All posts in Feline

Does your pet suffer from secondhand smoke?

The history of smoking tobacco may reach back many hundreds of years, but research in the 20th century has made it clear how harmful this habit is.  Furthermore, secondhand smoke has been implicated in the illnesses and even deaths of non-smokers.  What’s even more disturbing is that smokers may have unknowingly contributed to severe disease in dogs and cats.

Most people understand that secondhand smoke from cigarettes contains an incredible number of hazardous substances and many of them are carcinogenic.  These chemicals are found in high concentrations in carpets and on furniture around the home.  Pets sharing this environment will get these toxins on their fur and then ingest them during normal grooming.

Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a board certified specialist in veterinary internal medicine and certified veterinary journalist, has written that increased numbers of smokers and smoking in households corresponds with higher levels of the by-products of nicotine metabolism in pets sharing that home.  She further describes how carbon deposits are often seen in the lungs of these animals.

Research is now showing that our pets’ health is affected in ways similar to what is seen in humans.

X-ray of dog with lung cancerIn the early 1990s, researchers found correlations between nasal cancers in dogs and the presence of smokers in the home.  There is also a concern that environmental tobacco smoke may increase the incidence of lung cancer in our canine friends as well.

Cats may actually be at higher risk for serious disease when they live in a smoking environment.  As mentioned above, many cigarette smoke toxins settle to low levels in the home and cats will pick up these substances on their fur.  Because of their fastidious grooming habits, cats end up ingesting a higher level of chemicals and this leads to a greater chance of several types of cancer.

Lymphoma is a cancer of white blood cells and is one of the most common cancers seen in our pet cats.  When smokers are present in the cat’s household, the risk for this killer is increased by two or three times over cats living in non-smoking homes.  Sadly, when our feline friends are diagnosed with lymphoma, the prognosis is very poor and many won’t survive another six months.

Another serious cancer with links to secondhand smoke is a cancer of the mouth known as squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC.   Studies have linked a higher risk for SCC in cats living in smoking homes.  Again, the prognosis is very grave and most pets won’t survive another year.

An unpublished study has also found that the levels of nicotine found in the hair of dogs exposed to second hand smoke is similar to levels found in children living with parents who smoke.

With more than 46 million smokers in North America and about 60% of the population owning dogs or cats, the risk for the animals is substantial.  Pets are often good at hiding signs of illness, so many smoking owners fail to realize the damage that their habit is causing to the four legged family member.

Of course, the best course of action is to give up the tobacco habit entirely.  It’s not only best for the health of the smoker, it will also greatly reduce risks for pets.  Understanding that it’s not easy to quit this addictive habit, people who smoke and have pets should attempt to minimize their pets’ exposure by smoking outdoors.

Lit cigaretteAnother important thing to remember is that smoking in the car with pets can create a toxic environment, even with the windows open.  Some states and Canadian provinces even ban smoking in cars when children are passengers because of the chance for serious exposures.  If you must smoke when you drive, leave your pets and kids at home!

Pets who are developing illnesses from secondhand smoke may exhibit symptoms ranging from lethargy to coughing to the appearance of masses in the mouth.  It’s important to have your pet seen by a veterinarian if any of these signs are noted.

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Who Cleans Your Teeth?

Non-anesthetic dental scalings (NADS) or “anesthesia free pet dentals” involve removing tartar from an animal’s teeth by simply holding the pet and not using any sort of sedation or anesthetic.  Many of the websites promoting this service tout their “proprietary restraint techniques” as the reason they are able to work in your pet’s mouth while he or she is awake.

Videos advocating this practice show well-behaved pets sitting quietly on the floor or on laps while individuals scrape their teeth with sharp dental instruments.  Is this how it happens or is this simply marketing hype?

Businesses that encourage these types of procedures claim that their methods are safer, healthier for the pet and less costly for the owner.  However, understanding the risks of these supposedly safer options might offer an opposing view.

First, these methods should not be called “pet dentistry”.  Dentistry involves much more than a simple scaling of the teeth.  In fact, the term dentistry is defined as the branch of medical science concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the teeth and gums.  The American Veterinary Dental College prefers the term “non-anesthetic dental scalings”, or NADS, as this more accurately describes these procedures.  Individuals doing these scalings are rarely trained in dentistry.

Next, the marketing of these services focuses on the fact that the providers don’t use any sort of anesthetic or sedation.  Several sites quote a single scientific article and claim that one out of every 253 pets dies from an anesthetic procedure.  For people who have lost pets under anesthesia, these services seem heavenly and for others, it simply scares them.

What they DON’T tell you is that particular study was done at a veterinary teaching hospital where the vast majority of their surgical patients were severely ill or injured.  Other studies show a much lower risk of anesthetic related deaths.

To be fair, anesthesia, like any medical practice, has risks.  But, your veterinarian has the appropriate knowledge, skills, equipment and trained staff to help minimize adverse reactions.

Proponents of NADS also claim that it is healthier for the pet since the pet doesn’t need to undergo multiple anesthetic events.  Again, this fiction is not borne out in reality as the vast majority of pets only need professional teeth cleanings once or twice annually.

Perhaps the biggest myth perpetrated by these unlicensed people is that a dental scaling will promote long term oral health for your pet.  Dr. Brett Beckman, a veterinary dentist, has seen the effects of NADS on pets over time.  He says, “these ‘cleanings’ actually do much more harm than good.  The pitting of the enamel by the scalers allows for more hiding places for the plaque causing bacteria.”  The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) agrees.  In a statement on their website, AAHA says that these scalings “make the teeth whiter, but not healthier!”

Even the aspect of saving money that is highly publicized may not be accurate.  A search of pricing showed a range between $125 and a $165 for these procedures.  While this might be less expensive than the veterinarian, these companies and individuals are recommending that their clients return, on average, once every three months.  That’s $500 to more than $650 per year!  Dr. Beckman elaborates that “the damage done by the scaling encourages plaque growth and then, of course, return visits.  This might be good for business, but it’s certainly not good for the pet.”

Remember, many of the people who encourage and provide these sorts of services are unlicensed, often unsupervised and unregulated.  This means that you have no official recourse if your pet is injured during the scaling.  Cuts of the gums, neck strains and even long term anxiety have been reported.

If you are concerned about your pet’s dental health, the best resource for you is your veterinarian.  He or she will have the right equipment to fully assess the whole mouth, not just the outer surfaces of the teeth.  With dental x-rays and effective dental probing done on an anesthetized pet, your veterinarian can get the entire picture of the health of your pet’s mouth.

Ask questions if you are concerned about anesthetic safety.  Other options for sedation may exist, based on the overall health of your animal.  You should also proactively brush your pet’s teeth or ask about home care products that help minimize plaque accumulation.

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Consider A Trust Fund for your Pet

Pets have become integral and beloved members of millions of families across North America.  We provide them with special diets, unique toys and even grieve heavily when they pass away.  Unfortunately, many dedicated owners fail to consider what might happen to their pets if they are suddenly unable to care for them.

Historically, this was never much of a concern.  Pets have always been considered “property” by state and national governments and so when a person died, their possessions, along with the animals they owned, were disposed of as directed by the person’s will or by the probate court handling the estate.

In today’s society though, pets are thought of as much more than property.  Although they still don’t have a different legal standing, most people will agree that their pets should be handled differently than their car, furniture or other material items.  It’s a sad fact that many senior citizens who might benefit from the companionship of a pet actually avoid bringing an animal home over concerns of care should the pet survive them.

Over the ages, many people have tried to incorporate special provisions into their wills for their pets.  English Common Law actually began to recognize pet trusts as far back as 1842.  But it’s only been in recent years that true strides have been accomplished.

The first problem to overcome was that of the legal hurdle that “property cannot legally own property”.  This means that the animal (property) cannot receive money (more property) in a will for its continued care.  In a similar manner, a pet cannot be named a beneficiary of a trust.  But, in the 1990s, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws saw the need and changed the Uniform Probate Code to actually permit pet trusts.  To date, 45 of the 50 U.S. states allow an owner to create a trust for their animals.

Dog in shelterThe next, and probably bigger issue, is to educate pet owners about their options.  Failing to consider what to do with your pet in the event you are unable to care for him or her could lead to your dog, cat or other pet ending up in a shelter or with a new pet owner.  While these situations could work out just fine, some relatives or individuals may not be willing or able to provide proper care.  In addition, the pet itself may not adjust well to the new environment, leading to behavior issues or even early euthanasia.

Pet trusts actually provide many benefits.  First, since trusts are valid even while the owner is still alive, even if he or she is disabled or incapacitated.  This simple fact allows the pet’s care to continue without the necessity of going through probate.  Leaving money to your pet in a will might provide some resources, but the amount is subject to interpretation by the courts.

In addition, if the owner needs to move to an assisted care facility or nursing home, a pet trust is valuable in helping to keep the pet and owner together.  This alone is a powerful reason to consider setting up a trust for your beloved animal.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a pet trust is administered by a trustee (separate from the pet’s carVeterinarian and client with poodleetaker) who has a legal obligation to follow the guidelines set forth by the owner.  This helps insure that your wishes for your pet are carried out and helps minimize the potential for fraud.  You will want to make sure you have selected a willing and trusted person as the caretaker before the time for one is needed.

As with any legal matter, you should discuss the potential for creating a pet trust with your attorney.  He or she can guide you through the legal ramifications and tax situations and help you draft a document that is enforceable and allows your pet to receive the right type of care in a safe environment.  Your veterinarian may know of attorneys who specialize in these sorts of trusts or even resources that will help you provide for your pet after you are gone.

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Cats Often Overlooked for Veterinary Care

Experts believe that cats and humans have interacted with each other for more than 10,000 years.  From their humble beginnings chasing rodents away from our food, cats have vaulted into our homes and hearts as North America’s favorite pet.  Unfortunately, despite their popularity, cats aren’t treated to the same veterinary care that we provide our canine friends.

There are more than 80 million cats in US households and, after reviewing veterinary medical records, experts have concluded that our felines are actually 30% less likely to visit a veterinarian than dogs.  What could possibly cause this difference?

Cat with toothbrushMany people believe that a cat’s independent nature and their self-sufficiency mean that they are pretty low maintenance.  After all, owners don’t need to walk their cats in a heavy rain or freezing blizzard.  So, if cats are so good at taking care of themselves, they must not need a doctor, right?

Additionally, more than 50% of cat owners report that they have a difficult time transporting their pets or that the last trip to the veterinarian was too stressful for the kitty.  Still other owners express concerns about adverse vaccine reactions or costs of treatments and preventive care.

Not only that, but as small to medium sized predators, cats instinctually hide their illnesses to avoid become dinner for a bigger predator.  Owners can often miss the subtle signs that their kitty isn’t feeling well.

Insulin syringe and vial of insulinThe unfortunate result out of all of this is that when we do see cats, they are often faced with advanced problems that are more costly and difficult to treat.  Extensive kidney disease, uncontrolled diabetes and even widespread parasites top the list of feline issues.  One study published showed that flea infestations in cats have increased by 12% in the last five years and ear infections are up more than 34%!

Thankfully, organizations like the CATalyst Council and the American Association of Feline Practitioners are stepping up to help educate owners about their feline friends’ medical needs.  By stressing the importance and value of preventive medicine, these groups are working hard to insure that cats aren’t forgotten when it comes to veterinary care.

Our goal is to help owners understand that a visit to Deerfield is more than just a couple of vaccinations for their cats.  A full physical examination done annually by our veterinarian is the first and probably most important thing a pet owner can do for their beloved feline.  This exam can often spot early issues before they turn into big, expensive problems.

Additionally, cat owners are urged to have open communication with our veterinarians about which vaccines their pet actually needs and which ones can be avoided.  We can review the cat’s risk factors and the overall prevalence of specific diseases in our area to make the best recommendation.  Although adverse reactions are always a risk, this dialogue can help minimize any potential danger.

We have implemented recommendations from the CATalyst Council to make our practice more “feline-friendly”.  Changes to scheduling, a separate entrance to the hospital, special waiting area and exam room for cats and their owners can help White Persian Catto encourage veterinary visits.  After all, no cat wants to be seated next to a big, scary dog!!

Cats have been described as “aloof” or even “narcissistic”, but there really is a lot to admire about these wonderful animals.  They are athletic, graceful and innately curious, qualities that we really seem to appreciate.  The CATalyst Council is a great resource for finding out how you can insure your cat will live a long and healthy life.

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Protecting Your Pet’s Vision – The Eye Specialists!

As part of your pet’s regular check up, we will spend time peering into the depths of the animal’s eyes.  In the majority of cases, we see eyes that are bright, clear and free of any sort of abnormality.

Occasionally though, pets are presented with injuries, scratches or irritation to their eyes or eyelids.  Some pets have inverted eyelids (entropion) or even extra eyelashes that grow on the inner surface of the eyelid (distichiasis).  Short faced dogs and cats often find themselves with scratched corneas from normal play and roughhousing with other pets.  Some pups will end up with a condition known as “cherry eye” where the gland of the third eyelid protrudes up and away from its normal position.

In many of these cases, we are able to flush the eyes, provide the right medications or  possibly even perform minor surgery to protect the pet’s vision.  But, if the issue is complex, not resolving or when serious eye problems, like glaucoma, cataracts or even retinal detachments occur, we may recommend a veterinary ophthalmologist for help.

These eye specialists undergo intensive training and testing in order to obtain certification from the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO).  After completing veterinary school, candidates for certification often complete an internship before starting a rigorous residency.  All of this extra education must be completed before the doctor attempts to pass the “board exam”.  It is not unusual for a veterinarian to spend an additional 3-4 years in preparation for a testing process that spans four days and includes written, practical and surgical sections.  All told, there are less than 375 veterinary eye specialists in the United States.

These dedicated professionals often have the needed expertise and special equipment that your pet’s regular veterinarian does not have.  Delicate surgical instruments and unique diagnostic tools are just a few of the devices available to veterinary ophthalmologists.  Some of these eye doctors even have special mazes set up at their practice in order to more fully test your pet’s vision capabilities.

Beyond helping dogs and cats, it is not uncommon to see ophthalmologists working with horses, birds and even zoo animals, like sea lions or dolphins!

Each year, the ACVO and its members provide free eye examinations to the thousands of service animals helping disabled individuals around the country.  Partnering with veterinary companies, the ACVO has helped screen more than 6,000 animals for eye problems and donated more than $250,000 in free services to treat issues they have found.   Individuals with service animals are encouraged to visit www.acvoeyeexam.org to find locations and doctors for this annual event.

In addition to this great work, the ACVO has also established the Vision for Animals Foundation.  This not-for-profit organization supports research into many of our pet’s eye disease.  More than $150,000 has been granted to researchers who are focused on eliminating the most serious problems affecting the vision of our pets.

Pet owners can help us and the veterinary ophthalmologist by addressing any eye issue promptly.  It’s important to have the eyes examined if there is any irritation or injury and to avoid using over the counter or previously prescribed medications.  Some of these might contain steroids which will hinder the healing process.  Signs that your pet is uncomfortable include continual squinting, pawing at the eyes or even severe redness.  If you note any of these symptoms, or even your pet just doesn’t seem to see as well as he or she ages, a examination with your veterinarian is warranted.

We will work closely with the veterinary ophthalmologist in order to do what is best for your pet and to protect his or her vision.

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