HEALTH NEWS: We spill the tea on pet care lectures at this year’s VMX conference | Lifestyles

Caring for aging pets, recognizing pain and the perennial topic of feline house soiling: These were just a few of the hundreds of sessions presented at the Veterinary Meeting and Expo (VMX) last month in Orlando. Dr. Becker attended in person, and I attended virtually. We go to veterinary conferences to learn about advances in veterinary medicine and find news for future features. The sessions are aimed at veterinarians and veterinary technicians, but we’ve rounded up some takeaways for pet owners.

— When cats start peeing or pooping outside of the litter box, you need to, well, think outside the box. You probably already know that cats prefer super-clean litter boxes. If you’re scooping daily and keeping the box clean, what else could be causing a cat’s dissatisfaction with toileting arrangements? One thing to consider is whether they need a haircut, says Terry Curtis, DVM, a behavior specialist at the University of Florida. Long hair around the anal area may become matted, causing pain when the cat tries to eliminate it. Long hair between the toes can affect the tactile sensation when the cat steps into the litter box. Work with a feline-friendly groomer or your veterinarian to trim these sensitive areas so you don’t accidentally cut the skin.

— As pets age, their vision changes. The lens begins to harden, and by the time they’re 10 years old, cats and dogs can become more near-sighted.

For example, you may notice that your pet is more hesitant about going down stairs, says Mary Gardner, DVM, co-founder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice. To help them feel more confident about navigating steps, she suggests illuminating the stairs with flameless tea lights. (Bonus: It looks pretty!)

— It’s also more important than ever to brush aging pets regularly. Brushing stimulates the production of natural oils by the sebaceous glands. And senior pets are more susceptible to skin infections, which can, to put it plainly, cause them to stink. It’s not normal for your old pet to smell bad, so take them to the vet if you notice that they’re giving off an unpleasant odor.

— Chinchillas should eat a high-fiber diet consisting of grass hays and commercial chinchilla pellets, advised Zoltan Szabo, DMV, a specialist in zoological medicine and care of exotic companion mammals and birds. In the notes for his lecture “Chinchilla Tips and Tricks,” he wrote that they shouldn’t be given grains, dried apples, raisins, sunflower seeds or fresh food items like vegetables, greens or fruits. Instead, offer items for gnawing, such as nontoxic tree branches.

— What does pain look like in your cat? The face tells all. In her lecture “Take-Home Medication, Pill Burdens, Compliance and the Human-Animal Bond,” Dr. Sheilah A. Robertson, medical director for Lap of Love, says cat owners can download the Feline Grimace Scale app to their smartphones or go to the website ( for quick reference as to how their cat is feeling. Scoring your cat at home for pain allows you to reliably alert your veterinarian to pain in your cat.

— Why no canine grimace scale? Dogs are more of a challenge because their facial features vary much more than those of cats, says veterinarian Duncan Lascelles, professor of translational pain research at North Carolina State University, who spoke on the latest pain management and diagnosis guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association . “There are dogs with short noses, dogs with long noses, dogs with noses in-between,” he says. Instead, your veterinarian may have you answer a questionnaire or go through a checklist to screen your dog for pain or gauge the level of pain.

— Cold compression therapy reduces the signs of pain, swelling and lameness. It’s underutilized in pets, but after surgery, it’s very effective in decreasing inflammation and improving range of motion. Robertson says. It’s something that can easily be done at home to help pets recover from surgery or injuries.


Bearded dragons

dine on salad, insects

Q: What should I feed my bearded dragon?

A: I’m taking advantage of this week of the information provided by my reptile and amphibian specialist colleague Paul M. Gibbons, DVM, who spoke on this topic at the recent Veterinary Meeting and Expo (VMX).

In his lecture notes, he says these popular omnivorous reptiles should eat a chopped salad five to seven days a week and invertebrates such as crickets, mealworms, black soldier fly larvae and dubia roaches three days a week. Maybe not tasty for us, but healthy and delicious for a bearded dragon.

He recommends giving enough chopped salad that your bearded dragon leaves a small amount uneaten each day. Offer mixed greens with some orange, red and yellow vegetables.

Good greens and veggies to feed include kale, collards, turnip greens, bell peppers, bok choy, carrots, endive, mustard greens, red leaf lettuce and romaine. Because of their oxalate levels, give parsley, spinach, Swiss chard and chives only occasionally, in small amounts. You can also give Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, parsnips, radish, watercress, winter squash, summer squash and berries. If you don’t treat your lawn with herbicides or pesticides, you can offer such delicacies as dandelions, grape leaves and mulberry leaves and fruits, as well as edible flowers such as nasturtiums, pansies, marigolds and squash blossoms.

What else does your bearded dragon look for in a meal? “Many bearded dragons prefer to eat veggies that have dried out and become crispy,” Dr. Gibbons says in his notes. And, like most of us, they enjoy variety, so don’t feed the same old thing day after day. Vary the tapeworms, too.

The insects you feed to your dragon should be well hydrated and fed a species-specific “gut-loading” diet to help balance nutrient deficiencies. Dust the insects with powdered calcium and a multivitamin supplement to provide important micronutrients. —Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to [email protected] or visit


Giving cats meds

is challenging

— You probably know from experience that it can be difficult to give medication to cats, but the statistics might shock you. The results of an online survey of owners’ experiences medicating their cats at home, published last year in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (, found that 35% of owners failed to complete their cats’ course of medication ; 50.7% reported that they were “sometimes” or “never” given information or advice on how to administer medication by their veterinary team; and 51.6% said their relationship with their cat was negatively affected by having to give medication. Cats respondents to medication attempts by spitting out tablets (78.7%), trying to bite or scratch the owner (77%), refusing medication in food (71.7%) and running away from the owner (52.7%). When pets don’t get meds, the treatment is less effective.

Fortunately for cats and their people, longer-lasting medications are becoming available that can be administered by injection at the veterinary clinic or transdermally for slow-acting release. Tasty compounded medications may also be an option. If your cat is difficult to medicate, tell your veterinarian so they can plan the most effective protocol and give you tips on administering medication that may make it easier for you and your cat. This video provides tips:

— A long-lived myth that just won’t die is that birds need grit in their diet to help their gizzards grind food. Not so! Grit has been shown to remove vitamins A, K and B from a bird’s digestive system, and an overabundance of grit can cause life-threatening impacts in pet parrots, especially smaller birds such as budgies or cockatiels. A couple of grains of grit every couple of months is OK to give finches and canaries, but skip it for parrots. —Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. VeterinarianDr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Campbell Thornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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