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Cabbagetown Pet Clinic

Coping with the Loss of a Pet

By Pet Behaviour, Pet Parenting

The Heartache of Losing a Pet

Death is a part of life. It may sound trite, but always rings true.

A cherished pets’ death is a necessary part of the cycle of life and should be accepted as a natural – though painful – process. We know this in our hearts and minds, yet the loss of a pet – either gradually or suddenly – never fails to catch us off guard in many profound ways.

Most companion animals live less than 15 years. This is more than enough time for a pet to enter and live in our hearts. They become a part of the family and occupy a distinct role in our lives. They become an indispensible part of the household and often provide us a continuous source of warmth and positive experiences.

As humans, we have a tendency to project onto our cherished pets our thoughts, emotions, and ideas – we desire see our good qualities reflected in our animals. This attachment creates emotional bonds that can sometimes go beyond those of immediate family members. Our pets are a part of the everyday fabric of our lives in a way that few human relationships are. When you lose your trusted companion and this bond is broken, something internally changes – sometimes forever.

GRIEVING THE LOSS OF A PET

Whether you’ve lost a pet by accident, illness or old age, the grieving process lacks a clear timeline and has no emotional boundaries. Many factors can be attributed to the disparity:

  • Your age and personality
  • Your pet’s age and personality
  • The circumstances surrounding your pet’s death
  • The relationship between you and your animal.

The pet parents most emotionally affected by loss tend to be those who live alone or people who lose a service dog – a dog that played a vital role in their daily tasks. The grieving process may take longer because their trusted companion played such an important role in their lives.

Routines shaken.

Losing a pet changes our daily routines, causing effects that go beyond the loss of the actual animal. This can leave significant voids in our life that need to be filled.

Pet parenting creates responsibilities and a schedule around which we craft our days. We get exercise by walking our dog, or wake up early each day to feed our cat – the cat will NOT let you forget their feeding regimen! As a result, our days are richer, more fulfilling and productive because of it.

When you pet dies, routines are permanently (temporarily?) disrupted. Companion animals – dogs, cats and horses among others – provide unconditional love, help to ease anxiety and reduce loneliness. They support our emotional wellbeing, instill purpose and provide meaning. Adding to the emotional pain is the aimless feeling and loss of purpose following a pet’s death.

6 STEPS TO HELP COPE WITH THE LOSS OF A PET

Grief does not necessarily take a predetermined path or reflect five distinct, orderly stages as psychologists generally propose. Everyone reacts differently and on his or her own time.

1. Recognize and accept the reality of your pets’ passing.

Acknowledging your loss may take weeks or months, but must be done in a timeframe that is right for you.

 2. Do your best to embrace the pain of the loss.

A “healthier” expression of grief may come from taking the time to work through your feelings. Pushing your grief away or ignoring it may extend the mourning period unnecessarily.  

 3. Keep the fond memories alive.

Embracing good (and bad) memories can be a slow and uncomfortable process best experienced in small steps. Past photos and memories shared with others can help guide you through.

 4. Amending your self-identity.

Your self-identity with others may be wrapped up in being “the gal whose dog was the most well-trained at the off-leash dog park”. Recognizing and adjusting to this change is vital to the grieving process.

5. Quest for meaning.

Taking the time to come to terms with the meaning and purpose of pets in your life is needs to be addressed.

 6. Seek support from others.

You need the love and support of others that have been in your position – talking to or being with other pet parents can be one important way to help mend the wounds.

EUTHANASIA AND EOL (END-OF-LIFE) PROCESS

The decision to euthanize can be extremely difficult or, in some cases, a forgone conclusion made easier knowing their pet will meet a peaceful, painless end to their suffering in a controlled environment. If one chooses not to be present during the procedure, we completely understand.

If a client(s) wants to be with their pet during the euthanasia, our compassionate veterinarians will take all the time necessary to go over what to expect:

  • Explain the physical process of how the euthanasia is to be performed
  • Clarify the importance of the placement of a catheter to ensure a smoother procedure
  • Outline the visible effects of any pharmaceutical agents used
  • Define the length of time each stage may take
  • Note the anticipated restraint that the patient may experience, and
  • Describe unavoidable aftereffects.

For many pet owners, the actions surrounding their pet’s end of life are as important – and as meaningful – as the total of all the care provided by our clinic team during the lifetime of that pet. Needless to say, this is a very emotionally charged process for pet parents. And as many times as this procedure has been done at our clinic, euthanasia also takes a heavy, emotional toll on veterinarians and RVT’s alike, as many of the patients were not only loved by their pet parent, but in many instances, the veterinary team itself.

PET LOSS SUPPORT AND RESOURCES

Grief over the loss of a pet may be as strong as when a significant person in our life passes away, but the process of mourning is different.

There are societal mechanisms in place – social, professional and community support – for managing human deaths, but few exist when a pet dies.

We are not only deprived of important support systems when our pet dies, but our own perceptions of our emotional responses likely add another level of distress. Am I overreacting? Is this stress normal?

Fear ands shame keep pet parents from requesting time off from employers to grieve the loss of a pet, lest they be seen as overly sentimental, lacking in maturity or emotionally weak.

Embarrassment by the severity of the heartache we feel may make us hesitate to share our feelings to loved ones, thus prolonging our grief. Add shame to the mix and this also complicates the process of recovery by making it more lengthy and complex than it should be.

Our advice? Find a great listener. In lieu of – or in addition to – finding a great listener there are resources beyond family and friends available to help you during this difficult transition.

www.ontariopetloss.org 

This organization hosts monthly meetings in the GTA. There is no charge to attend a meeting, however registration is required.

www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com/forum/11-loss-of-a-pet/

This is discussion group is private and professionally moderated. There is no cost to post in the forum.

http://www.pet-loss.net/

10 Tips to How to Cope with Pet Loss – a thorough and informative webpage devoted to pet loss.

1-855-245-8214

This is a 24/7 hotline for access to a Pet Loss Support Specialist.

CONCLUSION

Losing a treasured pet can be psychologically devastating. Because one-on-one, emotional attachments are so closely aligned with our pets, others will never fully recognize how painful – and personal – our pet loss is, unless experienced themselves. Sure, we can offer sympathy, thoughts and prayers to help smooth out the pain, but the hurt stacked upon our emotional and physical wellbeing has no defined end point.

Society at large is not prepared to give pet parents the acknowledgement, support and attention they need to guide them through the grieving process, leaving it up to ourselves to identify and address our emotional wounds alone. The more validation we receive from friends, family and veterinary staff, the faster and our psychological recovery will be.

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Meet the Team

Professional, attentive and dedicated to your pet.

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Helping your pet live a longer, happier and healthier life.

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sad-dog-in-window

Pet Separation Anxiety: The Perfect Storm Ahead

By Pet Behaviour, Pet Health

30 Second Summary

  • With WFH waning and school resuming in-class learning in the fall, it’s time to prepare for anxious pets as they’ll soon find themselves flying solo for the first time in months. 
  • Separation anxiety can be extremely difficult to correct if not addressed in the very early stages. Behavioural issues such as this are the leading cause of pet surrenders.
  • It’s not a slam-dunk that your dog will experience Pet Separation Anxiety, but there are some steps you can take to help alleviate the possibility.
  • A dog’s cognitive ability does not exceed that of two-and-a-half year old child, thus they are unable to view situations subjectively, unlike humans. Dogs act out of a purely emotional state and have no conscious influence over their feelings.
  • We may not be able to pinpoint an exact root cause, but we’re quite aware of the triggers that cause Pet Separation Anxiety
  • 10 Signs of Pet Separation Anxiety

As the COVID-19 pandemic wanes this summer, another potential one has begun – the Pet Separation Anxiety pandemic.

During the pandemic, pets have joyfully adapted to pet parents being always home and have become accustomed with this new routine. However, unsettling change is afoot as some pets will soon have their expectations shaken. This is especially true for puppies – they assume you’ll always be around and rely on the extra attention they’ve learned to be normal. They will soon find themselves flying solo for the first time in months as pet parents return to the office and children go back to school in this fall, creating a potential separation anxiety pandemic among dogs that has no precedence.

For veteran and new pet parents alike, it’s time to start preparing for an upsurge of anxious pets. For our purposes, we’ll focus on our canine friends as most display a distinct emotional attachment with their owners. Our feline counterparts? Not so much, but they are not immune higher anxiety levels.

Separation anxiety can be extremely difficult to correct if not addressed in the very early stages. Behavioural issues such as this are the leading cause of pet relinquishments or surrenders. Pet Separation Anxiety is real and must be treated with patience and understanding.

WHAT IS PET SEPARATION ANXIETY?

Research has shown that a dog’s cognitive ability does not exceed that of two-and-a-half year old child, thus they are unable to view situations subjectively, unlike humans. Dogs act out of a purely emotional state and have no conscious influence over their feelings.

 Separation anxiety can be defined as clear distress that occurs only in the absence – or perceived absence – of the owner, usually manifested in a range of uncharacteristic behaviours.

In human terms, separation anxiety in dogs is similar to having a panic attack that causes destruction and self-harm. It’s not uncommon that a dog that has been “acting out”, is a dog feeling an overpowering sense of panic.

WHAT IS THE ROOT CAUSE OF PET SEPARATION ANXIETY?

 The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a “puppy boom”, adding a sizeable wrinkle to the already common mental health issue of pet separation anxiety.

Your new puppy has spent the entirety of their short lifetime with you. Now you’re being asked to come back to the office, even if only part-time. This is going to create a large cohort of “pandemic” puppies that have never experienced separation for their pet parent.

Let’s not forget the adult and senior dogs at home prior to the pandemic that have become accustomed to a gushing geyser of extra love and attention. This all-waking hours, nirvana dog state may soon evaporate resulting in widespread pet separation anxiety.

How does the end of WFH affect your dog?

The likelihood that your puppy will develop a bout of stress-related anxiety when you’re gone for 8-10 hours a day is not only possible, but probable. Not all dogs are bothered by this change, but many show symptoms. The reason – or root cause – for pet separation anxiety is not entirely clear.

Why?

A definitive answer remains elusive, even though separation-related distress is one of the most widely studied canine behaviors. There’s a lot of complexity surrounding pet behavioural issues. Limited research data makes it difficult for veterinary professionals to accurately predict the root cause of distress, what dogs may develop separation-related problems or how to prevent them.

From the America Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA):

“A team led by scientists from the University of Lincoln in Lincoln, England, identified four main forms of distress for dogs when separated from their owners. These include a focus on getting away from something in the house, wanting to get to something outside, reacting to external noises or events, and a form of boredom. More than 2,700 dogs representing over 100 breeds were included in the study.

 The study highlights how different emotional states combine to produce problem behaviors in dogs. Although the unwanted behavior is first triggered by the owner’s departure, it arises because of a combination of risk factors that may include elements of the dog’s temperament, the type of relationship it has with the owner, and how the two of them interact.”

We may not be able to pinpoint the exact root cause, but we’re quite aware of the triggers that cause pet separation anxiety:

  • Being left alone for the first time
  • A move from a shelter to a new home
  • Family routine or schedule changes
  • Change of pet parent
  • Loss of a family member

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF PET SEPARATION ANXIETY?

Dogs display stress and anxiety in a myriad of ways. There is no single, defining indicator that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety as a variety of symptoms are usually exhibited.

It’s conceivable that age, breed and chronic medical conditions may manifest themselves as pet separation anxiety symptoms when, in fact, they are related to other issues. Yet, if your dog regularly shows several of these behaviours when left alone, they may be suffering from this condition.

10 Signs of Pet Separation Anxiety:

  1. Destructive acts such as scratching, chewing or digging holes, usually around doors and windows
  2. Drooling, salivating or panting beyond normal occurrences.
  3. Self-harm: Some dogs exhibit panic and escape behaviors that may result in injury. ie. Crating your dog when they’re not crate-trained.
  4. Excessive barking, howling, whining and trembling as you prepare to leave
  5. Accidents – urinating or defecating – from housebroken pets while you’re away
  6. Incessant pacing, sometimes in compulsive patterns
  7. Hyperventilation
  8. Vomiting and diarrhea
  9. Withdrawal and lethargy from normal daily activities
  10. Most dogs don’t like to eat alone and often wait until their pet parent returns home.

While at home, it’s likely you won’t see your dog show any severe behaviours. Under normal circumstances, you might occasionally observe some of these symptoms, but a dog with separation anxiety will do them repeatedly.

IS MY DOG IS AT RISK OF PET SEPARATION ANXIETY?

The root cause(s) of separation anxiety are not known. Predicting whose pet will or will not develop this condition is a fool’s errand. However, there are some factors that can influence whether certain dogs will become distressed.

Senior Dogs: Senior dogs tend to have higher rates of anxiety-related problems. Just like humans, our ability to tolerate changes in our environment decreases as age. Your dog is similar and abrupt or repeated changes to their daily routines are more likely to cause distress.

Recently Adopted Dogs: In some cases, it’s just assumed that dogs from shelters suffer from a higher rate of separation anxiety. Why? Is it because they already had behavioural issue and were surrendered? Quite possibly. Was the dog abandoned by their owners in the countryside, or perhaps, ran away from home only to be recovered by animal control? In any of these scenarios, the result is the same – a major lifestyle and environmental change – always a clear precursor of behavioural distress.

Pre-Existing Behavioural Issues: Some behavioural traits are baked in at birth and affect the general temperament of your particular breed. That’s the ‘nature’ part and this alone may intensify separation anxiety. The ‘nurture’ part is more controllable as there are methods to help reduce anxiety-causing issues.

Puppies: Not all puppies are predisposed to separation anxiety, but they offer their new pet parent a unique opportunity to lessen the possibility. Early in life, dogs tend to be more disaffected by new experiences – good or bad – just like humans. Taking steps toward the prevention of Pet Separation Anxiety along with successful puppy socialization is an opportunity not to be missed.

6 WAYS TO EASE YOUR DOG’S SEPARATION ANXIETY.

 As mentioned earlier, it’s not a slam-dunk that your dog will experience Pet Separation Anxiety. However, there are some measures you can take to help alleviate the possibility.

          1. Crate Training

Crate training is one of the most important training tools at your disposal. Some may believe it’s cruel – or even harmful – but if used appropriately, it provides your dog with a pleasant, quiet safe space. 

2. Proper Exercise

Exercise can help treat and ease Pet Separation Anxiety, but it is no cure-all. Your dog – at a minimum – should get an adequate supply of age and size-appropriate physical exercise. An exhausted, satisfied dog is more likely to settle down when you depart.

3. Minimize Dependent Behaviour

When you have a dog that shows you loads of unconditional love, it’s difficult (nearly impossible!) to not reciprocate that affection in return, especially with a new puppy. They appreciate it too, but this may increase the possibility that separation anxiety will be more intense when you need to leave them alone for any period of time.

How to develop independence in your puppy:

  • Teach your puppy to be alone in another room, even when you’re at home.
  • Training your puppy with a solid “stay” can combat excessive attachment.
  • Play it cool when you leave or return from your home. Greet your dog with affection, but without being overly emotional.
  • If you return home to damage or accidents (likely!), don’t punish your dog under any circumstances as it only adds to their anxiety and intensifies the problem.

4. Cannabidiol (CBD)

CBD is a compound found in the cannabis plant and has been acknowledged to be useful for treating a variety of different health conditions, including anxiety in pets. Anecdotal reports from pet parents have stated that CBD oil helped alleviate the effects of anxiety in their pet. Although positive anti-anxiety effects attributed to CBD in pets has been documented, there is currently no scientific data (yet!) to support these claims.

5. Veterinary Intervention: Behavioural Modification and Medications

So, you’ve exhausted all of your own training and counter-conditioning measures and they have made little or no impact on your dogs’ behaviour.

What next?

Talk with our veterinarians.

If your dogs’ separation anxiety is worsening, medications (fluoxetine and clomipramine) or natural therapies (pheromones and aromatherapy) may be recommended – or a combination of both. Natural products have been known to show enhanced efficacy when coupled with prescription medications.

Our veterinarians will help you shape a treatment plan with the goal of helping your dog gain some measure of independence and accept time away from you as routine and natural. This would typically include a combination of re-training, preventive strategies and, in some advanced cases, medications.

6. Employ a Support Cat

CONCLUSION

Not every pet is prone to separation anxiety, but the ones that do need support. Anxiety levels generally increase over time, so pet parents should act quickly to prevent it from intensifying.

Sadly, there is no magic bullet or quick fix to repair this common behavioural issue. Once a pet parent’s anti-anxiety tactics are exhausted, the next step is professional help.

Our Fear Free-Certified team is trained to screen pets for separation-related anxiety behaviours. With a complete assessment of your dog’s recent health and behaviour concerns, we can recommend an action plan to address the issue, tailored to suit their individual needs.

We’re here to help.

Meet the Team

Professional, attentive and dedicated to your pet.

Veterinary Services

Helping your pet live a longer, happier and healthier life.

Location and Hours

Modern and efficient in a cozy, friendly environment.

Pet Food Marketing and Alternative Diets

By Pet Behaviour, Pet Health

How Marketing and human nature shape our pet food choices

The change in mindset from pet ownership to parenting has not only shifted our attitudes about our furry family members over time, but has also been crucial in defining pet food industry trends.

Premiumization and humanization trends – also known as anthropomorphism – in pet parenting are two key drivers in the explosion of options in the pet food market. For this reason, the pet food market is heavy influenced by human nutrition. In turn, these two rising trends are boosting demand for alternative, organic, premium and custom-made pet food products.

But are the alternatives better?

Our knowledgeable Cabbagetown clients are proactive about health and exercise, not only for themselves, but for their pets, too. There is a small segment of pet parents that see a disparity between nutritional recommendations for humans to eat fresh, wholesome, organic, GMO-free, unprocessed foods and the unattractive, foul-smelling wet or dry food that they’re feeding their pets. Emotionally invested pet parents sometimes find the difference difficult to rationalize.

def. Anthropomorphism: the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to a god, animal, or object.

Combine this emotionally-driven desire with the incessant bombardment of information from the mainstream media, social media and advice from friends and you could easily fall into diet analysis paralysis. As with human diet trends, misinformation can turn into popular belief with alarming ease.

How does a pet parent navigate the options?

Choosing the correct diet for your pet includes the following factors:

  • Age and Size: Nutritional needs are different between puppies and adults dogs; large breeds vs. small breeds
  • Pet Parent Lifestyle: How much time is available to spend for shopping and food preparation?
  • Food Allergies: Some pets are allergic to specific proteins or ingredients.
  • Activity Level: Service dogs have different caloric needs than house pets.
  • Palate Pleasing: Pet food has to taste and smell good – not to you, but your pet.

Marketing and Well-meaning Pet Parents

There are some genuinely valid reasons for pet parents to be skeptical of Big Pet Food. Like human food, the pet food industry has had issues with recalls, contaminations, ingredient substitutions and misleading packaging. It’s not hard to blame pet parents when they look at alternative diet regimens outside the mainstream when these issues get amplified.

Because regulations are thinly enforced, pet food budgets are heavily allocated towards advertising and marketing, in lieu of research. The proliferation of choice floods the marketplace making it difficult for pet parents – and veterinarians alike – to sort through the massive quantity of ‘noise’ in search of an optimal diet for their pets. Our veterinarians are trained to help cut through the noise.

In addition to the noise, long-term peer-reviewed studies on pet nutrition are difficult to come by. There isn’t a ton of evidence-based, clinical studies that to show that commercial pet food offers the best nutrition. Conversely, there is an even larger data gap lending support to non-traditional diets, such as raw food diets. Marketplace confusion reigns.

Unfortunately, economics don’t support investment in large-scale research for pet nutrition when the return on investment is driven by marketing budgets. There has been plenty of research for production animals because these studies are directly connected to human food supply.

There are outliers in this regard. Prescription diet companies – like Hill’s, Purina and Royal Canin – strive to understand how to maximize companion pet nutrition and thus spend significant sums on R&D to determine the best outcomes for pets, whether they’re healthy or have chronic conditions.

Regardless, large-scale, peer-reviewed pet nutrition studies remain elusive across the board. There simply aren’t enough widely-accepted industry studies on how commercial diets impact the long-term health of our furry family members. Until more research materializes, we will continue to rely on the expertise of those who have made concerted efforts to research and test – our trusted prescription diet providers.

Alternative Diets for Pets

We will touch on three types of alternative diets for pets. This is by no means a complete examination of the options available, but these tend to be the most dominant alternatives to off-the-shelf, commercial options. This list is NOT something we advocate, but we also respect the deep beliefs that some pet parents adhere to – this dietary decision is a very personal choice to be made ONLY by the pet parent.

1. RAW FOOD DIETS

What are the benefits of raw food diets for pets?

Advocates of raw food diets offer two seemingly compelling arguments: a health-based claim that their pets have more energy, glossier coats, better dental health, healthier skin and smaller poops. The evidence backing these observations is anecdotal, at best. To date, no published peer-reviewed studies exist to support claims made by raw diet advocates.

They also contend that the diet more closely resembles the diet that their pets’ wild, pre-domesticated ancestors consumed. Probably true, but humans overall health and life expectancy would be considerably compromised if we consumed the same diet as our hunter-gatherer ancestors. This belief does not account for biological, evolutionary and dietary changes that have complemented domestication over the millennia. Today’s pets show little behavioural resemblance to the dogs and cats we currently share our lives with.

Q:  What is a raw food diet?

A:  As the name implies, it is food that is not cooked prior to feeding your pet – usually a dog. A raw food diet usually includes some (or all) of the following:

  • muscle meat from other animals
  • whole or ground bones
  • organ meats, such as liver and kidney
  • raw eggs, vegetables or fruit
  • dairy products, such as unpasteurized yogurt or milk

Q: What are the risks of a raw food diet?

There are two primary risks. First, is the risk of nutritional imbalances – this applies to both home-prepared and commercial raw food diets. Secondly, is the risk associated with bacterial or parasitic contamination. Food poisoning – specifically salmonella – is a concern for humans in the household. Proper handling of raw foods is crucial for reducing the risk, but safety cannot be guaranteed.

Q:  What is American Veterinary Medical Associations (AVMA) – the big brother to our own Canadian version CVMA – policy on raw diets? Does this apply to ALL raw food fed to pets or just a certain type?

A:  The AVMA does not outright discourage this diet; it only addresses processes required to eliminate pathogens in raw or undercooked animal-source protein, including meat or products from chickens, turkeys, cows, pigs, sheep, fish, deer, buffalo, or any other animal source. It also includes raw, unpasteurized eggs and milk.

Q:  When preparing raw food, what safeguards are needed to protect against bacteria and parasitic contamination?

A:  Safe food handling practices for raw animal products:

  • Practice good food hygiene and sanitation.
  • Consider cooking the raw food before feeding it to your pet, if eschewing commercial foods is your goal
  • Select products that have been treated to remove pathogens when purchasing commercial raw diets
  • A damaged raw food product container should not be purchased
  • Keep food frozen until ready to use; refrigerate or pitch leftovers.
  • Avoid any cross-contamination by keeping the raw meat meant for your pet separated from meat intended for your family,
  • Do not handle raw meat intended for your pet in the same area(s) or use the same utensils or equipment used for preparing food for your family.
  • Never allow cooked food to come into contact with raw meat, unless they are then cooked at temperatures to kill bacteria.
  • Wash vegetables and fruit prior to feeding.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw food.
  • Clean pet dishes, surfaces, cutting boards and utensils on the reg
  • Thoroughly control insects and pests that may be drawn to raw meat as they can spread contamination.
2. HOMEMADE ORGANIC DIETS

Intuitively, it makes sense that an organic diet made with natural ingredients, such as beef, chicken, lamb, peas, spinach, carrots and blueberries would achieve the best possible outcome for your pets’ overall well being – just like it would for us.

def. Projection: the attribution of one’s own ideas, feelings, or attitudes to other people or to objects

As a result, some pet parents have the view that a home-cooked, organic diet is safer, more natural and healthier than a commercially available diet. They’re not necessarily wrong – it just pre-supposes that a well-balanced, organic diet for humans is comparable and beneficial within another species. Again, this view is led by the factors mentioned earlier: anthropomorphism and projection, as well as overabundance of marketing messages. It’s certainly possible this diet is ideal – there just isn’t enough peer-reviewed science to offer substantial proof.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to this diet alternative is that purchasing, preparation and cooking for your pet is very demanding on your time and finances. If you are fortunate enough to undertake such a formidable task, then you’re one of the lucky ones. Organic recipes for pets proliferate online to keep the options fresh. Alternatively, you can take the time element away and subscribe to a fresh, pet food service delivered right to your door.

Sounds like a great solution, right?

Before you dive in, it might be informative to review some of the drawbacks.

  • Most homemade or subscription diets do not undergo the scrutiny and rigorous testing applied to prescription diets. Nor do they address the unique nutritional requirements needed for your specific – sometimes chronic or hereditary – pets’ circumstances.
  • Pets may have their own philosophical view. In Western society, we expect variety in our food choices. Pets don’t hold the same attitude. Most are perfectly comfortable eating the same food day after day – as long as it meets their nutritional requirements, feeding times are consistent and it tastes good.
  • There’s a limited quantity of organic meat and produce available for subscription plans, never mind the expense at the your local Loblaws or Whole Foods these days. High quality, organic ingredients are difficult to procure for pet food makers because of high demand for organic products in the human market. Unfortunately, what’s allocated for the pet food market is generally lower quality.
3. GRAIN-FREE DIETS

Commercial dog food brands started making grain-free options because pet parents demanded it. 

Why?

The shift away from grains can be traced back to a recall of tainted Chinese kibble in 2007, as documented by the New York Times. It was found that wheat gluten from a single pet food supplier of kibble was contaminated with melamine. This was bad – it’s a compound purported to negatively affect kidney function.

That article was enough to create worries about wheat – and more generally, grains – to veer away from science into myth. Through a mix of self-proclaimed pet nutrition experts and well-meaning social media users whose failure to do the research presented their opinion as factual and scientific.

This myth about dogs and grains spread in much the same way that trends that fuel such things as juice cleanses or paleo diets have spread virally for humans – via the internet.

To provide an idea of the viral spread of misinformation, less than one percent of North Americans have celiac disease – a damaging autoimmune response to gluten. In 2012, as much as 30 percent of the United States population was reducing their gluten intake, despite the lack of scientific evidence that gluten is harmful in most people. A large number of those people applied the same logic to their pets. By the end of 2017, grain-free diets account for 44% of the pet food market.

In the few years since the explosion of grain-free diets, reports began to surface about a rare heart condition in dogs called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). This went beyond breeds that have a genetic predisposition to DCM. Research at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is still ongoing, but the common link to this condition appears to be a diet heavy in peas, lentils, chickpeas and potatoes – carbohydrates intended to replace grains.

If a client truly embraces a belief about a certain type of diet, it’s difficult to shake them out of their faith with factual arguments. Whether or not their devotion is grounded in nutritional science, they are nonetheless devoted.

The psychology behind their beliefs is easy to understand – pet parents are passionate about their beloved pets. The challenge in veterinary medicine is trying to dispel these hardened beliefs or misinformation, especially when a (new) pet owner is emotionally invested.

We respect our client’s choices, but also feel it’s important to take a holistic view of your pets’ well-being, minus the outside marketing noise.

We’re here to be your trusted nutritional advisor.

Our veterinarians are independent thinkers and recommend products they feel will best serve their patients’ and clients’ needs. We encourage all of our clients to have an open, honest discussion with our veterinarians about your pet’s nutritional needs to find the optimal diet for your pet.

Meet the Team

Professional, attentive and dedicated to your pet.

Veterinary Services

Helping your pet live a longer, happier and healthier life.

Location and Hours

Modern and efficient in a cozy, friendly environment.

Prescription Pet Food: Veterinary-Grade Excellence

By Pet Health

Prescription Pet Food vs. Everybody

We know how mighty the human-pet connection can be and are committed to do everything within our grasp to help pets live their best lives. Near the top of the list of ways to achieve this – after vaccines – is pet nutrition. It may be the single most important part of your pet’s longevity and happiness that you can directly influence.

For us, it means listening to our clients concerns, providing the latest pet nutrition information, recommending diets that meet your pets’ specific nutritional requirements, offering food options that your pet will actually eat and avoiding diets that could be potentially unsafe. Now, there’s a mouthful!

There will always be unexpected events that can upend the health of our beloved pets, but the two things that we can control are food and shelter. That’s why we’re so invested in the quality of food and pet nutrition.

Why pet nutrition is important

Balanced nutrition is the key to healthy lifestyles. Prescription pet food manufacturers work tirelessly to improve upon the mix of ingredients – and in what proportion – that go into their products. Every nutrient in your pet’s food has a purpose.

Optimal pet nutrition must include these elements:

Proteins: Muscle Tone and Body Repair

Protein does the lion’s share of work in cells and is necessary for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs. They supply a source of energy and help with muscle function and growth. Protein is necessary to repair damaged cells and produce new ones. Without adequate protein, pets can incur a wide-range of severe health problems.

Fats: Skin and Hair Coat Health

Fats are an absolutely vital component of a balanced canine and feline diet. A pet with a lovely, shiny coat is most likely to be healthy because pets – especially dogs – are eating a correct balance of fatty acids. Fats also provide energy, help in brain function. Be aware of volume – your can have too much of a good thing!

Carbohydrates: Digestion and Elimination

Carbohydrates supply a good source of energy that allows your dog to be active and energetic. One important type of carbohydrate is fibre which aids in digestion and elimination. These needed nutrients are absorbed by the body and into your pet’s digestive system to create well-formed stools to form an easy elimination pathway. 

Vitamins and Minerals: Immunity and Disease Prevention

Vitamins and minerals work in concert to keep your pet’s immune system and metabolism at peak performance. Every day, they work to reduce the damage done to cells in the body. In addition, vitamins and minerals are needed for optimal muscle contraction and nerve conduction.

What are animal byproducts on the ingredients label?

Animal byproducts are what remain after the desirable edible parts are separated, leaving behind organs, blood, bone and intestines. These may be items that humans are less interested in eating, but doesn’t mean the leftovers – byproducts – are unsafe or lack nutrition, they just aren’t used to satisfy our delicate palates. The thought of consuming a cow spleen for dinner is repulsive to most people, but your dog probably wouldn’t think twice – these organs can be a veritable storehouse of valuable vitamins and minerals.

What is “prescription” pet food?

Many more high quality, premium pet food brands are available today than ever before. Consumer demand is driving this trend based on overall awareness of pet nutrition and, more importantly, their love and devotion to pets.

Prescription pet foods – also known as therapeutic foods – are scientifically formulated to meet the specific health needs of your pet. They do NOT contain medications and are different from most over-the-counter (OTC) pet foods brands in that they are designed to specifically address – not only healthy pets needs – but also issues such as obesity, arthritis or food allergies.

In Canada, a proper ‘prescription’ or note from a veterinarian is not necessary to make a purchase, however, a consultation with our veterinary staff is crucial before starting a new diet regimen. Prescription or therapeutic food can be bought OTC, but only at authorized veterinary clinics.

Why prescription food is the right choice

You may be wondering: are premium or prescription pet foods really better for my pet? Our price-sensitive clients often ask our veterinary team about less expensive generic pet food options, apart from the therapeutic diets we recommend. This is a fair question.

Before we make any specific food recommendations, regular examinations (and testing, if necessary) help us determine if there are any underlying issues or emerging threats that may require a dietary adjustment. This is an integral part of any treatment plan. Once a baseline of your pets’ health is established, only then can we make suggestions on a proper dietary pathway.

Depending on the diagnosis, certain nutrients may be restricted or enhanced in comparison to the requirements for that nutrient in healthy pets. Prescription or therapeutic diet manufacturers are specifically formulated for these cases.

While generic OTC pet food brands produce many quality products, their mandate is to feed healthy pets and their quality control procedures are based on that assumption. 

Therein lies the answer.

  1. Over the counter food brands employ quality control measures ranging from a random, but complete macro-nutrient analyses in the finished product to no post-manufacturing quality checks at all. By contrast, the companies that specialize in therapeutic diets – Hills, Royal Canin – test every batch of food produced, from their therapeutic diets to their OTC options for healthy pets.
  2. Prescription or therapeutic diets are developed by nutritionists and scientists in the veterinary industry. Extensive testing is completed post-production to ensure that they do what they claim to do. Conversely, some OTC pet food brands mass-produce a generic formula and take it to market with big advertising budgets – all potentially done without reliable testing for efficacy or post-manufacturing quality testing.

Considering the extensive research, superior manufacturing controls, high-level quality testing and facilities to ensure these diets are safe and effective, the extra cost for premium food is justifiable for many pet parents. Speaking of amazing facilities, check out the extraordinary pet paradise testing facility at Hill’s!

Can I actually save money buying prescription foods?

Higher quality prescription food generally leads to a longer and healthier life for most pets. The result? Lower veterinarian service costs. There’s an increased risk of health issues tied to improper nutrition, thus the cost of prescription or therapeutic diet over a pets lifetime is likely to be offset by lower vet bills. Also, when prescription food is matched with your pets’ dietary needs and taste, food intake is optimized and less waste is incurred. Tastier and more digestible food results in less overall volume, thus making a bag of food last longer, despite the higher cost. Less is more, as they say…

What are the alternatives to prescription pet food diets?

The options for pet food are seemingly endless. We’ll touch on 3 types of dietary alternatives, as opposed to a comparison of specific brands.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Pet Food Brands

Over-the-counter (OTC) pet food brands generally meet all the nutritional needs of a healthy pet. Some OTC brands claim to meet the challenges of a pet that may have bladder or urinary tract issues, so you can get a premium food that addresses urinary tract health. Available almost everywhere…

Raw Food Diets

The argument of raw food advocates goes that these diets are easier to digest than other dog food diets and provide very concentrated nutrition for your dog. The veterinary industry has mostly debunked this notion on cost and nutrient-value grounds, although there are pockets of pet owners who will not be swayed.

Limited Ingredient Diets

A Limited Ingredient Diet (LID) is made with super-food ingredients. For protein, it may include higher amounts of venison and rabbit. For carbohydrates, sweet potatoes and lentils may be used to create a denser, targeted nutritional profile. Having fewer ingredients does not imply high nutrient value, unless they are high-quality ingredients. LID is not a regulated dietary option in Canada, however this option is used extensively to diagnose food allergies.

Always do your due diligence when exploring non-therapeutic brands of pet food. Read the label, understand the ingredients and purchase the highest quality food you can afford. We’ll address some of the issues and concerns noted above in greater detail in Part 2 of Digestive Health.

How do I choose the best food for my pet?

Your pet is an important part of your family and you want the best for them. It’s easy to get overwhelmed – and sometimes confused – with all food options out there. A pet’s age, medical condition(s), immune system and lifestyle all need to be considered when selecting a proper dietary regimen. Our veterinarians and RVT’s are the best source of information when determining an appropriate dietary choice for your specific pet.

We understand that many elements go into choosing the best diet for your pet including a your financial situation, availability, health issues and your own personal value system. Your pets individual preferences may also play a role – you could select a perfect diet, but if your pet doesn’t touch it, then on to Plan B.

If prescription pet foods are better for pets with chronic health conditions, why can’t I just buy the food at Walmart? 

This is a fair question. Why not? There are two caveats to address.

  1. Pets with chronic – or even mild – ailments generally require veterinary supervision to determine whether a specific therapeutic diet can continue to be the correct course of action. Feeding your pet too much of anything – or the wrong thing – can have prolonged negative results.
  2. Some diets are not considered complete and balanced by Association of America Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) or FDA standards. The sale of prescription or therapeutic foods are restricted to veterinary professionals and not left to an untrained Walmart “Associate”, as it could lead to nutrient deficiencies in healthy pets. The US standards are considerably more stringent than our non-regulated, Canadian counterparts.

Regular nutritional evaluations and counseling are a critical link in the chain of preventive care for pets. Prescription or therapeutic diets are a core part of an overall pet health and preventative care strategy. Our own Dr. Amanda Low has a BSc. in Nutritional Sciences and is uniquely qualified to help create customized nutritional plans – especially for those pets with underlying chronic conditions or special needs.

Learn more about our prescription food brands:

Hill’s
Royal Canin
Purina

Dog-heartwom-mosquito

The Pet Parent Guide to Heartworm Disease

By Pet Health

Heartworm Disease and your pet

30-Second Summary

  • Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis. In its mature, reproductive form, this foot-long worm normally exists in and around the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets.
  • A dog (or cat) may be infected with heartworms and show no clinical signs. If clinical signs do transpire, the disease is likely well advanced and will be more difficult to treat.
  • When an infected mosquito bites another dog, the infective larvae are dumped onto the surface of the animal’s skin. They then proceed to enter the new host through the mosquito’s bite wound.
  • Our feline friends are atypical hosts for heartworms, as most worms do not survive to the adult stage.
  • Heartworm disease often goes undetected in cats, so it’s important to test periodically.
  • The medication used to treat heartworm infections in dogs cannot be used with cats. Therefore, prevention is the only way of protecting your cat from the harmful effects of heartworm disease.
  • The 5 Most Frequently Asked Heartworm Disease Questions: Answered

When it comes to keeping your pet parasite-free, the least likely condition to infect your pet – but potentially the most damaging – is Heartworm disease. As Part 3 of the Unholy Pet Parasite Trinity, we answer all the questions you were afraid to ask.

Part 1:   Ticks and Canine Lyme Disease
Part 2:   Meet the Enemy: Fleas

Mosquitos are the worst. Go ahead, name an organism that has resulted in the deaths of more people over human history. They are among the world’s deadliest vectors for disease, including Zika, West Nile, Dengue, Yellow Fever, Malaria and….Heartworm.

Heartworm disease occurs largely in dogs, but incidences can occur in our feline friends, too. The dog is a natural host for heartworms, which means that heartworms that live inside a dog can mature into adults, mate and produce offspring.

The disease is caused by a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis. In its mature, reproductive form, this foot-long worm normally exists in and around the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets.

If left untreated, heartworm can cause severe lung disease, heart failure, damage to other organs and sometimes, death.

The number of dogs that test positive for heartworm in North America has been steadily rising, despite the efforts of the veterinary community to increase pet parent awareness. Projections indicate that with a warming climate, these numbers will only continue to rise as the disease continues it’s northerly expansion from the southern US into Canada.

What are Heartworms?

As the name implies, Heartworm is a worm-like parasite that can grow up to 8-12 inches (!) at maturity. Once infected by a wayward mosquito, your pet becomes a ‘carrier’ or reservoir of infection.

Infectious heartworm larvae take about six to seven months to make their way to the heart, mature into adults and begin to produce new offspring – called microfilariae.

Adult worms tend to migrate and gather around the heart and the arteries that supply the lungs, while the microfilariae circulate throughout the bloodstream before reaching adulthood.

A dog (or cat) may be infected with heartworms and show no clinical signs. If clinical signs do transpire, the disease is likely well advanced and will be more difficult to treat.

How is Heartworm Disease Spread?

The mosquito is the central, dreadful actor who plays a critical role in the life cycle of heartworms. They are truly the bane of our existence.

As mentioned above, adult female heartworms reside in infected mammals – dog, fox, coyote, or wolf – and (re)produce microscopic baby worms called microfilaria. These offspring circulate in the bloodstream of infected animals as they mature.

When a mosquito bites and takes a blood lunch from an infected animal, it picks up the microfilariae (plural). Over the period of 10 to 14 days, they then develop and mature into “infective stage” larvae.

When the infected mosquito bites another dog, or any other animal including cats, the infective larvae are dumped onto the surface of the animal’s skin. It then proceeds to enter the new host through the mosquito’s bite wound.

Once they inhabit the new host, it takes nearly 6 months for the larvae to develop into sexually mature adult heartworms. In adulthood, heartworms can live for 5 – 7 years in dogs and up to 2 – 3 years in cats.

Because of their longevity and heartiness, each mosquito season can have a cumulative effect and increase the number of worms in an infected pet.

Signs of Heartworm Disease in Dogs

Detecting heartworm disease early on can be a challenge, as many dogs exhibit few symptoms or none at all. This is why prevention is key – the longer the infection persists, the more likely symptoms will develop.

As for outward signs of the disease, dogs severely infected with heartworms, active dogs or dogs with other underlying health conditions are most likely to display distinct clinical symptoms.

Signs of heartworm disease in your dog may include:

  • Unwillingness to exercise
  • Reduced appetite
  • A mild, but persistent cough
  • Tiredness after moderate activity
  • Weight loss

As the disease advances, dogs may develop heart, liver or kidney failure and a swollen abdomen due to excess fluids.

If there are very large aggregations of heartworms, dogs can develop an abrupt blockage of blood flow within the heart. This is called Caval Syndrome and is evident by the start of heavy, laboured breathing, pale gums and dark, bloody urine. This is the worst-case scenario – few dogs survive without immediate surgical removal of the heartworm blockage.

Heartworm in Cats? 

Our feline friends are atypical hosts for heartworms, as most worms do not survive to the adult stage. If heartworms reach the adult stage in cats, they typically have just one to three worms. Dogs can have hundreds of mature heartworms.

Heartworm disease often goes undetected in cats, so it’s important to test periodically – especially if your cat is allowed outdoors. The medication used to treat heartworm infections in dogs cannot be used in cats. Therefore, prevention is the only way of protecting your cat from the harmful effects of heartworm disease.

Heartworm Disease Symptoms in Cats

Signs of Heartworm disease in cats can be subtle or glaringly obvious.

Symptoms may include:

  • Suppressed appetite
  • Coughing or hacking
  • Asthma-like attacks
  • Weight loss
  • Sporadic vomiting

As for the glaringly obvious, an affected cat may struggle to walk, experience fainting or seizures, or suffer from fluid buildup in their belly. In extreme cases, the first sign is the last sign – sudden collapse or sudden death.

How Often Should I Test My Dog for Heartworm?

Ideally, all dogs should be tested annually for heartworm infection, especially in high-risk areas. An antigen test is easily administered during any routine visit for preventive care.

American Heartworm Society Guidelines on Testing and Timing:

  • Puppies under 7 months of age can be begin on heartworm treatments without a heartworm test, as a positive test for infection takes up to 6 months to be detected.
  • Testing should begin 6 months after your initial visit, and then again 6 months later. Yearly testing after that ensure they are heartworm-free.
  • Dogs older than 7 months and not on a preventive treatment plan need to be blood-tested for antigens before starting heartworm prevention. It’s recommended they be tested 6 months and 12 months later and annually after that.

Annual testing is important – even if your dog is on heartworm prevention year-round – to ensure that the prevention program is working. Heartworm medications are highly effective – but not quite 100%. It’s possible that dogs can still become infected. Miss a dose or give it late could open a window to infection.

Our Cabbagetown Care Wellness plans include Heartworm and Tick blood screens on an annual basis to keep these parasites at bay.

What if my dog tests positive for Heartworm?

A Heartworm diagnosis is bad news. The good news is that the majority of infected dogs can be successfully treated. The treatment goal is straightforward: stabilize your dog if showing signs of the disease, and then kill all adult and undeveloped worms while keeping side effects to a minimum.

What to expect if your dog tests positive:

Diagnosis Confirmation: Once a dog tests positive on an antigen test, the diagnosis may be confirmed through additional testing, such as x-rays or an ultrasound exam. Treatment for Heartworm is expensive and complex – additional testing measures by our veterinary team are needed as to absolutely ensure treatment is required.

Exercise Limits: If your dog is used to being active, this requirement may be hard to manage. Normal physical activities must be restricted as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed, as physical exertion increases the rate at which the heartworms cause damage in the heart and lungs. Simply put, the more severe the symptoms, the less activity your dog should have.

Stabilizing the Disease: Before actual heartworm treatment can begin, your dog’s condition may need to be stabilized with appropriate therapy. In severe cases of heartworm disease, the process can take several months.

Treatment Protocols: Once our veterinarians have determined your dog is stable enough for treatment, she will recommend a treatment plan, usually involving several steps to recovery.

The American Heartworm Society has guidelines for developing this plan of attack. Dogs with no signs or mild signs of heartworm disease have a high success rate with treatment.

Severe disease can also be treated, but the possibility of complications is increased. The severity of heartworm disease does not always correlate with the severity of symptoms, and dogs with many worms may have few or no symptoms early in the course of the disease.

What if my cat tests positive for Heartworm?

Cats are not ideal hosts for heartworms. However, the risk of infection still exists. Some infections resolve on their own, but can leave lasting respiratory system damage.

Diagnosis. Difficulty: High. The severity of heartworm disease in dogs is proportionate to the number of worms – just one or two worms can make a cat quite sick. Detection can be complex, usually requiring a physical exam, an X-ray and/or ultrasound and a complete blood screen.

Treatment. There is no approved drug therapy for heartworm infection in cats – drugs used to treat dogs is not safe for their feline counterparts. Great veterinary care from the Cabbagetown Pet Clinic is the treatment. The goal is to stabilize your cat and establish a long-term management plan. If mild symptoms persist, small doses of prednisolone may be administered to help reduce inflammation.

Prevention. If your cat is allowed to explore outdoors, it’s highly recommended that you provide them with monthly heartworm preventives. Preventatives for indoor cats are not mission-critical.

How can I protect my dog from Heartworm disease?

Prevention: A preventative treatment plan is, without doubt, THE best deterrent against Heartworm disease. Couple this with our Cabbagetown Care Wellness Plans and all your bases are covered. Treatments after the fact are available, but may be associated with increased health risks and tend to be expensive. Simple oral medications, such as Simparica Trio – typically administered monthly – have been shown to be very effective for the prevention of heartworm disease, as well as providing protection against ticks and fleas.

Avoidance: By reducing walking or exercising during peak mosquito periods – typically at dawn and dusk – you can help lessen, but not eliminate, the risk of mosquito bites. Note: indoor pets are not immune to heartworm disease, as mosquitos can fly into a home or apartment through open doors or windows.

Eliminate: Reduce the amount of standing water on your property, especially in rural areas of the province – mosquitos love and thrive that type of environment.

The Top 5 Most Frequently Asked Heartworm Disease Questions

Q: Can my dog die from Heartworm Disease?

A: Yes, but not likely if treated.

Heartworm disease is multifaceted and can distress many vital organs. As a result, the undesirable outcomes of this infection can differ significantly among dogs.

Adult worms – left untreated – cause inflammation of blood vessels which can result in severe heart, liver or kidney failure to the point of no return. Prevention is key.

Q: Do I need a prescription for my pet’s heartworm preventative medication? If so, why?

A: The short answer is yes. Heartworm preventives – such as Simparica Trio – must be prescribed by a veterinarian. Before writing a prescription for a heartworm preventive, our veterinarians perform a 4DX blood test to check for antigens to ensure your pet doesn’t already have adult heartworms.

Why? Although rare, prescribing preventatives to a pet that already has heartworm has been known to lead to severe reactions that could be harmful or fatal.

Q: I live in Canada. Does my pet need year-round heartworm protection?

A: In the United States, the American Heartworm Society recommends a year-round prevention program. In Canada, we follow their recommendations. Diagnoses of heartworms have been found in almost every northern state and, by extension, Canada.

Mosquito species thrive in warmer climates, but are relentlessly adapting to cooler climates as well. Climate change is a factor adding to this northerly creep.

Q: Can I get Heartworm Disease from my dog?

A: You can relax. No amount of petting – or any forms of pet contact – will result in transmission. The parasite is spread ONLY though the bite of a mosquito – it’s the only known vector for Heartworm disease acquisition. It’s a very precise parasite that affects dogs, cats and other mammals, but it’s extremely rare in humans.

Q: Can my dog get a vaccine for Heartworm Disease?

A: No. Currently, there is no vaccine available for the prevention of heartworm disease in dogs or cats.

Heartworm disease can only be prevented through the regular use of preventive medications prescribed by your veterinarian. These medications offer the added benefit of preventing other parasites – namely, ticks and fleas – as well.

Left untreated, Heartworm disease is a severe, progressive illness. Early detection is critical, as this gives your pet the best chance of recovery.

The best treatment for your pet is always year-round, all-in prevention – Simparica Trio covers all the bases.

Meet the Team

Professional, attentive and dedicated to your pet.

Veterinary Services

Helping your pet live a longer, happier and healthier life.

Location and Hours

Modern and efficient in a cozy, friendly environment.

Pet Insurance: Inner Peace For Your Wallet?

By Pet Health

From homes, autos, vacations and even our smartphones, we purchase insurance to protect our most precious possessions. A beloved furry family member certainly qualifies as ‘precious’ in any household.

Pet insurance means that you have to imagine the possibility of an unforeseen medical, worst-case scenario involving your beloved pets well-being. You shouldn’t have to worry about how to pay for the best veterinary medicine available when the unexpected arrives at your doorstep.  

Serious illness or accidents can result in a severe financial hit for some people. Cancer treatments can run into the thousands. Fixing a broken bone from an ill-timed or less-than-elegant launch off the living room couch can exceed $3000.

Injury or Illness Typical Cost*
Hit by car     $1987
Foreign body ingestion $7552
Poisonous plant ingestion $2247
Lymphoma  $3500 and up
Bilateral cruciate rupture $5800

*costs reflect procedures in major metropolitan areas based on Trupanion’s research and experience.

Unless you literally keep you pet “on a short leash” and take every measure to keep them from harm, there will always exist the possibility of a large, unplanned bill you didn’t budget for. Not only do you feel the pain of your injured or sick pet, the pain in your bank account can be just as devastating. In some dire circumstances, we see pet parents put in the difficult position of considering “economic euthanasia” as an option. With pet insurance, this situation can be avoided.

Pet insurance helps to remove the sharp edges of uncertainty.

How Does Pet Health Insurance Work?

Pets aren’t cars, but the analogy holds true – pet insurance is similar to auto insurance. Unlike autos, it not illegal to walk your dog without insurance.

Quite simply, you select a coverage plan and pay a monthly premium. The coverage you select will depend on what you want to have covered. This can range from just accidents to the whole enchilada – accidents, illnesses and wellness components, such as vaccinations, prescriptions and exams.

Not only will the scope of the coverage matter in how much your monthly premium will cost, but other factors matter, too: this include your pet’s species, age, breed, area code and reproductive status.

Once you have decided on the level of coverage, you pick a deductible that makes sense for your unique situation. This amount is what you pay out-of-pocket when submitting a claim. The higher the deductible, the lower the monthly premium and vice versa. The insurance company covers the rest.

In general, veterinarians do not directly process pet insurance claims. It’s important to mention that when a pet needs emergent medical care, you and your veterinarian make independent decisions on what treatments to pursue – not the insurance company.

Typically, the entire bill gets paid at the clinic and then you submit a claim to your insurance provider. If covered, the insurance company reimburses you for a percentage of the bill – this is all based upon your plan’s coverage at this point. The drawback is that this requires you to have enough cash or credit on hand to pay the bill while waiting to get reimbursed by the insurance company.

Some pet insurance companies offer to pay the vet clinic costs directly, as is the case for our preferred partner, Trupanion. No waiting for reimbursement.

What Are The Different Types Of Pet Insurance?

Pet insurance companies offer a wide array of different products, but the main types of insurance products areas follows:

  • Accident Only: As you might expect, accident only pet insurance covers the cost of treatment for your pet if it’s been involved in an accident. ie. hit by car, swallows a sock (hello Labs!)
  • Accident and Illness: same as above, but also covers illnesses such as diabetes, heartworm and cancer.
  • Insurance with Wellness Riders: covers accident and illness and may include a preventative wellness element such as vaccinations, annual exams and/or acupuncture treatments.

How Much Are Premiums? Deductibles?

Premiums

The monthly premium you pay is based on the species, breed, age and area code of your pet. In general, there is a small difference in cost between a dog and cat – a difference normally due to the types of veterinary services that each animal needs.

In Canada, the average monthly insurance premium for basic pet insurance is $39 for a dog and $29 for a cat. So, for your beloved canine or feline partner-in-crime, you can expect to pay between $350-$475 per year.

Deductibles

The advantage of a higher deductible is a lower monthly premium. However, this means that you’ll have to cover more out-of-pocket services first before the insurance kicks in.

A higher premium with a lower deductible could save you a lot of money a longer timeframe, if you have a pet known to have persistent health problems, such as French bulldogs (ear infections and conjunctivitis) or a German Shepherd (hip dysplasia).

In Canada, you’ll find three categories of deductibles:

  • Per Condition (yearly): A deductible for each condition; resets every year
  • Per-Condition (lifetime): A separate deductible for each condition
  • Annual: One deductible for any condition.

Lifetime/Annual Payout Limits

Many pet insurance companies in Canada have limits on what the insurance will pay out in a calendar year or in a lifetime. Some companies offer an annual limits of up to $15000, while others will have no lifetime ceilings – Trupanion – after the deductible conditions have been met.

Most pet insurance plans allow you to customize a policy to placate your budget by varying the deductible amounts or the annual limit caps. This will allow you to factor in how much you would be likely to spend in veterinary bills versus the cost of the premium.

What Isn’t Covered By Pet Health Insurance?

Pet health insurance plans DO NOT cover pre-existing conditions. A Pre-Existing Condition as defined by our preferred provider – Trupanion:

“A pre-existing condition is any injury or illnesses that your pet shows symptoms of before coverage begins.” They look for “any condition that presented before enrolling in a policy or during the waiting periods (5 days for injuries, 30 days for illnesses) to determine what is a pre-existing condition and not eligible for coverage.”

How an insurance provider determines what is considered a “pre-existing condition” will vary by company. Read the fine print for their definition of a “pre-existing condition”, ask questions and get a detailed list of what’s covered before you sign on the dotted line.

Half of all pets will have a major illness in their lifetime. That said, they have access to better treatment than ever before. Advances in technology and training have extended the lives of our beloved pets the world over.

However, treatment can be pricey – veterinary bills can add up to thousand of dollars. Is it pet insurance worth it? We’ve seen pet insurance significantly rise in North America and we see it locally in Cabbagetown – more pet parents are taking the step to protect their pet – and themselves – then ever before.

We Trupanion. 

Trupanion Canada is our preferred pet insurance partner and just happens to be one of the largest providers in Canada. They keep pet insurance simple by offering a single (and excellent) pet insurance plan that will cover the needs of most pet parents.

They have an industry-leading reimbursement rate of 90% with the ability to directly invoice your veterinarian through their Vet Direct Pay feature. This eliminates a potentially large upfront, out-of-pocket payment to your veterinarian, including us. Instead, the Cabbagetown Pet Clinic submits a claim when you check out – you only pay a portion of your bill while Trupanion pays the rest directly to our clinic. Easy-peasy…

  • The deductible is per condition
  • Direct payment to your veterinarian option
  • Reimbursement is 90% of your actual veterinary bill
  • No lifetime limits on accidents and illness coverage

Find out how to receive 30 days of FREE coverage at your next appointment.

TL;DR

If you believe your pet – especially a higher-maintenance breed – may put you in a position where you’ll have difficulty covering a large, out-of-pocket bill, pet insurance may be your ticket some peace of mind.

Like most insurance policies, it’s a bit of a gamble. Unexpected events happen – you just hope it doesn’t happen to your pet.

Make sure you grasp what is (and isn’t) covered, policy caps, reimbursement levels and any other fees you may need to pay if you need to use your plan, BEFORE you purchase a policy.

Take the time to research ALL options and get online quotes – arm yourself with information (there’s no shortage of it!) to help make a decision that suits your individual needs best.

Meet the Team

Professional, attentive and dedicated to your pet.

Veterinary Services

Helping your pet live a longer, happier and healthier life.

Location and Hours

Modern and efficient in a cozy, friendly environment.

Dogs vs. Canadian Winters

By Pet Behaviour, Pet Health

Cold Weather Dog Safety

Keeping Your Four-legged Family Members Safe in Cold Weather

Our furry, doggo friends are an integral part of the family. And as the leader of the pack, Pet Parents must ensure that their dog is prepared to endure the rigours of a long, Canadian winter. Your dog is counting on you to keep them safe in cold weather.

A solid coat of fur is the first line of defence against cold weather, but this alone is not enough to protect dogs from the elements. They – much like people – have varying degrees of tolerance when it comes to temperature extremes. Even the hardiest breeds are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite.

How Cold Is Too Cold For My Dog?

Know your dog’s limitations

Just like people, dogs have different levels of cold tolerance. How cold is too cold for your dog is knowledge gained over time. Cold tolerance varies from pet to pet based on their activity level, coat, body fat stores and overall health.

Things to consider:

  • Arthritic and elderly dogs may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling.
  • Dogs with longer hair tend to be more tolerant of cold temperatures, but are still at risk over time. Conversely, short-haired pets have less protection and may be more susceptible to hyperthermia.
  • Short-legged dogs tend to feel chills earlier because their torsos are more likely to come into contact with snow-covered ground.
  • Dogs that suffer from underlying medical conditions – such as diabetes, heart and kidney disease or hormonal imbalances – may have more difficulty regulating body temperature. This can lead to problems at temperature extremes.

Given these factors, be aware of your pet’s tolerance for cold weather and adjust accordingly. A good rule of thumb is if it’s too cold for you, it’s likely too cold for your dog.

Still unsure about how cold is too cold?

Stay inside.

How Can I Keep My Dog Safe in Cold Weather?

1. Protect Your Dog from Common Winter Chemicals

Antifreeze is chemical commonly used in winter is a lethal poison for dogs. And cats, rabbits, squirrels and any number of other animals, for that matter. If you’re replacing coolant or antifreeze in your garage or driveway, make sure to thoroughly clean up any spills without delay. Consult your vet immediately if your dog ingests even a small amount – a seemingly insignificant amount can be fatal. Not sure if your dog has ingested antifreeze?

The following severe symptoms require immediate medical care:

  • Unsteady or uncoordinated movement
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Rapid heartbeat and weakness
  • Seizures and convulsions
  • Coma, unresponsiveness

Road salt and de-icers are frequently used on sidewalks to keep them clear of ice. These, too, are generally chemical-based and can easily burn a dog’s pads. During walks, your dog’s paws, legs and belly may attract de-icers, antifreeze or other chemicals that could be toxic. Inspect your dog’s paws after a walk outside and wipe them with a warm, damp towel, if necessary. Shorter dogs may also need their bellies wiped down.

2. Feeding an Appetite in Cold Weather

Exercise during the cold, winter months is often limited. Snowstorms, freezing temperatures and Pet Parent motivation all play a role in staying inside. Hibernation-mode is a thing in Canada.  

Your dog is likely to consume more food during the winter months because extra calories are required to generate sufficient body heat and energy to keep them warm. Because of this, it’s tempting to increase your dog’s caloric intake or allowing excess snacking during this time of year.

This is a mistake.

Extra weight can lead to joint or respiratory problems, and may cause underlying medical issues – such as arthritis – to become worse.

If your feel the need to add extra calories to your dogs diet, our veterinarians can provide expert guidance based on your dog’s breed, age and health history.

3. Make a Fashion Statement While Protecting Your Dog

Dogs at higher risk of hypothermia – young, old, ill, thin, or short-haired dogs – may need to wear a sweater to protect them from extreme temperatures. For small dogs in particular, sweaters are an important addition to their wardrobe during the cold weather months. Why? Small dogs have a greater body surface area to body weight ratio.

Sometimes, we see dogs wearing booties and think it looks absolutely absurd. From a practicality standpoint, booties are much more than a fashion statement – they can help dogs with traction on snow or ice, protect their paws from extreme cold and shield paw pads from getting cut on ice.

4. Automobiles Can Act Like a Freezer

During the cold, winter months, your automobile can act like a freezer. Hot cars are a well-known threat to dogs, but subzero cars also pose a substantial risk to your pet’s health. A car parked outside in the extreme cold can turn into freezer in short order.

Pets who are young, old, or ill are particularly at risk for becoming hypothermic and should never be left in cold cars, even if your think you’ll be back in a moments notice.

How can I tell if my dog is too cold?

What are the signs that my dog has hypothermia?

Dogs have a high tolerance for the cold – much more than humans. Don’t they? Given their thick, shiny coat of fur, it’s a natural assumption. However, for most breeds, it’s just not the case. Pets are vulnerable to hypothermia and frostbite just like their pet parents and it’s our responsibility to recognize it.

It’s easy to infer that higher risk pets include the young or old, those with little body fat – hello Greyhounds! – and those with medical conditions that are exacerbated in cold conditions. Hypothyroidism? Check.

Given the puppy boom of 2020, it is imperative for new dog owners to take every precaution necessary to protect their new family member as they experience their first winter.

Hypothermia Symptoms for Dogs:

  • Intense shivering.
  • Lethargic behaviour – stops moving or slows down unexpectedly.
  • Slow or shallow breathing patterns, or a slower heart rate.
  • Pallid gums underneath their lips.
  • Excessive whining; appears restless or anxious.

What to do if you suspect your dog has hypothermia

First things first: immediately bring your pet indoors, put them in a warm, dry spot and wrap in warm blankets from the dryer. It only takes a few minutes to heat them up. While you wait, take the opportunity to dry off your pet using a towel or a hair dryer on a low setting. Pets should be warmed up slowly, as they can be easily burned!

Some pet parents resort to hot water bottles, although this comes with risk if they are too hot or not applied properly. They should never be used without being wrapped in a towel. Even then, precaution is a must. If you feel this step in necessary, place the towel-wrapped bottles against the groin or by the armpits where there’s less fur.

If you believe your pet is suffering from hypothermia or frostbite, contact our clinic immediately.

Talk to Our Veterinarians About Cold Weather Protection For Your Dog

Have you considered enrolling in our Cabbagetown Care Wellness Program? There’s no better way to keep tabs on your dog’s immediate needs for the winter months ahead.

If not, we recommend our veterinarians examine your pet once a year – at least. Having your dog checked at our clinic can help ensure that problems don’t worsen when the temperature dips. This is especially true in colder climates, such as Toronto. Being aware of your dog’s risk factors will ensure that you and your dog are prepared for cold months ahead.

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Decoding Your Cat

By Pet Behaviour

Feline Communication – Cracking the Mysterious Cat Code.

30 second summary:
  • Meowing is a unique form of communication that cats use almost exclusively for human-directed communication.
  • Purring occurs at a frequency between 25-140 Hertz. This particular frequency range has been shown to stimulate healing and improve bone density.
  • Cat Chatter: Chattering is a sound a cat creates while watching chipmunks, squirrels, birds or other prey animals.
  • Posture tells us almost everything we need to know about a cat’s emotional state: from exuding complete confidence to abject fear and submission.
  • Hiding pain is believed to be an evolutionary holdover from pre-domestication days, where illness or injury is an invitation for would-be predators.

Many – if not all – cat parents have stared longingly into their cat’s eyes for some kind – any kind – of understanding of what’s going on inside their cat’s cranium. Trying to determine exactly what makes a cat ‘tick’ is a fool’s errand, but human efforts continue unabated.

For many cat lovers – and a few haters – felines are a fascinating psychological study in frustration. Unlike their canine counterparts, they don’t bend easily to our will and harbour a well-deserved reputation as enigmatic, solitary and impulsive animals.

Fortunately, animal behaviourists have dedicated years(!) of research trying to decode how cats communicate. Great strides have been made in this beguiling area. Many specific feline behaviours have been decrypted to help us understand their different states of mind.

5 Ways Felines Communicate Verbally

Cats use sounds to express emotions and sentiment. Meowing, hissing, purring, yowls and more are all included in the feline collection of vocalizations. Depending on the context, each has it’s own distinctive meaning.

Oddly, domesticated cats have learned to meow at humans, but not at each other. Generally speaking, only mother cats and their kittens communicate through meowing. Is this is an indication that cats see their owners as kittens/possessions? Some scientists think so…HA!

1. Meowing

Meowing is one of the unique forms of communication that cats use exclusively for human-directed communication. With the exception of hungry kittens, cats do not meow to other cats.

Why?

Cats have learned that they cannot communicate with us the way they do with other cats, so they vocalize using meows. They have evolved more refined, non-verbal ways to communicate with each other.  

Meowing can occur in an assortment of pitches, volumes and cadences. It’s important that we understand what our cat is trying to tell us, especially when it comes to pain or discomfort.

  • “Hello” Meow: This is generally a quick or short meow. Cat hasn’t seen you in a while? This is your cat’s greeting before the more important meows happen.
  • “Excitement” Meow(s): After a long-ish absence, you may get you the multiple meow treatment. An enthusiastic greeting to show you gratitude for re-entering their life. This is the most short-lived meow in the feline kingdom.
  • “Notice Me!” Meow: This is a mid-pitch, pleading meow. Your cat desires something – usually food or attention.
  • “Demand” Meow: Not necessarily loud, but certainly drawn out – bordering on grouchy. Your cat is demanding some type of action. Again, usually food or attention.
  • Bad Human – You’ve Crossed Me” Meow: This is a typically a meandering low-pitched meow, bordering on growling. This is your cat being grumpy about something you have done wrong.
  • I’m Really Mad / I’m in Pain” Meow: This is THE attention-getter, as it’s a high-frequency, bellowing meow. Your feline friend is annoyed or in pain. If you’ve ever stepped on your cats tail, you KNOW the sound.
2. Purring: Healing Power

This complex vocalization is one of the enduring mysteries in veterinary science. Although most people associate purring with happiness, cats also purr when they’re injured, anxious, or hungry.

When the muscles of the larynx spasm, purring occurs with each inhalation and exhalation. This creates a comforting sound with a frequency between 25-150 Hertz. This particular frequency range has been shown to stimulate healing and improve bone density. It’s not hard to imagine that purring may signify an effective way for cats to keep calm and stay at ease when in discomfort.

3. Growling, Spitting, Hissing and Yowling

When a cat is afraid, they growl and hiss to communicate to other cats that they should stay away. If the other cat doesn’t back off, they may intensify their vocalization to a snarl or spit prior to an attack.

Cats howl (or yowl) when in pain or distress. This is expressed as a long, drawn out meow. You know it when you hear it! Cats displaying this behaviour are typically highly agitated and may act out aggressively or need immediate medical attention. Yowling is also a common mating behaviour when a female cat is in heat.

4. Chirping

When mother cats interact with their kittens, you may hear a melodic, trill-like sound – this chirping vocalization is used to summon attention – a way for mom to get the immediate attention of her kittens. Crafty cats also use it to get their human slaves to follow them to an empty food dish in lieu of a “Demand” meow (see above)

5. Chattering

Chattering is a sequence of staccato sounds created while watching chipmunks, squirrels, birds or other prey animals.

Although the science is inconclusive, there are a couple of theories behind this behaviour. Some animal behaviourists believe it’s simply a frustration response, while some speculate it’s meant to imitate the call of prey species – a vocalized diversion designed to confuse prey, just long enough for an ambush. At the very least, it’s fun to watch.

5 Non-Verbal Feline Communication Methods

If one looks closely enough, a felines posture can demonstrate an entire range of emotion: from exuding complete confidence to abject fear and submission.

1. My Domain, Back Off: Chemical Signals and Marking

Cats are territorial. The scents left behind are designed to send dominant messages to all aspiring trespassers – back off! When cats rub against each other or things, pheromones – oils from scent glands – remain behind to mark their neighbourhood boundary.

In more extreme cases, cats will use urine and feces-marking to leave messages for wannabe interlopers. This can often be seen when a new pet is introduced to a household with an existing cat.

2. Windows to the Soul: Cat’s Eyes

Cats eyes give you many clues to their state of mind. A rush of adrenaline will dilate pupils indicating a cat that is excited, nervous or cautious. Don’t worry about “death” stares – a cat that glares at a person or object is indicating interest. But if your cat is staring at another cat without blinking, that is a sign of dominance or aggression. A relaxed, lazy blink is a sign of affection and trust meaning a cat feels comfortable enough to let you out of their sight momentarily.

3. Attitude Adjustment: Ear Position

Ears pointing forward show alertness and express interest. Ears turned up and to the side happen when a cat is content. Ears that are to the sides, swivelling backward and/or flattened, indicate irritation or fear. And if the ears are completely flat against her head, beware! That’s a fighting posture.

4. The Mood Meter: Tail Position

The position and motion of the tail have specific meanings and is one of the most consistent ways to assess a feline’s emotional state. 

Happy and Relaxed Tails: Cats holding her tail upright and relaxed indicate they want to be approached – interaction is welcome. A tail wrapped around the side slowly is a cat in a loving mood.

Mad and Anxious Tails: A tail thrashing back and forth could be a sign of play or, most likely, frustration – usually a signal to keep your distance. This can be a tough one to decode. A stiff tail can indicate doubt, while a tucked tail signifies submission or fear. If a cat’s tail is puffed up, it’s an attempt to look larger and intimidating – ready for a fight.

5. Show Me Love: Belly Exposure.

A cat displaying the belly is a trusting behaviour. This puts a cat in a vulnerable position that exposes the abdomen while making it more difficult to run away – a risky proposition in the wild. Cats that love belly rubs are asking for a little love and attention – until they’re not!

Pain Indicators All Cat Parents Should Know

Cats are inclined to hide their pain, making it difficult for pet parents to recognize discomfort or underlying illness. This can delay veterinary care when they need it most.

Why do cats hide their pain?

It is believed to be an evolutionary holdover from their pre-domestication days, where illness or injury is an enticing invitation for would-be predators. This makes sense, as hiding vulnerability for survival is not uncommon in the animal kingdom.

Signs your cat is in distress or pain:

  • Loss of interest in people, pets or activities
  • Not grooming or excessive grooming in one area
  • Hiding (very common)
  • Purring, excessive meowing or uncommon vocalizations
  • Edginess or aggression
  • Business activities beyond the litter box

It’s important to schedule a visit with our veterinarians any time your cat appears to be in pain, or you believe them to be – you can use our Pet Health Checker as a starting point. We can determine whether changes in behaviour are due to pain or illness. Only then can the underlying cause be treated.

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Spaying and Neutering | the ABC’s

By Pet Health
30-second summary:
  • 6 to 8 million unwanted cats and dogs are euthanized each year.
  • In 6 years, just one female dog and her descendants are capable of breeding 67,000 puppies! 
  • Spaying reduces the likelihood of uterine infections and breast tumors. Tumors are malignant in around 50% of dogs and 90% of cats.
  • Aggression and territory marking are behaviors that can be curtailed or avoided by early neutering.
  • The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has raised concerns about the relationship between pre-puberty neuters and joint disorders and cancer in dogs.
  • The timing of a spay or neuter should always be in consultation with our veterinary team. Their knowledge of your pet’s particular breed and possible disease risk are your best guideposts.

The puppy/kitten pet population has greatly expanded in 2020, as people are adding furry family members at an amazing pace. As a recent new pet parent, you’re probably thinking about the next step – getting your pet spayed or neutered.

In animal shelters all over North America, 6 to 8 million unwanted cats and dogs are euthanized each year. That’s a lot of needless death. Although this statistic seems astounding, it’s easy to envision if you consider:

A single pair of cats can produce 8 kittens in a year. If each of those 8 kittens produces an average of another 8 kittens per year, well, you can see where the math is headed. Left to their own biological drives, almost 300,000 cats are in the family tree by Year 6. In Year 7, the descendants of the original mother and father will number almost 2.4 million.

Yikes !

This is an extreme example, but cats will be prolific if left to their own devices. And if you think this doesn’t hit close to home, think again – these are issues in our own backyard. A recent TVO documentary – Cats of Cornwall – shines a spotlight on how a runaway cat population can go from “cute” to “invasive species” territory in a heartbeat.

Dog reproduction is slightly less extreme, but anyone who’s wandered the backstreets of a developing country can attest to the high level of pain and suffering experienced daily by a local “pot licker”. Food for thought: In 6 years, just one female dog and its offspring are capable of generating 67,000 puppies!

These shockingly high numbers are the result of unplanned litters that could have been prevented by spaying or neutering.

What is the difference between spay and neuter?

The medical term for a “spay” is an ovariohysterectomy and is performed under general anesthesia. It involves removal of the female’s uterus and both ovaries through an incision made in the abdomen.

Neutering – or orchiectomy – is the surgical removal of one or both male testes. Also performed under general anesthesia, an incision is made near the front of the scrotum where the veterinarian will proceed to remove the testicles.

Spaying your pet has multiple benefits:

  • Prevention of unwanted pets and overpopulation.
  • Prevention of uterine infections and breast tumours. These are malignant or cancerous in around 50% of dogs and 90% of cats.
  • Eliminate heat cycles. In the case of felines, they usually go into heat 4 to 5 days every three weeks during breeding periods. Spaying your female cat or dog reduces yowling,  erratic behaviour and bloody vaginal discharge.
  • Cost control. The cost of your pet’s spay surgery is far less than the cost – not to mention the time – of caring for a litter. A uterine infection or tumour that requires emergency surgery can result in a vet bill of thousands of dollars.

Why neutering your pet is the right decision:

  • Prevention of testicular cancer and some prostate problems.
  • Prevention of unwanted litters, thus reducing pet overpopulation.
  • Cost control. The cost of your pet’s neuter surgery is far less than the cost – not to mention the time – of caring for a litter.
  • Resolution of (some) behavioural issues. Your dog might be less likely to mount other dogs, people and inanimate objects after castration. Aggression and marking their territory are behaviours that can be curtailed or avoided by early neutering.

At what age should a pet be spayed or neutered?

CANINES

According to the AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines, it’s recommended that small-breed dogs be neutered at 6 months or spayed prior to the first heat – 5 to 6 months of age. Large-breed dogs should be neutered after growth stops – usually between 9 and 15 months.

The timing of spaying a large-breed female dog is based on many factors – our veterinarians can help define an optimal time within the AAHA-recommended window of 5 to15 months, based on your dog’s disease risk and lifestyle.

FELINES 

The first heat cycle for female kittens is usually at the age of 5 or 6 months. The AAHA has endorsed the Fix Felines by Five initiative that recommends the spaying and neutering of cats by 5 months of age. However, it is generally considered safe for kittens as young as 8 weeks old to be sterilized.

SPECIAL OFFER:

Receive a 25% discount on spay/neuter procedures when you enroll in our Cabbagetown Care Pet Wellness program. You will also receive a free, one-year membership ($50 value) when you sign up with our Client Support Partner, GoFetch.ca. Get 5% cash rewards and 24/7 telemedicine access to veterinary care.

What does recent research say about when to spay or neuter your pet ?

There is limited data concerning the absolute best age to spay and neuter pets. In 2013, the University of California, Davis led research on golden retrievers that raised eyebrows in the world of veterinary medicine concerning early spaying and neutering. UC-Davis established that early sterilization prevented many issues, but also appeared to increase the risk of others. These included “cranial cruciate ligament rupture, hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumours, lymphosarcoma, and hip dysplasia”. Again, this was breed specific and not found to be analogous in all dogs.

Of particular concern about early spay/neuters are joint disorders and cancer. Because the procedure removes the male testes and the female ovaries, this can cause disruption of certain hormones that play significant roles internally, such as the closure of the growth plates of bones and regulation of the estrous cycle in female dogs.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) – THE trusted voice in veterinary care – continues to monitor ongoing research closely. Their guidelines are backed up research that shows that behavioral problems, orthopeadic disease, obesity, endocrine disorders, cancer and urinary incontinence may be linked to sterilization status and the age at which the procedure is performed. In a nutshell, they’ve determined that there may be long-term health benefits to spaying or neutering dogs after they have passed through puberty.

So, when to neuter a large breed dog? As an elective procedure, pet parents ultimately make the decision to neuter their dog – or not. Any surgical procedure has risks. Add that to the uncertainty of potential medical issues that cannot be denied and this decision has the potential to make your head spin. The fact the pet overpopulation is a HUGE problem should help guide your ultimate decision.

If your choice is to neuter, consult with our veterinarians. They’ll help you make an informed decision on the optimal time to neuter your particular breed and determine if any underlying conditions may affect a positive outcome. If you choose to forgo the procedure, know that you will need to be constantly hyper-vigilant to prevent your dog from escaping your control, lest they find a female in heat.

Research continues – especially with different canine breeds – to help understand the cause and effect of sterilization and the relationship between spay/neuter status and disease prevalence.

Cabbagetown Pet Clinic is steadfast in our belief that the benefits of spay/neuter significantly outweigh the risks in the majority of cases.

The decision to spay or neuter your pet is a socially accepted no-brainer in most circles, unless you’re an above-board, licensed breeder or there’s an underlying medical concern expressed by our veterinarians. The “when” part should always be in consultation with our veterinary team. They are your most up-to-date resource. Their knowledge of your pet’s particular breed and possible disease risk will help you make an informed decision about a suitable age for your pet’s procedure.

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Puppy-socialization

Puppy Socialization: A Complete Overview

By Pet Health

Socializing your puppy

SUMMARY:

→   Socialization isn’t an “all or nothing” project. Socializing a puppy a little bit or a whole lot depends on the amount of time you’re prepared to devote. Doing nothing may negatively affect the mental and physical health over your pets’ lifetime.

→  The goal of ALL responsible dog owners: to have a sufficiently socialized dog that you can introduce to other pets and people without fear of anxiety, aggression and reactivity.

→  There is a window at about 4 to 14 weeks of age when it is optimal to introduce a puppy to new things and environments so as to reduce fear of them later in their development. It’s believed that after approximately 12 weeks of age there are diminishing returns on the long-term benefits of socializing your puppy.

→  There are safe ways to familiarize your puppy with other people and animals during COVID-19 while maintaining social distancing protocols.

→  Helpful tips on socializing your puppy.

Imagine this scenario: walking blissfully through streets and trails with your perfectly socialized bestie, stopping to chat with other owners and their equally well-mannered dogs. Then heading off to the local dog park where your dog can join the high-spirited – and friendly – pack to burn off some energy. You gaze affectionately at the results of your socialization efforts, sip a delicious mocha caffe latte and talk about the lovely fall weather with other pet parents.

Reality rarely reflects our expectations or experiences. Socializing a puppy is much less glamorous and a lot more work to get to our dream scenario. Awkward rear-end sniffing and temper tantrums usually happen before this picture can even occur. It takes time and effort to get your dog in the mindset where they’re relaxed around new people, places, and especially other dogs.

Your puppy’s genetics can’t change and training can come later. Socialization, however, has only a small window of opportunity before it is lost.

Why socializing your puppy is important

Puppy socialization means learning to be part of human society and thus, pet parents have one singular mission – to help their dogs learn to happily live within it.

The puppy socialization period should be a top priority for all pet parents. The ultimate goal is to have a dog that you can take places and introduce to other pets and people without worry. The idea behind socialization is that you want to help your puppy to react to all types of sights, sounds, and smells in a positive way.

You also don’t want to be known as “that person”. Generally, people don’t want their dog’s poor behaviour to reflect poorly on them. Oddly, some don’t care.

When done properly, your dog can learn how to interact positively with other dogs, people and animals. Dogs who are relaxed about honking horns, cats, cyclists, veterinary examinations, crowds are easier and safer to live with than dogs who find these conditions intimidating.

Socializing a puppy a little bit or a whole lot depends on the amount of time you’re prepared to devote. Doing nothing may negatively affect the mental and physical health over your pets’ lifetime.

Lack of socialization can cause:

  1. Anxiety: Dogs that skip the socialization process regularly exhibit nervousness and stress when encountering an unfamiliar situation, person or animal.
  2. Aggression: As a member of the ‘pack’, where a dog resides and who they live with are their possessions. They will defend their property should another animal (or human) encroach on their territory. This is baked into their DNA.
  3. Reactivity: This type of behaviour means they will be difficult to control given a specific environment. The environment may include going to the groomer, the vet clinic (we’re Fear Free Certified – dogs love it here!) or any other pet-friendly area. Not to be confused with aggression, a ‘triggered’ dog will overreact to certain stimuli or situations. 

Almost all behavioural issues can be traced back to a combination of insufficient socialization, training, and/or genetics. Unsurprisingly, pets with behaviour problems are more likely to be surrendered to shelters or re-homed before the age of three. As you may imagine, this is super-stressful scenario for adolescent adult dogs. Cats, too!

When should you start socializing your puppy?

New puppy pet parents are keen to get them out into the world as soon as their immune systems allow. In a puppy’s first three months of life, he will experience a socialization period that will forever shape his personality.

The puppy socialization window is limited. They aren’t usually adopted until 8 to 10 weeks old. After about 12 weeks there are diminishing returns on the long-term benefits of puppy socialization. There is a window of about 4 to 14 weeks* of age when it is optimal to initiate the process.

* in our research, there is no exact puppy socialization window. This time frame is an approximation: breeds and environments differ, so it’s safe to assume variations exist within any particular socialization window.

Puppy Socialization during COVID-19

At the Cabbagetown Pet Clinic, we’ve seen a substantial increase in adopted puppies and kittens since the beginning of the pandemic. This is not surprising, as people are working from home and have time to foster a relationship with a new companion.

How does this affect the puppy socialization process?

Most people are doing the right things with respect to protecting each other from COVID-19 when out in public. For pet parents, however, there are legitimate fears for their new pet’s health. One unintended consequence of social distancing measures is that some new puppies may have had limited exposure to another human beings and animals – aside from family members – during a critical time in their development.

Will we see a generation of unruly, reactive and anxious dogs?

It’s anyone’s guess how pets adopted during the pandemic are going to react when pet parents begin a return to their normal routines (?) as the pandemic passes into the history books. There will be lots written about SARS-CoV-2 in the coming years. Only then, will we have a clear picture of the many effects on pets and pet parents.

While it’s important to maintain social distancing from each other, there are ways to safely introduce your dog or puppy to other people and animals in the age of COVID-19:

  • Take your dog or puppy for a walk in an area where other people walk. Keep your distance at least 5m away from others and gradually decrease the distance over time as your puppy becomes more confident within the environment.
  • Pay close attention to your puppy’s body language. Slow the process down if they appear anxious or fearful and increase the distance from the new experience, if necessary. This could mean starting further away from the action. When the comfort level stabilizes, continue as described above.
  • Be overly cautious when meeting new dogs – they may have their own socialization issues. You want your puppy to have consistent and friendly associations with other dogs and people. Have treats at the ready for your puppy when a new person or dog comes into the frame. Don’t forget…verbal praise is greatly encouraged to complement the treats!

At our Fear Free Certified vet clinic, behavioural issues are always given the same level of consideration as a medical concern.

We are very fortunate to have a veterinarian on staff with a special interest in behavioural medicineDr. Amanda Low. She’s an expert at building client-puppy relationships and is highly skilled at identifying and preventing emerging behavioural issues.

In addition to the conversations involving all things puppy-related, such as vaccination schedules, preventive healthcare, heartworm and flea control, nutritional advice and spay/neuter considerations, our veterinary hospital incorporates behavioural medicine as part of our holistic healthcare approach.

We’re thankful to all of our clients with new puppies (and kittens!) that trust our animal hospital to give their new pet the best chance at leading a happy and healthy life.

Meet the Team

Professional, attentive and dedicated to your pet.

Veterinary Services

Helping your pet live a longer, happier and healthier life.

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