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



If you are anything like us, one of your top New Year's resolutions is always to get (or stay) in shape. Most of us vow to eat less and exercise more, especially when we wake up on New Year's Day and realize the results of holiday excesses.

When you commit to an exercise routine, don't leave your pet behind. Our dogs (and cats) need exercise as much as or maybe even more than we do, since they have fewer opportunities to get out and do things.

Walking or running with a dog or taking up a dog sport such as agility is a great way for both of you to burn calories, but be sure you start slow and work up to long distances or greater speeds. Like people, dogs are prone to weekend warrior syndrome -- the aches, pains and injuries that come from being inactive and then overdoing exercise.

The optimal amount of exercise for dogs in terms of frequency, intensity and duration isn't known, but factors to consider when planning an exercise program for them include their size, build, fitness level, manners (do they behave nicely in public or do they need an activity that doesn't bring them in contact with other people or dogs?), and past and current orthopedic health. Taking these things into account can help to determine the best form of exercise for them and minimize the risk of orthopedic injuries.

Whether you and your dog will be walking around the block or taking up a new sport, here are our best tips for getting conditioned and avoiding injury.

-- Talk to your veterinarian about your plans. He or she can advise you about whether your dog is ready for certain activities. For instance, large or giant breeds shouldn't run on hard surfaces until their growth plates close, usually at 10 to 24 months.

-- Choose an activity that's appropriate for your dog. Denis Marcellin-Little, professor of orthopedic surgery at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, says the best way to "break" a greyhound is to engage him in jumping sports. Likewise, it's not a good idea to jog with a French bulldog (even if you could get him to consider the idea in the first place).

-- Preventing injury is critical. Know the types of injuries commonly seen in your dog's breed or body type. Cranial cruciate ligament ruptures are common in couch-potato Labrador retrievers. Herding and agility dogs tend to suffer ligament damage because they change direction frequently. Flat-coated retrievers can be prone to patellar luxation. German shepherds can have spinal problems. Search for medical problems affecting specific breeds.

-- Balance is a key factor in conditioning. Your dog (and you) should be able to adjust as needed to changes in direction or ground surfaces. Changing direction, both ways, as you jog or run is a good way to improve balance. So is walking over cavaletti rails (a series of obstacles set at certain heights or distances) or on a trampoline if you have access to one. If you teach your dog tricks or movements such as spinning or figure eights, he should learn to perform them in both directions.

-- Rest is critical. Downtime limits fatigue and prevents injuries from overuse. The body needs rest to repair tissues and replace energy.

-- What about your cat? Give him 10 to 15 minutes of activity a day in three- to five-minute sessions. It's as easy as tossing a small tennis ball down the hall for him to chase, encouraging him to climb his cat tree by placing his food on the top level, or dangling a feather toy to encourage him to jump up or bat at it.

We wish you and your pets a happy, healthy new year.


Ear canal removal

drastic but helpful

Q: I was told when I adopted him that my cat had some benign polyps in his ear, but lately he's been scratching at it a lot. It smells bad, and I noticed some discharge, so I took him to the veterinarian. He found a tumor in the ear canal and recommends something called total ear canal ablation. It sounds really drastic. Is this a good idea? -- via email

A: Wow! That is definitely a delicate and complex surgery. Known as total ear canal ablation, or TECA, it involves complete removal of the ear canal. Cats have an L-shaped ear canal, so we can't just go in and use a long instrument to remove the tumor. There's too much risk of missing part of it. It takes some fancy handwork to avoid damaging nerves inside the ear, but the surgery can have real benefits for cats with chronic ear canal infections or tumors such as your cat has.

The first thing the surgeon considers is whether the tumor has spread into the bone of the skull. That makes it a much more difficult situation to deal with. If that's not a problem, though, then the surgeon can remove the ear canal and, if necessary, clean out the middle ear and prescribe antibiotics to treat any infection.

Your cat will still be able to hear after the ear canal is removed, although sounds will be dampened, sort of the same way they are when you wear earplugs. You may also notice that he's happier and more active because he's more comfortable.

A veterinary pathologist will biopsy the tumor to see if it is benign (harmless) or malignant (cancerous). Sometimes tumors that appear to be benign turn out to be malignant when a larger sample is submitted. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton

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Inquiring minds:

2014's top pet questions

-- Got questions about your pets? Whatever they may be, chances are you turned to Google for answers. The search engine released a list of the top questions asked last year about dogs and cats. Here's what you wanted to know: Why do dogs eat grass? Do dogs dream? Why do dogs howl? Why do dogs have whiskers? Why do dogs chase their tails? How to clean dogs' ears? Why are dogs' noses wet? How to stop dogs from digging? How to introduce dogs? Why do dogs bury bones? Why do cats purr? How long do cats live? Why do cats knead? Why do cats sleep so much? Why do cats have whiskers? What does catnip do to cats? Why do cats hate water? Why do cats eat grass? Why do cats like boxes? What is a group of cats called?

-- The pharaoh hound has a sense of humor, and anyone who lives with this breed needs one as well. He'll steal your stuff and play tricks on you, all while making you laugh at his antics. The blushing breed -- he turns bright pink when he's happy or excited -- was not a companion to pharaohs, despite his name, but was probably developed on the island of Malta in the 17th century.

-- Legislation signed in New York last month by Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlaws Goth cats and tattooed Pekes. The new law, which goes into effect in April, prohibits tattooing or piercing pets, which Cuomo called "animal abuse, pure and simple." The bill was introduced in the wake of pet owners who performed the painful practices on their animals and posted pictures of them on social media or advertised them for sale. The law applies to dogs, cats and other pets, and carries punishments of up to $250 and up to 15 days jail time. Exemptions include tattoos for identification purposes and ear tags for rabbits. -- 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.


Caption 01: For dogs and people, fitness requires strength, endurance, flexibility and good cardiovascular function. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: A group of cats is called a clowder, cluster, clutter or glaring, but multiple kittens are a kindle. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1