Wellness: Health Care
Advice for counting calories and dealing with “the look”
Like so many pet owners, I am in the constant back-and-forth battle with “dimple butt” in my dogs, and there are many things that make a weight loss (or weight maintenance) program difficult. For me, it’s “thaaaat looook.” Yes, you know which one I’m talking about, and I just can’t seem to say no to those big, pleading (and I’m sure starving) eyes. As a guilt-stricken result, I end up sharing a portion of whatever it is I’m enjoying, contributing to that Dobie derriere.
There are countless recommendations, formulations and opinions with regards to which approach works best for weight loss. With all the options out there, I have found this “rough-edged” approach to work for our dogs and for our lifestyle. It is straightforward, it does not require a change in their normal food and allows for tasty “treats” to reduce their feelings of hunger. It may be a slightly less scientific approach, but it is one I have found to actually work each time I have recommended it.
Let’s break it down. I’ll start by teaching you how to determine your pets’ daily caloric needs and how to adjust their nutrition to meet weight-loss goals. Finally, I’ll offer some tips on how to make them feel less miserable in the process (after all, who doesn’t hate dieting?).
How many calories should my pet have each day?
Knowing how many calories your pet needs each day is the first thing you need to determine when approaching a weight-loss program. Food “guess-timations” are frequently incorrect because we often judge how much to feed based on how hungry our dogs appear to us. This is not the best indicator of caloric needs because many of our pets will eat whatever is placed in front of them. Animals also have a basic instinctual drive to look at us whenever we are eating, which we often interpret as hunger, leading to overfeeding.
There are many formulas for determining your pets’ daily caloric needs, which are known as Resting Energy Requirements (RER), but I find this one to be the easiest to “plug and chug”:
Daily calorie needs = 30 x (your pet’s weight in kilograms) + 70
For example, if your pet weighs 15 kg: (30 x 15) + 70 = 520 calories per day
To get your pet’s weight in kilograms, divide the number in pounds by 2.2
For example, a 33-pound dog weighs 15 kg. Here’s the math: 33 divided by 2.2 = 15
Next, look at your pet food bag to find how many calories are present. If you are having difficulty finding the calories per serving of your pet food, let me know the brand and I’ll see what I can do to find out for you.
If you home-cook for your pet, determining calories can be a little more complicated as you need to consider the individual elements that make up their diet. However, the concept remains the same, and an excellent resource for the caloric content of individual foods used in home-cooked diets can be found at Stombeck's Home-Prepared Diets for Dogs and Cats.
How to start a weight loss diet
I prefer the “low and slow” approach to weight loss (after all, it is unlikely that our pets are wanting to get into that little black dress by next month). For weight loss, simply feeding the calculated RER calories alone should be adequate for reducing weight over time with no further “diet modifications” needed. With this approach, most pets will typically loose 1 to 2 pounds per month, achieving their ideal weight in 6 to 8 months. The best thing about this approach is that you don’t have to change the diet or buy an expensive prescription weight loss formula.
Continue to weigh your pet every month until an ideal body weight is achieved. If there is no significant weight loss after 1 to 2 months on their calculated RER, then I recommend cutting back their total calories by 10 percent (most veterinary nutritionists recommend a 10–20 percent calorie cutback).
Continue to reweigh your pet every four weeks and continue to decrease the total calorie intake by an additional 10 percent until your pet’s ideal body weight is reached.
When they have finally reached their ideal body weight, simply continue to feed that amount of dog food daily, as long as they continue to maintain this ideal weight (meaning, no further weight loss or gain).
Two tips to ease the pain
When our babies are acting extra hungry, we give them a cupful of green beans, giving them a feeling of fullness and the joy of having been offered a treat, without adding many calories. This trick also works great if or when you need to decrease the food amount by 10 percent—just add in a big scoop of the green beans as “filler” each time you cut back the food. And because the calories are so minimal, you can get away with not having to calculate them into the daily caloric needs, which makes life easy. It’s kind of like Weight Watchers where you can eat all the salad you want for no points.
Here is a working example:
One final note: These recommendations assume that you have a healthy dog. If you have an older dog, I recommend you have a physical exam performed by your veterinarian as well as blood work to ensure that there are no underlying metabolic problems such as hypothyroid disease or Cushing’s disease, which can be the source of weight gain or an inability to lose weight.
I hope this approach to weight loss and management offers easy guidelines to help your pet reach its ideal, healthy body weight. Please feel free to ask questions if I can help in any way.
Wellness: Healthy Living
What do your toothpaste, your athletic socks and your dog’s bed have in common? They most likely contain triclosan, a powerful anti-microbial chemical incorporated into a broad array of consumer products. Triclosan is also turning up as a contaminant in rivers across North America, and in the bodies of more than three-quarters of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Should we care? The FDA evidently thinks so. On April 8, the agency launched a safety review of this now ubiquitous chemical. “Animal studies have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation,” the FDA press release states. “Other studies have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics.”
Triclosan belongs to a class of synthetic chemicals that scientists term endocrine disruptors, for their ability to interact with organisms’ hormone systems. A 2006 study found that even in extremely low doses, triclosan interferes with thyroid function in frogs and leads to premature leg growth in tadpoles. Evidence now strongly suggests that hormone-mimicking chemicals like triclosan effect similar outcomes in all animals with backbones — frogs, dogs and humans alike. They can interfere with everything from insulin regulation to brain function.
Since its first use as a medical scrub in 1972, triclosan has infiltrated all aspects of our everyday lives. It’s the germ-killing chemical of choice in soaps, cosmetics, clothing, kitchenware, toys and, not least, dog beds. If you own anything that advertises itself as antimicrobial, antifungal or antibacterial, there’s a good chance that triclosan is the magic ingredient.
It’s magic we can do without. Although “antimicrobial” sounds like a useful property in trash bags and cutting boards, there’s no evidence that household use of triclosan keeps us any healthier (with the possible exception of toothpaste, where it can help prevent gingivitis).
The soap industry has already begun to mobilize against any hypothetical regulation of triclosan, and the famously slow-moving FDA may take years to act. Still, this latest announcement gives us cause to think twice before stocking up on antibacterial chew toys.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
The ABCs for your first runs together
You like to run, your dog likes to run. It seems like a no-brainer: How about the two of you running together? While you might be concerned about your dog’s ability to run a reasonable distance, the most common hindrance to sharing this passion is your dog’s ability to stay at your side.
Start with a hands-free set-up such as the Buddy System, or with a regular four- to six-foot leash that you hold while keeping your bent arm at your side in normal running position. You can also use a head halter or a harness with a front connection to help guide your dog. Whatever approach you choose, the leash should be long enough to hang in a U when you’re standing next to him. Have some kibble or small treats and, with your dog sitting at your side, give him several treats in a row until he’s in a stable sit/stay. Then, move forward at a power-walking pace so it’s clear you want him to come with you.
When he’s walking next to you and looking at you, reward him. If his feet get ahead of yours, stop before he gets to the end of the leash. If you’re holding the leash in your hand, be sure to keep your arm glued to your side rather than extending it forward. When he reaches the end of the leash, he’ll likely pull and pull. Stand stock still and wait him out. When he turns to look at you, lure him back into a sit in front of you. Give several treats in a row until he’s focused just on sitting and looking at you. When you’re ready, move forward again at a brisk pace. Repeat this every time he charges ahead, until he understands that getting in front of you causes the walk to stop, and sitting and looking at you causes the walk to resume.
Next, work on about-turns and U-turns to train him to stay by your side. For the about-turn, walk forward in a straight line, turn 180 degrees to your right so your dog is on the outside, then head back on the same line. Do this randomly when he gets even one foot ahead of yours. Make the turns more fun by jogging a few steps and then rewarding him when he catches up and looks at you.
Rules of the road
Keeping your dog hydrated
Knowing when to stop
So, that’s the recipe for creating a great canine running partner: Start with training, maintain good manners, follow the rules of the road, stay alert to your dog’s condition and, when in doubt, take a break. Now, get out there and run!
News: Guest Posts
New survey reveals the extent of the problem
Oh, this isn’t good. Nearly one in five respondents to AAA/Kurgo survey admitted to taking their hands off the wheel to keep dogs from climbing in the front seat. Fifty-two percent of those who travel with a dog admitted to taking their attention away from the road to pet their dog, and a scary one-quarter used their arms or hands to restrain a dog while applying the brakes.
What difference does it make? The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that looking away from the road for only two seconds doubles your risk of being in a crash. And, for an unrestrained dog, a crash can mean serious injury and even death.
This might not be such a big deal if dogs in cars were an infrequent occurrence, but a side effect of our great love affair is that our dogs are in our cars a lot. Fifty-six percent of the respondents to the survey conducted by the venerable Automobile Club of America and the manufacturer of pet travel products (including restraints) said their dogs had been in the car at least once in the past month.
Read more about the report including why people say they travel with unrestrained dogs and the benefits of pet restraints.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Going the distance
I should have realized right away that something special was going on in a group dog-training session last spring. When I asked the participants to call their dogs to come and then run away, they all did, and with Whippet-like speed. Most people need lots of encouragement to run, and even then — looking sheepish — they tend to take a few half-hearted jogging steps at most. This was no ordinary group, but rather, some of the world’s best distance runners, athletes so good they are sponsored by the likes of Adidas, New Balance, Nike, Mizuno, Brooks and Reebok. They’re living and training in Flagstaff, Ariz., in pursuit of their Olympic dreams because this mountain town’s high altitude, abundant trails and sunny weather provide the perfect conditions for distance running.
Since that day, I’ve worked with other local elite runners, helping them teach their dogs to conquer fears of unfamiliar people, cars and leashes; stop chasing bikes; greet visitors politely at the door; walk nicely on leash; perform tricks like crawl, high-five, shake, spin and roll over; and continue running rather than be distracted by other dogs. The successes they have as trainers have everything to do with their success as athletes: they take what they already know about training to be world-class runners and apply it to training their dogs. The following principles apply equally to dog training and running.
Value consistent practice.
It’s not how fast you run in training, it’s more a consistency, those back-to-back 100-mile weeks.
Recognize that progress is incremental.
In dog training, there can be 100 steps from the starting point to the end point. Step one in recall work may be calling your dog to come when you’re standing in your distraction-free living room holding cooked chicken. Step 100 is calling your dog to come when he is chasing a rabbit with his best canine buddy. Small changes over time lead to success — a familiar concept for runners, who take years to build the fitness, technique and strategy required to race successfully at the international level.
Each workout seems to be building on the last.
Be goal oriented.
I often ask clients what they think success would look like. Do they want to be able to walk their reactive dog on leash through the neighborhood, or are they hoping to turn their little firecracker into a therapy dog? Do they want their dog to do a downstay when people enter the house, or is any behavior that involves keeping all four paws on the floor acceptable? Runners set goals, whether it’s running a personal-best time, following their race plan or winning an Olympic medal.
Setting an ultimate goal and stepping- stone goals help you to commit and make the ultimate goal tangible in your mind, which reflects in your daily actions, leading to success.
Welcome coaching and ideas for improvement.
Part of my job as a dog trainer and canine behaviorist is coaching — suggesting ways skills can be improved. I remind people to say a cue only once, help them with their timing, instruct them on modulating the pitch of their voice and guide them on giving clear visual signals. Coaches also give advice on modifications of everything from running form and breathing to when to make a move in a race. Athletes are accustomed to responding to their coaches, so they easily respond to my coaching, too.
Having a coach makes all the difference in the world, to offer outside advice with inside knowledge.
Know that little things matter.
Attention to detail, making sure to do all the little things right, is at a premium.
Understand that every situation is different.
Training Lucy is a lot like training for a big race that doesn’t quite work out. Training her one-on-one always goes really smoothly, like running a workout I’ve done a dozen times. In practice, everything goes fine, but race day can be a different story.
Accept setbacks as part of the process.
Progress is not always smooth. Setbacks teach us what we need to do to move forward. Accepting this as part of achieving goals is a trait these runners carry with them from their professional lives into their other pursuits, including dog training.
Setbacks are bound to happen, but if you approach it properly, I think you can come away much stronger and much smarter.
Elite runners love to win and hate to lose. In dog training, as in all endeavors, actively pursuing success makes its achievement more likely.
Times are nice, but I want that first place, that gold medal!
It’s a joy to associate with people who are so talented and willing to sacrifice so much in pursuit of their Olympic dreams. Yet, what I love most about working with elite runners is what I love about working with all of my clients: they love their dogs. “Many of the athletes and all of the coaches have dogs that we love like children,” says Trina Painter, assistant coach of Team USA Arizona, which includes many of these athletes. “They protect us, love us when we’re happy and sad, greet us with licks whether we’re sweaty or clean. They run with us and play with us. They keep us laughing with their silly faces and tricks and speak to us with their expressive eyes and body language. They are, for many of the runners, their best friend and source of unconditional love each day, and a wonderful warm and furry positive distraction from running.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New study finds certain breeds don’t have fewer allergens
For so long, allergies prevented many of my friends from having a dog. But in recent years, the popularity of “hypoallergenic” breeds brought some hope of finally adding a canine member to the family. But those who’ve gotten one of the “hypoallergenic” dogs have had mixed results depending on the breed, the severity of their allergies, and, interestingly enough, the individual dog.
Until now there hasn't been much research about the so called “hypoallergenic” breeds. But according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy, there’s no scientific basis to claim that hypoallergenic dogs have less allergens.
Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital collected dust samples from 173 homes that represented 60 different dog breeds and tested them for one of the major allergens found in canine saliva. There was no statistical difference between the dust samples from the homes with “hypoallergenic” breeds and the samples from homes with “non-hypoallergenic” breeds.
The reason some breeds, like Poodles, have been called hypoallergenic is because they shed less, and therefore produce less dander. However, as the study showed, not all allergens are connected to dander.
This study only looked at one type of allergen, but the research shows that “hypoallergenic” breeds are not a universal solution.
Do you have experience with a “hypoallergenic” breed?
News: Guest Posts
Keeping dogs healthy and happy while toasting the founders
Other than a cloud-and-drizzle-loving barista friend of mine, nearly everyone I know delights in summer. And what’s not to love about long days, blooming gardens, barbecues and picnics? But like so many good things, summer, and especially the Fourth of July, aren’t without their risky aspects—especially for pets.
To help keep the holidays joy-filled and injury-free, the ASPCA* has provided a few sensible, easy-to-follow suggestions for the season.
1. Be sure to keep people food and drinks at barbeques away from your animals. There is something about dining outside off paper plates that results in an abundance of low-hanging fruit for poaching dogs—look out! People food and drink, especially alcohol, can be dangerous to pets and should always be kept out of reach.
2. Do not apply any sunscreen or insect repellent product to animals that is not labeled specifically for their use. From what I read, there are plenty of these products that are none too good for us humans either.
3. Always keep matches and lighter fluid out of your pets’ reach. Certain types of matches contain chlorates, which could potentially damage blood cells and result in difficulty breathing—or even kidney disease in severe cases. Lighter fluid can be irritating to skin, and if ingested can produce gastrointestinal irritation and central nervous system depression.
4. Never use fireworks around pets! Do we really need to say this? While exposure to lit fireworks can potentially result in severe burns and/or trauma to the face and paws of curious pets, even unused fireworks can pose a danger. Many types contain potentially toxic substances, including potassium nitrate, arsenic and other heavy metals.
5. Confirm the contact info on your dog’s tags are up-to-date, and attached to a properly fitted collar. A dog frightened by fireworks might bolt from a yard or through an open door. Proper identification and micro-chipping improve the chances an escaped pet will be returned home safely and promptly.
6. Loud, crowded fireworks displays are no fun for pets, so please resist the urge to take them to Independence Day festivities. Instead, keep your dogs and cats safe from the noise in a quiet, sheltered and escape-proof area at home. (If you’re dog struggles with loud noices, talk to your vet about a sedative.)
7. Keep your pups hydrated. It’s coming on heat-wave season, and dehydration is a serious risk. Be sure you always have a generous amount of fresh water on hand to quench your dog’s thirst.
Have we missed anything? How do you celebrate the Fourth with your dogs?
*Update: I’ve added a few more helpful tips from SEAACA (Southeast Area Animal Control Authority), which provides animal care and control services for 14 cities in southeast Los Angeles County and northern Orange County.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Finding a conditioning program for your pup
Last weekend, I attended a canine conditioning seminar given by Petra Ford, P.T., CCRT and Kristine A. Conway, D.V.M. of Aqua Dog Rehabilitation. I'm always interested in ways I can keep my dogs in top physical condition, particularly since I compete with them in agility.
Canine physical therapy and rehabilitation has been a rapidly growing field in recent years. I think this is partly due to veterinary medicine taking a more holistic view of the dog and more people participating in a variety of activities with their pets.
When thinking about physical therapy, rehabilitating injuries naturally comes to mind, but what I found most interesting was physical therapy's role in preventing injuries. During the seminar, Petra and Kristine first evaluated each dog's structure and then recommended stretches and strengthening exercises we could do to prevent injuries in the future.
I've taken my dog, Nemo, to get chiropractic adjustments and massages, but what I really liked about physical therapy was the active role I played in Nemo's treatment. Petra and Kristine showed us how we could do these exercises at home and make a real difference in our dogs' physical condition.
Learning the exercises was great, but the most critical lesson of the day was how important it is to know your dog's normal behavior and movements. I know from experience that our dogs will do whatever you ask of them, even if they're hurting. It's really up to us to diagnose an injury before it develops into a serious problem.
If you're interested in learning more about canine conditioning, ask your veterinarian to recommend a physical therapist in your area. It's ideal to see one in person to get a baseline evaluation and hands-on guidance, but if that's not an option, there are many books and DVDs available on the topic.
News: Guest Posts
More than 4 million preventable injuries each year
Out with friends last week, one of our group revealed that she had been bitten by a dog as a child. It was a serious bite and, 40 years later, I can still see the scars on her cheek. It quickly turned into a dog-owner-busting session: The mothers in my group complained about how people let their dogs wander right up to their kids. I agreed that’s no good but I also told them I often have the opposite experience: Parents allowing their children to zero in on my dogs, even as my dogs turn away or cower. (They aren’t used to being eye-to-eye with toddlers.) While we’ve never had an incident, it’s unnerving and we calmly steer out of their path.
I know a dog doesn’t have to be a “biter” or behaviorally challenged to bite. Sometimes they are simply afraid, and when the person inspiring the fear can’t read the signs of fear in the dog, the outcome can be injurious.
Around 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year, many of them children. Fortunately, the majority of these painful interactions can be avoided. During this National Dog Bite Prevention Week, it’s a good time to bone up on why dogs bite and how to avoid being on the receiving end.
Behaviorist Sophia Yin created a downloadable poster illustrating signs of fear and anxiety in dogs along with a video demonstrating how to approach a dog appropriately. It's an excellent primer on bite-avoidance.
The American Veterinary Medical Association’s tips on how to avoid being bitten include:
On the owner side:
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
More and more pups benefit from massage therapy
Last year my Sheltie, Nemo, and I were running an agility course and he uncharacteristically ran around the last few jumps. He wasn't limping or showing any pain, but I knew he wasn't himself. So I brought him over to the massage therapist who had a stand set up alongside the other show vendors.
I had never gotten a massage for Nemo before, so I was skeptical if it was really going to do anything. But I quickly saw him relax and the the therapist showed me how to feel for the inflammation she found in his back thigh muscle, which is probably what was causing his reluctance to jump.
It was amazing to feel so connected to Nemo and his well being. I've been wanting to take a pet massage class every since and it seems that I'm not alone.
The New York Times writes that pet massage workshops have grown in popularity in recent years. The International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork's membership has more than doubled in the last four years. Instructors all over the country are reporting that they can barely keep up with demand for classes.
Although there are no studies that prove the benefits, it's thought that pet massage therapy can aid in increased circulation, improved digestion, strengthened immunity, stress relief, muscle relaxation, and relief from conditions such as arthritis.
The verdict varies among veterinarians. Some recommend massage to aid in recovery, while others are concerned that done incorrectly, massages could aggregate a medical condition or prevent people from bringing their pets to the veterinarian.
I know many people who have seen the benefits firsthand, but proven or not, I see nothing to loose in spending quality time with your pup.
Has your dog gotten a massage before?
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