Pet Health: Spelling It All Out

The first time I met Dr. Gary Weitzman DVM, MPH, CAWA was at his invitation to tour the world’s first kitten nursery and neonatal clinic on the San Diego campus of the San Diego Humane Society and I vowed the next feline I adopted would be from this groundbreaking and awesome facility.

Several years later, when I sat down to interview him about his new book aptly titled Pet Health, my kitten nursery alumnus, now a full-grown svelte tuxedo “panther”, was neatly curled up in my lap.

“Do you want another kitten?” he quipped. Many a true word spoken in jest …

As president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society for seven years, Weitzman oversees 5 000 volunteers and a staff of 700 who truly make a difference in the world of animal welfare. Every day, he gets to see the many faces of the human-animal bond and has put his knowledge and research into this new book to help spread the word beyond the campuses he oversees.

Dr. Gary Weitzman with pooches Jake and Betty

First a synopsis of the book.  It’s bipetual – about both cats and dogs. It covers everything relevant in looking after pets in an age when Millennials are influencing many decisions about health and pet care, and is aptly subtitled The Veterinarian’s Approach to At-Home Animal Care.

It’s an easy read, a great reference and populated throughout with panels headlined Ask Dr. Gary that focus on relevant questions often asked, which he answers in a straight forward way, making the information an easy take-away.

Then we got down to talking about some of the “nitty gritty” in the book such as the topic of pet obesity. It’s sadly a hot topic, as currently the Association for the Prevention of Pet Obesity states that 59.5% of cats and 55.8% of dogs in the United States are classified as overweight or obese.

So, I posed the question to Weitzman: Are we putting too much Human-Animal Bond in pet food?

“The answer to that is both yes and no,” he countered.  “We do show our love through food both for our pets and for the people around us. We can’t take the human-animal bond out of food because we have to buy it and serve it and we worry about our pet’s health in terms of the food we serve. But we have to be cognizant that we are going to have unhealthy animals if we overdo the love connection via food.

“We tend to transfer our own food fears onto our pets too. People are afraid of grains with all the carb-free foods, various fad diets out there and we have translated that into animals are healthier without grains too. Consequently, marketers have created the whole grain-free trend. But grains are not an enemy and there is no reason on earth not to feed grains unless you have a very unique animal that is allergic and sensitive to grains.

“I think we definitely over-treat. I always recommend the way to fix this is to take everything you want to give them and give them half of it. It’s important to remember that our pets don’t care what they are getting on the receiving end. This is a terrible example, but my dogs don’t care if I give them a tiny piece of pizza crust or an entire pizza. They are quite happy with the crust …

“I love the growing trend that focuses on fresh foods for pets that customize recipes to meet a pet’s individual needs and have all the buzz words such as ‘no additives’ and ‘human grade’.

“And of course, it’s very easy to forget the exercise part of daily health. This applies to both pets and people,” he added.

Often veterinarians say they are embarrassed to talk to pet owners and tell them their pets are obese when clearly the pet parents are overweight too.

“I have never thought of such a conversation as a problem because people that come to a veterinarian to ask about their pets are intently focused on the health of their animals. I don’t believe they are personally insulted if you use the word fat because they want their pet to be healthier. I always default to the truth and never felt I’ve needed to be overly sensitive.”

Weitzman is a huge proponent of the One Health Initiative (see above) that encompasses all health and welfare issues on both ends of the leash. With a degree in public health, he understands that this is a true partnership.

  • This initiative is defined as a collaborative, multisectoral, and transdisciplinary approach — working at the local, regional, national, and global levels — with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment.

“One Health is a language we should all be speaking. Animals do better when people care about them and people are happier in general when surrounded by animals. Working in the animal shelter world, population medicine is critically important in terms of the health of the community it serves.”

Weitzman’s heart and soul as well as 30 years of experience are between the covers of this book.

Speaking of covers, I have a digital version. Dr. Gary, please can I have a hardcopy autographed by you. This one is a keeper ….




tip of the day

The legendary Dr Roger Mugford with the Halti Optifit

Exercise is healthy. A nice walk before a meal will ensure that afterwards, your dog will relax and snooze. However, on very hot days, limit exercise excursions to either early morning or early evening to avoid the punishing heat of the middle of the day. Be sure to take water with you – even on a short walk. Winter or summer — ALWAYS  tailor your dog’s walks to his age and general mobility. Consider walking inside a pet-friendly indoor mall if the weather is not conducive to outside exercise.