Interview With SlimDoggy Founder Steve Pelletier: Part II

Welcome to Ask a Pet Pro, where animal experts share their knowledge and experience, and help us all become better pet parents. Last week dog fitness expert Steve Pelletier talked with us about canine fitness and nutrition, and this week he’s back to share more of his expertise on keeping the canine members of your family fit and moving.

steve_pelletierStephen Pelletier is an experienced technology and start-up executive with a passion for health and fitness for people and pets. He is the founder of SlimDoggy.com and PetsMove.org, both of which provide tools and tips to dog owners to help their dog achieve and maintain a healthy weight and a healthy and happy life. Prior to that, he was SVP for LibreezeFitness, a curated directory of “the best of the web” health and fitness content. Pelletier was also the founder and former CEO of FatTail, the premier provider of contract and inventory management, workflow, and reporting software for online publishers.

Steve and his family are active contributors to several LA area dog rescues. He and his wife currently share their home with Jack and Maggie, two Labrador rescues who never cease to make them smile.

Question: What’s the most common mistake pet parents make when they don’t monitor their dogs’ activity and intake?
The mistake is that pet parents don’t monitor their dogs’ activity and intake ;-)
Let’s break it down into the 2 components:

  • Activity: getting proper exercise is crucial to your dog’s weight and overall health.  Not only does exercise burn calories, but it also can lead to a form of “runner’s high” for your dog, which makes them feel (and behave) well.  Going out for a short walk is not enough in most cases.  A dog needs at least 30 minutes of rigorous exercise each day assuming that they are injury free and have no other limiting medical conditions. Further, the more intense the exercise, the more calories will burn per unit of time.  A 30 minute run can burn twice as many calories as a 30 minute walk, for example.A 50 lb dog could easily burn about 100 calories per day with around 30 minutes of brisk walking or jogging.  If they stopped this exercise but kept the same diet, they would gain more than 10 lbs. per year!  That is 20% of their weight each year.
  • Intake (feeding): we have a saying with regard to human fitness that applies to dogs as well:“you can’t out exercise a bad diet”. The fact is that calories burned from exercise, in all but the most extraordinary cases (e.g. sled dogs), are not enough to justify unmeasured feedings.  Most dogs will burn about 10-15% of their total daily calories from exercise; the remaining 85-90% of calories are burned to support basic metabolic processes and basic movement around the house and yard.

It is important for pet owners to understand this concept because it emphasizes that the most important factor determining if your dog will be fat, or not, is the amount of food they eat each day. As a pet owner, there are really two steps to ensure proper feeding:

  1.  Have an idea of how many calories your dog needs each day based on their size and activity.  Our Slimdoggy iPhone app was created to supply this information.
  2. Accurately measure how much you feed to make sure you stay within your dogs daily target range.

There are actually some pretty amazing technologies and devices being created to help with the measurement problem.  PetNet.io (formerly PintoFeed.com) is one company that is building an intelligent pet feeder that will help people address the overfeeding issue.

Proper exercise and proper feeding is all it takes to keep your pet fit, trim, and healthy.

Question: We’ve been using water therapy to rehab our dog after hip surgery, but the weather is starting to get too cold for swimming in the lake. What alternative low-impact exercise do you suggest to keep her active in the winter months?

This is a tricky one.  Without knowing the specifics of the injury and what limitations your vet has placed on your dog, we can’t know what is safe for your dog.  With that said, there are many low-impact exercises to choose from, assuming your vet has given you clearance.

We recommend that dog owners create exercise programs for their dogs that are balanced and incorporate a variety of activities, many of which can be low-impact moves.  Some examples include:

  • Walking on flat terrain, progressing to hills.
  • Basic core exercises.  Start by having your dog stand on all fours and gently push their torso to force them to contact their core to stabilize.  Progress to using balance cushions.
  • Mobility exercises. You want your dog to regain their full range of motion.  We like the simple “Nose Stretch” which is also a good core exercise.

Our website provides a lot more information on how to structure a balanced exercise program for your dog as well as some great alternative exercises for your dog.

Question: Are there any special considerations pet parents should make when switching older dogs to wet food?

Assuming that your dog is healthy and your vet is OK with the switch, there are generally no issues other than a possible adjustment period.  We recommend mixing wet with try, staring with mostly dry and each day adding more wet and less dry until you achieve your targeted mix.

It is important to know that, on average, wet food contains fewer calories than dry food. In fact, based on our database of over 2,000 dog food and treats, we see that an average dry food contains about 390 calories per cup while an average wet food contains about 260 calories per cup. When switching, make sure you know the actual differences for your brands so that you don’t over- or under-feed as a result of the switch.

Question: If you could get pet parents to stop one bad habit, what would it be?

Stop equating food with love. I know how great it feels to provide your dog with food and treats. But as I have talked about before, overfeeding leads to shorter life spans, lower quality of life, and higher food and medical costs.  Show your pet you love them by keeping them fit, trim, and healthy.

Question: What tip would you give new pet parents to get a puppy started with healthy habits?

Like with children, I think it is important to lay the foundation for future behavior. And also like with children, that means that the parent’s behavior must be addressed in order to do so.

Puppies are rarely overweight because their fast growing bodies are calorie furnaces. Yet, this is exactly the right time to start to calculate their daily food requirements and measure your food accordingly.

Puppies also have a lot of energy, but it is a mistake to use high impact activities like running until their bones strengthen and set. Eight months to a year is the minimum age your puppy needs to reach before starting a running program.  Check with your vet!

Use your exercise sessions to bond with your puppy. There is no doubt in my mind that exercising and playing with your puppy will increase the bond between you two.  And keep you both fit and healthy too!

Interview With SlimDoggy Founder Steve Pelletier

Welcome to Ask a Pet Pro, where animal experts share their knowledge and experience, and help us all become better pet parents. For this edition, dog fitness expert Steve Pelletier graciously agreed to answer our questions about canine fitness and nutrition.

steve_pelletierStephen Pelletier is an experienced technology and start-up executive with a passion for health and fitness for people and pets. He is the founder of SlimDoggy.com and PetsMove.org, both of which provide tools and tips to dog owners to help their dog achieve and maintain a healthy weight and a healthy and happy life. Prior to that, he was SVP for LibreezeFitness, a curated directory of “the best of the web” health and fitness content. Pelletier was also the founder and former CEO of FatTail, the premier provider of contract and inventory management, workflow, and reporting software for online publishers.

Steve and his family are active contributors to several LA area dog rescues. He and his wife currently share their home with Jack and Maggie, two Labrador rescues who never cease to make them smile.

Question: Your dog Jack was the inspiration for SlimDoggy, and one of the more interesting parts of his story is the fact that he was able to stop taking behavior modifying medications after you put him on a healthy eating and exercise routine. What are some of the other more surprising issues that good diet and exercise can help alleviate in dogs?

Answer: Although I wouldn’t call them ‘surprising’, there are several major benefits to properly exercising and feeding your dog:

• A lean dog will live almost 2 years on average longer than an overweight dog. This is an approximately 15% longer life span. To put this into perspective, that would mean an extra 12 years to the average person living in the US.

• A lean dog will cost their owners a lot less money. People spend a lot of money on extra food, medicine, and medical care for their dogs that they might not otherwise need to spend if their dog was lean and fit. We estimate that in the US alone, this cost to the owners of the almost 37 million overweight dogs, in aggregate, is near $8 billion each year.

Some of the health risks to having an overweight dog include:

o Shorter life span
o Arthritis
o High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease
o Cancer

• Having an active and lean dog can reduce the symptoms of arthritis and generally minimize some of the issues that older dogs are prone to experience. Jack is a good example: at 10 years old, he is still very active and acts like a puppy and he is not on any regular medication like many older dogs are.

Question: Is there a fitness activity you’d recommend for the whole family?
Something we can all do together with both of our dogs, even if one’s a feisty lab and the other is a lazy dachshund?

Answer: First of all, there is no such thing as a lazy dog, only lazy owners! Dogs love to get up and exercise. In fact, there was a recent study which showed that dogs, like humans, experience a form of “runners high” when they exercise intensely.

That said, our dogs and other family members are not always athletically compatible due to size differences or injury limitations. For these cases, family outings like hikes or family workouts that incorporate sprint drills and core work are fairly easy to modify based on each participants capability. We also recommend using a weighted vest, like the K9 Fit Vest by DogTread, on the stronger dogs. This can help increase the activity intensity for them while allowing the less able dogs to participate in a less stressful way.

Question: What myth about canine nutrition or fitness do you wish could be debunked once and for all?

Answer: One of the things that many dog owners fail to realize is that having a big backyard does not mean that your dog is getting proper exercise. You need to monitor, if not participate in the dog’s exercise routine to ensure they get adequate activity.

Regarding nutrition, a big issue is relying on the feeding instructions on the dog food label. You cannot assume that the serving recommendation on the dog food label is appropriate for your dog. These recommendations are far too generic and often result in incorrect serving amounts.

Question: Canine obesity seems to be on the rise. What do you think is responsible for the increased number of overweight dogs?

Answer: There are many reasons for this. Here are a few that come to mind:

• Lack of knowledge about how much you should feed your dog given their age and activity level. As I said earlier, food labels are not specific enough. Up until we released the SlimDoggy app, there really was no place to go to learn how exactly much you should feed your pet.

• Failure to properly measure food servings. Knowing how much you should feed your dog is not enough. You have to make sure that you actually feed the correct amount. We always tell people to Measure, measure, measure!

• Failure to account for ‘treats’ and human snacks that are provided to your dog each day. We all love giving or dog’s treats and table scraps and there is nothing wrong with it. You simply have to account for those calories and adjust your regular feedings accordingly. It helps to know the calorie content of the dog foods and treats you use—another benefit of using the SlimDoggy app or our food calculator widget.

• Lack of proper exercise for your dog. Dogs need exercise! They thrive on it. They need 30 minutes or more each day of vigorous exercise depending on their age, breed, and medical history. They will feel and look better. So will you!

Question: Our family fosters rescues. Since many of these dogs have no training, giving lots of treats is a necessary evil. What ingredients we should look for or avoid to keep their treats as healthy as possible?

Answer: Treats are potential problem areas for pet owners. They often contain sweeteners like sugar, corn syrup, fructose, which provide calories but little nutritional value. And speaking of calories, we recommend using small treats as training tools so you can minimize the added calories. We often cut our treats into small, 1-3 calorie servings, and use products with higher quality ingredients like CloudStar Dynamo treats or Smart Cookee home baked products.

As an adjunct to your foster rescue question, we often volunteer to help foster families that have overweight or hyper-active foster dogs, dogs that have difficulty finding their forever home. We do a food analysis to ensure proper feeding and then take these dogs out on runs so that they are properly exercised. We have found universally that by doing this, their behavior improves and they quickly get adopted!

Interview With Pet Sitter Ali Gallup

Welcome to Ask a Pet Pro, where animal experts share their knowledge and experience, and help us all become better pet parents. For this edition, Pet Sitter Ali Gallup answers some common questions pet parents ask about leaving their furry friends with a sitter.

Alison “Ali” Gallup spent many years working in veterinary clinics and fostering and rescuing pets before founding The Fur Squad in 2004. She appreciates the opportunity to meet and care for so many of the pets in her community because, as she frequently states, “No human will ever be so happy to see you or give you as enthusiastic a greeting as a lonely cat or dog!”

Question: My cats use the litter box and can be left with enough food for a few days. Do I still need to get them a pet sitter?


Ms. Gallup:
Although cats are famous for being extremely self-sufficient, I would still recommend you hire a pet sitter to check on them, if not every day, at least every other day. With you away, your cats are more likely become restless and bored and get into trouble.

For example, I know of a cat who opened the cabinet door under the kitchen sink and crawled inside and the door sprung shut and he could not get out! Keep in mind, things can happen with your house too, like a leak in the hot water heater or a power outage. The presence of a pet sitter can also be a deterrent to crime. By picking up your papers and turning lights off and on it will be less obvious you are away!

Question: My pets are well-behaved, but I’ve never left them on their own overnight before. Any tips for how to make sure they don’t turn to vandalism while I’m gone?


Ms. Gallup: If you have never left them alone it is difficult to accurately predict how they will handle it. It depends, largely, on your pets’ energy level, training, disposition and age. It helps tremendously if your pet sitter follows your pets’ typical routine as close as possible.
If you have a highly energetic dog who is used to a solid hour of rigorous play every afternoon, you need to find a pet sitter who is prepared to do that in your absence. Otherwise, there is a good chance he will eat your furniture. Restricting your pets to a safe area, like the kitchen, is a good idea if you are concerned about leaving them for the first time. Generally, with exercise and attention most pets do remarkably well.


Question: I’ve never used a pet sitter before. What are some preparations I might not think to make as a newbie?


Ms. Gallup:good pet sitter will ask you for everything they need from you as a routine part of their first meeting with you. If they don’t, find another pet sitter! In addition to basic information, you should be prepared to supply your new pet sitter with the name and phone number of your veterinarian; your phone number while away (or your cell number); the name and number of a local family member or friend (in the event of an emergency).

Discuss your pets’ personality and quirks and make sure your pet sitter knows your pets’ routine and is prepared to follow it. Ensure they know where the food is, how much you typically feed them, and go over any medications It’s also a good idea to provide your pet sitter with a medical release form. That way your pet can receive critical veterinary care in your absence should you be unreachable.


Question: I just adopted a puppy. How old should he be before I leave him in the care of a pet sitter?


Ms. Gallup: This depends on how long you intend to be away, the afternoon, the day, overnight, or several days? Puppies are extremely needy and vulnerable. The first few weeks in their new home are critical, for that is the time when true bonding happens, which ultimately helps develop their sense of security and self-esteem. Although there are no hard rules, per se, on when exactly it is permissible to leave your new puppy, I would not recommend it for any longer than a day trip until they are four to five months old.


Question: As a professional pet sitter, if you were interviewing someone to care for your own pets, what question(s) would you be sure to ask?


Ms. Gallup: There are many fly-by-night pet sitting operations out there that are in business one day and out the next. Look for a business staffed and run by adults that has been around a while, has a great reputation in the community, fabulous references, and has a solid presence on the internet. They should have experience, preferably in animal health care and/or animal rescue.Training in animal CPR is a plus! They should be polite and professional. Ask if they are members of any associations, and if they are bonded/insured.

Most importantly, do you get the impression they absolutely love animals? Trust your instincts!

Interview with Dr. Lorie Huston

Welcome to Ask a Pet Pro, where animal experts share their knowledge and experience, and help us all become better pet parents. For this edition, Dr. Lorie Huston shares her insights on canine dental care, dog poop clean-up, and the ongoing pit bull controversy.

loriehustonhead500Lorie Huston is a practicing veterinarian and a certified veterinary journalist. She is the author of Labrador Retrievers: How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend which is available on Amazon. Her writing can be found both online and off in many different venues. She blogs at Pet Health Care Gazette as well as contributing to PetMD’s Daily Vet blog.

 

Question: Should I pick up my dog’s poop in the yard, or is it okay to leave it there and let it fertilize the grass?


Dr. Huston:
Dog (and cat) poop should never be used as fertilizer. Using dog feces as fertilizer in a garden or in an area where children play is particularly dangerous. It can contain parasites and other organisms that can pose a threat to human health. Dog feces should be picked up and removed from your yard, especially if it’s located in an area where children play.

As a dog owner, you should also accept responsibility for picking up your dog’s feces when you walk your dog or are in any public area. Wear gloves when handling pet feces, place the feces in a bag, and dispose of the bag as dictated by your local sanitation procedures.

Question: What are the best types of treats for ensuring our dog’s teeth remain as healthy as possible for as long as possible? Are there other ways we can keep our dog’s teeth strong and healthy?


Dr. Huston:
There are many ways to help keep your dog’s teeth healthy. Brushing your dog’s teeth is actually the “gold standard” and the most effective way to keep your dog’s teeth and mouth healthy. Most dogs can be taught to tolerate this procedure but some dogs are simply too resistant. Treats such as Greenies can be very helpful. Dental diets can also be useful.

There are also oral rinses and even some toys that have some benefit. Some people give bones and other hard objects to their dogs to chew on, in the belief that these items help keep a dog’s teeth clean. These items have the potential to fracture teeth though and should be used cautiously.

Consult your veterinarian for more specific advice about dental care for your particular dog.

Question: What are your thoughts on the controversy surrounding pit bulls. Do you feel issues are inherent to the breed, or does responsibility lie with the owner and how they raise it?


Dr. Huston:
 This is a question that is near to my heart. “Pit bulls” are not inherently mean or aggressive dogs by nature. In fact, the term “pit bull” can actually be used to describe a number of different breeds. As with any other breed, each dog within that breed is an individual with a unique personality. I see many pit bull type dogs in my veterinary practice. While I can’t say that they are all friendly and outgoing, the vast majority of them do fit that description.

Anecdotally, I have a friend who owns a pit bull and a chihuahua. The pit bull is more likely to hit a stranger with her wagging tail than to bite. The chihuahua, on the hand, can become quite ferocious toward people he doesn’t know well. I don’t believe it is fair to condemn any breed or group of breeds based on physical appearance alone.

I do believe that “dangerous dog” laws should include all dangerous dogs, regardless of breed. These laws need to be applied on an individual basis based on a dog’s behavior, not based on the dog’s breed or appearance. In most cases, I do believe that the fault lies with the owner. Irresponsible pet owners who let their dogs roam unsupervised are a big part of the problem.