Frequently Asked Questions by Dog Owners: Part 3
In our final installment of Dog FAQs, we’ll focus on behavioral changes, weight loss, and mortality, which are tough topics for many pet parents.
Why Has My Dog’s Behavior Changed?
If you suspect your pet’s behavior has changed, it is important to document these changes and note as many specific details as possible. All of this information can help a veterinarian better identify causes for concern (if any exist). It is difficult to detect behavioral changes in an exam room during a visit, since your dog is out of their normal environment and may not exhibit the same behavior.
For any change in demeanor, medical issues will be the first item for your veterinarian to rule out.
Medical issues that can manifest as behavioral changes include:
- Certain types of seizure-related disorders
- Thyroid hormone abnormalities
- Diseases that affect the brain, including brain tumors
- Heat/estrus cycles
- Anxiety/separation anxiety
Your veterinarian will want to perform a full physical exam, draw blood, and conduct other diagnostics to rule in or out any of these medical conditions. If they suspect there is a medical reason behind these behavioral changes, they will recommend a diagnostic and treatment plan.
If all medical conditions have been ruled out, behavioral changes may be caused by stress or lifestyle changes.
Non-medical reasons for behavior changes include:
- Reaching maturity, which occurs at approximately 2 years of age
- Stress in the environment
- Lack of consistency or discipline in the household
- New additions to the household
- Moves or abrupt changes to routine
Your veterinarian may also be able to help you identify non-medical reasons for behavioral changes in your dog. They may recommend lifestyle changes, seeking help from a veterinary behaviorist, or anxiety medication.
How Long Will My Dog Live?
This is a question that is difficult for any veterinarian to answer. Typically, the smaller the dog, the longer they live. For example, Chihuahuas have been known to live 14-16 years, but, on the other hand, Great Danes typically live 6-8 years. These numbers are averages and dogs can greatly exceed these averages, or, unfortunately, they may pass away younger than expected.
Here are a few recommendations that have been shown to increase the lifespan of a dog:
- Yearly wellness exams, which can help identify problems early in the course of a disease, and initiate treatment before an illness is advanced.
- Having your pet altered. Spaying and neutering your dog decreases the chances of an altercation with another dog that could result in injury. Dogs that are not spayed or neutered have an increased risk of running away or escaping your yard than fixed pets.
- Living indoors. Dogs that live indoors are more likely to live longer than those that live outdoors.
- Preventative care. Dogs that are vaccinated and stay current on monthly flea/tick/heartworm medication are more likely to live longer, since they are protected from common, preventable diseases.
Mixed breed dogs have also been shown to have a longer lifespan than purebred dogs of similar sizes. This is thought to be due to the benefit of multiple gene pools, as opposed to the same genetic traits that may be present in a purebred line.
What’s My Dog’s Ideal Body Weight?
As veterinarians, we judge a dog and their ideal body weight objectively, using a body condition scoring chart. There are two versions of the chart, one that uses a 1-6 scale and one that uses a 1-9 scale.
Your veterinarian will utilize this scale to grade your dog and compare weight on a visit-to-visit basis. Ideally, a dog should fall into the 4-5 range. Being below a 4 means that your dog is too thin and needs to gain both muscle and fat. Being above the 5 range means that your dog is overweight and shedding weight should be prioritized.
A dog’s ideal body weight will allow you to feel, but not see, the ribs. From above and from the side, your dog’s waist should tuck in behind the rib cage.
Keeping your dog at an ideal body weight can lengthen their lifespan, prevent or mitigate metabolic and endocrine diseases, and lessen stress on joints. There are some disease processes in dogs that have been linked with being overweight, such as diabetes mellitus and low-thyroid hormone. There are also somes diseases that being overweight can worsen, such as arthritis or other orthopedic conditions.
Getting your pet to lose weight is divided into two categories:
- Limiting calories. This is the most valuable way to get your dog to lose weight. Your veterinarian will tell you exactly how many calories your dog should eat daily and how to stick to that number. Treats can add up if given multiple times daily and often aren’t factored into your dog’s diet. Every treat, even if low calorie, needs to be counted into your dog’s allowance. Low-calorie treats can be used to maintain your dog’s weight. These treats include green beans, ice cubes, and baby carrots.
- Increasing daily exercise. This can be difficult in some pets, due to arthritis or orthopedic injuries that prevent increasing exercise. If your dog can tolerate increasing their daily exercise, this is a great way to burn calories and spend more quality time with your pet.