Chewing The Fat Onchewing The Fat On Pet Nutrition

Nutrition is one of the most important, and often confusing, parts of pet ownership. There are currently a large variety of commercial diets available for both dogs and cats. Statistically, pet owners spend more on food than on veterinary care and other services combined. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, Americans spent $21.6 billion on pet food in 2013. Despite the often overwhelming variety of pet diets, they tend to fall into five main categories.


Veterinary prescription diets are processed diets that are scientifically developed to address specific medical conditions. These diets are developed by veterinary nutritionists and undergo rigorous medical and nutritional studies. Prescription diets are only available through your veterinary office. These diets address a variety of medical concerns including diabetes, kidney disease, allergic skin disease, gastrointestinal disorders and even epilepsy. Your veterinary team can help guide you to find the best diet to address your pet’s individual medical concerns.


Commercial processed diets are the traditional kibble and canned food that can be found in pet stores, online retailers and even your local grocer’s. This category boasts the largest variety of diets on the market. To ensure you are selecting a nutritious and wellbalanced diet, look for the AAFCO seal. AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials and is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of dog and cat foods. The organization defines and establishes regulations for pet food ingredients and sets standards for nutritional adequacy. This ensures that the pet food manufacturer is providing a nutritionally complete and balanced diet.


Some pet owners prefer to make their own food for their pets to ensure the quality of ingredients. Homecooked diets can be a great resource, especially for picky eaters. However, it is very important to ensure that homecooked diets provide all the nutrients needed to maintain health. There are a variety of vitamin supplements, specific recipes and even pet nutritional consults available to ensure that a diet is well balanced. Your veterinarian can help you with these resources to ensure your homecooked diet is appropriate and nutritious


Grain-free diets are a fairly new diet option available for dogs and cats. These diets claim to contain no grains (corn and oats are most common grains used in pet foods), and often contain potatoes and tapioca, which have a lower nutritive value than grains. There have been no scientific studies indicating that grain-free diets are superior or healthier for dogs and cats. In addition, grains are not a common cause of food allergies, and there is no increased risk of developing diabetes in cats or dogs being fed a diet containing grains.


Raw, BARF (which stands for Bones And Raw Food, and more recently Biologically Approved Raw Food), frozen and freezedried diets are composed of raw ingredients. These commercial diets are often marketed as complete; however, many raw diets do not contain a balanced and complete nutritional composition. This can be problematic, especially when fed to growing puppies and kittens. Studies have also found high levels of bacterial contamination in raw foods. One found that 80% of raw food diets tested positive for Salmonella, which is a strain of bacteria that can cause serious gastrointestinal disease. In addition, 30% of stool sample from dogs that are fed these diets were positive for Salmonella. Contaminated stools can pose a significant health risk for children, immunocompromised people and elderly family members.

When selecting a diet for your pet, it is very important to work with your veterinarian. They have advanced training in nutrition and preventive care and can help select the best diet based on age, breed and underlying medical concerns.


Andrea Smith BSc, DVM, CCRP (candidate) is associate veterinarian at Don Mills Veterinary Practice in Toronto, ON.

How Smoking Harms Your Pet

Research has long told us that smoking is harmful to humans, and not only those who smoke. Both second- and third-hand smoke can be bothersome at best and disease-causing at worst. This is no different for pets who are exposed to household environmental tobacco smoke.


According the Government of Canada “Tobacco contains more than 4,000 chemicals and more than 70 of these chemicals are known to cause, initiate and promote cancer.” Smoking not only causes cancer, but also increases the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in both humans and animals.


Second-hand smoke is the smoke that is either exhaled by tobacco smokers or created from burning tobacco. When exhaled, smoke contains particles of chemicals that are heavier than air and will naturally fall instead of rise in the environment. This means these chemicals are falling into the space your pets occupy, causing them to breath in this toxic mixture.


Third-hand smoke is the nicotine and other chemical residues that can be left behind on such things as carpets, curtains, furniture and pet bedding inside a home where smoking occurs. Pets are self groomers and lick their fur to keep themselves clean. It is easy for these residues to stick to pet fur, creating an opportunity for toxins to be ingested.


Studies have shown that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke can cause the following increased risks in pets:

  • Lymphoma;
  • Oral cancer;
  • Nasal, sinus and lung cancers;
  • Allergy- or asthma-related; breathing problems;
  • Allergic skin conditions;
  • Eye problems; and
  • Heart problems.

It is important to remember that it is not just dogs and cats being affected by the negative effects of tobacco smoke. According to the FDA, pet birds, guinea pigs and even fish are also very sensitive to these toxins.


Having ashtrays and packages of cigarettes accessible to pets can pose the risk of ingestion to a curious pet. According to ASPCA Poison Control, tobacco toxicity can result in hyperexcitability then depression, vomiting, incoordination, paralysis and possibly death. If you suspect your pet has ingested nicotine, you should contact your veterinarian immediately


The best thing you can do for both you and your pet’s health is to quit smoking. Other alternatives include:

  • Limiting smoking to outdoors only;
  • When smoking indoors, keep the area well ventilated;
  • Try limiting smoking indoors to a room that you can keep your pet out of; and
  • Wash your pet’s bedding and toys frequently to eliminate chemical residues that results from smoking.

For more information on how you can quit smoking, visit


Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health she is currently the Provincial Manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at

Prime Time For Veterinary Care

With the addition of a new puppy or kitten to your family, life has no doubt become exciting! Keeping their health in tip-top shape is sure to be on your mind as you embark on new adventures in your life together. Here is a timeline of major milestones in your new relationship that should involve your veterinarian.


If you know ahead of time what your pickup arrangements are, you may want to consider calling ahead to your veterinary clinic to book your first appointment on the way home. Most kittens/puppies arrive home at six to eight weeks of age. Having your new fluffy family member examined soon after pickup will help to ensure your new friend is healthy (and not showing any signs of contagious disease that may be transmitted to other pets you may already have at home). In some cases, a health exam may be required within the first 72 hours for an adoption contract to be valid. An early meeting at this young age with a veterinarian will also start your pet on the right path to feeling comfortable in the clinic environment, which will help to foster positive experiences in the visits to come.


Your new pet’s eight-week examination is important to ensure that they are developing properly. This visit will also include the first series of vaccinations given to provide immunity to your new pet against common contagious diseases, as the maternal immunity their mom provided in young kitten/puppyhood has now waned. Parasite control will also be discussed and treated for both internal and external parasites, such as fleas and intestinal worms. Don’t forget to bring along a fresh fecal sample for testing!


The 12-week checkup helps your veterinarian make sure everything is still on track with your pet’s development. This visit will also include a set of booster vaccinations to ensure your pet’s immunity is still effective and that any potential parasites are under control. Another fecal sample should be tested.


At 16 weeks of age, your new friend will begin losing their baby teeth and adult teeth will erupt. Your veterinarian will make sure this is going smoothly (see page 18 for more on dental care), on top of performing another physical exam. This visit will also include the final booster vaccine for your pet, as well as a rabies vaccine. A final fecal exam will be done to check one more time to make sure your pet is parasite free. This test may be done multiple times to cover the prepatent period of multiple parasites, as they do not all follow the same schedule of showing signs of infection.


Now that your pet has matured six months, it is the prime time to discuss having your pet spayed/neutered. Spaying/neutering will prevent unwanted pregnancies as well as decrease the chances of reproductive organ diseases, such as potentially fatal infections and cancer. This surgical procedure can also help to decrease territorial behaviours. Once the surgery has been performed, a return visit in 10–14 days will be necessary to ensure the surgical site is healing well and so sutures can be removed if necessary. See page 14 for a story on what can happen when you don’t spay/neuter pets!


Your furry family member has celebrated their first year milestone and is likely a happy and healthy member of your family. As a young adult, your pet should make an annual trip to the veterinary office to have a complete physical exam (and receive any annual booster vaccines needed) to ensure they remain healthy for years to come. Examinations provide the opportunity for your veterinary staff to observe any underlying disease at an early stage and start treatment to halt or delay its progression.


Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health, she is currently the provincial manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at

An Early Start

As with humans, a dog’s early learning experience is very important to their development and their future behaviour. It is therefore critical that puppies are provided with constructive learning experiences during the crucial early period of their lives. Most people don’t acquire a puppy until the dog is roughly eight weeks of age, and in some cases later — here is my list of key do’s and don’ts new dog owners should think about right away.

Do carefully look at the parents of a puppy if possible. Breed predispositions aside, the behaviour of a puppy’s parents is the best predictor as to his or her future temperament. If you are getting your puppy from a breeder and they do not offer to let you interact with both parents (if they are on site), find out why.

Don’t agree to meet your new puppy in a parking lot, dog park or other similar venue, as you may be dealing with a so called puppy broker with ties to a puppy mill. A responsible breeder will invite you to come and see the environment where the puppy was born. You would be surprised how many times people have told me they were not permitted by a seller to do this, which should raise a red flag

Do ask for a puppy’s veterinary records. Depending on the age of the puppy, it should have already received initial vaccinations against several conditions. Ask your own veterinarian about what vaccinations are necessary and follow up on boosters if recommended. Also important is the deworming process, as worms are often transmitted to them internally from their mother. If not completely eradicated, these parasites can have a negative effect on a puppy’s behaviour and future health. And, do take your puppy for a veterinary exam at the earliest opportunity.

Don’t just take the word of a seller that a puppy is in good health.

Do start socializing your new puppy as soon as you can. The initial weeks and months of a dog’s life is a crucial period for this. Introduce him/her to new sights and sounds in a controlled environment, making sure that these are positive experiences; otherwise, your puppy could become anxious or fearful later in life when encountering new things. When puppies learn at an early age that the world is not to be feared, they are more likely to become well-adjusted adults.

Don’t put the puppy at risk in any way when doing early socialization. For example, they shouldn’t be taken to dog parks or allowed to interact with unknown dogs until vaccinations are completed. After you have the green light to do this, I would recommend that all introductions to unknown dogs be done with both dogs on a leash until you can be sure they will react to each other in a non-aggressive manner. In any case, don’t encourage overly rough play, as this can escalate quickly into negative consequences, especially if a puppy is engaging with an older, larger dog.

Do start behaviour training at an early age. Formal classes are valuable for socialization, and I recommend them for first-time dog owners; experienced owners can certainly begin training on their own at home. Remember that dog training is a completely unregulated field, so if you obtain the services of a trainer, make certain that they utilize current methodology where the focus is on reinforcing the desired behaviour using positive means, and not trying to shape behaviour through negative consequences.

Don’t use force or old-school punishmentbased training methods; one very counterproductive example that comes to mind is rubbing a puppy’s nose in a mess it has made during housetraining. Recent studies have shown that physical punishment can actually contribute to the development of fearful or aggressive behaviour. It’s more desirable that your puppy obeys your commands because it wants to please you, as opposed to obeying your commands because it is afraid of what will happen if it doesn’t.

Do always be consistent when teaching a puppy appropriate and expected behaviour. Make sure that all family members use the same approach and react in the same way in similar circumstances. When puppies, and dogs in general, know what to expect they are less likely to become anxious, due to the predictable results of their actions. Anxietybased behaviour is one of the main problems reported by dog owners to behaviourists.

Don’t leave young puppies unsupervised for any length of time, unless they are in a confined, safe area. Puppies are continually learning during their waking hours, and if left to their own devices they can easily pick up bad or destructive habits, such as chewing or digging. As much as possible, puppy-proof the environment by removing potentially harmful things that puppy can get into and swallow, and providing acceptable and safe items to chew on during the teething process

Deciding to get a puppy is a major commitment in terms of time, energy and effort. Make certain that you and other family members who will be involved are prepared to make such a commitment.

On a personal note, I acquired a Mastiff puppy a little over a year ago, so I have some recent experience with many of the things I have written about in this article. I will be honest and say that there have been times when I could have put more effort into following my own advice about continually supervising a puppy. For example, Henry (pictured) has developed a bad habit of climbing onto recliners in our living room. Now, if I don’t place the foot rest for the recliners on them when not in use, Henry will plop down on top of them. While you may think that isn’t a big deal, in the picture Henry is about a year old, and is already too big for the recliners. As Mastiffs are not full grown until around two years of age, he’s still just a puppy, albeit a really big one. Fortunately, he is overall an obedient dog with few other behavioural issues and a calm, confident demeanor. Practice makes perfect, or at least nearly so.


Kerry Vinson, founder of Animal Behaviour Consultants, has a BA in psychology, has previously taught social science courses at the college level in Ontario, and has extensively studied animal learning and behaviour modification. In addition to having conducted seminars on canine behaviour, and assessing dogs with behavioural problems, he has been designated by the Province of Ontario as an expert witness in the areas of general canine behaviour, canine aggression and it’s retraining. As such he has testified in a provincial Inquest as well as numerous other dog-related court cases between 1999 and 2018. For more information he can be reached at (705) 295-3920, (905) 352-3353, or visit:

It’s Almost Always Best To Spay And Neuter Pets

By far the most common surgeries performed on dogs are spay and neuter procedures — collectively called gonadectomies — that remove the reproductive organs to prevent unwanted pregnancies and pet overpopulation.


Dr. Teri Kidd was the first person to perform a spay and neuter procedure in the University of Illinois shelter medicine mobile surgical unit, acquired with funding from PetSmart Charities.

But while these surgeries are common, they are not without controversy. Misconceptions and concerns about these procedures abound. A big reason for the confusion is the overwhelming number of studies that have been done on gonadectomies. Intuitively, you might think that so much research on a subject would provide ultimate clarification, but instead the ocean of data has caused a lot of uncertainty.


Dr. G. Robert Weedon directs the shelter medicine program at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, which performs more than 4,000 low-cost spay and neuter surgeries each year at rural shelters in east central Illinois.


He says that many research studies have been misinterpreted or over-interpreted, causing confusion among both veterinarians and owners.

That is why Dr. Weedon and three fellow shelter medicine researchers from the University of Minnesota, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Mississippi State University recently published a review article* evaluating the relevant literature and drawing conclusions about gonadectomies, especially regarding the optimal age to perform this procedure.

Here is a sampling of the findings covered in Dr. Weedon’s article. Take care to note the incidence of each disease.

  • Mammary neoplasia (cancer of the mammary glands) is seven times more likely in unspayed female dogs than in those that have been spayed; the incidence of this cancer ranges from 3.4% to 13%. Optimal spay age to avoid mammary neoplasia in female dogs is less than 2.5 years. • Benign prostatic hypertrophy/hyperplasia (a non-cancerous, enlarged prostate) occurs in more than 50% of intact male dogs, with incidence increasing with age.
  • Four out of five studies show an increase in prostate cancer in neutered dogs; however, this cancer arises in only 0.2% to 0.6% of the population.
  • Testicular neoplasia, with an incidence of 0.9%, is only seen in intact male dogs.
  • Pyometra (inflamed or infected uterus) occurs in roughly 25% of intact female dogs.
  • Obesity is very common in spayed and neutered dogs, reported to be between 21.4% and 44.4%.
  • This list, which represents only a fraction of the data Dr. Weedon and his coauthors address in their review, helps illuminate the complexity of the science regarding sterilizing pets. The ideal age for a spay or neuter is not clear cut; veterinarians have to consider many factors when recommending timing for the procedure.


For example, waiting until a later age to spay or neuter a pet may increase the dog’s risk of certain types of cancer. Choosing not to spay or neuter a dog leaves the animal at a relatively high risk of pyometra in female dogs and benign prostatic hypertrophy/hyperplasia in male dogs.

On the other hand, currently published data suggests that in some breeds, spayed and neutered pets have an increased risk of other types of cancer, as well as of obesity.

Your veterinarian is responsible for evaluating the relative risks and communicating those risks accurately to you. For example, you may hear of a study that indicates that that spaying your female dog increases her likelihood of acquiring bladder stones; your veterinarian should discuss this risk with you, and let you know that bladder stones are reported in only one in 100 dogs.

And the connection between the gonadectomy and the disease may be coincidental rather than causal. In the case of bladder stones, Dr. Weedon emphasizes, “no clear cause-and-effect has been established between spays and an increased risk of bladder stones.” Some veterinarians speculate that the increased rate may be due to the fact that owners who have had their dogs spayed are more observant and more willing to seek veterinary care and treatment for bladder stones.


Dr. Weedon recommends spaying or neutering pets in almost every scenario, although the ideal age can change depending on the breed and health of your dog, as well as the circumstances in which the dog lives. Your veterinarian has the knowledge to help interpret the large amount of contradictory data, and the training to make the best recommendation for the age at which to sterilize your pet.

To learn more about the risks and benefits of spay and neuter surgeries for your dog, contact your local veterinarian.

*Root Kustritz MV, Slater MR, Weedon GR, Bushby PA. Determining optimal age for gonadectomy in the dog: A critical review of the literature to guide decision making. Clinical Theriogenology 2017;9(2):167-211.

From the University of Illinois UrbanaChampaign College of Veterinary Medicine

Exercising Your Puppy

One of the best things you can do with your new puppy is provide them with the proper amount of exercise. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) ( , approximately 54% of U.S. dogs are considered overweight or obese. Besides feeding the proper amount of a good quality diet, the next best thing to maintain proper weight is exercise.


The requirements for exercise will vary based on your pet’s breed and age. Some breeds tend to be more laid back while others have a higher activity level. Younger puppies tend to go through multiple cycles of sleeping, playing, eating and eliminating throughout the day with bursts of exercise and activity lasting for a little as five minutes.

As they age the amount of time they stay awake will increase, and so will their exercise and activity requirements. There is no set amount of exercise each dog requires. The best approach is to ease into exercise and increase it as they mature into adulthood.


Walking is often the go-to exercise for dogs. It provides a great opportunity for bonding with your pet, provides them a chance to eliminate and gives them a change of scenery.

Persistence is key when first introducing walking to your puppy as they adjust to wearing a collar and leash. Short walks with a positive ending (think belly rubs and treats) for tolerating these new accessories will help to get your new puppy accustomed to this routine.

Until your puppy is fully vaccinated it is best to keep walking restricted to your yard to prevent exposure to other animals and disease. It is also wise to avoid walks in extreme heat and cold.


Some puppies get most of their exercise during play. A good game of fetch, tug or chase will get the heart pumping. Having multiple different play sessions and games to play with your puppy will keep them from getting bored.


Destructive behaviour such as chewing furniture, excessive licking and inappropriate elimination can be the result of anxiety created by a lack of exercise and activity. Ensuring your pet maintains an active lifestyle both mentally and physically will help decrease the chances that these troublesome behaviours arise.

Spending time teaching your dog tricks or offering them puzzle toys that contain hidden treats will help to keep them mentally stimulated and healthy.

When they are old enough, obedience training is also a fantastic way to increase your pet’s daily steps, engage them mentally and teach them the basics of being a well-behaved dog.

Starting an exercise routine with your new puppy and sticking with it throughout their life encourages a healthy lifestyle and will help decrease the risk of weight-associated diseases. Your veterinary healthcare team is a great resource to discover what exercise you can include in your individual pet’s daily routine.

Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health she is currently the Provincial Manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at