Avoiding weight gain in our canine population during the wintertime—exercising away those winter blues!
One of our passions at Westgate Pet Clinic is finding ways to help keep our canine population lean and healthy all year round. Often during the winter months, pets get less activity as we quit venturing outside as much. Walking, running, or dog park visits become less frequent, but we tend to put the same amount of food in the bowl for our pets. Often at preventative health visits to the clinic, we observe a seesaw pattern of weight gain and weight loss during the year, with most pets gaining at least a mild-moderate amount of weight during the wintertime when people and pets are less active. Most of these pets do lose some weight over spring, summer, or fall, but the most common trend is to steadily have at least some overall gain of weight each year, which compounds issues of inactivity in our older pets as they develop mobility issues related to arthritis or injuries that either develop or are aggravated by weight gain.
What are things we can do to help our dogs avoid weight gain in the winter months?
Calorie restriction is one simple way to avoid weight gain. Calories unused = weight gain. If schedules are too busy for exercise (or if you or your pet really dislike the cold and prefer some TLC on the couch during the winter months), then reducing the amount of food and/or treats fed is an easy way of limiting weight gain over the winter. Because every dog is different, I would recommend you consult with your Westgate Pet Clinic veterinarian about how much reduction would be recommended for your pet. We want to make sure that each pet is still getting a complete and balanced diet from their daily calories.
Skijoring is a fun way to help your dog stay healthy and lean during the wintertime. It is also a great way for you and your pet to bond and enjoy some really great places in the Twin Cities area.
What is skijoring? Skijoring is a sport in which a dog (or dogs) assist a cross-country skier. 1-3 dogs is the most common use, and both the skier and the dog are usually working in this sport. The human involved gets exercise through using their skis and poles, and the dog gets exercise through running and pulling (to various degrees). Equipment is fairly minimal, involving a skijoring harness for the human involved, a sled dog harness for the dog, and the duo or the team is connected with a length of rope (usually a nylon rope made with a quick release).
Sporting breeds and northern breeds (Siberian and Alaskan Huskies, and Samoyeds) are the most common skijoring dogs. Any large, energetic dog will usually love to skijor, but even smaller dogs under 40# may be out running alongside their owners (just don’t expect a lot of pulling action!). Dog temperament and level of motivation probably have more to do with skijoring success than the size of the dog. In my own personal experience, our springer spaniel mix around 45 pounds was a much better skijoring dog than our 65 pound lab-shepherd mix!
Where can one skijor with their dog in the Twin Cities area? Several opportunities exist through the Three Rivers Park District. There are designated trails at Cleary Lake and Eagle Lake regional parks. A Three Rivers Park District cross-country ski pass is required on these trails. Multi-use trails at Baker, Crow-Hassen, Elm Creek, and Murphy Hanrehan do not require a pass or permit. For more details, see https://www.threeriversparks.org/activities/skijoring.aspx.
Where can one find skijoring equipment? A couple good options are Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis or Black Ice Dog Sledding Equipment, a catalog company.
Ready to go beyond recreational skijoring? There are usually at least a few opportunities a winter for skijoring competition, including a skijoring event put on by the Minneapolis-based Loppet Foundation during the annual Loppet Festival. For more information about this local race, see http://www.loppet.org/cityoflakesloppet/loppet-events/saturday/chuck-dons-7k-skijoring-loppet/
Agility is for the dogs!
If cross-country skiing is just not your thing, then consider a class at a local dog obedience school to allow your pet to burn some calories learning the sport of agility. Your dog can zoom up the a-frame, cross over a high dogwalk, overcome fear of the bump that inevitably comes with the drop of the teeter-totter, weave through a set of poles (easier said than done!), pause at the table, leap over jumps, and run through a tunnel to the home stretch. Each course is different and the possibilities are endless, making it a constantly challenging activity, both physically and mentally for both dog and handler.
Two places in the area that offer agility classes are The Canine Coach! and Twin Cities Obedience Training Club. These dog schools also offer basic through advanced obedience classes, which are usually a prerequisite to agility classes—during agility, dogs are usually off leash, and they must be able to respond to their handler’s commands (think of the confusion that could otherwise ensue!). For more information on agility opportunities, contact these dog schools.
Health considerations related to skijoring or agility
Because ice and crusty snow encountered during skijoring may be a risk for lacerations or abrasions of the foot pads, I would recommend using Musher’s Secret, an emollient that helps condition your dog’s paws—we have this available at Westgate Pet Clinic. I would also recommend investing in some dog booties that will protect your dog’s feet. These will also help keep down snow clumping of the fur between the toes in some of our breeds and make running on a very cold surface more comfortable. If you ever notice that your pet is having issues with a pad (licking, chewing, limping, or an obviously injured pad), prompt veterinary attention can help the problem from escalating.
With either sport, watch for any limping and have this addressed by your Westgate Pet Clinic veterinarian. Also, make sure you take cues from your pet. If they are running or pulling less than they usually do, or refusing or missing obstacles on the agility course, then maybe they need to stop for the day, take some days off, or do less distance or duration of time for their sessions.
Canine athletes working hard need to stay hydrated. Make sure to bring fresh water for your dog and avoid community type dog bowls for concerns of canine respiratory and gastrointestinal pathogens including viruses. Offer small, frequent amounts of water, allowing them to drink larger amounts only after they are recovered from an exercise session (the latter will decrease risk of a sometimes fatal condition called GDV, gastric dilation volvulus).
Health considerations for our canine athletes on the bench
Some dogs are naturally predisposed through their anatomy to have issues arise with exercise. Also, our aging population may have degenerative conditions that begin to show through in their exercise sessions. If you think your pet is having any problems with mobility or is showing any signs of pain during or after exercise, please see your veterinarian at Westgate Pet Clinic to have them evaluated. Because exercise is so important for maintaining ideal body weight, mobility, as well as giving our pets the mental stimulation that they need, we always hope to find the right balance for them to continue doing what they love and enjoy the highest quality of life. If your pet is having more days on the bench than not, consider canine rehabilitation exercises through Dr. Teresa Hershey at Westgate Pet Clinic—she will work with you and your pet to troubleshoot those issues that are keeping your canine athlete from doing the things they love the most.
Pet owners often express concern that their dog or cat is licking its rear or scooting its rear on the floor. While a small amount of this behavior may be normal day to day grooming, when it becomes more frequent there may be an underlying problem….ANAL SAC DISEASE.
All dogs and cats have anal sacs (also known as anal glands). These glands are typically about the size of a small marble and sit just inside the anus to the right and left sides. The purpose of these glands is to produce a smelly, pungent, sometimes fishy smelling fluid that can help a dog or a cat add a unique scent to its area, not unlike marking with urine. These are the same glands that skunks use to spray when scared or threatened.
Normally the material produced in the glands is the consistency of water. During a bowel movement, the pressure from the stool expresses the glands. Sometimes the material is thicker in consistency and full expression of the glands is difficult. This leads to discomfort and is often the cause of licking under the tail or scooting the rear on the ground.
Manual expression by a veterinarian, groomer or by the pet owner can often relieve the discomfort associated with full anal sacs. If the glands are impacted (unable to be expressed by the pet) and the glands are not manually expressed, infection can develop and eventually an abscess will occur. In rare cases, the discomfort causing the scooting or licking may be due to an anal sac tumor.
Anal gland impactions tend to be more common in dogs than in cats, or perhaps dogs are more obvious with the symptoms. Often the first sign seen in cats is when an abscess has already formed. Because anal sac disease is one of discomfort in dogs and cats, and because more serious cases of infection and tumors can occur, making an appointment to have the anal sacs checked is advised when excessive licking or scooting are present.
There are a number of medical conditions that can cause cats to urinate or defecate outside of the litter box (see Dr Hershey's article entitled "Help! My cat is urinating outside the box" on our website). It's important to work with your veterinarian to first determine and address the underlying cause for inappropriate elimination, but we also want to make the litter box the "Taj Mahal" of bathroom spaces to help attract your kitty back to good elimination behaviors.
Here are some tips to help make the litter box more attractive to your cat:
1. Make sure you have 1 more box than the number of cats in your house – if you have 2 cats, you should have 3 boxes, and so on.
2. Remove all hoods. Many cats dislike hooded boxes and will choose to eliminate elsewhere.
3. Scoop each box at least once daily, since many cats are EXTREMELY fastidious.
4. Make sure boxes are located in quiet areas where there are no startling noises (e.g., a buzzer from a dryer) that could cause an aversion to using the box.
5. Don’t overfill – Most cats don’t like more than 1-2 inches of litter and some even prefer just a tiny amount scattered across the bottom of the box. This is especially true for cats with arthritis pain (think about trying to walk in deep sand at the beach!). You can offer a couple options at first to see what your cat prefers.
One of the most frequent questions I get is “what should I feed my pet”. This is a very important question to ask, especially if you own a cat. Cats are so different from dogs in terms of their nutritional needs, and understanding their dietary requirements is essential to optimal feline health.
Let me start by giving you some information about a cat’s dietary intake in the wild. The domestic housecat is thought to have originated in the Middle East. Cats are well adapted to an arid environment and their kidneys have excellent concentrating ability. They get most of their liquid from eating prey (a mouse, for example, is about 70% liquid), so they don’t tend to drink as much water. Cats are solitary hunters and therefore take on prey much smaller than themselves, necessitating several small kills per day. They are also obligate carnivores which means that they require animal protein in order to achieve good health. Unlike dogs who are able to manufacturer specific amino acids if not present in their diet, cats lack certain key metabolic enzymes which means that if they are not eating animal protein, they will be nutrient deficient.
Physical exam, x-rays, electrocardiogram and an ultrasound of the heart will offer great information and will help your veterinarian and veterinary cardiologist make a diagnosis and create a treatment plan for your dog. Close monitoring may be needed after initiating therapy, as the medications prescribed can affect other internal organs.
When therapy is successful, you will notice a decrease in coughing and an improved ability to breath. As a rule of thumb, your veterinarian will ask you to report if the breathing rate is faster than 40 breaths per minute at rest.
Much progress has been made in the treatment of heart failure and with proper care and monitoring, your dog's quality and length of life can be greatly improved.