According to veterinary experts, each year hundreds of thousands of our canine and feline friends are exposed to dangerous poisons in the very place where they should be safe. From corrosive cleaning agents to supposedly healthy snacks, our homes can harbor a wide variety of potentially hazardous materials.
The Animal Poison Control Center of the ASPCA handles almost 200,000 calls every year from worried pet owners. Additionally, the Pet Poison Helpline reports their call center handles another 100,000 reports of animal poisonings annually. So, what are the problematic substances in our homes?
Both of these organizations show the number one reason for calls is human medications. From Tylenol, Advil and other over-the-counter products to prescription antidepressants, pain medications and heart pills, drugs meant for people find their way into our pets far too often. In some cases, sneaky pets will gobble up tablets dropped by their owners, but in many instances, these drugs are purposefully given to dogs or cats in a well meaning but wrong attempt to treat some illness or pain.
Human medications can and do cause serious problems for our pets. Their different metabolism and small sizes often means that a common drug like acetaminophen can be deadly. A single 500 mg Tylenol can actually kill a cat!
Next up on the list are products designed to help our pets, like popular flea medications and other insecticides. In general, the topical drops are very safe, but when used incorrectly, the consequences can be severe. Our feline friends are especially susceptible to the mis-use of these products and more than half of the calls to poison hotlines involve cats exposed to insecticides. Organophosphate products designed to protect plants from marauding insects are often involved in poisonings of both dogs and cats.
We have all heard that feeding “people food” to our pets can be problematic and the number of calls to both poison centers confirms it. Chocolate can cause serious heart arrhythmias, garlic and onion ingestion can lead to red blood cell abnormalities and the artificial sweetener, Xylitol®, has been implicated in liver failure and death in dogs. Even supposedly healthy foods aren’t necessarily safe. Macadamia nuts cause dogs to become weak and unable to walk and grapes and raisins will create kidney failure in some dogs. Unfortunately, the exact reason why this happens is not known.
Beyond these very common items, household cleansers, automotive products, rodenticides, dietary supplements and even veterinary drugs also have a strong potential for problems.
Pet owners can protect their four legged friends by following a few common sense rules.
First, we are accustomed to “baby-proofing” our homes, why not consider “pet-proofing” it as well? Make sure that any potentially dangerous chemical is safely secured behind closed or even locked doors. Antifreeze, kitchen and bath cleansers and drain products need to be kept out of a pet’s reach and spills should be cleaned up immediately.
Next, any medication, human or veterinary, should be kept in a medicine cabinet or area where a pet will not have access. If you are worried about dropping pills, take your medicine in the bathroom with your pets locked on the outside!
Never give your pets any medication unless ordered by your pet’s veterinarian. As mentioned above, the wrong dosage or even a seemingly safe human drug can be deadly to your pet. Always check with your veterinarian, not the Internet, whenever you have questions about medications your pet is receiving.
Finally, take action if you suspect your dog or cat has ingested something harmful. Calling your veterinarian or an accredited veterinary organization should be the first step. Both the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center and Pet Poison Helpline have call centers open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These specialists can help you decide if your pet needs immediate veterinary attention or if it’s okay to wait. Each group charges a small fee, but isn’t that a tiny price to pay for peace of mind and your pet’s well-being?More
We have all seen the cartoons and commercials depicting dogs burying bones and stashing them away for later. Unfortunately, most pet owners are completely unaware of the significant risks and problems that are associated with feeding these treats. The situation has gotten so bad that even the FDA has warned consumers to avoid giving bones to their dogs.
Advocates of raw pet foods and other so-called “natural diets” claim that, given properly, bones are a great way to clean your pet’s teeth and provide an instinctive means of stress relief. Some even state that bones provide important nutrients and should be included in your pet’s daily routine.
So, is it okay to give a dog a bone?
Most veterinarians answer that question with a resounding “NO” for several reasons. One of the most common problems for a dog with regular access to bones is fractured teeth.
Veterinarians will see unusual patterns of enamel wear, cracks in the teeth and even painful fractures of the canine teeth or large molars and premolars. Even if the fracture doesn’t look serious, the connection of the inside of the tooth with the outside environment can lead to abscesses that show up on the muzzle or under the eye. These conditions will require a veterinary dentist to extract the affected tooth or perform a root canal. Either of these procedures will also cause pain to the owner’s wallet as root canals can start at $700 – $1000 and even extractions are rarely less than $500.
The American Veterinary Dental College’s website (avdc.org) states that dried natural bones are “too hard and do not mimic the effect of a dog tearing meat off a carcass.”
Another common problem seen with dogs who chew on bones is an obstruction of the digestive tract. These treats can become lodged in the esophagus, the stomach or anywhere along the intestines. Blockages in any of these areas will require emergency surgery and several days of hospitalization. A typical exploratory surgery to remove an obstruction caused by a bone or bone fragments can exceed $2000 or $3000!
Cooked bones are especially dangerous as they have the potential to splinter. These shards then can poke through the digestive tract or even lacerate other delicate structures, such as the tongue. A pet who experiences a perforation of the stomach or the intestine may be at risk for a deadly case of peritonitis and an expensive trip to the animal ER.
Beyond these very common dangers, veterinarians will also see pets with bones lodged in their mouth, encircling the lower jaw or even serious constipation caused by bone fragments. These conditions are not only painful, but just imagine how scary it would be to have a bone fragment lodged in the roof of your mouth!
Proponents of giving bones to dogs downplay these risks, citing the importance of matching the right type of bone to the dog. They state that uncooked bones are much safer, decrease the risk of obstruction and provide more nutrients.
However, veterinarians routinely see the problems listed above with ALL types of bones. It doesn’t matter if it is a large beef cattle femur or a poultry wishbone, the risks are still there.
With respect to the nutritional argument, bones are composed of minerals that are commonly found in many other foods and dogs can’t properly digest uncooked collagen, the main protein component of bones. Your pet can get all the beneficial nutrients in other foods with a much lower chance of problems.
So, before you decide to follow the dubious information provided by these so called “experts”, spend some time talking with your veterinarian about these potential hazards. They have seen the bad cases and can fully explain the very serious risks.
Many safer alternatives to bones exist for dogs and your veterinary team can help you find the right match for your pet. It’s important that owners always supervise their dogs when giving them any chew item, especially one they have never had before.More
Pets are important and cherished parts of our family lives. After all, where else can a person find such unconditional love and affection as well as the scientifically proven emotional connection we call the human-animal bond? Yet, despite this powerful relationship, animal shelters and rescues are still inundated annually with millions of dogs, cats and other pets that are relinquished for a wide variety of reasons. So, how can we help make sure pets find a “forever home”?
Most people can understand that our animal friends need an appropriate diet, fresh water and necessary veterinary care. But, many fail to see that there are other, less tangible needs that should be addressed if our pets are going to remain in our homes.
In other words, are we first making good decisions when bringing a new pet into our family and then, are we providing the mental, grooming and behavioral requirements of our pets to have a rich life?
The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) spent one year in 12 selected animal shelters across the United States to find out why pet owners give up their pets. Of the 2000 canines sent to shelters, more than 45% of owners cited some sort of behavior issue as one of the reason for relinquishing their dogs. For the almost 1400 felines, human and personal issues (allergies, no time for the pet, new baby, etc) were the most common reasons for surrender.
“The biggest problem we see with dogs is the unruly, untrained adolescent animal who has become too much of a handful for the family,” says Dr. Martha Smith, Vice-President of Animal Welfare at the Animal Rescue League of Boston. “We spend significant time and energy giving these dogs some basic obedience training and that helps with their adoptability, getting them into a loving home more quickly.”
The NCPPSP study confirmed Dr. Smith’s comments. Almost 50% of the dogs relinquished were between 5 months and 3 years of age and 96% of them had not received any obedience training. In addition, 33% of the dogs and more than 46% of the cats surrendered had not been to a veterinarian.
What can we learn from this in order to be better pet owners and make a real difference in the numbers of pets in shelters?
The first step is to completely understand all of the needs of the pet you want to adopt and then make a proper selection. Highly active dog breeds, like Australian Shepherds or Irish Setters, may not be suited for a life in a city apartment. Similarly, an older cat could be less tolerant of very young children and be likely to nip or scratch.
Next, be careful if you decide to adopt a “free” dog or cat advertised locally or one from a friend. While the pet may be free, there will still be a variety of on-going expenses. These include good food, vaccinations, parasite prevention and even grooming. Some may have more involved issues and it is the responsibility of the adopting family to provide proper care.
Good behavior/training and mental stimulation (or environmental enrichment) is often ignored. There’s an old adage that a tired dog is a good dog and owners should always find time for interaction and play with their canine friends. The same is true for cats.
Finally, pet owners should always be prepared for some sort of animal emergency. Traumatic injuries and serious illnesses are common occurrences and, sadly, many owners will either surrender the pet to a shelter or euthanize this beloved family member simply because of the cost. Plan for these emergencies and major illnesses in advance with a pet health savings plan or a well-researched pet insurance policy. People who use their pet health insurance policy say they could not live without it. Such policies will often times save the life of your best friend.
Your veterinarian is a perfect source of advice on any of these topics. The whole veterinary team wants to see your family stay together, including all of the furry, four legged members. Working with your veterinarian and making good decisions can help you become a truly dedicated and responsible pet owner – and that’s best for everyoneMore
Did you know that pets suffer from dental disease just like people do? One of the worst things about dental disease is the pain. Dogs and cats don’t always show how uncomfortable they are. Pets can have very serious dental problems, such as infected teeth, jawbone abscesses or fractured teeth and never say, “ouch” or hold their paw to their jaw, but they do hurt! Many times, when these problems are corrected, a pet’s entire personality can change. They often become more social, interactive and playful because they are no longer in pain.
So, how do you check for dental disease in your pet? First, look for yellow or brown color of the teeth, not just in the front teeth, but also the back part of the mouth. While this sounds very simple, most pet owners never lift their pet’s lip and look inside the mouth, so… Lift The Lip! Next, just smell the breath. It may not be minty fresh but it should not be foul smelling. If it is, bad bacteria have already set up and are working on infecting the gum and even loosening the attachment of the teeth to the jawbone. This means that dental disease has been progressing for months or years without you knowing.
A complete veterinary dental exam is necessary to discover hidden dental disease. Most veterinarians today use a 12-step process for this procedure. This assures that nothing is missed and all problems are properly treated.
The steps include: a history and physical exam, an oral survey checking for such things as cancer and missing teeth, ultrasonic scaling of the teeth and subgingival scaling. Subgingival scaling is critically important. This involves removing tartar and debris from the part of the tooth you can’t see – the part under the gum. This is where infection sets up.
Following the exam and cleaning, a complete polishing is done to remove irregularities in the enamel in order to slow future accumulation of tartar. Next, the gum pockets are flushed and treated with antiseptic. At this point, many veterinarians will apply a fluoride or enamel sealant treatment.
The next step includes compete charting of every tooth and the surrounding gum and bone tissue. Using a dental probe, the gum line around each tooth is probed for pockets where infection may exist. The location and depth of each pocket is recorded in the medical record, just as you have seen done at your own dentist’s office.
Next, a complete set of dental x-rays is taken. Dental x-rays have become the standard of care in veterinary practice. Without them, it is impossible to find many of the most serious dental problems such as fractured teeth, abscesses and developmental problems. Only by taking x-rays can you know the complete health status of your pet’s mouth.
Finally, a treatment plan is developed for the problems found, all necessary treatments are done and instructions are given for home care and any follow-up care that is needed. Pet owners are also taught ways to provide at home dental care to help keep their pet’s mouth and teeth healthy.
In order to perform a proper dental exam and treatment, it is essential that the pet be under anesthesia. Anesthesia today is very safe, using the most modern medications, anesthetic gases and monitoring by skilled technicians. Care for a veterinary patient under anesthesia is very similar to that of a human patient.
While the so called “no-anesthesia pet dentals” may sound appealing, the process has many risks and leaves most pets to suffer in silence simply because no actual treatment is done. This is often performed by unlicensed and untrained trained individuals who only scrape tartar from the outside of the few visible teeth while your pet is awake (assuming your pet will hold still). The process has no medical benefit whatsoever.
They cannot remove tartar from the inside surfaces of the pet’s teeth, and more importantly, they cannot remove tartar below the gum line. Often charging hundreds of dollars, these people prey on a pet owner’s fear of anesthesia. Worst of all, pet owners believe their pet’s teeth are healthy but underlying disease goes undetected and untreated, resulting in tremendous pain, tooth loss and systemic bacterial infections. In some states this practice has been outlawed.
So, to ensure your pet’s health and comfort, lift your pet’s lip and look at the teeth. Then call your veterinarian for a complete dental exam and treatment. This care is not expensive when you consider the complications and pain associated with untreated dental disease.More
More than 60% of pet owners have said that giving gifts to their cats or dogs is an important way of bonding. But, with thousands of pet sites trying to sell toys or Internet rumors about the dangers of this treat or that bone, how can you find something that is just right for your pet?
For many, a gift for their pet should consist of something fun and entertaining, like a durable toy. Veterinary experts also recommend the use of interactive toys that encourage exercise and activity. This has the dual benefit of burning calories from overweight pets and also providing a needed outlet for highly active dogs, like the working breeds. After all, a tired dog is a good dog!
To help meet this need for entertaining toys, companies like Kong (www.kongcompany.com) and Pet Qwerks (www.petqwerks.com) have developed innovative new ways to keep our pets active. Many of the Kong toys, like the Bounzer or the Wobbler, will bounce in random directions when tossed and are made of very durable rubber. There’s even a wide variety of sizes for your tiny or massive pooch!
The Babble Ball from Pet Qwerks is an interactive toy that actually “talks” to the pet when moved or even simply sniffed. More than 20 voices or sounds are created, entertaining even the laziest of pets. Cat lovers will appreciate the Kitty Babble Ball as well.
One of the best and least expensive toys to keep that flabby tabby moving is any one of the wide variety of Kitty Teaser products. Found at most retail stores and many online outlets, these simple fiberglass rods with feathers, ribbons or swirls attached will attract the attention of any cat and provide lots of entertainment for the owner.
Keeping our pets from becoming bored or even challenging their intelligence is the mission for several other pet companies. Aikiou (pronounced “I-Q”) (www.aikiou.com) has created a line of interactive feeding stations that simulate hunting and foraging activities. Likewise, Premier Pet Products (www.premier.com) uses their Busy Buddy line of toys to reward dogs for playful, constructive behavior.
It’s also very easy to find an amazing array of designer clothing, leashes, collars and even special feeding bowls for your unique friend. But, beyond all of these material things, what other gifts can help make sure that your pet is healthy and well protected?
One of the simplest and best ways to keep your pets safe is to make sure that they have permanent identification. Far too many pets are lost or stolen every year and the vast majority of these animals never make it back home to their owners. Have your veterinarian implant a microchip and be sure to keep the registration information current.
Another helpful gift idea is a pet health insurance policy. Although Fluffy and Fido may not fully appreciate it, having a policy can really lessen the impact of a traumatic accident, serious injury or substantial illness. Millions of pet owners have already found pet health insurance to be invaluable and it’s certainly a great gift idea for other pet owners in your family.
When it comes right down to it, all of the special toys, interactive puzzles or unique pet sweaters won’t take the place of the most important thing you can give your pet…your time! Spend some time every day with your pet by engaging them in play or some quiet grooming. It’s the very best thing you can give and your pet will love you all the more for it.
Your veterinarian is also a great source of advice for finding the right activities for your pet’s abilities. He or she can suggest other safe toys that will help keep your pet physically and mentally healthy.More