Author: Canadian Living

How fit is Fido?
Pet obesity is a growing concern. To determine if your dog or cat is overweight, Dr. Patricia Stapley Chase, a member of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, suggests asking yourself the following questions:

• Can I feel his ribs? If your pet is overweight, this will be difficult.
• Do I see an upward slope from the rib cage to the back legs when I look at him from the side? Straight across or a downward slope means your pet may have a weight problem.
• Do I see an hourglass shape when I look at him from above? There should be a curvy outline from the rib cage to the hips.

To maintain a healthy weight, dogs need 15 to 20 minutes of physical activity -- walking, playing fetch -- three times a day, and cats need to be active -- chasing a ball, playing -- for the same amount of time, twice a day.(Remember: you and your pet need to exercise smart in the summer heat.)

But diet is just as important. Stapley Chase suggests asking your vet what your pet's caloric intake should be, then choosing the appropriate food. Make sure that any extra treats, such as cookies or table scraps, fit within your pet's daily limit. "It's better to choose a light food that's lower in fat and higher in fibre than to cut down on your pet's regular food because he may go hungry or not get enough nutrition," says Stapley Chase.

(Click here for tips on how to keep your aging pet healthy and happy.)

Talking about dogs
Understanding your dog's body language and habits will strengthen the bond you share. Two new books -- one for kids and one for adults -- decipher the message behind the wag. 'If Your Dog Could Talk...' (Dorling Kindersley, 2006) by Dr. Bruce Fogle explains every aspect of a dog's life, from bringing a dog home and living with one to his social life and habits. Colour photographs show basic canine behaviours, such as dominance and attention-seeking, as well as more complex issues, such as social order and possessiveness. Training tips go far beyond Sit and Stay by uncovering the reason behind an action and providing the appropriate human reaction.

'If I Had a Dog' (Tundra, 2006), written by Carolyn Jackson and illustrated by France Brassard, is a guidebook woven through a storyline about Maxine, a dog-crazy six-year-old. Young readers join Maxine and her brother, Hugh, on a neighbourhood tour of dog behaviour. Through colour illustrations and veterinarian-approved information, kids learn how to approach, greet, care for and communicate with dogs.

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In a litter perfect world
When it comes to cat litter, you can have, well, the pick of the litter these days. Here's what you need to know:

• Cat litter is available in myriad brands and made from at least half a dozen materials: traditional clay mixture, corn, wheat, silica crystals, pine wood chips and recycled newspaper.
• The silica crystal and newspaper litters are generally the most expensive, followed by the wheat, corn and pine varieties, with the clay mixture being the cheapest.
• New litters, such as the ones made from wheat or corn, can be flushed and will biodegrade.

Dr. Katherine Van Sluys, a veterinarian in Calgary, says cats can usually adapt to the litter you prefer, but if you switch brands and types the transition must be gradual. She recommends providing two litter boxes, one with the old litter and one with the new. "If you're switching from grainy to wheat, for example, don't clean the grainy as much," she says, because cats are tidy by nature and will prefer the cleaner option.

Tip: If your cat won't go in the box, it may be because she doesn't like what she's standing on. Some of the dustier litters, for example, will aggravate cats that have asthma. "They will choose to urinate or defecate elsewhere because they don't like the substrate," says Dr. Van Sluys.

(Confused by your cat's aggressive outbursts? Click here for answers!)

Wired pets: Find the microchip that meets your needs
When choosing a microchip for your pet, the biggest factor is the database, says Dr. Walt Ingwersen, the Canadian delegate to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) committee responsible for microchipping. "You want to try to make sure that your microchip is registered in the database that provides the best service."

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association recognizes four microchip databases in Canada: Pethealth, Eidap Inc., Microchip4Solutions (M4S ID) and Advanced ID. Ask your vet for a recommendation. Go with a database that's proactive in making sure your pet's information is accurate and up-to-date. Contact the companies to inquire about value-added benefits, such as medical records storage. Some will also link your pet's insurance information to their database.

Some companies offer an inclusive fee covering the chip, the implantation and the database storage, while others separate these into individual costs or require an annual renewal fee. Know what you'll be expected to pay before you purchase the chip.

Animals online!
Which birdcage is best for your feathered friend? The answer to this question and others can be found at www.animalhealthcare.ca. Hosted by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the website offers information about vaccinations and diseases as well as health, behaviour and nutrition tips for all kinds of pets -- even iguanas.

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