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



I love going to veterinary conferences. Learning about advances in veterinary medicine and checking out new products and pharmaceuticals is an essential part of keeping up-to-date in my field. At the 2014 Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas last month, I attended some great educational sessions and discovered some new veterinary and consumer products that I will follow with interest. They have a lot of potential for not only helping our pets, but also helping us to learn more about them. Here's a sampling of products and information that I ran across:

-- Apoquel: Who hasn't lived with at least one itchy dog? Sometimes their condition is so bad it makes you want to start scratching yourself. With this new drug, some dogs may find rapid relief, maybe even within a few hours. It's not a steroid, so it doesn't have the side effects that are associated with those types of drugs. The drug works by targeting cytokines (proteins) associated with itching and inflammation. It's suitable for dogs with flea allergies, food allergies or contact allergies.

-- Voyce: Do you have a Fitbit or Nike Fuel band? Now, in addition to tracking your own heart rate, respiratory rate and activity levels, you can collect that data for your dog, too, with the Voyce, a collar that monitors vital signs, calories burned and more. For a monthly fee, you and your veterinarian can access the information, set goals for your dog, and note changes that may be early indicators of problems. You can also receive articles, videos and other information specific to your dog. The collar is waterproof to one meter.

-- Whistle: This activity monitor attaches to your dog's collar and keeps track of how much time is spent on walks, play and rest. You can set daily goals and get weekly updates. The information is easy to access with a free app on your iOS or Android phone. You can share the information with your veterinarian and compare your dog's activity level with dogs of the same breed, age or weight. The device is waterproof and has a 10-day rechargeable battery.

-- Canine intelligence: Psychologist and dog smarts expert Dr. Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia spoke on how we can measure the intelligence of dogs. He had a lot of fascinating things to say, but the takeaway is that when it comes to language, recognizing objects and the ability to form concepts, most dogs have the mental ability of a 2- or 3-year-old child. If we are teaching a skill or presenting a problem to be solved to a dog, it's important to consider whether a toddler could learn the same thing. If not, we may need to rethink whether it's something the dog could do.

-- Older pets: Veterinary anesthesiology specialist Dr. Courtney Baetge of Texas A&M University addressed the special needs of geriatric animals. You might think that sedation is safer for a senior pet, but Dr. Baetge says general anesthesia is a better choice because it protects the airway, provides complete oxygen delivery and allows for ventilator support if needed. What qualifies as older? We typically describe animals as geriatric when they reach 75 percent to 80 percent of the average life span for their breed or species, but we can't always say for sure in the case of mixed breeds or animals with unknown histories.

That's just a fraction of the information that I -- and maybe your own veterinarian -- gathered at the conference. It's our goal to keep up with the latest news and science so we can give your pet the best care possible.


Pets and pet lovers can

live an eco-friendly life

Q: I try to live a "green" lifestyle, and I'm wondering if there are any pet-related ways I can reduce my carbon footprint. -- via email

A: What a great question! Mother Earth can use all the help she can get. There are several ways you can lighten your pets' impact on the environment.

-- Look for toys made from materials that are biodegradable, recycled or sustainable. Read the label to see if there's a toll-free number you can use to call the manufacturer and make sure the item doesn't contain any toxic dyes or finishing agents.

-- Ask where toys are manufactured. Products made in the U.S. don't have to be shipped as far, so they have a smaller carbon footprint. Some foreign-made toys may contain high levels of heavy metals, which are unhealthy for you and your pets. Instead of buying lots of cheap toys, buy a few high-quality items and rotate them.

-- See if your cat is willing to use litter made from plant-based materials such as corncobs, wheat or recycled newspapers. These litters are often less dusty and may be flushable or biodegradable. Another option is silica-gel "pearls," which can be used for longer periods before you need to change them.

-- Scoop poop and throw it away in a trash can so that waste runoff doesn't drain to the ocean or other water sources. Use biodegradable or compostable poop bags.

-- Avoid using herbicides and insecticides on your lawn. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to significantly higher risk of bladder cancer in dogs, especially Scottish terriers, Shetland sheepdogs, beagles, West Highland white terriers and wirehaired fox terriers.

-- Use stainless steel food and water bowls, which are fully recyclable.

-- Spay or neuter your pets to prevent unwanted litters, and support trap-neuter-release programs for feral cat colonies in your area. -- Kim Campbell Thornton


They stop barking,

but will they oink?

-- Dogs sprayed with a pig pheromone stopped barking and jumping up, according to a case study published in the February 2014 issue of Professional Animal Scientist. Androstenone, found in the saliva of male pigs -- known as boars -- is a turn-on for female pigs, but when researchers at Texas Tech University sprayed it on dogs who were barking or jumping up, the dogs stopped the undesirable behaviors. That makes androstenone, which works through the olfactory system, a powerful interomone; that is, a substance that is produced by one species but has an effect on the behavior of a different species.

-- Think all cats hate water? Not so fast. Many big cats and a number of domestic felines think that taking a dip is just fine. Cat breeds you are most likely to find making a splash include the Turkish Van, the Turkish Angora, the Savannah, the American bobtail, the Bengal, the Japanese bobtail, the Manx, the Siberian, the Maine coon, the Abyssinian and the Norwegian forest cat.

-- Four genes associated with canine compulsive disorder have been identified and may help researchers study obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans. Dogs, cats and humans can be gripped by the need to perform repetitive actions in an attempt to relieve anxiety. In animals, those behaviors may include tail-chasing, excessive grooming or wool-sucking. Dog breeds that are often affected include Doberman pinschers, bull terriers, Shetland sheepdogs and German shepherds. The study, published in the journal Genome Biology, shows that dogs with the condition can be good models for the human form of OCD, but it's not yet known whether the same genes are involved in the development of OCD in humans. The discovery could eventually help scientists develop more effective treatments for the condition. -- Kim Campbell Thornton


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 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 or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.