4 Easy Ways to Help Your Cat Move at Mealtime

If you have a chubby kitty and your vet has recommended you get him moving more, here are 4 easy ways to get him moving while eating.


A puzzle feeder is a ball with odd shaped cutouts. When a cat bats it around, the food will fall out. Moving around while eating is actually a normal behavior for wild cats. Once he is used to the puzzle feeder, you can increase his movement by rolling it to him and “make” him chase it like a game.


Roll up his food in a hand towel and lay it on the floor when he’s hungry. He will have to  pull the towel apart to get at his food. Once he’s used to the hand towel, you can move the towel to a higher surface and make him jump up to get it.


Once your cat is used to “hunting” more for his food, place several small amounts of food in various bowls in various positions that he can reach around the house. The great thing, you can set up his bowls once a day and as the days goes on, he can search them out throughout the day. You could also use a paper bag and make him work to tear apart the bag to get to the food.


Put some food on a piece of paper and crumple it up, then toss your cat. He’ll be rewarded by playing with you when he uncrumples  the ball and finds his food. The more balls (and smaller portions of food you use per ball) you toss to him, the more exercise your cat will get.

Luxating Patella (Floating Kneecap)

Luxating patella, also known as floating kneecaps, generally affects small and toy dog breeds. Normally your dog will not have had a traumatic prior injury and enjoys an active lifestyle. Often luxating patella will happen out of the blue. One day, he will suddenly pick up a back leg or yelp and cry for “no discernible reason.” He may be able to put his leg back down and resume running or play with no further problems. Huh? What may have happened is his kneecap popped out place and popped back into position again.

The kneecap sits at the distal end of the femur. It helps the quadriceps muscles flow across the joint between the thigh and lower leg so your dog has mobility of his entire leg and shin. It moves up and down in a groove with patella ridges holding the kneecap in place. As long as these ridges are deep, the kneecap is only able to move up and down. Some dogs have flatter patella ridges. This means the kneecap doesn’t sit as snuggly in its groove and can pop out medially (to the inside) or laterally (to the outside, as pictured above).

As previously stated, many small or toy dog breeds have a genetic predisposition to developing luxating patella, including (but not limited to): miniature or toy Poodles, Maltese, Jack Russell Terriers, Yorkies, Pomeranians, Pekingese, Chihuahuas, Papillions and Boston Terriers. Short-legged dogs (think Basset Hounds or Dachshunds) aren’t genetically prone, but their short femurs can allow the kneecap to change the angle it sits in the ridges, meaning a short-legged breed can develop luxating patella. Larger breeds tend to not experience the condition as they have the deep grooves that keep the patella in place. However, larger dogs are prone to hip problems, namely hip dysplasia, which is a condition in which the hip sits out of place and can cause a secondary condition of luxating patella to occur.

Feline lovers, take heed as well. Cats can also experience luxating patella. Thankfully, the situation is much less severe in felines. Cats are smaller and lighter in body weight than dogs and have much more flexible joints. A cat’s body simply moves differently than a dog’s. You may never even realize your cat has a luxating patella, most cats with a significant issue won’t show any symptoms; he may not even ever limp!

There are four levels of severity of luxating patella:

Grade 1 is very mild: a kneecap pops out of place and pops right back into place. (You may be able to manually pop it in and out of place yourself.)

Grade 2 had a kneecap popping out of place, but doesn’t pop back in immediately or sometimes requires manual manipulation to pop it back in.

Grade 3 has the kneecap sitting out of position most of the time. You can manually put the kneecap back in place and it should stay in place temporarily.

Grade 4 is the most severe: the kneecap is always out of place and can’t be positioned back where it should be.

In puppies, his patella can pop out and pop back in with ease and he may not even be caused any pain. As he ages, he will gradually not want to put weight on his leg until his kneecap pops back into place which may cause him temporary flashes of pain and will otherwise appear fine. As his cartilage continues to wear down from the frequent “traveling” of his kneecap, the bone-to-bone contact becomes more and more painful for him.

If your dog is experiencing any symptoms, no matter how mild and no matter what grade your veterinarian has diagnosed him with, taking a proactive approach from the beginning can prevent future surgery,  joint degeneration and save him from a diminished quality of life.

Your first course of action will be to help your dog maintain a healthy body weight. Any extra pounds will only put a bigger burden on his knees. Your dog at his optimal body weight will mean your dog is full of lean muscles which, in turn, will limit the stress he places on his joints. It may sound counteractive, but maintaining exercise is important. Keeping up his muscle tone can help him form a cage around his patella which will keep it in place. The more toned your dog is (from top to bottom), the more stable his kneecap will be. Building muscle is the single most important thing you can do for your dog. (Yes, you want your dog to become a canine body-builder.) Once your dog is a mass of muscle, you’ll want to provide him with oral joint support supplements or glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). These GAGs will help the cartilage of the knee to maintain their integrity and improve their fluidity. Adequan is an injectable joint support supplement. This helps dogs to prevent premature arthritis by slowing down joint degeneration and improves fluid production (which is what you’re trying to do). Chiropractic or acupuncture (for canines) can also help with his luxating patella, if those are avenues you want to explore. In fact, there are many chiropractic manipulations that you can help your dog perform to keep his knees and hips in alignment. Diet-wise, an anti-inflammatory, carb-free (or at least very low in carbs) will reduce joint inflammation for your dog. As always, consult with your veterinarian for specifics and to figure out the best course of action for your dog.

Your vet may recommend surgery first off, regardless of your dog’s severity. Unfortunately, there remains every possibility that, despite your best efforts, your dog may require surgery anyway. Be aware that your dog doesn’t necessarily need surgery (provided you’re not ignoring his symptoms without any kind of intervention) until he is at least stage 3. Surgical intervention will focus on deepening the trochlear wedge (if your dog has flat joints, the surgeon will cut a deeper V to hold the kneecap in place) or tightening down the joint capsule. Feel free to explore all non-surgical options before you opt for surgery. Surgery carries a risk due to anesthesia and/or infection, plus the surgery itself is aimed at a dog’s moving part that is weight-bearing. Therefore, if surgery goes wrong, your dog may have an even worse quality of life. If your surgeon puts a pin in your dog’s joint, the pin may still be able to move, requiring more surgeries or an abscess (seroma) can form at the site of the pin and can require draining or surgical removal. After surgery, your dog should not run or jump for about two months to allow the repair to stabilize. This can cause your dog a tremendous amount of stress because he’s a dog and he wants to be outside playing. Sometimes repair of the kneecap can set off other problems in other bones or joints. Even worse, about 10% of dogs do not show any improvement after surgery. They continue to be in pain.

It’s a tough decision, but only you and your veterinarian together can determine the best course of action for your dog and your family. Just know that there are a multitude of less invasive actions to try first. If these actions are successful, there may not even be a need for surgery! If the surgery is successful, it can give your dog a new lease on life but this type of surgery is by no means a guarantee and carries a lot of risks.  I wish your dog a lifetime of healthy knees!

Hip Dysplasia (Dogs)

A dog’s hip joint attaches the hind leg to his body via a ball and socket joint. The ball portion is the head of the femur while the socket (known as acetabulum) is located on the pelvis. In a normal joint, the ball rotates freely within the socket because the bones are shaped to perfectly match each other and the socket surrounds the ball. As well, the two bones are held together by a strong ligament which attaches the femoral head to the acetabulum. In addition, the joint capsule, a strong band of connective tissue, encircles the two bones for further stability. The area where the acetabulum and the femur touch is called the articular surface. It is perfectly smooth and cushioned with a layer of spongy cartilage. A highly viscous fluid contained in the joint lubricates the articular surface. In a normal dog, all of these factors work together to cause his hip joint to function smoothly.

Hip dysplasia is associated with an abnormal joint structure, laxity of the muscles, connective tissue or ligaments that would normally support the hip joint. As joint laxity develops, the bones lose contact with each other. The separation of the two bones is called a subluxation. Most dysplastic dogs are born with normal hips, but as they age (due to genetic and possibly other factors), the soft tissues surrounding the joints develop abnormally. Hip dysplasia can be bilateral (affecting both hips).

Normal hip joint

Hip dysplasia joint

A dog can develop hip dysplasia at any age, but it often shows up in middle age or his senior years. Without intervention, a dog may eventually become unable to walk. The symptoms are similar to arthritis. A dog will often walk or run with an altered gait. They may resist movements that flex or extend their rear legs. Usually, he will run with a “bunny-hopping” gait. They may show stiffness or pain in their rear legs after exercise or first thing in the morning. They may have difficulty climbing stairs. A dog may limp and be less willing to participate in normal activities. At first, you may attribute this to normal changes of aging. As the condition progresses, most dogs will lose muscle tones and require assistance to get up.

Hip dysplasia occurs in dogs, cats and even humans. It is primarily a disease of large or giant dog breeds. It is most often seen in German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers and Saint Bernards. Hip dysplasia can be seen in medium-sized breeds and rarely occurs in small breeds. It primarily occurs in purebred dogs, but may happen in a mixed breed, if the crossbreed is of two breeds prone to developing hip dysplasia.

It is difficult to breed hip dysplasia out of a bloodline because though it may occur doesn’t mean it will. Obesity has been shown to increase the severity of hip dysplasia. Another factor shown to increase the development (in dogs prone to hip dysplasia) in rapid growth from free feeding between the age of three months to ten months. Feeding your dog a complete and balanced diet is also essential as a diet too low in calcium and other nutrients has been shown responsible for the development of hip dysplasia. If your dog is prone to developing the disease, don’t over exercise him as a puppy, Maintaining good muscle mass is essential for decreasing a dog’s chances to developing hip dysplasia. Moderate exercise that strengthen his gluteal muscles (running or swimming) is recommended.

Your dog will be diagnosed by his vet via a physical exam and, most likely, x-rays. So how can you help your dog? There’s nothing you can do about his genes, but you can certainly control his weight. Maintaining your dog’s recommended weight may be the single most important treatment you can do for him. If your dog will require surgery or medical treatments later, they will be far successful if your dog is at his optimal weight. Daily exercise is a great way to maintain a healthy weight. If your dog is already showing signs of arthritis or hip dysplasia, you may need an individualized exercise plan, but it’s the second most important thing you can do for him. People experiencing arthritis feel more symptoms in cold or damp weather. This is true for Fido too. Giving him a sweater for outdoor time or even increasingly the temperature of your home and providing him with a warm, fleecy bed or blanket can ease his symptoms.  Massage or physical therapy can help to relax his stiff muscles and promote a good range of motion for his joints. (Start slowly to build his trust.) You may eventually need to provide your dog with ramps in order to avoid stairs.

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Running With Your Dog


Any dog from the herding, sporting or working groups (according to the AKC) may require more exercise than a simple walk can provide. If you’re  a jogger or a runner, your dog may become your perfect running partner. Burning off your dog’s excess “spunk” can lead to a much better behaved pooch.

Before you begin taking your dog along, check with your vet to ensure your dog doesn’t have a heart condition, breathing difficulties, that he doesn’t overheat easily or is too overweight. Even if your dog is healthy, he could experience elbow or hip dysplasia and running will not help these problems.

Prior to beginning the running regimen, your dog should be properly leash trained. He needs to be able to turn and stop with you and run alongside you without running ahead or pulling on the leash. The basic heel command is a definite plus to help keep your dog safe.

If your dog is new to running, work up to your speed and whole routine gradually. Start at a walk/jog combination, keeping the distance short. As your dog grows comfortable, you can increase the distance in small increments and slowly work up to a full jog/run.

Always try to run on soft surfaces (dirt, grass, sand or asphalt) with your dog — concrete can be too jarring. Try to run in the mornings or evenings and in cooler weather. Hot pavement can burn a dog’s paws and lead to heatstroke or dehydration. Include a warm up and a cool down for both you and your dog. On longer runs, take frequent breaks, this will give your dog a much needed water break. Always praise your dog before and after a run. You want him to have fun and to increase your bond. (Dogs love praise — for anything and everything.)

If your dog develops an injury or you start to notice a limp, take him to the vet and avoid exercising until he’s fully recovered.

Treats and Obesity


It’s a complicated issue, even in our own diets. The problem comes in about how much to feed your pet. Treats serve many purposes for our pets: to assist when training, to reward behavior or as a snack. Treats are definitely okay to add to your pet’s diet. However, (this is where it gets complicated) if you allow your pet a treat — especially on a regular basis, you need to keep his overall nutrition in mind.

Treats are only to be used in moderation. Treats should equal to no more than 10% of your pet’s caloric intake each day. If you feed your pet a treat, you should then reduce the amount of regular food he receives. You should also follow the feeding guidelines on the package of treats.

Why should pet owners be limiting treats? Obesity is becoming as common a problem for our pets as it is for us humans. It’s estimated that over half of all dogs and cats are either obese or overweight. A fat pet may seem extra cute or cuddly, but that extra fat can cause a whole host of health problems including arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart or respiratory disease and lead to an increased risk of certain cancers. Suddenly that extra pudge isn’t so cute anymore! It’s been studied (Purina Lifespan Study) that obesity can take two years off a dog’s life.

To check if your pet is overweight, you should be able to easily feel your pet’s ribs without pressing into him and his stomach should be tucked in. Your veterinarian can determine whether your pet is overweight by checking out his body condition score (BCS).

So how do you serve up treats in a healthy way? Use treats (always in moderation) alongside your pet’s complete and balanced diet. Never assume that a treat is complete and balanced (like his regular food) because some treats are and some aren’t. Always check the labels on the package and only feed according to the feeding guidelines. You should never feed your pet table scraps. Many of our foods are not meant for our pets and can throw off the balance of our pet’s diet. Our food doesn’t really provide our pets with any nutritional benefit anyway, and, in fact, some foods can cause your pet digestive upset, serious health problems and even death. Any human food fed to your pet can lead to obesity. Feeding table scraps can also cause undesirable behavior, like begging or jumping on the table.

The best way to avoid obesity is to ensure your pet receives plenty of exercise and play. Not only will exercise keep your pet sleek and trim, exercise strengthens the bond between us and them. Always, always provide your pet with plenty of fresh water. Water is essential for optimal health for them (and us)!