A Walk in the Park

man and woman walking in a park with dogAlthough the cold, winter weather may suggest otherwise, January is National Walk your Pet Month. Whether you’ve just brought home a new puppy or want to improve on old Fido’s walking habits, here are some tips to make walking your dog ‘a walk in the park.’

“The absolute best length of leash is not 100% established, but the key is to not have the leash be so long so that you are unable to control your pet when they are on the leash,” said Dr. James Barr, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Dogs, like their owners, have all sorts of different personalities and activity levels. While Fido may become anxious for his daily walk as soon as the sun comes up, Fluffy might rather just curl up by your side all afternoon. For those dogs that don’t necessarily look forward to going on walks, a little motivation can be helpful.

“Whether or not your dog needs rewards for walking depends on their intrinsic motivation,” said Dr. Barr. “If they do not want to go on a walk, then a reward system will help them be motivated to do so. However, most dogs don’t need motivations; they love it.”

Walks are also great training opportunities, so bringing their favorite treats along to practice obedience while you’re out on your stroll can be beneficial. This will not only convince them that going on walks can be fun, but also helps with their training.

The length of the walk is entirely dependent on your dog. Young, active dogs will likely respond positively to longer walks, whereas older dogs may not be able to handle the longer durations.

“The weather conditions at the time can also really effect how the pet does on a walk,” said Dr. Barr, “especially when it is extremely hot and humid.”

It is important to keep your dog’s health in mind, as well as the weather and terrain, before dragging Fido along on too rough of a walk that may do more harm than good.

When on a walk, you should have your pets on leash at all times, especially if they show signs of aggression toward other pets. “Most municipalities have rules about having animals leashed,” said Dr. Barr. “The main thing is to avoid a situation that may cause aggression in the first place, and having them on leash usually mitigates this.”

Having your pooch on a leash and in your control can also help prevent them from running off if distracted or startled by something. Even the most well trained dogs can unexpectedly dart off after or away from something, and it may be difficult retrieving them.

Keep in mind that your pets just want to spend time with you, no matter what you’re doing. Going on walks is a great way to get some fresh air and a little exercise, and if done correctly, can be a daily routine that you both eagerly anticipate.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed online at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu

Pet Birds

When people think of pets, dogs and cats are typically what come to mind. However, if you crave a companion that barks a little less and sings a little more, a pet bird may be just what you’re looking for. Before adding this feathered-friend to your family, be sure that you’re able to meet their unique care requirements.

“The care requirements for birds are different and can be demanding, but a pet bird can be a joy to interact with,” said Dr. Jordan Gentry, a zoological medicine resident at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Any family considering adding a pet bird should thoroughly research the specific species they are interested in, as some may make better pets than others. This is especially important for families with small children.

“Small birds, like budgerigars or cockatiels, are popular for children, but any bird will need adult supervision to ensure care is being met,” said Dr. Gentry. “Any parrots expected to live with or around children should be well socialized and trained. Some larger parrot species should not be allowed around children without close supervision; large cockatoos and macaws, for instance, can cause severe injury if they bite.”

Purchasing an appropriate cage is crucial and can be big investment for the life of the bird. “In general, I recommend as big a cage as possible (if bar spacing is correct),” said Dr. Gentry. “Regardless of cage size, birds need time outside of the cage for exercise and enrichment.”

When feeding pet birds, it is important to realize that the species of bird that you have as companion pets do not all have the same dietary needs. However, part of the daily enrichment for all species should include foraging for food items like they would search for food in the wild.

“There are various companies that make complete pellet diets that can serve as the basis of a pet bird diet. Additional variety can be provided with fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Gentry. “Every species is unique, and individual requirements should be researched prior to purchasing a pet bird.”

Birds are well known throughout history for their intuitive nature and ability to learn quickly. Parrots, for instance, are extremely intelligent and have the ability to learn unique behaviors. Some basic training of manners like “step-up” are necessary, but many parrots learn much more advanced behaviors such as mimicking sounds.

“One of my favorite behaviors I’ve taught my own bird, a rose-breasted cockatoo, is ‘recall,’ where she will fly and land on my hand from across the room,” Dr. Gentry said.

Pet birds’ life expectancies vary greatly on species. Many common parrot species easily live into their 20s with proper care, whereas other species can achieve much greater longevity.

“There are reports of cockatoos reaching 70 years old and Amazon parrots even older,” said Dr. Gentry. “Anyone considering a pet parrot should realize that it can be a lifestyle changing commitment for many years.”

Birds are very social creatures, and given proper training and socialization, they can provide beauty, intelligence, entertainment, and companionship to your family.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed online at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Healthy Pets Make for a Happy Holiday

The season for indulging in holiday feasts and festive snacks has finally arrived. However, while we try to be cautious of our own health and nutrition throughout the season, it is just as important that we care for our pet’s nutrition as well.

While you’re out grocery shopping for the perfect holiday meal is a good time to reevaluate the foods that you’re feeding to your pet. “Foods should be individualized for the pet, not chosen based on what one pet needs and then given to all of the other animals,” says Dr. Deb Zoran, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “The key is to feed a diet that is complete and balanced.”

Dry food for dogs is typically preferred due to its lower costs, especially when supplying food for larger dogs. However, for both cats and dogs, wet foods are perfectly acceptable as well. As long as you know what to look for, the decision of which to feed your pet should be based on which they prefer. “Wet food has a high water content (about 80% water) and can also be high in protein and low in carbohydrates, all of which is good for cats,” Zoran said. “Dry foods can be quite acceptable as long as they are high in protein (at least 40%), low in carbohydrates (less than 15%), and fed in meals, not by free choice on the part of the pet.”

As for “all natural” or “diet” dog and cat foods, it is again most important that the food is balanced and has all of the necessary vitamins and minerals. “All natural pet foods are like commercial wet or dry (processed) foods in that you can’t always be sure whether they are a high quality, highly digestible product that is complete and balanced and if they will be a good choice for your pet. The same considerations exist for diet foods,” said Zoran. “In general, diet foods are fine if they are high quality and fed in the proper amount. However, there is nothing magical about weight loss diets; if you feed them too much they will still gain weight or at least fail to lose weight.”  Consulting with a veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist is important if you are unsure about the quality of the food you are selecting.

Although it may be tempting to slide your leftovers under the table and let them eat and eat to their heart’s content, there are many “human food” items that are unhealthy, and even dangerous for your pet. “Chocolate, grapes, raisins, and onions are examples of common foods people eat that can have disastrous consequences for pets, such as seizures, kidney failure, or anemia,” Zoran said.

“In general, it is best not to feed dogs or cats anything spicy, fatty, or not in their typical diet,” Zoran said. “However, small pieces of cooked meat or a vegetable can be okay. For example, feeding a small piece (it should not be more than 10% of their total diet) of cooked chicken thigh with no bones or skin is completely fine and a reasonable treat.”

When the first of the year rolls around, fitness centers become filled with people beginning their New Year’s resolutions to get in better shape. But what about when our pets need to shed a little excess holiday weight to keep healthy?

“Just like with us, weight gain is a combination of genetics, metabolism, what we are eating, how much we are eating, and how much we are exercising,” Zoran said. “Any of these can have a major effect on body weight, so it is important to feed your dog or cat good food, the right amount of it, and keep them active. The ideal situation is not to let your pet get overweight—you can help prevent this by weighing them often and then adjusting how much food they are eating up or down accordingly, and asking your veterinarian for help if you have questions or concerns.”

During the holiday season, keep in mind that most of the treats we enjoy are not good for our furry friends. Instead of sneaking them the leftovers as a holiday treat, stuff their stockings with pet toys that will keep them active and healthy.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk . Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu .

Editor’s note: In observance of the holidays, Pet Talk will be on hiatus until Jan. 8, 2015. Wishing everyone all the joy of the season!

Dog Training- The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Whether you plan on getting a new puppy for Christmas or just want Fido to finally nail the “sit” command in time for your relatives to arrive, it is never too late to begin training your dog. Here are some tips for having a well-behaved pooch just in time for the holiday season.

“The first few commands are usually basic obedience commands such as sit, down, stay, walking on leash, and most importantly, to come when called,” said Elizabeth Bachle, a technician at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences pharmacy and an agility instructor at Puppy Love training. “These are a great foundation to training more complex behaviors and can keep your pet out of harm’s way.”

New puppy owners often get caught up in the excitement of having a four-legged friend to play with and forget that training them early on is most effective. However, don’t believe the saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Even your loyal, more seasoned companions can improve on current techniques or learn new skills.

“Training your dog not only rewards good behaviors, but can also prevent unwanted behaviors before they begin,” said Bachle. “I would highly encourage new puppy owners to attend a group class to socialize and create a strong foundation of learning, but dogs of all ages benefit from a new challenge.”

During training, it is important to use positive reinforcements when they’re showing progress. Rather than punishing Fido for all the things you don’t want him to do, concentrate on teaching him what you do want him to do. When your dog does something good, convince him to do it again by rewarding him with a treat or a nice, long tummy scratch.

“One of the most important decisions you can make for your dog is the training method you decide to use at home or in group classes. There are many methods out there but I highly encourage the use of positive reinforcement techniques, such as clicker training, and discourage the use of punishment when training any dog,” said Bachle. “Punishment can have a lot of negative effects, including fear, aggression, or distrust, while reinforcement is effective, builds confidence, and makes training fun for you and your dog!”

If you’ve tried training them one-on-one at home but seem to be getting nowhere, training classes can be a great alternative. Providing them with the opportunity to interact with other dogs and their owners in group classes can be a great way to socialize and expose your dog to new situations and distractions in a safe environment.

“The foremost benefit of group classes is the guidance and knowledge of an experienced instructor to help troubleshoot, advise, and assist you to accomplish your training goals,” said Bachle. “Many trainers offer private lessons and behavior solutions in the case that you need more individualized help.”

Most importantly, remember to be patient. Like children, dogs have short attention spans and learn at all different paces. If done with patience and persistence, training your new puppy or faithful Fido can be an enjoyable bonding experience for you both. Having a well-behaved dog will be a gift that keeps on giving this holiday season.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed online at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu .

A Holly, Jolly (and Safe) Holiday for Fido

The most wonderful time of the year is upon us, and what better way to prepare for the holidays than including your furry friends in the festivities? However, with all of the hustle and bustle of this busy season, we often forget to adapt our celebrations for the safety of our pets. Here are some ways to keep Fido and Fluffy safe while rockin’ around the Christmas tree.

When it comes to decorating your home, there are a few items to leave behind if you have a curious dog or cat lurking around. Animals are often attracted to the sparkly tinsel and ribbons left lying out, and these can easily obstruct their digestive tract if ingested, often requiring emergency surgery. Make sure to keep these decorations out of reach or out of sight.

“Mistletoe especially can cause vomiting and diarrhea as well as neurologic signs such as seizures,” said Dr. Stacy Eckman, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Other holiday plants, such as poinsettias, can also cause vomiting and diarrhea when eaten.”

Holiday candles are another decoration that can make your home feel that much more festive, but be sure to put them high enough up where a pet cannot accidentally knock them over. To play it safe, place candles on a stable surface and blow them out before leaving the room.

You’ve heard time and time again to not feed Fido any leftovers, but this can be especially difficult to abide by during the season of sharing and caring. Even when he gives you those puppy dog eyes, remember that certain human foods, especially chocolate and other sweets, can be detrimental to his health. If possible, keep pets in another room during mealtime, and make sure that there are lids on the trashcans to prevent any sneaky pets from getting ahold of the discarded pie.

“Many pets who are feed leftovers and are not used to them can develop vomiting and diarrhea due to the abrupt change in diet,” said Dr. Eckman. “Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, can be very dangerous with signs including vomiting and diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors, heart arrhythmias and possibly death depending on how much is eaten.”

If you have a live Christmas tree in your home, make sure not to add fertilizer to the tree water, as it can upset your dog’s or cat’s stomach when drank. Whether your tree is fake or real, it should be securely anchored to the ground to prevent it from tipping over and falling on a pet, which can cause serious injury.

“Cats in particular like to climb the Christmas tree or chew on the branches,” said Dr. Eckman. Additionally, any glass ornaments should be placed higher up on the tree, leaving the low-lying branches for the less fragile ornaments.

As you celebrate this holiday season, remember to keep the health and safety of your furry companions in mind; an emergency trip to the vet is not on your pet’s Christmas list.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed online at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu .

Ringworm

vets inspecting a catDermatophytosis, otherwise known as “ringworm,” is a fairly common fungal infection that can affect dogs, cats, and other animals.

“The term ‘ringworm’ actually comes from the circular, ring-like lesion formed on the skin of infected people; however, the disease itself is not caused by a worm at all,” said Dr. Alison Diesel, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Dermatophytosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning it not only can be transmitted to other animals, but to people as well. An animal or person can become infected with dermatophytes from contact with another infected animal, transfer from infected materials such as bedding and grooming equipment, or from the soil.

“Very young animals and older animals with other underlying illness are at higher risk for dermatophytes,” said Dr. Diesel.  “Additionally, certain breeds of animals, such as Persian and Himalayan cats, and Jack Russell and Yorkshire terriers, have a higher tendency towards disease development.”

Dermatophytosis is the most common cause of alopecia, or hairloss, in cats. In addition to poor hair coat, it can also cause reddened skin, hyperpigmentation, and lesions.

“Lesions will often involve little red bumps called papules, scabs, and circular areas of hairloss. Anywhere on the body may be affected by hairloss, but face and paws will often have lesions,” said Dr. Diesel.

Because of this infection’s ability to spread all over the animal’s body and infect others, you should be sure to see your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis. A common way for veterinarians to diagnosis dermatophytosis is with a Wood’s lamp exam.  This involves passing a fluorescent light source, or Wood’s lamp, over the animal and looking for glowing hair shafts. However, only a few strains of dermatophytes may glow, so this is not always considered to be the best approach.

“A better option for diagnosis is to perform a culture for the organism,” said Dr. Diesel. “Infected hairs or material may be collected by plucking hairs or brushing the animal with a new toothbrush and then submitting these hairs to a laboratory for fungal culture/isolation.”

Although your pet may be able to self-cure the disease on their own, therapy is typically recommended to minimize the amount of infective material present and thereby minimize spread of disease to others. “Treatment may involve strictly topical therapy with antifungal agents (such as lime sulfur) or may also involve oral antifungal medication as well,” said Dr. Diesel.

Treatment of exposed animals and other animals in the household should be considered in order to prevent the spread of infection. If you are concerned that your pet may have dermatophytosis, particularly if skin disease is noted in people in the household, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed online at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu .

Pet Costumes-the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Dog waering a costumeIf you’re like many pet owners, finding the perfect Halloween costume for your pet is almost more exciting than finding your own. Seeing your dachshund dressed as a hot dog or your kitten prancing around in a super-man cape can add even more fun to the holiday. Just keep in mind that while a costume can be cute and funny to you, your pet may not agree.

“In general, tolerance of costumes is pet dependent,” said Dr. Stacy Eckman, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Some pets will tolerate them, and others will not.”

If Fido appears indifferent towards being dressed as a giant spider or pumpkin, then suit him up. However, there are still a few safety guidelines to consider when choosing the perfect costume.

“Make sure that the costumes do not obscure their vision, do not block their nose or mouth so they cannot breathe, and that they do not trip over them,” said Dr. Eckman. “Avoid anything that encircles the head or neck or that blocks their nose and mouth.” Any attachments that they can rip off and swallow, such as extra limbs or bones, can also be hazardous.

Fur-safe sprays are generally okay to use for changing the fur color, as long as they are not applied too close to their eyes. Make sure that the spray is designed specifically for animal fur and that you carefully check the labels for any discrepancies.

It is smart to put the costume on a few times prior to the holiday to see how your pets react to being in it. If they are uncomfortable, it should be easy to tell.

“If a pet isn’t comfortable in a costume, they may work vigorously to remove it, constantly scratching or pawing at it,” said Dr. Eckman. “It may affect the way they walk and move, becoming a tripping hazard, and can even affect their breathing, causing them to pant or become anxious.”

To ensure that your pet doesn’t become uncomfortable after wearing the costume for a while, they should be supervised at all times. If they do begin showing any signs of discomfort, remove the costume for a while and let them roam around out of character.

Halloween costumes are not the only thing that may cause pets anxiety during this season. Some house decorations should also be avoided if your pet seems unnerved by them.

“Loud, flashy decorations with lights and sounds may be stressful for certain pets, causing them to harm themselves,” said Dr. Eckman. “Dry ice, often used for the ‘smoking cauldron’ effect, may also be dangerous if the ice itself comes into direct contact with their skin.” Depending on your pet, fake bodies or body parts may also be dangerous, as they can cause choking hazards or gastrointestinal obstructions if they try chewing on or ingesting them.

As long as your pet is comfortable in a costume, dressing them up can be fun for the whole family. Follow these general safety guidelines and Fido is sure to be in for a howlin’ good Halloween.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.