Reasons to Act More Like Your Pet

Pets aren’t always easy to take care of, and they often require a substantial time commitment (something you’re all too aware of at, say, 3 a.m., when Bing Clawsby is finally ready to go outside and do his business). But pets provide an amazing return on that time investment, especially when it comes to your health. Case in point: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pet owners tend to have lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels than non-pet owners. But that’s not all. Pets also model many surprisingly healthy behaviors that humans would do well to emulate. Here are just a few, according to veterinarians, dog trainers, and other pet experts.

Dogo Canario puppy in yellow dandelions

1. They focus on what matters most. You may get grumpy after a bad day at the office, but your pooch never does. “Companion animals mostly care about food, love, and shelter (not always in that order). As long as they have those things, they don’t need much else,” Mary Gardner, DVM, a veterinarian and cofounder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice tells Yahoo Health. “Pets also don’t complain much at all. People believe they hide their pain; I simply think they manage it differently.” If humans could model these behaviors, Gardner adds, we’d be healthier, happier, “and more people would want to be around us.”


2. They practice portion control (even if not by choice). Snowball might not want to limit her kibble intake any more than you want to limit your tortilla-chip intake. Nonetheless, she typically eats reasonably sized helpings of nutritionally balanced food — and never gets to eat straight out of the bag. Follow her lead. “Both animals and people need structure and regulation when it comes to portion size,” says Jme Thomas, executive director of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue based in Redmond, Washington.


3. They know how to de-stress. Your pooch doesn’t pour a glass of cabernet when the going gets rough (though, yes, it would make a very popular YouTube video if she did). She may, however, start begging for a walk or to play a game. Smart dog! “Actively seeking healthy activities — that function as de-stressors when stress levels are high — helps to reset people as well as dogs, and bring us back to a productive and functional status, from which many things feel a lot more ‘do-able,’” Marisa Scully, a certified dog behavior specialist in Philadelphia, tells Yahoo Health.



4. They hit the hay. People don’t get enough sleep: According to a 2014 survey by the National Sleep Foundation, 45 percent of Americans said that a lack of sleep had impaired their activities at least once in the previous week. Learn from your cat or dog, who knows just how important it is to get enough shut-eye, says Jeff Werber, VVM, president and chief veterinarian of Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles. “Whether it’s a lazy dog day afternoon, or a quick cat nap, you won’t find them burning the candles at both ends.”

relax kitten on green grass

5. They stretch! There’s a reason one of the most common yoga moves is named downward dog. Dogs (and cats) stretch constantly — and we should do the same, notes certified dog behavior consultant Russell Hartstein. Why? Stretching can improve flexibility and reduce your risk of injury.


6. They’re open to new things. Animals are naturally curious. “Open a box or empty a bag and before you know it, your cat will have climbed in to investigate. Walk your dog past a gardener planting flowers and chances are she will check it out before moving on,” Werber says. “And they’re always up for some fun. A game of catch, a walk, a visit — bring it on.” Since research has found that seeking out new experiences can keep people feeling young and healthy, we’d do well to follow suit.


7. They’re comfortable getting zen. Numerous studies have found a correlation between mindful meditation and reduced stress, decreased heart disease, and a stronger immune response — and that’s something your cat already knows how to do instinctively. “Each morning I sit on the sofa with my cat, Turtle, while I drink my first cup of coffee,” says Kristen Levine, a pet living expert. “We spend about 10 minutes together, her getting neck and head rubs, me enjoying her purring and having a few meditative moments at the start of the day.It sounds simple, and it can be, but depending on the activity, it can have a powerfully relaxing or invigorating effect for both human and critter.”






Scents and Sensitivity: Dogs Know When We’re Happy or Angry

Science is proving what pet owners have long believed: Dogs understand what we’re feeling. Specifically, dogs can recognize the difference between a happy and an angry human face, a study published Thursday in Current Biology suggests.

It’s the first research to show definitively that dogs are sensitive to our facial expressions, says coauthor Ludwig Huber, head of comparative cognition at Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.

In the Austrian study, 20 pet dogs of various breeds and sizes were taught to play a computer game through a series of exercises. In the first, the dogs were shown two touch screens, one with a circle and one with a square. Through trial and error, they learned that a treat would appear if they chose the right geometrical figure.

Eleven of the 20 dogs were able to catch on to rules of the game and make it to the next phase, where they were shown photos of faces. Half the dogs were rewarded for picking a happy expression and half for choosing an angry expression. The interesting catch: the dogs were shown only the upper half or the lower half of a face.

It was easier to teach the dogs to choose a happy expression than an angry one, suggesting the dogs do indeed understand the meaning behind the expression, Huber says.

As a test, the dogs were then were presented with:

the same half of the faces they saw during the training, but from different people
the other half of the faces used in training
the other half of new faces
the left half of the faces used in training
In the vast majority of cases the dogs chose the right answer 70 to 100 percent of the time.

Dogs who had been trained to recognize an expression of anger or happiness on the upper part of a face could identify the same expression when shown only the lower part, and vice versa, Huber says, adding “the only possible explanation is that they recall from memory of everyday life how a whole human face looks when happy or angry.”

Dog owners know their pets not only recognize emotions but also feel empathy.

Delilah, a 3-year-old Chihuahua, always seems to know when her owner Eva Shure is having a bad day.
Delilah knows when her owner is having a bad day.
Making eye contact and cocking her head to the right, the little dog will stare at Shure’s face as if trying to assess her feelings. “It’s weird, I can see her thinking and processing,” says Shure, a 35-year-old New York City business owner. “I’ll say, yeah, it’s not a great day and she’ll come up and sit next to me.”

Beverly Levreault, 57, says her 6-year-old Australian Cattle Dog mix is always tuned in to her moods. “If I’m not feeling well, like when I have the flu, Lacey is definitely lower key and will not leave my side, ” says Levreault, a graphic designer from Williamstown, New York. “If I take her for a walk, she’s not as rambunctious as she usually is.”

Lynette Whiteman says she’s not sure that her 5-year-old Yorkie-Maltese cross is using facial expressions to gauge how she feels. “But she definitely reads my emotions,” says the 58-year-old from Toms River, New Jersey. “I run a therapy dog program and the dogs are just amazing. They go into a room and immediately pick out the person who needs help.”

Behavioral experts say the new findings, while important, wouldn’t surprise anyone with an intimate knowledge of dogs.
Coco and Lynettte
“This new work continues to build the case for just how sensitive dogs are to our subtle behaviors,” says Dr. Brian Hare, chief scientific officer at Dognition and an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. “This is the strongest evidence yet that dogs are even reading our facial expressions.”

That sensitivity may be the result of generations of selective breeding for a true partner, says Dr. Carlo Siracusa, director of the behavior service at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “We have selected animals that are able to perceive our emotions and communicate with us at a level that no other animal can,” Siracusa says.

Dogs may not talk, but they are very good communicators, says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a professor in the department of clinical sciences at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and director of the animal behavior clinic at Cummings.

“Just as we are masters of the spoken word, dogs are experts at reading body language,” Dodman says.

“It’s almost impossible to hide your feelings from a dog.”

Turns out, reading facial expressions isn’t the only thing dogs have in common with us.

They can be bitten by the computer gaming bug. “They can really become freaks for it,” Huber says with a chuckle. “They don’t want to stop playing. It’s incredible. They’ll play till they are exhausted and fall asleep.”




The Dangers of Pet Obesity

As a small animal veterinarian, a regular part of my day is having conversations with owners about what they feed their animals, and the best way to monitor and control the body condition of their pets, especially identifying underweight or overweight pets. Imagine my horror when I recently recognized what should have been obvious to me: my own dogs were starting to look, well, chubby! How had it come to this?

By now, everyone knows that obesity, in both people and animals, occurs when energy intake exceeds energy expenditure. You or me, or you dog or cat, eat more calories than are burned and excess weight results. But because dogs and cats do not feed themselves, we as their caretakers need to accept responsibility for the body condition of our beloved friends. I, who should know better, allowed my dogs to get fat!

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What is the Extent of Dog Obesity Worldwide?

An estimated 20-40% of dogs and cats worldwide are overweight or obese. Certain breeds may be predisposed, such as the West Highland Terrier, Beagle, Dachshund, and Labrador retriever, among others. Obesity is more common in female dogs and neutered dogs of both sexes. The incidence of obesity rises as dogs grow older, and, interestingly, as the age of the human owner increases. From my own experience, I suspect a large number of animals become obese from the confused cultural notion that “love equals food.”

My two mixed-breed dogs, one a Pug Beagle mix (Puggle) and the other a Chihuahua mix with suspiciously short legs, are not only disadvantaged by their breeds, neuter status, and advancing ages, but also by the fact that their Mom (me) is a softy who all too often dotes on them in the form of dog cookies!

The Dangers of Pet Obesity

As a vet, I know that obesity is the most common nutrition-related disease in companion animals and that increases the risk of orthopedic diseases, respiratory disorders, heart disease, and hypertension in dogs. In addition to orthopedic diseases, obese cats are at greater risk for developing diabetes, liver disease, and skin issues.

I know that in one study, dogs that were placed on a calorie-restricted diet to maintain an ideal or a just-below-ideal body weight, were shown to live, on average, two years longer than overweight dogs allowed to consume unlimited calories. Certainly, I wish to enjoy the company of my own dogs for as long as possible, and I know what I have to do!

Helping Your Pet Maintain a Healthy Weight

Helping our animal friends to lose weight requires both dietary and lifestyle modifications. One of the most important components to guarantee weight loss in your animal is ensuring that every member of the family is involved in the process. Your veterinarian can help you determine the daily calorie requirement for your animal, based on his or her current weight and activity level. Depending on how much weight your animal needs to lose, your vet may recommend decreasing the amount of the regular diet as well as restricting treats, or may recommend a prescription diet that is less energy-dense but fortified with higher levels of proteins and enriched with vitamins and minerals to ensure that your pet’s nutritional requirements are met. With greater weight loss, trying to restrict calories with a regular commercial diet may result in nutritional deficiencies. Once the calorie requirement is determined, the food should be carefully measured or weighed out. On average, the number of treats fed in a day should not be greater than 10% of daily calories. Everybody involved in feeding the animals should know exactly how much to feed and who is responsible for feeding the animals at given times.

Increasing energy expenditure is another important aspect of weight loss and often benefits the owner just as well. As with humans starting an exercise program, exercise for our pets should be gradually and slowly increased in duration and intensity over time. Exercise, in the form of walks, fetching, chasing laser pointers, and hunting feather toys, not only has calorie-burning cardiovascular benefits, it also enhances and enriches an animal’s mental well-being, as well as strengthens our emotional bond with them.

Final Words on Pet Obesity Concerns

It is important to realize that weight loss is a long-term project and requires frequent monitoring and readjustment of goals. Working closely with your veterinarian as weight loss proceeds, calorie requirements may need to be fine-tuned to help continue weight loss or to maintain ideal body weight. If you are unsure whether your animal is overweight, your veterinarian should be able to help you assess the body condition of your animal and talk to you about diet and strategies to establish and maintain an ideal body weight for your own beloved pets. As for me, I will replace cookies with kisses, and work with my family to make sure our dogs stay healthy and with us for as long as possible.

If your pet is overweight and management counseling is needed, please contact our team. We will be happy to provide our advice!

Labor Day Safety Tips for Pets



1. Do not apply any sunscreen or insect repellent product to your pet that is not labeled specifically for use on animals.

2. Always assign a dog guardian. No matter where you’re celebrating, be sure to assign a friend or member of the family to keep an eye on your pooch-especially if you’re not in a fenced-in yard or other secure area.

3. Made in the shade. Pets can get dehydrated quickly, so give them plenty of fresh, clean water, and make sure they have a shady place to escape the sun.

4. Always keep matches and lighter fluid out of paws’ reach. Certain types of matches contain chlorates, which could potentially damage blood cells and result in difficulty breathing-or even kidney disease in severe cases.

5. Keep your pet on his normal diet. Any change, even for one meal, can give your pet severe indigestion and diarrhea.

6. Keep citronella candles, insect coils and oil products out of reach. Ingesting any of these items can produce stomach irritation and possibly even central nervous system depression in your pets, and if inhaled, the oils could cause aspiration pneumonia.

7. Never leave your dog alone in the car. Traveling with your dog means occasionally you’ll make stops in places where he’s not permitted. Be sure to rotate dog walking duties between family members, and never leave your animals alone in a parked vehicle.

8. Make a safe splash. Don’t leave pets unsupervised around a pool-not all dogs are good swimmers.


Ticks, Mosquitoes, and Intestinal Parasites, OH MY!

All the pets of NYC are out and about enjoying the spring weather, but so are all the bad bugs that can cause disease in our furry friends. People think that just because we live in a concrete jungle as opposed to a green one, the threats of the great outdoors aren’t there. They are mistaken. The risk of diseases carried by mosquitoes, ticks and intestinal parasites are prevalent in New York City and you need to be informed so that your pets are protected!



Heartworm Disease: Heartworms are parasites that are carried by mosquitoes and can infect our dogs and cats. The larvae are transmitted to the animal when the mosquito bites. As they mature they go to the heart and can grow to up to a foot in length! These worms can cause fatigue or cough. Believe it or not, mosquitoes love the city because they breed in stagnant water. Thankfully, heartworm disease is completely preventable by giving your dog heartworm preventative in the form of a tablet once a month. If an animal becomes infected, the treatment is very expensive and painful (deep muscle injections). Even dogs that never leave the apartment are susceptible because mosquitoes can come through unscreened windows (I have been bitten and my apartment is on the fourth floor!). Therefore, it is recommended to keep your dogs on heartworm preventative year round and a blood test annually to make sure they do not have this horrible disease.


Lyme Disease: Dogs can get Lyme disease if they are bitten by a tick carrying the disease.  Lyme disease can cause arthritis and swelling of the joints, fever, lameness, and kidney failure. While it is true that apartment dogs that never go to the park have a decreased risk of infection, any dog that frequents wooded areas or is lucky enough to go out to Long Island or upstate NY, NJ, PA or CT is at risk of being infected.  Ticks can be prevented by topical or oral monthly medication.  It’s recommended to test our dogs for Lyme disease (and other tick-borne diseases) with an annual blood test.




Intestinal ParasitesProbably the most prevalent creepy crawlies that our furry friends can get are the parasites they pick up from the dog park and the streets.  Giardia, roundworms, whipworms and hookworms are commonly acquired in our city pets and can sometimes even be transferred to us!  These bugs can cause diarrhea and weight loss or no symptoms at all.  Checking a fecal at least once a year is recommended (even when there are no signs).  Thankfully monthly heartworm preventative can also prevent against most of these parasites.


Here at St. Marks Veterinary Hospital we are happy to see the beginning of warm weather but we hope that you keep your family and pets protected against the diseases that come along with it! Hope to see you and your pets soon!  Maria Racioppo, DVM