Category

Pet Behaviour

dog-itching-skin-allergy

Canine Atopic Dermatitis: Skin Allergies in Dogs

By Pet Behaviour, Pet Health

Skin Allergies in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Is your dog experiencing intense scratching and licking? Is their skin red or inflamed?

If so, you’re certainly not alone.

Nothing drives your dog nuttier than incessant itching. This can be due to many factors, but the main culprit is usually some form of skin allergy. It is THE most common reason why pet parents seek veterinary care.

Depending on the severity – and without pet insurance – treatments for skin allergies can add up quickly.

The focus of this post is the effect of environmental allergens that cause an allergic reaction leading to Atopic Dermatitis.

  • How do you know if your dog has skin allergies or some other medical condition?
  • If it is allergies, what’s the cause?
  • Is my dog breed susceptible to skin allergies?
  • If my dog has skin allergies, how is it treated?
  • What should you do if you think your dog has skin allergies?

We’ll attempt to address all of these issues, but freely admit that we can’t offer any definitive diagnoses in this post. Since so many symptoms overlap between each type of canine allergy, we always recommend to book an appointment with our veterinarians. Incorrect assumptions can otherwise can lead to adverse medical outcomes.

What is an allergy in dogs?

An allergy is a reaction caused by an element known as an allergen. It may be internal or externally triggered and could be unique to a specific dog or more commonly familiar across their breed, age or population.

The immune system responds to the allergen by overcompensating and reacting uncharacteristically to what should be an ordinary environmental or internal issue.

In short, allergies are a misdirected response to foreign substances by the body’s immune system.

Causes of Skin Allergies in Dogs

There are 3 key causes of skin allergies in dogs:

  1. Flea Allergy Dermatitis

This is an allergic reaction specific to saliva in flea bites. This makes affected dogs very itchy, especially at the base of the tail. Skin may become irritated and swollen – rashes or open wounds are possible outcomes.

  1. Food allergies

Just as in humans, sensitivity to some foods can cause allergic reactions and itchy skin. Dogs with food allergies typically scratch are around their ears and paws. Gastrointestinal symptoms – such as vomiting and diarrhea – may also be indicate an allergic response to some types of food.

  1. Environmental Allergens

Skin allergies from environmental factors are the most common type of allergic reactions in dogs. These allergies are usually seasonal, and are caused by allergens such as dust, pollen, weeds, grasses and mold. As a result, you may only notice your dog itching at certain times of the year.

The focus of this post is the effect of environmental allergens that cause an allergic reaction leading to Atopic Dermatitis.

  • How do you know if your dog has skin allergies or some other medical condition?
  • If it is allergies, what’s the cause?
  • Is my dog breed susceptible to skin allergies?
  • If my dog has skin allergies, how is it treated?
  • What should you do if you think your dog has skin allergies?

We’ll attempt to address all of these issues, but freely admit that we won’t’t reach any definitive diagnoses in this post. Since so many symptoms overlap between each type of canine allergy, we always recommend to book an appointment with our veterinarians. Incorrect assumptions can otherwise can lead to adverse medical outcomes.

Meet the Enemy: FLEAS

These tiny, blood-sucking parasites irritate your pet and can infest your home, often before you realize that they’ve have moved in. If you and your dog are scratching your heads and you’re wondering how to address dog fleas, we’ve got your covered.

LEARN MORE

What Is Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs?

This skin allergy – often called allergic dermatitis or atopic dermatitis – is a chronic condition associated with environmental factors and is typically acquired through inhalation of certain types of allergens. In human terms, it’s a form of hay fever.

Atopic Dermatitis is hereditary and generally afflicts purebred dogs, more so than mixed breeds.

What breeds have a higher risk of skin allergies?

  • Dalmatians
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Terriers
  • French Bulldogs
  • Irish Setters
  • Boxers
  • Shih Tzus
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Pugs
  • German Shepherds

Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs

A dog with atopic dermatitis will typically show symptoms between 3 months to 6 years of age. Older dogs (7+) don’t tend to develop atopic dermatitis, although a new environment may trigger new allergens. Atopic dermatitis often starts as a mild condition – symptoms may not appear before three years of age.

Although occasionally seasonal, symptoms often worsen over time. They can also differ depending on the type of allergen and the severity of the reaction.

However, dogs will exhibit some of these common signs:

  • Frequent itching and scratching
  • Excessive licking, especially at their paws
  • Biting and gnawing of the skin
  • Red, inflamed skin or rashes
  • Dry or oily skin
  • Hives and other bumps
  • Loss of fur
  • Frequent shaking of the head due to itchy ears
  • Swollen face and paws
  • Regular rubbing against surfaces
  • Open wounds
  • Watery eyes

These are the physical signs that can alert you to possible skin allergies. These symptoms are often accompanied by behavioural issues. Researchers have found that the severity of atopic dermatitis in dogs was directly connected to persistent problematic behaviours.

Behavioural indicators of skin allergies in dogs include:

  • excessive mounting
  • chewing
  • hyperactivity, excitability and/or attention seeking
  • eating feces
  • begging / stealing food
  • excessive grooming

The study concludes that some – or all – of these factors suggest an association between the severity of the itching and psychological stress in dogs suffering from this condition. If your dog shows any of these irregular behaviours, they’re likely to have some type of skin issue and an appointment with our animal hospital should be booked immediately.

What are the most common areas where skin allergies occur in dogs?

  • Ears
  • Underbelly
  • Armpits
  • Groin
  • Base of the tail
  • Around the eyes
  • Paws
  • Muzzle

So, pretty much everywhere. Early-stage Atopic Dermatitis may be quite mild and not obvious. However, as the disease develops, the signs will become more visible.

How is Atopic Dermatitis diagnosed in my dog?

 Diagnosing environmental allergies in dogs can be performed using two techniques: serologic (blood) testing or intradermal skin testing.

  • Serologic testing: requires drawing a single blood sample to test a dog’s response to environmental allergens. The blood sample is then submitted to a laboratory for analysis.
  • Intradermal skin testing: A highly specialized and complex process, intradermal testing is this “gold standard” for diagnosing environmental allergies It involves injecting a small amount of a pure allergen under the skin and measuring the allergic response.

Treatment for Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs

One of the first steps is eliminating or reducing exposure to the environmental allergens causing the skin allergy. If you can’t identify the specific irritant, use a process of elimination by removing the environmental factors that have the potential to trigger an outbreak.

However, with environmental allergies it may not be possible to avoid the allergen entirely. If your dog suffers from indoor or outdoor allergies, our veterinarians can prescribe an allergy relief medication to help relieve symptoms.

     1. Allergen Control

One of the most common causes of Atopic Dermatitis are environmental allergens from dust mites and pollens. Dust mites in the home are the most common allergens in dogs. Fleas, grasses and mold are also sources, but tend to play lesser roles.

5 pet-friendly tactics you can use to reduce exposure to allergens in your home:

  1. Keep windows closed and use air conditioning: this keeps pollen or outdoor molds from entering your home.
  2. Get an air purifier (with HEPA filter): by eliminating allergens, you – and your pet – can enjoy cleaner air.
  3. Dehumidifiers: for basements or other damp areas of your home where mold may accumulate.
  4. Frequent pet mattress washing and vacuuming.
  5. Regular baths with medicated or prescription-strength shampoo: improve your pet’s comfort level and help skin infections heal quicker.

     2. Medications

Our veterinarians may also recommend medications to help reduce symptoms. A variety of anti-allergy drugs are available, but some dogs develop side-effects from taking certain anti-itch medications. This may come in the form of a daily pill or a periodic injection depending on what our vets determine will have the best chance of success.

The downside?

Different anti-allergy medications may need to be tried because not every medication works in all dogs. Some dogs don’t respond to medications, or respond at the beginning of treatment, but may see its effectiveness decrease over time.

     3. Allergen Immunotherapy

The primary treatment for environment-induced Atopic Dermatitis is allergen immunotherapy, also known as desensitization or hypersensitization. It consists of a series of shots that slowly increase the quantities of relevant allergens. This is done until tolerance to the allergen is established and relapses of clinical signs are stopped. Once treatment begins, frequent visits to the vet are needed to determine how well your dog is responding.

This time-tested treatment can lessen the symptoms, especially when treatment is administered when dogs are younger. Results take time – it may be months before results are noticeable.

Because of the chronic nature of Atopic Dermatitis, our goal is to have the fewest number of side effects from treatment and still allow your dog to live its best life.

Is there a cure for Atopic Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis seldom goes into remission or resolves on its own. It requires ongoing treatment.

Once the treatment options have started – and your dog’s itching is under control – a regular checkup at our clinic every is recommended every 4 to 12 months, depending on the severity.

This will help determine the effectiveness of the treatment and to check for any adverse drug interactions.

Pet parents should always stay attentive to their dog’s behaviour and ensure that they seek treatment at the first sign of skin allergy symptoms. If unaddressed, skin allergies can affect your dog’s temperament – constant itching can lead to frustration and ultimately, negative behavioural issues.

Conclusion 

Successful management of Atopic Dermatitis is often complicated and sometimes frustrating. Because multiple treatments may be required in severe cases to control an allergic outbreak, a multi-modal, measured approach is necessary. Correct diagnosis’s by our veterinarians and a pet parents’ commitment to follow-up care is critical to boost the chances of controlling a chronically, skin-allergic canine.

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.

Cat Scratch Disease: A Cat Lovers Tale

By Pet Behaviour, Pet Health, Pet Parenting

Summary

  • Cat Scratch Disease (CSD) is an infection caused by bacteria in a cat’s mouth delivered by a scratch or bite.
  • A simple cat bite can carry a high risk of infection.
  • The disease causes redness, swelling and flu-like symptoms.
  • If scratched or bitten, quickly wash the area with soap and water; seek medical treatment if symptoms persist or worsen.
  • Captain Obvious says, “Avoid stray or feral cats.”
  • Keep your furry family member updated on vaccines.

Introduction

As many cat lovers know, the prospect of getting scratched is in Chapter 1 of the feline ownership manual. In many instances, this is a result of healthy play and an accepted part of being a cat parent.

Recently, one of our loyal Cabbagetown Pet Clinic clients was cat-sitting for his mother over the Easter long weekend. The cat is a feisty, 1 year-old that tends to have (overly) playful tendencies, including the tactical use of razor-sharp claws. Our client was well aware of this, but having been scratched many times before, he felt that the risk of infection from light play was VERY low.

Wrong.

Apparently, the cat’s mood changed and playfulness turned to ire (surprise…lol!), resulting in a series of scratches over both hands. Unmoved by this outburst, he doused his hands in hydrogen peroxide and washed them thoroughly with soap and water.

Later that evening, he noticed swelling and tenderness on his left knuckle but thought nothing of it. The next morning, the swollen area had become larger, but he still (remarkably!) didn’t find this a source of concern. Only after an afternoon of cold sweats, back pain and high fever did the prospect of an infection ever cross his mind. Nonetheless, he waited one more sleepless night to see if there would be improvement.

That was a mistake.

The next morning, it had become abundantly clear that an immediate trip to the local ER was a forgone conclusion, as his left hand swelled like an inflated rubber glove. As it turns out, not only were there scratches on the left hand, but also a distinct puncture wound very near to the infected area – mostly likely caused by the cat’s bite. Cellulitis had begun to take hold.

What followed was a tetanus shot, bloodwork and six days of a strong, broad-spectrum antibiotic administered through an IV at the local ER, followed by another 10 days of an oral antibiotic to treat the infection. Yes, this was quite an ordeal, but the story had a happy ending – the infection was defeated. However, another day (or two) of neglect could have resulted in something much worse.

What is Cat Scratch Disease (CSD)?

Cat Scratch Disease (also known as *cat scratch fever*) is an infection caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae carried in cat saliva. This is one of the most common bacteria in the world. CSD is generally mild, but people with weakened immune systems and the young tend to be at more risk of developing a serious infection.

However, Bartonella henselae is not the only bacteria in a cat’s mouth. Others include Pasteurella multocida which is a type of bacteria commonly found in the mouth. A research study (science geek out alert!) from 2013 showed that Pasteurella multocida is the most common organism isolated from both cat and dog bites. Bite wounds tend to be highly aggressive and exposure to this bacterium can cause a more significant infection – such as cellulitis – after a bite or scratch. This can have much more serious consequences, as our devoted client discovered.

Where does the bacteria come from?

It is believed that cats acquire these bacteria from fleas.

Cat Scratch Fever is transmitted when a cat carrying the infection:

  • delivers a deep scratch that draws blood
  • administers a bite* that punctures the skin
  • licks an open wound

* Cats have sharp, slender canine teeth that easily pierce deep tissues, bones and joints. These quick-healing puncture wounds – injected with saliva and bacteria – seal in harmful bacteria and create a dead space for infection to flourish.

How do you know if a cat bite is infected?

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms of infection from a cat bite include:

  • redness and/or inflammation
  • warmth over the affected area
  • a bump or blister near the bite puncture

These indicators typically do not require medical attention. However, keep a close eye for an escalation of the symptoms.

7 Signs of a Serious Cat Bite Infection:

    1. A bite or scratch that becomes inflamed and tender within a few days and worsens over time
    2. Sore or swollen glands under the arms (hand wound) or in the groin (lower leg wound)
    3. Pus leaking from a blistered wound
    4. Loss of feeling near the wound
    5. Red or discoloured streaks close to the wound
    6. Discomfort and/or restricted mobility in your hand
    7. Flu-like symptoms including:
      • headache
      • reduced appetite
      • fatigue
      • joint pain
      • fever or chills
      • night sweats

The symptoms of Cat Scratch Disease may look like other medical conditions. Unlike our client, seek medical treatment immediately if you experience these complications.

What cats carry the highest risk of infection?

  • stray and feral cats
  • flea-infested cats
  • kittens (less than 1 year old)
  • outdoor cats that hunt

What should I do after being bitten by a cat?

Follow these 4 steps:

  1. Clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water. An antibiotic ointment can be also applied, but avoid strong disinfectants as this may damage the skin. Vigorous scrubbing of the wounds may damage tissue and delay healing.
  2. With a sterile, absorbent dressing, apply direct pressure to the wound to control any bleeding** and keep covered.
  3. Monitor for symptoms (see above)
  4. If symptoms persist or get worse, see a physician as soon as possible. Left untreated, a serious infection can develop within twenty-four to forty-eight hours.

** If the injury is a bite wound, you may not experience much bleeding. Cats have hypodermic-like teeth that can easily pierce soft tissues. This mechanism creates a tiny break that heals rather quickly – trapping the bacteria under the skin. This is bad.

How Do You Treat Cat Scratch Fever?

In most instances, Cat Scratch Disease clears up on its own without treatment within a few weeks. Most cases of cat scratch fever are mild – a doctor may not always have a prescribed treatment plan.

To help alleviate pain and discomfort at home, an over-the-counter pain reliever can be taken, such as Ibuprofen or naproxen. Applying a heat compress to the affected area may also bring some relief.

If your symptoms are moderate to severe and don’t go away in a month or two, antibiotics (or any other medical interventions) may be required. In rare cases, the CSD infection can travel to your bones or other organs. This requires more aggressive medical care.

Conclusion

The hand is an extremely vulnerable part of the body. It contains many important structures – such as tendons, joints, blood vessels and nerves – covered only by a thin soft tissue sheath. So, it should come as no surprise that the needle-like, canine teeth in cats – infused with various types of bacteria – can cause serious damage. In extreme cases, a deep, skin-penetrating bite can lead to serious medical consequences – including death.

As the ER physician of our client made perfectly clear – if this happens again, DO NOT WAIT TO SEEK MEDICAL HELP!

Hard lesson learned.

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.

How To Photograph A Black Pet

By Pet Behaviour, Pet Parenting

Taking great, Instagram-worthy photos of black pets has the bane of pet parents since forever

PICTURE THIS:  You’re out playing with your cherished black-furred dog on the beach having the time of your life. Wouldn’t the cherry on top be a professional-grade snapshot to document the event for all of time, not to mention the satisfaction of seeing a subsequent flood of  ♥’s on Instagram?

The problem, no matter how hard you try, is that the photos emerge as a black splotch rather than a representation of the beautiful animal they are. Pets with black coats are particularly difficult to photograph due to their stunningly dark-coloured fur, making it hard to capture their striking features.

Worse still, black dogs and cats tend to stay in rescue shelters or the local Humane Society/SPCA much longer than their light-coloured colleagues. Unfortunately, some never get that lucky break of being re-homed based just on the colour of their fur.

There are possibly two explanations at work here. First, because black pets are notoriously difficult to photograph – especially in the age of posting our best lives on social media – they tend to get overlooked at shelters or in a litter. Secondly, a long-standing, absurd belief still exists that black cats are harbingers of bad luck.

So, what’s the secret to getting excellent photos of your black companion animal?

Whether you’re a pet parent – or work in a rescue shelter – here are 4 useful tips when photographing black pets. Don’t worry, you won’t need any fancy photography equipment or software (ie. high-end, DLSR cameras, Adobe Lightroom), although it would be helpful. We’ll assume that you’re using your smartphone with automatic settings.

Four easy tactics to help take great, Instagram-worthy photos of your black pet:

Quick Links:

  1. Lighting: Source and Position
  2. Backgrounds: Colour, Texture and Bokeh
  3. Eyes: The Window to the Soul
  4. Silhouettes: The Black Pet Advantage

1. Lighting: Source and Position

What is the biggest challenge of black pet photography?

LIGHTING!

Lighting in photography refers to how the light source – and its position – relates to the main subject (your pet) of the photograph. It determines brightness and darkness in addition to tone and mood. Paying close attention to how light affects the quality of your pictures will empower you to employ the available light source to produce excellent Instagram-worthy pictures of your furry friend.

Getting the lighting right is usually what frustrates budding pet photographers the most. Sometimes the lighting for the photo location could be near perfect but your pet is too dark (underexposed), or the lighting could be good but the background looks washed out (overexposed).

4 Lighting Tips when Taking Photographs of Black Pets Outdoors:

  • Avoid hard light conditions, such as bright, overhead sunlight – take you dog to an evenly shaded area to reduce contrast. Too much contrast can give your pet a bright glare on some parts of their dark coat and solid black shadows on others.
  • Auto-modes underexposing your photos? Take a crash course on your smartphones’ cameras manual settings – you may be surprised by the amount of control a hi-tech smartphone camera can give you.
  • Take memorable photos during the “Golden Hour”, typically 1 hour after sunrise and 1 hour before sunset for the best natural light.
  • If it’s a little too dark (heavy clouds) or there’s too much backlight to bring out your dog’s features, try supplementing your available light with fill-in flash to compensate for the differences.

Direct Sunlight

Contrary to what you might expect, bright direct sunlight isn’t great for photographing black pets. Very bright light means your camera works too hard resulting in a battle between two extremes – the black coat of your pet against the white light of the sun. If you do find yourself with the sun directly overhead, bring your dog (or cat) to a shaded area to take the photo. It’s important that your chosen location is evenly shaded. For example, if you take the photo under a shade tree, make sure that the background isn’t too brightly lit.

The important part of showing off the details of a black pet is getting a balance between shadow and highlight, and not letting the pet be too dark in the photo.

Auto-Modes

It is really easy to underexpose your image when shooting pictures in auto-mode. Although auto-modes continue to get ‘smarter’, your smartphone camera will look at the scene to figure out the right settings and think that your pet isn’t much more than a dark shadow. This means your photo may be too dark, with too little detail for your pet stand out or ‘pop’. This is where capturing shots using manual settings can be very helpful, provided you’re prepared to put in the time to learn and experiment. Most smartphone have these features built-in (or download a free, 3rd party app) which will provide seemingly endless options to manually adjust your camera for that perfect shot.

The Golden Hour

When taking photographs of black pets in direct sunlight, there are two ideal times of day to do this: on sunny days, this is shortly after sunrise or just before sunset. Generally speaking, the “golden hour” is roughly 1 hour after sunrise or 1 hour before sunset.

Camera Flash

If it’s a little too dark or there’s too much backlight to bring out your pet’s features, try supplementing the available light with fill-in flash. Working with flash is most effective when conditions are not too dark or too bright. When the dog is in shade, a splash of flash can help them to be seen better, raise the light in the shadow and get the eyes to be seen more clearly. Experimentation is important, but used properly, fill-in flash helps lighten the dark areas to reveal more subtle features of your black-furred pet.

2. Background: Colours, Textures and Bokeh

def. Bokeh: In photography, it’s the intentional blurring of an image (ie. background) to make the subject more visually appealing. It forces the focus of attention to a particular area of the image. The word comes from the Japanese language, which literally translates as “blur”.

In photography, backgrounds play a huge role – it can literally make or break a photo. For photos of black pets, this is especially important to consider. Because your pet easily loses detail due to its darker colour, you want to ensure that the background doesn’t further detract from the main subject. Busy backgrounds will also distract attention from your subject, so a soft, minimal background will help your pet stand out.

What type of background works best for photographing a black pet?

For a more vibrant picture, pick a background that highlights at least one vivid colour. In nature, the simplest choice will be using green as main colour.  Mid-spectrum colours also work well – think blue, green, purple, red, yellow and orange. These colours balance out monochromatic pet fur, creating a contrast that – when applied properly – tells a great story.

In the event you can’t avoid a busy background, you can easily minimize its effect with a quick setting change found on most recent smartphone cameras. The noisy background now becomes a lovely soft bokeh instead, making your pet ‘pop’.

3. Laser Focus on the Eyes

As the old saying goes, the eyes are the window to the soul. Emphasis on this prominent feature takes black pet photography to another level. However, if your dog has a long coat or if there is little contrast between the fur and the colour of the eyes it can sometimes be hard to ‘free up’ your pup’s eyes.

Eyes are important in any photograph, but especially so in pictures of black companion animals because they may be the only other contrasting colour they can offer. 

The good news is that the contrast between a black-furred face and brown, blue or green eyes can be undeniably stunning. Focus on the eyes – in the correct light – for great photographs!

  • To uncover their eyes from longer fur, use water. This could simply be a wet cloth around the eyes, as opposed to dedicated swimming date or a bath in the tub. Splashing in a body of water can give you fantastic pictures – water shots are great fun for your pup and result in cool images.
  • Another tip to expose the eyes is to take the picture from above. When your dog is looking up at you, the fur retreats from the face.

In addition to capturing the eyes, focus your gaze on other compelling parts of your pet. This could be the texture of your pets’ coat, or perhaps their unique personality as they play. Think about how to best highlight these features and pursue them with that in mind.

4. Silhouettes: The Black Pet Photography Advantage

Silhouettes are highly effective for visual storytelling. They provide an obvious and attention-grabbing contrast – large areas of darkness over large areas of light, creating a dramatic atmosphere that always makes a photograph more interesting. Silhouettes make for amazing pictures you’ll want to share. They allow you to take advantage of moments like:

  • A cat on a tree branch against a beautiful, deep blue sky
  • Dogs watching the sunrise at the beach
  • Your cat sitting in the window watching intently at birds in the yard.
  • A puppy sitting next to the sea shore at sunset.

Silhouettes are naturally black, making darker-coloured pets perfectly suited for this technique. Shooting silhouettes with a black pet has one huge advantage: Since your subject – your pet – is darker, you don’t have to underexpose the scene as much as it would be needed with a lighter-coloured dog. This means that the sky or background keeps an exposure level that is nearer to its natural intensity.

As always, the best time to take your silhouette photo is when the sun is very low in the sky – just after sunrise or just before sunset (aka. the Golden Hour) and works best when the sun is directly behind your pet.

Conclusion

Our pets bring us happiness and unconditional love, no matter their size, shape or colour.  However, pets with black coats have the bane of every amateur pet photographer since day one. Taking beautiful photographs of your black pet can be tricky. But just because your pet has a dark coat doesn’t mean you should settle for a collection of black blobs with bright eyes.

In summary, always pay attention to the quality of the light. The softer the light, the more detail you’ll be able to capture. This coupled with exposure compensation and a mid-toned background and you’ll find yourself taking professional-looking, Instagram-worthy photos of your beloved pet in no time!

If all else fails, take pictures in RAW mode and edit in your favourite photo editing software.

And remember, practice makes perfect – which may mean a lot of trial and error. Nevertheless, get out there, learn new photography skills and be the best black pet parent photographer you can be!

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.

7 Myths About Dogs | Busted!

By Pet Behaviour, Pet Health, Pet Parenting

How well do you know your canine cutie?

Perhaps you feel that your dog is the sweetest, most adorable canine on the planet – likely true, but you may be surprised to find that there’s a lot to learn about your beloved furry friend.

Humans took a keen interest in dogs (wolves) a very long time ago – enough time to develop some considerable, era-spanning myths about our canine companions. A startling amount of misinformation and half-truths have been repeated enough times about dogs to make it appear like conventional wisdom.

As pet lovers, we assume the responsibility to provide our furry friends with the best care possible. To do that, we need to understand our dogs’ needs and debunk misconceptions – we need to know how to keep them healthy and happy.

We don’t plan to address ALL dog myths, but our Top 7 seems like a good place to start.

Myth #1:  You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

One of the oldest – and most recognizable – myths in the book!

This well-known saying has existed for hundreds of years, being used not only in relation to dogs, but also when describing human habits! This common phrase is used to explain why older humans may feel stuck in their ways and find it more difficult to learn than younger folk. There is a modicum of truth in this or it wouldn’t have prevailed for as long as it has. However, this myth is a not true when it comes to dogs.

It’s true that puppies’ brains absorb information like a sponge and acquire good habits (or bad!) quickly. This doesn’t mean that adult dogs can’t be trained – it just takes a bit more time.

Our canine pals are highly food-motivated, especially for savoury, protein-rich treats like chicken or beef – food that a dog’s scent can pick up immediately. This is a great way to reward good work.

All dogs crave mental stimulation, regardless of their age. Teaching your senior dog a new talent is a gratifying experience for them, as it strengthens their bond with you and provides their brain with much-needed exercise. However, you do need to take other factors into consideration that generally don’t apply to puppies. These factors may include less energy, degraded physical health and/or mental health issues.

Adult dogs may require a bit more patience, but they are more than capable of learning new skills – from housebreaking to advanced directives. Make training sessions fun and keep them positive – just be aware of their physical needs and limitations.

Myth #2:  When my dog eats grass, it means they are sick.

She’s just been fed…so why is my dog eating grass?

It’s true that some dogs have a tendency to eat grass and then vomit shortly thereafter. It’s a common concern of pet parents, as some believe that dogs eat grass to make themselves vomit in an attempt to get rid of something nasty they’ve consumed. Some dogs will eat poop!

Others believe grass eating is a sign that they’re lacking of important nutrients from their diet, but studies have shown this is not the case and incidentally, grass isn’t particularly nutrient-rich anyway.

However, research shows that only a small percentage of dogs will vomit after eating grass. Some dogs simply enjoy the taste and texture of grass, especially in the springtime when it’s green and fresh. Chances are, they’re much more likely to eat grass because it tastes good.

If your dog is ingesting soil and/or stones with their grazing habits, this may be a behaviour to take more seriously. This disorder may be associated with Pica – this condition can be caused by a nutritional deficiency, stomach sensitivities or even boredom. If your dog constantly eats grass to vomit, it’s a good idea to have your pet examined by our veterinarians to look for any digestive issues or underlying illness.

Grass-eating by your canine friend is relatively benign, as long as it hasn’t been sprayed with harmful pesticides.

Myth #3:  Garlic is an excellent remedy for fleas and ticks.

Garlic is one of the best ways – allegedly – to stop a vampire but it is certainly NOT an effective flea and tick treatment for dogs.  Unfortunately, this is a myth that is widely circulated on the internet.

Not only will garlic have zero effect in ridding fleas and ticks from your dog, but garlic has also been known to cause hemolytic anemia.  Although relatively rare, this condition occurs when the body attacks and destroys its red blood cells. This is bad.

Treatment for this condition is VERY expensive and generally requires several days of hospitalization with frequent blood transfusions. Not all dogs who eat garlic will suffer from this condition, but if you feed your pet garlic, you’re unnecessarily risking your dog’s health.

Myth #4:  Rescue dogs are bad because they’re all damaged. There’s a reason they are a rescue dog.

Rescues aren’t damaged – just people’s attitudes towards them are. 

The ASPCA estimates that nearly 8 million dogs and cats arrive in US animal shelters each year as strays or are relinquished by the owners.

Many people believe rescue dogs are surrendered primarily because of behavioural issues. This may be true in some cases, but there are other (more likely) reasons for this:

  • Puppy Mills: thousands of dogs are rescued each year from illegal puppy mills
  • Life Changes: death of an owner, or owners not physically able to provide proper care
  • High Cost: many pet parents underestimate the cost of ownership or can’t afford unexpected medical treatments.
  • Lack of Time: job obligations and/or changed life circumstances, such as divorce, new job
  • Housing Restrictions: landlords may not allow tenants to have dogs – or certain breeds – in a new residence
  • Stray or Abandoned: most noticeably seen in 3rd world countries, but occurs everywhere on earth

Not knowing the full history of a rescue dog should not be a deterrent from adopting. Getting an older dog has a lot of advantages. Adult dogs’ personalities are already formed, so when you meet one at your local SPCA or Human Society, you can make sure they’re the right pet for you. Also, dogs adopted through the Ontario SPCA will be spayed/neutered, fully vaccinated, treated for any parasites and microchipped before they get re-homed.

Deciding to adopt a rescue or shelter dog is an important decision. There are a lot of considerations – both expected and unexpected – to take into account when preparing yourself and your home for a soon-to-be re-homed dog. In most cases, the rewards of adopting a rescue far exceed the unjustified concerns many people have about adoption.

Myth #5:   I’m the pack leader – I need to show my dog who’s boss.

Cesar Milan – the Dog Whisperer – is wrong.

Up until quite recently, negative reinforcement was considered the tried-and-true standard of training. This promotes the theory that pet parents should act as the ‘alpha’ dog. As of late, this method has come under intense scrutiny, and many pet parents and trainers have abandoned it entirely as a training technique.

Where did this outdated training technique originate?

Dominance-based, ‘alpha’ dog training was based on studies of captive wolves in the 1970’s. These studies propagated the idea that ‘alpha’ wolves become the leader of the pack by being aggressive towards other wolves. Because dogs descended from wolves, humans started to apply this philosophy to dog training. Further studies have since shown that (non-captive) wolf families are similar to human families in that the ‘leaders of the pack’ are the parents taking care of their cubs.

Thankfully, science always moves forward and this theory has now been debunked.

Practice positive reinforcement.

Remember the satisfaction you felt when you received a dollar from your parents for every ‘A’ on your report card? That made you want to get more of them, we suspect? That’s positive reinforcement.

Like humans, dogs care about rewards. This could be praise, or most likely, treats or toys. Positive reinforcement training uses a reward to promote desired behaviours. Because the reward makes them more likely to duplicate the behaviour, this training method is a powerful tool for shaping your dog’s behaviour.

Pet parents are responsible for helping their dog become a well-mannered and sociable member of society. This does NOT mean you need to pull rank – your dog isn’t competing with you for status. Just your love and affection. And food.

Myth #6:  Dogs are colour blind – they only see in black and white.

Why do people think dogs are colour blind?

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), this myth began with dog enthusiast, Will Judy. He was a veteran of World War I and devoted his life to educating people on the spiritual bond connecting the human and canine species.

Judy was a publisher of Dog Week Magazine since its inception in the 1930’s and asserted that dogs had poor vision. He went even further with this claim, stating that dogs could only see single shades and tones, and just general outlines of objects. The exact quote from his 1937 training manual read:

“It’s likely that all the external world appears to them as varying highlights of black and gray.”

The quote was generally accepted in the scientific community for decades. Even until the 1960’s, it was believed that the only other mammals that could differentiate colour – like humans – were other primates. We now know this is not true. Debunked!

Although they can’t see the world in full technicolour like most humans, dogs can see some limited colours. Humans have three types of cones in their eyes that allow them to detect a full range of colours, but dogs only have two. This means that dogs can see shades of yellows, blues, and violets – they cannot distinguish reds, greens and oranges the way we can. Their perception is similar to humans with colour blindness.

You would think this partial colour blindness would negatively affect their ability to navigate the world. Not so, since this is offset by their unique eye physiology, allowing for keener night vision and motion detection, not to mention their heavy reliance on their highly-attuned smell-o-vision.

Busting this myth may affect pet parents’ decisions when it comes to training and deciding which products (toys!) to buy. You might prefer to get your dog a yellow ball – instead of red – as it will show up more clearly in the grass. Although this could be a consideration, dogs primarily rely on their sense of smell, often overriding their limited colour vision. Your dog likely doesn’t care what colour of toy you decide to buy, as long as they’re having fun!

Myth #7:  Rubbing my dog’s nose in his ‘accident’ teaches him not to do his ‘business’ inside the house.

Many pet parents still think this myth is an effective training method, firmly believing that their dog understands what it means.

This method is mean and most certainly unhygienic. It might make you feel good, but as a retaliation technique, it has zero benefit in correcting the behaviour. At its worst, adhering to the rub-their-nose-in-it myth can cause a severe breakdown of communication, leaving your dog with enduring behavioural issues.

Dogs learn from association, so if your dog has an ‘accident’ in the house, they can’t make the link with the punishment (nose pressed in urine/feces) and the crime (accident in the house). This is negative reinforcement at its worst.

Modern dog training is founded on a theory called Operant Conditioning, with thanks to B.F. Skinner. Simply, the consequence of an action dictates whether the dog wants to repeat that action.

Rubbing your dog’s nose in his feces well after the incident is not a reaction to an action, because the action has happened. Although some dogs show a perception of time, they rarely have an understanding of ‘cause and effect’ like humans. This is why punishing a dog for having an accident in the house is not very effective if you don’t catch them in the act. Furthermore, it can also lead to irrational habits like eating feces, as they may try to suppress the evidence to prevent further punishment.

Proper housetraining your dog should only involve reprimanding when you catch them in the act. A sharp voice command (no!) and quick trip outside is the ideal plan of action. This requires patience and tolerance. Another effective technique is rewarding your pup every time he goes in the right place.

Conclusion

Myths about dogs get passed down through many generations of pet parents. While dog myths are fun to demystify, unaddressed “common sense” can cause actual harm to your furry friend. This miscommunication between pet parents and their dogs can leave them in potentially unsafe situations. It’s important to determine what’s true (and what’s not) – sometimes conventional wisdom and common sense requires closer examination.

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 Obesity | Risks and Prevention

By Pet Behaviour, Pet Health, Pet Parenting

30 Second Summary

  • Pet obesity is one of the most challenging and, more importantly – controllable – medical conditions in veterinary medicine. It reduces life expectancy and deprives pets from living their best life. Pet obesity has seen a steep, steady rise in recent years.
  • Overweight pets are much more likely to be disposed to musculoskeletal conditions and diabetes. Trupanion policyholders with obese dogs or cats spend over 10x more on diabetes treatment than pet parents of pets at an average weight.
  • Why is pet obesity a problem? Plenty of evidence now exists showing that excess fat deposits in dogs and cats are associated with many serious health complications, including osteoarthritis, high blood pressure and cancer.
  • 4 Benefits for Maintaining a Pet-Friendly Weight:
      1. Reduced risk of health issues.
      2. Higher quality of life.
      3. Longer life expectancy.
      4. Lower veterinary expenses.
  • Although there is no universally accepted veterinary definition for obesity in pets, pets are considered to be overweight when they weigh 10-30% above their ideal body weight. Obesity is diagnosed when their weight exceeds 30% of their ideal body weight.
  • How can I help my pet maintain a healthy weight? Maintaining a healthy weight requires a commitment to a healthier diet and lifestyle that achieves a balance between the calories consumed and the calories used. Basically, it means decreasing calories and increasing activity levels. We offer 14 tips to help your overweight pet lose those extra pounds.

Is my Pet overweight?

The love of a pet does NOT equate to giving them more food.

Many pet parents conflate food with love, causing them to feed their pets too much – think routine access to table scraps and treats.

Unfortunately, these genuinely heartfelt intentions have unintended consequences: a lower life expectancy for your furry friend. Obesity imparts a heavy burden on pets, regardless of species and can lead to all kinds of health issues. Pet obesity has seen a steep, steady rise in recent years.

Is pet obesity an epidemic?

It’s likely approaching the dictionary definition. For our canine friends, clinical obesity has been diagnosed in more than 54% of all dogs in the United States – a figure is likely similar for Canadian pets. That’s a large number.

From a health perspective, obesity is one of the most complicated, challenging and more importantly – controllable – medical conditions in veterinary medicine.

Looking at it from a financial perspective, our pet insurance partner – Trupanion – has presented research that reveals:

  1. Policyholders with overweight dogs or cats spend as much as five times (5x) more than policyholders with average weight pets for musculoskeletal conditions such as cruciate ruptures, lameness and limping.
  2. Overweight pets are more likely disposed to diabetes. Policyholders with obese dogs or cats spend over 10 times (10x) more on diabetes treatment than pet parents of pets at an average weight.

Pet obesity affects nearly all pet parents and their furry family members in some detrimental way. It costs many millions (billions?) in medical bills, reduces life expectancy and deprives pets from living their best life.

That’s why the battle to acknowledge – and address – pet obesity is so important.

Fun Fact: Pet Obesity affects more than half 54% of all dogs in the US. 35 million of these dogs are considered overweight and 6.7 million are considered clinically obese.

What is pet obesity? Is my pet overweight or obese?

Quite simply, obesity in pets is an accumulation of additional body fat. Body weight and body fat tend to complement each other, so most overweight – or obese – pets will have an excess body fat.

It’s no surprise that body weight is the measure used when assessing if a pet is overweight or obese. Pinch-an-inch does not apply, as this method measures subcutaneous fat (sits under the skin) and not visceral fat (accumulates around internal organs).

Dogs are considered to be overweight when they weigh 10-30% above their ideal body weight. Obesity is diagnosed when their weight exceeds 30% of their ideal body weight. Cats follow a similar standard. It’s important to keep in mind that there is no universally accepted veterinary definition for obesity in pets. While obesity is loosely defined as 30% above ideal body weight, just being marginally overweight can impact the health of your pet.

Perhaps the biggest (no pun intended!) challenge is that many pet parents simply do not recognize there may be an issue. If there was a better understanding of how costly this can be for their pet’s health – and their wallet – then, perhaps we could see a decline in this preventable epidemic.

4 Easy Ways to Tell If Your Pet Is Packing Extra Weight.

How do I know my pet is obese? To start searching for a solution, we first need to recognize there’s a problem. Obviously, the most fail-safe way to tell if your pet is overweight is to take them to your veterinarian for an examination.

However, here are a few simple, home-based tips before you go:

  1. Does the stomach sag? Like humans, this is a clear indicator that your pet is carrying too much weight.
  2. Are your pet’s ribs hard to distinguish? By placing your hands on the sides of their chest, you should be able to feel their rib cage without much effort.
  3. Dogs and cats should have a distinct taper at their waist, between the abdomen and where their hips go into the socket. Overweight pets are oval-shaped, rather than hourglass.
  4. A broad and flat back is another sign they’re too wide on the sides.

Why is my pet gaining weight?

There are several reasons why your pet could be overweight, but the root cause is an imbalance between the energy intake and usage. In other words, pets are consuming more calories than they can expend. They key is to find the right balance for your pets breed, age and activity level.

Common reasons why your pet’s weight can increase over time:

  • Overfeeding – THE #1 reason: consumption of excess portions, high-caloric diets, frequent treats and/or table scraps.
  • Aging – a decrease in activity/exercise due to arthritis and/or some other aging condition, not to mention a natural slowdown in their metabolism.
  • Hypothyroidism – a common disease in pets in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroxine. This hormone regulates metabolism and slows it down.
  • Insulinoma – rare in cats, a tumour on a dog’s pancreas that results in excessive amounts of insulin being produced – weight gain is a common side effect.
  • Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease) – a tumour on the pituitary or adrenal glands causing an overproduction of hormones – usually cortisol – being released causing increased appetite.

Fun Fact: According to a Purina Lifespan Studyoverweight pets live 2 years less that pets who maintain a healthy bodyweight. Though all of the dogs were fed a nutritionally complete diet, the amount of food they were fed differed between the 2 groups.

What are the benefits of keeping my pet at a healthy weight?

We’re often asked why it’s important to maintain a healthy weight for my pet. The answer is simple: an appropriate weight for your pet’s age, size and breed gives them the best chance of a longer, healthier and pain-free life.

Four (4) Benefits for Maintaining a Pet-Friendly Weight.

  • Reduced risk of health issues. Keeping your pet at a healthy weight lowers the risk of kidney disease, high blood pressure, respiratory disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and some forms of cancer.
  • Better quality of life. A healthy weight means that your dog is much more able to stay active, such as long walks or playing with their pals at the local dog park. For cats, playing with toys, employing a cat tower and/or regular catnip indulgences help them burn calories. Extra weight can greatly limit your pet’s mobility and energy levels.
  • Longer Life expectancy. A long-term study by Purina of Labrador retrievers from the same litter exhibited that dogs that maintained at a healthy weight lived an average of two years longer than those who were obese. This is closely related to a better quality of life.
  • Lower veterinary expenses. Lower risk of health issues can greatly reduce the amount of money needed to treat obesity-related health issues.

What are the health risks associated with obesity in pets?

Why is pet obesity a problem? Plenty of evidence now exists showing that excess weight and fat deposits in dogs and cats is associated with many serious health complications. The most noteworthy consequence of pet obesity is a shorter life expectancy and lowered quality of life. The following list of ailments do NOT necessarily exist in isolation – these conditions can be one link-in-the-chain leading to other adverse medical conditions.

Eight (8) medical conditions common to overweight or obese pets:

 1. Osteoarthritis

Extra weight puts extra pressure on a pet’s joints. When a joint is overloaded, the cartilage breaks down, resulting in arthritis. Pain medications help but weight loss offers more effective, long-lasting relief.

2. Diabetes and Insulin Resistance

Obese pets have fewer working insulin receptors, which leads to a lack of sensitivity to insulin. The relationship between insulin, obesity and longevity is closely entwined. As a general rule, when a pet’s insulin resistance increases, lifespan decreases.

3. High Blood Pressure

Based on current evidence, it’s clear excess weight in dogs and cats can lead to high blood pressure, or hypertension. Having been studied closely for more than 25 years, the link between obesity and high blood pressure is not fully understood.

4. Kidney Disease

Hypertension directly affects the kidney, mostly because it receives nearly one-quarter of the blood pumped by the heart. The exact role obesity plays in kidney disease is still unknown – preventing pet obesity is currently the best treatment advice.

5. Respiratory Disease

Excess fat along the chest wall and abdomen may alter the normal breathing patterns, resulting in uneven and jerky breathing. Many dogs or cats will pant excessively after even a short walk in a desperate attempt to gain more oxygen.

6. Cancer

The relationship between obesity and certain cancers has been growing. At least 13 types of cancers are currently linked to obesity in humans. Animal models used in cancer research and current evidence suggests that obese pets may also be at greater risk for developing cancer.

7. ACL Tears

Carrying too much weight is a well-known risk factor for tearing the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), an important ligament in the knee affecting mobility.

8. Skin Conditions

Overweight pets can have additional skin folds, which can cause irritation (rubbing) and infection (via bacteria). This may lead to scratching and skin redness.

How can I help my pet lose weight? 14 tips to help your overweight pet lose those extra pounds.

This is the eternal question for all pet parents. How can I prevent my pet from becoming overweight? We intuitively all know the answer to this: reaching and maintaining a healthy weight requires a commitment to a healthier lifestyle that achieves a balance between the calories consumed and the calories used by the body for normal functions and activity. Basically, it means decreasing calories and increasing activity levels.

Sounds easy enough on the surface, eh?

What makes this seemingly simple premise challenging is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach or magic pill that will help your pet lose excess weight. What works for one pet doesn’t necessarily work for another pet. What DOES work is a commitment from pet parents to make the change.

Where to start?

 First, helping your pet lose weight is not about you. Our veterinary team’s honest evaluation of your pet’s weight isn’t meant as a judgment – or assessment – of your own level of health or a statement about your pet parenting skills. Our veterinarians have your pet’s best interests in mind and recommendations are based on a commitment to your pet’s optimal health.

Secondly, put your pet’s interests first. All pet parents should have a singular focus: a dedication to their pet’s health and longevity. Does your pet have any medical conditions caused by excess weight? Is there a higher risk of disease or problems because of your pet’s weight? Our veterinarians will provide a professional, candid assessment of your pet’s current health and weight status and will make recommendations on diet and exercise programs.

14 tips to help your overweight pet lose those extra pounds.

  1. Regular Exercise.  Our pets are innately energetic. For dogs, activity levels vary by breed but a daily walk of 30 to 60 minutes is a great place to start for optimum health. For indoor cats, toys, laser pointers and cat trees can go a long way in keeping those calories burning.
  2. Avoid the temptation to overfeed.  Both dogs and cats are known for their prolific begging skills, but giving in to those sad, puppy eyes or plaintive meows isn’t a good thing for their waistline. Btw, starving a pet is just as bad as overfeeding.
  3. Maintain a nutritious and healthy diet.  There are a multitude of healthy diet alternatives and brands to choose from, but a consultation with our veterinarian about the best diet based on your pet’s condition is the best place to start.
  4. Eliminate table scraps and high-calorie treats. At the very least, keep these to a minimum and focus on healthier diets and treats. Make no mistake, it’s hard not to give in!
  5. Reduce snacks between meals. Calories in treats for pets can really add up. It’s been suggested that they should only make up about 10% of your pet’s caloric intake. As a treat alternative, cut up small pieces of pet-friendly fruits and veggies for tasty treats with fewer calories.
  6.  Set realistic goals. When working with our veterinarians, you can develop realistic goals for reducing your pet’s weight over time. Rapid weight loss is NOT healthy, so ask our vets for healthier eating and exercise programs that give a sensible – and safe – rate of weight loss.
  7. Make exercise fun. Living a healthy lifestyle benefits everyone in the family, even if you’re a family of one. Finding pleasurable activities you can experience with your pet will always be more fun for everyone.
  8. Portion control.  A discussion with our veterinarians about your pet’s dietary requirements is a great place to start. Free pouring or ‘eye-balling’ food portions isn’t going to cut it. Consistently measured portions is a reliable, pet-friendly way to keep the recommended caloric intake steady.
  9. Maintain a regular feeding routine. By feeding your pet at the same time every day, they will learn to expect food at that time and be less likely to beg for food throughout the day.
  10. Distractions to control appetite. When your pet begs for food, avert their attention to some other activity they enjoy. This could be going for a walk, playing with a toy or simply receiving some love from their favourite pet parent – they never grow tired of this! Correction: some cats do…
  11. Don’t eat where you sleep. Leave your pet’s food dish far-removed from their favorite place to relax – this gives them a reason to get up and move during the day.
  12. Make them work for their food. To slow the rate of your pet’s food consumption, there are several playthings that you can fill with kibble. The result? It will make your pet put in some effort to obtain their meal. These toys keep them busy and stop them from wolfing down their entire dinner in record time.
  13. Monitor progress. Always monitor – and record – your pet’s progress. All weight loss programs, come with successes and the occasional lapse. By monitoring and recording, you can determine what’s working (and what’s not) and make necessary adjustments to the program.
  14. !!! Follow veterinary advice !!!. Anytime you make changes to your pet’s diet or lifestyle, it’s imperative to check with our Cabbagetown vets first. Certain breeds, current age, lifestyle and underlying health conditions generally require special dietary and activity considerations when it comes to executing a successful weight loss program.

Fun Fact: In North America, obesity is the most common preventable disease in dogs. More than 50% of the general canine population is obese, with 40-45% of dogs aged 5-11 years old weighing in higher than normal.

Conclusion

Deep down, we all know of the risks of carrying a few extra pounds. Despite the awareness of health risks associated with overindulging, poor food choices and lack of exercise, we still tend to ignore – or at least delay – simple tactics we know can benefit our overall health and wellness.

Eat less, exercise more.

However, we shouldn’t let our lack of action and inattention affect the ones that truly depend on us the most – our cherished pets. We simply need to have the awareness and the motivation to act. Hopefully, the motivation of having a happy and healthy pet is enough.

Schedule an appointment with our vets today – we can provide you with the tools and expertise to help your pet live a long and happy life.

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.

Cats and Boxes – A Love Story

By Pet Behaviour, Pet Parenting

It’s no mystery that cats can be funny, independent, affectionate, weird and quirky – all at the same time! This is what we love about them.

Building on a previous post covering the complexities of verbal and non-verbal forms of feline communication, we’re exploring another curious feline behaviour that continues to confound and amaze even the most dedicated cat parents. BOXES.

CATS AND BOXES

If you’ve ever prepared for a vacation and left your suitcase on the floor, it would not be unusual for your cat to immediately jump in and occupy the exact space you intended for your clothes. Two things generally come to mind from a pet parents perspective: a) your cat doesn’t want you to leave; or b) they want to come along. Neither of these explanations are likely pass the smell test.

You’ve probably noticed that cat’s love to curl up in boxes. Big boxes, small boxes, oddly-shaped boxes – it doesn’t matter to your feline friend. Place one on the ground, a chair or a bookshelf and watch your cat quickly hijack it.

Why do cat’s love boxes?

Cats are total pushovers when it comes to cardboard boxes and just about any other space they consider confining and comfy. Sinks, paper bags, shoes and empty fish tanks – among other small spaces – also qualify. What might surprise you is that they’ll also go sit inside the two-dimensional outline of a square box on the floor. Huh? (see below)

Given the multitude of complex behaviours they exhibit and their chronic uncooperativeness, it can be difficult to analyze their motivations. Cats are generally unhelpful study subjects, generally giving their human meddlers fits when it comes to studying them closely.

What about big cats? Are only domesticated, housebound cats obsessed with boxes? Apparently, not!

Despite the ubiquity of internet memes and videos that box-cats command, scientists still can’t quite explain why felines are so passionate about contorting their body into anything and everything confining. Behavioural biologists and veterinarians have come up with some possible explanations.

5 REASONS WHY CATS LOVE BOXES

  1. Safety And Stress Relief.

Cats squeeze into small spaces in search of comfort and solace. To a cat, the world is a worrying and intimidating place. Grocery bags, drawers and Amazon boxes might be the closest thing to a cave that a cat confined to a house can find. However, this doesn’t explain why cats may be attracted to two-dimensional shapes on the floor.

  1. Warmth And Comfort

Certain containers may deliver an insulating or warming effect that produces two outcomes. First, a cat’s normal body temperature is about 100°F to 102°F and most homes are kept around 72°F. This temperature differential may offer an explanation of why cats like to curl up in small spaces – it’s just warmer. Cardboard can provide insulation that helps them retain their body heat. Secondly, some animal behaviourists believe that being enclosed reminds cats of being cuddled by their mothers and fellow littermates. Close contact with a box’s interior has shown to releases endorphins causing pleasure and reducing stress.

  1. Predation

Cats retreat into smaller spaces to hide from prey – evolutionary predatory behaviour to take cover before an ambush. This gives a cat an excellent vantage point from which to stalk and waylay their prey. For most domesticated indoor cats, the “prey” could be a toy, a passerby’s pant leg, an unlucky foot or vacuum cleaner. Maybe ever a real mouse!

  1. Attention

To a cat, humans are agents of chaos that build environments to be responsive and agreeable to the feline set. Provide a new box/change into their environment? Cats will occupy them and we’ll pay tonnes of attention to their antics, as any search on YouTube will prove. Left alone, they might not find a box so enchanting were it not for the unrestrained attention we devote to them.

  1. Curiosity

We’ve all heard the term ‘curiosity killed the cat’. That’s only the first part of the expression. The complete phrase is ‘curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back’. Cats are curious and the appearance of an unfamiliar object is a guaranteed way to pique a cat’s interest. Clearly, a box keeps them coming back!

HOW CAN I SAFELY PREPARE A BOX FOR MY CAT?

Here are a few safety tips you should take when you have empty boxes in your home.

  • Ensure the box is short enough to easily jump in and out of so your cat won’t get stuck or feel trapped.
  • Make sure the box is free of any staples, adhesive tape or other things that could stick to your cat’s coat or get swallowed.
  • Keep the box out of high traffic areas, so your cat can relax in a space where they will have some privacy.

CONCLUSION

No single theory has proven to be conclusive, as they all contain reasonable elements of plausibility. Something about box behaviour is ingrained in a cat’s biology – part of the evolutionary code written deep into the DNA of felines. So entrenched is this behaviour that cats may even sit in anything square-like, including 2-D shapes on the floor. A new study has found that cats will instinctively sit inside an optical illusion – known as the Kanizsa square – that merely has the appearance of a box/square. Weird, yet fascinating…

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.

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.

.

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.

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 veterinary 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.

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.

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.