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.


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!

How to prevent heat stroke and keep your pets cool!

  By: Tanya Firmage
       Director, Animal Centres and Community Programming, Animal Welfare
       Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

  July 12, 2016

Summertime is a great time for pets - the sun is out, they have more time outside, and they get to go for longer walks.

However, pets can get overheated quickly. Imagine how hot you get during the summer months… now add a fur coat on top of that! Just like people, pets can experience heatstroke when they get overheated. As a pet owner, it's important to be able to tell whether your pet is too hot. Here are some signs of heat stroke to help you out:

Signs of heat stroke

  • Heavy panting (or sudden stopping of panting)
  • Dark or bright red tongue and gums
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Lack of coordination, staggering
  • Weakness or muscle tremors
  • Convulsions or vomiting
  • Seizures

If heat stroke is suspected, prompt veterinary medical attention is crucial. In the meantime, immediately wet your pet's feet and around their head with lukewarm or cool water (NOT cold water). Bring your pet into the shade and offer them drinking water or ice cubes to lick.

Even after your pet has cooled down and seems ok, internal organs such as kidneys, liver, and brain, can be affected. Please visit your veterinarian immediately.

Combatting the heat!

As pet owners, it's important to continue to think of ways to keep our pets cool during the summer. Here are a few great tips for keeping your pets cool:

Access to water: With the heat, your pets need water even more than normal. Making sure your pet always has access to cool water is an important step to keeping your pet cool and hydrated.

Ice: Give your pet ice to chew on; it's a nice treat and will help keep your pet cool! For extra fun, you can freeze one of their favourite toys or treats in a bowl of water, which will give them extra incentive to lick!

Time for a clipping!: Every breed has different grooming needs! Some breeds need a groom heading into the summer, while other breeds have fur that act as insulation against the heat. If you want your pet to get a cut this summer, go to a professional groomer who will know what each particular breed needs. Regardless of the breed, get your pet's coat trimmed, NOT shaved! A fur or hair coat acts as a natural barrier against your pet's skin becoming sun burnt!

Water & shade = perfect combo: If your dog will be spending time outside in a backyard of sorts, make sure there's lots of water and shade available. Legally, all pet owners must provide adequate and appropriate shelter for their pets, year-round. Learn more about the Ideal Doghouse here.

Water play: There are lots of options for this one! Run your dog through your sprinkler, gently spray your dog down with a hose, or provide a small kiddie pool for your dog to dip their feet in, to name a few.

Considerate walks: If it's an especially hot day, keep your walks short or make sure you're walking in the shade and off the pavement. Dogs don't have shoes like we do, so walking their paws on cement that has been baking in the sunlight can be very painful for them. Choose a park or grass instead!

Leave your pet at home when running an errand: Did you know? On a sunny day, within 10 minutes, the inside of a car can be at least 10 degrees Celsius higher than the temperature outside. Pets can't combat heat like humans can; they can only sweat through their paw pads and pant to try to cool themselves. Please keep your pets at home when running an errand. If they need to come with you, have someone stay in the car with your pet with the air conditioning on.

#NoHotPets is a campaign to try to reduce the number of pets left in vehicles during the summer months. Pets are still being left in cars at an alarming rate. To read more and to take the pledge, check out the #NoHotPets campaign at


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.


Five tips to making a home cat-friendly

  By: Carly Moody, MSc
       PhD Candidate, Feline Behaviour and Welfare
       Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph

  June 6, 2016

Since childhood, I have been a dedicated cat person, so it's no surprise I am currently working on a PhD focused in feline behaviour and welfare. I have adopted many shelter cats. Through these experiences, I have learned that, whether it is your first cat or your tenth, it is important to create a comfortable and fun home environment for your cat. Behaviour problems often occur because a cat's needs are not fully met. An easy fix is to create a cat-friendly home; a home that allows your cat to be a cat!

Each cat will have slightly different needs and wants that should be met to satisfy their well-being. For example, Wesley, a tall, dark, and handsome Siamese I adopted about 4 years ago, had arthritis. He loved being on the couch, but it was quite high and he struggled to jump up. He would stand in front of the couch and meow very loudly (Siamese cats are quite the talkers!), so we purchased a small step stool to help him get up. After this easy fix, he was able to perch on the couch whenever he liked and it ended up being his favourite napping spot! Small changes like this can make a huge difference in your cat's life. Here's a list of 5 things to help make your home cat-friendly:

  1. A comfortable and safe resting area

    Cats take a lot of naps throughout the day and need a safe place where they can escape from kids or other animals in the house. Place a cozy bed in a high or hidden location, or purchase a scratching post your cat can climb to get away from it all! A lot of cats like high perches, which allow them to monitor their environment while feeling hidden and safe.

  2. A place to scratch

    Scratching is a very normal cat behaviour! Scratching helps cats maintain their claws. Also, cats have scent glands in their paw pads; scratching is a way that cats leave their scent behind. Providing a tall scratching post will help your cat be able to do this normal behaviour in an appropriate spot. Therefore, simply providing some sort of scratching post can help to create a cat-friendly home. 

    Cats require a vertical scratching surface that is tall and sturdy enough to hold them when they stretch their entire body and scratch. Each cat has their own preference of scratching material; some cats prefer carpet while others may prefer sisal rope. If you're not sure what your cat likes, use a nice tall scratching post with a few different materials to let your cat choose!

  3. Toys and playtime

    Spending time with your cat is important and there's no better way to get your cat off the couch than toys and playtime! Catnip toys, puzzle feeders, and wand toys are great ways for your cat to get some exercise and provide fun mental stimulation.

  4. Predictability and routine

    Cats like routine. Providing consistency and predictability in your home is a great way to enrich your cat's life. For example, every day when you get home from work, devote 15 minutes of time to play with your cat. Providing this consistency will help make your cat feel at ease. In addition, this activity is not only great for your cat's physical health, but may help you de-stress from the day's work, and help to create and/or maintain a strong bond between you and your cat.

  5. Resources: placement and number

    Carefully considering the number and location of resources can help make your home cat-friendly. Basic necessities, such as food, water, and litter boxes, should be placed in areas of the home where your cat feels safe and comfortable, and that are easy to access.

    If you have more than one cat, providing multiple resources around the house is important to reduce competition. If one cat blocks another cat from a precious resource, such as a litter box, it is important there is another source that the cat can access.


These five tips are a good starting point to making your home more cat-friendly. It is important to remember that every cat is unique and has his or her own preferences. Maybe your cat prefers a hidden napping spot under the bed instead of perching up high. Provide a few different options and see what your cat chooses!

Ellis, S.L.H., Rodan, I., Carney, H.C., Heath, S., Rochlitz, I., Shearburn, L.D., Sundahl, E., & Westropp, J.L. (2013). AAFP and ISFM feline environmental needs guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 15(3), 219-230.
Ellis, S. (2009). Environmental enrichment: practical strategies for improving feline welfare. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 11(11), 901-912.