By: Dr. Tiffany Durzi, DVM, CVA, CCRT, CVPP 

       Ontario Veterinary College, Fitness and Rehabilitation Service
       University of Guelph, Guelph, ON


January 10, 2017

Exercising a dog is an important commitment to consider before you get a pet, yet exercising with your dog can also be an enjoyable activity with health benefits for both you and your pet!  There is no doubt that a lack of physical activity is a major public health problem recognized in humans.  Statistics show that a large proportion of dog owners do not walk their dog. In fact, it is estimated that only 60% of dog owners walk their dogs regularly.  Although, exercise guidelines for dogs are not well established.  As health professionals, we often support similar guidelines for dogs that the Centre for Disease Control has set out for humans - 30-60 minutes of exercise, 5 times weekly

Dog’s confined to a yard, but not walked regularly, are more likely to be obese.  Obesity has been shown to contribute to a lot of health problems in dogs including diabetes and arthritis. In addition, exercise can help improve the behaviour of many pets, by allowing the dog to wear off excess energy! The good news, is that dog ownership has been also shown to be positively associated with health-related factors among people, including increased physical activity, weight control and positive mental health.  Exercising with your dog can also increase the human-animal bond! 

So, what are we waiting for?  Let’s get exercising!

To start an exercise program for you and your dog, first consider the health status, age and breed of your dog. 

Generally, it is suggested to start a new exercise program with your dog slowly - walking 15 minutes, 5 times weekly is a great start.  Then try increasing your walks by 5 minutes per week, until you reach 30-60 minutes, 5 times weekly.  Next gradually increase the intensity of your walks in 10 minute intervals, making sure you allow for “sniffing time” in between. Many dogs enjoy a leisurely stroll, so they can stop and enjoy all the excellent smells in the neighbourhood!  It is also important to remember that to meet the physical activity needs of a Canadian adult you will need at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-to vigorous-intensity activity, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Although it is important to ensure you are not over exerting your dog and you are letting them stop to sniff the roses, working toward 10 minute intervals of walking at a brisk pace is important to your health. 

Other activities, such as joining a dog walking club can also be an enjoyable activity for you and your dog to share.  Also ask around to find out about new, fun (and safe) places to walk your dog.  When you get a new puppy, they also should be active, however the activity may be less structured and may revolve more around positive play. It can take time for puppies to get used to walking on a leash. Make sure you go slow and at their pace.  

Some very active people may be interested in jogging with their dog.  This can be a great activity to enjoy together, but please consider that it takes time to work your dog up to a 5 or 10km run.  Excessive running, especially in puppies, should be avoided until their growth plates close at 12-18 months of age (breed dependent).  Many dogs won’t tell you if they are tired, so it is important to set out your goals and stick to the program. If you have any questions about your dog’s exercise needs or exercise tolerance please be sure to consult your veterinarian to discuss specific exercise goals for your pet.

Exercise is fun!  Let your dog help you to achieve your own exercise requirements by getting out there and walking together!

For more information on dog walking and the health benefits for you and your dog, you are invited to review the pamphlet below developed by researchers at the University of Guelph.






5 ways to help keep your senior dog happy

  By: Dr. Faith Banks, DVM
        Owner, Midtown Mobile Veterinary Services
        In-home veterinary hospice and euthanasia service

November 17, 2016

Rarely when one decides to share their heart and home with a new four-legged friend do they think about what is to come down the road. When a furry, bear-like Newfoundland puppy enters a home at 8 weeks, weighing 15 lbs, it's hard to think about what life will be like with that same dog at 12 years old, weighing 165 lbs, accompanied by the challenges that come with an aging body.

At what age is a pet considered "senior"? As with most things, this will vary, depending on the individual, the species, and the breed of the pet. "Middle age" is usually considered to be around 7 to 8 years old for most dogs and cats (though NOT large breed dogs - they reach "middle age" a few years earlier). When a pet reaches "middle age", generally it's recommended that the pet is seen more often by the veterinarian, every 6 months or so, and it is recommended that the pet undergoes more extensive exams and testing. These routine exams and tests are important to establishing what is "normal" for your pet in terms of his or her body condition, blood test results, heart rate, etc. This preventive care will help to prevent disease and/or detect the early stages of disease.

As their body ages, the psychological and physical needs of pets change. As a pet owner, what can you do to help ensure your senior dog ages gracefully? Here are 5 ways to help keep your senior dog happy for his or her remaining years:

  1. Being with their people

    Dogs want to be with their people. They don't want to live out their remaining days, months, or years limited to the main floor while everyone else is upstairs watching TV and relaxing. Many older dogs are not able to walk up and down stairs by themselves so they become restricted to one area of the home. Owners can make appropriate changes in the home to allow dogs to continue to have access to them. Carrying dogs up and down stairs and using a harness to help support their body weight allows dogs increased access. Baby gates are useful to keep the pet to one floor and to prevent accidents. For example, if you bring your dog upstairs when you go up to bed, put the baby gate at the top of the stairs to prevent him/her from going down in the night.

  2. Being able to do their activities of daily living

    Dogs should be able to get up and get a drink of water from their water bowl, go to their food bowl, go outside to go to the bathroom, and continue with their regular routine. Walks may be shorter in length but it is still important for dogs to get out, keep their bodies moving, and brains stimulated while exploring their environment. Activities of daily living (ADL) help ensure a dog feels like a dog, and not just a piece of furniture.

  3. Being able to do their favourite things

    This is one of the most important topics I discuss with pet owners... "What does Fido LOVE to do?", "What makes him happy?" The answers to these questions tend to be unique to each individual pet! Some answers I've received are: going on a boat, lying on a bench in the bay window, eating, chasing balls, lying on pizza boxes, making snow angels, greeting people at the door, and the list goes on. You want your dog to have joy in their life. Eating, drinking, pooping, and sleeping are likely not enough. Providing opportunities for your pet to continue doing what they love will help keep your pet psychologically and/or physically healthy.

  4. Minimizing stress and anxiety

    Sadly, stress and anxiety may play increasingly larger roles in the lives of our geriatric pets. It often worsens in the early evening and peaks at night with panting, pacing, and restlessness. This is very worrisome for pet owners, not to mention the stress it has on them while trying to sleep. Medications are often required in order to minimize the anxiety and allow everyone in the house to get some shuteye.

  5. Feeling good

    Owners of geriatric pets are always concerned about whether or not their pets are in pain and/or are suffering. Pain may be caused by osteoarthritis, cancer, or organ disease/failure. My veterinary mobile practice is focused on geriatric and end-of-life patients. My motto is PPP: Presume, Pain, Present. Why must a pet prove they are in pain? I give them the benefit of the doubt and will often try pain medication to see if it has an effect. If a dog has not jumped on the bed in several weeks or months and is now jumping up again, we can assume pain was a factor that is now being managed. There are many ways to help manage pain including medications, modifying the pet's home environment, chiropractics, myofacial trigger point therapy, acupuncture, etc.

Geriatric pets can be tricky; discussing their issues and observing them in their home environment plays a large role in coming up with a plan to care for them as they continue to age. Animal hospice fills this role when curing turns to caring.

If you have concerns or want guidance in caring for your loved pet companion, please speak with your veterinarian to help guide you in caring for your senior dog.


Pros, cons, and how-to's for different restraint options for your dog

  By: Dr. Janet Cutler, PhD, CPDT-KA
        Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada
        On the Right Track Animal Behaviour Consulting

September 12, 2016

Collars and leashes are on everyone's list of things to purchase for a new dog. They are very important for the safety of your dog while out of your home, making sure they don't get away from you near roads or other dangers. Collars also let owners attach contact information in case your dog happens to get away from you.

If you've walked into a pet store lately, you'll notice that there are an overwhelming number of options available. They are all designed to help you restrain your dog in different ways. To help you pick the best option for you and your dog, the most common types are briefly explained below.


Flat collars

Flat collars are one of the most common types of collars and can be made from a variety of different materials, such as nylon or leather. These collars have a buckle made of plastic or metal and a D-ring for clipping a leash and adding identification.

There are many different sizes available with different lengths and widths. Make sure you pick an appropriate one for your dog. You want to be able to fit a few fingers between your dog's neck and the collar but you don't want to be able to slip the collar over the dog's head.

If you have a puppy and want to use flat collars, you'll likely have to go through two or three different sizes as your puppy grows. Pick a collar that has room to be lengthened but isn't too wide. It is very important to check the fit of the collar every couple days to make sure it isn't getting too tight as your puppy grows.

If you have an adult dog, getting a collar that can be shortened or lengthened a bit will get you the most use from your collar as they may gain/lose weight or their coat might change throughout the year.

Head collars

Several brands of head collars are available in stores. Most head collars fit over your dog's nose and buckle around the back of their head. These allow for much more control over your dog's head and are usually used if you have trouble with your dog pulling.

A majority of dogs need some training to get used to their head collar and will scratch at the collar if they are not used to it. To have the most success, gradually introduce the head collar to your dog while using treats. For example, you can start by putting the head collar near their head and giving treats, then move the collar away from their head. Next, you can put the collar up to their nose or put their nose slightly through the collar while giving treats. Gradually work up to having the collar on fully.


Martingales are a combination of flat collars with a small section of chain or fabric that acts to tighten when your dog pulls. Unlike a regular choke chain, this type of collar releases immediately when your dog stops pulling and will not lock in place.

This type of collar provides a small correction when your dog pulls and releases when they stop. They DO need to be fitted properly so that the rings holding the smaller loop of chain or fabric that tightens do NOT touch each other when pulled tight. If this happens, it means the collar is too loose and may slip off your dog. If your dog is playing with others while wearing a martingale, make sure that an adult is there to supervise as teeth or paws of other dogs could get tanged or stuck in the extra loop.

Choke chains

Choke chains are designed to 'choke' a dog when it pulls and then release once they stop, in an aim to teach your dog not to pull. Choke chains need to be put on properly though, as looping the wrong way allows the chain to tighten when your dog pulls and then not release. These collars should not be left on your dog unsupervised as they could tighten if caught on anything.

Due to the risks of injury to dogs with choke chains, the use of choke chains is not recommended. Instead, it is recommended that you train your dog not to pull while walking and using one of the other collars described above.


Harnesses are often bought in stores with the IDEA of preventing your dog from pulling while walking. However, harnesses were actually designed to help animals pull heavy loads, putting pressure of the restraint on their chest and allowing them to put the full power of their legs and body against the harness.

For this reason, these are NOT a good option for an average dog. However, if you have a dog that you are training to pull for outdoor activities or if your dog has a neck or back injury, this might be the ideal option for you and your dog.

Prong and pinch collars

Prong and pinch collars are designed to cause pain when your dog pulls on the leash. These collars can easily cause permanent damage to your dog's neck. For these reasons, these collars are very rarely recommended. Using positive reinforcement to train your dog to stop pulling and using other devices described above would be a much better option for your dog.


As with collars, there are many types of leashes available. Nylon or leather leashes are the most common and have a clip to connect to your dog's collar and a handle for you to hold.

There are many lengths and widths of leashes available, and it is important to consider the types of activities you will be doing with your dog before buying. Very long leashes have the potential to get tangled around objects and other dogs while on walks, while very short leashes may not give you and your dog enough length for your dog to explore while walking. Keep in mind the height of the people walking your dog, as adjustments to length could be needed for them as well.

If you will be spending a lot of time walking your dog, make sure the handle of the leash is comfortable for you. Wrapping long leashes around and around your hand could cause injury to you if your dog suddenly pulls on the leash.

Flexi-type leashes are commonly found in stores; however, they can be dangerous and can also teach your dog to pull on the leash. Flexi leads work by allowing your dog to continue to pull a longer leash while they walk away from you, which actually teaches them to pull while walking. They can also be dangerous when meeting other dogs as the long line can get tangled around dogs or the legs of the people with them, causing injury.


It is important to ensure that the restraint devices you choose for you and your dog are comfortable, safe, and fit properly. The majority of pet stores or veterinary clinics where you buy collars and leashes can help to make sure that you have the proper fit on your dog.

As well as having proper restraint, training your dog not to pull on the leash will make walking much more enjoyable for both you and your dog. Making sure that your dog has an excellent recall (i.e., coming when called) is also very important in case you ever drop the leash or your pet accidentally slips out of their collar.

Have fun walking your dog!

Is your pet tipping the scale? What you need to know about pet obesity!

  By: Dr. Adronie Verbrugghe, DVM, PhD, Dip ECVCN
        Assistant Professor in Clinical Nutrition
        Royal Canin Veterinary Diets Endowed Chair in Canine and Feline Clinical Nutrition
        Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada

October 12, 2016

Obesity is the number one nutritional problem in pets. According to the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention, approximately 58% of cats and 54% of dogs were overweight or obese in 2015.

By taking steps to manage and prevent obesity in our pets, we can decrease the risk of many health complications such as: diabetes, heart disease, respiratory problems, urinary problems, osteoarthritis, skin problems, and cancer. Keeping our pets at an ideal weight can ensure our pets live a good quality of life.

Weight gain and increased body fat occurs when a pet eats more than it needs to.

Only 3% of obese pets are because of animal-specific factors, such as breed, age, gender, being spayed/neutered; while 97% are caused by human-specific factors such as the amount fed to the pet, physical activity provided to the pet, owner attitudes, and household characteristics.

Proper diet and lifestyle choices for our pets are important to preventing an overweight pet and weight-related health consequences. These choices will help ensure you'll have plenty of years to hug, love, and snuggle with, your four-legged friend.

What can you do to keep your pet in good shape?

1. Fat, fluffy, or just big-boned?

During your pet's annual check-up, your veterinary healthcare team will weigh your dog or cat and assess his or her body condition using standardized scoring charts. It's important to discuss your pet's current weight with your veterinary healthcare team.

As a pet owner, it's important to keep an eye on your pet's weight throughout the year. A great trick that is easy to do at home is to feel their ribs. If a pet's ribs feel like the top of the fingers on a flat hand when the palm is facing down, the pet is fairly close to an ideal body condition. If it feels more like the palm of a flat hand, the pet could be overweight and you should contact your veterinary healthcare team.

2. Feeding habits

Pet food often gets the blame of the obesity epidemic where claims are made that tasty, energy-dense foods put pets at risk for weight gain. However! Overfeeding is the most important concern. Dogs and cats fed homemade food, table scraps, and/or treats are at a higher risk of becoming obese. Free-choice feeding should be avoided. Instead, dogs and cats should be given multiple small meals.

Most owners use a measuring cup to measure their pet's food. This is quick and convenient, but has also been shown to be imprecise and inaccurate. Weighing your pet's food with a gram scale is highly recommended to maintain a healthy body condition. Weight loss can only be achieved with a veterinary weight reduction diet. Simply reducing the amount of the pet's current food (even light diets) may result in your pet not getting all the nutrients they need.

3. Is your pet getting enough exercise?

Walk your dog everyday; start slowly with short activity periods and gradually increase the exercise time. Few dogs will naturally walk quickly enough to cause their heart rate to increase enough for weight loss. Walk briskly or speed walk with your dog, allowing him or her to stop to sniff only once in a while.

Outdoor cats get plenty of exercise by hunting, playing, and exploring. Exercising overweight indoor cats may seem more challenging. Homemade or pet shop toys help to encourage your cat to get moving. Shine a flashlight on the floor and walls or let your cat play in a box or paper bag. Hide a few kibbles of your cat's food in different places around the house, bringing out the "hunter" in your cat. For more activity ideas, check out this page.

If you are concerned about your pet's weight, visit your veterinary healthcare team for a nutritional assessment and to design an appropriate weight loss plan.


Discussing the importance of summer preventive pet care

  By: Dr. Magdalena Smrdelj
       Chief Veterinary Officer, Ontario SPCA

  August 3, 2016

Our pets love being outside in the summer… Enjoying the sunshine, walks in the park, and rolling in the grass. Unfortunately, summertime is also the primetime for fleas and ticks.

Below, we delve into the world of preventive pet care in terms of these nasty parasites! I'll explain how the pet is impacted and what you can do to protect your pet!


In Canada, peak flea season tends to run from early August to early October. Fleas can cause both people and pets discomfort through skin irritation, itchiness, rashes, and hair loss. They can also cause more serious outcomes like anemia and spread diseases like cat-scratch fever.

Preventive pet care

There are a number of ways to reduce the chances of your pet getting fleas and/or fleas coming into your home. Here are a few:

  • Keep your cat indoors
  • Give your pet flea medication*
  • Inspect your pet's coat often

*There are many types of flea medication available, including ones that go directly on your pet's skin and ones that are taken by mouth. Some flea medication target eggs and some target adult fleas. The best source of information about flea medication is your veterinarian. Please consult your veterinarian about which type of medication would work best for your pet. Be careful when looking for over-the-counter flea medication; some of these can actually be harmful for your pet!

Checking for fleas

If your pet likes to be outdoors, you need to be periodically checking them for fleas. Typically, fleas like to hang out on the base of the tail. You can check for them by combing the hair against the fur to see the skin and looking for "flea dirt" or spots of dried blood that looks like black pepper.

How do I get rid of fleas?

The first thing to do when recognizing your pet has fleas is to consult your veterinarian. Next, clean all the areas of your home where your pet likes to hang out - such as bedding, furniture, carpet area, and where the carpet and floorboards connect. After cleaning the house, put all the pet's bedding through your washing machine and dryer, along with your own clothes.

The Government of Canada has an informative fact sheet about fleas and ways to get rid of them. You can check out this page here.


In Canada, the greatest risk of getting a tick bite is during the spring and summer months. However, you can still be at risk for a tick bite in the winter if you live in an area that has mild weather and no snow.

Ticks are members of the same family as spiders. They have great biting mouthparts they can use. Ticks bite onto the skin and feed on their host's blood supply. Ticks are attracted to three things: body motion, body heat, and carbon dioxide. They live close to the ground, often in tall grasses, and can jump onto you or your pet. Common places to find ticks on your pet include the neck, around the ears and head, the front part of their chest, and the underside of the chest. If uninterrupted, ticks will feed on your pet for about 5-10 days and then drop off. Typically they won't land in your house unless something knocks them off when they're ready to drop off, as they prefer to drop off outside.

Ticks are dangerous to both pets and people because they can be infected by different kinds of bacteria that can make people and pets sick. Specifically, some types of ticks can be carriers of Lyme Disease.

Preventive measures:

First and foremost, tick medication! There are a variety of tick prevention medications available. These medications work by causing ticks to die and drop off if they bite your pet. It is best to talk to your veterinarian about which tick preventive medication would be best for your pet.

When walking through long grasses or deep woods, wear closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved and pants, with your socks pulled over your pant legs. After a walk in these areas, check yourself and your pet thoroughly for ticks.


Avoid flea and tick troubles by providing your pet with preventive care! Talk to your veterinarian about how you can best protect your pets against these parasites this summer.