All posts in Canine

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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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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Summer Heat Hits The Ozarks – Pet Heat Stroke Tips

Summer temperatures might be great for tan lines and boating trips, but the excessive heat and increased outdoor activities could spell disaster for your pets.  As the mercury rises, take just a few moments to insure that your pets are safe and prevent an urgent trip to the animal ER with a summertime emergency!

The most common heat related problem for pets is heat stroke.  Also known as heat stress or hyperpyrexia, heat stroke is a real emergency for dogs.  Even on moderately warm days, an excited dog might show a body temperature increase of 2-5 degrees Fahrenheit.  Since dogs don’t sweat like we do, they are unable to dissipate the excess heat and heat stroke may soon follow.

Any outdoor pet can overheat on a warm summer day, but short faced breeds, such as Pugs and Bulldogs, are at a higher risk.  In addition, every year thousands of pets succumb to heat stroke because they were left in cars while their owners ran “just a few” errands.

Many cities and states have now made it a crime to leave your pet unattended in a vehicle.  These are important laws as even on a 70 degree day, temperatures inside a car can soar to over 110 degrees in less than one hour!

Some owners try to help their pets by shaving the dog’s long coat.  Although this seems like a good idea, a well groomed and clean hair coat can actually insulate the dog from the heat and help keep them cooler.

Veterinarians will recommend shaving specific areas in long haired breeds.  For example, shaving around the anus and groin can help keep the area clean and free from infections.

In some cases, shaving the hair coat could expose a lightly pigmented dog to potential sunburn.  For short haired lightly colored breeds, Canine solar dermatitis is another problem.  Boxers, Pit Bulls and Dalmatians are just a few examples of dogs that are at risk.  In these cases, chronic exposure to hot sunny days damages the skin and causes tender, red scaly lesions.  Eventually, the skin becomes thickened and scarred.

When the sun goes down and the temperatures start to cool, your pets still face many summer challenges.  The patriotic holidays during the summer months are often preceded by and celebrated with fireworks.  The bright flashes and loud bangs are terrifying to some pets and can cause anxiety, stress and even escape.

Likewise, some pets react in a similar way to thunderstorms.  Normally calm pets may become distressed, destructive and even bite in an attempt to get away from the noises.  While running, they are at risk for being hit by a car, becoming lost or encountering another animal who might be aggressive.

The warm summer season also brings out a many pests that will actively seek out your pets.  Fleas and ticks are two examples, but some species of biting flies are very fond of dogs’ ears.  Repeated bites can cause a condition that can be serious and difficult to control known as “fly strike”.

It is possible to enjoy the summer with your pets by taking just a few precautions.  First and foremost, always be aware of the weather forecast.  Knowing the high temperature can help guide your plans for the day.

Don’t leave your pet unattended outside or plan heavy exercise on hot, humid days.  If your pet is left outdoors, he must have access to adequate shade and fresh water.

When it’s time to run errands, leave your pet at home.  Even a few minutes in a hot car is enough to increase your pet’s body temperature dramatically.

If you find your pet disoriented, panting excessively or collapsed in the yard, move him immediately to a cooler environment.  Use cool wet towels over his back, armpits and groin to help bring his temperature down.  Fans are often helpful too.  DO NOT USE ICE!  Then, get him to your veterinarian immediately so that they can assess his status and begin life saving treatments.

Your veterinarian is also a good source of advice for products that will kill fleas and ticks.  Some veterinarians also carry an insecticide gel that repel biting flies

If you are planning to take your pets to any outdoor celebrations or cook-outs, find out first if pets are welcome or if fireworks are planned.  It might be easier to simply leave the dogs at home rather than risk a run-away or injury.

Most national parks allow pets, but rules vary by park and of course your pets must be on a leash at all times.  Check ahead on the parks you plan to visit.

Summertime should be a time for relaxation and fun…don’t let a pet emergency spoil your good time.

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