How Vets Talk to Clients About Feline Obesity

Obesity is a very common health problem in pets.  Is your dog or cat overweight…and if so, has your veterinarian had a serious discussion with you about the health risks associated with obesity in pets?  A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science examined how a group of vets in Ontario, Canada talked to clients about their overweight cats.

The findings show that many veterinarians tend to avoid potentially uncomfortable conversations about the less than ideal feeding practices of clients who have overweight cats, and they also often do not have serious discussions about weight management.  Vets are more likely to skirt around the issue to avoid insulting clients.  Their strategies include the use of humor, and addressing the pet directly (i.e. “You sure love your food, don’t you Fluffy?”).

The article notes that many owners of obese pets try to “normalize” their pet’s weight and minimize the seriousness of the problem.  This can be especially true for cats, as they tend to see the vet less frequently than dogs, so there are fewer opportunities for discussions between a vet and owner about feline obesity.

The researchers examined nearly 300 videos of vet-client interactions involving feline patients.  The results show that only a small percentage of the vets had any discussions about the causes and prevention of obesity.  In fact, most of the conversations were generated by a handful of the vets who were more likely to bring up the issue.

What were some of the communication problems identified?  When talking about specific kinds of cat food, the vets were more likely to mention specific brands’ quality and nutritional content, and the clients tended to focus on shapes and colors.  They often could not name the brands they used and said things like the food was “from the natural pet store.”

If clients seemed resistant to talking about feeding habits, the vets often resorted to humor when addressing a cat’s weight.  Talking to the pet as a way of communicating with the client was a common strategy.  This “patient-directed speech” would often take the form of a compliment on the cat’s appearance (nice fur, for example) and then joking conversations with the animal (“You’re not missing many meals, are you?”).

What can be done to improve vet-client communication about pet obesity?  The authors recognize that addressing pet obesity with clients can be a sensitive issue for vets.  However, they stress that there is “a need for a dynamic and individualized response to obesity management in veterinary medicine.”  Pet owners can be resistant to measures like reducing food intake and eliminating treats, but vets need to be more proactive in exploring their clients’ attitudes, asking questions, and providing clear explanations and plans in order to improve communication about pet obesity management and prevention.

And of course, we pet owners should talk honestly and openly with our vets about how we are feeding our dogs and cats, especially if they are overweight.  Awareness about the risks of pet obesity and what we as owners can do about it is important.  Here’s a great website to learn more about pets and weight:  petobesityprevention.org

 

Advertisements

Study Shows MRI Scans Help Find Best Service Dog Candidates

In the ongoing effort to understand what our pets are thinking, researchers have been performing MRI scans on dogs’ brains for the past several years.  A recent canine brain scan study conducted by scientists at Emory University may help determine which dogs will make the best service dogs.

43 service dogs in training with the organization Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) underwent MRI scans to determine what makes a successful service dog.  While all the dogs in the study had outwardly calm temperaments, the scans revealed that some of the dogs had higher levels of activity in the area of the brain associated with excitability.  These dogs were more likely to fail the training program.

Scanning potential service dogs early in the training process could be very beneficial for organizations like CCI, since it can cost as much as $50,000 to fully train one dog.  70% of dogs that start a training program will drop out due to behavioral issues.  Since there are always waiting lists for good service dogs, it would be efficient to weed out problematic candidates at the beginning.

Without the MRI scan, the early identification of dogs that would ultimately fail training had a 47% success rate.  With the scan, the predictability of failure went up to a 67% success rate.

How did researchers test the dogs?  While in the MRI machine, dogs were given hand signals for “treat” or “no treat.”  The successful service dog candidates did show activity in a part of the brain associated with rewards when given the sign for “treat” but they did not show excessive activity in the excitability area of the brain.  In contrast, the less successful candidates showed more excitability with the “treat” signal, including when signaled by strangers, a trait which trainers consider to be a red flag for service dogs.

Interested in learning more?  You can read the full text of the article on the website for Scientific Reports HERE.

 

Top image of some very good study participants:  Dr. Gregory Berns, Emory University.

 

FAQs: Airline Travel with Pets

Thinking about bringing your fur kids along when you visit family and friends over the holidays?  If your holiday travel will involve an airline flight, it’s never too early to start planning for a smooth trip for both yourself and your pet.  What do you need to know to book a pet on a flight?  Make sure you check the specific pet policies of each airline you are considering, and be sure to book early, as many airlines reserve a limited number of spots for pets in the cabin (or cargo) section.

What else do you need to know to make flying with dogs, cats, and other pets as stress-free as possible?  Here are some answers to a few frequently asked questions…but always remember to check with your airline for definitive information!

Are there government regulations for pet airline travel?

Yes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service maintains a website with valuable information on both domestic and international travel with pets.  They also provide a heads-up on which animals actually qualify as “pets.”  Be sure to check the USDA site if you have an exotic companion animal!

How can I compare airline pet policies?

The pet-friendly travel website Bring Fido has a web page that lists most major U.S. and international airline pet policies.  From Aer Lingus to Turkish Airlines, you can easily click between sites to find the perfect pet policy for your needs.

Do I need to see the vet before I fly with my pet?

According to American Veterinary Medical Association, most airlines require a current Certificate of Veterinary Inspection for your pet to travel.  Your vet will certify that your pet is healthy enough for travel, and that it has no diseases that could be passed on to humans or other animals.  Certain vaccines need to be up-to-date before your pet can travel.  Don’t forget that international pet travel health requirements can be more stringent than domestic ones, and your pet may have to go into quarantine upon arrival.  This applies to Hawaii as well.

Is it safe for my pet to fly in cargo?

Many concerned pet owners have heard scary stories about pets’ health being harmed by flying in cargo.  A recent article in Conde Nast Traveler cites a U.S. Department of Transportation report on statistics for pet cargo travel in 2016.  Out of approximately 500,000 pets that flew cargo, 26 died and 24 were injured.  That’s about a 1 per 10,000 pet incident rate.  United and Hawaiian have the highest incident rates.  Flying with your pet in the cabin with you is safer than putting your pet in cargo, but that is only an option for smaller pets.  Large dogs must fly cargo unless they are service animals.  Many experts suggest avoiding placing your pet in cargo unless it is absolutely necessary, such as for a cross-country move.

What kind of pet carrier should I get for airline travel?

Each airline’s pet policy page will have specific dimensions for under-the-seat pet carriers.  Generally, they allow hard or soft carriers, as long as they fit under the seat in front of you.  Remember, you cannot remove your pet from the crate during flight, so the carrier must be large enough to keep your pet comfortable.  Some pet stores sell carriers specifically designed for airline travel.  The carrier company Sherpa Pet works with American and Delta, so you can get carriers specifically designed for those airlines.

Happy travels!

 

How to Make a Pet Emergency Preparedness Kit

Few regions of the U.S. are free from the risk of natural disasters like wildfires, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes.  Even if you live in an area that is relatively safe from weather-related disasters, other emergencies (such as a house fire) can force you to quickly evacuate your home unexpectedly.

If you have dogs, cats, or other pets it’s important to make sure that you are prepared to care for your pets in an emergency.  Experts recommend putting together a pet emergency preparedness kit so that you and your pets are ready for an emergency evacuation.  What exactly should you put in your pet emergency kit?  The Humane Society of the United States has compiled a handy checklist.  Here’s a brief rundown, you can check out their website for more details.

Essentials

  • Food and bottled water for at least 5 days. Don’t forget about food bowls and a manual can opener, too.
  • Medications, a first aid kit, and veterinary records (stored in a waterproof container).
  • Litter box, kitty litter, scoop, and waste disposal bags.
  • Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and carriers (with bedding). Make sure the ID on your pet’s collar is up to date as well.
  • Current photographs of you with your pets and written descriptions of your pets, in case you get separated.
  • Written instructions on your pet’s care, feeding, behavior, and health conditions (plus your veterinarian’s contact info) in case you need to board your pets.

Other useful items

  • Newspapers
  • Paper towels
  • Trash bags
  • Grooming supplies
  • Bleach

Interested in learning more?  Check out this informative video:

 

First Aid Tips to Keep Your Pets Safe this Summer

Check out these great summer-themed first aid tips from the website PetMD.  Your pets can face all sorts of warm weather hazards like hot pavements on soft paws, an unexpected dip in the pool, insect bites and stings, and heatstroke.  Help keep your dogs, cats, and other companion animals safe this summer with these tips.

Know the signs of heatstroke and how to treat it.

Your pet can get overheated in the hot summer months.  Symptoms of heatstroke include vomiting, diarrhea, panting, fast pulse, red gums, and collapse.  If your pet’s temperature is over 104 degrees Fahrenheit, take her to a cool place immediately and begin treating with cool water (not ice water).  Bring your pet to the vet for a thorough exam, as heatstroke can cause organ damage.

Protect your pet from insect pests.

If you live in a place with a high incidence of Lyme Disease, consider having your pet vaccinated for it.  Use flea and tick prevention for dogs and cats but never administer dog treatments to your cat.  Cats are sensitive to these treatments and ones intended for dogs can be toxic to them.  You can give antihistamines for insect bites, just talk to your vet about dosage.

Be aware of the dangers of snake bites.

Bites from rattlesnakes and other venomous critters can be a hazard to your pet in the warm weather months.  Take your pet to the vet ASAP if she has been bitten by a snake or other animal.  Vets recommend not putting any topical medicines on the bite until it has been examined by an expert.

Open windows can be hazardous to your pet.

If you open your windows during the warm weather, make sure your screens are undamaged and securely in place before you let your pet sit on the windowsill.  Cats are especially likely to suffer trauma injuries from falling out of a window.   Your pet can get internal injuries as well as broken bones from a fall, so be sure to get to the vet as soon as possible.

Keep pets safe around the water.

Don’t assume your dog is an expert swimmer when you allow him to romp around the pool or take her for a boat ride.  Make sure your pet can swim and knows his way out of the pool in an emergency.  Get a pet life jacket for boat rides.  Be aware of the hazards of parasites and bacterial infections if your dog swims in a pond or river.  Pool chemicals can also irritate your pet’s eyes…and stomach, if swallowed.

Protect paw pads from hot surfaces.

Your pet can get burns on her paw pads if she walks on a hot surface like cement, or even beach sand.  Put booties on your dog’s feet for a long walk in the summer heat.  Soak your pet’s paws in cool water and talk to your vet about topical medicines to apply to the feet.  Also, pets with light colored fur can get sunburn, so keep them out of the midday sun or get them sun protection products made just for pets.

Summer foods can pose a risk to your pets.

Your pets may love the idea of hanging around your backyard barbecue, but be sure to keep an eye on them when the food is served.  Summertime favorites like corn on the cob (dogs may swallow cobs whole) and barbecue sauce (contains onion, garlic, and salt) can pose a real danger to your pet, as can alcoholic beverages.

Beware of pesticides and poisonous plants.

Keep pets off lawns that have been freshly treated with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.  Certain pesticides like rodent and snail bait can be very harmful, or even fatal, to your pet if ingested.  Remove mushrooms from your yard as many can be toxic to pets.