Animal Training and Pet Sitting Module 9

Specific Information On Dogs And Cats

You, as a dog and cat lover and pet care professional, probably have a good base of knowledge about man’s best friend and our feline friends. In this module we seek to give more depth to your knowledge base and will discuss more specifics on dogs and cats as individual species. Basic aspects of behavior, nutrition, care and grooming will be discussed. A basic overview of identifying common diseases will be introduced, with more in-depth detail found in Module 11: First Aid.

9.1 Correct levels of exercise

9.2 Necessary nutrition

9.3 Understanding behaviour and retraining when needed

9.4 How elderly pets can change

9.5 Physical care and grooming

9.6 Need for love and affection

9.7 Recognising signs of common diseases

9.1 Correct levels of exercise

Every individual pet is different, but this section will generalize a bit regarding the exercise needs for each species, age and body condition. It is always best to discuss each pet’s current exercise programme with the owner and tailor your plan to their expectations and abilities.


Puppies are high-energy and most are superb athletes. Puppies from 6-16 weeks of age will play hard and then crash hard – meaning that a short period of high-intensity play and running will follow with sleep. Leash walks can be a challenge with these guys, as they are learning to walk on the leash at this age. Patience is key and much of the exercise you may do will be within the home with toys. “Puppy kindergarten” classes are also excellent outlets.

Large-breed and Giant-breed Puppies

It is important to note a special exception for this group. Running long distances and high-impact play is discouraged for large and giant breed puppies under the age of 12 months. Excessive pounding on the joints can predispose this group to joint injury and cartilage malformation – possibly leading to conditions like osteochondritisdessecans (OCD).  Keep play and exercise low-impact with leash walks and short-distance, low-intensity sprints.

Overweight, Obese and Older Dogs

Overweight, obese and older dogs need as much exercise as they can get – but in a slow, gentle way. Question the owner carefully about the pet’s current exercise programme and know their limits. Some pets may have a prescribed programme from their veterinarian. Start out with slow leash walks for short distances and increase duration and distance as their condition improves. Also keep in mind that many these dogs suffer from joint problems, such as arthritis, which can make exercise painful. Play indoors with toys is encouraged. Take care when throwing a ball or Frisbee, as sharp turns with the back legs can predispose ligament damage in overweight or older dogs.


Cats are very difficult to exercise – as they tend to have their own agenda! Playing with toys, laser pointers and treats can encourage movement.

9.2 Necessary nutrition

Nutrition is a broad field and there are many approaches to what is the “right” way to feed our furry. Basic nutrition for pets should include sources of carbohydrates, protein, fat, fibre, vitamins and minerals, balanced in correct ratios. Below are common diets that you may encounter as a pet caregiver:

  • Commercial diets
    • Formulated for life stage, such as puppy, adult, and senior. Dry (kibble) and canned versions are common.
  • Raw diets
    • Commercial or home-made. These may be formulated from a recipe or balanced diets purchased commercially at pet stores. Most are refrigerated but some are frozen.
  • Veterinary prescription diets
    • Formulated for specific medical conditions. Common brands are Hill’s Science Diet and Royal Canin. These diets are used to treat a variety of medical problems from kidney failure to diabetes to food allergy. Dry (kibble) and canned versions are common.
  • Homemade diets
    • Many owners prefer to cook at home for pets. Some are made from specific recipes and the best are balanced formulas from veterinary nutritionists or holistic veterinarians. One of the most common types of homemade diet is a mix of boiled chicken and rice – which may lead to nutritional deficiencies.
  • Taurine
    • Taurine is an essential amino acid that cats must consume in their diets. Feral cats and house cats on un-balanced homemade or raw diets may experience taurine deficiency, leading to metabolic and heart problems. Taurine is mostly a problem of the past – as the majority of formulations include an appropriate amount of taurine

9.3 Understanding behaviour and retraining when needed

Behaviour encompasses both normal and abnormal ways that animals act towards other animals and humans. It is important to be able to identify normal vs. abnormal behavior and act accordingly.

Dog and cat behaviour is a complex subject but most experienced pet caregivers can troubleshoot problems when they arise.

The most common problems encountered while pet sitting or dog walking include:

  • Aggression
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Hyperactivity
  • Shyness
  • Jumping Up
  • Lack of Obedience Training
  • Lack of Leash Training
  • Non-socialized animals
  • Feeding issues

Sometimes, some of these behaviours are considered “normal” – such as shyness. Some pets just need to get to know you before they open up and the shyness is not an abnormal behaviour. However, shyness can be a sign of fear.  Reading body language and your interaction will be crucial in telling the difference.

Basic guidelines to keep in mind, anytime that a pet is:

  • Difficult to control on the leash
  • Food aggressive
  • Resource aggressive
  • Exhibiting fearful body language (Module 2)
  • Growling
  • Biting
  • Out of control to the point of causing or potentially causing bodily harm
  • Impolite to other animals
  • Pulling on leash to the point of harming the handler, neck or airway

….the owner needs to be consulted about the problem and discuss what needs to be done.

Together sometimes you and the owner can work towards a solution to the problem by retraining. Keep in mind that some cases may need professional intervention, such as with a veterinarian, veterinary behaviourist or professional trainer.

9.4 How elderly pets can change

Our “fur babies” grow, change and age just like we do. Thanks to the excellent care that we provide them, coupled with advances in nutrition and veterinary care, pets are living longer than ever. With longer lifespans however, we must be prepared for aging changes that come with the passing of time. Changes in elderly pets that you should be aware of include:

– Chronic health conditions, not limited to:

  • Arthritis
  • Obesity
  • Thyroid disease
  • Muscle weakness
  • Blindness
  • Loss of hearing
  • Slowed digestion
  • Changes in hair coat – dry or oily skin
  • Decrease in immune system response
  • Cognitive dysfunction – “doggie dementia”
  • Stroke” symptoms – head tilt, disorientation, vocalization
  • Seizures

When caring for an older pet, pay close attention to the owner’s assessment and instructions for the pet. Try to get a sense of how this older pet acts normally, so it is easier to spot when problems are occurring. For example, Fluffy may suffer from knee problems that make her “stiff” when she starts out on her walk, but if this “stiffness” progresses to lameness – a joint or muscle problem may have occurred. Conversely, some older pets may be “stiff” and may limp at the beginning of a walk but “work out of it” as their muscles warm up – and the lameness goes away.

Changes in appetite, water intake, sudden lameness, pain, disorientation are all causes of concern. Sudden changes in an elderly pet’s routine is also a cause for alarm. These issues need to be discussed with the owner and/or veterinarian as soon as possible.

9.5 Physical care and grooming

Each pet has its own set of grooming requirements. Generally, long-haired pets will need more frequent grooming than short-haired pets. All pets can benefit from daily brushing – but keep in mind that some pets LOVE being brushed and some find it downright annoying. Always discuss grooming habits with the owner before attempting home-care yourself.

Basic grooming supplies:

  • Wide-toothed comb
  • Wire brush
  • Boar’s bristle or stiff brush
  • Shedding glove
  • Flea comb

Unless you are a professional, experienced groomer and have the owner’s permission, do not attempt to cut hair with scissors or electric clippers. Pets can quickly move and one misplaced “snip” can cause a serious skin wound.

Specialized shedding blades or brushes, such as the FURminator® are popular grooming tools, but should only be used with the owner’s permission and instruction. Overuse of such instruments can cause excessive hair loss.

Problems to watch out for, which may require immediate attention by the dog’s groomer and/or veterinarian:

  • Live fleas and/or “flea debris” – looks like finely ground black pepper on the pet’s hair and skin
  • Severely matted hair
  • Open sores, such as “hot spots”
  • Sudden hair loss in one or more locations on the body
  • Severely itchy skin
  • Scabs
  • Wet, matted hair under the eyes
  • Long hair that interferes with the pet’s vision or irritates the eyes

When in doubt, talk to the owner, groomer and/or veterinarian

9.6 Need for love and affection

Just like people, pets have different needs when it comes to love, affection and attention. They all require one form of this or another, but some may be more eager for a hug than others. When the owners are away, some pets seem “attention-starved” while others are more reserved and do not require your touch or interaction. Spending quality time with the pet will help you to determine what the pet needs. Some would prefer for you to pet them all day, some only require a kind word and a scratch behind the ears. Spend time with your charge and you will figure it out quickly!

Ways to show affection:

– Petting the head, neck, chest and back

  • Some cats can be very sensitive about being scratched or petted on the back and legs. Scratching the head, behind the ears and tail base is typically accepted by most cats.

– Lap dog (or cat)

  • Some dogs and cats prefer to sit with you while you watch television or read a book.
  • Many of these pets may not require much physical touch – they may simply just want to be near you

– Playtime

  • Playing with toys, encouraging obedience training (asking the dog to “sit”, “stay” or “fetch”) are great ways to show that you care.

– Kind words

  • Speaking to the pets in a soft, high-pitched voice can calm animals and make them feel at ease.

– Grooming

– Feeding

  • Be careful with this one! We often like to show our love by giving treats, but keep in mind that we can “over-love” our pets and over-feed them! Give owner-approved treats in moderation as directed by the owner.

9.7 Recognising signs of common diseases

This section will serve as an introduction to Module 11: First Aid. Being able to identify a problem quickly could mean life or death for your pet.

Common diseases and/or symptoms you may encounter on the job may include:

– Poor appetite or anorexia

  • Causes include digestive disease, liver disease, kidney disease, oral pain, general pain

– Vomiting

  • Causes include Canine parvovirus (especially in puppies or unvaccinated adults), pancreatitis, “garbage gut”, foreign body ingestion (intestinal blockage), infection of the digestive tract, hairballs and bloat.

– Retching

  • Causes may include choke, bloat, other causes of vomiting and kennel cough

– Diarrhea

  • Causes include Canine parvovirus (especially in puppies or unvaccinated adults), pancreatits, “garbage gut”, infections with bacteria or intestinal worms or irritable bowel disease.

– Itchy skin, ulcerated skin

  • Causes include fleas, allergic dermatitis, food allergies, skin wounds, skin infections, vaccine reaction

– Pale gums or tongue

  • Causes include anemia, internal bleeding, heart disease, lung disease, shock, vaccine reaction

– Itchy ears, head shaking, scratching at ears

  • Causes include ear infection, ear mites, allergic dermatitis, food allergies, wax buildup

– Lethargy

  • Numerous causes

– Fever

  • Rectal temperature above 103 F (39.4 C)
  • Causes include infection or vaccine reaction

– Limping, lameness and pain

  • Causes include arthritis, muscle injury, broken bone, ligament damage and cancer

Well Done!