All posts in Feline

Veterinary Emergency Teams – Responding When Disaster Strikes!

Whether it’s rising floodwaters, raging wildfires or even acts of terrorism, catastrophic events require all kinds of professionals to respond.  Even though most people know about police and firefighters, veterinarians are also often called to disaster scenes to help save lives and reunite families.

As we have all seen, tragic events like hurricanes, earthquakes or bombings take their toll on human lives.  But, it’s not unusual to see animal victims of these disasters as well.   Animals can be injured or lost and in the case of large scale calamities, local animal control resources are quickly overwhelmed.

Although our first thoughts often go to our companion animals, like dogs and cats, large animals, from horses to sheep and pigs to cattle are also at risk.  In fact, horses will often panic and run in the face of danger while cattle will quickly scatter through downed fence lines.

What can local agencies do when animals are in need of help in addition to the local population of people?

Veterinary Emergency Teams (VET) are often called upon by local first responders when a disaster situation gets beyond their control.  These well-equipped and well trained groups of volunteer veterinary professionals will bring in vital supplies, needed medications and even state of the art mobile facilities designed to provide a safe work environment as well resting quarters for the crew.

It’s obvious that these teams can function to help injured animals, but they actually can provide invaluable aid to local veterinarians who have suffered damage to their hospitals.  In addition, these specialized emergency response units can also help triage animal cases, provide additional assistance to local animal control agencies by searching for microchips among lost pets and care for the many search and rescue or working dogs that aid in disaster relief.

Veterinary emergency teams also provide vital public health monitoring in the aftermath of catastrophes, give technical assistance to assure food and water safety and help prevent zoonotic and other disease outbreaks.

Although a National Veterinary Response Team (NVRT) has been established and operates within the National Disaster Medical System, many states will also field their own veterinary medical assistance teams.  Colleges, such as Texas A&M, the University of California at Davis and others have also developed volunteer groups that have responded to a multitude of local emergency situations.

With the passage of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Safety Act  (“PETS Act”) in 2006, a greater emphasis has been placed on the care of our pets and animals in the event of large scale disasters.  States must include animals in sheltering and evacuation plans and also provide means of tracking those animals throughout the event.  Veterinary emergency teams are crucial to insuring that these standards are met.

Veterinarians, veterinary technicians, animal control officials, pharmacists and many others, including concerned citizens who aren’t in the animal health field, are eligible to volunteer for veterinary teams.  Interested individuals should become familiar with the National Incident Command Structure as working in disaster zones requires a strict adherence to details and an organized system of communications.  This means that even though you might have a strong passion for helping our four legged friends, you can’t just run into a danger zone and start trying to save pets.  That type of action will not only endanger yourself, but also pull resources from where they may be needed if you get in trouble.

So, when disaster strikes, don’t be surprised to see volunteer veterinarians and technicians working with police and firefighters, saving lives and getting life back to normal and animals and families back together!

Develop a disaster preparedness plan for your pet at http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/disaster-preparedness.

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The Confusing World of Pet Parasite Prevention

According to PetsAndParasites.com, a website devoted to tracking the occurrence of parasites in our pets, the prevalence of deadly heartworms continues to cause problems.  More than 1% of dogs tested will be positive for heartworms in the US every year.  That’s almost a million pets suffering from a preventable disease!  Rates are even higher for parasites like roundworms, whipworms and hookworms!

Thankfully, we have had safe and effective parasite treatment and preventive products available for many years.  So, why are we still seeing so many cases? There are many theories.

Despite the claims of Internet sites who say rising resistance among heartworms or massive failure of preventives is to blame, the reality is probably a little closer to home.   Dr. Sheldon Rubin, a past president of the American Heartworm Society is quoted as saying that human error or forgetfulness is probably the biggest reason for pets developing heartworm disease.  His comments are echoed by research in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana that reviewed cases of presumed heartworm preventive failure and found that owner compliance was actually much lower than originally reported.

Graphic of various pillsBut, an uncertainty among pet owners about which product to use (market confusion), as well as economic factors, are fueling at least some of the issue.  Generic heartworm preventives can now be found in many human pharmacies and online pet pharmacies are offering six to ten different medications to the public.  It’s frankly hard for a pet owner to choose.

Experts from the American Heartworm Society recommend giving heartworm preventive year round.  Just be sure you are using a prescription product that contains one of these known compounds; ivermectin, milbemycin oxime, selamectin or moxidectin.  Then your pet needs to receive a dose once monthly, every month, all year long.

Some of these medications are also effective against intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms.  A few of these preventives are also now using compounds to treat tapeworms in addition to the other parasites.  It’s even possible to get heartworm preventive that also includes means to help control fleas!!

Part of consumer confusion is whether to buy the least expensive product or the one that covers every possible parasite.  Veterinarians do understand how this can be such a confounding problem.

In fact, certain parasites are less common in some areas of the country and your pet’s risk factors vary quite a bit.  These risk factors also include exposure to parasites through trips to dog parks, hiking or camping, interstate travel or even the presence of other animals in the household.

Veterinarian with petVeterinarians follow these trends every year.  They couple this information with their understanding of the different life cycles, knowledge of your pet’s specific medical conditions, the reputation of the drug manufacturers and your region of the country.  They are ideally equipped to help you more fully understand exactly which product provides the best parasite protection for your pet and your family.

Also it is so important for you not to fall for advice in online forums that recommend odd-ball alternative methods of protecting your pets against any parasite, but especially heartworm disease.  Many of these simply fuel speculation about diminishing effectiveness of heartworm preventives and they are not well researched.  These sites often misinterpret data or are actively promoting products that have not gone through proper testing and safety research.

This is an area of pet care where we have made great advances, but bad advice and a confusing market have created unnecessary risks and vulnerabilities. Trust your pet’s healthcare advice to your family veterinarian and team.  Trusted products from Deerfield Veterinary Hospital can be found at our hospital.  Our pharmacy is price competitive with most online and local big box retailers.  Call the hospital today to setup your account with Deerfield.

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The Silent Epidemic Affecting Our Pets

Veterinarians have estimated that more than 88 million pets are far too heavy and this tendency towards chubbiness is causing injuries, illnesses and even shortening life spans.  Unfortunately, there is a serious disconnection between what veterinarians tell owners and what the owners see in their pets.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) surveys veterinarians and owners each year to find just how overweight our pets are.  Recent surveys have shown that 53% of dogs and 55% of cats are classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarians, but 15 to 22% of owners see those same pets as normal weight!  In the words of APOP founder, Dr. Ernie Ward, pet owners have now normalized obesity and made fat pets the new normal.

What’s even worse is that despite veterinarians’ warnings, the numbers of fat pets continues to grow.  In recent years, pets classified as obese (greater than 30% above normal body weight) have increased after each survey.  This means that more and more pets are at higher risk for a variety of weight related problems.

Carrying excess pounds can cause pets to develop breathing problems, kidney disease and aggravate arthritis.  Cats are extremely prone to acquiring Type 2 diabetes when they are overweight and any anesthetic procedure for your pet is automatically more of a risk because of  increased body fat.

Above all, excess weight will shorten a pet’s lifespan.  A landmark study has shown that pets who intake a limited amount of calories actually live almost two years longer than pets without calorie restriction.

Pet owners are the major gateway to both preventing our pets from becoming obese and in helping them lose the excess fat.  After all, it’s the owner who controls the pet’s access to all foods!

So, if your veterinarian has diagnosed your pet as overweight, first, don’t despair.  Your veterinarian is happy to develop a plan that will safely and effectively lose the extra pounds.  Next, use tools like a Body Condition Score chart http://www.hillspet.com/weight-management/pet-weight-score.html to more fully understand what an overweight pet looks like.

Involve your whole family in the pet’s weight loss process.  Assign one person to be the pet’s primary feeder and make sure that no one else in the family is providing non-approved treats or snacks on the side.  It may not seem like much, but even a couple of dog biscuits each day can add an extra 50-100 calories.  That’s almost 25% of a small dog’s total daily requirement!

For obease pets, your veterinarian will recommend a prescription weight reducing diet for your pet.  Although you might be tempted to continue feeding the previous brand of food at smaller portions, this practice could actually lead to nutritional deficiencies.  Reduction diets are specially formulated to provide the right amount of all nutrients while still limiting the amount of calories.

You may need to change your pet’s feeding schedule too.  Most pet owners leave food out for their pets all day (free choice feeding) and that often leads to the obesity problem or they only feed a large amount once a day.  By feeding a the right amount twice or even three times a day, you can actually help your pet lose more weight.

Increasing your pet’s exercise is also a crucial component to weight loss.  Once your veterinarian gives the okay, try to work up to two 20 minute walks per day or even one hour long walk.  The extra benefit is the positive effects on your health also!

For cats use kitty toys to encourage play and movement.  Teasers on strings and even laser pointers can keep your cat moving and a couple of twenty minute sessions each day will help your feline burn more calories.

Once you have started the process, your veterinarian will want to see you for regular weigh-ins and consultations to make sure you are meeting goals and adjusting as needed. .

This is a serious issue and has proven affect on longevity.  We all want our pets to be with us for as long as possible, so helping them lose excess weight is just one way we can help make that happen!

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Pet Poisonings Often Happen At Home.

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?

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Pets Need Dental Care Too!

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.

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