All posts in Pet Safety Tips

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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Feeding Bones is an Expensive Gamble.

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.

Attrition of canine incisorsVeterinarians 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!

Bones in a basket at pet store - Veterinary News NetworkCooked 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.

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What is a Responsible Pet Owner?

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 everyone

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Dont Let Pets Suffer From Pancreatitis

During the holidays you can ask any veterinarian in general practice or in the emergency room and they will tell you they see lots of vomiting dogs!  From Thanksgiving through the New Year, veterinary practices are busy treating pets with a potentially fatal disease called pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis means inflammation of the pancreas, an organ that provides digestive enzymes and insulin.  Under typical circumstances, the digestive enzymes are kept safely inactive inside the pancreatic cells until they are normally released into the intestines and activated.  These powerful chemicals help breakdown proteins, fats and carbohydrates so that the body can make use of the food.

However, for some reason, these enzymes are occasionally triggered early and actually start damaging the pancreas itself causing severe inflammation of the organ and surrounding tissues.  This serious condition can appear suddenly (acute) or it may develop slowly over time (chronic).

This is a very painful condition and is more common in dogs than cats.  It is seen around the holidays because pet lovers just can’t resist and give their pets too much of the fatty foods left over from holiday meals.  This fat is thought to trigger the disease.  Pet owners first notice their pets are just not normal, then they may seem to have a painful abdomen that gets worse, they can develop diarrhea, then the hallmark symptom is vomiting.

Chronic cases of pancreatitis are more commonly seen in cats and result from long standing inflammation.  This often leads to irreversible damage and could even develop into diabetes.

Although the exact mechanism of pancreatitis is not known, there are risk factors and some things we do know.  The biggest of these are pets who’ve recently had a high fat meal.  During the holiday season this usually means the greasy turkey, ham trimmings and gravy that we don’t want and feed to our pets.  Certain breeds, some small dogs and obese pets are very prone to quick onsets of this disease.   Veterinarians also report that pancreatitis can develop alongside other diseases, like Cushing’s disease or diabetes and even occur due to some drugs, toxins or bacterial/viral infections.

Even though symptoms range from mild to life-threatening, acute pancreatitis is a very painful condition.  These pets will whine or cry, and often walk with a “hunched up” appearance; a sure sign of pain and that veterinary care is needed immediately!  Dehydration, heart arrhythmias or blood clotting issues may occur without quick medical attention.

Veterinarians will often do blood work or even take x-rays in order to rule out other causes of abdominal pain, such as an obstruction in the intestines,  kidney or liver disease.

If all of this is not bad enough, there is no direct treatment for this problem.  By controlling the pain and the main symptoms, it is likely the pancreas will heal itself, but this needs to happen under direct medical supervision.  Affected pets cannot have any food or water by mouth for several days, so  IV fluids and other medications are essential.  And because of a severely painful abdomen, proper pain control measures are a vital part of the treatment.

Many pets who suffer a bout of pancreatitis seem to be prone to develop the disease again.  Whether this is due to eating inappropriate things, genetic predisposition or some concurrent disease is not known.

One of the simplest things you can do to avoid this serious disease and a holiday trip to the animal ER is to not feed of any pet from the table.  The skin of the holiday turkey, fatty parts of the ham or even leftovers tossed in the trash can all trigger an episode of pancreatitis.  If you notice a change in your pets eating behavior or stance or any signs of abdominal pain, especially with vomiting, call your veterinarian immediately and get early treatment.  This could save your pet’s life.

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