Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

FIT FIDO

The fitness revolution has gone to the dogs as activity trackers monitor your dog's every step

By Kim Campbell Thornton

I've been wearing an activity tracker for the past six weeks, and it's a good incentive to get up and move a little more so I can make my goal of 10,000 steps per day. But what about my dogs? Are they getting their recommended daily dose of exercise?

You probably won't be surprised to learn that wearable activity monitors are available for pets -- they drew a lot of attention at the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas last February -- but how do they work, and how accurate and useful are they?

The tiny accelerometers contain a sensor that detects movement in all directions. Some units contain GPS capabilities that provide specific information on geographic location and distance traveled. They may also monitor heart and respiratory rates.

The benefit for pets -- primarily dogs -- is the ability to monitor how active they are every day. A lot of us probably think our dogs spend time running around in the yard chasing squirrels while we're gone, but that's not necessarily the case. Those of us who work at home know that our dogs tend to snooze the day away, getting up only when we go to the kitchen or call them to go out for a walk. Putting an activity tracker on your pet can be a wake-up call, alerting you that perhaps he's not quite as active as you imagined.

While the monitors are good at detecting movement, they can't always differentiate between types of movement. For instance, a dog who sniffs the ground vigorously while lying down moves his head enough to register activity on the tracker, but that doesn't qualify as exercise. And a dog who scratches all day will rack up minutes of activity, but that's also not true exercise.

Some measurements may not be as accurate for some movements, says internal medicine specialist Bess J. Pierce, director of the Center for Animal-Human Relationships at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia.

"For example, in one study, there was no significant difference between trackers in all test dogs for trotting and walking, but the measurements became more variable when dogs were trotting up and down stairs."

An activity tracker can't assess overall fitness, but it can be useful for determining how many minutes per day your pet is active and the distance he logs, whether he's running around in the yard, walking with you on leash or hiking off leash with the opportunity to run back and forth. Most trackers allow you to monitor activity trends over time and keep logs or diaries of downloaded data. An app can allow you to compare his activity level to other dogs of a similar age, breed or size.

And they're not just for young, active dogs.

"These monitors may be especially useful in geriatric dogs," Dr. Pierce says. "For example, if an older dog is arthritic and has a sudden decrease in activity level, then it may be associated with an acute flare-up of joint pain."

Other uses include helping veterinarians follow a pet's weight-loss progress or tracking scratching activity in dogs with allergies who are very itchy. A sudden decrease in activity could also signal a medical problem.

If you're thinking of getting a canine activity monitor, choose one that's pet-specific. Simply attaching your own device to his collar won't yield accurate results.

"As long as a tracker is used within its limits, the information provided can be accurate and useful in monitoring your pet's activity," Dr. Pierce says. "Plus, it's just plain fun to see what your pet has been up to during the day."

Q&A

What we know about

Ebola virus and dogs

Q: The media are reporting that dogs are carriers of Ebola but show no symptoms. What can you tell us about it? -- via Facebook

A: We are still learning about how the Ebola virus affects dogs, and whether or how the virus could be transmitted between dogs and people. And the information we do have could change as we learn more. Here's what we know now, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

-- We know that dogs in Africa have become infected with the Ebola virus, usually from feeding off the bodies of animals that may have died from the disease, but dogs don't appear to develop the disease.

-- We have no evidence that infected dogs are able to spread Ebola to people or other animals.

-- The risk to pets in the United States is low. They would have to come in contact with blood and bodily fluids of a person with Ebola. Currently, only eight people in the United States have been diagnosed with Ebola. Three have recovered, four are undergoing treatment and one has died.

-- There is no need to test dogs or cats for Ebola if the animals have not been exposed to blood or bodily fluids of a person showing symptoms of the disease. Routine testing for Ebola is not available for pets.

-- The Centers for Disease Control and the American Veterinary Medical Association are developing guidelines to manage dogs exposed to people infected with the Ebola virus. A case in point is Bentley, the cavalier King Charles spaniel who belongs to a nurse who contracted the disease. He is currently quarantined and under the care of veterinarians at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, and has so far tested negative for Ebola.

By the time this is published, Bentley's quarantine period will likely be over and we may know more about the potential risk to pets and whether quarantining them should be a part of helping to manage the disease. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Dog overcomes torment,

becomes therapy dog

-- A therapy dog named Susie was named 2014 American Hero Dog at the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards on Oct. 30. The pit bull mix from High Point, North Carolina, survived a savage beating and burning by her owner, who left her for dead. She was rescued and nursed back to health at a local shelter. In a tear-worthy twist, Susie was adopted by Donna Lawrence, the victim of a dog attack that nearly killed her. Together, the two helped each other heal and helped bring about passage of the state's "Susie's Law," which sets harsher penalties for people convicted of animal abuse.

-- When your pet undergoes surgery, is he properly hydrated? A recent study published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research confirmed the importance of giving IV fluids to pets during even minor surgical procedures to help maintain blood pressure and compensate for fluid loss. Deborah Silverstein, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, found that increasing the amount of fluid delivered to the animal enhanced the total number of small vessels -- arterioles, venules and capillaries -- receiving blood flow. The American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners recommend IV drips during any surgery.

-- When 76-year-old Judy Muhe of Palmdale, Florida, fell and injured herself, the situation was dire. She was unable to get up on her own, and no one knew of her predicament -- except for her two golden retrievers, Higgins and Dodger. For two days, they snuggled next to her, helping her to stay warm. When a friend, concerned that Muhe wasn't answering the phone, entered the house to check on her, the dogs ran to her and then ran back to Muhe. Thanks to their care, Muhe survived. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

CAPTIONS AND CREDIT

Caption 01: If you are concerned about your dog's activity level or just wonder what he does all day, an activity monitor may give you clues. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: Susie overcame a traumatic ordeal and now spreads hope and cheer to people in hospitals, nursing homes and schools. Credit: Angie Smith