All posts by Dr. Marty Becker

puppy

Does your pup need to gain weight?

Obesity is an epidemic in pet dogs and cats, but there are pets who need to gain weight, usually due to a medical problem. So is your “skinny” pup really skinny, or are we just not used to what “normal” looks like? Here are some ideas I offered to a dog owner writing about her new puppy’s weight and diet.

Q: My new puppy is 5 months old and a little on the skinny side. Can you give me some tips on fattening her up? Should I cook for her or just feed her more of her regular food?

A: I’m betting that your puppy isn’t too skinny but instead is just right. When we picture puppies in our minds, the image is usually of a roly-poly fuzzball, but when it comes to growing puppies, being on the thin side is better. Puppies need to grow slowly and steadily. Putting on too much weight too quickly stresses their still-developing bones and joints and can lead to orthopedic problems such as hip dysplasia later in life.

A good rule to live by is “Watch the dog; don’t watch the bowl.” In other words, how the dog looks should tell you whether you’re feeding the right amount. A healthy puppy in good shape looks muscular but not fat.

To gauge your puppy’s overall condition, give him an “eye exam” followed by a hands-on test. Eye your pup from above; he should have a visible waistline when you look down at him. Then put your hands on him, thumbs along the spine and fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel but not see his ribs. If you can see his ribs, feed more.

I’m a big fan of feeding puppies with puzzle toys instead of bowls. Having to put forth some effort for their food keeps dogs from eating too much or too quickly. Put your dog’s normal amount of food in it and let him push, roll or manipulate it in other ways to get the food to fall out. Keep several and rotate them to keep your pup interested and challenge his brain and body.

Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.

German Shepherd eyes

Tips for living with a blind dog

We had a beloved blind dog, Shakira. I share some of what we learned with this dog owner struggling with her dog’s vision loss.

Q: My dog is losing her eyesight. How can I help her adjust?

A: Blindness doesn’t seem to stop the average dog. When eyesight goes, the nose and ears take over in helping the dog maneuver through the environment.

One primary factor in adjustment is how quickly vision is lost. A dog who loses vision slowly from a condition such as progressive retinal atrophy usually copes well, but one who loses vision rapidly from a nonpainful condition such as acquired retinal degeneration may take a few weeks to adjust.

The following tips may help you accustom your dog to her loss of vision.

— Walk her on leash. As you walk, talk to her so she knows where you are.

— Stick to the same route so she can learn how it smells along the way and become familiar with any obstacles such as curbs or steps.

— Feed her in the same place. If you notice that she seems disoriented, take her to the food bowl. It’s a landmark of sorts that will help her reorient herself.

— Continue to teach her new things. Using a clicker and treats as well as verbal praise are ways you can train her without the need for her to see you.

— You may notice that she barks more often. This may be out of insecurity or simply to get your attention so she can find out where you are. Regular training sessions will help her gain confidence.

— You can also purchase a device such as Muffin’s Halo, which my late dog Shakira wore after she lost her eyesight. It’s sort of a “bumper” that attaches to a dog’s shoulders and takes the hit if the dog comes too close to an obstacle.

Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.

Mikkel and Indiana Bones on green lawn

Video: The right and wrong way to pet a dog

Dogs have personal “bubbles” just like people do. They also have specific ways they do and don’t like to be petted.

In the final video in her training series with our friends at Bissell, my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, discusses and demonstrates the good and the bad of petting. This video, like a couple of the others, features her late dog, our beloved Grand-Pug Willie, along with her little Puggle, Indiana Bones.

Check it out below:

(This post is not sponsored by Bissell, but they are a valued sponsor of Fear Free.)

hungry cat drink milk from glass on windowsill on summer green background

The truth about cats and milk

The cat lapping at a bowl of cream is a familiar image in cartoons, children’s books, and popular imagination. But this reader wasn’t sure her cat should be consuming dairy products. Here’s what I told her.

Q: My cat enjoys drinking leftover milk from my cereal bowl, but my mother says I shouldn’t give it to him because cats are lactose intolerant. True?

A: Cats have a reputation for loving milk. Maybe that’s because they have a long history of hanging out in barns with dairy cows and goats. At least that was my experience growing up on an Idaho dairy farm.

Cats will drink milk presumably because they enjoy the taste — especially if it’s full-fat — but it doesn’t necessarily agree with their digestive systems. Like some people, some cats are lactose intolerant and will experience diarrhea if they drink it. Other possible signs of lactose intolerance are vomiting or flatulence.

That’s because cow’s milk contains more lactose (milk sugar) and casein (a milk protein) than the milk kittens receive from their mothers. As kittens mature into cats, their ability to digest milk decreases because their body produces less of an enzyme called lactase that is involved in digestion of lactose. The body doesn’t absorb the milk sugar, causing intestinal upset. Beyond that, cream and whole milk are high in fat, causing cats who lap it up to pack on the pounds.

As with so many things, cats are individuals. Some of them don’t have a problem with milk, yogurt, cottage cheese or other dairy products. For those cats, a small amount of milk or milk products — up to a tablespoon — is fine as a treat.

Some pet milk products contain goat milk — which has a different molecular structure than cow milk and is more digestible by cats — as well as probiotics and digestive enzymes that can benefit cats. And remember, if you’re feeding orphaned kittens, stay away from any type of milk other than kitten milk formula available from your veterinarian or pet supply store.

Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.

Dog in bed with chew toy while vacuum runs

Video: How to train your dog not to be afraid of the vacuum

Few noises are more universally hated and feared by pets than that monster, the vacuum cleaner. But you can teach your dog to accept and not fear his former enemy (and yes, it involves treats!).

In this latest video in her ongoing training series with our friends at Bissell, my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, shares her secrets to taking the scare out of vaccuming (and unfortunately eliminate one of the best of all excuses for putting off the chore!).

Check it out below:

(This post is not sponsored by Bissell, but they are a valued sponsor of Fear Free.)