It’s a Dog’s Life: Doggy Database Aims to Define Pet Health

Australia is a nation of pet lovers — but what do we know about the health of our pets? To date the long term (longitudinal) study of canine diseases has been patchy, relying on information from referral centres. Details about pet illnesses, which are not reported to a vet, have never been studied before.

An internet-based project (http://www.dogslife.ac.uk/) was organized in conjunction with the Kennel Club in the UK. From the 1st July 2010 the owners of all Labrador Retrievers born after 1st January 2010 and registered with the Kennel Club in the UK were invited to be part of the project. In the first year of the study 1407 dogs were enrolled in the study.

Early results to come out of this study show that four out of ten of all dogs were ill at some point. Analyzing the data, the researchers estimated that about 80% of dogs had been ill by the time they were one year old — but that only half were considered by their owners to be ill enough to need to visit the vet.

Discussing the project, Dr Dylan Clements from the University of Edinburgh, and lead author of the study said, “We hope to follow the health of these dogs throughout their lives so that we can identify aspects of care which might reduce the risk of dogs developing disease in the future.”

The Labrador is a very popular dog in the Canberra / Queanbeyan region and with over 80% sick in the first year – I think I would look at Pet Insurance!

A Real Doctor Treats More Than One Species

As vets in Canberra, I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me, “I wish my own doctor were as good as my pet’s veterinarian.” And while we veterinarians certainly appreciate the compliment, there is an aspect of this admiration that we’re honestly not so grateful for: when our clients ask us to treat their sickness along with their pets’.

And yes, it happens pretty regularly, especially when medications are involved that are common in human and animal medicine alike, such as antibiotics and those that are frequently abused or sold, such as pain-control or “party” drugs.

Why Your Vet Won’t Treat Your Rash

I don’t guess at motives and I don’t judge, but I also won’t treat the human members of my patients’ families. In my head I give the person the benefit of the doubt, and figure they’re honestly looking to save some time and money by getting two family members treated in one visit. Who wouldn’t want a veterinarian on a family’s health care team, after all? We’re the birth-to-earth doctors, and the majority of us treat more than one species, handle emergencies and surgeries, and have a pretty good handle on most things human physicians would refer to specialists. As was written recently, in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse, having a veterinarian on your survival squad would really be a good thing. It’s even true that in the event of a non-Zombie disaster of large enough proportion, veterinarians are ready and willing to help in all ways, including patching up people, although that’s the one species we’re not licensed to treat.

But that still doesn’t mean I’m going to look at your rash and prescribe cephalexin for your “dog,” or give your “cat” an open-ended, high-count prescription for diazepam, better known as Valium.

I don’t need to be worrying about my license to practice (which, when last I checked, was for veterinary medicine), and believe me, I have my hands full providing the best care I know how to give to my real patients: your pets.

So don’t ask. Call your own doctor. While I can’t guarantee he’ll be as useful as I might be in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse, I know they are definitely the best choice when it comes to caring for their species of choice: yours.

Cat visit friendly

We know that wellness care for our pets saves lives and improves the quality of life by catching problems early. It also saves money. But while pet lovers are increasingly aware of these benefits, cats aren’t getting their fair share of care. It’s not because their owners don’t care about them, or don’t believe in the benefits of wellness care.

It’s because many cats don’t like — and, in fact, will barely tolerate — a trip to the vet.

We veterinarians know that, and it’s the reason why our hospitals are becoming ever more feline-friendly. We give talks to our colleagues on what we call “fear-free” practices, and The CATalyst Council is also spreading the word that cats deserve special handling at the vet’s. But that’s not enough.

How You Can Help

We can’t help much unless you do your part by bringing your cat in for a wellness exam. If you’ve been putting it off, here are some tips to make it easier on you, your cat — and those of us at your veterinary hospital.

Get the right carrier. Your cat needs to feel safe, and that’s most easily accomplished with a hard-sided carrier. The best ones have doors on the top and front to make putting the cat in easier. The top and bottom should also come apart easily; this way, the top can be removed at the veterinary office, leaving your cat comfortably resting in the bottom. A soft padded mat or folded towel will provide not only comfort but also secure footing so your cat won’t slide or scramble for purchase when the carrier is in motion.

Create a safe space. Once you have that carrier, don’t hide it in the shed or in the garage. It needs to be part of the furniture so your cat can learn to be comfortable around it and in it. Take the door off, put a soft mat in and leave yummy treats inside. Feed your hungry cat in the carrier now and then: Take a spoonful of wet food on a small plate, heat it up a little in the microwave to make its smell more irresistible, and serve it in the carrier. All this will eliminate the association of the carrier with bad things, which makes many cats scat when the carrier comes out.

Spread a good scent. Cats make themselves feel better by rubbing pheromones on their surroundings, which they produce in special glands, most notably on their heads. They get their first introduction to the relaxing effect of these scents when they’re tiny babies, associating the special smell of their mothers with nursing. In recent years synthetic versions of these pheromones have taken the veterinary world by storm, and cats couldn’t be happier. Spraying the mat inside the carrier with Feliway may help to relax an anxious cat.

Cover it up. Another place to spray pheromones is a towel that can be draped over the carrier. Even a calm cat may become freaked out by the view outside your home, by anything from the car to the waiting room with that dog staring. Covering the carrier with a towel — or, even better, one with pheromones on it — will block the view of the scary stuff and make your cat feel calm and safe.

Be gentle and secure en route. Give your cat a smooth ride. Keep the carrier level when you’re holding it, and secure it with a seat belt in your vehicle when you’re not. A soft mat or towel can help keep your cat from sliding with any movement you cannot control. It wouldn’t hurt to drive a little more safely as well, so watch those quick starts and give the car ahead of you room so you don’t have to slam on the brakes.

Once you get your cat to the veterinary hospital, the staff and doctors will do the rest! We’re working hard to make it easier for you to keep your cat healthier. If you do your part to get your cat in, we can take it from there.

Do Dogs Dream?

Many people believe that dogs do dream. Most dog owners have noticed that at various times during their sleep, some dogs may quiver, make leg twitches or may even growl or snap at some sleep-created phantom, giving the impression that they are dreaming about something. At the structural level, the brains of dogs are similar to those of humans. Also, during sleep the brain wave patterns of dogs are similar that of people, and go through the same stages of electrical activity observed in humans, all of which is consistent with the idea that dogs are dreaming.

Actually if dogs didn’t dream this would be a much greater surprise given that recent evidence suggests that animals that are simpler and less intelligent than dogs seem to dream. The brains of sleeping rats function in a way that strongly suggests dreaming. Much of the dreaming that you do at night is associated with the activities that you engaged in that day. The same seems to be the case in rats. So, if a rat ran a complex maze during the day he might be expected to dream about it at night. While a rat was awake and learning the maze, electrical recordings were taken from its hippocampus (an area of the brain associated with memory formation and storage). Researchers found that some of these electrical patterns were quite specific and identifiable depending upon what the rat was doing. Later, when the rats were asleep and their brain waves indicated that they had entered the stage where humans normally dream, these same patterns of brain waves appeared. The patterns were so clear and specific that the researchers were able to tell where in the maze the rat would be if it were awake, and whether it would be moving or standing still.

Since a dog’s brain is more complex and shows the same electrical sequences, it is reasonable to assume that dogs are dreaming, as well. There is also evidence that they dream about common dog activities. This kind of research takes advantage of the fact that there is a special structure in the brainstem (the pons) that keeps all of us from acting out our dreams. When scientists inactivated the part of the brain that suppresses acting out of dreams in dogs, they observed that they began to move around, despite the fact that electrical recordings of their brains indicated that the dogs were still fast asleep. The dogs only started to move when the brain entered that stage of sleep associated with dreaming. During the course of a dream episode these dogs actually began to execute the actions that they were performing in their dreams. Thus researchers found that a dreaming pointer may immediately start searching for game and may even go on point, a sleeping Springer Spaniel may flush an imaginary bird in his dreams, while a dreaming Doberman pincher may pick a fight with a dream burglar.

It is really quite easy to determine when your dog is dreaming without resorting to brain surgery or electrical recordings. All that you have to do is to watch him from the time he starts to doze off. As the dog’s sleep becomes deeper his breathing will become more regular. After a period of about 20 minutes for an average-sized dog his first dream should start. You will recognize the change because his breathing will become shallow and irregular. There may be odd muscle twitches, and you can even see the dog’s eyes moving behind its closed lids if you look closely enough. The eyes are moving because the dog is actually looking at the dream images as if they were real images of the world. These eye movements are most characteristic of dreaming sleep. When human beings are awakened during this rapid eye movement or REM sleep phase, they virtually always report that they were dreaming.

Dog and Cat Years vs Human Years – How old is my pet actually?

Many Canberra dog owners ask me if the “one year equals seven” is true anymore and “how do you figure how old a cat is”?

The old “dog years” formula (one year of a dog’s life is equal to seven years of human life) never really worked for any dog, based on a comparison of the general lifespan of humans and dogs. Cats age at a more predictable rate than dogs do, mostly because we don’t see the range of size and body types we do in dogs, but the 1-to-7 formula doesn’t work for them either.

How Old Is My Dog?

Consider two 10-year-old dogs, a Great Dane and a Chihuahua. Under the 1-equals-7 formula they’d both be considered the equivalent of a 70-year-old person. And while that’s probably not too far off the mark for the Great Dane (10 years for a Dane is indeed near the outer edge of life expectancy), the Chihuahua is likely still acting middle-aged.

But even the Great Dane didn’t match the old formula when he was young. In the first year of his life, he would have attained most of his height, something no human 7-year-old ever does.
It’s more accurate to think of the first year of a dog’s life getting him just over the first big jump of adolescence, with the second year bringing him close to full adult maturity physically, although as in humans, mental maturity may still be on the horizon. From there, it really does depend on the kind of dog in question. It is more important to focus on the individual dog, with the knowledge that size and breeding matter when it comes to aging. Roughly put, you can consider your dog to be a senior citizen at 7 if he’s that Great Dane, but not until 11-plus if he’s the Chihuahua.

Your actions can influence your dog’s aging process. In particular, dogs who spend their lives overweight or obese will experience chronic pain and illness earlier than active and healthy dogs of normal weight. So while you’re taking precautions to keep yourself young, do the same for your dog, by watching their diet and encouraging them to get plenty of exercise.

How Old Is My Cat?

What about cats? We all love easy answers, so after the idea of “dog years” became popular, we started seeing the same methodology applied to cats: Take the lifespan of a cat, compare it to a person, then get your formula, which is why you may frequently hear that 1 cat year equals 4 human years.

You’re ahead of me already, I bet: A 1-year-old cat is far more mature than a 4-year-old child, and a 2-year-old cat is fully mature, which can never be said of a human 8-year-old.

Because cats have less size diversity than dogs do, however, in this case we actually can make the formula work, if we start calculating at a cat’s second birthday. The first year takes a cat to late adolescence, and the second into young adulthood. You can then start counting in fours: Figure a 2-year-old cat at 24 “human years.” and add four years for every one thereafter, making a 4-year-old cat the equivalent of a 32-year-old person. That makes a 9-year-old cat about 52 in human terms, and 16-year-old cat about 80.

But, as we love to say about ourselves, age is only a number. With cats and dogs (and people!), proactive preventive wellness care with proper diet and exercise is the best way not only to achieve a longer life but also to have it be a happy, healthy one.

Do Dogs Smile?

Pets and Babies

I am often asked about how to integrate long-term family pets with the immanent arrival of a new baby into the household. There are lots of so-called experts around offering well meaning but often-misguided advice.

This is an unusual Blog, but an important one.

I recently came across an excellent publication that is written by a recognised expert in the animal behaviour field: Tell Your Dog You’re Pregnant: An essential guide for dog owners who are expecting a baby.

I had a chance to chat to the author, Dr Kirkham, at a recent dog behaviour conference in Melbourne. Dr Kirkham is a veterinarian with further qualifications in animal behaviour and has a particular interest in pets and their relationship with their owners, particularly children.

The book is a practical and intuitive approach to preparing your dog for your new baby. It covers such things as:

  • Prepare your dog for the baby
  • Accustom your dog to numerous baby sounds, including toy noises
  • Read and interpret your dog’s body language
  • Adjust your routine and the household to keep your dog calm
  • Introduce your dog and baby for the first time
  • Recognise your dog’s warning signs
  • Know when you need professional assistance

The book also includes a CD of baby and toy noises which is perfect for preparing your dog for the pending arrival. The easiest way to get a copy is to go to his website www.babyandpet.com.au

I feel this is easily the best publication I have seen on this topic so I thought I would let you know and you may be able to share this with someone you know as well.

This post was originally written in 2012