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Cats Do Get Arthritis

What do you think of when someone mentions that their pet has arthritis? Most people will assume they are talking about hip problems usually associated with a number of large breed dogs. And it’s true, many large breed dogs develop very obvious symptoms of hip dysplasia or other joint issues, such as favoring a leg, limping, erratic stride or stiff gait. Yet sometimes even a dog can develop arthritis and not have identifiable symptoms. But cats?

Do Cats Get Arthritis?

And then there are cats. Cats don’t have as great a variation in size as dogs, and their musculature and skeletal structure differs from dogs too, allowing them the commonly associated traits of flexibility and grace. Specific breeds of cats are not commonly linked with a tendency to become lame. It is not often one sees a cat outwardly limping with a stiff rear leg unless injured.

But Dr. Whitworth knows that cats do suffer from arthritis, although it is thought most cats suffer in silence or mask their discomfort. And quite often behaviors and actions that are actually expression of symptoms are misinterpreted as being caused by other conditions, old age or being lazy. Actually, the symptoms of arthritis in cats are much more subtle harder to distinguish, although the condition can negatively impact their quality of life the same as with a dog.

Symptoms of Arthritis

Amount of Time Allocated to Snoozing Increases. Although cats may seem to sleep almost all of the time anyway, if your cat starts to sleep even more, it may not be just because they are lazy, or just due to aging and slowing down. They may be sleeping more because that is their way of dealing with pain and the best way to rest achy joints and discomfort.

Ready, Set, Jump!  If your older cat seems to be considering whether or not they should jump, it could be because they have arthritis. Or, they may try to jump and miss the landing because the joint pain prevents the launch from having power behind it. Younger cats and most adults tend to just leap without thinking about it. If your cat stops jumping altogether schedule a visit to Whitworth Animal Clinic.

Changes in Grooming Habits.  This trait can go either way. Some cats will lick the stiff areas excessively as if to make it feel better, and others may be avoiding contracted positions by significantly reducing their grooming time, or stopping it completely.

Reduction in Appetite.  If the cat typically is fed on a raised surface they have to jump to in order to reach their food, the potential pain may outweigh the hunger. In more advanced cases, the discomfort may be reflected in a decreased appetite. In any case, lack of appetite is almost always a warning sign of some condition and merits a visit to Dr. Whitworth.

Accidents in the Vicinity of the Litter Box. We usually don’t even think about it, but some litter box designs have high sides. With arthritis, the intention may be good but the logistics a challenge. Sore limbs may make jumping or raising limbs above the sides prohibitive, or maneuvering in deep heavy clay litter or sand difficult. We know how hard it is to navigate in dense wet sand at the beach. Imagine if each step hurts!

Constipation.  Along similar lines, when joints are arthritic and ache, it may be more difficult for a cat to hold the typical “potty” position for a period of time, so they adapt by waiting as long as possible, and eventually the body may begin to adapt to normal functioning being delayed and constipation results. Which in turn can cause additional discomfort.

Regular Routine is Discarded. If your cat’s regular routine seems to be broken, such as: choosing to sleep elsewhere than the regular spot in the middle of your bed; or they become totally sedentary when frequent play time breaks were the norm; or they used to run to the door, tail lifted, when they heard you fumbling with the key but now they barely glance up from their sleeping spot routine, arthritis should be considered.

Personality Changes. This sign can also go two ways. A cat that normally is social, affectionate and friendly who suddenly is aloof, grumbly when touched or hisses at you or other pets can be telling you something. Or the opposite, if a normally independent cat is suddenly all over you, is vocal when left alone, or even tries to strike up a friendship with arch enemy #1 the dog, something may be amiss, even if it isn’t arthritis.

If you think your cat might be in pain or you have been noticing changes in behavior as discussed above, schedule a full geriatric appointment with Dr. Whitworth. Don’t put it off, because even a very subtle sign of misery can signal arthritis, or another condition. Dr. Whitworth will conduct a thorough physical examination and take x-rays as indicated to make an accurate diagnosis. Many treatment options exist, including weight control, supplements, medication and water therapy. Conveniently located in Madison, AL, Whitworth Animal Clinic serves Madison, Huntsville, Decatur, and the surrounding areas in North Alabama.

Cat Obedience Training 101

Cat clicker Train to SitWhen you hear someone say, “Sit. Stay. Come. Good Girl or That’s a Boy”, do you automatically assume someone is giving commands to a dog? Most people, including cat owners, don’t really consider training a cat to respond to commands the same way that dogs do. You don’t need to house train them and leash train them, but the truth is, cats’ abilities for training are highly underestimated. Think of trained lion and tigers, think of cats walking tight ropes in a circus – well you get the idea. In short, basic training for cats involves obedience training just as it does for dogs. The general opinion of cats and training is that a cat doesn’t listen and doesn’t care to follow a command, but there are ways to teach your cat a few new “tricks”.

Why Should I Train My Cat?

You may question why you would want to train your cat, other than to amaze your friends and family. Here are some examples of why cat training may be for you.

The Shopping Bag Dance. What about the times when you return from shopping with your arms full of bags, kids are darting around you on their way into the house, you’ve got a purse and kiddie bag dangling from your shoulder, and the trick is to manage to get everyone and everything into the house without the cat escaping? Your cat may come to the door to greet you, and out of the door goes the nose as soon as it opens. Not only does the cat become another obstacle in the entry zone to maneuver around, you may have to drop everything to stick the cat behind closed doors in another room or in their carrier while you drag in the load to avoid an escape. What started out as a “hello” now has become a punishment, at least from the cat’s perspective. And that can contribute to the dislike of the carrier on top of it all. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to tell the cat to “sit” or “stay” and have the cat actually stop before entering the danger zone?

Visiting Dr. Whitworth. Have you ever tried to get your cat into a carrier when it is time to visit Whitworth Animal Clinic only to find yourself forced into a frustrating game of hide and seek? Teaching your cat to “come” when called makes situations like this one a lot less stressful for both you and the cat.

The “Cat-hunt”. It’s also very helpful to have control over the “come” command if your indoor cat escapes during the above “Shopping Bag Dance”, or in any other circumstance of door open for too long, and you need to get the cat to come back home without a major “cat”hunt.

What Are the Benefits of Training My Cat?

Training your cat to perform tricks is going a bit too far, but training your cat to understand and obey a few simple orders will help you in the following ways:

  • It strengthens your relationship and builds a stronger bond between you and your cat – training makes your cat understand who is in charge so in order to get what is wanted, the cat has to do what you want.
  • It keeps your cat’s mind active and stimulated
  • It’s great interactive play, and teaches your cat good social behavioral skills.
  • Anxious and nervous cats are reassured and calmed down by the repetition and routine of training.
  • Keeps your cat safer.

What are the Basics of Cat Obedience Training?

If you are a cat owner you already know that cats usually ignore a command unless they feel like obliging. The big challenge is to make your cat want to do what you want. Although you may not realize it, environmental cue conditioning already exists in your home. For example, your cat probably already associates the sounds of the top of a can of cat food being pulled off, or crunchy nuggets being poured into a dish, or the treat bag shaking with food! Time to show up! These sounds signal food, which in a cat’s mind is a reward (for doing nothing but being themselves…) So, the key to cat training is to reinforce any specific desired behavior with a food reward, preceding the reward with a recognizable sound that your cat will associate with the desired action to be performed.

So how do I train my cat? Since you probably already use sounds unconsciously to distract your cat from doing certain behaviors, such as whistling, clapping your hands or snapping your fingers, obedience training, fortified by the sound made by a small mechanical noise maker (i.e. the “clicker”) is probably the most effective training technique. This approach encourages your cat to obey commands by associating them with a behavior to be performed, then the sound of the clicker and, ultimately, a food reward.

What Do I Do?

The clicker is an especially valuable training tool because it allows you, as the trainer, to pinpoint the exact behavior that’s being rewarded. If you don’t use a clicker, your cat could form associations between a treat and a completely unrelated behavior because it’s difficult to distribute the treat at the exact moment the behavior is performed.

  • Get your cat accustomed to the clicker followed by a treat before you start the training. To develop the connection, offer a foodie treat and then make the clicking sound. To test readiness, try a click, and if the cat comes looking for a treat, the link has been formed.
  • Always use your cat’s name when issuing a command, as well as the same word or phrase for the desired action.
  • Click the clicker at the precise moment your cat performs a desired behavior. For example, for the ‘sit’ command, the click should occur at the very second your cat’s bottom touches the ground.
  • Directly after the click, feed your cat a small tasty treat (tuna or cooked chicken bits) and give praise.
  • With repetition, your cat grows to associate the click with getting a tasty morsel and recognizes his own ability to earn treats by performing the desired action on command.


Effective Training Tips

  • Keeping your frustration at bay and practicing patience is key. Each cat is unique so tailor the obedience training to match your cat’s personality. Response to some commands will come easily to your cat, others may be more difficult to learn.
  • Enforce a feeding schedule rather than free-feeding. This has two main benefits: it increases the reward-value of food treats as training devices, and also introduces a semblance of routine into your cat’s life. Most companion animals actually do like the semblance of a routine – even cats!
  • Schedule training sessions just before mealtimes: if your cat is hungry her focus will be sharpened and your cat’s natural desire for food increases her desire to obey you for the food reward.
  • Give your cat undivided attention and choose a location that is free of distractions and noise. No music, TV or cell phone interruptions.
  • Dr. Whitworth recommends that you take training slowly. Building up a solid foundation of the basics is the most important focus – trying to teach your cat to perform multiple tricks at one session may backfire.
  • Keep sessions interesting and short – between 10 to 15 minutes since cats bore easily. Make the training sessions fun for your cat and for you and make them something your cat wants to participate in. You’ll both be so proud!

New Years Resolutions for Pet Parents

Happy New Year from Whitworth Animal Clinic! Are you ready for the New Year? Resolutions are a great way to start off a fresh new year, and many of the same resolutions you make for yourself and your family – eating better, getting more exercise, taking time enjoying life – are appropriate for your four legged family members as well. Consider making some of the following resolutions for a year of healthy, happy pets.

Losing Weight and Getting Back Into Shape

Probably the number one New Year’s resolution for pet owners is to lose weight and get back into shape. The same resolution also applies to many of our pets. Why not fulfill both resolutions at once!

  • Add Exercise Into Your Daily Routine with Your Pet. Daily exercise is important in keeping your pets happy, active, and at their proper weight, and an exercise program for your pet can also provide you with the same benefits! Most adult dogs need about 30 minutes of exercise a day, so if you normally just let the dog out into the back for bathroom breaks, take a walk through the neighborhood or a short hike instead. Once you both are in peak condition, maybe consider jogging with your pet. For feline family members, spend some time physically playing with your cat around the house instead of just providing a toy – get that kitty jumping, running and pouncing. Looking silly is never an option for a cat. Not only does this playtime also help keep your pets’ minds sharp and mentally stimulated, it also increases your bond with your pet.


  • Eating Healthier. A resolution that goes paw-in-paw with the goal of losing weight and getting back into shape is a healthy diet – for all family members. Not only can a bad diet lead to obesity in many animals, it can also contribute to dental problems and other health related issues, just like in people. The New Year is a great time to look at your pets’ eating routine and make healthy adjustments as needed. Resolve to do less table food scraps and more fresh treats instead, like pieces of carrot, apple and green beans. Check to make sure you are feeding the recommended serving size to your pet – sometimes we just scoop or pour out of a bag/box and don’t bother to implement portion control. Not only will the jiggles in the middle when they wiggle be reduced, your pet’s coat will become shinier and they’ll have more energy (and there’s where the exercise comes in…)

Schedule Regular Preventative Check-ups 

Like humans, younger pets need to visit the vet once per year for a preventative check-up and more mature pets at least twice a year depending on their health.  Make a resolution to schedule an appointment to take your pets to the vet when you schedule your family members’ annual tune-ups. Not only do yearly well pet-exams keep your pet up-to-date on the latest vaccinations and flea/heartworm medications, it also helps avoid preventable health conditions or provides early detection of health problems like diabetes and arthritis. If it’s been a year or more since your pet has visited Dr. Whitworth, make an appointment today!

Socialize More

Just like you may have joined a gym to help inspire and promote your weight management goals, bringing your dog to a dog park or taking group walks has two advantages – exercise for all and improved socialization skills.

Promise to Travel More With Your Pet

Getting your pets accustomed to car rides has tangible benefits beyond just the feeling of the wind on their furry faces. Car rides are a great way to introduce your pets to new scenery and experiences. Give your dog a chance to check out the beach, a lake, or a hike along a river trail – imagine the new smells to investigate. Even cats (in their secure carriers) can enjoy a field trip now and then. The key is to keep your pet safe and secure while riding in the car, or even the adventures on a boat. The more well traveled, the more your pets may think a car ride isn’t necessarily associated with a trip to Whitworth Animal Clinic to get SHOTS! And many lodging choices are now pet-friendly.

Continuing Education

Pets actually crave structure in their lives, whether they know it or not. Especially dogs, who typically want to please their owners and gain praise. And cats are quite intelligent and can learn too, even if they yawn in your face when you try to illicit a response to “come”. Cats are often underestimated when it comes to behavior, because cats house train and bath themselves. So most people aren’t aware of their cat’s abilities in this area. (see our December, 2015 blog for cat training tips). Making learning part of every day is a fantastic resolution to have for this new year. Maybe this is the year to go for an obedience school degree, or an advanced refresher course.

Invest in IDs

January is a good time to update your pet’s ID tags, and if they don’t already have one, have one made at your local pet food and supply store. Even pets that live indoors need ID just in case of emergency or escape. Implanted microchips are also a smart option.

Focus on Grooming

Pet parents take the time to fix their hair, practice oral health habits, trim and manicure their nails, and maintain good hygiene. Pledge to give your pet’s fur, teeth, nails and ears extra attention in the New Year. Brush your pet every day and check their teeth, nails and ears at least once a week. You make it a priority to take routine care of yourself and your family, so decide to make your pet’s health and hygiene a focus area too. When you groom your pet, it has the added bonus of making them feel happy, clean and loved.

At Whitworth Animal Clinic, we can help you achieve all of your New Year’s resolutions to enhance your pet’s well being in tandem with your own. Make an “All Paws Considered” pact with your pet to have the best year yet, and contact Dr. Whitworth with any questions and for guidance with resources. Happy New Year!

Worry-Free Pet Boarding

photo of a cute puppy laying on top of a suitcase | Whitworth Animal ClinicLeaving your dog or cat for any length of time is tough on both the pet and the parent. Whitworth Animal Clinic recognizes this and strives to put your mind at ease and make your pet feel at home.

We offer day care and extended stay options for your furry friend. Our experienced staff in both the clinic and the kennel strives to anticipate the needs of your pet and keep them calm, comfortable and content during their stay.

Before making the reservation to board your pet, please be sure that he or she is current on all vaccinations. If the administration of any vaccines is due, please bring the dog or cat to our clinic beforehand and we will update all the necessary shots. This should be done at lease a few days prior to boarding so the medicines can take effect. This precaution is necessary to prevent your pet and the other tenants from contracting such ailments as kennel cough, rabies, hepatitis, parvo and the flu, to name a few. We also recommend a regular regimen of flea and heartworm prevention medicines.

We provide food, but if your pet is on a specific diet or has allergies or discerning tastes, you are welcome to bring his or her favorite food and we will serve that during their stay. We recommend that you leave toys and pillows and such at home so there is no chance of loss or damage.

Your pet will be monitored and walked and entertained periodically for exercise and to prevent boredom. Please let us know if he or she prefers not to interact with other animals, and we will make arrangements for private outings.

Whitworth Animal Clinic is the premier facility in the Madison area and we take pride in our veterinary and boarding services. Please visit our website here to get acquainted with our staff and facilities and to find out information regarding vaccines, pet health, boarding, and other services. We want you to be able to enjoy your time away from home and know that your furry ‘kids’ are healthy and happy, too!

Xylitol: Unsafe for Dogs

photo of chewing gum containing xylitol | Whitworth Animal Clinic

Learn to check labels and keep products containing xylitol away from your pets. Very small doses can be deadly to small dogs.

Xylitol is an increasingly popular sugar substitute that can be deadly for your dog. Naturally occurring in some fruits and vegetables, it is safe and even beneficial for human consumption, so it is rapidly finding its way into most households. Xylitol is found in a variety of products from gum and mints to toothpaste and chewable vitamins, baked goods, and even some peanut butter. However, even a small dose is toxic for dogs. Therefore, it is increasingly important for you to be aware of the dangers and keep products containing xylitol securely stored.

Over a hundred times more toxic than chocolate, xylitol needs to be on every pet owner’s radar. Products containing xylitol will list it as an ingredient, but there is nothing that requires manufacturers to disclose the amount. And since even the slightest dose can be deadly for small dogs, you will need to practice diligence to keep your pets safe.

Xylitol can cause major problems in as little as 30 minutes from ingestion. The symptoms are related to insulin shock or hypoglycemia and include weakness, lethargy, loss of coordination, vomiting, tremors, collapse, seizures, jaundice, black and/or tarry stools, and coma. If left untreated, xylitol will cause irreversible brain trauma. It can also cause liver damage within 24 hours, and some dogs have shown no signs of hypoglycemia yet suffered severe liver damage. Therefore, regardless of symptoms, it is vital to contact your vet if ingestion is suspected.

Treatment for xylitol poisoning can involve induced vomiting, IV fluids, infusions, and careful monitoring of liver values. The prognosis for dogs whose owners sought treatment before symptoms appeared was good; however, if liver failure develops that prognosis decreases.

If your pet ingests a product containing xylitol, you need to contact your vet immediately. You can also contact the Pet Poison Hotline (800-213-6680).

Awareness of the harm that xylitol can cause your pet along with label reading and proper storage can keep your loved ones safe. Whitworth Animal Clinic wants to help keep pet owners aware of dangers and ways to keep your pets safe and healthy. We are a full service clinic, and we take pride in providing personalized, quality care to our clients. Dr. Whitworth has been a caring veterinarian since 1981, and Whitworth Animal Clinic is available to help with your pets’ needs. Conveniently located in Madison, AL, Whitworth Animal Clinic serves Madison, Huntsville, Decatur, and the surrounding areas in North Alabama. Please contact us with questions or concerns regarding any of your pet related needs.

Geriatric Care for Our Aging Pets

old Golden Retriever dog

Older Golden Retriever

Most all pet owners agree that no matter the age, our furry friends will always be our babies. As they age, it is our responsibility to make sure that they get the care needed to thrive in their senior years. It is no secret that pets are living longer lives as a result of improved preventative care, special diets, better medications, and veterinary technology. Pet parents need to be aware of important adjustments that need to be made to ensure that the senior years are happy, healthy, and comfortable. Dr. Whitworth and his staff at Whitworth Animal Clinic can help you make any necessary adjustments to plan for your pet’s future.

When is a Pet Considered a Senior?

Cats and small dogs are generally considered senior at 10 years old. Medium sized dogs are considered senior at eight, large breed dogs at 6 and giant breed dogs at 4 years old. Pets that qualify as seniors should be examined twice yearly to see if there are any early signs of disease. Behaviors or changes that pet owners can monitor for signs of disease in senior pets include changes in water intake, urination, appetite, energy level, coughing, vomiting, or a change in weight. If you see any of these “signs”, have a discussion with Dr. Whitworth to discuss the aging process and ways that you can correct and problems related to disease or deficiencies.

Geriatric Pet Health Conditions

As a pet ages, they can develop many of the same conditions and diseases that aging humans experience. Because our furry friends can’t tell us how they feel, it is our responsibility to be aware of potential health threats. Preventive care can detect many off these illnesses before they become life threatening or disabling.

The most common ailments that affect our pets include:

·       cancer

·       heart disease

·       kidney/urinary tract disease

·       liver disease

·       diabetes

·       joint or bone disease

·       senility

·       weakness

Ways to Improve Quality of Life for Senior Pets

People are not the only ones who have to make certain changes and adjustments as they grow older. Our pets warrant the same types of needs and attention that many humans go through. Understanding the common symptoms and signs that come with the pet aging process can not only help you take steps to improve your pet’s quality of life, but it can also adequately prepare you for what is ahead in your pets senior years. Dr. Whitworth recommends that pet owners be aware of the following changes that eventually need to occur:

·       Increased veterinary care: two visits per year for standard vital testing.

·       Age appropriate diet and nutrition: Feed preservative-free food with increased protein.

·       Weight control: Prevent obesity – do not over feed or provide food high in fat.

·       Parasite protection: Check for heartworms and other parasites during vet visits.

·       Maintaining mobility: Allow your pet to get shorter but more frequent activity.

·       Changing vaccination needs: Senior pets do not need all of the vaccinations that younger animals need.

·       Mental health: Provide toys or activities that involve the brain such as toys or training.

·       Environmental considerations: Provide aging pets with a warm, nonthreatening place to rest and try to eliminate stairs or other obstacles.

·       Reproductive diseases: Pets that have not been spayed or neutered often develop health problems as they get older.

·       Medication: If your pet requires medication, be alert for possible side effects.

Whitworth Animal Clinic services pets from Madison, Huntsville, and the surrounding Madison County areas. If you would like more information about caring for senior pets, contact Dr. Whitworth at 256/830-1503 to schedule a consultation. With Dr. Whitworth’s help, you can help your senior pet live a longer, healthier, and happier life!

Lurking Dangers for your Dog on Halloween

Halloween can be one of the busiest weeks for the Pet Poison Control Helpline. Their calls are generally 12% higher during Halloween and here are some facts and tips for keeping your furry friends safe and happy.

Dog Halloween hazards, Madison, ALHalloween pet costumes:

Did you know that $370 million dollars are spent of pet Halloween costumes? That’s a lot of money to spend on something that your dog would have rather you spent on a yummy treat! Favorite pet costumes include a devil, pumpkin, witch, a clown or a hot dog. If you just insist on doggy costume torture, be sure that their costume doesn’t have a lot of small pieces that they can chew off and ingest or strings and ribbons that might strangle the dog. Also, make sure the costume is not too tight or constricted as that can lead to a doggy panic attack or other injury.

Halloween Candy:

Candy is not really nutritious for anyone, but that doesn’t seem to deter us from eating. The same holds true for your pet. If given the opportunity they will suck down just about anything including chewing gum, raisins, and chocolate. Any of which can cause some dogs to become sick, with chocolate being particularly dangerous. There are chemicals in chocolate that are dangerous to pets, such as methylxanthines, which are similar to caffeine and more heavily concentrated in the darker varieties. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous to your dog and it doesn’t take much to make your puppy very ill. Watch for symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, agitation, increased thirst, elevated heart rate, and in severe cases, seizures.
You might think of raisins and grapes as a healthier snack but for dogs they are poisonous! Very small amounts of raisins or grapes can lead to kidney failure. Both raisins and chocolate should be kept in tight containers far away from the reach of your pet.

Pets getting lost:

Halloween is the 2nd most common holiday for pets to become lost. All the loud noises, outside activity, being out in the dark all can be nerve racking to your dog. Make sure you have identification on your pet and microchipping is preferred by most veterinarians. Most dogs would prefer a nice quiet spot in the house, out of range of all the festivities.

Responsible Pet Ownership Promise

Pet Ownership is nothing to be taken lightly. It is a responsibility that impacts the health and welfare of an animal that depends on you for food, shelter and medical care. Whitworth Animal Clinic shares the AKC Responsible Pet Owner Pet Promise during National Responsible Pet Ownership Month with the objective that all of Dr. Whitworth’s pet owners will take it to heart.

Pet promise

Make Your Cat Happy

Whitworth Animal Clinic is joining cat lovers and animal health & welfare organizations nationwide to celebrate and spoil our furry feline companions during the month of September 2015. To show dedication and unconditional love to cats everywhere, owners can take advantage of new, creative approaches to entertain, pamper, and maintain optimal health all year long. Let’s face it – if our cats are happy, we are happy! Whitworth Animal Clinic recommends you incorporate some of the following tips into your household to enhance your cat’s well-being.

Toys: Provide toys that spark curiosity and keep cats engaged. Texture, color, scent and movement allow pets to use their primal instincts and sensory skills. Cats that have plenty of opportunity to “stalk” and “hunt” maintain healthy mental attitudes.

Outdoor Stimulation: Those of us that keep our pets indoors know how excited they get when they see birds, squirrels, or other small animals. Natural stimulation such as viewable birdhouses or birdfeeders can provide hours of interesting entertainment.

Bedding and Hiding Places: Cats are very finicky creatures and will carefully investigate any new bed, hiding place, or perching surface to make sure that it is not intimidating or threatening. Once thoroughly inspected without perceived threats, cats will show physical signs of satisfaction by “making biscuits”, “treading”, “purring”, and rolling on their new domain.

One-on-One Time: People that own cats know the benefits of living with their fluffy friends. Studies have shown that people who live with cats have a 40% lower chance of suffering a stroke or heart attack. Also, animal behavioral experts recommend that owners spend at least 30 minutes per day playing or petting their cats to maintain a bond.

Diet and Treats: Whether a cat eats dry or wet food – it should contain required vital ingredients to maintain optimal health. Foods that contain fillers and artificial components not only lead to digestive issues and obesity, but often over a period of time cause early signs of disease. At Whitworth Animal Clinic, we carry several lines of recommended veterinary diet products to maintain your cat’s health at any stage of their life, as well as respond to special dietary conditions that may arise.

Preventive Care: Annual pet wellness visits to Whitworth Animal Clinic can help detect health problems early and potentially save your cat’s life. Standard deworming, vaccinations, and physical examinations only take a few moments to complete. Afterward, you and your cat can go home, have a treat, and snuggle up!

If you already have a cat, how about adopting a pal for your feline friend? There are so many cats available in shelters in the Madison and northern Alabama area waiting for someone to give them a forever home. Dr. Whitworth believes if you are spoiling one cat, why not spoil two? Dr. Whitworth and the staff at Whitworth Animal Clinic will work with you to make every day “happy cat day”.

Why Do Dogs Lick?

dogs licking feetIs any exposed part of your body a target for a licking marathon by your dog? Many dogs seem so intent on licking your face, neck, arms, legs, hands and the favorite – feet and toes – that we may begin to question our hygiene. Some get you in a paw grip and won’t let go until their tongue has reached every space between every toe. Licking, as a means of grooming, is perfectly natural…it’s a dog’s version of taking a shower. But dogs also lick for reasons other than grooming. So perhaps this is a not so subtle doggie hint that we don’t smell too good, or we have bits of food all over ourselves and don’t realize it, or we’re salty, or we’re sad, or they just are being affectionate. So you ask – why do dogs lick their humans?

Licking is a Form of Communication

Basically, licking makes a statement about your pet’s mood, grooming habits, level of submission, signs of affection and instinct. Licking is a one of your dog’s inborn and natural forms of communication. Female dogs lick their puppies from the moment of birth as a means of grooming and cleaning, comforting and marking them with her scent. The mother’s instinctive licking communicates a number of messages to her pups which they continue to practice on themselves, another animals and on us as they mature.

Meeting and Greeting: Dogs that are lickers usually don’t limit their saliva painting to just their owners. A brief licking on the face and mouth is interpreted as showing friendliness, lack of aggression and fearlessness when dogs are introduced to new people and other dogs. (Word of caution – do not let a dog showing teeth and gums near your face – this is communicating the opposite of licking).

Instinctive Request for Food Sharing: Wild canines have a pack hierarchy, where the dominant males typically do the majority of the hunting. When the alpha males return, the subordinate pack members lick their mouths as a means of encouraging the hunters to share the food. In your household, your dog may lick your mouth as their way of checking out what you’ve been eating in the hopes you may share some with them. Or maybe just tasting leftovers on sloppy eaters. If you’ve been out, they probably are asking if you brought them a “doggy bag”.

Affection: Licking equals affection. Dogs lick as a signal that they are submissive to the person being licked, in essence regarding the “lickee” as a perceived pack leader or at least of a higher ranking. Love and respect are conveyed in a thorough licking session. It communicates that you are in charge, and they are comfortable with being a subordinate. As well, when a dog licks for affection, endorphins are released, and it makes the dog feel good. A long, intricate licking session can be very satisfying – to the dog that is.

Reading Your Mood: A dog’s communication skills are expressed by sniffing and licking. They have heightened senses in their noses and taste buds. So a quick “taste” could be an attempt to read your mood that day. When humans sweat, the eccrine and sebaceous glands send out little bits of information. That’s why dogs seem to be able to perceive when their humans are sad, scared, lonely, tired, hurt, or sick, as well as happy, excited, and energetic.

Marking Ownership: The same way a cat often rubs and twines around a person’s legs to leave their scent on you, a dog may lick as a way to mark you as theirs. That way, if another dog approaches you, the odor of your dog’s particular “eau de dog food breath” let’s them know you are already owned. (We say – better dog spit than the alternative means of marking).

Requesting Attention: A few licks to the face area may be a dog’s way of communicating that they are feeling scared, depressed, or lonely and are asking for attention or reassurance.

Some Humans Just Taste Good: A dog may be attracted to lick your skin, particularly arms and legs when skin is salty, or after application of lotions, or after cooking when fragrant vapors may settle on your exposed skin. To each his own we say!

Healing Instincts: Although it may not seem sanitary, dogs have a natural instinct to try to heal wounds on themselves and other pack members by licking them. So they often transfer that “licking makes it feel better” impulse to licking their human if they have a sore or injury. They are saying “let me fix it” the only way they know how.

When Licking Crosses the Line to Obsessive

When dogs lick, it’s important for you to understand what your puppy or dog may be trying to communicate. Whatever the reason, when a dog licks it usually has a positive connotation. However, if your dog engages in endless licking of the air or constant licking and nibbling parts of the body, this might indicate a possible compulsive disorder. However, there may be other physical or health related causes for non-stop licking, so a visit to Dr. Whitworth at Whitworth Animal Clinic, providing veterinary services to pets from Madison, Huntsville, and the surrounding Madison County areas, for an educated diagnosis is in order.