I think most of us are all too familiar with acquiring some “winter insulation” from holiday feasting. This happens to our pets, too. When I review a patient’s weights over the years, I routinely notice a pattern of hills and valleys of changes correlating to the seasons. Unfortunately, often the winter insulation doesn’t completely go away.
According to a 2016 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 59% of cats and 54% of dogs in the United States are classified as overweight or obese. This is a year-round epidemic, but pets often pack on the pounds in the wintertime.
Winter Weight Gain
There are a lot of reasons for winter weight gain. One is simply that our pets, more specifically dogs, just get less exercise in the winter. Who wants to walk the dog in the dark, cold morning for 30 minutes, when just a few months earlier it was bright out and you could get away with wearing your pajama shorts and t-shirt? (Maybe that’s just me.)
And, we all know that pathetic look Fluffy gives you when her paws get cold.
But more likely, just like studies of human weight management have reported, caloric intake plays a much larger role than activity does.
‘Food’ Does Not Equal ‘Love’
Most of us see food as love, and your dog does too. In fact, switching from free feeding to meal feedings can deepen the human-animal bond. That’s because then the animal connects you to their food source. We might as well use the term “primary food giver” instead of “pet owner.”
From there it’s an easy step to “If I give Fluffy more yummy food, she will know how much I love her.” This mindset can get our pets into trouble quickly. You may eat that tablespoon of peanut butter without the extra 90 calories making a huge hit to your daily caloric budget. Your 24-pound Fluffy, on the other hand, needs only 400 calories a day. One tablespoon of peanut butter for Fluffy would be equivalent to fitting one Big Mac into your day.
Not only would regularly adding a Big Mac make you loosen your belt, but it would also raise your blood pressure, among other health concerns. And it’s the same for Fluffy.
Holiday Food Hazards
During the holidays it’s common to feel that our pets should get special holiday meals just like we do. Unfortunately, I’ve seen illnesses related to every special dish you can imagine:
- Turkey bone stuck in the esophagus of a Yorkshire terrier.
- Vomiting up orange mush after getting too much sweet potato casserole (you know, the one with the marshmallows on it).
- Anemia from too much garlic in the roasted potatoes.
- Swallowing a needle attached to a garland of popcorn (oddly enough, that dog didn’t have to have surgery).
- Chocolate toxicity from getting into the gifts under the tree.
- And more Thanksgiving pancreatitis cases than I can count.
Whether these treats are given or stolen, we need to be wary of our pets getting rich, sugary foods that they aren’t accustomed to. Indulging in our holiday foods can cause pancreatitis, diarrhea, toxicities, and/or gastritis in our pets.
If you insist that Fluffy gets her Thanksgiving dinner, set aside a small amount of turkey and vegetables (no onions, garlic, or grapes!) and cook them plainly by either boiling or cooking with a small amount of olive oil.
Avoid giving pets “just a little bit” of everything that makes it to your holiday table. Trust me, they will still think it’s a Thanksgiving miracle that they get even a tiny amount of human food. And remember, most pets will think kibble is a treat, if you act like it is.
One final note: please don’t tell my dog, Emmie, that I wrote this blog about not feeding your dog too much food. She’d plot my demise if she knew! (That’s Emmie above, decked out in holiday ribbon and begging for turkey with her eyes.)
Happy Holidays to you all!
—Dr. Alyssa Kritzman
The pressure to write an autumnal Halloween post regarding animals is intense. In a sense, I understand that the public wants to hear the hits. But doesn’t anyone want to read my small and carefully worded treatise on 1976’s children’s musical mafia masterpiece movie, Bugsy Malone? Or a simple reflection on how playing Hearts with one dog and two cats is the ideal with which all other forms of happiness should be compared? Yes. I understand my limitations to be understood. So in that regard:
There’s nothing bad about Halloween or this time of the year, and yet anyone who works in the veterinary world knows the inevitable problems this time of year brings into our everyday world, and I shall address all the obvious ones and a few not-so-obvious ones.
As someone who spends a great deal of my free and sleeping time thinking about candy, I completely understand why having a complete and quality selection of sweets available for your trick-or-treaters is integral to your obligation of being a good human.
Again, and also at the risk of revealing too much, as someone who thinks about the difference in peanut butter-to-chocolate ratios between normal Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Pumpkin Halloween Cups, I get why you may want to plan early and be prepared to have more candy than any one house could possibly pass out in a 3- to 4-hour Halloween evening.
That being said, despite whatever you have heard, thought, or been told by your co-worker who swears that his Aunt’s dog loves candy, candy is toxic to dogs and can make cats very sick.
Chocolate can kill your dog, causing neurotoxicity and cardiovascular toxicity and, at a minimum, forcing dogs to be treated for severe gastrointestinal and pancreatic trauma.
A small dog can get sick (and die) from a small amount of candy. A big dog can also get sick from the amount of candy it can consume in short periods of time.
One moment away from the candy tray to compliment a few kids who have come to the door dressed as Star Wars Jedi (though inevitably with the wrong color light saber, not that I am paying attention), can give a dog, especially my dog, just enough time to destroy your night and cause a quick immediate trip to the emergency room.
Just because your dog ate chocolate once and didn’t get sick, doesn’t mean that it’s safe forever. And there are differences between eating 6 oz and 36 oz.
Join the billions of people who need to call ASCPA Poison Control if you need help. Or call us, if we are open. Or call your local friendly ER. Do this immediately.
If you want to go out and participate in Halloween with your child who has very specific tastes and forced you to stay up till 3 am on Halloween Eve again for the fifth straight year so you can make Tron’s light sequence on his costume perfect, or if you want to go out yourself dressed in the Midwest’s most popular Halloween costume (Sexy Raincoat-wearer), well, first take care of your animal.
Chocolate has a delayed reaction, so people will sometimes think if their dog seems fine after a few hours, that the dog will be fine. Often the worst effects happen at hour 6, 10, or 12.
Someone needs to stick up for people who want to dress their animals up in costumes. If your dog or cat had real agency, they’d break out of our houses and set up an equal and free society in an abandoned but warm warehouse somewhere in Pilsen. But they don’t. So dress them up, take a picture and just enjoy your day. If they don’t like that type of thing, then don’t. If you have a Pug and dress them up as Pugsy Malone, I would appreciate a photo. And, really, any photo.
Be attentive to your anxious dogs and cats. Doorbells ringing, witch decorations with electronic cackles, kids running around, people with “toy” guns (which in Chicago are just “guns”), screaming, flashing lights, and just general festivities can set tons of dogs and cats off in their angst-ridden misery.
Just like you do for 4th of July and New Year’s, feel free to ask for sedation protocols or anxiety medications, and it’s never a problem to pre-medicate for the subsequent GI upset and urinary discomfort that occurs from severe and acute trauma.
Maybe walk your dogs at 4 pm and then wait until 10 pm to avoid the rush. Maybe lock your cats upstairs so they can’t run out the front door.
And do you have a black cat? Well good, because I love them, but don’t let them outside. Actually, keep all your animals inside that night.
Call with questions or concerns. Send us your Halloween photos. Dress as your own ethnicity. Read books with first-person cat narrators.
—Brett Grossman, DVM
In recent weeks you might have heard talk of “blue-green algae.” According to the ASPCA Pet Poison Center, there has been a spike in reported cases. A number of Facebook stories have also attributed the death of dogs across the United States to this toxic “algae.” The social media interest has prompted many major news stations to air segments about this “algae.”
Here is a brief overview of this toxin and pointers to help keep you and your pets safe.
Blue-green algae is actually not even algae but a naturally occurring bacteria known as cyanobacteria. During rapid growth phases, this bacterium produces colonies that create “blooms.” These bacterial blooms create a blueish-green paint-like look to the surface of the water. The look of the bacteria resembles algae, hence the name blue-green algae.
Cyanobacteria can be found in all fresh water lakes, streams, and ponds and is most prevalent in the warmer summer months. The bacteria may produce toxins that can cause illness, but not all cyanobacteria produce these toxins.
To be safe, it is best to avoid all water sources that appear to have any presence of blue-green algae (blue-green paint-like appearance, surface mats, discolored green/blue streaks). The State of Illinois recently issued a warning to Illinois residents about the potential of blue-green algae and recommends to avoid contact with suspicious-looking water.
For those of you who live in Chicago, the Chicago Park District issued a warning in June recommending staying away from the Humboldt Park lagoon, where traces of blue-green algae had been detected. The Park District posted big yellow signs around the lagoon warning visitors of the potential risk. Look for the yellow warning signs around Chicago parks, but if the water looks suspicious, do not let you dogs in the water or allow them to drink the water.
There are various toxins that can be produced by cyanobacteria. Mild forms of illness include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness. More severe toxins affect the neurologic system and can lead to death within 15 minutes of exposure.
Given the toxicity of this dangerous bacterial toxin, it is safest to avoid bodies of water where there is the potential of blue green algae. If you have any questions about blue-green algae, please don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian.
Drew Sullivan, DVM
Medical District Veterinary Clinic
Sources and for more information, visit these sites:
ASPCA Pet Safety Alert: https://www.aspca.org/news/pet-safety-alert-rising-dangers-blue-green-algae
State of Illinois Warning: https://www2.illinois.gov/Pages/news-item.aspx?ReleaseID=20479
Pet Poison Hotline Blue-Green Algae: https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/blue-green-algae/
Featured image from Wikimedia Commons.
Like most pet owners, I can’t imagine the horror of having my pet lost or stolen. It’s scary and difficult to think about someone finding my little Sadie and having no way to contact me! That’s why, when she was a puppy, I had her microchipped. I wanted to take every precaution to bring her back home in the event we are separated.
I have personally witnessed many dogs and cats that were separated from their owners. I’ve seen the fear and confusion in their eyes. They seem to be wondering where they are, why they are surrounded by strangers, and how they will ever can get back home to the familiar faces and smells.
Then, with a quick scan and phone call, they are back with their loved ones, happy as can be and spoiled rotten again!
Happy endings like these are why microchips are so important for your pets. I have heard so many owners voice their regret at not having their pets microchipped, which is why I urge all of you to have it done. Microchips don’t eliminate the value of a collar or ID tag, but they can make a huge difference when it comes to reuniting lost pets with their families.
A common misconception I hear about microchips is that they are like a GPS. This is not the case. You cannot track a microchip. Rather, when the microchip is scanned, you can obtain information about the pet (usually by contacting the manufacturer who has the registration information).
For this reason, it is very important to keep the registration information accurate. If you move or change your contact information, you should contact the microchip manufacturer to update your pet’s information.
Below are some facts about microchips, provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). With support from HomeAgain, these organizations established and publicized “Check the Chip Day,” celebrated on August 15.
- 1 in 3 family pets will get lost
- Only 6 out of 10 microchips are registered
- Microchipped dogs are more than twice as likely to be returned to their owners
- Microchipped cats are more than 20 times more likely to be returned to their owners
And now some happy successful reunion news: To date, HomeAgain has reunited more than two million pets with their owners, including a dog named Gidget, that was found in Portland, Ore., more than 2,500 miles from her home in Pittsburgh, Pa., and a cat in California named George that was reunited with his family after 13-year separation!
Celebrate “Check the Chip Day” by:
- Making an appointment for microchipping, if your pet isn’t already microchipped. (Then make sure that your pet’s chip is immediately registered.)
- Checking the accuracy of your already-microchipped pet’s registration information in the microchip manufacturer’s database.
- Updating your pet’s microchip registration information if needed.
Please visit this AVMA website for additional information about Check the Chip Day, including a list of microchip manufacturers included in the AAHA Universal Pet Microchip Lookup Tool:
I hope I have convinced all of you how important it is to have your pet microchipped! If you have any questions about what having a microchip placed entails, if you would like us to check your pet for a microchip, or if you would like to schedule an appointment to have a microchip placed, please contact us.
—Amber Slaughter, DVM
It was about a year ago that the solemn and simple veterinary world became unstably chaotic regarding the Holy Grail of things your aunt’s neighbor recommended for your dog: Grain-Free Food.
The innocent early days of 2018 were carefree and loose, with the veterinary world throwing out lines like “There’s no reason to be on a grain-free diet, but it does no harm.” Owners were happy. Dogs were happy. Your aunt’s neighbor was happy. We left work on time.
And then, as a slow, brooding cello tremolo intensified from below, the FDA and AVMA issued statements about what they had determined was a specific correlation between grain-free food and heart disease.
You can relive the splendor in my August 2018 blog post or directly from the source: https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/news-events/fda-investigation-potential-link-between-certain-diets-and-canine-dilated-cardiomyopathy
Recently, to celebrate the anniversary, the FDA has come out swinging with the names of brands that they had previously only hinted at being at the root of the problem. As the calls come pouring into the clinic for all dogs on these foods, I will try to break down the new news, though this isn’t really new at all. There have been some updates over the last year so I will try to summarize.
First, let’s get the awkward first-date questions out of the way.
What are the brands implicated?
Here are the grain-free food brands and the number of dog deaths linked to their food.
|Taste of the Wild||53|
|Rachael Ray Nutrish||10|
No one specific protein source was identified as the problem. Cases included raw food, semi-moist food, wet food, and dry kibble.
Second, wait … what? What do you mean deaths, what?
Here is a good question-and-answer page from the FDA: https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/questions-answers-fda-center-veterinary-medicines-investigation-possible-connection-between-diet-and
There have been 524 reports of dilated cardiomyopathy (imagine the heart enlarging like a balloon) between 2014 and 2019, and the majority of these occurred in the past 6 months. The United States has about 77 million pet dogs, so this is a small percentage, but these numbers reflect an increase in, most importantly, dog breeds not genetically likely to have dilated cardiomyopathy. (Breeds with a genetic predisposition to DCM include Doberman Pinschers, great Danes, boxers, and Irish wolfhounds.)
There is still a lack of understanding of what is going on. The early worries were that it was related to taurine deficiency, but almost all of the indicted food contained proper levels of taurine. Golden retrievers, specifically, are suspected to contract DCM due to taurine deficiency, but still, no exact information as to how this relates to grain-free diets.
The majority of implicated diets were high in legumes (peas, beans, chickpeas, soybeans, lentils, peanuts) and potatoes, which are generally used to replace the grains. (Rice is a grain, not a legume. Leave rice out of this.)
Third, what should you do?
Let’s be really clear here that 524 deaths is a very low number, but this situation is still very scary, because the FDA is still not sure why these deaths are occurring and how the diet and the deaths are linked. The grain-free-ness may not be the problem, but we just don’t know.
If your dog is dependent on a certain food listed above, it may not be the specific aspect of the lack of grain that is causing the optimal results of a diet, but something else that could be found in a different diet (for example, fiber content). We cannot tell you that you need to switch off of grain-free food, or that you have to drop your allegiance to the brands listed above, but until we know what is doing this, there is some risk.
I do not give my dog a grain-free diet, but I also do not have a dog with any gastrointestinal issues. That being said, grain-allergies are just not a thing in dogs, and, it could be concluded, feeding a grain-free diet is not worth the risk.
Please talk to us if you have questions, and of course, if your dog is suffering from lethargy, weakness, coughing, exercise intolerance, increased respiratory rate/effort, or anything that seems abnormal, please let us know.
Brett Grossman, DVM
Medical District Veterinary Clinic
What are you terrified of? If I were to ask our staff that question, I would get a number of them telling me they are terrified of spiders. If I were to force these staff members to be exposed to spiders, they would likely scream and cry. They would do whatever they could to remove themselves from that situation.
Additionally, the more I expose them to spiders, likely the more extreme their reaction will become. Fear does not fade away with exposure but likely gets worse. Would their behavior be justified? Would they be acting irrationally?
Now I would like you to consider your cats and dogs. What are they afraid of? When they are scared, how do they behave?
Here is a small list of stressors that I have witnessed on a daily basis over many years of working in the veterinary field.
- Transportation in a carrier
- Leaving their home environment
- Unfamiliar people
- Loud unknown noises and smell of dogs
- Nail trims
- Unfamiliar dogs and people
- Loud noises (fireworks and thunderstorms)
- Nail trims
Steps to Reduce Fear
At Medical District Veterinary Clinic, we understand that fear and stress in our patients can become dangerous for them and us. We strive to make veterinary visits less stressful for you and your pets and thus safer for everyone involved. At each visit we assess the fear of our patients and consider what we can do to decrease their stress levels.
Some of our common practices to attempt to decrease stress for cats include:
- Placing feline patients directly into one of our feline only rooms so they are not in lobby potentially with loud, barking dogs
- Allowing cats to come out of their carriers on their own. Pulling or dumping a cat out of a carrier creates a lot of stress and fear for cats.
- Removing the top of the carrier if cats do not want to exit carrier on their own and performing exam while cat remains in the bottom of the carrier, if possible.
- Using towels to help restrain, so cats can hide their face during exams
- Using feline appeasing pheromones in the exam rooms and feline hospitalization ward to decrease stress
- Prescribing medications to be given at home to decrease the stress involved with being placed in a carrier and traveling in the car
- Full sedation is occasionally recommended when it is safer for the cat and us. We feel bad for our patients that have such severe fear and anxiety in a veterinary clinic that they react in fearful/aggressive ways. The use of sedation makes their experience much more pleasant and safer for everyone involved.
Some of our common practices to alleviate stress for dogs include:
- Treats, treats, and more treats! We use a combination of dog treats and high value treats like peanut butter and cheese. I also recommend coming in when your dog is hungry so the treats are even more valued. You can also bring some treats from home if your dog has a favorite.
- Allow dogs to greet us when they feel comfortable versus quickly approaching a scared dog
- Minimal restraint techniques
- Performing most exams on the floor. Dogs do not like to be placed on tables. The really small dogs are hard to examine on the floor, so some dogs are placed on tables, but whenever possible we prefer to do exams on the floor.
- Placing alerts on patient records of dogs that are reactive with other dogs so they can be placed directly in exam rooms upon entry to the clinic. Minimizing their exposure to other dogs helps keep them calm.
- Prescribing medications to be given at home to decrease the stress involved with travel and veterinary visits
- As with highly fearful cats, dogs that have such severe fear and anxiety that they react in fear-based aggression are occasionally recommended for examination under full sedation. Sedation makes their experience less stressful and safer for everyone.
Ask for Help
Please ask any of the doctors or staff if you have questions about decreasing fear and anxiety for your dog or cat. Whether their fears are related to veterinary visits, grooming visits, thunderstorm anxiety, or something else, we would be more than happy to discuss possible alternatives and or sedatives that may be beneficial.
The mental health of our patients is important. We understand that if dogs and cats hate going to the vet, the experience is also stressful for you, and the chance of these pets getting regular veterinary care decreases. Please let us know how we can help you have a more enjoyable veterinary experience, and we will do the same.
Drew Sullivan, DVM
Medical District Veterinary Clinic
With this renewal comes all the hope laid waste by winter’s pet owner oppression. We can recall all those long walks with our dogs that did not occur due to arctic blasts. We notice the winter weight gained by our cats, who did not move from the radiator. Suddenly our hopes are renewed, and we fully intend to find a pet-friendly cabin in Michigan where we can go on a dog- and cat-family-filled hiking/poetry/organic healing retreat. (It will happen some day!)
And during this upheaval of salt-stained front hallway floors, we also start to notice changes in our pets that may have been masked by the winter’s inactivity. This is when we so often find that our beloved 6-year-old Golden and 8-year-old tortie are just not moving like they used to.
We open the windows, and our cats hesitate to jump up to smell the lilacs outside. We let our dogs off-leash in the backyard, and they run like bonkers for 15 seconds and then are just a little calmer than they’ve ever been before.
Informed of a pet’s decreased energy, hesitancy to jump, and changes in normal activity, most veterinarians would have concern. Generally though, clients will deemphasize this issue when in the exam room, saying something like, “They’re doing great! Slowing down a bit, but we know that they’re getting older.”
I think the desire to downplay our animals’ signs of aging relates to, first, a reluctance to spend money to address these signs, and second, the pain of facing our animal’s mortality. Having trouble dealing with signs of aging is normal; we do it with our own doctors as well. But there are valid reasons for taking these changes—whether subtle or pronounced—seriously.
1. Discomfort can be fixable, regardless of how small, part one
Think of how often we go to the doctor because of minor aches and pains, or we take non-prescription over-the-counter medications to help with backs, necks, knees, etc. Even at an early age dogs and cats often start to get mild arthritis (though it may often go undiagnosed) in the lower back, knees, elbows, necks, etc. Certain orthopedic issues, such as hip dysplasia, can start as early as puppyhood and progress slowly or rapidly over time.
Joint supplements can help, sometimes in dramatic ways and sometimes in ways that are harder to discern. Omega 3 fish oil and glucosamine chondroitin are the most common ones we use, but there are many others. These supplements also come mixed into foods that are, unfortunately, typically labeled for “seniors” or “joint health.” Supplements are a really good place to start to address achy joints.
The supplement industry is relatively unregulated, so before you buy Super Joint Flex Multiverse Power to the Pup Volcano Energy tabs, please check with us. Most of these supplements are non-prescription, but we have (at least, I have) opinions. The thing about inflammation, though, is that to slow its progression, supplementation must begin early. I have no problem with starting a 3-year-old cat (especially one that is prone to be heavier) on joint supplements now, rather than wait until the pain is more obvious and stifling and the supplement is correspondingly less effective.
2. Discomfort can be fixable, regardless of how small, part two
When it comes time to discuss pain medications, most clients will do almost anything to avoid starting something that may be a lifetime therapy. That being said, there’s no way to know if it will be a lifetime therapy without starting it to see if it works.
There are medications that are very and immediately effective and work on top of joint supplementation. These include anti-inflammatories, neuro-modulating drugs, and in some cases, opioids. Dosages vary from (everyone’s favorite) “as-needed” to multiple times a day.
I’ve had patients who start one or two types of medications, and the owners report seeing their pets start to act “like a puppy [or kitten]” again. We then try to wean down and find the right dose that fits the problem and specific health status of that particular animal. Sometimes this requires ruling out other conditions first, but sometimes it doesn’t.
My favorite vet-related outcome of prescribing pain medications is when clients who had assumed that their pet was too old to do a favorite thing (get in the lake, play with the laser toy, etc.) see the pet return to doing the favorite thing. Sometimes all it takes to achieve this result is a cheap, low dose of a safe drug. This is not cheating, or a shortcut to being a good owner, which I hear often. It’s just making our pets more comfortable.
3. Discomfort can be fixable, regardless of how small, part three
Along with all the options above, there are some good physical therapy facilities and caretakers in Chicago. I don’t generally go to this without trying other options first, but it is possible that with such therapy, we can avoid drugs completely or reduce the amount of drugs given in total. Some of these facilities offer relief through cold laser therapy, building back muscle strength with underwater treadmills, acupuncture, and so on. I’ve had some dogs (and cats) that we assumed had reached their end point for quality of life but gained substantial boosts in comfort from physical therapy. Again, each cat and dog is unique, so this isn’t one-therapy-fits-all.
4. This can be indication of more serious issues
Even though you are just now noticing clinical signs of aging, the signs may have been progressing for weeks or months. You’d be surprised how often something very serious can occur with a dog and cat and they just absorb it, not showing much outward indication of pain.
Dogs rupture their cranial cruciate ligaments all the time, and sometimes that fact doesn’t become obvious until months later. Cats can do this too. More commonly, cat have severely loose kneecaps that worsen over time.
Cats and dogs get mild disc disease, spinal arthritis, and other conditions that need serious therapy, which may or may not include surgery. It’s always sad to find out that a dog or cat that has been painful for months, albeit slowly and progressively, could have been made more comfortable sooner with a procedural fix or additional medications. And many times the prognosis and cost correlate with how fast we can identify the problem.
Although this article focuses on orthopedic issues, there are many neurologic, endocrine/chemical, or general systemic illnesses that first appear looking like the classic “just slowing down.” A quick exam can sometimes quickly differentiate between serious problem and normal aging. I won’t go down the path of worst-case scenarios, but dogs and cats that come to us for “slowing down for the past three months” often wind up with serious diagnoses.
I don’t mean to force everybody with a dog and cat that is getting older to worry that normal aging is a sign of having a brain tumor, but consider what you would tolerate in your own body. Getting older is not a reason for dogs to be uncomfortable. Even the healthiest dogs and cats that have never had any issues are going to need more attention, more veterinary care, and more consideration when they are 10 than they did when they were 5. This is just how life works. Luckily, with your help and attention, we can help them live as comfortably as possible for as long as possible.
Be well. Consider your choice of baseball team wisely.
Brett Grossman, DVM
Medical District Veterinary Clinic
Cats are not small dogs. We get that. Cats have distinct, unique needs and personalities.
That’s why the Medical District Veterinary Clinic is very happy to be designated a Cat Friendly Practice! This worldwide initiative helps make veterinary clinics welcoming places for feline patients.
The idea behind the program is simple: Cats need regular medical check-ups to help ensure longer, happier, and healthier lives. But if visiting the vet stresses your cat (and you!) out, you’re both likely to avoid coming in for routine check-ups that could catch health problems before they become harder to treat.
To earn our Cat Friendly designation, we had to have achieved feline-friendly standards in ten different categories established by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the International Society for Feline Medicine. I was in charge of completing a checklist that included staff training, creating feline-friendly environments, performing proper handling and restraint, and having the appropriate equipment to meet cats’ specific needs, to just list a few.
For example, to offer a feline-friendly environment, we have cat-only exam rooms and a cat-only hospitalization ward so your pet doesn’t have to worry that dogs—or their smells—are lurking nearby. The exam rooms and hospitalization ward are complete with cat-only scales, towels, and a calming pheromone to create a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.
And, our entire staff has been trained to handle cats in a gentle, calm, and caring way that minimizes their stress. We can even advise you on how to make the car ride here less traumatic for cats who hate leaving the safety of their home.
Our goal is to make your cat’s visit less stressful, which in turn, makes your visit more pleasant. And that means you’ll be more comfortable getting routine wellness exams that can lead to a healthier pet. —Kyleen, CVT
There are very few variables in caring for your dog that are more controllable and personal than the diet you chose for him or her. This general topic evokes very heated emotions, and there are (figuratively) billions of topics to address as subsets of diet-related controversies. For now, though, I want to write about the latest developments in grain-free food and the load of information leaking out on the Internet about its correlation with heart-related canine disease. It’s, yet again, another light and breezy summer post with which to cozy up next to your loved ones.
Here’s the Breakdown
A recent well-respected study showed a fairly well-correlated link between heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM) and grain-free diets, especially in breeds at higher risks, such as golden retrievers, Doberman pinschers, boxers, Irish wolfhounds, and Great Danes. There is not yet a clear understanding as to why this is the case, but the correlation is clear enough that cardiologists are steering their patients away from grain-free diets.
Some have speculated that the grain-free diets have insufficient taurine levels causing a taurine deficiency, a known cause of DCM, but even that is unclear. A few specific brands were mentioned in these studies, but the only clear commonality is that they were grain-free and legume-based (a plant that is part of the pea-family: alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.).
On August 10, the United States Food and Drug Administration issued a statement regarding its investigation into this matter.
First, do not panic.
If you have your dog on a grain-free diet, the safest and easiest thing to do is to stop that diet and go back to the debauchery of the pre-grain-free days of dog food. Given that there still is not much evidence of the benefits of going grain-free, the risks outweigh the supposed benefits for now. The veterinary community is working with the FDA to figure out the problem, so we may get answers soon, but until then: Well, I would switch. I am switching, literally, right now, for my dog. Most effects of taurine deficiency (and thus the correlative effects of a grain-free diet) are reversed when the diet is changed back and the deficiency is reversed.
If you have a reason to continue feeding a grain-free diet, please feel free to discuss it with us. Make an appointment and we will go over this with you. Then, we can refer you to a cardiologist for an echocardiogram to make sure there is not already an issue, and we can sample taurine levels and, if they are problematic, give taurine supplementation. We can also just start to supplement with taurine, which is fairly inexpensive. The only thing to remember is that we still are not sure if the taurine is the actual problem, so you would be taking some risks.
Because I Know You (Yes, YOU!) Are Going to Ask…
- There is a bit of a grain-free myth out there. Food allergies are fairly uncommon, and allergies to grain are even more uncommon within the subset of rare allergies. You can find accusations of grain causing cancer, still births, arthritis, the multitude and intensity of flatulence, and just about anything else. There is, as of yet, no clear correlation with grain and anything bad. I know people who swear that their dog stopped having all clinical signs of [ anything ] after going on a grain-free diet, and I believe them, but I also may put factors in the mix other than the grain. I know dogs in the wild do not eat grain, but they also do not sleep in temperature-controlled waterbeds wearing footsie pajamas.
- I hear many people discuss how they do not trust the big pet food companies. Usually the words, “cancer” and “conspiracy” are thrown out as a consequence of using their products.
I am not asking you to support Exxon brand dog treats, but I also suggest that you think about how much testing of nutritional adequacy is done with companies that can afford to do such, versus some companies that cannot. I am absolutely not suggesting that all smaller dog food brands are bad, or not to be trusted, but the foods most implicated in these studies were all made by smaller companies without a long track record of maintaining proper nutritional control over their foods. So maybe until we know the cause of this problem, you may want to stick with a brand of food that addresses this specific problem on their website or in person. If they have no answer, then maybe take a break in your relationship and go to a brand that does. The Tufts Veterinary Clinical Nutritional service lists nine questions you should be asking of the companies that make your dog’s food.
- I have had numerous emails about this topic over the last few months, and I have somewhat answered most of them with a “let’s wait and see.” So the “wait and see” is over. If I told you something different before this blog, my new answer is: Switch food.
- There has been absolutely no indication that grain-free cat food is causing a problem. This may be because taurine is such a classically known issue with cats that companies are much more “on-the-ball” in regard to taurine in cat food.
So that is it. I expect to hear from all of you in the next hour. Enjoy the end of summer. Be slightly less than all your energy demands.
Brett Grossman, DVM
Medical District Veterinary Clinic
August 22 is National Bring Your Cat to the Vet Day, which is the purr-fect opportunity to schedule your cat’s routine check-up with us.
Around 83% of cats visit the veterinarian before their first birthday, but more than half don’t return until they become sick or are in pain. When we see our feline patients more regularly, we can positively affect their long-term health by detecting health concerns sooner.
Below are key reasons why it is important to bring your cat for an annual exam:
Cats Age Very Quickly Compared to Humans
A cat reaches the human age of 15 during its first year, and 24 by its second year. Each year after, your cat ages approximately 4 “human years” for every calendar year. Therefore, annual veterinary care is crucial because a lot can happen in 4 years.
Cats Are Masters of Hiding Illness and Pain
Your cat could be developing a health condition long before you notice anything is wrong. You may not recognize some behavior changes as being significant, but subtle or minor changes may help to uncover hidden issues. It is very important for us to see your cats on a regular basis because we are trained to detect a problem before it advances or becomes more difficult to treat.
Over half of all cats are overweight or obese. We like to check your cat’s weight at each visit and provide recommendations to help keep your cat at its ideal weight. A few extra pounds can put your cat at risk for conditions such as diabetes, heart, respiratory, joint, and kidney disease.
Adult cats have 30 teeth, which equates to a lot of dental care! Periodontal disease is considered the most prevalent disease in cats three years of age and older, and often there are no obvious signs of dental disease.
Most cats with dental disease still eat without a noticeable change in appetite, so it is very important perform routine oral examinations before the disease has progressed to the point of obvious illness.
Preventative Care Is Better Than Reactive Care
Information discussed, along with a thorough physical exam, allows us to create a plan to help your cat remain healthy. Regular exams can help avoid medical emergencies since we can often detect conditions or diseases long before they become significant, painful, or more costly to treat.
Please visit www.catvets.com/cat2vetday for more valuable tips on how to reduce stress during veterinary visits and make the visit as pleasant as possible for your cat.
Amber Slaughter, DVM
Medical District Veterinary Clinic
Pictured above: Anastasia, 15 weeks old, recently came to see us for her first vet visit.