All posts by Ned Caldwell

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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Pet Foods Part 1 – Myth Busting!

Asking someone about their preferences in pet foods can be as polarizing as if you asked about their political affiliation.  Many pet owners have very strong opinions and beliefs when it comes to the type of food they choose for their four-legged companions and that is certainly their right.  However, there are a few myths about pet foods or pet food ingredients that need some clarification.

First, a very common assertion in online discussions, and even in veterinary waiting rooms, is that corn is a bad ingredient and our pets cannot digest it.  In fact, some people will outright refuse any pet food that contains any corn in the formulation.  This myth comes about because of the human preference for eating whole kernel corn.

But, looking more closely at ingredient labels, pet owners will see that the “corn” present in many pet foods is actually corn meal or even corn gluten meal.  These processed ingredients provide a very high quality carbohydrate source and, in the case of corn gluten meal, a very digestible and good source of amino acids.  The amino acids found in corn protein complement many of the amino acids found in meat, thereby creating a food with all the essential amino acids a pet needs.  An important fact to remember is that nutrients are the most important part of a pet’s diet, not the specific ingredients!

Despite the numerous myths circulating, corn is no more allergenic that any other protein source and actually has been shown to be less allergenic than beef, soy, wheat and dairy proteins.

The next myth has to do with an unfortunate naming convention.  Almost everyone has seen pet food commercials showing paid actors pretending to be disgusted by the pet food ingredient called “meat by products”.  Again, the confusion and misunderstandings happen because of what humans have decided to name particular parts of the meat producing animals.  Skeletal muscle is the most common meat that ends up in our grocery stores and on our dinner plates.  But, there is a lot of muscle and other protein rich organs that are not consumed by people.  Since we don’t use these leftovers for human food, they are termed “by-products”.

In reality, by-products include highly digestible and nutritious organs, such as the liver and lungs and do NOT include things like hair, horns or hooves, as advertising gimmicks would have you believe.  More to the point, if pet food companies did NOT use these organs and other parts, a large portion of the animals we raise for food would go to waste, resulting in the need to raise MORE animals to feed our pets.  As the American Animal Hospital Association has said, “Feeding by-products = green living”.

Finally, many people believe that veterinarians are not instructed in any sort of nutrition basics during their intense schooling.  This is actually a big fallacy as almost all veterinarians will have at least a semester devoted to nutrition and many may have completed undergraduate nutrition courses before applying to veterinary school.  Continuing education opportunities that discuss nutrition are also popular lectures for veterinarians and veterinary technicians.

What you feed your pet will be a decision you make based on a variety of factors.  But, don’t fall victim to Internet fads promoted by individuals without scientific training or who will profit when you purchase their brand of food.  It’s also important to review a variety of information sources before you reach any conclusion about how good, or bad, a particular ingredient might be.

Whether you choose to use a “grain-free” diet, an “organic” pet food or the cheapest food you can find, it’s important to discuss your pet’s nutrition with your veterinarian.  He or she can help you understand what the pet food labels really mean and help you make a sound decision based on the needs of your pet.

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Wildfires Rage in Colorado and New Mexico – Pet Safety

The massive plumes of smoke from wildfires can often reach hundreds of miles downwind, creating hazy skies and dangerous conditions for people or pets with respiratory issues.  For those living in the path of these fast-moving blazes though, danger can often come without warning.

According to National Geographic, more than 100,000 wildfires burn about 4-5 million acres of land each year.   These fires are often in remote wilderness areas, but still claim almost 1,000 human lives, kill untold numbers of animals and cause a half a billion dollars in property damage.  Reaching speeds of 14 miles per hour, the flames often out race the best containment efforts.

Faced with this sort of natural disaster, how are you going to keep your pets, your livestock and yourself safe?

As with any natural disaster, the best defense is having a plan and supplies at the ready.  Evacuation kits should include not only materials for the human members of your family, but also food, water, medications and vaccination records for your pets.  Livestock owners should have a means of transporting their animals and an emergency destination in the case of a mandatory evacuation.

But, fickle wind patterns and aggressive fires can often catch even the best-prepared person unaware.  Knowing how to handle a burned pet or an animal suffering from smoke inhalation could spell the difference between a life saved and one lost to the wildfire.  So, how can you help your pet in an emergency and then, of course, find good veterinary care as soon as you can.

Treating a pet with burns is not unlike treating a person with burns.  The goals are to stop the burning process, prevent infection or further injury and keep the pet from going into shock.  Even though you may know your animal very well, injured pets often react in unexpected ways.  Before attempting any sort of first aid, consider using a muzzle to prevent unintended bites.

Never use butter, creams or any other folk remedy on a burn.  For first and second degree burns, the best immediate remedy is to submerge the area in cool, not cold, water, pat the area dry and place a layer of sterile gauze lightly over the affected area.  For third degree burns (complete skin destruction, blackened skin, fur falling out), an important step is to prevent shock.

Pets with pale or white gums, a rapid heartbeat or even rapid breathing could be at risk for shock.  If your pet’s heart rate is in excess of 180 beats per minute, keep the head level with the rest of the body, loosely cover the burns and seek veterinary care immediately.

Outdoor pets in wildfire areas may be at risk for smoke inhalation as well.  Pets with rapid breathing, increased respiratory effort, reddened eyes or a hoarse cough could suffer from some degree of smoke inhalation.  If oxygen is available, delivering it via a mask could help speed recovery.  Thanks to veterinarians, many fire crews and first responders now carry pet specific oxygen masks as part of their equipment and may assist you until you can find veterinary help.

The destruction of wildfires could also mean the potential for injury to your pets from debris.  If you find a cut on your pet that is bleeding, try using a thick gauze pad and apply pressure to the wound for a minimum of three minutes.  For most mild to moderate cuts, this action will allow a stable clot to form and give you time to seek veterinary care.  In the case of severe bleeding on the legs, a tourniquet can be placed between the wound and the body along with a pressure bandage.  Since this sort of hemorrhage is life-threatening, you must find a veterinarian immediately.

Even if you think your pet is ok after your treatment, it’s important to have a veterinarian evaluate the burn or injury.  Since our pets can’t talk to us, we won’t know the true extent of his or her discomfort.

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Generic Pet Drugs…Good or Bad for Your Pets?

According to data from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, consumers in the US spent almost $4 billion on retail prescriptions in 2010 and a large portion of that business was in the form of generic medications.  Generics now make up more than 80% of all prescriptions filled at human pharmacies.  In addition, pet owners are now asking about generic alternatives for their animals.

So, what is a generic drug and are there concerns about using them for our four legged family members?

Drugs that contain the same active ingredient as a brand name medication are known as generics.  These products become available after a pharmaceutical company loses their patent protection on the specific drug molecule.  Since the necessary clinical testing that is so important for new drugs does not need to be repeated for generics, these medications are sold at a much lower cost.  In addition, many consumers are already familiar with the drug and advertising costs can be greatly reduced.

Medicines that are brought to market as generics must contain the same active ingredients, have the same route of administration, same dosage or strength and the same conditions of use.  But, many people still have serious worries about how well these medications perform or their overall safety.  News reports about poor manufacturing standards and contaminated ingredients have raised alarm in the minds of many individuals.

FDA Generic Drug Review processHowever, the FDA has an extensive overview process that not only creates a system for evaluating quality standards for manufacturing, but also significant testing to show that the drug performs just like the original product.  This assessment of the generic’s performance is known as proving bioequivalence.

Still, it is important to remember that all people, and pets, are individuals and there is always the possibility that a unique response can occur to either the original drug or the generic equivalent.  In addition, inert ingredients used in the manufacturing of the generic product may differ from the brand name.  This could also lead to abnormal or adverse reactions to the medication.

Knowing all of this, does it make sense for pet owners to spend extra time at a retail pharmacy picking up pet medications or parasite preventives?

First and foremost, it is important to understand that your veterinarian is crucial to answering that question.  A physical examination of the pet and a veterinarian/client/patient relationship are necessary in order for the veterinarian to write any prescription.  In other words, don’t expect to get a prescription if your pet hasn’t seen their doctor in more than a year.

Next, lab work is often needed to keep your veterinarian up-to-date on your pet’s health status and to monitor any disease process.  For medications like heartworm preventives, it is vital that your dog have a negative heartworm test before continuing the medicine.

Finally, with many brands and alternatives on the market, it’s easy to become confused about the exact product that your pet requires.  Your veterinarian and his or her team can help you find the one that matches the medical needs of your pet as well as one that is safe and effective.

Be wary of online websites that promise absurdly low prices on pet medications.  Far too often, these are simply scams designed to take your money.

Many veterinarians keep a well-stocked pharmacy right in their hospital or allow their clients to order drugs online.  Getting the medications directly from your veterinarian could save you time and hassle.  But, in either case, your veterinarian will want to help you get the right drugs at a price that fits in your budget.  That is their commitment to you as their trusted client.

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