4 Ways to Manage Your Cat’s Arthritis At Home

Although your cat likely seldom complains—except when their food dish is empty—arthritis pain can significantly impact their life. New studies show that arthritis in cats is much more common than previously suspected, with around 60% of cats showing arthritis signs by age 6, and 90% of cats older than 12 showing evidence of degenerative joint disease. 

However, arthritis in cats can be difficult to detect, as they typically do not limp or show many of the other obvious signs seen in arthritic dogs. Instead, you may notice your cat:

  • Jumping shorter distances
  • Refusing to jump
  • Urinating and defecating outside their litter box
  • Neglecting their grooming
  • Avoiding interaction
  • Becoming irritable
  • Eating less
  • Losing weight

Accurately diagnosing feline arthritis through veterinary exams can also be challenging. Cats are generally reluctant to participate in a gait analysis and orthopedic exam, and instead will crouch on the exam table, with their limbs tucked safely under their body. X-rays usually show only minimal changes that could indicate arthritis, so an arthritis diagnosis in cats is often made only when their mobility and discomfort improve after they received pain-relieving medications.

You can help your painful, arthritic cat. In addition to the pain-relieving medications prescribed by Dr. White, try implementing the following at home:

#1: Help your cat reach and maintain a healthy weight

One of the best ways to help soothe your cat’s arthritis pain is to eliminate extra baggage—any additional weight your furry pal is carrying. Each extra pound puts extra pressure on your cat’s already sore joints, so helping them lose weight and maintain a sleek physique will go a long way toward alleviating arthritis pain.

To help your cat lose weight, calculate the number of calories they need each day to reach their ideal weight. Then, rather than filling up their food dish when it’s empty—or when your cat complains—measure the exact amount they need, allowing only 10% of their daily calorie allotment for treats. For cats who struggle to lose weight through a traditional diet, you can feed prescription weight-loss diets, which have the added benefits of improving your cat’s mobility and satiating their hunger.

#2: Encourage your cat to exercise daily

Cats can snooze up to 16 hours each day, so after subtracting time for eating, grooming, and lounging, not much time is left for exercising. However, your feline friend needs to get up and get moving for at least 10 to 15 minutes twice a day. Regular, low-impact exercise improves muscle mass and promotes healthy joint function.

Encourage your cat to exercise by flicking a feather wand, swishing a fishing pole toy, or tossing them a catnip mouse. Robotic mice and other prey-like toys can also entice your cat to play stalk-and-pounce games.

#3: Modify your cat’s surroundings so they can comfortably access resources

Arthritis pain and limited mobility make it difficult for your cat to reach their food, water, bed, and litter box. Ensure they can easily and comfortably access these resources by placing them all on your home’s main floor. Also, consider the following:

  • Food and water bowls — Elevate your cat’s food and water dishes, so they do not need to crouch on their arthritic elbows.
  • Beds — Purchase a firm orthopedic bed that supports your cat’s joints, and cover the bed with a self-warming heating pad to further soothe joint pain.
  • Litter boxes — Choose a low-sided, uncovered litter box for your cat’s elimination needs, and place a litter-catching mat next to the box to provide traction if the floor is slippery.
  • Ramps and stairs — Install ramps or stairs next to your cat’s favorite piece of furniture, and replace tall climbing towers with lower ones, so your cat can still stretch and scratch.

#4: Add joint supplements to your cat’s diet

If your cat’s health allows, add joint supplements to their daily regimen. Products that contain omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin, and green-lipped mussels have been proven to improve joint function through stimulating joint fluid production and cartilage regeneration and reducing inflammation.

If your cat is having trouble climbing on their favorite perch, or crouching down to reach their food dish, they may have arthritis. Schedule an appointment with our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team, so we can provide your cat with the treatment they need to alleviate their pain and improve their mobility.

10 Easy Steps to Pet-Proofing Your Home

Keeping your pet safe requires being at least one step ahead of them. Fortunately, our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team is giving you a leg up by providing 10 steps to pet-proof your home. Put these steps into action to keep your four-legged friend safe from common household hazards.

#1: Scout out hidden pet dangers in your home

To know what hazards hide in your home, take a walk around and look for potential dangers. Small spaces that your pet can sneak into and get stuck should be blocked off, such as under furniture where electrical cords run. Everyday items, like purses and backpacks that store candy, gum, and choking hazards, should  be hung up out of your pet’s reach, while jackets should be stored safely in a closet.

#2: Establish off-limits zones for pets

Some areas are easier to completely block off instead of removing pet hazards. Create off-limits zones with baby gates or establish strict rules about closing doors to keep your pet safe from dangers in bedrooms, bathrooms, and the garage and kitchen.

#3: Install a locking trash can lid for pets

If your four-legged friend is constantly rooting through your trash in search of a treat, it’s past time to install a locking lid. You can also place your trash can in the pantry or under your kitchen sink to prevent your pet from dumpster diving.

#4: Pick up small objects pets may ingest

When your child is done playing with small figurines or legos, instruct them to pick up their toys to keep them from being eaten. Ideally, your child will understand the consequences of leaving their toys laying around, but reinforce the idea that not only will they lose toys, but their pet could become seriously ill and may need surgery.

Many hazardous items are frequently left out during home improvement projects. Nails, screws, wood scraps, paintbrushes, and other supplies can be gulped down or chewed on by a curious pet, potentially causing toxicity or an obstruction. Keep your furry pal out of your construction zone, and ensure small items are picked up before allowing them back in.

#5: Use child locks on cabinets and drawers to keep pets out

Child locks are an excellent way to keep your pet out of cabinets and drawers that contain chemicals, food, sharp items, medications, and other threats. Child locks are easy to install and use, and can save your pet’s life.

#6: Keep windows and doors closed around pets

High-rise syndrome occurs when pets fall from a great distance out windows or over balconies, so keep your furry pal safe from disaster by ensuring doors and windows remain tightly shut. Window screens are often not sturdy enough to keep a pet from falling through, so open windows only a few inches at the top, and ensure your pet cannot scale nearby furniture to climb through.

#7: Verify your plants’ safety around pets

Before planting your spring garden or bringing in a beautiful bouquet to brighten up your home, verify its safety. Many popular plants are toxic to pets, whether your furry pal ingests the leaves, petals, stem, or roots. For example, if your cat eats only one leaf from a true lily, such as an Easter lily, daylily, or tiger lily, or drinks the vase water, they can suffer deadly kidney failure.

#8: Swap out rodenticides for alternative pest control options

Rodenticides work by causing brain swelling, soft tissue calcification, cardiovascular collapse, or clotting issues in rodents, and are equally toxic to pets. Newer rodenticide types cause more severe toxicity, and immediate action is needed to save your pet’s life. Swap out rodenticides for traps, or consult a pest removal service for pet-safe options.

#9: Use caution when spraying fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides around pets

When preparing your lawn and garden for a phenomenal growing season, carefully check the labels on your lawn chemicals. Many products are not safe for use around pets, or they may have a required drying period before your pet is allowed back on the grass. Avoid using organic fertilizers that contain blood, bone, or feather meal, which are tempting to pets, and skip over the delicious-smelling cocoa bean mulch. To be safe, block your pet from your garden or lawn areas that have been treated with any sort of chemical, or keep your four-legged friend contained in a pen while outside.

#10: Secure your backyard to protect your pet

Not only can slipping under or through the fence be dangerous for your loose pet, gaps can also allow wildlife to sneak in. Wild animals can carry a host of infectious diseases and parasites, which can be transmitted to your pet through bodily secretions, fluids, and feces. Ensure your fence is animal-proof to keep your pet from becoming lost or falling victim to wildlife-borne illnesses.

Keeping your pet safe in your home, yard, and garage can be challenging, even for the most experienced and diligent pet owners. If your furry pal finds themself in a sticky situation, contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team for help.

5 Reasons Your Pet Needs Regular Professional Veterinary Dental Cleanings

A healthy mouth is an important part of your pet’s long-term health and comfort. Often pet owners overlook their pet’s dental care, but poor dental hygiene can have significant consequences. February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team wants to heighten awareness about this important issue by explaining why your pet needs regular professional veterinary dental cleanings.

#1: Dental disease is common in pets

Dental issues are extremely common in pets, with an estimated 80% of dogs and 70% of cats older than age 3 years having some degree of periodontal disease. In addition, tooth resorption lesions occur in about 50% of cats older than 5 years of age, and occasionally in dogs.

#2: Pets are stoic creatures

Dental disease can lead to significant discomfort and pain, but pets tend to hide vulnerabilities. In the wild, an animal who is exhibiting pain can be targeted as a predator’s next meal. While you likely don’t have wild animals roaming around your home, your pet maintains the instinct to appear strong, so they usually show no signs of a health problem, such as dental disease, until the condition is advanced. Signs that may be present include:

  • Bad breath — Bacteria that accumulate in your pet’s mouth produce sulfur compounds that smell bad, and bad breath is the most common sign of dental disease.
  • Discolored teeth — Plaque and tartar accumulation can cause yellow or brown discoloration of your pet’s teeth.
  • Behavioral changes — A pet affected by oral pain may withdraw, or be uncharacteristically irritable or aggressive.
  • Nasal or ocular discharge — In some cases, dental disease can affect the nasal passages or eyes, and chronic nasal or ocular discharge may occur.

#3: Dental disease can cause significant health problems for pets

While bad breath is the most common issue that pet owners notice in their pet with dental disease, the condition can cause many, much more serious health problems, such as:

  • Bleeding gums — The first stage of periodontal disease is gingivitis. At this stage, bacteria irritate and inflame the gingiva, leading to swelling and bleeding that can be extremely uncomfortable for your pet.
  • Loose teeth — As periodontal disease progresses, the bacteria damage the tooth’s supporting structures, and eventually the tooth loses stability, which can make chewing difficult. When the tooth is lost or extracted, the space that results can collect food, leading to additional problems.
  • Tooth root abscesses — If bacteria enter the tooth root, an abscess can form which, if not treated promptly, can create a draining tract in your pet’s face or jaw.
  • Oronasal fistula — Periodontal disease affecting an upper tooth can migrate through the soft palate, creating an opening into the nasal cavity that allows food, water, and saliva to enter the nasal passage, leading to inflammation. 
  • Eye infections — Your pet’s eyes sit close to their back upper tooth roots, and periodontal disease can lead to eye infections. 
  • Jaw fractures — In advanced stages, periodontal disease invades bony tissue, weakens the bone, and potentially leads to a fracture. Small pets, such as cats and toy-breed dogs, are at highest risk for jaw fractures associated with periodontal disease.
  • Oral cancer — Periodontal disease causes chronic inflammation inside the mouth and has been linked to increased risk for oral cancer in humans.
  • Heart disease — Bacteria typically isolated from pets affected by endocarditis and valvular disease are the same pathogens found in those with dental disease. Studies have linked periodontal disease to an increased heart disease risk in pets.
  • Liver and kidney disease — The liver and kidneys are responsible for filtering the blood, and when periodontal bacteria enter the bloodstream, these organs are vulnerable to damage.

#4: Dental disease lurks below your pet’s gum line

Bacteria below your pet’s gum line cause the most damage, and to effectively clean this area, ensure your pet does not experience stress during the procedure, and prevent injury from the sharp instruments we use to evaluate and clean their teeth, your pet must be anesthetized. A veterinary professional monitors your pet’s vitals during the entire procedure until they fully recover, and changes their anesthetic level as needed. Since anesthesia is necessary, we perform diagnostics, such as a thorough physical exam, complete blood count, and biochemistry profile, to ensure they are healthy enough to undergo the procedure. If abnormalities are detected, we may recommend other diagnostics, such as chest X-rays or a heart ultrasound.

#5: Dental X-rays are necessary to fully evaluate a pet’s oral health

About 50% to 60% of the tooth and supporting structures are below the gum line, which means dental X-rays are necessary to view this anatomy, or we will not be able to devise an appropriate treatment strategy for your pet. Lesions that can be seen only on dental X-rays include:

  • Devitalized tooth roots
  • Tooth resorption lesions
  • Tooth root infections
  • Jaw fractures
  • Bone loss

Most pets should receive a professional veterinary dental cleaning about once a year, but pets at high risk for dental disease, including senior pets, toy-breed dogs, and brachycephalic pets, should be evaluated more frequently. If you are concerned about your pet’s dental health, contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team, so we can evaluate their mouth and advise you on the best options for maintaining their oral health.

Welcome Wellness in 2023: New Year’s Resolutions for Your Pet’s Health

When setting—and keeping—New Year’s resolutions, include your furry pal. Because your pet cannot take their health into their own paws, accept this mission to make 2023 their healthiest and happiest year yet. Read our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team’s pet-centric New Year’s resolution ideas that can help improve your furry pal’s health.

#1: Swap processed treats for healthy alternatives

Take an honest look at your pet’s treats. If they are brightly colored, and loaded with sugar, fat, and calories, switch to healthier options. Keep in mind that treats should only make up about 10% of your pet’s diet, so get the most bang for your buck by choosing treats that are low in sugar and fat. You can also swap your pet’s usual treats for healthy people food. To determine which fresh foods your pet prefers, offer them small amounts of the following:

  • Berries
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Green beans
  • Squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots

When giving your pet fruits and vegetables, stay away from foods that can be hazardous or toxic, such as grapes, raisins, and nuts. In addition, avoid giving your pet foods on this list from the ASPCA.

#2: Brush up on your pet’s dental health

As do many pet owners, you may be inadvertently overlooking your furry pal’s dental health, which has a significant impact on their overall wellbeing. Your pet likely has some breath odor, which is normal, but foul eau de doggy or kitty breath can indicate your pet has painful periodontal problems. Brown, yellow, or gray tartar buildup on your pet’s teeth indicates the presence of oral bacteria, which can travel through your four-legged friend’s bloodstream, attacking their heart, kidneys, and liver. Annual professional dental checkups enable your veterinarian to evaluate your pet’s oral health, and perform cleanings to remove plaque and tartar, and treat dental problems. However, daily toothbrushing is also essential to maintain your pet’s dental health. In addition to brushing your pet’s teeth at least three times a week, you can give them Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC)-approved dental treats and chews, food and water additives, or dental wipes and rinses.

#3: Challenge your pet’s mind

While you are at work, your pet is home alone and—likely—bored. To help prevent your pet’s boredom when they spend hours home alone, provide them with:

  • Treat and food puzzles
  • Interactive toys
  • Pet sitter or dog walker visits
  • Window views
  • Wildlife television shows 
  • Treat scavenger hunts
  • New chew toys

A great way to stimulate your dog’s mind when you are together is to take a sniffari, or a long walk that allows your pet plenty of time to sniff. Sniffing lowers a dog’s heart rate, reduces anxiety, and challenges their mind. 

Provide your cat with plenty of scratching surfaces, climbing posts, and lookout towers. Cats love vertical spaces, and climbing, scratching, and hiding satisfies their many instinctual needs.

#4: Make new pet and human friends

Ongoing positive socialization is important to help your pet remain calm and confident when meeting unfamiliar pets, people, and places. Making new friends and enjoying playdates is a wonderful way for your furry pal to get the mental and physical exercise they need, continuing their socialization experience. If your pet is hesitant to meet four-legged playmates, see if they prefer people’s company. Your pet may like playing fetch or pouncing on a fishing pole-type toy with your neighbor, or cuddling on the couch with one of your distant relatives. If your pet is more social, take them to pet-friendly neighborhood spots, such as restaurants, bars, parks, and other local hangouts where you both can meet other pets and their people. This enrichment is a great way to continue socializing your four-legged friend.

#5: Schedule your pet’s wellness care

Healthy pets’ annual and seniors’ biannual wellness exams are the best way to monitor your furry pal’s health. Your pet’s regular wellness care enables your veterinarian to monitor your four-legged friend’s health trends and patterns, allowing them to spot abnormalities before they cause serious issues. During these wellness visits, our team performs many preventive care tasks, including:

  • Administering lifestyle-appropriate vaccinations to prevent infectious disease
  • Screening for and treating parasites and vector-borne illnesses before they cause health issues
  • Running screenings to diagnose early-stage disease before a condition causes illness
  • Discussing your pet’s diet, behavior, and grooming 
  • Making recommendations to improve your pet’s health and happiness

Your four-legged friend’s regular wellness exam should top your resolution list every year. Give our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team a call to schedule your pet’s wellness visit.

Assessing and Improving Senior Pet Quality of Life


As much as we wish, pets don’t live forever, and because of their relatively short lifespan, we see them getting older every day. Pets are more prone to health problems as they age, and may develop chronic or terminal ailments, including kidney or liver disease, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, or cancer. Chronic disease, or treatment side effects, can make pets feel unwell and impact their overall quality of life (QOL). Some pets with chronic disease can live happily for many years, while others will suffer, despite treatment. Harbor Pines Veterinary Center wants you to have the tools to assess your senior pet’s quality of life, so you can spot changes sooner, and discuss them with your veterinarian. 

How to assess quality of life

Your pet’s QOL depends on multiple intertwining variables that change over time. Your senior or chronically ill pet may have a bad day, and then a good day, so you must assess QOL frequently to watch for trends. You should consider each of the following categories when you evaluate your pet’s QOL, and assign each category a score, to objectively track changes over time. A low score in any category can mean your pet is suffering, despite an acceptable overall score.

  • Pain — Uncontrolled pain can arise from many sources that cause suffering. For example, painful conditions such as arthritis, tumors, eye conditions, and severe dental disease can lower QOL, although pain medications and other treatments can help control pain.
  • Breathing — Breathing is necessary for life, so pets who struggle generally have low QOL. Breathing can be compromised by heart conditions, or cancer that spreads to the lungs.
  • Nutrition and hydration — Chronic disease often causes weight loss, dehydration, nausea, and poor appetite. Pets who don’t eat generally feel unwell, and may have a low QOL. Subcutaneous fluids, tube feeding, anti-nausea medications, and appetite stimulants may help.
  • Hygiene — Sick pets may frequently soil themselves and therefore have chronically poor skin and coat condition. Cats may be unable to groom themselves. QOL can remain high in this category if you devote the necessary time to keep your pet’s skin and coat clean, dry, and free of parasites or mats.
  • Behavior and engagement — If your pet’s demeanor has changed and they no longer seek attention or spend time with you, their QOL may be low. Try to remember what your pet was like before their illness, and consider whether they can still enjoy previous activities.
  • Mobility — Can your pet move around the house well enough to get to their food, water, and bed? Is moving painful? You can use wheelchairs, slings, toe grips, and strategically placed rugs to improve your pet’s mobility, keeping them on one house-level to ensure they stay close to their necessities.
  • Good versus bad days — Try using a calendar to mark off each day as good or bad. More bad days than good may indicate that QOL is dipping.

What to do if your pet’s quality of life is low

Contact your veterinarian to discuss your pet’s condition, and whether they have any viable treatment options. Your veterinarian is an objective source who can help you determine if your pet is in pain, if treatment could improve their condition, if household changes could help, or if it’s time to consider humane euthanasia. Have an open, honest discussion about your goals, values, and finances, and consider potential treatment success rates, costs, and side effects. If you pursue additional treatment, assess your pet’s QOL frequently to ensure they’re getting better, not worse. If your pet’s QOL remains low and your pet has more bad days than good, talk to your veterinarian about hospice care or euthanasia. Nobody wants to make that choice, but humane euthanasia can be your final gift to your pet to relieve their suffering.

Many pets develop health conditions as they age, and a quality of life assessment can help you determine next steps. We’re pet owners, too, and we understand the turmoil a pet illness can cause. If you’re concerned about your senior pet’s quality of life, or want to discuss hospice care or euthanasia, call us to schedule a consultation with our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team.

5 Most Common Holiday Pet Hazards to Avoid

As the holiday season gains momentum and you become overwhelmed with planning menus, juggling guests, and creating festive displays, your furry pal’s safety may become lost in the chaos. During the holiday season, your pet faces many potential dangers, especially when you are focused on other things. To help you ensure your four-legged friend safely enjoys the holiday season, our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team describes the most common hazards, and how to avoid an emergency.

#1: Do not share popular holiday dishes with your pet

Although your furry pal may give you a sorrowful stare as you fill your plate with holiday fare, do not surrender to your guilt. Many holiday specialties can cause your pet serious digestive issues. Do not share the following foods with your pet:

  • Turkey and ham — Holiday main dishes can be the most hazardous for pets. Turkey skin, dark meat, and ham have a high fat content, and if your pet eats these, they can develop pancreatitis. The seasonings and spices you add to these meats can be toxic to pets if they ingest them in large amounts. In addition, turkey and ham bones—cooked or not—can splinter or lodge in your pet’s gastrointestinal tract, causing severe illness. 
  • Garlic, onion, leeks, and chives — Many of us frequently add these Allium plants to our holiday side dishes. Do not feed your pet any foods that include these flavor enhancers because they can destroy your furry pal’s red blood cells, and cause anemia.
  • Unbaked yeast dough — Ensure you leave rising yeast dough well out of your pet’s reach—especially not on your kitchen counter. Unbaked yeast dough expands in your pet’s stomach, and can result in a bloated abdomen, gastrointestinal obstruction, and alcohol poisoning. 
  • Nut mixes — Ensure you place small dishes of mixed nuts and dried fruits—potential choking hazards—out of your pet’s reach. In addition, keep your pet away from those tempting party mixes, because many ingredients are toxic, especially macadamia nuts, raisins, and currants. 
  • Desserts — While chocolate’s toxicity to pets is well-known, a lesser-known sweet treat is xylitol—a popular sugar substitute. Many sugar-free desserts, candies, and cookies contain xylitol, which can cause your pet to experience a severe blood sugar drop and liver failure.
  • Alcohol — As the festive atmosphere rises, ensure your thirsty pet does not imbibe in spilled cocktails or those left unattended for a lengthy time. A small amount of alcohol can poison your pet, leading to a hospital stay.

#2: Keep holiday decor out of your pet’s reach

Many holiday decorations can be dangerous to your pet, and you should keep them out of their reach, or choose pet-friendly alternatives. The most common holiday decoration hazards include:

  • Pumpkins, squash, and gourds
  • Corncobs and cornstalks
  • Burning candles
  • Glass figurines and ornaments
  • Holiday lights and extension cords
  • Christmas tree stand water
  • Pine needles
  • Tinsel
  • Toxic plants

Holiday season decoration displays can be stunning, but—to prevent your pet from experiencing gastrointestinal obstructions and toxicity, and starting a house fire—you must ensure they cannot access hazardous items.

#3: Keep guests’ medications and snacks away from your pet

If you are hosting family or friends in your home during the holidays, instruct them to keep their suitcases zipped, and their purses out of your pet’s reach. Better still, advise them to keep their bedroom door closed—after verifying that your pet is not in the room—to prevent your curious pal from sniffing out candy, sugar-free gum, protein bars, and medications in unattended suitcases and purses. Your guests may have brought along items your pet finds interesting, and your furry pal can develop an emergency health issue that is potentially fatal, particularly if they ingest heart or blood pressure medication. 

#4: Don’t force your pet to wear an uncomfortable holiday costume

While some pets may love the attention that comes with dressing up, holiday costumes can make many pets uncomfortable—even panicked. If your pet enjoys wearing a costume, check the clothing’s fit before the big day. Ensure the costume does not slip or restrict your pet’s breathing, eyesight, or movement. Eliminate accessories that can be easily chewed off and swallowed, such as button

s, bows, and zippers. Pets who display stress or anxiety signs—such as stiffened body posture, widened eyes, or a hunched back—are likely uncomfortable in a costume, so you should stick to their birthday suit or festive collar.

#5: Shelter your pet from boisterous holiday celebrations

Having several unfamiliar people in your home can unsettle even the most laid-back pet, and—when the noise level rises and open space diminishes—your furry pal can quickly become anxious and afraid. Gift wrappings, ribbons, party poppers, and small party favors pose additional pet hazards. 

Protect your pet from the boisterous holiday chaos and overly friendly guests by providing a safe haven. In a quiet room far from the festivities, create your pet’s sanctuary. Post a stay out sign on the door, furnish the room with cozy bedding, and give your pet an engaging toy and a treat puzzle. You can also leave soft music playing or turn on a quiet television show to help drown out the party noise. Calming products, such as pheromone sprays and diffusers, supplements, and body wraps, can also help soothe the anxieties a houseful of guests can cause your pet.

Proper preparation can help keep your furry pal safe from holiday hazards, but occasionally your pet may tangle with a dangerous item or eat a toxic food. If your pet gets in trouble this holiday season, contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team for help.

6 Steps to Successful Pet Weight Loss

Is your Chihuahua looking chubby? Does your poodle have a paunch? Is your Himalayan lying around more than playing? Sadly, they’re not alone. According to a pet owner and veterinarian survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than 50% of U.S. dogs and cats are overweight or obese, yet only 39% of dog owners and 45% of cat owners would describe their pet as such.

Without a clear understanding of their pet’s obesity and how to address the issue, many pet owners are unintentionally shortening their pet’s life. Overweight pets have an increased risk for many conditions, including arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart and respiratory disease, and kidney failure. Help ensure your pet has a better—and healthier—tomorrow by checking out these six steps to successful pet weight loss from Harbor Pines Veterinary Center.

 #1: Visit the veterinarian

Your pet’s annual wellness examination is a great opportunity to ask about their weight and overall body condition. But, if your pet is between appointments and their weight or appetite suddenly changes, don’t wait—they may have an undiagnosed medical condition or be experiencing pain.

When you visit Harbor Pines Veterinary Center, our veterinarian will rule out medical causes, such as thyroid dysfunction and endocrine disorder, measure your pet’s current weight and body condition score (BCS), review their daily feeding and exercise regimen, and assess their pain. They will then use this information to create a customized treatment plan, make tailored food recommendations, and suggest low-impact exercise. 

#2: Feed only your pet’s daily calorie requirement

Generally speaking, healthy pets gain too much weight because they consume too many calories and do not exercise enough. And, for most pets, the food they eat isn’t always in their bowl—table scraps and treats are known culprits for weight gain.

One of the best ways to promote and maintain your pet’s ideal body weight is by feeding a calorie-restricted diet. In other words, calculate your pet’s correct daily caloric intake and feed only that amount, ensuring you measure the portion exactly. You can adjust the amount during high activity (e.g., hiking, swimming, or sport training). Your Harbor Pines Veterinary Center veterinarian can help you calculate how many calories your overweight pet should consume for safe weight loss.

#3: Feed your pet on a meal basis

Free-feeding and automatic feeders contribute to pet weight gain by encouraging pets to graze throughout the day, which promotes overeating and prevents you from monitoring your pet’s food intake. Small-portioned meals at set times encourage your pet to eat on a schedule, which accelerates their metabolism and provides steady energy. When you are changing your pet to a meal-based schedule, set their food out for 20 minutes, and then remove any uneaten portion. After several days, your pet will be hungry at the scheduled times.

#4: Exercise your pet daily

Physical exercise is a cornerstone for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. But, true exercise requires an increased cardiovascular effort—not your average walk around the block. This means a steady, brisk walk for dogs, and short, intense activity bursts for cats using toys with dynamic prey-like motion (e.g., feather wands, balls, or laser pointers). Overweight pets will not have the stamina for sustained exercise, so begin with short sessions to prevent exhaustion and injury, and gradually increase the distance or duration as your pet improves.

Other low-impact activities that will build your pet’s core strength, balance, and coordination include swimming, underwater treadmill therapy, and rehabilitation exercises.

#5 : Monitor your pet’s body condition score

The traditional weight scale isn’t the most reliable way to chart your pet’s progress. Instead, we encourage pet owners to measure their pet’s body condition score (BCS). This approach scores your pet from one to nine on various characteristics using visual and tactile assessments to evaluate their overall body mass compared with an “ideal.” The characteristics include:

  • Palpable ribs — You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs easily, without applying pressure. 
  • Visible waist — When viewed from above, your pet should have an hourglass shape, with a well-defined waist after the last rib.
  • Defined “tuck up” — When your standing pet is viewed from the side, their underline should gradually slope upward, or “tuck up” from the last rib to the groin. In cats, the abdominal fat pad (i.e., primordial pouch) should be small. 

We recommend checking your pet’s BCS monthly during their weight loss journey. If your pet’s score falls outside the ideal range (i.e., four to five on this nine-point scale for cats and dogs) or they aren’t improving, schedule a follow-up appointment at Harbor Pines Veterinary Center for advice on adjusting your feeding and exercise regimen. 

#6: Engage your pet’s mind with enrichment activities

Depression, boredom, and anxiety can cause overeating and reduced activity, so you also need to engage your pet’s brain with mentally stimulating challenges. Pet enrichment toys and activities encourage your pet to use natural behaviors, such as foraging, hunting, manipulating objects, and problem solving. Replace your pet’s boring food bowl and ignite their curiosity with interactive options, such as:

  • Puzzles and treat dispensers — Your pet must use their nose, paws, and minds to free the food from inside these intelligent toys.  
  • Food enrichment — Fill toys such as Kongs and lickable mats with your pet’s food to encourage slow, mindful eating and better digestion. 
  • Snuffle mats — Hide dry food or treats in a dense woven mat or scatter them in untreated grass or a pile of towels and let your pet sniff out each piece.
  • Foraging toys — Hollow mice toys make a great hide-and-seek game for cats.

Let’s work together to put an end to the pet obesity epidemic—one meal and one walk at a time. If you’re concerned about your pet’s weight, schedule an appointment at Harbor Pines Veterinary Center.

What Diseases Do My Pet’s Vaccines Protect Against?

Throughout the last century, vaccinations have made an immeasurable impact on human and animal health by preventing or minimizing common infectious andoften deadly—diseases. Vaccines train the immune system to recognize an inert (i.e., neutralized) virus sample, and develop protective antibodies against the disease. The immune system will then be able to deploy these antibodies quickly if the human or animal is exposed to the virus.

To bolster your dog’s or cat’s defense against transmissible disease, our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center veterinarians recommend routine vaccination, including booster shots. Learn which diseases core (i.e., essential) and elective (i.e., nonessential) vaccines protect your pet from contracting. 

Canine vaccinations

Core vaccinations protect your dogand people and pets with whom they interactfrom the most prevalent life-threatening infectious diseases. Dogs’ core vaccinations include:

  • Parvovirus — Incompletely vaccinated puppies and young adult dogs commonly contract this highly infectious disease, which attacks the gastrointestinal tract, bone marrow, and white blood cells. Parvovirus is a common and hearty pathogen that can survive months or years in the environment or on objects. Your dog can contract parvovirus through direct contact with an infected animal or their bodily fluids, or by coming in contact with contaminated objects or soil. Because of parvovirus’s widespread damage, the virus is often fatal without aggressive treatment. To treat an infected dog’s severe dehydration, nausea, and nutrient depletion, hospitalization is required. 
  • Distemper — Your dog can contract the canine distemper virus via an infected dog’s  respiratory droplets. The virus infects multiple body systems, including the respiratory, gastrointestinal, blood, and nervous systems. Infected puppies and dogs may experience fever, respiratory discharge, vomiting, diarrhea, and neurologic signs (e.g., muscle twitching, seizures). Distemper is considered incurable, and can be fatal. However, mild canine distemper cases may resolve with hospitalization.
  • Adenovirus (canine hepatitis) — Adenovirus attacks an infected dog’s blood vessel lining, liver, kidneys, spleen, and lungs, and they experience high fever, congestion, immune system destruction, corneal damage, and decreased blood clotting that can result in spontaneous bleeding. If they recover, infected dogs may shed the virus in their urine for up to six months. Although widespread vaccination has reduced disease prevalence, adenovirus continues to be a potentially fatal threat to unvaccinated or immunosuppressed dogs and puppies.
  • Rabies — Because of its near 100% fatality rate and its transmissibility to humans, the rabies virus is considered a worldwide public health threat. The virus enters an infected dog’s peripheral nerves and travels to the salivary glands. You and your dog can contract the rabies virus after being bitten by an infected dog whose saliva transmits the disease.  Rabies produces severe neurologic signs (e.g., temperment changes) that may include aggression or excitability, and muscular paralysis that spreads from the body to the neck, throat, and jaw. Although humans infected with the rabies virus usually receive a vaccine series, no treatment or cure exists for humans or animals—making pet vaccination essential.

Elective vaccines protect dogs from viruses they may encounter in the places they frequent, such as boarding and grooming facilities, or because of their age, health status, exposure risks, and lifestyle. Nonessential vaccines may include:

  • Canine influenza 
  • Bordetella (i.e., kennel cough)
  • Leptospirosis
  • Lyme disease

Cat vaccinations

As with dogs, unvaccinated and incompletely vaccinated kittens and cats are the most vulnerable to viral disease infection. If your cat was found as a stray, they likely have no vaccine history, and should complete the core vaccination series to ensure they have adequate protection from these heartbreaking diseases. Our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team recommends your cat receive the following core vaccines:

  • Panleukopenia (feline parvovirus) — Like canine parvovirus, feline panleukopenia is a highly contagious and lethal virus that survives in the environment for long periods. The virus infects adult cats’ bone marrow, lymphatic tissue, and intestinal lining, and young kittens’ brain and retinas. Infected kittens may be asymptomatic, but experience rapid decline (i.e., fading kitten syndrome), or show generalized illness signs such as fever, depression, lethargy, inappetence, vomiting, and diarrhea. Supportive care—including intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and anti-nausea medications—may help. However, panleukopenia fatality rates are high among unvaccinated kittens.
  • Herpesvirus (feline viral rhinotracheitis)— Feline herpesvirus is part of the feline upper respiratory complex that includes several other viruses. Cats contract herpesvirus through close contact with an infected cat, or via their respiratory droplets. Signs include fever, conjunctivitis, eye or nasal discharge, sneezing, and nasal and oral inflammation—all of which result in inappetence and weight loss. Prognosis is generally good with treatment (i.e., antibiotics, antihistamines), however, infections can persist for weeks to months, or become life-long. Herpesvirus can recur, and a cat’s stress response often triggers relapse.
  • Calicivirus — Another feline upper respiratory complex pathogen, calicivirus is nearly impossible to distinguish from herpesvirus because cats have identical signs. Oral inflammation and ulcers are classic calicivirus signs, while other viral strains may include temporary lameness or pneumonia. 
  • Rabies virus — As with dogs and humans, the fatal rabies virus enters a cat’s nervous system, resulting in progressive neurologic signs. Free-roaming, unvaccinated cats are especially vulnerable to the rabies virus because they interact with potentially infected wildlife.

Non-core feline vaccines are recommended on an as-needed basis depending on a cat’s individual risks (e.g., outdoor access, multicat home, or frequent boarding or grooming clients). Our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team may recommend your cat receive these non-core vaccines:

  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
  • Feline leukemia (FeLV)
  • Feline bordetella

Vaccinations prevent your pet from contracting deadly diseases. However, a vaccine’s protection is not lifelong, and your pet must receive boosters. Ensure your dog or cat remains protected from disease by bringing your pet to their annual wellness care at Harbor Pines Veterinary Center. Contact us to schedule your pet’s next appointment.

Don’t Let Your Pet Sing the Back-to-School Blues

Summer is winding down, and the kids—most of them—are excited about heading back to school. Unfortunately for your pet, they are among those less than thrilled about the new school year. The many changes that come with the new school year can be hard on pets, who may develop separation anxiety when they suddenly find themselves home alone. Our team at Harbor Pines Veterinary Center lists five common mistakes that you should avoid when preparing your pet to transition smoothly to the back-to-school routine.

Mistake #1: Suddenly springing the new routine on your pet

A new school year means a new schedule and new routines for the whole family—including your pet. Think now about how your pet’s daily routine will change, and start implementing those changes slowly to give them plenty of time to adjust. Start setting the alarm for your children’s school wake-up time, adjust your pet’s mealtimes and bathroom breaks to reflect their new schedule, and increase your pet’s alone time during the day. By making changes now, you can monitor how well they are adapting. 

Mistake #2: Assuming your pet will be fine home alone all day

Don’t simply assume your pet will be happy at home alone, especially if you have never left them for long periods before. And, pets who have happily spent time home alone in the past will need time to adjust after the summer, because they have become used to spending a lot of time with you and the family. When your family heads out for school and work and your pet suddenly finds that they are all alone in a quiet house, the lack of noise, stimulation, and companionship may be hard for them to accept.

To help your pet, start leaving the house, slowly increasing the time you are gone. The first time, simply walk out the door, wait a few minutes, and then go back inside, checking your pet for signs that they are distressed. You might want to consider installing a camera inside your home to see how your pet is handling your absence. Are they barking excessively, crying, or scratching at the door? If so, how long do these behaviors last? If your pet is exhibiting these common separation anxiety signs, they may need behavioral training or medication, depending on the severity. 

Mistake #3: Skipping your pet’s daily walks

Exercise is important not only to your pet’s health and wellbeing, but also has the added benefit of tiring them out, and a tired pet will feel much calmer and is far less likely to be destructive while home alone. Set up an exercise routine for your pet that fits into the new family schedule, ensuring your pet gets at least 30 minutes of activity each day. If possible, walk your pet in the morning to help them stay calm when you leave, and again in the afternoon. If you do not have time to squeeze in walking your pet, consider hiring a dog walker or taking your pet to doggy daycare. Adequate exercise and stimulation is vital for your pet, no matter how busy your family gets. 

Mistake #4: Making a fuss over leaving your pet

Do you feel overwhelmed with guilt at the thought of leaving your pet for the day? If so, try to keep your feelings to yourself. If you shower your pet with treats, pets, and profuse apologies for leaving, your pet will pick up on your distress and mirror your anxiety. Instead, calmly head out without making a big deal about saying goodbye. If you keep your emotions in check, your pet likely will calmly accept your exit. Similarly when you return home, avoid excited greetings  the second you walk through the door and greet them only when they are calm. 

Mistake #5: Leaving your pet with nothing to do

A bored pet will find ways to entertain themselves during the dayand you may not like what they do. Suddenly the couch pillows become stuffed toys, the cat gets dragged into a game of chase, and the trash can becomes a treasure chest that must be explored. To avoid coming home to a complete mess, leave your pet with plenty of appropriate toys that will keep them entertained. Keep your dog busy with interactive toys or treats, such as a Kong filled with frozen peanut butter or kibble “hidden” for them to find. Don’t forget about the cat—sprinkle catnip on their favorite toy, or hide a few “prey” treats for them to hunt.

Be patient with your pet as they adjust to the back-to-school routine, and ensure you or other family members spend quality time with them every day. If your pet is struggling with the new routine, our team at Harbor Pines Veterinary Center can help with their separation anxiety. Contact us to schedule an appointment to discuss how we can alleviate your pet’s stress.

Keeping Your California Pet Cool

Hot weather can be extremely dangerous for pets, who can’t cool themselves as efficiently as humans, putting them at increased risk for heatstroke. Our team at Harbor Pines Veterinary Center wants to help by explaining how the heat affects your pet, and steps you can take to safeguard them in the California heat.

Your pet’s cooling system

When we overheat, sweat glands all over our body produce sweat. As this moisture evaporates, heat is drawn from our skin, causing cooling. Pets not only have few sweat glands, but most are located in their footpads, so they have to rely on other—less efficient—cooling methods, instead of the human cooling process. These methods include:

  • Panting — Panting is the main way pets cool themselves. The open-mouth breathing evaporates the moisture on the pet’s tongue and lung tissue, and draws heat from their body. 
  • Radiation — Blood vessels in the pet’s face and ears dilate, causing blood to flow more closely to the skin surface, so the heat can dissipate into the environment.
  • Conduction — Pets lie on their sparsely haired abdomen on a cool surface to transfer body heat to the surface.

Heat’s effects on your pet

Your pet’s normal body temperature is 101 to 102.5 degrees. If strenuous exercise or increased environmental temperatures, and the absence of adequate cooling methods, cause your pet’s temperature to rise above 104, they are experiencing heatstroke. This condition is considered a veterinary emergency, because the heat causes inflammation throughout the pet’s body and affects systems that include:

  • Cardiovascular — Initially, your pet’s heart rate will increase and their peripheral blood vessels will dilate in an effort to dissipate their body heat into the environment, but when these measures are unsuccessful, the heart cannot pump blood throughout the body, resulting in low blood pressure and shock.
  • Pulmonary — Direct lung tissue damage causes respiratory distress.
  • Kidneys — Direct kidney cell damage from the heat and dehydration cause kidney failure.
  • Gastrointestinal — Gastrointestinal lining injury causes bacteria to leach into your pet’s bloodstream.
  • Nervous system — Brain cell damage causes cerebral swelling, bleeding, and cell death.
  • Coagulation — In severe cases, a condition called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) can cause bleeding throughout your pet’s body.

Heatstroke signs include excessive panting and drooling, difficulty breathing, lethargy, weakness, mental dullness, diarrhea, collapse, and seizures. Pets whose temperatures go above 109 degrees, and whose temperature remains elevated for an extended time period, have a poorer survival prognosis.

Pets at higher heatstroke risk

While all pets are susceptible to heatstroke, some are at higher risk, including:

  • Brachycephalic pets — Flat-faced pets (e.g., pugs, Boston terriers, bulldogs, and Persian cats) have less surface area in their mouth, so their panting is less effective, putting them at higher heatstroke risk.
  • Obese pets — An overweight pet’s extra fat layers act as insulation, inhibiting their body’s ability to cool down.
  • Senior pets — Senior pets can’t regulate their body temperature as well as young pets, putting them at increased risk.
  • Puppies and kittens — Puppies and kittens haven’t developed the ability to properly regulate their body temperature, and they are also high energy, putting them at higher risk.
  • Ill pets — Pets who have a health condition such as heart disease or a thyroid condition are also at increased risk.

Steps to safeguard your pet from heatstroke

You can protect your pet from heatstroke by following these steps:

  • Never leave your pet in the car — Pets should never be left in an unattended vehicle, because temperatures can skyrocket on warm days, and parking in the shade or leaving windows cracked doesn’t prevent the temperatures from reaching dangerous levels.
  • Hydrate your pet — Ensure your pet has access to several fresh water sources, and take water and a bowl when you go out, so your pet can drink when needed.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise — Limit your pet’s outdoor activity on hot, humid days, and take frequent breaks in the shade to allow them to cool down.
  • Leave on your air conditioner — Leave your house with your shades drawn and your air conditioner running to ensure your pet stays cool.

Pet first aid for heatstroke

If you suspect your pet is suffering from heatstroke, steps you should take include:

  • Find a cool area — Move your pet to a cool area that is out of the sun and well-ventilated.
  • Offer your pet water — If your pet is conscious, offer them water to drink. Don’t attempt to pour the water in their mouth, which could lead to aspiration pneumonia.
  • Cool your pet — Use tepid water or wet towels to cool your pet—never use ice or ice water, which can lead to shock.
  • Seek veterinary care — Get your pet to a veterinary hospital as soon as possible. If their signs subside once you start cooling, they should still be evaluated by a veterinary professional to ensure they sustained no internal damage.

Ensuring your pet stays cool in the California heat is important to protect them from heatstroke’s dangerous effects. If your pet overheats, contact our team at Harbor Pines Veterinary Center, so we can get them the care they need.

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