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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Top Ten Topics Veterinarians Wish Pet Owners Better Understood, Part 1

Having been a veterinary clinical practitioner since 1999, I’ve had had numerous opportunities to observe trends of illness and wellness in my patients. My professional experiences have provided valuable insight into the most important aspects of care by which pet owners should abide.


How do thriving puppies and kittens become unhealthy dogs and cats in their adult and senior years? Human laziness, misinformation from pet product companies, owner financial constraints, and lack of veterinary persuasion about the most essential components of a holistic wellness plan top my list.


To further explore this topic, I created a list — Top Ten Topics Veterinarians Wish Pets Owners Better Understood. Here are the first five:


1. Care Taking Responsibilities and Financial Obligations Associated with Pet Ownership

Having a pet is a responsibility only to be undertaken by those who are willing and able to always make lifestyle choices on the basis of health. Incorporating a pet into one’s household compromises available time, space, and financial resources (see Prepare Yourself for the Evolving Challenge of Dog Ownership).


Caring for a pet is akin to having a human child stuck in a permanent adolescent state. Pets are not autonomous beings; they require continuous feeding, social interaction, behavior training, grooming, and established facilities for waste elimination.


Pet owners should not adopt a pet without thoroughly evaluating their ability to fiscally and emotionally provide care — both in sickness and in health (sounds like a commitment ceremony, yes?). Pets are not guaranteed to indefinitely remain free from disease, stay clear of exposure to toxins, or avoid incurring trauma, so expenses for maintaining wellness or treating illness inevitably arise. Visual Economics shares insightful perspective on the lifetime costs of our companion animals.


So is pet ownership really the best choice for you and your family?


2. Obesity Prevention through Calorie Restriction and Exercise

Pet owners must better understand the potentially irreversible health consequences caused by obesity. Around 51 percent of dogs and cats (approximately 89 million pets) in the United States are overweight or obese according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). Arthritis and diseases affecting the cardiovascular (heart, blood vessels, etc.) and metabolic (diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, hypothyroidism, etc.) systems can be avoided or minimized when pets maintain a normal body condition score (see The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Body Condition Scoring Chart).


When feeding your pet, always practice portion control by using a metric measuring cup, and err on the side of feeding less. Dogs consuming a calorie restricted diet have been proven to live two years longer than those lacking calorie restriction.


Make physical activity for your pet a daily priority (see How My Personal Journey from Fat to Fit Applies to You and Your Pets). Exercise benefits more than just the body; it provides behavioral stimulation that satisfies a pet’s need for interaction as it strengthens the pet-owner bond.


3. Daily Home Dental Care is an Essential Part of Pet Ownership

Pet owners must realize the serious health repercussions of periodontal disease. The mouth harbors millions of bacteria that are permitted to enter the bloodstream through inflamed gums (gingivitis), enabling the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, joints, and other body systems to be continually showered with a stream of toxic bacteria.


Just like in humans, periodontal disease in pets is very preventable. Unfortunately, pet owners typically squirm at the idea of regularly cleaning their dog or cat’s teeth. Top Three Tips for Pet Dental Care from a Veterinary Dental Specialist details the practical ways you can help keep your pet’s mouth cleaner and healthier.


4. Pursue Anesthesia Based Teeth Cleaning Regardless of Age

Pet owners mustn’t let a numerical age deter them from pursuing an anesthetic procedure to resolve a health problem. Pets are never “too old” to undergo anesthesia, yet they can be "too unhealthy."


Not resolving your pet’s periodontal disease amounts to neglect. Periodontal disease has many negative implications, especially for vital organs like the heart (see Importance of Periodontal Health in Maintaining Your Pet’s Healthy Heart).


However, any illnesses affecting a pet should be resolved or improved before an anesthetic procedure is performed.  Blood testing, radiographs (X-rays), an ECG (electrical evaluation of heart rate and rhythm), and possibly other tests (ultrasound of heart or abdominal organs) should be done in an appropriate pre-anesthetic period.


Anesthesia will be better tolerated and quick recovery will occur when efforts have been made to promote a pet’s best health. Remember, age is not a disease; but bacterial infection and associated inflammation in your pet’s mouth are.


5. Your Pet May Survive, but Won’t Thrive on a Diet of Processed Foods

Why do dog and cat owners consider the most ideal food to be dry or canned pet food? Nature makes food, then humans highly process nature’s ingredients to create a "nutritionally complete and balanced" option conveniently available to pour out of a bag or can.


Unfortunately for our animal companions, there are serious short- and long-term health consequences associated with eating grain and protein meals, by-products, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and the recognized toxins and carcinogens found in many commercially available pet foods and treats. Diseases of the gastrointestinal (stomach, small and large intestine), dermatologic (skin), and metabolic (kidneys, liver, pancreas, etc.) systems, and immune system abnormalities (including cancer), can be correlated to these unnecessary food ingredients (see Are You Poisoning Your Companion Animal by Feeding Pet Grade Foods?).


When food substances are so radically altered from nature’s original format, energetic changes occur that reduce foods’ nutritive content. Human grade, whole food based, home prepared, or commercial diets having undergone minimal refinement should replace processed dry or canned pet foods.


Most pet foods cater to owner convenience instead of promoting a pet’s best health. Dogs and cats can survive, but will not thrive by eating pet-grade foods.




Check back next week for Part 2 of my Top Ten Topics Veterinarians Wish Pet Owners Better Understood.


An example of less than responsible care taking.



Dr. Patrick Mahaney



Image: Alexander Raths / via Shutterstock

Comments  18

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  • Free!
    05/29/2012 10:57am

    Free puppies/kittens are not at all "free". There is a great deal of financial commitment involved from vaccinations to ongoing veterinary care.

    Personally, I find it disheartening to hear people proudly say that they got Fluffy 10 years ago and that Fluffy has never gone to the doctor. And if Fluffy gets sick, there's no reason to treat her because another kitten can be obtained for free.

    It breaks my heart that Fluffy isn't more valued.

  • 05/29/2012 06:20pm

    Very good point about free pets not being free.
    Akin to your frustrations about hearing cat owners not taking their feline friend to be examined by a veterinarian in at least an every 12 month basis, impulse pet purchase (or adoption) mustn't happen.
    Proper planning before acquiring a pet is key. Pet ownership is a luxury is not appropriate for all individuals or families.
    Dr PM

  • 06/02/2012 10:44am

    yes,there is no free life!since we live with one life we should take responsibility of other life.
    they can't tell clearly how they are,so we should more take care of their health.
    there is no free life in the world!

  • Top Ten Topics
    05/29/2012 03:51pm

    Dr. Patrick, I always appreciate your posts. It's a breath of fresh air. Where I live, all the Vets are pushing corn based, Hills - Science Diet foods. They think they are the most wonderful thing in the world. One corporate Vet office does a whole sales job on new clients and tries to rope them into the "world of corn". I feel like it's 1975 here. It's a pretty progressive community otherwise! Reading posts from you and other Vets from blogs, makes me realize that there are a new generation of Vets out there that have seen the light! Someday I hope to live in a community where the Vets have some real education in nutrition. I promise to brush my dogs teeth!

  • 05/29/2012 06:25pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    When veterinarians graduate from school, we have a surprisingly little amount of information or confidence when it comes to food suggestion. Additionally, many vets (new or experienced) really have interest in the topic of nutrition.
    When it comes down to it the liquids and foods that enter our (and our pets') bodies form the building blocks of tissue and permit the immune system to regulate inflammation and infection. If our nutrition is based in processed (non-whole) foods that have a high likelihood to harbor toxins or infectious contaminants (Salmonella, mold based mycotoxins, etc), then we are actually doing our bodies a disservice.
    The good news is that modern consumers are savvy and are demanding healthier and less processed foods for cats and dogs. This is where veterinarians need to catch up and realize that prescription and over the counter processed foods are not the best choice for their patients.
    I hope to see you back again on my The Daily Vet page.
    Feel free to visit www.PatrickMahaney.com to directly connect to me (and sign for email delivery of my blog).
    Dr PM

  • 05/30/2012 02:29am

    What do you suggest as an alternative to processed kibble? Is mixing dry kibble with normal foods (chicken, pumpkin, etc) a good solution? I feed my mixed breed dog a grain free dry food with occasional other "real" foods mixed in, am I on the right track?

  • 05/31/2012 09:08pm

    Yes, I feel adding some whole food nutrition to a commercially available dry or canned food diet is a good first step to reduce the amount of dry/canned food consumed per portion.
    If you are looking to create a balanced/complete home prepared diet or to determine the most appropriate diet for your pet's conditions, then work with your veterinarian and do a UC Davis Nutritional Support Services consult:

    I do this for many of my patients, especially for my cancer patients.
    Thank you,
    Dr PM

  • 05/31/2012 07:15pm

    Your comments about processed foods are nothing more than your opinion. Being a veterinarian myself, I know how we have our own opinions, but to make such a bold statement that all processed food poisons your pet is absolutely ludicrous. You are doing the public a disservice by making these types of statements because you are basically saying the pet food companies and AAFCO know nothing about nutrition. You stated that vets don't have much nutritional knowledge coming out of school, so I am perplexed as to how you came to be such an expert at nutrition. I read your bio, and saw nothing of a PhD in Nutrition or anything close to that. So, while a blog is a person's expression of their own opinion, I am bothered when that opinion misleads the public so blatantly.

  • 05/31/2012 09:57pm

    Actually, my perspective about processed foods come from:
    1. Observation of trends in health and illness (obesity, inflammatory conditions, metabolic disease, cancer, etc) in pets eating processed foods over my 13 years of veterinary practice.

    2. Further training in holistic nutrition in the process of attaining my Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist (CVA) certificate through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) and further continuing education through Standard Process. Chinese medicine food energy theory has been around for thousands of years and has true relevance in managing illness by using warming (Yang), cooling (Yin), and neutral food energies.

    3. Working closely with others (including veterinary toxicologists) that are passionate about the quality of ingredients that go into pet foods so that I can better understand how whole food nutrients become processed/ co-packed into dry/ canned pet foods.

    4. Frequently consulting with the UC Davis Nutritional Support Service to determine the most appropriate diet (home prepared or commercial) that suits my patients needs to manage current clinical illness.

    5. Consuming a whole food diet (and nutraceuticals) as a means of managing my own weight and chronic inflammatory conditions so that I minimally rely on medications.

    Yes, blogs are places that we can express our opinions. My opinions are my perspective as results from professional experience.

    Thank you for your comments.

  • 05/31/2012 10:09pm

    Your opinion comes from your:
    1 - observations
    2 - holistic training in acupuncture
    3 - working with toxicologists (not nutritionists)
    4 - consulting (calling into) a nutritional service
    5 - personal diet

    I see nothing in there that influences your opinion from any valid nutritional training etc. It is all second or third hand reference points.

    I would caution you in choosing your words a bit more wisely. The title shouldn't be a blanket statement about the top 10 things vets wish pet owners better understood, because it is a miopic, one person viewpoint rather than that of the veterinary community as a whole.

  • Good
    05/30/2012 12:27am

    The problem is that you hear it left and right - gotta feed commercial kibble only. Don't feed this ... don't feed that, feed commercial kibble only. You're harming your dog by feeding something other than commercial kibble...

    It's not easy to stand up to such pressure. I am very glad that your voice is being heard on petMD

  • 05/31/2012 10:09pm

    I appreciate your perspective on should or shouldn't you feed whole foods as compared to processed foods.
    I came out of school with the perception that pets should only eat dry or canned pet foods and not people food. Due to my clinical experience and continuing education, I now believe in for myself/my pet and recommend to my owners (for my patients) quite the opposite.
    I have to equate it with the USDA's recommendations as part of their "Choose My Plate" program. You'll see that all their recommendations for a healthy diet include nutrients that come from whole foods and are minimally processed.

    For your pet, I'd ask your vet to work with you and the UC Davis Small Animal Nutritional Support Services to formulate a home prepared or commercially available whole food based diet that best suits your pets' needs. The fee for this services is worth the long term health benefits and the reduced likelihood your pet will be exposed to toxins from pet grade foods.

    Thank you for your comments and I hope to see you back again on my petMD The Daily Vet page.
    Dr PM

  • pet foods
    05/30/2012 05:17am

    This is thought-provoking, but I find myself puzzled. My cat shows little interest in my food, although he does like to investigate. I have no interest in eating a whole, freshly-killed mouse or bird, but my cat loves this when he can get it, rare as he is now a totally indoor cat. Cats need taurine, for example, but we don't require it. Cats in the wild eat whole animals, guts and all. I mostly feed my cat high-end prepared food. It takes some experimentation as he will not eat certain highly praised brands. I am surely worried about feeding my friend materials that are not healthy, including meat products from sick cows, rancid grain, etc. For myself, I admit to a nonchalant attitude of just eating what I feel like at the time. Sometimes it is veggies, salad, etc., sometimes a fish, or a steak dripping bloody juices. It seems we still really know so little about nutrition. So many studies are small-n, not peer-reviewed, not subject to replication. It seems we really know so little. I am currently caring for an elderly cat who probably does not have long to live. He is under what I have every reason to believe is excellent veterinary care. He has at least gained weight on a prescription diet, Hill's A/D critical care. It has a lot of pork liver in it. He also loves Fancy Feast salmon florentine. It seems best to feed him what he likes to eat. At one time, I was living in England and knew a woman with a bunch of cats. She fed them a strange food made from chickens, whole, feathers, bones and all, put through something like a food processor and frozen into bricks. When thawed, it smelled like a slaughter-house. The cats loved it and seemed to do well. I wonder how much we really know, and want to know more. I am not being critical of that which is controversial, just want to take good care of by friends as well as myself, and am coming from a hard-science bias. Appreciate any comments.

  • 06/02/2012 03:46pm

    I believe cats (and dogs) should eat in a fashion comparable to what they would eat when they are wild. As cats are obligate carnivores and have requirements for animo acids that their bodies are incapable of producing, they truly need to eat a primarily meat based diet (and not grain based as is found in most commercially available dry/canned foods).
    There are multiple options for frozen, primarily meat based diets that are commercially available (Nature's Variety, Primal, Stella & Chewy, etc) that can be defrosted and served raw or cooked and served. The option to do so is situationally dependent on a cat's health, owner preference, and veterinary oversight. These options sound similar to that which you experienced in the UK. With that type of diet, I'd remove the feathers and focus on muscle/organ meat/bones.
    Thank you for your comments and I hope to see you back on my petMD The Daily Vet page.
    Dr PM
    [email protected]

  • dental care
    06/02/2012 10:55am

    oral health is very import for us and our sweet heart.
    because teeth is only organ through internal to external.
    so pollution around teeth easy enter internal.that will become a course of chronic illness same as humans.
    our vets. always say dogs who have clean teeth will live longer.

  • 06/04/2012 06:24pm

    I'm right there with you being a proponent of oral health.
    I clean my own dog's teeth every 24-48 hrs with DentAcetic wipes, which have notably kept his oral malodor and tartar/calculus build up minimized.
    We have to treat our own pets' mouths like our own to prevent internal organ issues (that are completely preventable).
    Thank you for your comments.
    I hope to see you back again on my petMD The Daily Vet page.
    Dr PM
    Twitter @PatrickMahaney

  • 06/05/2012 11:55am

    thanks for your recommend Dr.Mahaney,
    I used to blush our 12years cairn terrier Michy's teeth with teeth blush and teeth paste for dog from his puppy stage,but he doesn't like be blushed his incisor teeth.so now he has visualble tarter inside lower incisor.but our vet hesitate to do scaling under anesthesia because he has liver failure.
    so I wonder that DentAcetic Wipes can help remove still attached tarter?what that product contains and how it works?

  • 06/11/2012 04:02pm

    Make sure that your toothpaste does not have Xylitol (or other comparable sugar alcohol).
    Even using a moistened brush is a good option to improve periodontal health.
    DentAcetic wipes have Acetic Acid and SHMP, which have an antiseptic effect to kill bacteria. Less oral cavity bacteria caused reduced deposition of plaque (invisible), when then becomes tartar and calculus.
    Work with your vet to make your dog's liver healthier, then get the most appropriate dental cleaning based on the current state of health or illness.
    Dr PM

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