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Growing Old Gracefully

May 1st, 2012


Posted by Dr. Pamela Barker

When you share your life with a beloved pet, the years fly by all too quickly. One day your children come home with a tiny kitten they found under the neighbour’s porch. In no time, those same kids are attending university and that endearing kitten is a long-treasured member of your family.

The good news is that our pets are living longer than ever. Thanks to vaccinations and improvements in veterinary care, many domestic animals now live well into their teens — and a few even reach a third decade.

It’s important to remember that pets age on a different timeline than their owners. The adage about one human year equaling seven pet years really only applies to a fairly narrow range in the life of a dog or cat. If you think of human aging as a diagonal line, pet aging looks more like bell curve. There is a comparatively short youth, followed by a much more rapid progression of old age.

Cats and small breeds of dog mature quite rapidly, generally reaching physical and sexual maturity between 9 and 12 months of age. So a year-old cat or small dog is essentially at the same stage of life as your typical high school senior. (Parents of teenagers may wish their own kids could sail though adolescence in a few short months!) Larger breeds of dog may take anywhere from 18 months to two years to reach maturity.

From there, pets tend to age fairly uniformly — but by the age of six or seven years, the aging process again begins to vary widely. Among giant breeds of dogs, for example, ages eight to 10 are the geriatric years. Many of these lovely breeds, sadly, do not live into their teens.

For healthy cats and most other dogs, however, these years represent the prime of life. Indeed, cats and some toy breed dogs may be well into their early or mid teens before owners start to notice the physical signs typical of advancing age. On the other hand, larger dogs — such as retrievers, shepherd-type breeds and others of similar size — will begin to show signs of aging earlier.

Regardless of their chronological age, once pets reach their geriatric years they begin to show the same kinds of physical changes that we see in ourselves as the retirement years approach.

Many owners become concerned when they notice the cloudy blue haze that sometimes appears in the eyes of older dog or cat. It shouldn’t be cause for alarm, though. If there’s no sign of discharge or redness, and no evidence (such as blinking or rubbing) to suggest it’s causing pain, then what you’re seeing is likely just a natural consequence of advancing age — a gradual hardening of the lens of the eye, which is the structure that allows us to adjust our sight for fine motor tasks. Unless your pets like to read or do needlepoint, they won’t be troubled by it.

A progressive loss of hearing is another common sign of aging; it may even afford a degree of comfort to a senior pet, as it does help turn down the volume if the household is a particularly boisterous. Owners, however, sometimes find it a bit distressing to discover that their pets don’t always come when called anymore. (Then, again, if you have cats you’re probably used to being ignored.)

Arthritis in geriatric pets is as common as it is among senior citizens. If you live long enough, the years of wear and tear on your joints begin to add up. The joints become less flexible — and in advanced cases can cause quite a lot of pain. Cats and dogs usually signal this pain through a decrease in their normal activities, or a reluctance to do things they used to do, such as jumping up on a bed or climbing stairs. Dogs suffering from chronic pain may pant even when they are neither hot nor tired. Pets may also sleep excessively to escape the discomfort.

Some changes in behaviour can indicate a potentially serious health issue. Owners of senior pets should be especially alert for any change in appetite. An animal that gradually loses its appetite or that must be coaxed into eating with treats should see a veterinarian. The change may be caused by infected, loose or painful teeth, or may signal the nausea resulting by an internal organ problem. Cats or dogs that eat voraciously but still lose weight might be suffering from diabetes, kidney disease or even cancer. Excessive thirst is also a warning sign. It’s a common symptom of several serious but treatable diseases.

Keep an eye out for these signs. Pets, like people, stand the the best chance of recovery when illness is diagnosed in the early stages.

Next time, we’ll discuss ways to help keep your aging pets happy and comfortable in their twilight years. There is nothing quite so comforting as the warmth of a old cat snoozing in your lap, or a loving look from the faithful, grey-muzzled dog you’ve raised from a rambunctious pup. There are many things you can do to make sure this will be a wonderful time for both of you.

Dr. Pamela Barker is a professional veterinarian with more than 15 years of experience, currently practicing in 100 Mile House, B.C. Her special areas of interest include animal behaviour and training, nutrition and condition for canine athletes, and public education about animal health and care. If you’d like to suggest a topic for one of her future blog posts, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Cookie See, Cookie Dough

April 30th, 2012


No, we’re not sure what that post title means, either. But anyway. We love checking in on Fido & Wine producer Jen Mitchell‘s blog, My Dog’s Breakfast. She’s always got wonderfully creative, road-tested new recipes for homemade doggie meals and snacks. Some are delightfully offbeat — like her latest offering: dog cookies studded with colourful veggie chips, so that they resemble those ever-popular M & M’s cookies. (Never feed the latter to your pooch by the way: chocolate is extremely bad for our canine friends.)

Jen says the recipe took a few tries to get right. Here’s the final version:


- 4 tbsp. butter or margarine

- 1/2 cup honey

- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

- 1 cup dry milk

- 1/2 tsp baking soda

- 1/2 tsp sea salt

- 2 tbsp. water or carrot juice

- 2 eggs

- 1 cup of “Veggie chips,” dealer’s choice: frozen peas, carrots, beets, potato, etc. Basically, cut up tiny chip-like pieces of dog-friendly veggies. (I used dehydrated ones I bought from my fave Heronview Raw And Natural: you just soak them in hot water and they are ready to use. I also used lots of frozen peas, which I left frozen for additional water content.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Begin by adding soft butter or margarine to your mixing bowl. Give it a good forking until it’s a little whipped! Then, add your carrot juice or water, and the eggs. Beat lightly. Then, add the honey, sea salt, baking soda, and stir together. Finally, in portions, stir in the whole wheat flour. Lastly, add 1/3 of your veggie chips and gently mix into the cookie dough.

Place your cookie dough balls on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Make them the appropriate size for your dog(s). Mine are huge as my dogs are of the pig variety. Then, place your veggie chips on top of the cookies and slightly press in. Leave most of them exposed as the dough will puff up a bit around them. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. Let them cool before letting the dogs have a taste.

Follow Jen’s blog HERE.


Video Blog: Travel Tips

March 14th, 2012


Looking forward to a spring getaway? Make sure your vacation plans include provisions for your pet while you’re away. In this video blog post, The Pet Network’s Melissa walks you through the best options, from posh doggie hotels and spas to professional dog walkers and nannies.


A Fish Dish With Balls

February 28th, 2012


Fido & Wine producer extraordinaire Jen Mitchell has a great new dish posted on her blog, My Dog’s Breakfast. It’s a recipe for salmon balls (insert joke here) — an idea she came up with in an effort to introduce more fish into her dog Miko’s diet. As Jen explains, Miko had a bit of an (ahem) odor problem — she refers to it as “THE STANK” — and fish like salmon help  to promote healthy skin, which in turn is one of the keys to keeping your canine pleasingly unscented. So: salmon balls. Here’s the what and how:


1 1/2 cups cooked salmon (poached, baked, etc.)

I cup cooked brown rice

1 egg

1 tbs sesame oil

1 tbs ground ginger


1/4 cup white sesame seeds

1/4 cup black sesame seeds

Combine all ingredients (except for sesame seeds) in a bowl and mix well.

Spoon the mixture into a bowl. Have your sesame seeds at the ready for rolling.

Using a large spoon, begin to form balls of salmon.

Roll each ball in sesame seeds – yields approximately five white and five black balls.

Bake in the oven at 350 for 15 minutes.

Follow Jen’s blog HERE.


Her Dog’s Breakfast

February 17th, 2012


Jen Mitchell, the producer of our series Fido & Wine, has a new blog devoted to her current passion: home cooking for dogs. We’ll be reposting recipes and insights from My Dog’s Breakfast whenever we can. Here’s her recipe for a hearty treat called Pumpkin Rye Crunchers, made with Ryvita crispbreads:

-6 Ryvita crispbreads, crumbled 

-1 cup pure pumpkin puree

-2 cups rye flour or whole wheat if you don’t have it

-1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds

-1/3 cup peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Add the two cups of flour to your mixing bowl. Then add the pumpkin puree, seeds and peanut butter. Mix together. Crumble in two of the Ryvita crisps and the pumpkin seeds. Mix again. On top of the rough dough ball you’ve formed, sprinkle remainder of crumbled Ryvitas on top, let them fall off the sides to bottom of bowl. Lift the ball and and gently place the bottom on top of these fallen Ryvita crumbles.

Form cookies of any size you like from the dough ball, by gently making cookie balls. Place them on parchment lined baking tray and press down to make into a cookie shape. Don’t manhandle these ones too much,you want the crispy crumbles to stay somewhat on top of the dough so that they are still crisp after baking.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Follow Jen’s blog HERE.


Fit Or Fat?

February 8th, 2012


Posted by Dr. Pamela Barker

We all want the very best for our pets — but these days it seems that our pets may be getting too much of a good thing, in the form of food and treats. Obesity in dogs and cats has reached epidemic proportions in recent years. No longer required to burn calories by hunting game, herding livestock or ridding the farm of unwanted rodents, most pets are now creatures of leisure. Little energy is expended lounging on the couch, and modern pet foods are densely packed with protein, fats and carbohydrates. For many pets, this combination of dietary excess and inactivity is a recipe for disaster.

Really, though, what’s a few extra pounds? How bad can that be? Turns out, over the course of the pet’s lifetime, it can have serious — sometimes fatal — consequences.

First, let’s put things in perspective. Let’s say your 5.5 kg (12-pound) pet should actually weigh closer to 4.5 kg (10 pounds). That’s only one little kilogram, right? But for your pet, that’s an extra 20 percent on top of their ideal weight. That’s the equivalent of adding 30 extra pounds on a person who should weigh about 150 pounds. In my practice, I commonly see 45 kg dogs whose ideal body weight should be around 34 kg. These poor dogs are tired, sore and don’t like to do much. And no wonder! It’s like a person carrying around a 40 pound backpack, 24/7.

And the story is even worse for those dogs with short legs and long backs — the extra weight on their frame puts tremendous stress on the spine. Think of it as being like putting several pairs of wet jeans on a coat hanger. The vertebral column sags and puts pressure on the soft disks between the bones. This crushing effect causes pain, arthritis of the spine and — not uncommonly — paralysis. This condition, known as intervertebral disk disease, often requires expensive surgery to prevent permanent paralysis.

Cats don’t get off so easily, either. Excess weight in these pets — just as in humans and in dogs —dramatically raises the risk of diabetes. And diabetic pets require the same kind of treatment as diabetic people. They must receive insulin injections at strictly spaced intervals, usually once or twice a day. Their blood sugar must be monitored frequently (yes, with a needle!), and they must eat special food when they receive their medication. And, since there is no known cure for diabetes, the disease must be managed for life. Some lucky felines — if they are diagnosed early and their blood sugar is brought under control quickly — will go into remission. Even these cats, however, must be monitored closely for recurrence. And if they remain overweight, the problem may recur.

In addition, overweight cats are at risk of a life-threatening condition called “fatty liver syndrome” or hepatic lipidosis. This can occur quite suddenly when an overweight cat stops eating regularly, for whatever reason. The liver becomes overwhelmed when the cat’s body starts using its stored fat as a source of energy. This process can quickly prove fatal without hospitalization and intensive treatment. Serious cases may require the surgical placement of a feeding tube, which may need to stay in place for weeks until the cat recovers.

As if all this weren’t bad enough, some evidence suggests that overweight animals are more susceptible to certain kinds of cancers. And we know for a fact that one of the best pain-relief remedies for arthritic pets is to maintain them at their ideal body weight.

So how do you know if your pet is overweight? Like watching the grass grow, it can be difficult to notice, since it happens so gradually and we see our pets every day. Plus, our concept of what a slim, fit pet looks like has changed over time. We see so many overweight animals now that it skews our perception of what normal actually looks like.

Determining your pet’s level of fitness — officially known as the Body Condition Score, or BCS — requires a hands-on approach. You need to work your fingers through the coat and feel for fat deposits that indicate that your pet is packing a few extra pounds. There are different BCS scoring charts available online to help guide you through the process.

Your veterinarian is the best resource for determining if your pet’s weight is appropriate, or if there are steps you need to take to help your pet achieve an active, healthy life.

Dr. Pamela Barker is a professional veterinarian with more than 15 years of experience, currently practicing in 100 Mile House, B.C. Her special areas of interest include animal behaviour and training, nutrition and condition for canine athletes, and public education about animal health and care. If you’d like to suggest a topic for one of her future blog posts, please feel free to leave a comment below.


Rooming with Rover

May 25th, 2011

Do dogs belong in a high-rise apartment building? Many landlords and say no — and their tenants often agree. But as this article from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald notes, building management company Greenwin Properties Ltd. is getting a leg up in the rental market by instituting a dog-friendly policy:

“We were surprised when we came to Halifax last year to learn there were just about no apartments available in the city that permitted dogs,” said Jessica Green, marketing director with Greenwin Properties Ltd., in an interview Friday.

Greenwin Properties believes dogs are good for business, she said.

Dogs are banned from most large apartment buildings in the Halifax-Dartmouth area. Greenwin, which manages various properties in Central and Eastern Canada, clearly saw a gap in the market waiting to be filled.

Green said her company has allowed dogs at all the properties it manages for years and has rarely had problems with unruly canines.

“By allowing dogs we appeal to a particular demographic. In our experience, dog owners make great tenants.”

Pet owners are even invited to bring their pooch along when coming in for an interview, although it is not necessary.

Now, we at The Pet Network love dogs. But we’ve often wondered whether an apartment building is a suitable environment for a dog. A pooch needs room to roam, we tend to think. Besides which, the close proximity to neighbours in a high-rise setup can make for problems if your four-legged friend likes to express himself loudly at times. Cats, on the whole, seems better suited to apartment living.

But that’s just us. What do you think?

Tails From Greece

April 26th, 2011

The Toronto Star‘s April 21 feature story on Turbo, the plucky little disabled terrier, has warmed a lot of hearts — and brought well-deserved attention to Tails From Greece Rescue, the Toronto-based private rescue mission that brought him to this country.

Founded by financial consultant Dianne Aldan, Tails From Greece has helped some 200 stray dogs and cats from Greece — a country with a less than stellar animal welfare record — find safe homes here in Canada.

Our Pet Central series featured Tails From Greece in an episode that aired earlier this spring. See a preview of the episode here.


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