ASK THE VET: Feeding neighbors’ pets treats causes 4 kinds of problems

Q: Eddie, our neighbor's indoor-outdoor cat, is very sweet. He often visits us while we're sitting on our porch or working in the yard. He's so affectionate that we can't help but give him a few cat treats. Eddie seems to be gaining weight, and I wonder whether he is charming other neighbors out of treats, too. Should we stop feeding him?

A: Yes! I don't recommend feeding your neighbors' pets for four reasons.

First, feeding Eddie encourages him to wander from his yard. If he crosses a street to get to your house, he risks getting hit by a car.

Second, some foods cause medical problems in some pets, and you are probably unaware of any foods Eddie can't tolerate.

Third, too many treats unbalance Eddie's diet. Think about how you'd feel if neighbors gave your children candy behind your back, and then your kids turned up their noses at the healthful dinner you'd prepared.

Most importantly, extra treats can make Eddie overweight, which increases his risk of diabetes, arthritis and other medical problems. Most overweight cats have back pain that prevents them from reaching around to groom their hind ends, which become matted. Other conditions common in overweight cats are urinary disorders, breathing problems and even cancer.

Sadly, by 8 to 12 years of age, obese cats are nearly three times more likely to die than cats of normal weight.

Cats meow and rub up against us when they want attention and affection. Many people mistake this feline signal as a plea for food.

I suggest you confess to Eddie's family and then substitute petting, cuddles and snuggles for the food treats you've been giving him. Consider using your neighborhood email or social media to advise your neighbors to do the same.

Q: I have dogs and horses, and I have a question about their gaits. I notice that when my dogs canter, they usually do a cross canter; in other words, one front leg leads while the opposite hind leg leads. A horse's lead leg is the same front and rear. Is something wrong with my dogs?

A: No, their gait is fine.

Like most horses, dogs have four primary gaits: walk, trot, canter and gallop. The trot is most efficient, covering the most ground with the minimum energy expenditure. Dogs also amble, which is the transition from walk to trot, and they pace.

The pace, a normal gait for some breeds of horses, is an abnormal but fairly common gait in dogs. When dogs pace, both right legs move forward at the same time, and then both left legs move forward together. The pace is inefficient, because it wastes energy shifting the dog's center of gravity from side to side, instead of driving the body forward.

It may surprise you to learn that dogs have two ways to canter and two ways to gallop.

Most of the time when dogs canter, they use the cross canter gait, also called the rotary or diagonal canter, in which they run with one front leg ahead of the other and the opposite hind leg ahead. This gait allows them to make sharp turns. The transverse or lateral canter, in which the legs on the same side of the body lead, is routinely used by horses but rarely by dogs.

Similarly, when dogs gallop, they usually use opposite lead legs in front and rear. Horses move differently, usually galloping with the same leads in front and rear. Again, this gait lets dogs turn sharply, like when they're chasing rabbits or squirrels.

While one of my dogs used this form of running to rid the yard of groundhogs, I'm relieved to say that none of my other dogs ever caught an animal.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at