What You Need to Know
Obesity (the storage of excess fat) is usually caused by excessive food intake and insufficient exercise. According to estimates, 40% to 50% of dogs are overweight and 25% of dogs are obese. Obesity is more common in older, less active pets. Dogs that are fed homemade meals, table scraps, and snacks are more likely to be overweight than dogs that are fed only a commercial pet food.
There are many obesity-related health problems (see the box), and some medical conditions can lead to obesity, so it’s important to bring your dog in for annual veterinary checkups. By examining your dog, your veterinarian can tell you whether he or she is overweight or obese, what the cause is, and how to treat him or her.
Losing weight can help your dog live longer, avoid disease, and feel better, especially on hot days.
What to Do
Consult your veterinarian before changing your dog’s eating and exercise habits. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate diet and exercise program for safe weight loss.
When helping your dog lose weight, slower is safer. “Crash” diets or intense workouts aren’t appropriate for inactive dogs. If your dog gained the weight slowly, he or she can lose it slowly.
The most effective weight-loss plans involve increasing activity and feeding fewer calories. The more convenient you make it, the better the chance of sticking with it.
When on a weight-loss program, your dog should lose 2% or less of his or her initial body weight per week. For example, a 100-lb dog should lose no more than 2 lb every week. A weight-loss program may take 1 year or longer.
There are several dietary strategies for helping your dog lose weight. Your veterinarian may suggest one or more of the following (be sureto use a measuring cup to keep track of how much you’re feeding your dog):
You can help your dog become more active and lose weight by scheduling regular playtimes and walks. Consult your veterinarian before beginning an exercise program for your dog. For walks, start out slow to give your dog a chance to adapt to an exercise routine. Work up to a brisk, 10- to 20-minute walk or jog once or twice a day. On hot or cold days, go easy or rest. If you don’t have time to walk your dog, hire a dog walker. Doggy day care centers can also help ensure that your dog gets plenty of exercise throughout the day.
Here are some calorie-burning activities for your dog:
Consider adopting another pet so that your dog has a playmate that encourages activity. If you don’t want to commit to a new pet, try scheduling regular visits with the pet of a friend or relative.
Low-Calories Dog Treats
Do not feed your dog (or cat) grapes or raisins because they have reportedly caused kidney problems in pets.
How Do I Choose a Dog Food?
A high-quality, complete and balanced diet is important for the health and longevity of your dog. Among other benefits, a proper diet helps build strong bones, promotes healthy gums and teeth, protects immune function, and results in a lustrous haircoat. Unlike cats, which are carnivores (meaning that they must eat meat), dogs are omnivores, meaning that they can eat meat and plants as their primary food sources.
A large number of dog foods are available at pet supply stores, so selecting a dog food can be daunting. How do you find a food that’s right for your dog? Start by asking your veterinarian the following: “Which food will meet the particular needs of my pet?” and “Which brand(s) do you recommend?”
Most pet foods are created for different life stages, including puppy, maintenance, or senior diets. Within these life stages are even more specific categories. For example, if you own a Saint Bernard puppy, you’ll need to feed a puppy food for large-breed dogs. Large-breed puppy foods are specially formulated to meet the special requirements of large-breed puppies (for example, these foods have higher amounts of calcium and phosphorus because large-breed puppies grow faster than small-breed puppies). As another example, an adult dog that is used for hunting or breeding will most likely require a maintenance diet with higher energy content.
Before purchasing a dog food, look for a statement on the label that verifies that the food underwent AAFCO feeding trials. This means that the food was tested on animals according to guidelines from the Association of American Feed Control Officials. A label that says the food meets AAFCO standards simply means that a chemical analysis of the food appears to be complete and balanced, but the food has not been tested on animals. Because some nutrients may not be digestible when fed to animals, the feeding trial statement is a better indication of the nutritional adequacy of the food.
With a complete and balanced commercial diet, vitamin supplements are usually not necessary; in fact, supplying too many nutrients can be dangerous. Consult your veterinarian before giving your pet any supplements.
Do Certain Diseases Require Special Foods?
Nutrition can help slow the progression, or manage the signs, of many diseases. For dogs with kidney disease, for example, diets lower in protein have been shown to help slow disease progression. Foods with limited or hydrolyzed proteins can help reduce the itching and scratching in many allergic dogs. For dogs with osteoarthritis, many diets now contain higher levels of glucosamine and antioxidants to help reduce pain and inflammation.
Most diets that are designed for a specific disease are prescription diets and are only available through veterinarians. If your pet has a disease or condition, consult your veterinarian for nutritional advice.
Is a Homemade or Raw Diet Okay to Feed?
The advantage of homemade diets is that they can be tailored to the specific needs of your dog. However, most homemade diets found in books or on the Internet can be too vague or too complex, and ingredient substitutions or alterations may result in a diet that is nutritionally deficient or unbalanced or is even toxic. If you really want to provide your dog with a homemade diet, it’s best to work under the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist to ensure that the diet you prepare is complete and balanced for your dog.
While the proponents of raw diets claim that meat and bones more closely resemble the diet that dogs would eat in the wild, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support this idea. Raw diets have the same potential drawbacks of homemade diets: raw diets can also be nutritionally deficient and unbalanced. What’s more, raw diets carry the risk of contamination with bacteria such as Salmonella, and bits of bone can break teeth and perforate the digestive tract. If you want to feed your dog a raw diet, consult your veterinarian for advice, and make sure to handle all the food and your dog’s feces with care to avoid transmitting bacteria to people in your household.
What Do I Need to Know About Table Scraps and Treats?
The biggest problem with table scraps and treats is that they add unnecessary calories that can make your pet overweight. Pet obesity often leads to diabetes, increased blood pressure, and orthopedic problems, all of which can reduce your dog’s life span. If your dog is overweight, consult your veterinarian about a diet and exercise plan to get your dog back to a healthy weight. In addition, many dogs are allergic to common foods, such as wheat and chicken, resulting in problems such as itchy, infected ears and skin infections.
Table scraps and treats can also upset the bacterial balance in the digestive tract, resulting in vomiting and diarrhea. Fatty treats, especially, can lead to pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), which can require hospitalization. Even if your dog is fed a balanced diet, additional treats can result in unbalanced nutrition. If you can’t refuse your dog’s begging, consider giving your dog healthy treats such as raw carrots and green beans.
Canine influenza virus (CIV) was first detected in 2004 in racing greyhounds in Florida. Investigators learned that this new canine influenza developed when an equine influenza virus adapted to infect dogs. This was the first time that an equine influenza virus had been found to “jump” from horses to dogs. According to Dr. Cynda Crawford of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, canine influenza does not infect people, and there is no documentation that cats have become infected by exposure to dogs with CIV.
CIV has caused localized disease outbreaks around the country. According to veterinary experts, CIV has been reported in more than 30 states plus the District of Columbia. Ask your veterinarian whether the disease has been reported in your area; if it has, please take steps to prevent your dog from contracting it. (See Prevention and Vaccination below.)
CIV is spread between dogs through direct contact (coughing, sneezing, facial licking) or indirect contact (contaminated bowls, leashes, collars, or the hands or clothing of people who handle ill dogs). Virtually all dogs exposed to CIV become infected; however, 20% of dogs don’t show signs but can still spread the virus. Infected dogs usually develop signs of illness within 2 to 4 days. If your dog has been to a place (kennel, hospital, pet or grooming shop, dog park) where the presence of CIV is suspected or confirmed, contact your veterinarian; your dog may need to be quarantined even if he or she doesn’t show signs of illness. If your dog shows signs of a respiratory infection (sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, fever), you should keep him or her away from other dogs and contact your veterinarian.
Canine influenza cannot be diagnosed by signs alone because the signs (coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, fever) are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses in dogs. For dogs that have been sick for a short time, veterinarians swab the nose or throat and submit samples to a diagnostic laboratory for analysis. Specific blood testing can also be helpful in making a diagnosis.
Because CIV is a virus, the treatment mostly involves supportive care recommended by your veterinarian. Seriously ill dogs may require fluid therapy, but most affected dogs only need to be quarantined at home or in a kennel for 2 weeks while potentially contagious. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent or treat a subsequent bacterial infection.
Prevention and Vaccination
Any time your dog spends with other dogs increases your dog’s risk of exposure to CIV, so if an outbreak is occurring in your area, don’t allow your dog to have contact with other dogs. Ask kennel owners, groomers, show event managers, and your veterinarian what their facilities’ policies are regarding disinfection, quarantine, and disease prevention. As with human influenza, frequent hand washing and disinfection may help prevent the spread of CIV. If you think your dog may have been exposed to CIV, isolate him or her and contact your veterinarian.
There are vaccines that can help protect dogs from CIV. The vaccine does not prevent infection, but vaccinated dogs usually don’t become as sick as unvaccinated dogs and do recover more quickly. The vaccine is useful for dogs that may be exposed to high-risk environments, such as kennels, boarding facilities, dog parks, or dog shows. Ask your veterinarian whether your dog should be vaccinated against canine influenza.
Canine Influenza Fast Facts
www.cdc.gov/flu/canine (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
www.avma.org/public_health/influenza/canine_guidelines.asp (American Veterinary Medical Association)
What Is Canine Hip Dysplasia?
Canine hip dysplasia is a painful disease that affects millions of dogs each year. It is an inherited developmental disorder of the hip joint and can lead to debilitating arthritis. Its progression can be influenced by environmental factors, such as weight gain, nutrition, and exercise. Certain breeds, especially larger ones, are particularly prone to hip dysplasia, but the disease can affect dogs of any size and breed.
Just as in humans, the hip joint in dogs is a “ball and socket” joint. In healthy dogs, the ball and socket fit together tightly. In dogs suffering from hip dysplasia, the joint is “loose,” and the ball part of the joint may even rotate partially out of its socket. In time, this looseness causes wear and tear on the joint cartilage, leading to osteoarthritis.
Canine hip dysplasia is an inherited problem, meaning that certain breeds or families of dogs may be prone to it. For this reason, when purchasing or adopting a puppy, especially if it is a breed that is known to be predisposed to hip dysplasia, make sure the parents (if known) do not have hip problems and that the puppy has been screened by a veterinarian for any early signs of the disease.
What Are the Signs?
The disease is painful and progressive and can affect one or both hips. It can affect very young dogs (many are less than 1 year old), but dogs of any age can be affected. Clinical signs include:
Breeds that are most commonly affected include:
A diagnosis of hip dysplasia is made based on clinical signs, physical examination, and radiographs (x-rays). Two systems have also been developed for screening and/or diagnosing dogs with hip dysplasia. Responsible breeders use at least one of these systems before including a dog in their breeding program:
The OFA System: The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) oversees a multibreed hip registry database. The OFA’s system, which has been in use since 1966, has developed a standardized evaluation system and radiographic test to help breeders and owners assess the hip health of prospective parents as well as any puppies they may produce. Dogs must be 24 months of age or older to be included in the registry.
The PennHIP System: The PennHIP system, which was developed at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, has been in use since 1993. It uses a series of three radiographs to assess a “distraction index”—or DI—for each dog. The greater the DI, the higher the chances that the dog has or will develop hip dysplasia. The PennHIP analysis can be performed in puppies as young as 4 months of age.
Canine hip dysplasia is a serious, progressive disease, and better outcomes are typically achieved when it is diagnosed as early as possible and management and treatment measures are initiated promptly. Risk factors for the development of hip dysplasia in dogs that are genetically prone to the disease include obesity and overfeeding large-breed puppies during growth phases.
A proper diet that helps maintain an ideal weight, combined with a veterinarian-approved, regular exercise plan, can help slow the progression of hip dysplasia for some dogs. In less severe cases, medical management can also include providing pain medications as needed under veterinary supervision as well as administering oral or injectable joint supplements or medications. “Comfort care,” such as keeping dogs out of cold weather and performing massage or physical therapy, can also help keep affected dogs comfortable and slow progression of the disease for as long as possible.
In severe cases, surgery may be indicated. Surgical options include hip replacement surgery, reconstructing the hip joint, or removing the abnormal part of the joint and allowing the surrounding structures to form a “false joint” over time. Your veterinarian will discuss the best methods of management with you and whether surgery is an option for your dog.
NOTE: Canine hip dysplasia can be an expensive disease to manage and/or treat. Before purchasing or adopting a puppy, be sure to find out the hip “status” of the parents. If that is not possible, be sure to have your puppy’s hips evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible.
What Is Canine Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition that affects dogs, cats, and up to 30 other species of animals. It is caused by parasitic worms (heartworms) living in the major blood vessels of the lungs and, occasionally, in the heart. These worms are transmitted (as microscopic larvae) through the bite of an infected mosquito. The scientific name for the heartworm parasite is Dirofilaria immitis.
Heartworm disease can cause a variety of medical problems affecting the lungs, heart, liver, and/or kidneys. Any of these problems, alone or in combination, can lead to death. Although safe and effective treatment is available, it can be a costly and complicated process depending on how long the dog has been infected and how severe the infection is.
How Is Heartworm Testing Performed?
Heartworms are spread through the bite of a mosquito. When a mosquito bites an infected dog, it withdraws blood that contains immature heartworms (called microfilariae [pronounced micro-fill-air-ee-ay]). These microfilariae mature inside the mosquito to become infective larvae. When the mosquito bites another dog, the larvae enter the dog and (in many cases) mature to become adult heartworms, which produce more microfilariae and continue the heartworm’s life cycle. Current testing practices can detect several stages of heartworm infection:
No test is accurate 100% of the time, and sometimes your veterinarian may recommend performing tests more than once, or performing additional tests to learn more about your dog’s overall health.
When Should My Dog Be Tested for Heartworm Disease?
Dogs should be tested for heartworms before beginning a heartworm prevention program, or when changing from one heartworm preventive to another. Dogs that are already on heartworm preventive medication should also be tested periodically.
The “prepatent period” for heartworm disease (the amount of time it takes for microfilariae to be produced) is approximately 6 months in a dog. During this time, heartworm tests will be negative even if a dog is actually infected. Therefore, puppies younger than 7 months old are generally not tested for heartworms. Instead, puppies should be started on heartworm preventive medication (usually during their puppy checkup visits) and tested when they are older than 7 months.
Ask your veterinarian about the recommended heartworm testing schedule for your dog.
What Are the Benefits and Risks of Canine Heartworm Testing?
There are very few risks associated with heartworm testing. Drawing blood takes only a few seconds, and your veterinary team will take precautions to ensure that your pet is not injured during this procedure. Once blood is obtained, all further processing is performed at the veterinarian’s office or at a diagnostic laboratory, so there is no risk of harm to your pet.
The benefits of heartworm testing are enormous. If your dog is infected with heartworms, early diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to help ensure that the infection is cleared before permanent damage is done to the heart, lungs, or associated blood vessels. Heartworm disease can be fatal if left untreated, so early diagnosis and treatment can literally save your dog’s life! Be sure to keep your dog on heartworm preventive medication and follow your veterinarian’s recommendations regarding heartworm testing.
What Is It?
Canine distemper is a serious contagious disease caused by canine distemper virus (CDV), which attacks the respiratory, stomach/intestinal, and brain/nervous systems of dogs. It can also infect ferrets and many wild animals, including raccoons, skunks, minks, weasels, foxes, and coyotes. The death rate can reach 50%, and animals that do recover are often left with permanent disabilities. There is no effective treatment, but virus-associated disease is largely preventable through vaccination.
While the disease is less common than it was before the first effective vaccines became available in the 1960s, it is still present in wildlife populations that might have contact with domestic animals.
The incubation period of CDV is typically 1 to 2 weeks but can last up to 5 weeks. CDV is shed (spread) through all body secretions. It can also be carried on the hands and feet. Warm, dry, or sunny conditions will kill CDV, but it is resistant to cold and can survive in near-freezing, shady environments.
Signs of Distemper
The first sign in infected dogs typically is a watery or pus-like eye discharge.
Additional initial signs include:
In later stages, the disease affects the brain and nerves, and dogs may show the following signs:
Because of the importance of canine distemper and its severity, the CDV vaccine is considered a “core” vaccine by organized veterinary medicine, meaning that all dogs should be protected from this disease. Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent illness and death associated with CDV infection. The CDV vaccine is typically given in a combination vaccine that also protects against other serious diseases, such as canine parvovirus and canine adenovirus-2 infections.
Your veterinarian will advise you of what vaccination schedule you should follow for your pet, but in general, all puppies should receive the CDV vaccine every 3 to 4 weeks between the ages of 6 and 16 weeks, followed by a booster 1 year after the last dose. Thereafter, booster vaccinations are typically recommended every 1 to 3 years.
It is important to remember that a vaccination, even a routine one like a CDV vaccine, is a medical procedure, and you should follow your veterinarian’s instructions on how to monitor your pet for signs of a reaction. Vaccine reactions are rare, but knowing the associated signs is important.
Other forms of prevention include the following:
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of CDV infection is difficult because there are few reliable tests for the disease and, in the initial stages, clinical signs can mimic those of other conditions, such as kennel cough. Diagnosis is generally based on clinical signs.
Treatment is limited to supportive care: providing fluids, administering medications to reduce vomiting and diarrhea, and administering antibiotics to prevent subsequent infections, such as pneumonia.
Caution: Some of the clinical signs of both rabies and canine distemper can be similar, so use caution when handling sick animals.
What Is Diabetes Mellitus?
Diabetes mellitus is an illness caused by the body’s inability to either make or use insulin, which is a hormone produced and released by specialized cells in the pancreas. Insulin permits the body’s cells to take sugar (glucose) from the blood and use it for their metabolism and other functions. Diabetes mellitus develops when the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or when the body’s cells are unable to use available insulin to take glucose from the blood.
Type 1 diabetes mellitus (referred to as “insulin dependent” diabetes) occurs when the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin. Type 2 diabetes (more common in cats and humans) has been called “relative insulin deficiency”; it occurs when the body’s cells develop “insulin resistance,” meaning that they are unable to effectively use available insulin, or when the pancreas is producing some insulin, but not enough to serve the body’s needs. Most diabetic dogs have type 1 diabetes mellitus. Lifelong administration of insulin is generally required to control this illness.
What Are the Clinical Signs of Diabetes in Dogs?
Diabetes can exist for a while before it begins to make an animal obviously ill. Clinical signs may vary depending on the stage of disease, but they can include the following:
How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?
Your veterinarian may suspect that your dog has diabetes if any suspicious clinical signs, such as increased drinking and/or urinating, have been observed at home. After performing a thorough physical examination, your veterinarian may recommend some of these tests to help confirm a diagnosis:
How Is Diabetes Treated?
Because dogs tend to have type 1 diabetes mellitus, insulin injections are generally started at diagnosis and continued for the rest of the pet’s life. Your veterinarian may also recommend dietary changes to help control your dog’s diabetes. It is very helpful to write a medication schedule for your pet on the calendar, including the date and time that the medication needs to be administered, and to maintain accurate records. This will help you to avoid forgetting to give insulin to your pet and allows you to track your pet’s treatment.
After treatment begins, periodic blood and urine tests are generally recommended. This helps ensure that the insulin dosage is right for your dog. Your dog’s weight, appetite, drinking and urination, and attitude at home can all provide useful information that helps determine if his or her diabetes is being well managed. Your veterinarian will consider all of these factors when making recommendations for continued management.
Many dogs live active, happy lives once their diabetes is well regulated. However, insulin therapy and regular monitoring at home and by your veterinarian are necessary for the rest of your dog’s life.
What Is Canine Coronavirus?
Coronavirus infection is a highly contagious infection of puppies and older dogs that primarily attacks the intestinal tract. The disease is spread from dog to dog through contact with feces. After coronavirus has been transmitted to a dog, the incubation (development) period of the disease can be as short as 1 to 4 days.
Signs of Coronavirus Infection
Coronavirus infections are typically mild and self-limiting (resolving without treatment), and infected dogs may have several days of diarrhea that resolves without treatment. Other signs may include:
Diagnosis and Treatment
Coronavirus infection is typically diagnosed based on clinical signs, although definitive laboratory testing is available. Because the clinical signs can be similar to those of more serious diseases (such as parvovirus infection), your veterinarian may recommend testing to rule out other illnesses.
Because coronavirus infection is caused by a virus, there is no cure. Treatment is typically limited to supportive care, such as fluid therapy, rest, and antibiotics to prevent secondary infections. If vomiting or diarrhea is severe, medications may be prescribed to manage the problem.
Coronavirus is spread through contact with fecal material from infected dogs, so separating sick dogs from healthy ones can help reduce disease spread. Coronavirus can be killed by many types of household disinfectants (including diluted bleach solution), so cleaning contaminated areas and bedding can also help reduce disease spread.
A vaccine is available to prevent canine coronavirus infection. The coronavirus vaccine is not required for all dogs, but it may sometimes be included in combination vaccines for other, more serious diseases, such as infections with canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus, and canine adenovirus type 2.
In cold weather, some dogs may be more comfortable in outerwear (sweaters or coats). Some dog breeds (like malamutes, huskies, Newfoundlands, and other breeds with thick coats) thrive in cold temperatures, so these dogs don’t need outerwear. However, outerwear can help short-haired dogs (like boxers, greyhounds, and vizslas) stay comfortable longer in the cold, allowing them to conserve body heat as well as energy for walking and running. When it’s cold, outerwear is recommended for dogs recovering from surgery (anesthesia can disrupt a dog’s ability to regulate his or her body temperature). If your dog seems to be reacting poorly to cold temperatures (such as prolonged shivering), contact your veterinarian right away.
Dog boots are recommended if your dog will be outdoors for a long time or will be walking on ice, which can injure paws.
Dogs of any breed can benefit from canine raincoats, which can help keep your dog and house dry. Many canine raincoats have the added benefit of reflective material for safety.
Tips for Dressing Your Dog
What Is a Bladder Infection?
The bladder is an expandable sac, like a balloon, that lies toward the back of the abdomen and is part of the system that removes waste from the body. Urine flows from the kidneys through the tube-shaped ureters and into the bladder, where it is stored before being eliminated from the body through a tube called the urethra.
Urine in the bladder is normally sterile unless microbes (usually bacteria) travel up the urethra and proliferate, causing an infection. These bacteria may come from the nearby rectal area or from the genital tract. Conditions such as diabetes can increase the risk of developing bladder infections, as can medications that depress the immune system, including high-dose or long-term corticosteroids.
In long-standing infections, the bladder tissue can thicken and scar, creating more places for bacteria to grow. Long-term infection also increases the chances that infection will spread upstream to the kidneys or cause bladder stones to form.
What Are the Signs of a Bladder Infection?
Urinary infections irritate the walls of the bladder, so pets with bladder infections have the urge to go even when there is little urine present. They frequently pass small amounts of urine that are often tinged with blood. Constant squatting and straining without passing much urine and having urinary accidents in the house are typical signs of potential bladder infection. Bladder infections are more common in females than in males; however, any dog can have a bladder infection.
Bladder infections change the chemical makeup of the urine, which makes it easier for minerals in the urine to crystallize and form stones. Bladder stones add to the irritation and create places for bacteria to hide from bodily defenses and antibiotics.
On some occasions, bladder stones can block the outflow of urine, which is a serious emergency situation. Pets with urinary obstruction can have a swollen, painful abdomen and strain repeatedly without passing urine. This is a medical emergency!
How Is a Bladder Infection Diagnosed?
Your veterinarian can usually diagnose an uncomplicated bladder infection based on your pet’s history and a urinalysis. In some cases, a urine sample might be sent to a laboratory to determine the specific bacteria involved (through a culture and sensitivity test) as well as an effective antibiotic for treatment. Abdominal radiography (x-rays) or ultrasound imaging is sometimes needed to look for stones, tumors, or other abnormalities involving the bladder.
How Are Bladder Infections Treated?
Treatment for a simple bladder infection usually consists of 1 or 2 weeks of antibiotics. Chronic or severe infections may require longer treatment. Infections that clear up and then come back may suggest an underlying problem requiring additional diagnostic testing and treatment.
If bladder stones are present, there are several options for eliminating them:
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