Pet Health Pet News

Interview with Dr. Ernie Ward

Written by Rachel Phelps

Hi Dr. Ward, can I call you Ernie? Thank you so much for chatting with us from From my research, I have learned that you’re an advocate for “doing what is in the pet’s best interest” when it comes to our health. Can you give my readers a little background about yourself and how you became so passionate and such an advocate for us pets?

Dr. Ward: I’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian, ever since I was “knee-high to grasshopper” as we used to say in rural southwest Georgia. Veterinary medicine offered a way to
combine my love of science with my love of animals. If you can find something that really excites you and you’re willing to do the hard work necessary to become really good at what you love, you’ll find lasting happiness. Nothing makes me happier than helping pets and the people who love them.

Preston: You were instrumental in bringing senior pet care guidelines to general vet practice in the late 1990’s. Can you tell my readers what is included in these guidelines that our vets should be talking to us about? … well, for the seniors … I’m only 3.

Dr. Ward: As pets and people age, important physiological changes occur. These range from nutrition and digestion (which I why I recommend life-stage diets) to organ failures such as kidney and liver disease, heart disease, and osteoarthritis, to name but a few. When we were creating the first senior pet guidelines, we were asking what diseases occur at what ages with what frequency? As we narrowed our list, it became abundantly apparent that age 7 and 11 were typically key transition periods for most dogs and cats. For owners of pets in those age ranges, I strongly recommend twice a year thorough physical examinations and once a year blood and urine tests. The key is to uncover hidden disease before it’s too late. Early intervention can prolong a pet’s life expectancy, improve quality of life, and save money in treatment costs.

Preston: My research shows that 11 percent of pets, over 33 million, are eleven years old or older … wow! So what are the needs of dogs who are 11+ and how are they different from say a dog my age?

Dr. Ward: In general terms, you need to focus on preventive care for pets over age 11. I’d start by feeding a diet specially-formulated for dogs and cats over age 11 such as Iams Senior Plus. This diet has been formulated with higher levels of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients proven to aid older pets. The second step is to maintain your pet at a healthy weight. Pet obesity is quite simply the biggest health threat our pet’s face today. Disease such as crippling arthritis, devastating diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and many forms of cancer are all linked to excess weight. Finally, have your senior pet examined at least twice a year by your veterinarian. A good physical exam is immensely valuable when it comes to maintaining high-quality of life for older pets.


Preston: Iams, a company I’m very fond of, just released senior plus formulas made for senior citizen cats and dogs. Can you tell us more about it, and what is in these formulas that will benefit us?

Dr. Ward: Iams Senior Plus was created to address the specific and unique nutritional needs of dogs and cats over age 11. Iams Senior Plus has twice the antioxidants of their regular formulas to boost immune response in older pets. Iams Senior Plus also has higher levels of meat-based proteins, l-carnitine to maintain lean muscle mass, glucosamine and chondroitin to aid achy joints, increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids from their adult diets to help with skin and coat health, and, one of my favs, beet pulp to help with food digestibility and nutrient absorption.


Preston: You have a new book that was recently released called “Chow Hounds”. The full title is Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter and a Vet’s Plan to Save Their Lives. I LOVE the title chow hounds by the way… hehehehe. Can you tell us a little bit about the dog obesity problem and especially how it can impact senior pets?

Dr. Ward: I’m glad you like the title…although I wish it weren’t true. Today over 54% of our nation’s dogs and cats are classified as overweight by their veterinarian. Older pets carrying even as little as one extra pound are at greater risk of developing osteoarthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and even some types of cancer. One of the keys to living a long and healthy life is to maintain a healthy weight. Pet owners are responsible for helping you stay at a healthy weight by feeding you and exercising you properly. For more information and tips on keeping your pet slim, trim, and healthy, visit .


Preston: What can our owners do to make sure we don’t get overweight?

Dr. Ward: Talk to your veterinarian and find out exactly how much you should be feeding your pet each day; measure your pet’s food every meal (no “guesstimating!”); walk your dog for 30 minutes every day. This isn’t rocket science; it’s common sense. Go easy on the treats. That’s the biggest mistake I see pet lovers making each day. They give their dogs a treat for EVERYTHING! Instead, try praise and play or offer crunchy veggies such as carrots, broccoli or celery.


Preston: Now I have some questions from my fans. Michele Molnar from Palm Beach, Florida wanted to know: “What is your opinion on Titer instead of annual pet vaccinations for senior dogs?”

Dr. Ward: Great subject with a complex answer because you’re really asking two very different questions. First off, I was “skipping vaccines” way before it was hip. And vets like me took a lot of flak for it (and still do). Annual vaccinations for dogs and cats in general are so 2005. That’s when the USDA approved the first (and to date – only) three-year vaccines against distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus. So the first part of your question is, no, your senior dog – or any adult dog – shouldn’t be vaccinated against these disease each year except in some rare situations. That’s the easy part of your question

The hard part comes when dealing with titers as an attempt to predict protection against disease. It’s not that straightforward. Antibody titers are great at predicting protection for some diseases, such as parvovirus and rabies. Other diseases, such as canine distemper, maybe not so much. This is because titers measure a specific cell and the way dogs are protected from distemper is different (protection from distemper is a cell-mediated response which means essentially that a dog can have a “zero” titer level and be adequately protected against distemper because that protection relies on a completely different mechanism than the one the titer measures).

Bottom line: talk with your veterinarian about what is best for your pet. Vaccinate as infrequently as prudent against those diseases your dog or cat is most likely to confront.


Preston: Deborah Halbert from Petaluma, California asks: “I Have a senior (13 year old) “Westie” with both digestive and joint issues. What suggested approaches should I take?”

Dr. Ward: Deborah – another tricky question whose answers lie with the specifics of your pet’s condition. As a general rule, you need to get a specific diagnosis. Both “digestive” and “joint issues” can benefit from nutritional therapy. I’ll have to omit the “digestive” answer because there can literally be hundreds of potential causes – especially in a Westie! That’s’ a serious conversation you need to have with your vet. As for “joint issues,” I’ll assume you’re referring to osteoarthritis. In general terms, I always recommend boosting omega-3 fatty acids levels, adding a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement to a diet that’s already rich in these nutrients, and weight loss and exercise. I’ve also had fantastic results for many, many years with Adequan injections. Class IV laser therapy and acupuncture are two alternative treatments we use routinely at my clinics. Of course, we use pharmacological intervention whenever necessary, typically an NSAID.


Preston: Carol Dimsdale from Jacksonville, Florida asks: “What’s the best thing for seasonal allergies in dogs…Benadyl, Claritin,etc.?”

Dr. Ward: Uh, may I choose “ask your vet?” Seasonal allergies are rarely confined to only atopy, especially (maybe “double-especially”) in Florida. Food allergies and insect bite hypersensitivities are often at least partially involved. Have lived and practiced in the South my entire life, I’ve had more success by using multi-modality therapies: diet, supplements, aggressive flea control and medications when needed. While I’ll use the drugs you mentioned with some patients, I only use them when I‘m sure they’re proper – and safe.


Preston: Now, for the important question all us inquiring dogs want to know … do you have pets? If so, what kind? Do they go to work with you? Do they have Facebook or Twitter? If so, will they be my friend?

Dr. Ward: I share my home with my wife, two daughters, a beach mutt “Sandy,” a Border terrier “Harry” (he had a lightning bolt on his chest when he was born… according to my daughters), and two feisty felines, Freddie and Itty Bitty Kitty. I’m also an avid surfer, scuba diver, and enjoy any extreme sport (especially those involving endurance feats such as the Ironman).

My Facebook page is and you can follow me on Twitter @DrErnieWard. My website is

Preston: Ernie, thank you so much for taking time out of your very packed schedule to talk to about senior pets!

Dr. Ward: Thanks you for having me! Keep up the good work and sharing knowledge with your readers. Maybe one day you can go for a run with me, Sandy and Harry!


About the author

Rachel Phelps

Rachel Phelps, “America’s Pet Parent,” is an award-winning writer, photographer, and certified dog trainer. She keeps busy managing the career of her Internet celebrity dog Preston from Preston Speaks. Her three Westies — who think they are mini-humans — and three cats rule the house. To learn more about Rachel go to: Rachel Phelps Website

1 Comment

  • Preston, this is a very informative interview. I too like the title Chow Hounds. It is much better than Fat Cats, don’t you agree? xoxoxo

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