Archive for September 2012

Rapid Blood Analysis Delivers Vital Results to Your Veterinarian!

From simple heartworm tests to complex, multi-parameter chemistry profiles, blood screenings are a vital tool in your veterinarian’s arsenal for finding and treating many different diseases.  Whether your pet is in the hospital because he is sick or because she needs surgery, many veterinary clinics can now decide what lab work is needed and run those tests immediately.

Not only is this type of diagnostic assessment helpful with sick pets, but our healthy animals are benefiting as well.  Early signs of many different illnesses will first show up in a blood profile, long before any outward, clinical symptoms are seen.

Historically, veterinarians have used large reference laboratories to process their patients’ samples, but in recent years, counter top and “point of care” instruments have surged in popularity.  One main reason is that veterinarians can now have answers to your pet’s problems in minutes, rather than hours.  That, of course, helps the doctor make crucial medical decisions and possibly start treatment earlier.

Another reason for the success of in house blood analyzers is that the sophisticated automation and equipment have helped minimize errors that plagued early attempts.  Companies like Heska, Abaxis, Idexx and others have developed compact devices that use patented technology and modern optical scanners to reliably provide results in urgent situations.

So, now that your veterinarian can do these tests in the clinic, what exactly is he or she looking for?

Whether your pet is sick, needs some sort of anesthetic procedure or maybe just a senior check up, the most common set of blood work will involve a complete blood count (CBC) and a chemistry profile.  Depending on symptoms and the patient’s overall status, the chemistry panel may just cover a few key parameters or it may be all inclusive.

CBCs are a measure of the different types and numbers of cells in the blood.  Patients who have too few red blood cells are considered anemic and may have difficulty delivering precious oxygen to the body’s tissues.  White blood Heska Hematology Analyzercells are the microbial defenders of the pet.  These soldier cells patrol the body and attack invading bacteria, viruses and other foreign organisms.  When a CBC shows a high white count, your veterinarian may be concerned about some sort of active infection.  Conversely, low white blood cell counts could mean the cells are depleted from a chronic infection or, in the case of puppies and kittens, could be a sign of a parvovirus.

Chemistry panels will look at key enzymes and metabolic products to determine the health of internal organs.  Everyone understands that a high glucose level on a chemistry panel probably indicates a diabetic animal, but less well known are indicators like Alkaline Phosphatase  (ALP), Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN), Creatinine and about two dozen others. Veterinarians can identify kidney disease, liver disease and many issues, including some cancers, from these key components of a pet’s blood work.

Combined with the pet’s symptoms, environment and other factors, your pet’s doctor will use the results of blood work run in their clinic to give you an accurate diagnosis.  When you get the results, avoid the temptation to consult Dr.Google.  It is possible to find some good information, however, without a complete picture, some well meaning, but un-informed individuals online may lead you to question your veterinarian’s findings.

It’s important to know that some specific or special testing will still need to be sent to reference laboratories.  In either case, diagnostic blood work is a powerful tool to help your veterinarian take the best possible care of your pet.  That gives you peace of mind and a better understanding of your pet’s health and provides vital information for any future medical needs.

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Lost Pets, High Tech Returns

Jessie never went anywhere without her “wiener dog brigade”.  So, it was not surprising to see her loading up the four dachshunds and making a trip to St. Louis.   Her Mother’s Day visit, however, would not end as happily as previous excursions.  As Jessie and her husband stopped to give the dogs a much needed bathroom break, the weary travelers did not do a head count as they climbed back into the car.  It would be more than an hour until they noticed that one of their pups, six month old “Tequila”, was left behind.

As shocking as this story sounds, one out of every three pets will be lost and away from their family at least once in their lives.   More than five million dogs and cats leave home every year, either walking away or carried off by unscrupulous individuals.  So, if a pet owner finds out that his or her four legged companion is gone, what’s the best steps for reuniting?

Prevention, of course is the best option and veterinarians have long advocated the importance of some sort of identification on your pet.  Most people opt for simple ID tags or collars, but these are easily lost or even removed.  Tattoos have been used, but many pet owners, animal shelters or even veterinarians are unsure of where to call if they find a pet with a tattoo.  Microchips are a safe and effective means of permanent identification, but only about 5% of pets in North America have had this device implanted.

Jessie says, “I was so mad that I had told my veterinarian no when asked about the microchip…all because I wanted to save $30.”

Some pet owners have opted for GPS collars and devices, but results have been mixed.  Complaints about battery life, difficult collar attachments and slow notifications when the pet leaves the designated area have all been reported.

Dog on railroad tracksRegardless of whether any identification is available or not, fast action is needed when your pet comes up missing.  Veterinarians recommend that you contact local animal shelters, veterinary offices and even pet stores within a five to ten mile radius of your home to be on the lookout for your lost animal.  Websites like HelpMeFindMyPet.com or PetAmberAlert.com also offer services to registered members.  These might include faxing or calling all pet related businesses within a 50 mile radius or even creating flyers for you to print and post in your community.

“Of course, we immediately drove back to the rest stop to look for Tequila,” says Jessie, “but he was nowhere to be found.  I was able to connect with the local animal control office and police department right away, but there was no word about our little guy.”   Jessie then called various animal rescue groups and other shelters in the area once she returned home.

Having a current picture of your pet is also vital in your efforts to get the lost animal back home.  In Jessie’s case, she used her pictures of Tequila to create a new page on Facebook as well as flyers she sent in the mail.  The outreach in social media connected her with even more empathetic pet owners who, in turn, helped spread the word of Tequila’s situation.

If your pet is lost, involve your veterinarian in the quest to get the wayward animal back home.  Often, your veterinary team may have ideas and resources that can help quickly spread the word.

Black and Tan DachshundJessie’s story does have a happy ending.  Tequila was found by the local animal control office and a dachshund rescue group volunteered to drive him back.  Safely back home, Tequila is now properly microchipped and Jessie has a whole new set of online friends.

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Looking for the Right Pet Food – Part II

Our pets depend on us to keep them properly fed and in the best health.  But for most pet owners, the overabundance of different types of pet foods as well as the enormous number of brand names is often overwhelming.  Then, Internet chat rooms and forums are simply full of a wide variety of opinions on what is the “best” pet food.  How can the average pet owner make the best decision when it comes to feeding their pets?

Thankfully, there are experts in the area of pet nutrition.  Diplomates from the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (acvn.org) are specialists whose focus is the advancement of veterinary nutrition.  Put another way, these knowledgeable veterinarians know what makes a good pet food!

Dr. John Bauer, a veterinary nutritionist with the Texas A&M University, College of Veterinary Medicine says, “When it comes to choosing a diet for your pet, the first thing to think about is the life stage.  Is it a young, growing puppy or kitten or is it a mature adult trying to maintain body size?”

Puppies eatingIn other words, puppies and kittens have different nutritional requirements than adult dogs and cats or even senior pets.  So, a food that is adequate for all life stages may actually have too much of certain nutrients for some geriatric pets.  One way to determine if your pet’s food is meant for all life stages is to look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the bag.  If the nutritional adequacy statement reads “complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages”, then pet owners know that the food has enough nutrition for pregnancy, lactation, growth and maintenance.   If the label states “complete and balanced for adult maintenance”, this food is appropriate for adult pets only and not young, growing animals.

“Another important thing to look for is whether or not the food has undergone feeding trials,” adds Dr. Bauer.  Again, the AAFCO statement is helpful.  Foods that have been fed to animals prior to marketing to consumers will have a statement similar to “AAFCO animal feeding trials substantiate…” or “Feeding trials show…”.  This is a good sign that the company has invested in the due diligence to make sure pets willingly accept the diet and stay healthy on it.

Foods can also be created to meet specific guidelines.  If the bag of food simply states that “Brand X is formulated to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles”, then the food was not fed in any regulated manner to animals prior to its delivery to store shelves.  Although this does not mean that the food is poor quality or even bad, most pet owners would prefer that their pets are eating a food that has proven to do well for other animals.

Kitten eatingFinally, the reputation of the company making the food is an important consideration for pet owners.  Does the manufacturer use a veterinary nutritionist to help develop and maintain the diets or is the food one that just has a celebrity endorsement?  Does the company engage in beneficial nutritional research or do they simply follow the most recent dietary fad?

Although the Internet is full of opinions and folklore about pet foods, the best source of nutrition information will come from your veterinarian.  He or she not only has the needed schooling to help you understand your pet’s dietary needs, but many veterinarians will also attend continuing education lectures to keep up to date with the latest advances in animal nutrition.  In addition, your veterinarian understands your pet’s unique needs and any specific concerns you might have about pet foods.  Anonymous strangers in online chat rooms or forums simply won’t have that knowledge or the same level of concern.

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