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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.

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

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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.

Avian Influenza in 2022

By Pet Health, Pet Parenting

Avian Flu: Does the 2022 outbreak pose a health risk for pets and humans?

If you’ve been doom-scrolling the news lately, you may have heard about the “bird flu” making a resurgence in Canada and the United States. As we continue to slog through a sixth(!) wave of COVID-19, another wave of infection is making noise in the poultry and veterinary community – Avian Influenza.

We don’t want to be alarmist and we certainly don’t want to overstate the risks, but awareness of this specific new strain of bird flu should be addressed, as it can potentially affect the health of our clients and their pets. As they say, information doesn’t exist in a vacuum!

This new, highly transmissible strain of bird flu is spreading in farms and flocks across North America and killing poultry by the millions. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the risk of human/pet transmission remains very low.

First, the facts:

  • The first cases of avian flu in North America were verified at a farm in Newfoundland last December, after the sudden death of poultry over several days. A second outbreak was confirmed in NL in January 2022.
  • Since late 2021, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has acknowledged outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza in a number of commercial and backyard poultry flocks in Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • In March 2022, the first case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was confirmed in a poultry flock in Ontario.
  • In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported outbreaks in 24 states to date, killing nearly 23 million chickens and turkeys.

What is Avian Influenza (AI)?

Avian Influenza – better known as the “bird flu” – is a highly contagious viral infection that affects chickens and turkeys as well as migratory birds such as ducks and geese. It should be mentioned that Avian Influenza occurs naturally in many wild birds – just not this particular highly contagious strain.

The bird flu virus is spread through nasal discharges, saliva and fecal droppings. Because of the number of transmission vectors, it makes severe outbreaks of AI difficult to contain.

What is the difference between LPAI and HPAI bird flu?

Avian Influenza viruses can be classified into 2 groups:

  • Highly Pathogenic Avian influenza (HPAI) virus strains are very infectious, and often fatal to poultry as it can spread quickly from flock-to-flock.
  • Low Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (LPAI) virus strains occur naturally in wild migratory birds without causing illness. LPAI can infect domestic poultry, creating little or no signs of illness.

The new bird flu strain currently spreading in North America is a High Pathogenicity (HPAI) virus and has genetic features previously unseen from the bird flu epidemic of 2015. 50 million birds in the United States died that year.

How is the Avian Flu virus detected?

If you guessed it was similar to COVID-19 testing procedures, you’d be close. Instead of invasive nasal cavity swabs, testing for the avian flu usually includes swabbing the mouths and throat areas of poultry. These samples are then sent to independent labs to be analyzed.

Can Avian Flu spread to humans or pets?

According to the CFIA, birds shed the AI virus in their mucous, saliva and feces. Humans and pets can potentially get sick by breathing in the virus or with direct contact with their eyes, nose or mouth.

To keep from getting sick, avoid contact with wild birds (including the legions of pigeons in Toronto!), don’t touch dead – or dying – birds and avoid visiting poultry farms, if possible.

The risk to humans is very low, but Dr. Shayan Sharif, an immunologist at the Ontario Veterinary College cautions:

“…there isn’t evidence of the subtype spreading to humans, but if we have massive circulation of highly pathogenic viruses in our flocks, the chances for gaining such ability (to transmit to humans and pets) by the virus will enhance significantly.”

Since bird flu viruses have previously jumped to mammals, public health authorities are keeping a close watch for any signs of genetic variations that could lead to the virus infecting humans and pets in large numbers. The tiny fraction of human bird flu cases has been reported in people who work directly with birds, such as poultry workers.

Can infected animals – such as outdoor or feral cats – transmit the virus to humans?

The latest science suggests that the risk of a human being contracting AI from your family cat or dog is very low. However, pet parents are encouraged to be attentive and take appropriate precautions to protect their pets and themselves. If you suspect your pet has come in contact with bird poop or raw bird meat – especially outdoor cats – and exhibits symptoms, then contact us to schedule an appointment for a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan.

Is my outdoor cat at risk of Avian Influenza?

The following advice from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is offered to cat parents in areas where HPAI has been identified or suspected in poultry or wild birds:

  • do not handle any ill-looking or dead cat (or any other animal for that matter!)
  • don’t let stray cats inside your home and avoid all contact with them outside your home.
  • regularly (and thoroughly) wash hands with soap and water, especially after handling a possibly exposed cat and cleaning their litter boxes. Avoid contact with your cat’s feces or saliva.
  • if possible, make sure all contact with wild birds or poultry (or the feces) is avoided.
  • if your cat likes to bring home ‘presents’- a dead bird, perhaps – wear a pair of disposable gloves and put the bird in a plastic bag for disposal.
  • if your cat shows any respiratory distress or nasal discharge, consult our veterinarians.

Is it safe to use my bird feeder?

Avian Influenza does not affect all bird species in the same way. It can cause severe illness and death in domestic poultry flocks, but it is not considered a disease threat to feeder birds. The use of bird feeders, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada, is still safe on your property.

In any event, to help keep feeder birds healthy, you may want to clean feeders every two weeks or so to help curb the unlikely event of AI transmission. How? Wash feeders with a 10% chlorine bleach solution, rinse thoroughly and allow to dry before refilling.

Is it safe to eat poultry and eggs?

In Ontario, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs maintains that eggs and poultry cooked properly do not pose a threat to human health. 

What is being done to stop the spread of the Avian Flu virus?

No, chickens are NOT required to stay 2m apart.

The primary measures to stop the virus are biosecurity and quarantine. Actions include limiting access to poultry flocks and requiring farm workers to practice strict hygiene measures, such as wearing disposable boots and coveralls.

Control zones are also used as an effective method to isolate and prevent the spread of the bird flu.

According to the CFIA:

“a control zone is a defined area that is established to prevent the spread of animal disease from an infected area to areas free of the disease. Movement restrictions may be placed on certain products leaving, going into, or moving within the control zone.”

In Ontario, there are currently 13 Primary Control Zones (PCZ) zones (and growing) to map where the disease has taken root.

6 signs of a sick bird

It should go without saying: it is NOT in one’s best interest to touch a dead, injured or sick bird during this current Avian Flu wave.

Signs of Avian Influenza include:

  • anxiety, shakes and/or lack of coordination
  • inflammation around the head, neck and eyes
  • respiratory distress: coughing or sneezing
  • lack of energy or movement
  • diarrhea
  • sudden death

Reporting dead or sick birds:

For Canada: Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative information line 1-800-567-2033 or by using their online reporting tool.

In Ontario: the Ontario regional centre of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative at (866) 673-4781

Conclusion

The current Avian Flu outbreak across Canada and the Unites States has not reached a level of concern that would affect public health, unlike COVID-19. Although very serious for the poultry industry, this outbreak has not yet shown any indicators – or mutations – that might make them more likely jump to humans or pets.

For more information from a Canadian perspective, see CFIA’s Avian Flu Fact Sheet.

A comprehensive, detailed FAQ of bird flu by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) can be read here: Avian Influenza in Companion Animals.

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.

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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.

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Professional, attentive and dedicated to your pet.

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

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7 New Years Resolutions for Pet Parents

By Pet Health, Pet Parenting

Happy New Year !

The New Year is a great time for self-reflection, positive change and fresh starts – who couldn’t use that after the past two years we’ve had!? Just like their pet parents, pets can also benefit from starting new, healthy habits. It’s safe to say that one thing that has kept many people encouraged during this challenging time is the companionship and love of their pets.

New Years resolutions don’t have to feel like a slog… making a change – big or small – to your pet’s lifestyle doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Even making the tiniest adjustment to your pet’s routine now can pay off later – old habits die hard, but good habits add up over time. With your trusted companion by your side, these resolutions can be a lot of fun to accomplish.

1. Walk Your Dog Daily and Maintain A Healthy Weight

It’s maybe the most common New Years resolution on earth – losing weight. Just like humans, it’s important for pets to maintain a healthy weight.

Resolve to spend more time outside playing, walking and exploring the world – even when the weather is cold. Just make sure your dog is warm enough and that you avoid winter dangers, especially salted sidewalks and roads. Plus, it’s a good opportunity to socialize and make new furry friends!

New Years is the Perfect Time to Get Serious About Your Pet’s Weight Loss.

Pet obesity is mostly attributed to improper feeding habits: overfeeding, too many high-calorie treats and table snacks. Obesity has detrimental effects on the overall health and life span of pets, including osteoarthritis, diabetes and dermatological issues affecting skin, hair and coat. Many of these diseases can be avoided by maintaining a healthy weight.

If you’ve noticed your dog or cat has ‘expanded’ over the past year, take this opportunity to face the scale and make a New Years weight loss plan. Consult with our veterinarians to determine the best weight loss regimen for your pet. We can calculate the appropriate amount of calories your pet needs for daily requirements as well as the percentage of caloric decrease required for weight loss to avoid hunger or losing weight too quickly.

We can all pack on pounds during the holiday season – pets included. Exercising is always more fun with our furry friends, so head outdoors with your dog, get your heart rate up and stay fit!

Remember BodyBreak? Here’s some inspiration – and true 90’s Canadiana nostalgia – to get outside with your dog:

2. Review Your Pets Diet for a Healthier Lifestyle

The New Year is the perfect time to perform a pet food audit to evaluate what, when and how much your pet is eating. This ensures that your pet is eating the proper diet for their age and nutritional requirements. Choosing a diet specifically tailored to your pet’s life stage is a great way to keep them in optimal health.

Have you walked down a pet store’s food aisles lately?

The choices of what to feed your pet are seemingly endless, sometimes making time-strapped pet parents just throw up their hands and pull the nearest bag off the shelf. But cats and dogs have very specific nutrition and diet requirements for how much protein, fats, carbohydrates and calories they need each day.

Regular nutritional evaluations are a critical link in the chain of preventive care for pets. Prescription or therapeutic diets are a core part of an overall pet health and preventative care strategy.

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

Our veterinarians are independent thinkers and recommend products – including non-prescription diets – they feel will best serve their patients’ 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.

3. Make Your Pets Dental Health A Priority

If one of your New Years resolutions is to improve your own oral health, why not include your pet as well? Just like you go to the dentist for an annual appointment, your pet should have their teeth examined by our veterinarians at least once a year, as oral health is an important factor in their overall health and happiness.

If you’re a real keener, one of the best resolutions you can make in the New Year is to begin an at-home dental care routine.

Here’s a quick, at-home dental care primer:

At your next appointment, we would be happy to go over proper procedures and recommend the best tools.

Symptoms of oral health problems:

  • Bad breath
  • Yellow or brown crust on tooth surface
  • Bleeding gums
  • Change in chewing habits
  • Tooth loss
  • Drooling

If you observe any of these conditions, please make an appointment with us as soon as possible. That way, we can alleviate any further dental deterioration and get your pet on the right path to a healthy mouth.

4. Conduct a ‘Pet Toxins in the Home’ Audit:

It’s no secret that pets are inquisitive. However, that same curiosity can be hazardous to their health. The New Year is the perfect time to do a quick assessment of the potential pet toxins in your home.

How do animals investigate new things? By ingesting them. As a pet parent, you want to keep your furry friend safe and healthy, but your pet’s curious nature can sometimes get them into trouble.

Common Examples of Pets Toxins in the Home:

  • Over-The-Counter Medications (ie. ibuprofen, acetaminophen and diet pills)
  • Prescription Medications (ie. AAHD medication, antidepressants)
  • Cleaning Products
  • Paints and Solvents
  • Plants (ie. azaleas, rhododendrons)
  • Food, including bones
  • Alcohol
  • Essential Oils
  • Rodent Poisons
  • Antifreeze
  • Lawn and Garden Products (ie. fertilizers and herbicides)

The AAHA website has an excellent rundown of the potential toxins in your home. Keep in mind that some household products we typically think are safe may pose a risk to your pet. Use some common sense and planning – it can go a long way to prevent dangerous exposure for your cherished furry family member.

What to do if your pet is poisoned?

During regular business hours, call us immediately. Time is crucial for successfully treating accidental poisoning. If your pet is poisoned outside our regular hours, please call the nearest emergency clinic.

5. Buy Pet Insurance

50% of all pets will have a major illness in their lifetime. Fortunately, they have access to better treatment than ever before. Advances in technology and training have extended the lives of our beloved pets the world over.

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

However, treatment can be pricey – unexpected veterinary bills can add up to thousand of dollars. We’ve seen pet insurance enrolment notably rise in North America and also locally in Cabbagetown – more pet parents are taking the step to protect their pet – and their wallet – then ever before. Having pet insurance ensures you don’t have to make a decision about your pet’s health based on your financial situation.

What better way to budget for the coming year by saving money on unexpected veterinary expenses? Pet parents say they want to be better prepared for the unexpected – they can now choose from a variety of plans from various carriers that will meet their needs and fit every budget.

Trupanion Canada is our preferred pet insurance partner – one of the largest providers in Canada. We like it because they keep pet insurance simple by offering a single (and excellent) pet insurance plan that will cover the needs of most pet parents.

Ask us how to receive 30 days of FREE coverage at your next appointment

6. Enroll Your Pet in the Cabbagetown Care Wellness Program

Yearly examinations are a crucial piece of a good preventive care regimen, as many medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes or obesity are common as pet’s age. They are much easier to manage when detected in the early stages of the disease process. Even if your pet appears to be fit, it may be is tempting to forego an annual veterinary appointment. Make it a point to schedule a wellness exam in the New Year for your own peace of mind.

Our Cabbagetown Care preventive health care plans are directed towards your family pets current life stage. These plans were developed to provide simpler, less costly access to essential veterinarian services and to meet the needs of the evolving phase of your pet’s life. These core services are available at a discounted rate. Plan members pay through annual or monthly payments, making budgeting easier for your pet’s health care needs.

An investment in a Cabbagetown Care wellness plan is an investment in your beloved pet. It’s the foundation of a long, happy and healthy life.

7. Review Your Pet’s Microchip ID Information

The New Year is a great time to make sure the information on your pets’ microchip ID tag is up to date. Furthermore, if you’ve been considering a microchip for permanent identification, now is the time to do it.

Hopefully, your cherished furry family member will never go missing. If it happens, the microchip implant will give you the best chance of a swift, joyful reunion.

Five Benefits Of Microchipping Your Pet:

  • Collars and tags can break or get lost.
  • Microchips are made to last the life of your pet – up to 25 years.
  • Peace-of-mind. Successful scans result in reuniting you with your pet as soon as possible.
  • If your pet gets lost, it is far less likely to be euthanized or re-homed.
  • It’s low-cost, reliable proof of ownership in cases of theft.

Meet the Team

Professional, attentive and dedicated to your pet.

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

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Top 5 Holiday Toxins For Pets

By Pet Health, Pet Parenting

Season’s Greetings!

Most families have holiday traditions, regardless of what holiday you are celebrating. And those traditions usually involve lots of food and holiday cheer. As much as we would like to include our furry family members in all of our favourite holiday vices, some of them can have severe negative heath consequences.

We’ve compiled a short list of the common holiday foods and treats that can cause irreparable harm to your cherished pet. Most of the following apply to dogs, but cats can also experience distress from these toxins.

1. Chocolate

It’s no secret that dogs and chocolate do not mix.

What would the holidays be without abundant quantities of chocolate? There rarely seems to be any counter, table or cabinet that doesn’t have an assortment of these delectable pleasures. That makes them all the more enticing and irresistible to your family dog.

Chocolate includes two chemical compounds – theobromine and caffeine – both are toxic to dogs. Both substances are used medicinally for humans as a diuretic, heart stimulant, blood vessel dilator and a muscle relaxant. However, dogs cannot metabolize theobromine (or caffeine) as well as people, thus making them more sensitive to the chemicals’ effects.

How much chocolate is toxic to dogs?

The weight of your dog and the amount ingested are the two main factors to determine the level of toxicity. Chocolate toxicity is so common in dogs that the Merck Veterinary Manual offers a chocolate toxicity calculator that you can use to determine if your dog has consumed a toxic amount of chocolate.

What are the signs of chocolate poisoning?

Clinical indicators depend on the quantity and type of chocolate consumed. For many dogs, the most common signs of poisoning are excessive urination, vomiting, increased thirst, diarrhea, panting and accelerated heart rate. In severe cases, symptoms can include seizures and heart failure.

What do I do if my dog eats chocolate?

If in doubt, call our clinic immediately and we’ll make every effort to see your dog during opening hours. Treatment by our veterinarians is encouraged if a poisonous amount of chocolate is eaten. The sooner treatment begins, the better your dog’s diagnosis.

2. Xylitol

Danger lurks in sugar-free candies, gum and baked goods – anything that uses this toxic, sugar-free substitute.

Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs. Even tiny amounts can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure or death. A lower-calorie, sugar substitute with a low glycemic index, this compound is making its way into almost anything that requires a sugar replacement – the proliferation of Xylitol has been popping up on our veterinarians’ radar for many years because of its harmfulness to dogs.

What is Xylitol?

Xylitol is a sugar substitute often related with sugar-free gum and mints. But it’s also found in many other places, including peanut butter, toothpaste, medications and vitamins, many other sugar-free products – such as Jell-O, yogurt and pudding – and even some household products such as baby wipes and lip balm.

How does Xylitol affect dogs?

The actual process that can cause liver failure in dogs is not entirely understood. However, what IS known is that a dog’s pancreas confuses Xylitol with real sugar and releases insulin to store it. The insulin then removes actual sugar from the bloodstream and can cause the dog to become anemic, resulting in tremors and possibly seizures. The effects usually start within 30 minutes of consumption.

How much Xylitol is poisonous to a dog?

There will always be differing amounts of Xylitol across various products, so the amount of product that is needed to be ingested before toxicity sets in varies widely. Common sense would dictate that, in general, lower doses of Xylitol cause mild hypoglycemia, while higher doses can result in complete liver failure. If untreated, hypoglycemia is life-threatening.

What are the signs of Xylitol poisoning?

Initial signs of Xylitol poisoning are typically due to low blood sugar and can develop within 30 minutes of consumption. Signs of low blood sugar may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Lack of coordination / difficulty walking or standing
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Muscle tremors

In severe cases, the dog may develop seizures, slip into a coma or experience liver failure. Dogs that develop liver failure from Xylitol poisoning may or may not show signs of hypoglycemia at first. If a dog came into our clinic and bloodwork showed that they’re hypoglycemic, Xylitol would be one of the first things our veterinarians would ask the pet parent about.

The ‘devils trifecta’ for dogs to be avoided at all costs: THC-infused, chocolate edibles containing Xylitol.

3. Grapes and Raisins

How can seemingly harmless raisins, grapes (and currants) be toxic?

It is not currantly(!) understood why these fruits are poisonous. Researchers have speculated that the harmfulness is due to a mycotoxin – a toxic fungal product – or a salicylate (aspirin-like) drug that may be naturally occurring in the grape. More recently, studies have shown that tartaric acid may be the trigger. Regardless, no specific toxic element has been clearly identified.

All of these compounds mentioned above can result in decreased blood flow to the kidneys. According to the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, dogs that have eaten grapes or raisins are at risk of total renal failure within 48 to 72 hours of eating this fruit.

When should I be worried?

Studies determining the quantity of grapes and raisins needed to cause GI issues have shown there is a sizeable range and each dog can respond differently. Observation is key – if you observe any of the toxicosis signs mentioned below and/or see a previously full grape dish now empty, call our clinic immediately during our regular hours and we’ll make time to attend to the poisoning.

Because we don’t know why these fruits are potentially lethal, any exposure – even a single grape – should be a cause for concern.

Signs of Grape or Raisin Toxicosis (GRT):

  • Appetite loss
  • Lethargy / weakness
  • Vomiting / diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain – tender to the touch
  • Dehydration – signs include panting, dry nose and mouth, pale gums
  • Increased thirst / urine production
  • Kidney failure

How is grape poisoning treated?

The primary of treatment at the Cabbagetown Pet Clinic starts with decontamination. Our veterinarians will induce vomiting in an attempt to expel the grapes or raisins. Activated charcoal may be given to help bind any leftover grapes or raisins in the stomach to help absorb the toxin. Additional treatment may be needed (including drugs and intravenous fluids) to help support – and protect – the kidneys to minimize damage.

4. Turkey and Ham Bones

Undoubtedly, appropriately sized, raw animal bones are an excellent source of minerals and other nutrients for dogs. Chewing stimulates saliva enzymes and helps prevent plaque buildup on teeth and gum disease. And a dog chewing on a bone is less inclined to excessively scratch or lick his paws. All good reasons to give your dog a bone.

But…

Many veterinarians believe it just isn’t worth the risk of serious injury to give your dog an animal bone, especially cooked. There are better, less harmful options available as seen in any major pet store aisle.

Should dogs be given turkey or ham bones?

Hard no. Poultry bones – particularly cooked – are brittle. Combined with their small size, they are very unsafe for dogs. Cooked ham bones are an even bigger issue because they’re even more disposed to splintering. Our veterinarians caution against feeding dogs bones of any kind as they can result in the following issues:

  • Bleeding mouth and tongue injuries
  • Constipation
  • Choking
  • Bone fragments can puncture the lining of stomachs and intestines
  • Blockage of the throat or intestinal tract
  • Rectal bleeding from sharp bone fragments
  • Obstructions that require emergency surgery

If you want to give your dog a bone for Christmas, try a large, tough nylon or rubber toy bone or another size-appropriate chew toy.

5. Raw Bread Dough

Nothing smells quite as pleasant as fresh, homemade bread wafting through the kitchen during the holiday season.

If you’ve ever made bread from scratch or in a bread-maker, you know that dough has to rise – preferably in a warm, moist, draft-free environment.

Fully baked bread is safe for pets as a special treat, so long as it’s not raisin bread. However, unbaked bread dough can be dangerous when eaten by dogs – and also cats. When ingested, the unbaked bread dough expands in the warm, moist environment of your pets’ stomach, resulting in a bloated or distended abdomen.

Additionally, when the yeast uses sugars in the unbaked dough – a process called fermentation – it produces carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. The carbon dioxide gas is what makes bread rise. Alcohol from the fermenting yeast is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and results in alcohol poisoning. Inadvertent consumption of alcohol can cause unsafe drops in blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature. Severely intoxicated animals can potentially experience seizures and respiratory failure.

If your dog or cat is fed bread dough or you suspect they have stolen bread dough, call our veterinary clinic immediately and look out for following symptoms of alcohol poisoning:

  • Depressed central nervous system
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Unsteady, drunken gait
  • Hypothermia
  • Seizures

Conclusion

The holidays are a wonderful time to snuggle up with our pets, but many popular holiday treats can pose serious danger to furry friends. While celebrating this year, be sure to keep these foods well out of reach of curious pets!

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6 Ways COVID-19 Has Impacted Our Veterinary Practice

By Pet Health, Pet Parenting

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges in the veterinary care sector. Our practice has had to respond to ever-evolving lockdowns, give clients and staff safe, COVID-19-free environments and embrace new digital technologies, while ensuring pets get the care they need.

Vaccines for COVID-19 are now readily available to anyone who wants one in our Cabbagetown community, which is beginning to see a return to some form of ‘new’ normalcy. While we slowly emerge from the tethers of this pandemic, we can’t forget the vital lessons and permanent changes this pandemic has triggered.

So, what’s changed?

1. Acceleration and Adoption of New Digital Platforms.

Out of the COVID-19 crisis, comes an opportunity to make life better for pets, their owners and our veterinarians who chose this career path because they wanted to improve animal welfare. This opportunity has forced vet clinics to embrace digital transformation faster than most had anticipated.

Our forward-looking animal hospital is using new technologies to enhance customer relationships in an ever-changing digital landscape. This was true before the COVID-19 pandemic, but is even more widespread now. While the pace of change can be challenging for our clients and staff alike, it’s entirely necessary for the future prospects of our practice.

Here are some examples of the digital platforms we’ve incorporated since the beginning of the pandemic:

VETSTORIA: This integration into our website allows clients the ability to schedule appointments in real time – on their own time. We’ve seen a significant uptick in online bookings as it gives our clients – new and existing – more control over the booking process.

GOFETCH: This software application has been implemented to enhance our Wellness Plans. It provides an avenue for pet parents to track wellness plan services, receive cash rewards for service and retail purchases as well offering access 24/7, after-hours telemedicine veterinary care.

SCRATCHPAY: Did you know we offer payment plans? If you haven’t purchased pet insurance, unexpected emergencies can result in higher than expected vet bills. We have teamed up Scratchpay to give our clients two simple, wallet-friendly payment plan options.

DOCUSIGN: We’ve incorporated this software for all mission-critical forms and legally binding agreements to ease onboarding, reduce paper and simplify our workflow.

2. Client Stress and Anxiety Levels.

At its heart, veterinary medicine is a client-focused business. Clear and empathetic communication with pet parents to ensure that patients receive the level of care they need is the top concern for any well-respected animal hospital.

The combination of (many!) new pet parents, reduced clinic hours due to staff shortages, changes in how the clinic operates (ie. curbside service) and the general uncertainty of how the pandemic may play out for people personally and professionally has created a higher level of stress for EVERYONE concerned.

Luckily for us, the majority of our clientele have taken the inconveniences and frustrations in stride – and we’re forever thankful for that. Not surprisingly, we have experienced a slight uptick in unacceptable client behaviour. As a result, we’ve had to re-examine our abuse policy to help mitigate the toll this behaviour takes on the mental wellness of our team.

With our goal of superior and consistent client service, all members of our veterinary team are expected to deal with a wide variety of client requests and behaviours. Sometimes these demands cross the line from merely challenging to being out-and-out, hostile or abusive.

Client behaviours we deem unacceptable at our clinic include:

  • Physical violence or threats of violence
  • Verbal abuse
  • Discriminatory language or hate speech
  • Continual unreasonable requests
  • Threats, if demands are not met
  • Behaviour that creates a negative experience for other clients in the clinic

It’s only human nature that clients (or staff) may have an “off” day from time to time. We’re comfortable in our ability to recognize and deal with these scenarios. But in some extreme instances, no good faith effort on our part will ever be enough to satisfy a very small minority of clients.

When a client exhibits consistently anti-social behaviour that negatively impacts the well-being of our team members or other clients, we will take the rare step to terminate the relationship and encourage them to find another veterinarian. This is becoming – regrettably – more common within the veterinary industry.

Fortunately, cases like this are extremely rare for us, but the mental effects of the experience on our staff can have lingering effects. To counter this, we shift our thinking to the majority of our wonderful and appreciative clients – particularly those who have sent us gifts and thank you notes. Or spend more time with a puppies…

3. Increased Focus on Preventative Medicine.

One thing has become abundantly clear since the beginning of the pandemic – there’s been an explosion of pet ownership among new – and lapsed – pet parents. Working from home, loneliness and extra disposable income have all played roles in the largest increase in pet ownership in recent memory – maybe ever.

Whether it’s enrolling in a comprehensive Wellness Plan, keeping current with vaccines or just regular yearly examinations, preventative medicine is at the forefront of our clinic’s objectives. The ability to anticipate and treat potential issues before they appear aligns with our goal to provide to best-in-class veterinary care for our clientele, not to mention potential cost savings.

3 ways we encourage good preventative medicine practices:

  1. We offer free, year-round telephone consultations to help determine your pets’ risk of parasitic infection by fleas, heartworm or – most importantly – ticks. Canine Lyme disease is a major issue on the wooded trails of Toronto, so awareness and protection is your greatest ally.
  2. We offer feature-packed and cost-efficient wellness plans for all stages of your pets’ lifecycle.
  3. Regular email and text reminders are delivered to our clients with the ability to make an online appointment immediately from the email or at a time of their convenience.

4. Veterinary Practices as an Essential Service

Pets play a prominent role in our lives. We rely on them for companionship and unconditional love, especially when lockdown measures confined us to our homes and away from loved ones. This is especially true for people living alone and/or depend on them as service and therapy animals.

Because of this, the pandemic has cemented our important role in society. By being classed as an ‘essential’ service across Canada – and many other parts of the world – veterinarians were allowed to operate amid lockdown actions.

Why are veterinarians considered essential services?

  • Veterinary employees – along with other healthcare professionals – provide surveillance for reportable diseases such as rabies and Lyme Disease.
  • Issuing certificates of veterinary inspection are required for the movement of animals between provinces and countries.
  • Veterinary care is critical to ensure that only healthy animals enter the food supply.
  • Veterinary practices provide medical and surgical care for critically ill and injured animals.
  • Veterinarians provide care for service and therapy animals, supporting both animal and human welfare.
  • Veterinarians also oversee the care of laboratory animals, which are critical to research that leads to the development of pharmaceuticals and biologics, including vaccines.
  • Even if certain entities need to be closed to the public, veterinarians are needed for continued care of rare, threatened and endangered animals in zoos, aquariums, wildlife rehabilitation clinics and wildlife facilities.

From the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA): “The CVMA holds that veterinary practices and all veterinary services including where animals are housed for research purposes provide “essential” services to Canadians given that veterinary medicine is critical for public health, agri-food safety, pharmaceutical stewardship, and animal health and welfare.”

5. Team-Building and Off-Site Staff Events

With the lockdown measures in place during the pandemic, one of the things we’ve dearly missed are staff getaways outside the workplace.

Why would that be important in our practice?

Teamwork is regarded as a core skill within our veterinary team. Our clinic is a cozy, community-minded practice that performs big-city, best-in-class veterinary care with team members working in close quarters. One would think this would create an environment ripe for personality clashes and flare-ups, but this has been remarkable rare.

Despite our team unity, there has been something missing – the recognition that outside activities play a vital role in team-building at our clinic. The inability to socialize outside the professional environment tends to put the focus on the work habits and professionalism of the team members only. This is certainly a good thing, but interacting with teammates in a social environment can help bind those professional ties closer, not to mention increase trust.

Staff dinners, spa excursions, Blue Jay games and Xmas parties have all fallen by the wayside as our city has grappled with the lockdown effects of COVID-19. Thankfully, restrictions are being eased and we look forward to re-engaging with each other on a social and personal level.

6. Operational Changes Due to COVID-19

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have collectively held our breaths to come to a point where we can – hopefully – start to exhale and put the worst part of pandemic in the rear-view mirror.

It’s our social and moral responsibility to our clients and the Cabbagetown community – as well as the need to protect our Cabbagetown Pet Clinic team – to make every effort to not stall the progress we’ve made over the past 18 months. Some of the changes mentioned below will wane as the pandemic recedes, but some may become permanent.

Changes to Clinic Protocols due to COVID-19:

  • Fastidious Hygiene: With our already high standard of routine environmental cleaning, staff will continue to practice good hand hygiene as per the World Health Organization guidelines. All common surfaces are disinfected frequently.
  • Curbside Services: Clients are still not permitted in the clinic, but with masking, Toronto’s high vaccination rate and the lifting of some provincial controls, some of these indoor restrictions have been relaxed in some circumstances. We have posted a sign on our entrance advising our clients that if they are showing any signs of illness to remain outside and call the clinic.
  • Staffing: Although our team is fully vaccinated, our vet clinic hours are still limited to account for the current high demand for veterinary services in combination with a labour shortage in the vet industry.
  • Cashless and Contactless Payments: Debit terminal payments are wiped down between EVERY transaction.
  • Increased Digital Integration: (see above)

CONCLUSION

We’re extremely thankful that our clients have been super patient and understanding with the changes we’ve experienced and some of the protocols that remain in place. A reversion to ‘normal’ times – pre-COVID – will be a welcome addition to the overall clinic experience.

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

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sad-dog-in-window

Pet Separation Anxiety: The Perfect Storm Ahead

By Pet Behaviour, Pet Health

30 Second Summary

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT IS PET SEPARATION ANXIETY?

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

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

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

WHAT IS THE ROOT CAUSE OF PET SEPARATION ANXIETY?

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

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

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

How does the end of WFH affect your dog?

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

Why?

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

From the America Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA):

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

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

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

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

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF PET SEPARATION ANXIETY?

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

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

10 Signs of Pet Separation Anxiety:

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

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

IS MY DOG IS AT RISK OF PET SEPARATION ANXIETY?

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

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

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

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

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

6 WAYS TO EASE YOUR DOG’S SEPARATION ANXIETY.

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

          1. Crate Training

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

2. Proper Exercise

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

3. Minimize Dependent Behaviour

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

How to develop independence in your puppy:

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

4. Cannabidiol (CBD)

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

5. Veterinary Intervention: Behavioural Modification and Medications

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

What next?

Talk with our veterinarians.

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

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

6. Employ a Support Cat

CONCLUSION

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

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

Our 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.

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Professional, attentive and dedicated to your pet.

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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.

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