All posts in Pet Safety Tips

Care for Pets When Owners Are Gone

Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Texas A&M University

Mac is a typical rambunctious pup that stole the heart of Eleanor Schmidt.  His long flowing black and tan hair across his lean Dachshund body reminded her of a dog she had more than 70 years prior.  Eleanor knew she was taking a risk that Mac might outlive her, but his big brown eyes and puppy antics quickly dismissed her concerns about age.  Thankfully, Eleanor was proactive and made arrangements for the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center to care for Mac in the event she couldn’t.

Pets provide a great deal of affection and companionship for many families, including a large number of senior citizens.  With families and relatives spread out across the country, the loyal dog or affectionate cat often becomes a best friend for many older people.  But, some individuals avoid keeping any sort of pet over real concerns of what to do if they can no longer care for the animal.

The Stevenson Companion Animal Life Care Center (“The Center”) was started to help give people peace of mind that someone will be providing for the physical, emotional and medical needs of their pet.  In many cases, when an owner can no longer provide care for a dog or cat, the animal is placed with a family member who may not have the means (or the desire) to continue providing the needed attention.   In other situations, the pets end up in rescues or shelters, where, despite the best of intentions, adjusting to the new circumstances might be difficult.

As a resident of the Stevenson Center, Mac lives with about 35 other dogs and cats in spacious surroundings, including 5 outdoor yards where he can play.  All of the animals are allowed to interact with each other, but also have their own private areas during quiet times.   The feline residents are allowed to interact at their discretion, but dogs are kept out of the “cat only” rooms!

The Center began at the suggestion of Dr. E.W. Ellet, a former head of the Small Animal Clinic at Texas A&M University.  Funded by generous donations from the Luse Foundation and Ms. Madlin Stevenson, the Center was able to open its door in 1993 and has the capability of housing about 60 dogs, cats and even birds.   In a separate area, a barn completed in 2003 houses “Rusty”, a llama originally owned by Ms. Stevenson.  Rusty arrived at the center with 4 cats, 7 dogs and a pony in 2000, the year Ms. Stevenson passed away.

None of the residents of the Stevenson Center will ever lack for medical care or personal attention.  All of the pets are seen by veterinarians at the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital and students of the college actually live at the center to provide 24 hour company to these wonderful animals.  From grooming to play time to special diets, each pet receives the perfect amount of attention to insure his or her comfort.

Pet owners who wish to enroll their pets at the center must first pay an enrollment fee of $1,000 to secure a place in the home.  Then, depending on the age of the owner, a minimum endowment ranging from $50,000 to more than $200,000 for some large animals must be provided through a trust, will or even paid in full up front.

Some people might question the seemingly high costs, but considering that the pets will have life-long care and the bequests allow the Center to function as a privately funded operation, to many loving pet owners, the peace of mind is priceless.  Already, almost 400 animals are waiting for future enrollment at this marvelous facility.

Thinking about what will happen to your pets if you are no longer able to provide for their needs is not an easy thing to do.   But, by being proactive, you can insure that your wishes for your pet’s care will be followed.  Although the Stevenson Center is unique, there are plans for other similar facilities in the works across the country.

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Safety Tips For The Holidays

Lights, decorations, good food… every year, as we celebrate the holidays, we fill our homes with seasonal cheer for ourselves and our families. However, what may seem beautiful and harmless to us may pose hidden dangers to our pets. Don’t let an emergency spoil the festivities! Below are some common holiday hazards for dogs and cats and ways to prevent them.

DANGEROUS FOODS

The following can be toxic to pets: chocolate, raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts, garlic, onion, alcohol, caffeinated beverages, bread dough, and sugar-free candy and gum containing the artificial sweetener xylitol.

HOLIDAY MEALS

Despite tradition, bones should never be given to pets. Even beef, ham, and other “regular” foods that are not considered toxic can cause illness in pets. If your pet is a moocher, keep a saucer of his regular treats on the table to offer when he asks. He probably won’t know the difference!

GIFTS

Even a pet-safe treat can cause stomach upset if it is new to your pet. Offer only one of these at a time (ideally, separated by a few days). If your pet becomes ill after eating a holiday treat, it will be easier to trace the source and discontinue it. Also, check new toys for sharp edges, pieces that can be chewed off, or other potential hazards.

GREENERY

Hazardous plants include mistletoe, some evergreens (including some types of pine), and holly bushes and berries. Try to keep these plants away from pets, or at least supervise pets when dangerous plants are nearby.

DECORATIONS

Tinsel, tree ornaments, ribbons, string, and garlands are some items that can be dangerous if eaten by pets. Keep these items away from pets — especially when pets are unattended. Don’t forget to cover any electrical cords or keep them out of reach.

FIRE AND CARBON MONOXIDE

Monitor pets near fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, candles, and portable heaters. Also, don’t forget to check smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they are functioning properly. Space heaters, furnaces, and idling cars (in a garage) can increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in pets and humans.

CHRISTMAS TREES

Monitor your pets when they are around your holiday tree. Pets may eat the needles (even from artificial trees) or drink water from the base of the tree, which can be toxic (especially if there are preservatives in it). Keep electrical cords and decorative lights out of reach, too.

In many cases, if your pet has eaten or drunk something toxic, warning signs will include gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Other signs may include tiredness and lack of appetite, especially in cats that have eaten lilies. If your pet shows any of these signs, or if you think he or she has eaten something dangerous but is not showing any signs yet, please call us right away. Treating your pet as soon as possible is essential!

We will be glad to answer any questions you have about your pet’s health. Let’s work together to make sure your entire family has a happy, healthy holiday season!

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Raw Food Diet Controversy

Take a stroll down the pet food aisle of your favorite store and your eyes will take in every imaginable color, a few cartoon characters and a lot of claims stating the food is “improved”, “natural” or even “organic”.  It’s truly a marketing bonanza!  More than 3,000 brands of pet food fill the aisles and pet owners will spend about $18 billion to feed their pets each and every year.

But, high profile recalls, sick pets and corporate mistrust has moved a small number of pet owners to consider making their pets’ food at home, instead of buying it in a bag.  An Internet search for “raw diets” brings up almost 3 million different results, many of which claim that this sort of food is nutritionally superior to the commercially prepared diets.

The raw food diet trend began in 1993 with the publication of “Give Your Dog A Bone” written by Australian veterinarian, Dr. Ian Billinghurst.  Building on the close evolutionary relationship between our dogs and their wolf cousins, Dr. Billinghurst claims that in domesticating the dog we “changed the wolf’s appearance and mind…but not the basic internal workings or physiology”.  Many pet owners agree with this theory and have flocked to a raw meat type of diet for their animals.

Proponents of raw diets claim the foods give their pets more energy, provide more nutrition and overall, their dogs and cats are healthier than animals fed a typical dry or commercial diet.  During the massive pet food recall of 2007, the number of people opting for homemade diets increased dramatically and many have continued to prepare their pet’s food at home.

Adding more fuel to the fire, advocates of homemade foods persist in claims that commercial diets, especially those with a high percentage of grain, are actually shortening the life span of our animals.

How many of these arguments are valid and which ones lack evidence?

First, it is important to understand that all of the reports of increased energy and healthier pets are simply observations by the owners.  Actual scientific and verifiable evidence supporting these claims is non-existent.  To be fair, there is no evidence to refute these statements either.

Many of Dr. Billinghurst’s basic arguments are answered by veterinarians, both in the clinic with clients and in the media.  For example, the claim that dogs must eat meat because they are related to wolves is discussed and usually dismissed.  As a well respected blog, Skeptvet.com, states dogs are omnivores and will often eat a wide variety, including some fruits and vegetables.  Not to mention that there has been more than 100,000 years of divergence between dogs and wolves as well as intense selective breeding, especially in the last 3,000 years.

Another claim that is used by raw food advocates is that dogs and cats can’t digest grains, especially the corn and wheat ingredients found in many commercial diets.  This contention is also refuted by scientific studies showing dogs use these cooked grains as effectively as other carbohydrate sources.

But, perhaps the biggest reason many pet owners opt for preparing their pets’ meals is a mistrust of the corporations formulating the dry foods.  Recalls due to contamination, excessive or deficient nutrients and bacterial contamination seem all too commonplace.  Although these recalls have happened occasionally and pets have become sick, the reality of the situation is that the vast majority of commercial diets are not only safe for our pets, they also provide an optimum level of nutrition, helping out pets live full and healthy lives.

So, is one type of diet actually better than another?

The answer to that question is complex and should always involve a discussion with your veterinarian.  Raw diets, for all their purported benefits, do come with significant risks.  Bacterial contamination is more prevalent with these diets and the potential for an imbalance of nutrients is very high.  If you do choose to use a homemade or raw diet, talk with your veterinarian and use an approved veterinary nutritional site, like BalanceIt.com to insure that your pet does benefit from your extra work.

Also, remember that many pet food companies have decades of experience, research and testing proving the effectiveness and safety of their diets.  It’s true that occasional recalls have happened, but these unfortunate events have also helped determine how to effectively handle this sort of crisis.  Lessons learned from past situations will help to prevent future issues.

Looking forward, science may give us an answer to this on-going and very passionate debate.  But, for now, your best source of advice is not an online forum or manufacturer’s website with products to sell, but rather you should put your trust in your veterinarian.

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HALLOWEEN SAFETY FOR OUR PETS

The fall colors are at there peak today and most of us are looking forward to the  Halloween festivities this weekend, but our pets can truly be “spooked” by all of the noises and costumes.   We hope you have a wonderful time this weekend,  but remember Halloween is a holiday with many potential dangers for our dogs and cats.

First let’s consider the ghost and goblin visits on Halloween eve. The excitement of the day may be too much for even the best-behaved dog.   Constant visitors to the door as well as the spooky sights and sounds may cause some pets to become fearful.  Costumes on people can be scary to pets.   Masks, large hats, and other costume accessories can confuse pets and may even trigger territorial instincts.   It is not unusual for pets to act protective or be fearful of people in costumes, even if they normally are very social with that person.  Your pet could run away and become injured in a variety of ways.  Consider allowing your dog or cat to spend the evening in his own special place inside with special treats, safe and secure from the goblins.  Even if you have a fenced yard, Halloween is definitely not a good night for your dog to be outside without supervision and restraint.  If you can’t keep your cat indoors, considering a boarding facility or your family veterinarian.   Remember, you are responsible for controlling your pet and insuring that he does not bite any of the neighborhood ghosts.

Judging by the pet pictures we get this time of year, many of our clients enjoy dressing their four-legged friends up for the holiday.  Dressing up is fun for everyone, but may not be very fun for our pets.  If your pet tolerates a costume, there are some things to keep in mind.  Your pet must be comfortable at all times.  Avoid any costumes that use rubber bands or anything that might constrict circulation or breathing.  Likewise, avoid costumes with toxic paints or dyes.   Your pet’s costume should be inedible.  If your pet appears uncomfortable in any way, allow him to dress up in his “birthday suit”.

The two biggest concerns for pets during the holiday are injuries and poisonings.  Some Halloween decorations can be unsafe.   Fake cobwebs or anything resembling a string can be tempting to cats, leading to a foreign body obstruction.   Candles inside of pumpkins are easily knocked over, burning your pet or even starting a fire.  Although the threat is probably minimal, many people are concerned about black cats during this time of year.   It might be wise to keep all cats indoors during this holiday.

Keep your pet away from the Halloween candy.   Chocolate can be toxic to pets and even small amounts can cause heart problems and vomiting.  Lollipop sticks and foil wrappers can become lodged in your pet’s digestive tract, causing painful obstructions.  Low carbohydrate, sugar free, diabetic-friendly candy or gum that is sweetened with Xylitol can cause low blood sugar in dogs and has been implicated in liver failure as well.

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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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