6 December 2013

Active Dogs: The Benefits for Dogs and Their Owners

Our dogs' bodies weren't designed to just lounge around the house to watch hours of a CSI marathon on TV all day Sunday with us. Dogs are natural hunters, herders, chasers and all around go-getters. They need to be active almost as much as they need to breathe.

So when we don't give our pups what their body craves, physical activity, then we are hindering their instinct to be active. In turn, when we don't encourage our dogs to be active, we're also missing out on an opportunity to get and keep our own selves in shape.

There are countless benefits for a pet owner to own an active dog. The most obvious includes better health for the owner and the pup. First and foremost, regular exercise helps dogs and their owners lose or maintain weight. When you run and play with your dog on a daily basis, the cardio benefits to both man and man's best friend are too numerous to count. Strong digestive systems, healthy bones and muscles and better agility are also benefits to both of you.

Remember, in order for an active dog to benefit the owner, you have to choose activities that both of you can participate in. There is no benefit to the owner who puts her dog out in the backyard and expects him to run and play on his own. No one will be getting exercise with this scenario.

Other than the obvious health benefits, here are a few more reasons to put the remote down and grab a ball or Frisbee and put your dog on his leash.

Active dogs are less likely to exhibit bad behavior problems because they are regularly burning the energy that's usually the source of that type of behavior. That means less digging, chewing expensive shoes, scratching couches, jumping on your in-laws when they hit the door, roughhousing and running on all cylinders while everyone else is preparing to go to bed. The more you engage in physical activity with your dog, the less interest he has in participating in or initiating destructive behaviors.

Another benefit to having an active dog is the fact that you'll both sleep better at night. When it's time to wind down in the evening, your dog will be tired too and will relish the chance to get some shuteye after a day of using up valuable energy. And we all know how important it is for humans to get enough sleep at night to function at our best during the day.

Exercise is also good for the mental well-being of both dogs and their owners. Studies show that regular activity is a key factor in reducing stress in pet parents. But it also helps shy dogs gain confidence and shake their feelings of fear.

Here's the fun part. Active dogs make it easier to have a thriving social life. When owners and their dogs play in parks and participate in doggie play dates, they have a chance to form bonds with other two-legged and four-legged friends – even some of the opposite sex for single pet parents.

29 October 2013

Why do dogs have a third eyelid?

When your pup climbs on your chest while you're lying on your back on the couch, look at him. I mean really look him. Man to pup square in the eye. Do you notice something you've never noticed before? Franklin, your Chihuahua couch potato partner, has not one, not two, but three eyelids. Three eyelids? Is something wrong with Franklin? Yes and no. Franklin, like all dogs, was born with a third eyelid. But if you can actually see eyelid number three, that could be a clear sign that something's wrong.
There's nothing abnormal about a dog having a third eyelid because they all have one. The third eyelid even has its own name: the nictitating membrane, or haw. These membranes are the same in different breeds and sizes of dogs, although the pigmentation of the third eyelid may vary from breed to breed. Some are very clear while other dogs have cloudy third eyelids.
When the nictitating membrane closes across a dog's eye, it looks as though his eye is rolling back in his head. In fact, sometimes when he sleeps, the upper and lower eyelids open making it appear he has all white eyeballs because the third eyelid is closed.
Other than the ability to wear the latest smoky eye shadow, eyelids serve a real purpose. It's a skin and muscle fold that we voluntarily open or close over our eyeballs to protect them. Human eyes have both an upper lid and a lower lid. Dogs have those too, plus a "third lid" in the inner corner of their eyes under the lower lid.
Deborah S. Friedman, D.V.M. and diplomate with the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists says that there are four functions of the third eyelid in dogs. First, it acts as a "windshield-washer" for the cornea (the clear window in front of the eye). "It clears debris and mucus off of the cornea," she explains. Also, the gland of the third eyelid produces about one-third of the dog's tears. The third eyelid contains lymphoid tissue which acts as a lymph node and produces antibodies to fight infection. Finally, it protects the cornea from injury. The human eyelid also protects and nourishes the human cornea, but it performs similar functions with two eyelids as opposed to three.
Dogs aren't the only animals with nictitating membranes. Birds, cats, reptiles, fish, and camels also have three eyelids. They keep the animals' eyes moist in the face of wind, sand or dirt without them having to blink. This is very useful when hunting for prey that could be missed during that split second of blinking time.
On our next page, we'll talk about ways to solve some problems with the third eyelid.

18 October 2013

Top 5 Reasons Your Cat Might Be Losing Weight

Has your cat ever gone from a happy diner to a fickle patron, refusing to eat the supper he usually gobbles right up? Or is your cat still eating, but seeming to lose weight anyway? The inner workings of a beloved feline have left many a pet parent scratching his head in worry, and according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), it's difficult to say what the normal weight is for cats due to the variations in breeds and individuals. There are several reasons why your cat could be losing weight, and many are easily remedied with adjustments to his diet. Read on to learn more about the most common explanations for feline weight loss.

5: Messy Mealtimes

You wouldn't want to eat off of dirty dishes, and your cat probably doesn't either. So if she's suddenly finicky, review your serving habits and make some adjustments to keep your cat's cuisine fresh and clean. If you use dry cat food, store it in an airtight container to retain freshness. You can probably get away with cleaning your cat's food bowl weekly if the food is dry, but if wet morsels make your feline purr, then clean the plate after each meal. Always have fresh water available, and wash the water bowl out once a day to keep hair and debris out of the drink. Finally, the ASPCA recommends that you consider the proximity of the litter box to the food station. Would you want to eat in your bathroom? Kitty probably doesn't either. If these quick tricks don't solve the issue, your cat's weight loss could be stress-related.

4: Stress

Your cat's environment can also affect weight loss, so make sure mealtimes are quiet and that your feline can feast uninterrupted by other animals or people. Some cats get depressed or show signs of anxiety when boarded, so consider asking a close friend to pet-sit if your kitty protests your vacation by fasting.
Believe it or not, some cats will develop anorexia -- refusal to eat -- just like humans. Sometimes a health issue brings on this condition, but according to the ASPCA, it can often be attributed to stress or a psychological disorder. If your cat's refusal to eat lasts more than a day and Zen dining doesn't seem to help, call your vet immediately to rule out a bigger issue and reduce the risk of fatty liver disease.

3: Intestinal Problems

Your feline could be suffering from a number of common gastrointestinal issues that might be causing him to lose weight. Food allergies or a new intolerance could be the culprit for the sudden slim-down, but there could be something more sinister lurking within your cat's intestines: parasites. The most common is the roundworm, and while some kittens might get infected through their mother's milk, most adult cats that contract worms do so through a rodent. If your cat is notorious for bringing home a catch, check his feces for any spaghetti-like worms. Your vet can prescribe medication to de-worm your cat. If it's a different gastrointestinal issue, a new diet formulated for your cat's special needs often solves the problem.

2: Old Age

The older your cat gets, the more likely he is to show changes in weight -- while some senior felines plump up, others might slim down. A decreased sense of smell and dental disease are both likely culprits. According to the ASPCA, elderly cats can also suffer from constipation or changes in metabolism that could cause a noticeable weight loss. Talk to your veterinarian about your senior cat's diet and get regular senior pet checkups to catch any issues early. Some easy adjustments, like adding fiber, can help keep your feline healthy during his golden years.

1: Diseases and Disorders

If you've eliminated all of the other common explanations for weight loss, your veterinarian might conduct tests to rule out any maladies for which weight loss is a common symptom, such as cancer. The best thing you can do to make sure you catch any serious issues early is to weigh your cat regularly and track his weight. While sudden shifts are more noticeable, a gradual weight loss could go undetected until the disease has progressed. It's also important to keep your cat's teeth clean and free of tartar to avoid dental disease, which can progress to the kidneys and liver.
If your cat is losing weight, try some of these tips and consult with your vet about the best course of treatment to get Kitty back in tip-top shape.

15 October 2013

Hip Dysplasia: Diagnosis - Treatment - Prevention

Canine hip dysplasia is a very common degenerative joint disease seen in dogs. There are many misconceptions surrounding it. There are many things that we know about hip dysplasia in dogs, there are also many things we suspect about this common cause of limping, and there are some things that we just do not know about the disease. We will cover all of those here and hope to separate out fact, theory, hypothesis, and opinion.
What is hip dysplasia?

To understand what hip dysplasia really is we must have a basic understanding of the joint that is being affected. The hip joint forms the attachment of the hind leg to the body and is a ball and socket joint. The ball portion is the head of the femur while the socket (acetabulum) is located on the pelvis. In a normal joint, the ball rotates freely within the socket. To facilitate movement, the bones are shaped to perfectly match each other, with the socket surrounding the ball. To strengthen the joint, the two bones are held together by a ligament. The ligament attaches the femoral head directly to the acetabulum. Also, the joint capsule, which is a very strong band of connective tissue, encircles the two bones adding further stability. The area where the bones actually touch each other is called the articular surface. It is perfectly smooth and cushioned with a layer of spongy cartilage. In the normal dog, all of these factors work together to cause the joint to function smoothly and with stability.

Hip dysplasia results from the abnormal development of the hip joint in the young dog. It may or may not be bilateral, affecting both right and left sides. It is brought about by the laxity of the muscles, connective tissue, and ligaments that should support the joint. Most dysplastic dogs are born with normal hips, but due to genetic and possibly other factors, the soft tissues that surround the joint start to develop abnormally as the puppy grows. The most important part of these changes is that the bones are not held in place, but actually move apart. The joint capsule and the ligament between the two bones stretch, adding further instability to the joint. As this happens, the articular surfaces of the two bones lose contact with each other. This separation of the two bones within a joint is called subluxation and this, and this alone, causes all of the resulting problems we associate with the disease.
What are the symptoms of hip dysplasia?

Dogs of all ages are subject to the symptoms of hip dysplasia and the resultant osteoarthritis. In severe cases, puppies as young as five months will begin to show pain and discomfort during and after vigorous exercise. The condition will worsen until even normal daily activities are painful. Without intervention, these dogs may be unable to walk at all by a couple years of age. In most cases, however, the symptoms do not begin to show until the middle or later years in the dog's life.

The symptoms are typical for those seen with other causes of osteoarthritis. Dogs may walk or run with an altered gait, often resisting movements that require full extension or flexion of the rear legs. Many times, they run with a 'bunny hopping' gait. They will show stiffness and pain in the rear legs after exercise or first thing in the morning. Most dogs will warm up out of the muscle stiffness with movement and exercise. Some dogs will limp and many will decrease their level of activity. As the condition progresses, the dogs will lose muscle tone and may even need assistance in getting up. Many owners attribute the changes to normal aging, but after treatment is initiated, they are shocked to see much more normal and pain-free movement return.
Who gets hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia can be found in dogs, cats, and humans, but for this article, we are concentrating only on dogs. In dogs, it is primarily a disease of large and giant breeds. The disease can occur in medium-sized breeds and rarely even in small breeds. It is primarily a disease of purebreds although it can happen in mixed breeds, particularly if it is a cross of two dogs that are prone to developing the disease. German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweillers, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, and St. Bernards appear to have a higher incidence, however, these are all very popular breeds and may be over represented because of their popularity. On the other end Greyhounds and Borzois have a very low incidence of the disease.

What are the risk factors for the development of hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is caused by looseness in the hip joint. The looseness creates abnormal wear and erosion of the joint and as a result pain and arthritis develops. The disease process is fairly straightforward; the controversy starts when we try to determine what predisposes animals to contract the disease. Almost all researchers agree that there is a genetic link involved. If a parent has hip dysplasia, then the offspring are at greater risk for developing hip dysplasia. Some researchers feel that genetics are the only factor involved, where others feel that genetics contribute less than 25% to the development of the disease. The truth probably lies in the middle. If there are no carriers of hip dysplasia in a dog's lineage, then it will not contract the disease. If there are genetic carriers, then it may contract the disease. We can greatly reduce the incidence of hip dysplasia through selective breeding. We can also increase the incidence through selectively breeding. We cannot, however, completely reproduce the disease through selective breeding. In other words, if you breed two dysplastic dogs, the offspring are much more likely to develop the disease, but will not all have the same level of symptoms or even necessarily show any symptoms. The offspring from these dogs will, however, be carriers and the disease may show up in their offspring in later generations. This is why it can be difficult to eradicate the disease from a breed or specific line.

Nutrition: Experimentally, we can increase the severity of the disease in genetically susceptible animals in a number of ways. One of them is through obesity. It stands to reason that carrying around extra weight will exacerbate degeneration of the joint in a dog with a loose hip. Overweight dogs are therefore at a much higher risk. Another factor that may increase the incidence is rapid growth in a puppy during the ages from three to ten months. Experimentally, the incidence has been increased in genetically susceptible dogs when they are given free choice high protein, high calorie diets. In a large study done in 1997, Labrador Retriever puppies fed a high protein, high calorie diet free choice for three years had a much higher incidence of hip dysplasia than their litter mates who were fed the same high calorie, high protein diet, but in an amount that was 25% less than that fed to the dysplastic group. As might be expected, however, the free choice group was significantly heavier at maturity and averaged 22 pounds heavier than the control group. Because obesity is also a risk factor, this study may be difficult to interpret.

I have yet to see a study that links an increased incidence of hip dysplasia in dogs fed a normal diet of commercial puppy food versus a specialty diet formulated for just large breed dogs. There have also been studies looking into protein and calcium levels and their relationship to hip dysplasia. Both of these studies were able to increase the level of hip dysplasia by feeding increased amounts of calcium and protein. But once again, the studies of puppies fed greatly increased amounts over normal recommended values and compared them to animals fed decreased amounts. They failed to compare puppies fed a normal amount of food that had the recommended amount of protein, fat, and calcium to those fed a diet with slightly less protein, fat, and calcium (similar to those 'large breed puppy foods' that are now flooding the market). I have yet to see a study that links an increased incidence in hip dysplasia in dogs fed a normal diet of commercial puppy food versus a specialty diet formulated just for large breed puppies.

Exercise: Exercise may be another risk factor. It appears that dogs that are genetically susceptible to the disease may have an increased incidence of disease if they over-exercise at a young age. But at the same time, we know that dogs with large and prominent leg muscle mass are less likely to contract the disease than dogs with small muscle mass. So exercising and maintaining good muscle mass may actually decrease the incidence of the disease. Moderate exercise that strengthens the gluteal muscles, such as running and swimming, is probably a good idea. Whereas, activities that apply a lot of force to the joint are contraindicated. An example would be a jumping activity such as playing Frisbee.

13 October 2013

Dog Bone & Joint Health

Jumping, running, fetching, digging... all specialties of dogs and puppies because of their nervous and musculoskeletal systems. Learn more about their anatomy, function, and diseases of bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nervous system.

When abnormal stress is placed upon the skeletal system, fractures or breaks of the bones may occur. All the possible fracture types and the proper corrections of fractures are described by difficult terminology. Basically, we refer to fractures not only based on the name of the bone broken but also on the characteristics of the break itself.
Types of fractures

There are four commonly seen fractures in the dog: closed, compound, epiphyseal (growth plate), and greenstick (hairline). These first three types can be further characterized by whether they are simple fractures in which the bone breaks into only 2 or 3 pieces, or comminuted where the bone shatters into many pieces.

Closed Fractures: Closed fractures are those in which the skin is not broken. The bone is fractured, but the overlying skin is intact.

Compound Fractures: Compound fractures are breaks in which the broken bone protrudes through the skin, and is exposed to the outside. Compound fractures are risky in that the bones can be contaminated with dirt and debris, resulting in an infection.

Epiphyseal Fractures: Epiphyseal fractures are commonly seen in young, growing dogs. In animals less than one year of age, there are soft areas near the ends of each long bone where growth takes place. These soft areas are referred to as growth plates or epiphyseal plates. Because these are areas of growth, they are rich in immature non-calcified cells that form a soft, spongy area of the bone. These growth plates are more easily fractured because they are the weakest part of the bone. The distal ends of the femur (thigh bone) and humerus (upper front leg) seem to be particularly susceptible to this fracture.

Greenstick Fractures: Greenstick fractures are small cracks within the bone which leave the bone basically intact, but cracked. In other words, the bone is not completely broken.
What are the symptoms and risks of fractures?

The symptoms and risks depend on what area and to what extent the bone is fractured. Fractures involving a joint are the most serious. A broken back may displace the spinal cord and cause complete paralysis. All fractures, however, are serious and should be treated at once. When a bone within a leg is broken, the dog will usually hold the entire leg off the ground. No weight is placed on the paw. With a sprain or lesser injury, it may use the leg somewhat, but walk with a limp.
What is the management?

Just as in human medicine, splints, casts, pins, steel plates, and screws can be used to realign the bone and allow healing. The treatment depends on the type of fracture, age of the dog, and which bone is broken. Compound fractures in which the risk of infection is high are treated differently than closed fractures. Growing puppies may heal in as little as five weeks, and because of their size they put less weight on the bone. Therefore, a fracture in a young puppy may be treated with a cast but the same fracture may need to be 'pinned' in a geriatric (senior) dog in which healing may take twelve weeks or more. Hairline fractures may only require rest, while surgical intervention will usually be needed in more severe fractures. Careful evaluation by a veterinarian will determine the proper treatment.

A dog's spine is made up of numerous small bones called vertebrae. These extend from the base of the skull all the way to the end of the tail. The vertebrae are interconnected by flexible discs of cartilage - the intervertebral discs. These discs provide cushioning between each bone and permit the neck, spine, and tail to bend, allowing changes in position and posture. Above the discs and running through the bony vertebrae is the spinal cord, which is made up of a mass of nerve fibers that run back and forth between the brain and the rest of the body.
What is diskospondylitis?

Diskospondylitis (also spelled 'discospondylitis') is a bacterial or fungal infection of the vertebrae and the intervertebral discs in dogs. The resulting swelling, inflammation and bone deformities seen in diskospondylitis put pressure or compression on the spinal cord which runs through the vertebrae. The disease is termed "spondylitis" when only the vertebrae are involved. The disease should not be confused with 'spondylosis,' which is a non-infectious fusion or degeneration of the vertebrae.
What causes diskospondylitis?

Diskospondylitis seems to occur most commonly in areas of the country that have a problem with plant awns (e.g., grass seeds, fox tails). It is thought that bacteria or fungi on the awns enter the blood system when the awns pierce the skin. Bacterial endocarditis, urinary tract infections, or dental disease/extractions may be another means by which bacteria enter the bloodstream and infect the vertebrae. Brucella canis has also been found to cause the disease in dogs.
What are the symptoms of diskospondylitis?

Common symptoms of this disease include weight loss, lack of appetite, depression, fever, and back pain. Dogs with this disease are generally reluctant to run or jump.
How is diskospondylitis diagnosed?

Diagnosis of diskospondylitis can be difficult. Blood tests, urinalysis, radiographs (x-rays), and spinal taps may be necessary to diagnose the disease. Cultures of blood and urine are often performed to help isolate the cause and choose the appropriate treatment. Myelography may be indicated to determine the exact location of spinal compression. Surgery may be needed to reduce the compression on the spinal cord.
How is diskospondylitis treated?

Treatment is based on finding the causative agent - fungal or bacterial. Because bone infections are difficult to treat, therapy lasts at least six weeks and may continue for six months or more. Taking radiographs at regular intervals during treatment helps monitor the progress. The lesions seen early in the disease should resolve with treatment.

Clinical improvement (lessening of symptoms) usually occurs within two weeks of starting treatment. Pain medication may be needed early in treatment. Exercise restriction may help decrease the pain also.

The prognosis depends on the ability to eliminate the infection and on how much nerve damage resulted from the spinal compression.
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