Pet Experiencing Dental Pain? How to Know and What to Do About It

When Animal Control picked up a little stray Poodle that I’d later adopt, she was a mess. Among a host of health issues, Peach was missing 18 teeth and needed another seven extractions. So we’re protective of her remaining teeth, which my husband and I affectionately call “chompers.”

But the other day, I gave her a little cookie, and she put it on her bed to save for later. Is she planning ahead, or was it too hard for her chompers to chew?

Is she experiencing dental pain?

Signs of Trouble

Picking up food and then dropping it can be a sign of dental pain in dogs and cats, says Sharon L. Campbell, DVM, MS, DACVIM, at Zoetis and a Fear Free certified veterinarian who serves on the advisory board.

“Signs of dental disease in general can start off with probably the most commonly recognized sign: halitosis, or bad breath,” she says. “We all have smelled that stinky dog breath and stinky cat breath.”

Unfortunately, dental disease can be painful. Dr. Campbell says other signs include drooling or pulling their head away when you try to pet it. Also look for yellow tartar, bleeding gums, and whenever a tooth is loose, broken, or discolored.

She emphasizes that if you notice your dog or cat has decreased appetite or weight change, it could be a sign of dental disease – or something critical.

“That’s an alarm,” she says. “When a pet owner notices that their dog or cat has decreased appetite and weight loss, let’s get them to the vet immediately because there’s something serious going on there.”

At the Root of Health Problems

Dr. Campbell notes dentists like to say that teeth are the window to the body because not only can dental disease cause pain locally, it can lead to gingivitis, which is irritation of the gums that can lead to loosening of the tooth and eventual tooth loss. A pet might get an infection in the root of the tooth that can cause fever or general disease.

“With an infection in the mouth, those bacteria can seep to other parts of the body and other vital organs,” she warns. “It can go to the liver, the kidneys, the heart in particular, and then you end up with conditions in those organs, too. So you’ve got a twofold effect: the local effect of all the irritation and pain and disease that can happen within the mouth itself, but then those bacteria that formed can shed to the rest of the body and cause disease elsewhere.”

Dental Care Best Practices

That’s why regular dental exams are so key to the overall health of our pets. During annual exams, veterinarians will always check the dog or cat’s mouth. Sometimes they’ll recommend a dental cleaning if they suspect disease or a need for extractions or require a closer look.

Anesthesia is an important part of an effective and thorough dental exam and cleaning. One reason is that the veterinarian will need to take x-rays of the teeth to see if there’s infection in the tooth roots – something pets don’t typically hold still for when they’re awake.

“A lot of the disease is below the gum line and they can’t see that and can’t get to it if the dog isn’t anesthetized,” she says.

Anesthesia also helps keep pets calm and allows veterinarians to get ahead of the pain when the veterinary team administers medications while the pet is under anesthesia. Scraping teeth can irritate the gums, causing pain – if a pet is awake, they’ll be stressed and painful.

“It’s very essential that the pets go under anesthesia for any type of dental procedure in order to have a thorough exam, a calm exam, a pain-free exam or procedure so that animals don’t remember what happened because they’re unconscious,” she says.

While pet owners can be wary of anesthesia, as evidenced by the rise of “anesthesia-free cleanings” in pet stores and other locales, Dr. Campbell says pet owners should be comforted knowing veterinarians use the same anesthetic medications used in human patients.

“They’re very safe, and they use dosages that are very safe,” she says.

Delay Decay

Of course, prevention is the best medicine. In addition to annual exams, Dr. Campbell recommends training a dog (or cat, though this can be more challenging) to tolerate home tooth brushing. Start with a regular soft toothbrush, or little rubber finger toothbrush, and cover it in peanut butter or squirt cheese. Let the dog lick it off to get used to the brush. Gradually get them used to the implement, and then start using toothpaste made for dogs and cats (typically flavored like chicken or liver).

“Try to make it a fun thing for them, so when you actually do go in there to brush their teeth, they’re not objecting to it,” she says.

Dr. Campbell also plays a game with her dog Huckleberry each evening: Find the Greenie. She hides the tooth chew in the house and the Australian shepherd mix runs around their home looking for it. His reward helps keep his teeth clean.

While some pet owners may think dental disease only affects older animals, studies have shown that dogs and cats as young as three years old already have some degree of disease. So it’s important to have conversations with your veterinarian about your pet’s dental health on a regular basis.

“We want to make sure those teeth stay bright and shiny, and that there’s no pain or irritation or bacteria build up in those teeth,” she concludes.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Ways You and Your Pet Show Love to Each Other

We love our dogs and cats. Mine are as much members of the family as my wife and children and my granddaughter Reagan. But do they love us back?

I think so, and I think they show us that love—and we show it to them–in myriad ways individual to each pet and person.

Body language and the choices they make are among the ways our pets show that they love us. We can return their gift using similar signals. Here’s what to look for from your dog or cat and how to express your own feelings in ways they will understand.

The Mirrors of the Soul

In dogdom, the act of locking eyes can signal aggression. Polite dogs don’t stare—either at other dogs or at humans. But when they are comfortable and happy in our presence, they accept our looks of love and will even seek out eye contact from us. They return our gaze with a relaxed expression that says, “All is right with the world.”

Cats also consider staring a rude behavior, but they send other signals with their eyes. If your cat slowly blinks at you, rejoice! You’re the recipient of a sweet kitty kiss. You can slowly blink back to return the salute.

Tail-Wagging Good

Lots of people think that tail wags are always friendly gestures, but they can have many different meanings, and not all are nice. But when our dogs give a full-body wag with the tail held at mid-height, the message is clear: they’re happy and excited to see the person they love.

Cats don’t wag their tails in the same way that dogs do. In fact, if you see a cat rapidly swishing her tail from side to side, step back! She’s not in a friendly mood. But a cat whose tail is upright or moving languidly is happy and willing to interact with you.

When your pet expresses happiness at seeing you in this way, you don’t have to wiggle your butt back at him, but you can respond to his desire for interaction by slowly and gently petting him in areas where he enjoys being touched. For most animals, those spots include beneath the chin, at the base of the ears, or on the chest, shoulders, and side.

Your cat or dog may invite your attention by jumping into your lap or presenting you with the area where he wants to be stroked. If he does, appreciate his invitation to engage in a mutually beneficial social ritual.

Keep in Touch

Touch is an intrinsic part of any loving relationship, whether it’s between animals of the same or different species—including cats, dogs, and humans. There’s nothing so satisfying as sitting with a cat in your lap or a dog snuggled at your side. When cats and dogs choose to be physically close to us, whether by placing a paw on our knee or sleeping with their head on our feet, it’s a true sign of affection.

You can return the love not only through petting or snuggling, but also by brushing or combing your pet in a relaxed, gentle manner. Social grooming is what friends do together. It helps to establish and maintain the bonds of companionship and even has health and emotional benefits. Touch should be calming and therapeutic for both pets and people, each reaping the mutual benefits of shared contact.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Dressing Up Your Pet May Be Surprisingly Useful

The idea of dressing up your pet may seem silly, eccentric, or just something novel to do for a couple of moments during the holiday season. But putting clothes on your dog or cat, and acclimating them to it, may be useful for a number of reasons. Take, for instance, the situation Paula G. found herself in when her silver shaded Persian cat, Truffle, was recovering from bladder stone surgery. When the vet tech brought Truffle out from the back room, the cat was decked out in a onesie.

“She said they find it works better with cats [as opposed to the cone-shaped Elizabethan collar, especially when there are stitches on the abdomen,” Paula says.

Cone Alternative

The Elizabethan collar, or “cone of shame,” has long been one of the most frustrating  parts of the healing process for pets and their people alike. It’s unwieldy for the animal, interferes with eating and moving around, and looks as uncomfortable as it undoubtedly feels. Whether it involves surgery sutures or skin conditions, something that fits snugly on the body seems like a better idea, in many cases.

Kimberley H., who owns three Westies, found onesies more practical for her younger dogs after their spay. “We tried a cone with one of the puppies,” Kimberley says. “She absolutely hated it, was thrashing to get it off. She took to the onesie right away.” Her older Westie, Finley, has a skin condition and wears clothes to cover it up. “She always tries to scratch herself and rubs her skin raw,” when she wears a cone, Kimberley says. “The clothes keep her comfortable and allow her to easily eat or drink water when she wants. Her eyesight isn’t obstructed, and we can pet her and she can give us kisses—that’s a lot harder with a cone.”

Lisa Radosta, DVM, a Florida-based veterinary behaviorist, uses onesie-type outfits in her practice, “to protect incision sites and healing wounds, among other things.”

“They do not replace an Elizabethan collar,” she cautions, “because the clothing doesn’t prevent the dog from getting to the incision site or wound. The Elizabethan collar protects the incision from the dog. The clothing protects the incision from the environment.”

Helpful Hug

Many pet parents also claim that a snug-fitting jacket, such as the Thundershirt, helps fearful pets deal with stressful situations, such as fireworks on holidays, thunderstorms, or even travel. “I have clients who claim that pressure wraps are effective for their pets,” says Dr. Radosta, although “the research that has been done on the most popular wraps shows that they have no significant effect on anxiety.”

Even so, the anecdotal information is compelling. Rachel P.’s Westie, Preston, can be a nervous flier. “He makes little whiny noises and noses your hand to pay attention to him and pet him,” she says. “He also wants to me hold him in my lap, versus laying on the floor of the plane, where he knows he is supposed to be.” He is much calmer and well behaved with the shirt on.

Joanne M.’s cat, Gracey, was also helped by the Thundershirt. “Gracey was terrified of the car ride to the vet clinic,” Joanne says. “Every single time, she would poop in her carrier. She would get so nervous that she would foam at the mouth. It was just a horrible experience for her and for us.” That stopped when Joanne began putting the wrap on Gracey, and her veterinary visits became a lot less stressful.

Clothes Encounter

Having your dog or cat already acclimated to wearing something on their body may be helpful in case they ever need it.

“Anything you want an animal to do must be presented in baby steps,” says Kathryn Primm, DVM, chief veterinarian at Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee. “You just have to work your way toward putting the item all way onto the pet. If at any point the pup [or cat] starts to resist, you have to stop and back up to the point when he/she was last comfortable with the process and start over there.”

Dr. Radosta says, “Your pet may love clothes right off the bat. If he does not, read his body language and check for severity of stress. If he is very stressed, consider that this may not be the best option for your pet. If he isn’t very stressed, introduce the clothing slowly with positive reinforcement including toys, play, food and walks.”

Longtime kitten foster Connie S. uses clothing as part of her socialization process. “Sometimes I get kittens who are very curious about it and try to play with the clothes. Some try to just shrug out of it. Some ignore it altogether and play and run around like it has been a part of them all along. It is generally an adventure for them, something new and novel to explore and learn about. They become more confident kittens for having done it.” Dr. Primm says, “I think that there is a benefit to teaching pets to tolerate clothes and other things that aren’t technically normal for them.”

Dogs and cats are often more adaptable and resilient than you might think, as long as you give them the chance. Paula remembers that with Truffle, “When she first got home, she ‘slinked’ around the house a little bit, but she was also on pain medication. After a day or so, she was fine with the shirt.” Out of the over 400 kittens Connie has fostered, “I have only had one kitten have a reaction so poor that I decided to not continue and left him ‘naked.’”

Go slowly, introducing the garment without putting it on at first. Let your pet touch, smell, and interact with it for several sessions before draping it over her. Put it on only when your pet is comfortable with being around the garment, and reward each step generously. Make it a routine. Your dog or cat may never be a fashionista, but she may walk a little prouder in a onesie or a compression garment if the need occurs.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Love and Loss: Helping Children Grieve When a Pet Dies

My 10-year-old daughter Reagan has experienced a lot of pet loss in the past year. Our 12-year-old black Pug, Willy, died suddenly and unexpectedly while my husband and I were out of the country, leaving Reagan and my mother Teresa to face his loss together. Then my parents’ 16-year-old canine cocktail Quixote passed away.

At those ages, it’s not necessarily a surprise when dogs die, but it’s still a loss for the people who loved them. That’s especially true for children, who may never have come to grips with death before.

For me, part of the grieving process as a mom has been to assist Reagan in her own grieving and healing process. In doing so, I’ve found I’m not only teaching my daughter valuable life lessons that are applicable in so many other areas of her life, but the growing awareness has made me better able to effectively cope and grieve with loss of the animals I love in my own life.

No single approach is best for helping a child through the grief that accompanies the loss of a pet, but as both a mother and animal trainer, I have found certain ways that have helped us walk the path of loss.

Be Honest

From my early memories as a child, I remember some of the worst ‘betrayals’ experienced through the eyes of my childhood cousins and friends were those where the parent lied about where the pet had gone. Because the parents didn’t think their children could handle the truth of a dog’s death, they lied to them, making up stories, such as the dog was adopted, became lost, or was run over. The reality of what had really happened in each case was eventually found out. Not only was the child dealing with the loss of their pet afresh, but they were also dealing with feelings of betrayal and hurt. For me, and for Reagan, transparency has always been important, and such openness has helped us build a relationship founded on trust.

Talk About It

Prior to losing Willy, Reagan had already dealt with the notion of death and loss through the passing of our other Pug, Bruce, in 2015. But even before that, we had read books and watched movies with the theme of loss, allowing us to discuss “what comes next” when a person or pet dies.

For me, being of the Christian faith, our talks included the notion of heaven, where we (and our dogs) would be given a renewed body and soul, and where we’d one day be reunited with those that on earth we’d loved and lost. For Reagan, this foundation of understanding what happens when someone passes, whether person or pet, was preparation that helped her to better deal with loss when it happened.

Be Sensitive to a Child’s Needs

It’s okay to ask a child how she feels about a pet’s death but talking about it too much can intensify feelings of loss and make pain even greater. Reagan appreciated the ability to reflect and grieve alongside us, but after expressing how she felt, she wanted to move forward rather than constantly ruminating on the weight in her heart.

Though she still wants to reflect on Willy from time to time, the memory of his loss is still painful, just as it is for me. For us, it’s best to keep Willy’s memory alive by celebrating the incredible dog he was during our richly blessed emotional life together.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Keeping Dogs Safe on Walks

Rio, a friendly Lab mix and former therapy dog, has been attacked numerous times over the years by other dogs – both leashed and unleashed. Once, a dog jumped out a car window to try to bite Rio. Panicked, his owner screamed while Rio defended himself before the other dog’s owner came running from a restaurant patio to pull her dog off. It was terrifying.

Fortunately, Rio didn’t develop fear-based reactivity. But after such an attack, many dogs do.

Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, a dog trainer who is a certified Fear Free professional, Canine Good Citizen evaluator, and author of “The Midnight Dog Walkers: Positive Training and Practical Advice for Living With a Reactive or Aggressive Dog,” says these incidents can not only lead to emergency veterinary bills, but also to an emotional cost for the dog.

“Some dogs can bounce back, but many more now have been taught to be fearful for good reason of other dogs,” she says. “If it happens to a puppy in a fear period, that dog can face a lifetime of fear just going on a neighborhood walk without serious and qualified help from a trained professional.”

There’s hope after an attack. For the past two decades, Phenix has helped countless dogs overcome anxiety and fears using positive training methods.

“Positive training is the best way to help a dog change its inner dialogue from fear to trust and even confidence,” she says.

But she has also grown frustrated by the number of times her rehabilitated clients have later been attacked by charging, off-leash dogs. She knows people with small dogs, who can be particularly vulnerable to attack, often fear walking their dogs in public.

“Owners with small dogs can often become members of the title of my book, ‘The Midnight Dog Walkers.’ They seek early morning or really late hours to walk in hopes that their dog will not run into any problems,” she shares.

So how can we keep our dogs safe on walks?

Phenix says that’s a source of debate in the dog world, with some advocating that people carry weapons to protect their pets. Her own advice includes the following:

  • Understand that it’s possible on any outing to run into a potentially dangerous dog.
  • Have a plan and practice it when there is no emergency situation. For instance, some people train their dogs to move behind their legs. Phenixlikes to teach dogs to do an emergency U-turn with a “Let’s go” cue from their person.
  • Avoid confrontations. When another dog approaches, cross the street or move behind a tree, car, or other obstruction to keep dogs from staring at one another and to allow each dog a sense of safety.
  • Be prepared to say whatever you need to say to encourage the other dog walker to restrain their pet. This can include “My dog is injured” or “My dog will bite” – even if he won’t. “My dogs have plenty of canine friends and they are under no obligation to ‘say hi’ to dogs we meet on city walks,” Phenix says.
  • If you are going to carry something that offers protection for you and your dogs, know how to use it. Phenix recommends non-lethal items; she carries a large, visible canister of bear spray. “I’ve had to use it two times when two large dogs rushed my senior Border Collies,” she recounts. “I sprayed the street in front of me – my dogs were behind me – and both times the oncoming dogs hit the bear spray smell, stopped in their tracks, and retreated.”
  • Report all encounters. If possible, try to take a video on your cell phone if you can do it safely. “Imagine if your dog is attacked and you do not report it and later you learned a child was seriously harmed by that same dog,” she says. “Sometimes there is no human with the dog; it is a stray or got out of a yard. You should still report it.”

Phenix says the time to stop a fight is before it happens, but if your dog is attacked, try not to scream, which will increase everyone’s stress factor. Instead, do your best to stay calm. Make a loud, distracting noise to interrupt the fight if, for instance, there’s a nearby metal trash can to throw on the ground. You could potentially try to cover a dog’s face with a heavy coat or grab your dog’s leash and try to pull yourselves away, though these options can carry risks.

“If you have a deterrent like bear spray, spraying nearby or even at the dogs is a better option than allowing a dangerous fight to continue,” she says. “Once a fight starts, do whatever you can safely do to break it up as quickly as you can.”

Phenix emphasizes that responsible pet owners do not permit their dogs to harass, stalk, chase, or rudely greet other people’s dogs – and they obey leash laws, which exist to protect everyone. She compares leash laws to stop signs.

“If you ignore a stop sign, you can not only endanger other drivers, you might very well get an expensive ticket,” she says.

While it’s important for dog lovers to be aware of potential attacks on any walk and take measures to keep ourselves and our dogs safe, Phenix says it’s also important to continue taking walks with our dogs.

“Walking and sniffing outside is a core need for our dogs,” she says. “We should not have to stop enjoying that with our best friends because of some truly irresponsible dog owners out there. I say, ‘Walk on – but be prepared!’”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Mousing for Money: Working Programs for Cats

When you have a killer resume, elite skills, a lifetime of experience that requires no on-the-job training, yet you’re not people-oriented, where do you look for work?

If you’re of the feline persuasion, look no further than “working cat” or “barn cat” programs. They help save lives of unadoptable cats by finding them alternative placements with a safe life-long living environment that includes food, water, and shelter, and limited human interaction. It’s like a full-time job with room and board provided.

Candidates for working cat programs include feral cats, unsocialized cats, cats with litter box habits unsuitable for indoor living (barring medical reasons), and cats otherwise deemed “unadoptable” with unresolved behavioral problems who are often put on the euthanasia list at shelters.

Cats on the Job

“The most basic philosophy behind our APA! Barn Cat program is that all cats deserve a chance at their best life — even the ones who grew up without human socialization and don’t want their lives to involve us. For those unsocialized cats who can’t return to their territory due to habitat destruction, threats from unfriendly neighbors, regressive city ordinances, or anything in between, our Barn Cat program allows us to match them with new homes, watched over by understanding caretakers who provide food and shelter in exchange for a little pest control. Since 2009, our program has placed approximately 300 barn cats in new homes every year, meaning we’re fast approaching our 3000th life saved by this program,” says Kristen Hanse, cat program manager at Austin Pets Alive! in Austin, Texas.

Working cat programs have spawned feline social media stars and human-interest stories featuring felines on the job in wineries, breweries, nurseries, warehouses, and farms and ranches. They are serious business to the cats, their adopters, and the organizations who rescue and adopt out the cats. These cats provide 24/7/365 natural, eco-friendly pest-control service in a mutually beneficial relationship that harkens back to the early days of feline domestication.

“Our 10 cats like to show off the work they do. In the mornings they bring us mice, rats, and gophers to the house,” says Jim Horton, 82, still running horses on his horse farm in Nacogdoches, Tex.

Reuben and Rebecca were adopted out as working cats to a plant nursery through Meow Village’s Barn Livin’ is the Life For Me program in Portland, Ore. “Reuben and Rebecca had been found in a taped-closed cardboard box in a dumpster, but even after that they learned to trust humans again. Reuben now lives in the house and is the boss of the nursery. They are part of the approximately 3,100 cats delivered since Meow Village’s beginning in 2010,” says Leann Garrison, Meow Village volunteer. “We take cats from where they aren’t wanted to where they are wanted.”

Feline Labor Force

If you’re interested in a working cat for your business or farm, contact your local shelter, read the FAQs on the website, and fill out an online questionnaire. You’ll be matched with the best applicants for the job. Yes, applicants. Most programs adopt out in groups of two or more which helps the cats feel safe and secure and settle into the new surroundings more easily. Garrison says the only exception is if there is an existing barn cat and the adopter needs only one more. A representative may make on-site visits of the property or require a photo of the property where the cats will acclimate for three to four weeks before being allowed outside.

Working cats are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, treated for parasites and tested for diseases. Some may be microchipped and/or be ear-tipped. The cats arrive with supplies that may include crates or carriers, food, litter boxes, and litter for the acclimation period, blankets for inside the carriers or to cover them so the cats can feel secure inside. Garrison also provides lysine for a three-week acclimation period, which helps boost the cats’ immune system during the stressful time adjusting to the new environment, diatomaceous earth for flea prevention, and a half case of canned food. “You want to spoil them a bit to make sure they know where the good food is,” she says.

Adoption fees range from zero to a nominal amount that helps offset veterinary fees. “At APA! there is never any adoption fee for the adopters helping us save these frequently overlooked cats,” says Hansen. The Meow Village adoption fee is $30 per cat. Garrison says in special situations, like trapping three cats, for example, the fee for third cat is waived so they can keep all three cats together.

While working cats may be considered unadoptable to a home setting, don’t think they’ll be placed just anywhere. The cats’ welfare is paramount. Potential settings are vetted for the cats’ safety. Unsafe areas include those that are close to busy roads, excessively noisy, or frequented by predators such as coyotes.

Adoptions are for the lifetime of the cat, not a temporary placement as a quick fix for pest control. “If the adoption does not work out for any reason, we always take our cats back with open arms,” says Hansen.

Garrison says the same is true at Meow Village. “Every placement comes with a guarantee. We are always here for our cats–we have taken cats back, helped owners move their cats to new homes. We would much rather come and get them instead of them being left to fend for themselves.”

Friends with Benefits

Potential adopters must agree to provide food, water, litter box, and shelter for protection from the elements and predators. The adopter must also provide an enclosed area of confinement for the acclimation period–ideally a staged release from the cage to a closed room for a few days before being released outside, says Garrison.

“I’ve got plenty of space, the cats are no trouble at all; they thrive if you give them a chance. I feed them once to twice a day, they have fresh water and a couple of buildings for them to find their comfortable spot in the summer and winter. They’re healthy, happy, their coats are shiny, and their eyes are clear,” says Horton.

Working cats fulfill a mutually beneficial need–a forever home with job security for pest patrol. Most barn cat adopters get an added benefit–feline friendship. The once fearful, unadoptable cats often become close companions with their human counterparts. This is true for Garrison and her own barn cat, Tucker, who’s now an indoor cat. Horton says he can pick up every one of his cats and they often accompany him and his wife on walks in the woods to watch the deer.

Horton says, “Nature is the most beautiful thing to watch and all animals have their job. My deal is about helping things to live, including these cats.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Why Some Pets Gobble Their Food

When Karma-Kat showed up on our back patio, the 8-month-old kitten had been on his own for some time. Starved for attention, and for food, he ate anything and everything. Karma chewed through the dog food bag to munch kibble and practiced snatch-and-grab attacks to gobble food from our dinner plates.

Our last dog, Magic the German Shepherd, had a healthy appetite, but declined to gobble. But our newest pet, Bravo the Bullmastiff, occasionally scarfs-and-barfs in quick succession.

Pets are individuals of course, but I wondered why some pets practice gluttony while others are more discriminating. For answers, I reached out to Dottie Laflamme, DVM, PhD, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.

Why Do Some Dogs Gobble Their Food?

“Gobbling of food seems to be a trait carried over from wolves,” says Dr. Laflamme. “Wolves or other canids in packs are in competition for access to a kill, so grab what they can when they can.”

In domestic dogs, she says speed of eating seems to be a breed-specific characteristic. Certain breeds of dogs swallow their food in a gulp or two, while others prefer to nibble or graze. “Beagles and Labrador Retrievers are among those breeds known to be gobblers,” she says.

In addition to breed, there is considerable individual variation in eating habits. “This may be related to early experiences and feeding management, and competition, real or perceived, for food bowl access, environmental factors, including those that may leave a dog more or less relaxed while eating, and availability of food.”

Breed doesn’t appear to play a role in feline gobblers. Dr. Laflamme says there are no scientific studies to identify the reasons behind “Garfield”-type cats. But she speculates there may be several reasons, alone or in combination, for this behavior in both cats and dogs.

Those starved as strays may be more food-focused, she says. Also, young pets who are meal-fed rather than free-fed during early development may be more likely to be rapid eaters. “This is based on a limited number of animals and personal observations,” she says, “but it also fits your Karma-Kat situation.”

Cats evolved as solitary hunters and eaters. It’s hard to share a single mouse, after all. That means when cats must share food bowls, eat side by side with other felines, or compete with another cat or dog, they may resort to gulping food quickly or risk getting nothing at all.

Does Gobbling Have Risks?

For cats, gorging can lead to obesity, or nutritional upset if they habitually vomit. Some veterinarians describe stressed-cat eating as “scarf-and-barf.” In other words, eating too quickly from stress-related causes can result in the cat’s food coming back up just as quickly. That’s not good for your carpet, your blood pressure, or your cats.

But for otherwise healthy dogs, gulping food isn’t necessarily a bad thing, says Dr. Laflamme. Eating quickly can save time for owners of multiple dogs, when you can control the amount each dog eats, she says. “Dogs can easily consume all their food in just a few minutes, so can be quickly fed once or twice daily. Since this is a natural pattern for dogs, it may not be of any concern.”

However, part of the natural pattern in wolves and pack animals is to gorge with rapid feeding, then regurgitate and re-consume the food while they are away from the frenzy. “Most pet owners are less keen on this habit, despite it being natural,” says Dr. Laflamme.

One health concern has been linked with rapid eating, says Dr. Laflamme. Gastric dilatation volvulus, or bloat, particularly affects large breed dogs, especially deep-chested dogs.

How to Slow Pet Food Consumption

Helping dogs and cats eat more slowly comes down to managing mealtime. Dr. Laflamme offers these suggestions:

  • Add water to the food to increase volume
  • Feed larger kibble or chunk sizes so pets must chew rather than gulp
  • Use an automatic feeding device that opens on a scheduled timer to access a portion of the daily ration. That can divide a single meal into multiple small meals.
  • Place one or more non-swallowable balls, large stones, or heavy chain into the feeding bowl so dogs must pick around obstacles to find kibbles.
  • Use puzzle feeders designed for the purpose. Kibbles placed inside are released a few at a time during paw-rolling, nose-nudging play. Homemade versions can be made using plastic water bottles or similar.
  • For cats gobbling out of competition or stress, consider feeding them separately.
  • Hide puzzle toys for cats to “hunt.”
  • Smear “licky mats” with canned food to slow consumption.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Small Pets Count Too

Dogs and cats get a lot of attention in our homes and from the manufacturers of pet products. There are many pampered pooches and spoiled kittens. But what about our small furry and scaly friends? They have the same need for a safe, Fear Free Happy Home.

When planning a low-stress Fear Free space for your small pet, here’s some practical advice:

  • Learn what your pet needs! Visit local small-animal welfare professionals and your veterinarian to learn what your small pet needs. The habitats you see in pet stores are not always adequately sized or furnished and should not be used as an example of what the pet needs at home. Your local humane society, a highly regarded small-animal rescue, or your veterinarian will know more about the physical and habitat requirements of various rodents, rabbits, ferrets, snakes, lizards, and turtles. Too often, this advice comes too late, after the animal is already sick from stressors caused by an inadequate home environment.
  • Predator or prey? If your small pet is a predator, he will have a different outlook on the world than if he is prey. For example, a rabbit can be very fearful of predators in the house such as cats, dogs, and humans. Be sure to provide the prey animal with a safe space where he can hide when frightened, explore without feeling threatened, and be away from loud noises and sudden movements caused by other pets or family members. When considering whether an animal is predator or prey, some will be obvious, and some will be less so. A ferret, for example, is a predator. And whether predator or prey, all animals should have a safe space of their own.
  • Design for physical comfort. Just as the pet’s environment should be large enough and supplied properly, it is also important to create a comfortable space for your small pet. All small animals have temperature requirements that are distinct to their species. Reptiles in particular need specific lighting, temperature, and humidity to be healthy. Birds also need to be kept under careful conditions. Wellbeing cannot be fostered in situations where your animal is too cold, too warm, or suffering from another physical problem.
  • Include toys and enrichment. Your small pet needs to enjoy life! Find the toys and games that appeal to your friend. Be creative! You may reach out to other small pet owners for ideas. Rodents love tubes for exploring and wheels for running. Hedgehogs love environments with bedding to burrow in. They also love to get out and run and explore in a safe, enclosed area. Fish need structures to swim through and social enrichment from other compatible fish. Reptiles such as geckos enjoy hunting live insect prey and make a game of stalking their food. Ferrets love climbing and need vertical structures in their environments. Imagine the perspective of your pet and experiment with appropriate items that they love to explore.
  • Consider lifespan. We strive to eliminate fear, anxiety, and stress for any pet we take into our homes. It’s especially important to consider the pets who live a long time and work harder to make their lives comfortable. As an example, a pet red-eared slider turtle (a common denizen of your local humane society) may live as long as 40 years in captivity. These long-lifespan pets need to have large habitats, numerous types of enrichment, physical comfort, and novelty in their environment and experiences for a humane and well-lived life.

There is no limit to what we can learn about creating a Fear Free Happy Home for all of our pets. Whether you adopt a guinea pig, a turtle, or even a tarantula, each small animal has its own perspective on the world. Learn what your special friend needs and provide it. You will love creating a wonderful life for your pet.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Fitness Resolutions Go to the Dogs

Is getting—and staying—in shape one of your New Year’s resolutions? Include your dogs, too; it’s good for their physical and mental health.

But before you haul them out on a five-mile run, talk to your veterinarian about their current condition and the best ways to make sure they don’t suffer from weekend warrior syndrome—the aches and pains we all get (dogs included) when we do too much exercise without building up to it first.

For dogs and humans, fitness requires strength, endurance, flexibility, and good cardiovascular function. The following tips will help ensure that your dog is ready to rock that fitness resolution:

Check your dog’s orthopedic health before getting started. Your veterinarian can make sure hips, knees and elbows are in good shape. This helps to minimize the risk of orthopedic injuries.

Take into account your dog’s size and build as you plan your activities. Not every dog is suited to every type of exercise. Bulldogs tend to sink instead of swim, and spaniels like to zig and zag, so unless they’re well trained, they may not be the best jogging partners. Greyhounds are great running partners but jumping sports can “break” them.

Age matters. Young dogs have lots of energy, but they haven’t finished growing. Jumping and other excessive exercise—especially on hard surfaces—can be detrimental to their musculoskeletal development. Large or giant-breed puppies shouldn’t run or jump repetitively on hard surfaces until their growth plates close, usually when they are 10 to 24 months old. Until then, stick to grass and dirt surfaces for active play that involves running and jumping.

With any dog who isn’t used to regular exercise, start slow and work up to long distances or greater speeds.

Know what types of injuries are commonly seen in your dog’s breed or body type. Couch-potato Labrador Retrievers are prone to cranial cruciate ligament ruptures. Herding dogs can suffer ligament damage because they change direction frequently. Toy breeds and Flat-Coated Retrievers can be prone to patellar luxation. German Shepherds can have spinal problems. Ask your veterinarian what activity-related injuries she sees most often and the types of dogs in which they occur.

Choose an activity that suits your dog’s personality and level of training. For example, does your dog behave nicely in public when he encounters other dogs or people, or will he do best with exercise that can be done away from others? You can find the equivalent of private dog parks, hikes, and yards through website Sniffspot, which connects dog owners with dog-friendly properties available for short-term rentals.

Balance is key. Practice changing direction, both ways, as you walk your dog and continue as you move on to jogging or running. Teach your dog to spin or perform figure-eight movements in both directions. Walking on a balance disc or stepping through the rungs of a ladder are good for balance and building a strong core. (That’s right; a six-pack is important for dogs, too, and not just for attracting admiring looks.)

Don’t overdo things. Rest limits fatigue and helps to prevent injuries. You’ll both appreciate it after a good workout.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Why Calming Medications May Need to Be Given to Your Pet While in the Clinic

Do you have a fear of going to the doctor or the dentist? How does that make you feel? Or perhaps you know someone who gets anxious just thinking about going to the doctor or dentist? Your pet may feel the same way about going to the veterinary clinic.

If your dog shakes, pants, acts restless, or will not take treats from the veterinary team while being examined, he is experiencing the same kind of anxiety. If your cat does not want to come out of her carrier, hisses or tries to jump off the table when being examined, she is also experiencing anxiety. It is important to know that when your pet shows these behaviors, they are not misbehaving but it is their way of saying that they are fearful, anxious and stressed (abbreviated FAS). They are acting this way because they feel threatened.

This is a natural response and is quite common, as going to a veterinary clinic can be as stressful for your pet as going to the dentist is for you. Why is it so stressful? It is because your pet perceives the different sounds and smells of a veterinary clinic, along with seeing other animals and new people, as alarming or dangerous. If you are taking your pet to a Fear Free practice, you will notice that they do things differently. They will offer your pet treats. You may hear soft music playing. The veterinarian may sit on floor to examine your dog or examine your cat in their carrier. These actions are meant to reduce your pet’s level of FAS. In some cases, despite the veterinary team’s efforts to reduce FAS, your pet may be still be fearful, anxious and stressed and may require a medication to calm them so that the examination or procedures can be completed with minimal stress to your pet.

Why would a dog or cat require medications to calm them?

When dogs and cats are showing signs of FAS, they are not only frightened, but they are also having a negative experience. In other words, they are having a bad day! Recognizing the signs of FAS early and giving calming medications to reduce FAS, will benefit your pet by allowing them to have a better experience. Because they are calm, they will not struggle and the veterinary team will be able to complete the examination, clip their nails, treat an infected ear or other types of procedures. Providing a positive experience is in the best interest of your pet. An additional bonus: the memory of a positive experience for one visit may allow the next visit to be less scary and stressful for your pet.

 What kinds of situation would in-clinic administration of calming medications be required?

  • If the dog or cat has a high level of FAS from the beginning of the visit, despite all efforts by the veterinary team to calm the pet.
  • If the dog or cat was initially calm, but the level of FAS increases during the examination or procedure.
  • If a diagnostic or treatment procedure may be stressful to the pet, such as taking an X-ray, getting a blood sample or clipping nails.
  • If the diagnostic or treatment procedure such as cleaning infected ears or shaving an area of the skin that is infected, is expected to be painful, medications to reduce pain, known as analgesics, will also be administered with the calming medications.

What types of medications are used?

If you are anxious and stressed going to your dentist, you may have been prescribed an anti-anxiety medication. Similarly, your pet with FAS will receive an anti-anxiety medication to calm them. These medications are used in people and some of these medications have also been developed specifically for dogs and/or cats. There are several different medications, so your veterinarian will decide the right medication for your pet. These medications are safe and well tolerated.

What to expect after you pet has been given a calming medication?

Depending upon the types of medications used, they may return to their regular routine and act normally, once they get home. With other medications, you may notice that once your pet is at home, they may be a little sleepy. Since most of these medications have a short duration of action, your pet should be back to their normal routine within a few hours. They will usually eat a small meal and you can take them for a leash walk. It is best if you do not let them outside by themselves until the following day. Your veterinarian will provide specific instruction for what to do once you return home with your pet.

What questions should you ask your veterinarian if your pet requires calming medications to be given in the clinic?

  • Will the procedure will be painful? Will your pet receive medications to control the pain?
  • How long will the medication last? How alert will your pet will be when you bring them home?
  • Are there any special precautions you need to take once your pet is home? When should you feed them, take them for a walk, etc.?
  • What signs would your pet show that would be abnormal or necessitate a reason to call or bring your pet into the clinic?

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Conclusion: Medications given in the clinic to calm your pet are often necessary for pets that are showing a moderate to high level of FAS or if the diagnostic or treatment procedures will be stressful. These medications are beneficial to keep you pet calm for the current visit and may make the next visit easier for your pet.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.