As swimsuit season approaches, we start thinking about losing those extra pounds so we can hit the beach or pool without wearing an extra-large t-shirt over our bathing suit. We start going over the mantra “eat less, exercise more”. But while we are considering our own weight loss, how about our pets? One of the most common disorders seen in veterinary medicine today is obesity. Up to 40% of dogs and cats in the US today are considered overweight or obese. Our pets’ extra flab isn’t only a cosmetic problem. Just like for us, obesity in our pets can increase their risk for a host of medical problems. In dogs, there is an increased risk of osteoarthritis, heart disease, respiratory problems, heat stress and cranial cruciate rupture (torn ligament in the knee). They are also a greater anesthetic and surgical risk. In cats, obesity can lead to these problems and can also greatly increase their risk of developing diabetes and urinary tract problems.
So how do our pets get fat? Granted, there are cases of dogs having a thyroid problem, but in the majority of cases, the problem lies with us- their owners. Our pets probably aren’t opening the kibble bags or getting out the can opener by themselves. We are doing it for them. So how do we help our pets slim down? Well, the “eat less, exercise more” strategy is the way to go. By decreasing calorie intake and burning more calories each day, the weight will come off. So, you can either decrease the amount of food given each day and/or switch to a lower-calorie diet. Most dog and cat foods will not list calories on the bag, but if you call the manufacturer, they can usually tell you. Also note that not all “lite” foods are the same. Lite or less active just implies that there are fewer calories than their regular adult maintenance formula but it doesn’t compare different brands. For dogs, you can also add veggies like carrots or green beans to the meals to make them feel full without adding extra calories. We also carry several prescription diets that are very calorie-restricted to help your pet lose weight. Getting out and exercising your dog is also important. Just putting him out in a fenced-in yard is usually not enough, especially for a dog that is already obese. They usually will not exercise nearly enough on their own. A nice-paced walk, game of catch, or a swim are all great for burning calories. Just remember that if your dog is not used to being active, you have to get him into it gradually just as you would yourself. I haven’t forgotten about cats here, but let’s face it- you really can’t make a cat exercise very easily. You can try playing chasing and jumping games with toys, but when your cat is done, he’s done, so controlling diet is very important in cats.
There is also a new product for dogs to help them lose weight. Slentrol is a daily medication that helps to suppress your dog’s appetite so he will want to eat less. So if you just can’t resist feeding your dog too much (after all, they do love to eat!), this will keep him from eating as much. Slentrol is a prescription medication only available from your veterinarian and is only part of an overall weight management program.
If you think your pet is overweight, please make an appointment to have us evaluate him and decide what weight-loss program is best for him. We can figure out the amount and type of food that would be best to feed and any other options to assist in weight loss. It is important to follow your pet’s weight to make sure the diet program is working. Who knows, maybe you and your pet will both be ready for this bikini season (just not speedos, please)!
Ah, summertime, and the living is easy. Well, it often is, but for pets that have seasonal allergies, it can be miserable. Many of us have “hay fever”- itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, congestion, and all that, but our pets manifest their allergies a little differently. Usually, dogs and cats bite and scratch themselves. Atopy is the term we use to describe inhalant allergies- primarily pollens, dusts and molds. Pets with atopy often are particularly itchy around the face, feet and ears. Pets with a contact allergy- say to grasses or carpeting- often are itchy on the feet and abdomen. Fleas can certainly cause itching, too, but some pets are truly allergic to fleas- just one flea bite will make them scratch like mad. They are often itchy on the back, especially near the tail. We also occasionally see food allergies in pets, and although they can cause intestinal problems, they also often manifest as scratching, especially around the head and ears.
So what do we do about allergies in our pets? Well, if your pet is scratching, especially if he is causing sores or hair loss, we need to do a thorough physical exam to determine if your pet actually has allergies or another cause for itching such as a skin infection or mange. If we diagnose allergies, there are several ways to treat them. Part of the plan usually includes flea control with a product like Frontline (for dogs and cats), Advantix (for dogs only) or Advantage (for dogs and cats) to eliminate that as part of the problem. To control the itching, we sometimes use antihistamines. Unfortunately, antihistamines often do not work nearly as well in dogs and cats as in people. Corticosteroids (such as prednisone) are often used to make allergic pets comfortable. Used properly, we can minimize side effects and give your pet much-needed relief. Sometimes, all that scratching can create sores called “hot spots”. These are often infected and need to be treated with antibiotics.
Some pets need other treatments as well to control their allergies. Allergy testing can be done on dogs and cats. We can either do a blood test or refer you to a dermatologist for skin testing. The idea behind allergy testing is to determine exactly what your pet is allergic to and then desensitize them to it using custom-made allergy serum that is given by injection over the course of a year or more. We also use a medication called Atopica in some pets to help control allergies. For suspected food allergies, we put your pet on a hypoallergenic or novel protein diet for 6-8 weeks to see if that controls the itching. Other treatments can include shampoos and other topical medications and fatty acid supplements.
The important thing to remember about allergies in dogs and cats is that they do not tend to grow out of them like some children do. Rather, they grow into them. That means that each allergy season may be longer and the itching more intense as the years go by. As you can see, there are many things that we can do to help control your pet’s allergies, so if that scratching is more than just an occasional occurrence, please make an appointment to have us examine your pet and determine the best treatment to keep your pet itch-free.