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


The skinny on dog and cat care: What veterinarians are talking about at conferences

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Caring for old cats, allergies and ear infections, how to communicate with stressed pets, dueling dogs, hair loss in dogs and cats, responding to disasters: Those were just a few of the hundreds of sessions presented at the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) last month in Orlando, Florida, and the Western Veterinary Conference (WVC) earlier this month in Las Vegas. We attend veterinary conferences to learn about advances in veterinary medicine and find news for future features. Here are some takeaways for pet owners.

-- Chronic kidney disease is common in aging cats, affecting 28 to 31 percent of them. Weight loss is one of the clues that it’s advancing. Cats start to lose weight two or more years prior to death from kidney disease, says veterinary nutritionist Dottie Laflamme, who spoke at NAVC. She says even small body weight changes can be significant. Maintaining body weight and condition may help to deter disease and death in cats.

Cats’ energy requirements start increasing when they are 10 to 12 years old, in part because of reduced digestive function. They need more calories than younger adult cats, so a highly palatable diet is important.

“We don’t want cats to be fat, but we don’t want them to lose weight just because we’re not giving them enough calories,” Dr. Laflamme says. “That can be a difficult balance in cats with chronic kidney disease.”

Equally important, be aware that cats can have kidney disease without showing any signs. That was one of the takeaways from a talk on aging cats presented by Susan Little, DVM, at WVC. Again, keep an eye on weight. Dr. Little says 57 percent of cats have lost weight by the time owners notice and bring them to the veterinarian.

-- Bald is beautiful? Not so much in dogs and cats with hair loss. Alopecia, as hair loss conditions are known, has inflammatory and non-inflammatory causes, according to Darren Berger, DVM, a dermatology specialist from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, who spoke at NAVC. While some types of alopecia are caused by genetic defects, one has an easily preventable cause. Post-clipping alopecia is when hair doesn’t regrow after being trimmed close to the skin; it is usually seen in Nordic breeds such as Alaskan malamutes, Samoyeds and Siberian huskies. It’s thought to occur when the coat is clipped while the hair is in a prolonged resting, or telogen, phase. It can take as long as a year for hair to regrow, but prevention is easy, Dr. Berger says: Don’t shave these breeds unless it’s absolutely necessary.

-- A minority of pet owners purchase pet health insurance, although it’s one of the most rapidly growing industries in the pet health field. At the end of 2016, just under 2 million pets were insured. If your pet is one of them, know what’s covered and make sure your veterinarian has your policy information on file. It’s not unusual for pet owners to forget that they have coverage, says Kerry O’Hara, Ph.D., who presented veterinary pricing statistics at WVC.

-- In her talk “Fear Free: Learning to Listen to Our Patients,” licensed veterinary technician Debbie Martin, who specializes in behavior, spoke on how veterinarians and staff can ease pets' fear, anxiety and stress by understanding their sensory perceptions and how they differ from human perception. To provide pets with a comfortable experience, she says, avoid direct eye contact, speak slowly and softly, wait for the pet to approach, avoid unpleasant odors, and create pleasant associations with people, areas and equipment. Pet owners can use the same techniques at home to create a pleasant environment for pets.


Park the bark?

Next-door dog noise

Q: I live in a townhouse, and my neighbor’s poodle is a barking machine. Can a dog be trained not to bark? -- via email

A: Barking is a natural dog behavior. Dogs bark to communicate -- “Hey, someone’s walking up to the door” -- out of frustration or excitement, or out of boredom. The good news is that dogs can learn when it’s appropriate to bark and when to put a lid on it. More difficult, sometimes, is educating owners about how to deal with their dogs’ unwanted behaviors.

The first thing to do is document the frequency of the dog’s barking. Note the days and times the dog barks and the length of time the barking continues. Record the barking so your neighbor can have an idea of how much noise is coming into your unit.

Then knock on her door and politely ask if you can have a chat about the dog’s barking. Explain the specific problem, whether it’s being unable to sleep, unable to hear your television or unable to concentrate on work.

If your neighbor is not home during the day, she may not realize what a nuisance it is. She may be able to set up a “dog cam” to determine what’s setting the dog off. It might be people, other dogs, squirrels or birds that he sees through the window. If that’s the case, she may be able to put a stop to the barking by closing the blinds or restricting the dog’s access to rooms with windows. To offset boredom, the dog may need a midday walk with a pet sitter or some interactive toys to occupy his brain.

If she’s unable or unwilling to deal with the dog’s barking, it may be necessary to approach the homeowners association or animal control. -- Mikkel Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


9 salmonella infections

linked to guinea pigs

-- Wash your hands -- and make sure children do as well -- after handling pet guinea pigs. The furry pocket pets have been linked to an outbreak of salmonella infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is investigating nine cases in eight states. The illnesses occurred over a two-year period -- from July 2015 to December 2017 -- so the outbreak is not widespread. Pet rodents such as guinea pigs can carry salmonella even if they look clean and healthy, so take normal sanitary precautions after handling them or cleaning cages or other habitats.

-- Were you born in the Year of the Dog? The dog is one of 12 zodiac animals associated with China’s 12-year calendar cycle. Dog years include 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006 and, of course, 2018. People born in the Year of the Dog are said to be loyal, kind and honest. Celebrate by sending your snail mail with a Year of the Dog stamp, which features artwork depicting bamboo -- considered to be lucky -- and a piece of red paper bearing the Chinese character fu, meaning good fortune.

-- The one thing that most of us know about Saturn is that it is orbited by rings made of ice particles. But did you know that Saturn’s thin, outer “F” ring contains small clumps and moonlets nicknamed “kittens”? In an interview with, Cassini spacecraft scientist Larry Esposito said the particles are constantly colliding, breaking apart and sticking together, forming either smaller kittens or piles of kittens. “These are like cats, because they have nine lives,” he said. Mittens, Garfield, Fluffy, Socks and Whiskers are among the nicknames NASA scientists have given some of the larger kittens. They were among the discoveries made by Cassini, using an instrument called an Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


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.