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New Year's Resolution: Ending Pet Obesity

Should old acquaintance be forgot... Hanging onto the friends and memories of the year past isn't a bad thing, but hanging on to old troubles may be. Pet obesity is still believed to be on the rise in the U.S. as 2016 comes to an end. It seems well-intentioned pet owners can’t kick the habit of viewing their chubby pets as adorable rather than at-risk for serious health issues.

A Troubling Trend

An American Animal Hospital Association task force found that for 2014 obesity rates for both dogs and cats had risen from the previous year. They now estimate 16.7 percent of dogs and 27.4 percent of cats are clinically obese. In all, the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) estimates 53 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats are overweight.

Although those numbers don't speak for 2015, it seems the weight problem has not been resolved.

"The 'fat gap' continues to challenge pet owners," said APOP founder Dr. Ernie Ward. "Pet owners think their obese dog or cat is a normal weight, making confronting obesity difficult. No one wants to think their pet is overweight, and overcoming denial is our first battle."

Even with waistlines, diets, and exercise regimens a central focus for a variety of American industries, the obesity rate for humans increased 3 percent from 2011-2012 to 2013-2014. It makes sense that pets' nutritional needs aren't being met when 40 percent of the population is overweight.

With Excess Weight Comes Health Risks

With an increasing trend toward pets being obese rather than just overweight, specialists are concerned. Obesity brings with it a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure and even certain forms of cancer.

"It is critical pet owners understand an overweight dog or cat is not a healthy pet," said Dr. Julie Churchill, a veterinary nutritionist at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.

For recommendations on proper nutrition, serving size and exercise requirements, contact your veterinarian.

VIDEO - Why Yearly Feline Checkups Are Crucial

Dr. Elizabeth Colleran explains how to avoid future headaches and additional expenses just by taking your cat to see to the veterinarian regularly.

Basic Puppy Training

A well-behaved dog is the product of teaching him to understand what is expected; you are responsible to teach him what behavior is or is not tolerated. As the owner of a new puppy, training is necessary and mutually beneficial. Young puppies are a veritable behavioral blank slate. If you are able to take advantage of this special time and begin temperament and basic obedience training using gentle, positive reinforcement methods, you are much more likely to end up with a well-behaved, sociable companion for life.

Benefits of early puppy training include:

• Instilling good manners

• Utilizing your puppy's critical socialization period to familiarize him with all kinds of people, animals and environments

• Getting him used to being handled and touched

• Stimulating his abilities

• Troubleshooting common puppy problems like play-biting, chewing, digging and housebreaking before they become inconvenient dog problems

Young puppies are a blank slate

Obedience Training

The classes to look for should include information and instruction on how to communicate with your puppy. Housetraining, chewing, bite inhibition, off-leash socialization, handling, house manners and often an introduction to basic obedience skills should be part of your puppy's program. Imagine a pre-school for puppies.

Once your puppy has become a socialized member of the canine community and is old enough to begin learning commands, classes are usually available at a variety of levels. These classes start from the beginning, covering basic commands such as sit, stay, down, come, etc. They help you continue the "conversation" you had begun with your puppy at your first puppy class. By having everyone in your family participate, your puppy learns to accept his place in the family.

• Keep sessions short (around 5-10 minutes) as dogs generally have short attention spans.

• Determine what kind of positive reinforcement training you are going to use and stick with it. If your puppy is not responsive to food, try a favorite toy or enthusiastic verbal praise.

• Consult with a training school or personal trainer (yup, dogs have them too!) to help establish a routine.

• Initiate consistent house rules with other family members. If Mom says "lay down" but Dad says "down," it could cause confusion, thwarting progress.

Ultimately, how much and how well your puppy learns is up to you. Constant attention and positive reinforcement are the keys to success. Helping your puppy become a fun-loving and obedient companion also makes your relationship that much more enjoyable in the long run.

The Benefits of Crate Training Your Cat

The idea of training your cat may either amuse or frighten you, but don't worry—it is possible. According to experts, it isn't that tough to teach your cat to accept a carrier, and once you do, you'll find lots of practical reasons for containing your kitty.

The biggest benefit of crate training is safety. You'll know where your cat is and he can still be a part of your activities. No more "'fraidy cats" getting loose when workmen come into your house. No more hissing fits that annoy or frighten your visitors. No more contortionist cats crammed under the seat of your car. More and more, people are traveling with their cats, and for them, carriers are travel necessities. Loose cats can distract a driver, fall out of windows, get injured by loose objects or get wedged under the accelerator or dashboard. Also, many motels allow pets only when they are crated.

Another benefit of crate training is acceptance of a cage if the kitty must be boarded, hospitalized or shipped.

A carrier not only keeps these cats from getting into trouble, but also often serves as a safe haven - a cozy, contained space where the cat has privacy and a place of his own. Of course, a crate at home must be used humanely and not abused. No pet should be left alone in a crate for more than a couple of hours. Many cats find crates stressful at first. That fear can usually be overcome with patience and treats. You don't have to face the grueling training task unprepared. Many pet shops offer pamphlets on crate training or even training videos. At the very least, when you're buying a cat carrier, ask for the manufacturer's sales sheet describing the crate's features. It usually explains what size carrier to buy, various uses and the basics of crate training.

Here are some basic steps for crate training your cat:

• Place the carrier (with its door open) in a room where he can explore the crate on his own.

• Put food and toys inside to draw his attention. Leave the crate alone for several days

• The first time the cat enters the crate, he should not be locked inside for longer than 10 minutes. Gradually increase the amount of time he is locked inside. Do not let the cat out if he cries or hisses; that only reinforces bad behavior.

• Put favorite toys or soft bedding (particularly an old towel, blanket or sweater that carries your scent) inside the crate in order to help make him feel more secure.

• When kitty settles down, re-open the door to the carrier so he can come and go at will.

• Once your cat accepts the carrier, the next step is to get him used to movement. The crate should be picked up and carried around carefully. Talk soothingly and give treats.

• Slowly acclimate kitty to traveling in your car. At first, just sit in the car with him, and then take him on short errands. Each time you put your crated kitty in the car, increase your travel time. Make the experience as pleasant as possible using toys and treats. Don't limit your car trips to visits to the veterinarian's office and boarding kennel.

• Admittedly, for some cats, slow training doesn't work. A quick method of getting a cat into a carrier is as follows: Sit the carrier up-ended so its open door is at the top. Hold the cat firmly by the scruff of the neck and gently lower him into the crate. Be sure to support the cat's rump with your hand.

• Cat carriers (pet carriers) come in all sizes, designs, materials and prices. Pet stores, veterinary hospitals, catalog companies and online outfits offer large choices. Cardboard carriers are not recommended, as most cats can find ways to slip out and escape.

Sugar Gliders: A Sweet Exotic Pet

During the last decade, sugar gliders have become popular pets for people who may have otherwise purchased chinchillas, ferrets or guinea pigs. Although it’s easy to assume these pocket-sized pets are members of the rodent family (they look a lot like flying squirrels after all), sugar gliders aren’t rodents at all. They’re marsupials, with similarities to kangaroos and koala bears.

In the wild, sugar gliders are found in the rain forests of Australia and Indonesia and are named for their love of sweet-tasting fruits and vegetables. Similar to flying squirrels, they have “gliding membranes” that allow them to glide from tree to tree. At full size, they measure 5-7 inches in length (not including their tail) and weigh about 6 ounces.

As they are exotic pets, they require different care than the average hamster or gerbil, and live significantly longer – often 12 to 15 years! Additionally, they can be trained to do tricks, respond to their names and master other basic obedience skills much like dogs.


As sugar gliders are relatively new in captivity, there is considerable debate and question on what their ideal diet should be. Typically, they are fed a specialized pelleted food (such as Glide-R-Chow) which contains necessary protein and vitamins. Their diet is supplemented by fresh fruits, vegetables and small insects. In the wild, they eat eucalyptus gum, sap, nectar, honeydew, bird eggs, lizards and even small birds. They should not be fed fatty foods or those with refined sugar. Particular attention must be paid to the amount of calcium to phosphorus they consume, as in imbalance in the ratio could lead to paralysis.


Sugar gliders are active little nocturnal critters who enjoy room to climb, jump and even glide. With this in mind, taller cages are favored over ones with generous floor space. The cage itself should be at least 3-feet high with the wire no more than half-an-inch wide (otherwise, your glider could escape through the cracks). Many owners have found the need to fashion their own glider-friendly cages and there are resources online to help in the construction process. Inside the cage, your glider will want a nesting box or pouch (they are marsupials remember), toys, climbing branches or other materials, and hanging food and water dishes. Since sugar gliders are used to living in the rain forest, they prefer to be housed in an area with temperatures above normal room temperature at 70 to 90 degrees F.


Bonding with your glider is an important part of establishing a relationship with him or her. Some resources claim the important bonding process is a time consuming one not meant for the average pet parent. Most sources, however, stress frequent training sessions not dissimilar to the time spent needed with other intelligent pets. As social animals, sugar gliders live in colonies of a dozen or more in the wild. In captivity, they develop strong bonds with the caretaker who holds them most often as well as everyone (human or pet) in the household. These pocket pets respond best to patience, gentle handling and respect. They do not respond to punishment. With love and attention, your sugar glider will cling to you and become a beloved companion.

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