All posts in Canine

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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Rehab is FAB for Pets

Human athletes have long understood the benefits of physical therapy when trying to recuperate from an illness or surgery.  After all, their goal is to get back in the game as soon as possible.  Many pet owners want the same thing and have found that physical medicine and rehabilitation may provide the help they need.

Veterinarians can either offer physical medicine in their hospital, or can refer you to a facility that does, and the benefits are remarkable. Dr. Jacqueline Davidson, a veterinary surgeon at Texas A & M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says “Animals that have had orthopedic or neurologic surgery are often seen for rehabilitation.  But even pets who need to lose some weight, those who suffer from arthritis or who just need some conditioning can benefit from this sort of therapy.”

The goal of physical rehabilitation is not only to restore the natural function of the pet, but to attempt to bring the patient back to a pre-injury state.

Veterinarians and technicians who practice physical medicine use a wide variety of methods and technologies to help their patients.  In many surgical cases, the pet needs to rebuild strength in muscles that have weakened from Dog on red balancing balllack of use.  In a case like this, carefully controlled exercises under the guidance of a trained professional can help the animal make great strides.  Pets can learn to use a treadmill or even use balance balls and wobble boards to help strengthen those de-conditioned muscles.

By far one of the most popular therapies for pets is the underwater treadmill.  These devices are especially helpful for overweight or older animals.  The buoyancy of the water helps to lessen the weight bearing impact on the joints and make it easier for the pet to build up strength and endurance.  Hydrotherapy and swimming are other popular rehabilitation options.

Other popular modalities use heat and cold carefully delivered to the tissues.  Something as simple as heat packs can increase blood flow  and help the joint’s range of motion in that area. After a therapy session cold packs, can be used to minimize inflammation.

Dog going over hurdlesCommon therapies include coordination exercises, such as weaving through cones or walking over hurdles, strength building routines, like uphill or downhill walking (often on a treadmill) and even medical massage, trigger point release and passive range of motion exercises.  A real benefit here is that many of these therapies can be learned by the pet’s owner and applied regularly at home.

There are also many high tech modalities that veterinarians are now trying in a variety of cases.  Therapeutic ultrasound and low-level lasers both deliver heat deep in the tissues.  Along with medications, electrical nerve stimulation can be used to block or ease pain.

Rehabilitation in animals is very specialized.  There are certifications for dogs, cats and horses.  An important thing to remember when searching for a rehabilitator is that any therapies applied should be performed or overseen by a licensed veterinarian. Physical rehabilitation done by someone who does not understand the subtle signs of animal pain or have a global view of veterinary medicine can actually do much more harm than good.

Many veterinary rehabilitators have undergone outstanding additional education and can become certified in the use of these treatments.  Look for Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioners (CCRP), Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapists (CCRT) or Certified Canine Rehabilitation Assistants (CCRA).  For horses look for the Certified Equine Rehabilitation Practitioner (CERP). Ask your veterinarian for help finding a certified practitioner in your area.

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DNA Tests for Pets Help Us Understand Genetic Disease

For thousands of years, humans have selectively bred a variety of domesticated animals, creating many different breeds and unique types.  While these historic farmers and breeders were focused on producing the highest quality of wool from sheep or the muscular build of a Rottweiler, they were unaware of other, more destructive traits that were passed on as well.

Genetics is the science of heredity and how specific physical traits are passed from generation to generation in any organism.  Most everyone can relate to genetics from high school science courses showing color blindness in human males or if you have the ability to roll your tongue.   But, serious, life threatening diseases are also often governed by our genes and this holds true for pets and other animals as well.

Take Penny, for instance.   She was a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, a breed of dog known for excellent cattle herding skills and a love of family.   Sadly, these Corgis are also known for a genetic condition known as Degenerative Myelopathy, or DM.  This disease essentially causes damage along the spinal cord, leading to progressively worsening weakness in the rear legs.  Eventually, Penny was unable to move her rear legs due to paralysis.  She was humanely euthanized after a long life with a family she adored.

DM is not a treatable disease, but scientists have now pinpointed the mutation responsible for this illness.  Almost four dozen different dog breeds have this altered gene present.  Recent research has shown that only dogs who receive a copy of the mutated gene from both parents will develop the condition.  This is known as a “recessive trait”.  Other recessive conditions in animals include certain enzyme deficiencies in cats or some skin issues in horses.

Not all genetic diseases are this simple.  Some are passed as dominant traits, some are linked to specific physical attributes and still others have multiple genes affecting the eventual outcome.  Even the environment can influence the process of the disease or condition.  Hip dysplasia in dogs is an example of a multi-gene and environmentally impacted problem.

The entire sequence of the canine genome was published in 2005.  The genome of our feline friends was published around 2007 and just recently, the entire gene sequences of a Quarter Horse and a Thoroughbred have also been discovered.  The good news in all of this is that as scientists and veterinarians better understand the root causes of hereditary issues, tests to find the disease and even possible treatment options become available.

Dr. Gus Cothran, professor at Texas A & M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says that genetic testing will continue to prove to be of great value to veterinarians and even pet owners.  “Imagine doing blood tests to find animals that are carrying certain mutations that might lead to deleterious conditions or diseases.  Now, we can remove these animals from breeding programs before they are bred and help reduce the incidence of some very serious problems in our domesticated animals.”

Tests for degenerative myelopathy in dogs and polycystic kidney disease in cats are just two of the dozens of genetic screenings that are now available.  Facilities like Texas A&M’s Animal Genetics Lab and the University of California at Davis’ Veterinary Genetics Lab provide testing for animals ranging from our dogs and cats all the way up to horses, llamas, pigs and cattle.  Other private companies, for example, VetGen or DNA Diagnostics Center, have also started reaching out to veterinarians and pet owners interested in this sort of testing.

While these tests may not remove the possibility of genetic disease, they still can be very valuable.  Knowing the chance for disease exists can prompt pet owners and veterinarians to start intervention programs, such as swimming or increased exercise in the case of Corgis, which might delay the onset or progression of the condition.

Anyone interested in breeding domestic animals should familiarize themselves with the potential for genetic diseases.  Your veterinarian can be very helpful in determining what kind of conditions are considered hereditary and even help you find the resources to test the animals you want to breed.

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Do You Know Someone Who Wants To Become A Veterinarian?

Whether meeting a client for the first time or even while traveling on an airplane, it’s not unusual for a veterinarian to hear something similar to “Oh, I always wanted to be a veterinarian!”  Veterinary medicine consistently ranks among the most respected and admired professions.  Pet owners and animal lovers do think highly of veterinarians, but many don’t know the incredible schooling that these animal doctors must complete.

Additionally, when asked what a veterinarian does, most people will respond with a phrase about “taking care of animals.”  While that is certainly true, most are unaware of the incredible diversity of careers found in the veterinary profession.  Not only do veterinarians care for our companion animals and our livestock, but they are also found doing important research that benefits both people and pets or even helping governments track and prepare for newly emerging diseases.  Veterinarians are active in the military, our food inspection services, in the public health sector and even in designing new foods and medications to help animals.

So, what does it take to become a veterinarian?

First, good grades throughout high school and an undergraduate program in college are essential.  Course work should be strong in math and sciences, but it is also important for the student to be well rounded.  As an example, communication courses are vital as the majority of veterinarians will need to effectively explain complex medical diseases and terminology to pet owners or ranchers and farmers.

4H steer showingThese early years are also a great time to focus on finding a job or volunteer opportunity that gives hand on experiences with animals.  Veterinary hospitals and animal shelters often accept school age volunteers, but don’t forget about the possibilities offered by Future Farmers of America programs or the local 4H.  These days, weeks and months of working closely with animals can help a prospective veterinary student understand the challenges of animal care.

After a minimum of two years of undergraduate work, the process for applying to veterinary school can begin.  Competition for the open spots is extremely fierce.  There are 28 schools of veterinary medicine in the United States with 4 in Canada and another 4 located in the Caribbean.  Compare that to the 134 human medical schools in the US!  Also, each of these universities generally only accepts about 100 students for each veterinary class, meaning that about 3000 slots are available for each new class.   Again, human medical schools graduate about 20,000 new doctors each year.

Once accepted, new veterinary students will find that their school days will be very regimented and filled with an incredible amount of information.  For the first two years, the focus is on the sciences.   Lectures on the anatomy of various animal species, physiology, microbiology and many more subjects are the focus on the student’s days.

DVM student and dog on exam tableThen, as the students progress into their third and fourth years, all of the information they committed to memory can now be used in a practical manner as they move towards more hands on work in the veterinary teaching hospitals and labs.  Students interact with veterinary instructors and actual clients as they learn the important skills of client interaction.  These “soon to be veterinarians” also find opportunities to assist in surgeries, extensive dental procedures and, of course, daily rounds with the attending veterinarians at the hospital.

When graduation finally arrives, the learning and education process is not over for these brand new animal doctors.  In order to practice veterinary medicine, new graduates must pass national and state board exams.  Then, even as they are learning the expertise of daily routines at their new job, continuing education (CE) is a requirement of all veterinarians.  This CE helps veterinarians stay on top of a variety of technological and treatment protocol changes.

Some veterinarians continue their education, specializing in areas like dentistry, radiology, or even lab animal medicine.  There are almost 40 different specialty organizations and veterinarians who seek to become a specialist may add another 4-6 years on to their education.

As you can see, becoming a veterinarian not only takes passion and intelligence, but a fair amount of sacrifice and commitment as well.  The degree of “Doctor of Veterinary Medicine” or “Veterinary Medical Doctor” is one of diversity and certainly a rewarding profession.

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