Top Questions Our Vets Get From Pet Parents

Our pets may just be our favorite things in life, but they also can be…well, confusing. Let’s be honest, they do some pretty weird stuff sometimes. We are here to solve some of those mysteries, and we went to nowhere else but the experts! Here are the 10 top questions we get at the clinic and our vet team’s answers. 

1. Why does my dog eat grass? 

Dogs are omnivores, so eating grass could simply be their instinctive behavior - especially puppies who will eat anything and everything, however, it is also very possible there is something more to this behavior.

The first explanation is that dogs will eat grass to compensate for diet deficiencies or as treatment when they feel sick. If their diet is unbalanced (e.g., missing vitamins, nutrients, or minerals) they might eat grass to get the extra nutrients they need. For example, if your dog doesn’t get enough fiber, which is important for healthy digestion and other bodily functions, they will eat grass as a way to get this important nutrient.

In addition, when dogs have stomach issues (which can be because of anything from parasites, a virus, metabolic disease, to even obstruction from eating something they shouldn't), they might eat grass as a natural remedy. If your pet starts eating grass often and excessively, there might be an underlying health condition that your pet is trying to self-treat.  

If you notice them eating grass more frequently or excessively, take them to the vet right away, since there might be a potential underlying illness that your dog is attempting to self-treat. 

2. Can I feed my pet a homemade diet?

Homemade diets are ideally not recommended by our vets. Our pets need certain nutrients, such as minerals, vitamins, carbs, and fats, to live a happy and healthy life and it can be difficult to include all of the correct levels of these nutrients in a homemade diet. Commercial diets we recommend are AAFCO-certified, meaning they have been trialed and tested in animals to make sure they contain everything the pet needs to be healthy lifelong. If you are persistent in making a homemade diet then it is ideal to consult with a veterinary nutritionist. As an additional resource, visit Balance IT. They can help you formulate a complete and balanced diet.  

3. Why does my dog's butt smell like fish sometimes? 

Not pleasant, but definitely a common problem. If your dog’s butt smells fishy, it can be an indication that they either expressed their anal glands, or if the smell continues they may need an anal gland expression. Another possibility for the constant smell could be due to an anal gland infection. Anal glands (or anal sacs) are a pair of fluid-filled structures that produce a fluid with a strong odor that is unique to each dog. Experts believe that the smell created by releasing small amounts of this fluid is used to mark territory. Dogs usually express their anal glands when they poop and when they are frightened.

Most dogs will have no issues with their anal glands, but sometimes these glands can become full or infected and may not express normally. When signs of anal gland issues occur, including that unpleasant fish smell or “scooting”, dog owners should contact their veterinarian. 

4. Why does my dog eat its poop? (puppies most often)

Another unpleasant but common issue. This is common behavior in nature, especially for puppies, but it can also be a way for your dog to try to compensate for an unbalanced diet and get the nutrients they need. If you are seeing signs of an unbalanced diet, give your vet a call.

Although it is usually a natural behavior, it could be very unpleasant for pet parents and also unhealthy. So what can you do to avoid it? There are a few things you can try

  • Redirect their attention when they try to do so 
  • Picking up poop immediately after they relieve themselves
  • If it does get to be a bigger issue, you can try Forbid powder. This is a powder you can put in their food that gives their poop an adverse taste to avoid their urge to eat it. Of course, it won’t help in cases when your pup is eating another dog's poop, but it’s a start!

5. What amount of exercise/kind of exercise do you recommend for my pet? 

Dogs are supposed to be active both physically and mentally. Naturally, dogs have a sense of purpose, such as working, hunting, herding, or protecting. They do not enjoy lying on their doggie bed all day, even if they look super comfy!. If you want your pet to be happy and healthy as well as reach their innate potential, make sure they get enough exercise and mental stimuli. 

In general, we would recommend both physical exercise (running, agility, ball catching, frisbee, tug of war, fetch, etc.) as well as mental exercise (puzzles/games, allowing them to sniff when walking outside, etc). As far as how much physical exercise is enough, you should let your pet guide you. For example, if you’re running with your pet and they are running in front of you it’s a signal they are probably not tired yet. However, if you see that they start running behind, you should stop and take them back home to rest. It’s important to be cautious during the summer or hot days and take your pet for physical exercise in cooler conditions (early mornings and late evenings/nights are best) to prevent heatstroke. We recommend letting them guide us in how much exercise they want/need, unless they have pre-existing conditions such as back pain or intervertebral disc disease for example. As your pup gets older, make sure to reach out to your vet to ask about the best physical activity for them!

6. Why does my dog/cat have bad breath?

Although dogs and cats aren’t notorious for fresh breath, it is important to take note if it gets worse than normal. The most common cause, but potentially dangerous, is dental disease. Dental disease not only affects their gum, teeth, and breath, and can cause oral pain and can lead to lower energy levels and decreased food intake. If left untreated, this can lead to damage to their heart, liver, and kidneys. The average recommendation for a dental cleaning (with radiographs) is once a year, but every pet is different. Be sure to touch base with your vet to ensure they are taken care of! Along with yearly dental cleanings, daily toothbrushing  is also recommended

7. Should I spay/neuter my cat or dog? When is the best time?

General answer: yes! Spaying or Neutering reduces the risk of pets developing some serious illnesses. In female dogs, it reduces the risk of breast and mammary cancer and prevents a potentially life-threatening condition called pyometra (a serious infection of the womb). In male dogs, neutering protects from testicular and prostate cancer and disease of the prostate gland. It also improves the lifestyle of your pet, preventing unwanted pregnancy in females, and could lead to better behavioral control in males (such as less chance of marking, aggression, and running away).

In addition, there are hundreds of thousands of animals in need of homes and there is shelter overpopulation across the country. Neutering stops animals from adding to this problem by preventing unwanted litters. In addition, neutering can help your dog live longer and enjoy a better quality of life. 

8. When should you spay or neuter your cat or dog?

Although it depends on species, gender, and other individual factors, as a general rule, you should consider spaying or neutering at approximately 6 months. Every pup is different, so we recommend discussing the right time for you and your pup with one of our vets.

9. Why vaccines and heartworm prevention are important?

Going to the vet repeatedly over several months for vaccinations, and then for boosters or titers throughout your pet’s life, may seem like an inconvenience, but the diseases that vaccinations will shield your pets from are dangerous, potentially deadly, and, thankfully, mostly preventable. There isn’t a single puppy or kitten vaccination schedule for all pets. Factors such as which part of the country you live in, and your dog’s individual risk factors will come into play. Always discuss puppy or kitten vaccinations with the vet when coming to an appointment. 

For puppies, we will recommend DAPP, Rabies, Bordetella, Lepto, and Flu (while you might want to consider other vaccines related to your location and lifestyle), while for kittens we will recommend FVRCP (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia) Rabies, and FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus). We know this may be overwhelming, so have a conversation with your vet and they will be sure to help.

In a similar light, heartworms are another type of invader that can cause serious health problems. When your puppy is around 4-6 months, talk to your vet about starting a heartworm preventive. Though there is no vaccine for this condition, it is preventable with regularly administered heartworm medication that your veterinarian will prescribe.

The name is descriptive — these worms lodge in the right side of the heart and the pulmonary arteries (that send blood to the lungs), though they can travel through the rest of the body and sometimes invade the liver and kidneys. Heartworm preventative medication should be taken monthly to ensure your puppy is not infected.

10. What is an appropriate adult weight for my pet?

Although pets are very cute when they're a bit chubby, being overweight can put them at risk of many health problems. As a result, it’s important to make sure your pet has a balanced and healthy diet. You will be surprised, but this is actually a common problem among pets in the U.S. Based on recent data, the majority of cats and dogs in the U.S. are considered overweight or obese (56% of dogs and 59% of cats). 

So, how would you know if your pet is on the heavy side? The best option is to seek professional help. Ideally, your veterinarian can help you make that judgment the next time you visit the clinic. But if you’re between visits, you should be able to feel all of your dog's ribs without a thick layer of fat over them. Your pet’s waist should be easily noted when viewed from above. Your pet's chest should also be wider than his abdomen, and you should notice a tuck-up from chest to stomach when looking from the side. An overweight pet will have excess fat in the ribs area, and the waist won’t be visible (generally they will not have a waist, nor distinction between chest and stomach). To get an idea if your pet is in the healthy range weight-wise you can look at a chart called the Body Condition Score (BCS) system. However, always consult with your vet to ensure your pet is healthy!

11. Why do they need yearly blood work for your pet?

Yearly blood work helps your veterinarian to screen and treat for a variety of health conditions and common diseases. Routine blood testing is an effective preventative care plan to potentially catch a wide range of diseases and illnesses early on, increasing the likelihood of recovery. 

In addition, routine blood work is used to monitor chronic illnesses and assess the safety of recommended treatments, or preventative care therapies. If your pet is planning to have surgery, blood testing is used to ensure your pet is healthy enough to withstand the procedure and determine the right anesthesia treatment plan that will be used during the operations. 

12. Is my dog a senior and is there anything I need to do differently?

Is your pet older than 7 years? Treat them with respect, as they are considered elderly (geriatric) pets. Besides being very wise and experienced, they are also more susceptible to medical issues and illnesses related to age, including mobility concerns, prone to weight gain, progressing dental disease, cognitive disorders, and chronic internal organ changes. To ensure your pet is able to maintain a healthy lifestyle and quality of life, consult with your veterinarian about what ongoing preventative treatment plan would be best for your pet. For example, these could include: 

  • Get a consultation about weight and change in food/nutrition
  • Provide yearly dental care and at-home dental care 
  • Changes in behavior and mobility can be addressed by being proactive about exercise, supplements, and multi-modal pain therapies (acupuncture, laser, physical therapy, etc.)
  • Radiographs (e.g. X-rays) could help evaluate degenerative joint disease and assess arthritis
  • Blood work should increase to every 6 months and additional screening tests including thyroid, kidney, and endocrine testing may be needed 
  • Screening testing including abdominal radiographs or ultrasound may be recommended to assess for cancer

13. What can I do for my dogs/cats' stress or anxiety (behaviorist and OTC meds vs prescription medications)?

There are several behavior modification tools that should be tried prior to medicating your pet for anxiety issues.  You should be utilizing “Learn to Earn” or NILIF (“Nothing in Life is Free”) and focus on positive reinforcement training.  This means all unwanted behavior should be ignored, while wanted behavior should be rewarded.  Do not give your pet attention, toys, or treats when he/or she shows anxious behaviors, wait until he or she is quiet and behaving appropriately before you reward him/her.  In some cases, when low-level anxiety is observed, crate training and Kong toys with frozen treats can also help distract your pet from performing anxious behavior. Adaptil (or other pheromone) collars and sprays, thundershirts, and calming diets can also be utilized to decrease stress.  If the anxiety is severe enough, where we are not seeing enough improvement with these options, there is long-acting anxiety medication that can be used and takes about a month to start working (Prozac).  There is also some medication that can be used for shorter periods with more severe episodes/cases that should be used only as needed (Alprazolam). Full blood work is also recommended before starting either of these medications on your animal. 

Anxiety medications should always be used in conjunction with training. Training can range from routine to board-certified veterinary behaviorists depending on the causes, severity, and history of each patient.

Remember that every pet is different, so we recommend that you consult with your veterinarian about the best treatment plan for your pet.

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