10 Most Common Veterinary Questions Answered

As a veterinarian, I often hear the exact same questions over and over. In the interest of owners and their dogs, here are the ten most common questions and my evidence-based responses to them.

1. “How much should I feed my pet?”

This is probably the number one most commonly asked question, especially for owners of new puppies. Unfortunately, it is probably one of the hardest to answer because the answer is ‘enough.’ Let me explain…

Calorie requirements vary widely depending on age, activity level, body condition and breed [1, 2]. Dogs can vary in their calorie requirements even within the same breed and same age!

Growing dogs have a much higher demand for nutrients and calories than a fully grown dog [3]. Active and working dogs will also require more calories [2].

Another complicating factor is that the amount of calories per cup of food will vary depending on what you are feeding. A cup of one type of food may have twice the calorie content of a different type of food [1].

The best advice for the correct amount to feed your dog is to learn to lean feed. Lean feeding entails learning visual cues for optimal body condition.

Learning to recognize when your dog is starting to look too heavy and cutting back the amount fed will help ensure that your pet stays lean regardless of changing calorie requirements, whether from a change in lifestyle or change in age.

A good starting point is to feed the lower end of the recommended amount listed on the bag of food you are feeding, and adjust based on what your pet’s weight does.

Remember, many companies overestimate the amount of food needed for weight maintenance. Your dog may need much less.

2. “What is the best food to my pet?”

The dog food industry is a multimillion dollar industry and with new standards and requirements developed in the last several decades, most commercial dogs foods adequately provide nutrients needed.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is an organization that oversees these guidelines and commercial dog food diets are required to comply with their standards.

That is not to say all commercial dog foods are created equally. The quality of ingredients can vary widely and still meet AAFCO requirements [4].

In addition, when selecting an appropriate dog food it is important to consider that dogs have vastly different dietary needs based on age, lifestyle and even breed. What is best for one dog may not be best for another.

While food allergies are relatively uncommon in the overall pet population, this may also play into your decision when selecting a dog food [5].

Recently there has been a push towards grain-free diets for dogs, and while many grain-free foods are perfectly healthy, this likely isn’t necessary [6, 7]. Research shows that dogs can do equally well on diets where nutrients come from ingredients such as corn [7, 8, 9].

Ensure that you are feeding a diet that is appropriate for your dog’s life stage. For example, studies show diets formulated for growth are best for puppies. This becomes even more crucial in giant breed puppies such as Great Danes and Mastiffs [10, 11, 12].

In conclusion, the best food for your dog is one that meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines for nutrition, is formulated for your dog’s life stage, and is well tolerated and palatable to your dog.

3. “Why is veterinary medical care so expensive?”

Veterinarians go into this profession because of a passion and love for animals, but your neighborhood veterinary clinic is a business and without charging for their services they would not be able to operate.

The operating costs for a cutting edge modern veterinary hospital are staggering. Your veterinarian wears many hats and is a dentist, orthopedic surgeon, pediatrician, oncologist and criticalist all in the same day. The tools needed to do all of these important procedures cost tens of thousands of dollars.

You veterinarian likely has access to digital radiographs, ultrasonography, laser therapy, endoscopes and a well stocked pharmacy. The overhead for all of this is very expensive.

You invoice also goes to fund the salaries of the veterinarians and support staff. Veterinary technicians are arguably one of the most poorly compensated medical professionals. Many have gone to two to three years of school, have accrued considerable debt and made an average of $15.62 per hour in 2016 according to the Bureau of labor statics.

Being a veterinarian is not a cushy job. Veterinarians have the highest debt to income ration of any medical professional, and often graduate school with over $150,000 in debt.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the average starting salary for veterinarians in 2015 was about $67,000, while the average debt accrued was $167,534.89 in 2016 [13]. Veterinarians have enormous monthly school loan payments.

Good medicine costs money and the majority of pet owners in the United States do not have Pet Medical Insurance, meaning medical bills have to be paid out of pocket.

Veterinarians would love to be able to provide every pet with care regardless of the cost, but the reality is that most clinics do not have the resources to extend credit or provide free services.

4. “Is my dog in pain?”

Although we don’t necessarily know what dogs ‘think’ of pain, we know that their nervous system’s response to pain is comparable to ours [14]. Dogs, of course, cannot tell us what’s wrong, but they will often give clues that they are uncomfortable or suffering.

Vocalizing is typically a sign of severe pain and typically occurs when other coping mechanisms have been exhausted. Most signs of pain are more subtle and can be overlooked [14]. For example, changes in behavior or normal habits may be a first sign of pain.

Other changes include decreases in appetite, limping, self-mutilation such as licking or biting, restlessness or reluctance to move, trembling or shaking, abnormal posture or stance, and aggression [14].

Many dogs will still wag their tails, ask to go for walks and otherwise act fairly normal despite a fair amount of pain [14]. Being able to recognize the subtle signs of discomfort will help ensure you are able to adequately treat any underlying condition causing pain [15].

5. “What would you do if this was your pet?”

As a veterinarian, I get this question a lot! It is difficult for me to answer, because so often medical decisions are made after carefully considering your pet’s needs, your family life and financial constraints.

One dog might be an excellent candidate for chemotherapy which requires weekly visits to the vet and sometimes uncomfortable treatments, whereas a more timid or fearful dog would not do well with this type of treatment.

Some diseases require considerable investment in terms of time, such as diabetes. A family that travels a ton, or has an unpredictable schedule with likely struggle caring for a pet with the complex needs that go along with caring for a diabetic.

I always answer this question honestly, but often preface it with, ‘but I’m not you!’ Our goal is to help you make the best decision in your specific situation.

6. “What vaccines does my pet need?”

Vaccines are one of the most effective ways to prevent a variety of different diseases in dogs and are an integral part of a healthy wellness program [16].

Vaccines work by creating antibodies, which are a portion of the immune system that can recognize and remember how to kill diseases.

There are several ‘core’ vaccines that veterinarians will universally agree should be administered, such as Rabies. A rabies vaccine is the only vaccine required by law in all 50 states [17].

Most veterinarians agree that a combination Distemper/Parvovirus/Parainfluenza/Adenovirus vaccination is also considered a ‘core’ vaccine and all dogs should receive this in a series starting as puppies [17].

There are a variety of other vaccinations available that your vet might have you consider. Kennel cough, or Bordetella is recommend for dogs that are exposed to other dogs in situations such as kennels, daycare or dog parks.

Depending on what portion of the nation you live and the lifestyle of your dog, additional vaccines might be recommended. These might include the Influenza vaccine, Rattlesnake vaccine (Crotalus Atrox Toxoid), Lyme vaccine, and Leptospirosis vaccine.

7. “What parasite preventatives do I need?”

Parasites are a vector for a multitude of diseases, some transmissible to humans. A healthy wellness program for most dogs will include some parasitacides. Which preventatives your dog should be on may vary depending on what part of the nation you live in.

The most common parasites veterinarians try to prevent include intestinal worms, fleas, ticks, lice, mites and heartworms. In general, the more warm climates will require more intense prevention programs, while the more arid and cold climates may be ok with fewer.

Heartworm disease, for example, is much more common in our southern warm states, but the truth is that this disease has been diagnosed in all 50 states. Therefore, most veterinarians are in agreement that heartworm preventions should be included for all dogs [18].

Modern preventatives are very effective when used properly and a veterinarian can tell you which are important to include in your regimen.

8. “My pet’s nose is dry (or wet/cold/hot). Does this mean she’s sick?”

This is a myth. A dog’s nose really doesn’t give us much information about their overall health. A wet nose might be wet if the dog has just had a drink of water, or licked their nose.

A nose will be warm if the pet has just been outside in warm weather. A better tool will be a complete physical exam with rectal body temperature as an indication of health.

9. “Is my pet overweight?”

Research clearly indicates that canine obesity negatively impacts health and longevity [19, 20]. Despite this common knowledge, it is estimated that up to 40% of dogs are overweight or obese [25, 26, 27].

This is common question posed to veterinarians since it can be difficult for owners to identify their own dog’s obesity.  [28]. It is estimated that up to 65% of owners will underestimate their dog’s body condition, thinking they are thinner than they actually are [26, 28, 29].

A dog at an ideal body weight has easily palpated ribs with minimal fat covering [23]. Visually, the ribs should not be excessively prominent, but individual ribs should be discernible by touch.

When standing, a healthy dog’s waist should be present visually and should indent behind the chest and in front of the hips. In addition, the abdomen should tuck up when viewed from the side.

If bones are hidden under a layer of fat, your dog is likely overweight. Even dogs without a classic body shape, or heavily muscled dogs should have palpable boney prominences when at an ideal weight.

Being able to recognize that your dog is overweight is the first step towards encouraging a healthier body condition.

10. “Why is my pet’s breath so stinky?”

It is a fact that most adult dogs and cats have some form of periodontal disease and bad breath is often the first clinical sign [30]. Imagine if you went days, weeks or even years without brushing your teeth!

The odor that you are smelling is bacteria, plain and simple. Plaque, the sticky film that coats the teeth is 99% bacteria. When plaque is allowed to form tartar, a hard calculus, this smell can intensify [30].

Redness to the gum line is the first sign of gingivitis, which can threaten the health of the tooth. When periodontal disease is not treated, bacteria is allowed to replicate, creating deeper pockets around the tooth through boney destruction, eventually causing tooth loss and systemic disease [30, 31, 32].

It is possible to treat periodontal disease, but often it involves extracting the affected tooth, which allows the bone and surrounding soft tissue to recover [30, 31].

If your pet’s breath is overly sticky, a visit to the vet’s is likely in order.

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