed, without the hay supply getting wet or soiled.  That is way more sophisticated than what we do, but we stuff two tissue boxes full of hay, and Piggy pulls the hay out as he eats.  Sometimes he will eat two entire boxes of hay in one day!  We refill them every morning, and at the end of the week, we start over with new hay and new boxes.

Of course you need a fresh water supply.  A water bottle seems to work best, as piggies are a bit too messy for a water dish.  If you are used to smaller rodents, guinea pigs will seem to drink ALOT, so make sure to check the supply every day.

Next, have a small bowl for piggy pellets.  He or she needs only two tablespoons of pellets a day.  That is half of one fourth of a cup.  MOST owners give their piggies as many pellets as they want.  And most guinea pigs are overweight.  Cut back gradually until he or she gets just that small scoop once a day.  And if he or she is on a seed diet, switch to pellets over a couple of weeks and use the seed mixture for a treat.  The seeds are not bad for them, but they are high in fat, and not as nutritionally balanced as the pellets are.  The pellets are important for two reasons.  They contain the correct mix of trace minerals and vitamins other than C that are also important for your piggy’s health.  And just as importantly, they love pellets, and we need our guinea pigs to be happy.

Last, and still important, are treats.  Fruits and vegetables are fine.  Carb-based treats are fine.  Commercial guinea pig treats are fine.  Everything in moderation.  You would think we would know more about guinea pigs, being…guinea pigs…but I am extrapolating from what we know of dogs and cats for this next part.  If guinea pigs are also sensitive to the toxic effects of some foods, as I suspect they are, they should not have any of the following:  chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, garlic or macadamia nuts.

As far as creating an ideal habitat, guinea pigs often enjoy running happy laps around their homes and popcorning (jumping straight up in happy piggy jumps, one of the cutest things you will ever see).  They also like to have a little hiding space.  Base your final habitat size on these factors.  If your pet seems cramped at all, you could always upgrade later.  Piggy’s home is two feet wide, two feet high and four feet long with a plastic bottom and wire mesh sides and top.  There is room for his two tissue boxes, his snack/vitamin/pellet bowl, his water bottle, his igloo, and his happy piggy antics.

For flooring, no wire!  With adequate Vitamin C, a great body condition and a comfy floor, your pet will never need to deal with infectious pododermatitis (bumblefoot), a horrible disease that often ends in euthanasia due to the severe pain involved.  For bedding, no wood shavings!  It is irritating to their respiratory systems and little feet.  Carefresh bedding is a great absorbent paper-based product, by far the best bedding available.  Piggy uses Carefresh bedding, and it keeps him comfortable and not stinky for about a week.

Guinea pigs often need their nails trimmed, like dogs and cats do.  If you are not comfortable doing it at home, bring them in and have it done.  Also check the bottom of their little feet and make sure they appear healthy.  I know they are weird looking, but you will get used to how they look on a good day, and know if anything abnormal is going on.

Also check your guinea pig’s body condition score.  Unlike a dog or cat, he should not have a visible waist.  But he should have ribs you can feel (but not see) and should not have a big tummy behind his ribs, but be a cute elongated egg shape.

As long as you have him out and are giving him a mini-check-up, make sure his coat and eyes are bright and shiny.  Look in his mouth and make sure his cute little teeth are not longer than normal.  When he comes for his veterinary exam, we will check all of these things too, and also use a speculum to look at his back “cheek” teeth.

Speaking of checkups, I recommend you bring your pet in when you first adopt him or her for an initial check up and every question that you can think of, and then every six months and any time you are concerned about his or her health.

Guinea pigs are skilled at hiding symptoms of illness, so I would recommend you bring them in at the first sign of anything weird.  Most experts will tell you that the reason they hide symptoms is they are prey animals and cannot afford to show any weakness.  But he is in your living room!  Up away from the dog and the cat!  I think he is hiding symptoms because he is so kind he doesn’t want to worry you.  Tell him to quit being so selfless, and let you know if he does not feel well.  And if he will not, you will just have to continue being super-vigilant, and bring him in at the first sign of disease.  Better a false alarm than a serious illness not caught.

If you are going to breed your guinea pigs, do more reading than this cursory introduction!  Keep in mind that female guinea pigs need to have their first litter of piglets BEFORE they are eight months of age.  Their pelvic canal fuses together at about this age if they have not given birth, and after this occurs, they cannot safely give birth to piglets.  (I KNOW they are called pups!  I like to call them piglets!)  If they have given birth by this age, their pelvic canal does not fuse, and they typically will be able to safely be bred from then on.

Also, be careful with new pairs of guinea pigs.  Females can become pregnant as early as one month of age!  So make sure you have the piggies you think you have or you may end up with the old familiar “hamster” story…”I adopted two males/two females/one baby female, and now I have five!  Do you want one?  Look how cute they are!”

Long-haired guinea pigs need to be brushed often.  They need to be treated immediately if mats develop.  Guinea pigs are susceptible to dental disease, trauma, respiratory diseases, bladder stones, uterine cancer, urinary tract infections, intestinal parasites and external parasites, most notably scabies.  This is characterized by intense itching, hair loss and sometimes even seizures.  It is very treatable, but fatal if left unchecked, so if you notice your piggy itching, get him or her in right away!

Also, guinea pigs are VERY heat-sensitive, even more so than dogs.  They should not be outside in the summer, and they should not even be in a sunny window.  If you suspect your guinea pig has become overheated, bathe them quickly in cool (not cold) water, and rush them to the veterinary hospital.  Though this will give him the best odds possible, sadly, I have never seen or heard of a guinea pig surviving heat stress.

Guinea pigs are very social.  They like to have piggy friends, so consider adopting two or more.  Beware the too-small-for-the-number-of-piggies-habitat and the dreaded hamster story!  But if you can adopt a friend for your friend, that would be twice as fun!

They like to be in busy areas of the house or church or classroom.  Make sure you talk to them often.  They can be shy, but can almost always be acclimated to gentle handling, and will enjoy snuggle time.  I realize I am inviting trouble by admitting this, but I have NEVER been bitten by a guinea pig.  And I have been bitten by most every other type of pet!  They just don’t think to bite, and if they did happen to get scared or startled, it would be difficult to get a good chomp in with their peace-loving, hay-chewing itty-bitty mouths.

I know that if you are a guinea pig owner, you are a good one, and completely invested in his or her well being.  I also know that if you are not yet a guinea pig owner, you may be thinking of getting one.  Make sure you check with your family…fellow teachers…pastor…first!  And have fun.  They are one of my favorite types of pets ever, and we love having Piggy in our family.

I will try (by “try” I mean call Dave and have him do it!) to set up sections of the website to discuss the practical care of other specific pets.  As of now, as you know, there is a newsletter on how much I like birds (with no practical information on how to actually take care of them), and another newsletter on how much I like hamsters (with no practical information on how to actually take care of them, but a very helpful section on how to make them a rabbit costume.)  They were, however, very fun to write!  Maybe it is time for me to grow up, and start giving you more practical info.  Then again, maybe not…

January 25, 2010 Jennifer VanCleve is my awesome friend who runs Westwood Church’s Preschool Program.  She asked me yesterday to check if her guinea pig Peanut was pregnant.  (She had accidently been left with a male guinea pig at a preschooler’s home.)  She was not.  I left her the above “note” on an index card.

OXBOW ANIMAL HEALTH: We have an extraordinary resource for guinea pig information right here in Nebraska!  Check out the website for Oxbow, and let me know if there are other websites or resources you would like me to add here.

CAREFRESH As of May, 2010, I am working with Carefresh!  I love it!  E-mail me ANY small pet questions you have!

***GREAT NEWS!!!***January 25, 2010 I just got an e-mail from the veterinarian who oversees national pet care at PetSmart.  I have been, um, bugging her for a while about Petsmart carrying Oxbow Vitamin C.  Here is part of her e-mail…

“The best news of all is that the Oxbow vitamins are coming in spring I think so we are making good strides. As always we welcome any of your comments or questions. Happy Monday :)”


It is indeed, a Happy Monday.

Keeping Your Kitty at a Healthy Weight

Friday, May 1st, 2009

I have had writer’s block over this very newsletter for TWO MONTHS and I finally realized why.  I have had great personal success treating feline obesity.  The catch is I have had a data base of one, and thus feel as though I do not have the experience to tell you how to treat or prevent obesity in every individual kitty.

Cats are much more difficult weight loss candidates than are dogs.  There are a myriad of different diet options and exercise options, most of them mirrored after what works in dogs or people, which, as you know, are entirely different species than cats!  Also, cats are not always as amiable to trying new things as dogs are.

With dogs, a slow, steady weight loss is most ideal, however, rapid weight loss is not as dangerous a situation as it is in cats.  As Amanda Kehm reminded me to mention, fatty liver, or hepatic lipidosis, is a condition of cats that may develop when cats metabolize their fat stores more quickly than their body can process them.  The fat byproducts build up in the liver, and interfere with the liver’s function.  This happens most often with weight loss secondary to an induced diet or a primary disease.  Hepatic lipidosis is treatable, but it can cause significant discomfort, and in extreme cases can even be fatal.  Do not let this scare you!  This disease becomes extremely rare when an otherwise healthy overweight cat is aided in slow, steady weight loss using appropriate means.

Russ and I have owned only one cat, the awesome and beautiful Max the Cat.  He had been one of two blood donors at Iowa State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital.  When I graduated, we adopted him and brought him with us to Littleton Colorado.  He has had only two health-related issues in his life, dental disease and obesity, admittedly both very huge issues for a cat.  So Max gets his teeth cleaned under anesthesia once a year.  And when he became overweight, we switched him from Science Diet Maintenance to Science Diet Light.  He has always enjoyed playing, so we did not change anything about his exercise habits.  The diet change alone was enough to bring Max back to a healthy weight within a year.

I know…I usually write in broader strokes, in generalities that can apply to every pet, but here is my new idea, for this newsletter at least…Let’s write this one together.  Tell me what has worked to encourage your cat to exercise and what foods and feeding schedules have helped them to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.  I will put your stories right into this newsletter word for word.

If you are frustrated with trying to help your cat lose weight, or if your cat has developed diabetes, heart disease or arthritis, three of the most common sequelae to obesity in cats, tell me that story too.

And tell me what more you would like to know about this area of veterinary medicine.  When I was planning this newsletter, I pictured everyone with an overweight pre-diabetic kitty being able to say, with relief and confidence, “Oh, good.  Now I have a plan.”  And I have been staring at a blank screen, because I just couldn’t write the newsletter that would get us all there.  But I am confident that we can.

I think the most good can be done for the most cats if we all pool our ideas, and come up with some great ideas together.  This topic is much more developed on the canine side of veterinary nutrition, though I believe that veterinary nutrition is making amazing strides on the feline side.  My guess is that in five years, we will have as good of answers to feline obesity prevention and treatment as we do for canine obesity prevention and treatment today.  I also believe that you and I are a part of that answer.  How exciting!  Thank you in advance for your help!

Erika Workman, Pet Nurse says,

“Hmm…getting kitties in shape. That’s kind of a hard one…My kitties keep themselves in shape by playing together… I just have really active kitties, so mine are in great shape. When I had Beau, he was a fattypants, and hated to be outside, so I would take him outside and shut the back door, carry him to the back fence and let him go. He would run to the door, I would go get him and repeat until I felt he’d had enough exercise. Very healthy, and entertaining!”

Russ Finch says,

“Pippin, the cat I had as a kid, was never fat that I remember, but thinking back I see two reasons why.  First, the cat had two main foods that it would consistently eat; donuts and ice cream.  That sounds like a recipe for a fat cat, but in order to get these items, she had to run up, steal them, and run away out of reach to eat them – fast food :)   Second, we played with that cat constantly, which she usually liked.  Her favorite game was fishing.  I put a cat toy on the end of a long fishing line, wound it around the railings, up and down steps, down the hall, through the kitchen… whatever.  Then I got her to follow it as I reeled her in.  She was always active and I think that made all the difference.”

Amanda Kehm of Oakview Petshotel says,

“We’ve had a few board with us recently, and each is trying to lose too fast!  So…no success yet.”

Jodi Finch says,

“Putter was fat. Grandpa spoiled him rotten. Earl was not fat, he was cool. Large, but cool.  Earl and Putter got lots of exercise. They loved to chase things – it didn’t matter what. If it moved, they chased it. Earl was particularly fond of hiding behind things and ambushing people when they walked by… then running like his tail was on fire.”

Caroline Merchant, DVM says,

“I had 2 fat cats. One became hyperthyroid and lost weight, then got cancer and lost more weight. The other cat became diabetic and lost weight. I don’t recommend those methods, although the diabetic seems to have gotten under control and kept the weight off by eating exclusively canned food (feline k/d).”

Daniel Muller says,

Leonard loves to eat. In fact, it is the ONLY thing he is passionate about. He finds little interest in fancy toys or catnip. Giving Leonard a scratch on his (extremely large and round) belly will certainly leave you with a few bite marks. When he is out of food, he will let you know:  a high pitched, almost un-feline like whine and the execution of any lamp, cup, plate, book, phone, etc resting on a table or desk.

I try to only feed Leonard twice a day:  a half cup in the morning and a half cup after work.  This has proven to be an overzealous approach to feeding this beast.  Every morning, around 3:30 I hear crashing and smashing.  Leonard is hungry.  And breaking my stuff.  I like my stuff, so I feed him again.  If I do put my foot down and say “no! you are too fat! no more food today,” he feasts on a house plant or rummages through the trash.

I have Leonard on a weight control formula cat food, but my 22 pound tabby cat is not shedding any weight.

I say…

You all are very wise.  The most frustrating cats are the ones, like Leonard, who have such great owners, and with whom we are doing everything right, and they still are not losing weight.  They too can be brought back to a healthy weight though.  Do not give up!  I will keep this newsletter “open” as long as everyone has ideas.  If you want help with your individual kitty, let me know!

My broad (haha) recommendation is to bring your kitty in for a wellness check-up.  We will weigh him or her and determine his or her body condition score.  See “I Promise Not to Say Kilocalorie to You” for instructions on determining body condition score.  It is very simple, and is determined the same for dogs and cats.

From there, we will determine if the food your cat is on is appropriate or if a different food is needed.  We will talk more in person about this one:   There are high fiber and, more recently, high protein (Catkins-haha) diets for weight loss in cats.  Either can be appropriate, and there are drawbacks to both.

With dogs, we may switch them from free-feeding to meals, or decrease the amount of food per meals.  Scheduled meals may not be the way to go with cats.  They naturally enjoy and are suited for eating several small meals through the day and night.

And exercise is good for ALL of us, but as you know, the best way to get a cat to yell their mantra at you (“CATS ARE NOT SMALL DOGS!”) is to put a leash on one!  So we will find some FUN exercise options.  Before you know it, your cat will once again be sleek and fit…and ready for a well-earned nap.

I Promise Not to Say Kilocalorie to You.

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Now that we all are walking around Omaha together…or will be when winter finally ends…my next suggested resolution for you is much simpler.  In fact, it should take all of five seconds.

I want you to go look at your dog from above.   Dave and Sara, get a stepping stool! Mom and Dad, sit criss-cross next to Ernie!   The rest of you…stand over your dog.   Now everyone, see what shape he or she is.   Next, run your hands over their sides from their neck to their tummy.

There!   You are done!   Now you may go do something more fun.   Or read on to interpret the results of the two very important medical tests you just performed.

In the first test, you are looking for a waist on your dog.  I realize different breeds are different shapes.  Yes, it is fine that your Pug is football shaped!  He may not, however, be soccer ball shaped.  Most dogs should have a slightly “tucked in” waist right behind their ribcage.  They should not be completely “straight” from their neck to their tail, or worse, have a big tummy that is visible from above.  You can also look at them from the side and their waist should “tuck in” a little there too.

Second test:  You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs, but not see them.  If you are unable to feel their ribs with a gentle pat over their sides, they may have fat pads there, which is an indication they may be overweight.  If you are able to feel and see their ribs well, they may be underweight.

There are two common body condition score methods, 1-9 and 1-5.  I like 1-5 because it is simpler, but either is good.  In the 1-5 system, 1 is very skinny, 2 is too skinny, 3 is ideal, 4 is overweight and 5 is obese.  Our goal is to assess your pet now, match that score to his or her current weight and make an educated guess at an ideal weight.  We will use diet and exercise to get them to their ideal weight and adjust the actual number in pounds as we get closer, until we have a lifelong ideal weight to try to keep them close to.

If you tuned out at “diet and exercise” come back!  This is a much easier concept in pets than it is in us.

With people, there is emotional eating, eating when we are bored, eating for fun.  Try to adjust that concept to emotional feeding, feeding when we are bored, feeding for fun.  Would you agree that most emotional issues with food and our pets are our issues projected onto them?  I LOVE lining my three black dogs up by the snack cabinet and passing treats out.  Do NOT tell my Dad-in-law, but I LOVE feeding Ebony right off my plate at dinner.  I love seeing them jump in happy “I’m going to get lunch meat” circles…all MY issues, huh?  The truth is, if I had to feed them one-half-cup-light-kibble-twice-a-day-until-at-a-healthy-weight, eating the measured diet would not be so difficult for them, but it probably would be difficult for me to carry out.

So, as is often the case, I have a SIMPLE concept for you that is in no way EASY.  However, if you needed to get all strict (with YOURSELF) for awhile, so your pet could be healthy, you could do it, couldn’t you?

You are right that dogs DO get hungry between meals, especially when we feed them less to help them lose weight.  This is an area where fiber may help.  Perhaps switching to a light (higher fiber) or even prescription diet would help.  High fiber treats and snacks are also available.  We can work on a diet plan together.

Exercise is a similar issue.  It is a simple concept that is not easy to implement.  We will talk about cats when I have something intelligent and helpful to say!  However, exercising an otherwise healthy but overweight dog is pretty simple.  If he or she has health issues, such as arthritis or heart troubles, let’s work together to get those stable first, then we will come up with a safe, modified exercise plan.  But if your dog has a clean bill of health, and a green light for exercise, the sticking point is going to be our own inertia, not our dog’s.

So assuming you have a dog who has been blessed “healthy and safe to exercise and have on an adult maintenance diet” by the health care team, here are some rules of thumb.  Talk with me about dog food brands.  There are so many excellent choices, and you are such great owners, that chances are the food you are now feeding is ideal.

The only two feeding patterns I do not like are free-feeding and once a day feeding.  First, free-feeding…Dogs are not self-regulating feeders, so most can not have constant access to food and remain at a lifelong healthy weight.  But some can.

And cats are not self-regulating feeders either, and if I tell you it is not an option for your dog, my cat Max will find out I told you that and tell you what HIS feeding schedule is.  And then you will both laugh at me.  Incidentally, we are not allowed to let the bottom of either side of Max’s food bowl show.  Seriously.  He has woken us up in the middle of the night to remind us.  So if you free feed your dog, I believe you when you say it is what works best for your family!

The opposite extreme is once a day feeding.  Everyone used to do this.  And it is still pretty common.  So don’t feel bad if you do.  However, studies show that MOST dog bites occur just before the daily meal of dogs fed once a day.  I know…your dog is not a biter!  But researchers suspected this pattern indicated a blood sugar issue.  Follow-up studies showed that dogs are very often hypoglycemic if fasted for twenty-four hours, which is essentially the situation of dogs fed once a day.  So their blood sugar gets low and they get CRABBY.  Or sad.  Or sluggish.  Just like us.

My rule of thumb for feedings is three times a day for puppies until the age of four to six months, then twice a day for the remainder of their life.

A rule of thumb for amount of food is one cup per day per ten pounds of puppy divided into appropriate feedings until the age of one.  (A ten pound puppy would be fed 1/3 cup three times a day.)

For adult dogs, the amount is one cup per day per twenty pounds, divided into feedings.  (A twenty pound dog would be fed 1/2 cup twice a day.)  This is a very rough rule of thumb.  If the amount you are feeding is keeping your pet at a healthy weight, then obviously, that is the amount that is right!

The amount will differ from dog to dog, and be skewed by activity level and metabolism changes.  If your puppy is growing, weigh him or her every week or so, and do the two body condition score tests (waist check and rib check) often, and increase feedings to maintain steady growth.  With large and giant breed puppies, you do not want them to gain weight too quickly.  Slow, steady growth will minimize their risks for joint problems later.

As far as exercise goes, walking is my favorite one.  Base the length of walks on your and your pup’s fitness level.  Base the number of walks per day or week on what works best for your schedule.

Running crazy in the yard or dog park is also good, but does not replace walking with you.  Swimming is an excellent exercise and may be ideal if your pet has joint issues or is recovering from an injury or orthopedic surgery.

Running is good for some dogs, mostly based on whether the two of you enjoy it!  But also, they must be in good enough health to be a running buddy, and large and giant breed pups must wait till they are Big Dogs to run, to allow their cute little growth plates to mature first.  If you allow your dog to run alongside your bike, be very careful to watch for him to become tired.  He will be done long before you are!

Agility is great exercise and fun for both of you.  Hunting is great exercise too.  I’ll bet you can think of a hundred more exercises that I have not thought of.  If you have more ideas, post them here, because I hope that 2009 is the year we are all going to get (and stay) healthy together!

So here are your action points:

1)  Do a quick check of your dog’s overall body condition score, considering appearance, the rib check, the waist check, and lastly, the number of pounds he or she currently weighs.

2)  Decide (with the health care team) if he or she needs to gain or lose weight, or is at an ideal weight.   Figure his or her body condition score.

3)  Reassess your food brand, food type (maintenance, light, prescription, etc.), meal frequency, and amount of food.  If you don’t measure food, consider measuring how much you currently give, so you have a “starting point” if weight is ever an issue, even if it is not now.  Again, bring the health care team in on this step.  You pay us for our smarts, so get your money’s worth!

4)  Decide on an exercise plan.  Try to think of activities that are fun enough for the both of you that you will want to continue long term.

That’s it!  You are set!  Good luck, and let me know how it goes!  You are AWESOME owners, and most of your pets are healthy now, so I know you will do GREAT.  Ebony, Noodle, Joy and I will try to keep up with you!

The Christmas Puppy

Monday, July 7th, 2008

It has been a very rough summer for me as far as losing pets I love (not my own, but those of friends and dear clients).   And this past week, as those of you in Omaha know, a wind and hail storm blew through and flattened much of Omaha, including trees, power lines, many of our neighbors’ homes and cars, much of my (and everyone else’s) gardens, and my brother’s incredible, professionally-built skateboard ramp.

In response to all of these discouraging things (during what is normally such a fun time of year), I have decided to retreat to my other favorite season, Christmas time, and post a Christmas Puppy newsletter to cheer us all up.  If furniture stores can celebrate Christmas in July, we should be able to also!  And puppies are much more exciting than couches!   So thank you for humoring me.   Now when I see my leafless tomato sticks in the backyard, I can look right past them and say, “Wow!  Green grass and sunny weather at Christmas time!  This is as fun as a new puppy!”

I used to say that no one should give pets as gifts.   My reasoning was kids (and adults) should not be surprised with the long-term responsibility of another living creature during a birthday or other holiday already filled with mayhem and celebration.   (Remember last year’s pony commercial?   The girl got a pony when she really wanted a phone like all of her friends!   Haha.   That was funny.)

My new saying is “If there is room at the Nativity for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a Golden Retriever, there is room under the Christmas tree for hamsters from Aunt Jodi.”   I now believe that if a family is ready for a new pet, how fun to get one during a time of celebration.

And the two weeks after this past Christmas were some of my very favorite “work” days ever.   I met the baby Golden Retriever (the new puppy of the family who inspired the newsletter, “My Dog, Ebony”), four baby guinea pigs, one baby chinchilla, and a baby gerbil.   You brought me two new kittens, two baby Yorkies, one baby Beagle, ten baby rats, and two baby hamsters from Aunt Jodi.

And I came home after that whirlwind of adorable babies to our own new gerbil baby, Princess, a Christmas gift to our oldest daughter.   As cute as our now one-year-old gerbil is, today I thought it would be fun to talk about puppies, and probably more helpful to you.   If you do need gerbil information, the main thing you need to know is if she escapes, grab quick.   Princess is an expert at escaping, but is so inquisitive that she comes right back to see what we are doing, and then we can grab her.   If you have a normal pet, a Christmas puppy, or any puppy for that matter, you are going to need an encouraging word, actually about a year’s worth of encouraging words.

Here is a start:   It gets steadily easier as they grow up.   I believe God starts puppies off as cute as He does to keep them alive.   If my theory is true, then it is probably also true that Golden Retrievers do not outgrow their puppy cuteness because they take so long to outgrow all of their puppy antics.   It is a survival tactic.   But don’t worry!   Even if your puppy is a Golden!   I will walk you through finding a pet, puppy-proofing, buying supplies, feeding, and training.   Then come see me with your new family member, and I will set you up for a very successful relationship.   Pets, as you know, are challenging, but well worth the investment.

Obtaining Your New Friend

If you are reading this, you probably have a cute fuzzy face already staring up at you and are wondering what to do next.   If, by chance, you have not yet adopted your puppy, I will give you my input.   Remember what Larry Burkett used to say when people would ask him for money advice on his radio show, “Opinions are usually worth what you pay for them.”   But he DID know finances, and I am no Larry Burkett, but I DO know puppies.

My favorite puppy sources are rescue groups and the Nebraska Humane Society, or your local humane society, if you do not live in Nebraska.   Honestly, The Nebraska Humane Society is worth the drive if you are having trouble finding the right pet to adopt in your hometown.   And yes, they do have puppies, purebreds even, if you are into that sort of thing.   I will just mention, mutts and older dogs are worth considering too, so unless you have your heart set on a particular breed and age, consider the rest of the dogs who also need loving homes.   Whether you get a pup or an adult, a purebred or a mixed breed, make sure you learn all you can about your breed or combination of breeds (as best you can guess), especially potential health issues, personality tendencies, and grown size.

My next favorite puppy sources after humane societies and rescue groups are high-quality, home-based, small-scale breeders.   Never, under any circumstances, buy a puppy from an organization that works with puppy mills, or that you suspect might work with puppy mills.   This includes many pet stores and all high-volume puppy sellers.   For the record, neither PETsMART nor Petco works with puppy mills–both organizations are among the Pet Savers, like you and me.   Breeding puppies and raising them and socializing them and looking after all of their medical needs and all of their parents’ medical needs is just not possible on a large scale.   If you are currently looking into the adorable face of a pet with such a background and thinking, “Oh no!  What have I done?  I may have inadvertently supported an evil puppy mill!”  do not return them there!  I know…you would never do that (that is why they gave you a “money-back guarantee”–no risk for them!), but don’t feel bad either.   Consider your pet rescued from such an awful place, and yourself all the wiser.


If you have ever baby-proofed, skip this part–that is essentially what we are talking about now.   If this is a new experience, or if it has been a while since you have puppy- or baby-proofed, I hope this will help.   To start, go through your house on your hands and knees.   No, really!   You need to have a puppy’s-eye-view.   Do you see any small toys?   Any electrical cords?   Get them up out of reach!   Lock up any medicine, cleaners, trash bins, and anything else that you do not want scattered or ingested.

Next, check all of your houseplants.   If you are a plant genius, bring me the scientific names of each plant, and I will help you determine if they are toxic.   If you are, like me, the opposite of a plant genius, pick up your mystery plants, congratulate yourself on keeping them alive for all this time, and put them all up on a high shelf, just in case they are poisonous.   Now you are ready to set up the house for a puppy.

Puppy Paraphernalia

Write out a list of everything your new puppy needs.   If you just walk into PetSmart without a plan, you will go broke and then have no financial resources to support your puppy long-term, because everything that store has is cute and looks to me like A Thing My Pet Needs.   So even today, with a houseful of pets whose novelty should have worn off long ago, I never go shopping at PETsMART without a list.   If I go without a well thought out plan, I come home with too much stuff…or a cat.

Here are some considerations for your list…a collar and leash, puppy food, two puppy bowls, and a kennel.   Get an enclosed kennel that is large enough to turn around in and stand up in, but not large enough to urinate in and then move to a dry area.   You will also need a tag with his or her name and address (if it is a puppy with a name already, not just a concept), training treats, and a few toys.   Too many toys at first will overwhelm your puppy, so take most of them out of your cart.   Put back the pig ears and real bones too.   They are not safe.

Puppy Feeding

Set out your new bowls, and fill one with water.   The other will be trickier, but not much.   What food is your puppy on now?   That is perfect for the first week!   Give him or her about one cup of food per ten pounds per day, in three feedings.   For example, if you have a ten-pound puppy, feed a level 1/3 cup scoop three times a day.   Weigh your puppy weekly or so, and adjust feedings as he or she grows.   At every stage of growth, you should be able to feel your pet’s ribs, but not see them, and if you look from above, you should see a well-defined waist.

If you would like to switch foods, wait one week while your puppy gets used to his or her new home.   After that first week, mix the old and new diets half and half for one week.   After this, it is safe to switch completely to the new diet.

Even though puppies will lose their baby teeth between four and six months of age, I prefer getting a puppy used to dry food, for dental health later in life–and dry food is easier for you.   However, canned or dry food can both be nutritionally sound.   Large breed dogs  (retriever and bigger) need large breed puppy food to aid them in slow, steady growth, which minimizes the risk of joint issues later in life.   All puppies need puppy food for the first year of life and dog food after that.   My favorite brand is Science Diet.   There are numerous good brands available though, so read the labels, talk with friends, and if all else fails, ask me, and I will help you.

My least favorite diet is the BARF (bones and raw food) diet, but even that I would be willing to walk you through, and we can come up with a safe and healthy dietary plan for your little wolf pup.

Potty Training

There are several ways to potty-train a dog, and as an owner of a leaky Poodle, take my advice with a grain of salt.  However, I believe the most humane, reliable way to train a dog is with a kennel and ALL positive reinforcement.   Never, never, never (never) hit your pet.   Do not tap his nose.   Do not spank his butt.   Do not swing a newspaper at him or put his nose in anything gross.   Please do not yell at or otherwise scare him either.   All of these things are mean and will not work.   And they are so 1970’s.

Back to your pup, who is lovingly and properly cared for from the beginning.   Your kennel will be your greatest training aid.   Dogs will try not to soil their sleeping area.   Remember though that puppies do not yet have perfect bladder control.   In fact, some toy breeds, most notably Yorkshire Terriers, start out with anatomy similar to the dolls you can feed a bottle and they instantly pee.   But don’t worry!   Unlike the dolls, Yorkies, and all puppies, grow up and are able to pee within socially acceptable boundaries!   We just need to help them get there.   Besides having poor bladder control, puppies also do not automatically know that if they potty, their beds underneath them will be wet.   So a small kennel is the beginning, not the entirety, of potty training.

Have the door of the kennel open when you are home and chewies and toys in it so he will know it is a den and not a jail.   When you cannot be with your puppy, and during the night, have him in the kennel with no blankets or treats and with the door closed.   Many people balk at having their puppy locked up, but most dogs like having a safe place they can think of as their own.   When they are trained, you can choose not to use a kennel anymore, and have them sleep on a dog bed or with you.

An eight-week-old puppy needs to go outside to urinate an average of every two hours, including overnight.   He or she will need to defecate about one half hour after each meal.   (Food does not go through their system that quickly, but having food in their stomach stimulates a defecation reflex.)   The time between bathroom breaks will steadily increase as they get older, gain more bladder control and a larger bladder capacity, and mentally connect the need to go potty with the actual act.   Puppies are usually fully potty trained between six and twelve months of age.   What all of that means is that you are in for a LOT of work!

When he or she is out of the kennel, have him or her on a slack leash or within sight all of the time at the beginning.   Take your puppy out every few hours, after meals, and when he or she seems to need to go.   Even if you are perfectly vigilant and take your puppy outside like clockwork, I guarantee that there will still be accidents.

Like most things I tell you (as you know if I have ever said to you “Give your cat this medicine twice a day for a week”), this is very simple for me to say and very difficult for you to do in Real Life:   Ignore EVERY potty mistake your puppy makes.   Act like you could not care less if he ruins your carpet (again).   If he is caught in the act, pick him up (watch your shoes), and take him outside.   If he finishes outside, praise him.   If not, do NOTHING until the next potty event.   If you find a puddle inside (or worse), clean it up without discussing it with your pet.   When he does potty outside, cheer like he just won an Olympic swim event.   EVERY TIME.   You will feel silly and your neighbors will roll their eyes, but next year at this time, THEY will be cleaning up their carpet, and you and your dog will be outside laughing at them.

Those are the essentials of training:   Reward the good behavior, and ignore the unwanted behavior.   I guarantee that with an impressionable baby dog, whose goal in life is to please you, this will ALWAYS work.   This will even work with an older dog, or a dog who is not as eager to please, and (I mean it) with cats and pocket pets.   Positive reinforcement is always the shortest distance between untrained and trained.   I keep saying it, because on your twentieth “Super Dog” trip outside while he is peeing (watch your shoes), it will not feel like a short distance between untrained and trained.   But I promise you your hard work and patience will pay off.

More on Positive Reinforcement

You know from previous newsletters how twitchy I am about negative reinforcement.   In Real Life, most dogs and cats can handle a bit of negative reinforcement every once in a while.   Some, including my own Noodle the Poodle, cannot.   I have yelled before when I have found pee in the house, and Noodle cowers like he is about to be smacked.   So then I cry, and sit down with him (next to, not in, the puddle of Poodle piddle), and try to undo what I have just done.   But it is best not done in the first place.

So I am not saying that you need to raise your pet perfectly.   I am saying, lean toward positive reinforcement as much as possible.   Use treats and praise to reinforce good behavior.   Ignore unwanted behavior.   It is kinder, will strengthen your bond, and has been proven time and time again to produce stronger, longer lasting results.   You will see the most dramatic example of this with potty training, but it also works with learning manners, learning tricks, and even overcoming destructive behaviors and phobias.

What’s Next

After your puppy is home and settled, bring him or her in for a new pet check-up.   You will learn if your new pet has any abnormalities that need to be dealt with, or more likely, gain the peace of mind that your pet is perfectly healthy.   And once again, bring a list!   Not of dog supplies this time, but of puppy questions for the veterinary team.   We will get you started on preventative care (wellness exams, vaccines, deworming, and all of that), help you learn about your breed, coach you on puppy training, help you find a puppy class trainer, help you find a great groomer if need be, put together a diet plan, outline a life-long health plan, and if you want us to (this is probably our favorite), help you brainstorm a fitting name for your new pet.

So congratulations.   And good luck.   Call me if you need help, or just an encouraging word.   If you are still deciding on adopting a pet, I have two thoughts.   The first is, in an ideal world, probably the best time to get a new puppy is during the summer, when it is as far as possible from the craziness of the holidays, and when the whole family probably has more time to invest in training and socializing.   And the second thought, and this is huge, as you know if you have ever stood in a snowstorm while your adorable puppy stands knee-deep in snow, wondering why in the world you wanted to stand outside with him, potty training a new puppy when you are pretending it is Christmas in July is MUCH easier than potty training a puppy when normal people celebrate Christmas.