All Posts tagged AAHA

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

More

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.

More

Gift Ideas for Your Pets!

More than 60% of pet owners have said that giving gifts to their cats or dogs is an important way of bonding.  But, with thousands of pet sites trying to sell toys or Internet rumors about the dangers of this treat or that bone, how can you find something that is just right for your pet?

For many, a gift for their pet should consist of something fun and entertaining, like a durable toy.  Veterinary experts also recommend the use of interactive toys that encourage exercise and activity.  This has the dual benefit of burning calories from overweight pets and also providing a needed outlet for highly active dogs, like the working breeds.  After all, a tired dog is a good dog!

To help meet this need for entertaining toys, companies like Kong (www.kongcompany.com) and Pet Qwerks (www.petqwerks.com) have developed innovative new ways to keep our pets active.  Many of the Kong toys, like the Bounzer or the Wobbler, will bounce in random directions when tossed and are made of very durable rubber.  There’s even a wide variety of sizes for your tiny or massive pooch!

The Babble Ball from Pet Qwerks is an interactive toy that actually “talks” to the pet when moved or even simply sniffed.  More than 20 voices or sounds are created, entertaining even the laziest of pets.  Cat lovers will appreciate the Kitty Babble Ball as well.

One of the best and least expensive toys to keep that flabby tabby moving is any one of the wide variety of Kitty Teaser products.  Found at most retail stores and many online outlets, these simple fiberglass rods with feathers, ribbons or swirls attached will attract the attention of any cat and provide lots of entertainment for the owner.

Keeping our pets from becoming bored or even challenging their intelligence is the mission for several other pet companies.  Aikiou (pronounced “I-Q”) (www.aikiou.com) has created a line of interactive feeding stations that simulate hunting and foraging activities.  Likewise, Premier Pet Products (www.premier.com) uses their Busy Buddy line of toys to reward dogs for playful, constructive behavior.

It’s also very easy to find an amazing array of designer clothing, leashes, collars and even special feeding bowls for your unique friend.  But, beyond all of these material things, what other gifts can help make sure that your pet is healthy and well protected?

One of the simplest and best ways to keep your pets safe is to make sure that they have permanent identification.  Far too many pets are lost or stolen every year and the vast majority of these animals never make it back home to their owners.  Have your veterinarian implant a microchip and be sure to keep the registration information current.

Another helpful gift idea is a pet health insurance policy.  Although Fluffy and Fido may not fully appreciate it, having a policy can really lessen the impact of a traumatic accident, serious injury or substantial illness.  Millions of pet owners have already found pet health insurance to be invaluable and it’s certainly a great gift idea for other pet owners in your family.

When it comes right down to it, all of the special toys, interactive puzzles or unique pet sweaters won’t take the place of the most important thing you can give your pet…your time!  Spend some time every day with your pet by engaging them in play or some quiet grooming.  It’s the very best thing you can give and your pet will love you all the more for it.

Your veterinarian is also a great source of advice for finding the right activities for your pet’s abilities.  He or she can suggest other safe toys that will help keep your pet physically and mentally healthy.

More

Healing Canine Arthritis with…Platelets?

Pet owners don’t want to see their beloved animals in any sort of discomfort, especially if the pain is something the owner can relate to.  Degenerative joint disease, better known as arthritis, affects more than 50 million people in the United States and veterinarians estimate that about 15 million dogs also suffer from this disease.

In an attempt to provide relief for their four legged friends, owners will turn to a variety of treatment options.  Non-steroidal drugs, acupuncture, stem cell therapy or even different types of lasers are all current alternatives in a veterinarian’s arsenal to help these pets.

In recent years, a new type of treatment that has been borrowed from human sports medicine has increased in popularity.  Several high profile athletes, like Tiger Woods and Troy Polamalu, have received remedies consisting of blood concentrates with high levels of platelets.  Also seen in equine athletes, the use of platelet rich plasma could show promise for treating injuries and arthritis in dogs.   Proponents quickly point out that this type of therapy is completely natural, since the only “treatment” comes from the animal’s own body (also known as autologous).  Critics of this type of treatment say that the theory is certainly sound, but good scientific evidence is not here yet.

So, how can “Platelet Therapy” possibly help an arthritic pet?

Most people understand platelets are cells that help blood clot after injury.  However, platelets are also important in injury repair, providing a wide variety of growth factors that attract specialized cells to help fix the problem.  The theory behind platelet rich plasma is that the increased concentration of these essential growth factors helps speed the healing process.

For both dogs and horses, a small sample of blood is taken from the animal and then placed into a specialized filter that helps concentrate the number of platelets.  Once the filtration is complete, this new platelet enriched plasma can be injected back into the affected joint of the pet.  It’s really that simple!

New, “point of care” devices are now available, meaning veterinarians do not need any specialized equipment for this therapy.  In fact, the whole procedure can be completed in about 15 minutes in the veterinary hospital, in the pet’s home or even at the horse’s barn.

Testimonials from pet owners seem to substantiate the success of these treatments.  Many people describe how their pets have demonstrable beneficial changes in range of motion and overall movement and even an improved quality of life.  Other owners express happiness with the “natural” quality of the treatment and the lack of known side effects.

Veterinarians are providing positive feedback as well.  Using highly sophisticated scales to rate lameness, veterinarians report better mobility and even less pain in their patients receiving platelet rich plasma.

But not everyone is convinced that this treatment will be the answer to arthritis or other musculo-skeletal injuries.  Reviews of the literature detailing studies in human medicine have all stated that the evidence for the success of these therapies is not conclusive and large scale studies are needed for more substantial proof.

Additionally, the effective dosage of the concentrated platelets, the appropriate timing and number of applications for effective therapy is not known.  There is even a question as to which types of tissue responds best to platelet rich plasma.

Thankfully, your veterinarian does have a wide range of treatment modalities that can help provide relief for your pet.  Owners can help evaluate the effectiveness of any therapy by keeping a log of the pet’s activity and communicating movement changes, pain or even different attitudes from their pet.  Working together, you and your veterinarian could find the best ways to keep your pets and horses as pain free as possible!

More

Pet Food Marketing Is Confusing and Misleading

We all want to find the freshest ingredients and highest quality foods when preparing meals for our families.  It’s also likely that we want the best food for our pets too.

You’ve probably heard the terms “natural”, “organic” or even “human-grade” when referring to pet food.  But what do they actually mean?

The pet food market has become extremely competitive and very confusing.  More than 3,000 different brands of food sit on store shelves and highly paid, successful ad agencies are often recruited to find ways to convince pet owners that their particular brand is the very best.

Much of this marketing uses the term “natural” and other key words that are really designed just to motivate you.  Much of it has little to do with the quality of the food.  In fact, according to PetfoodIndustry.com, the “natural” pet products market in the US is expected to double to more than $9 billion by 2017.

So, do any of these marketing buzz-words have actual significance?

According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the term “natural” does have legal meaning. The FDA, who actually has authority over pet food manufacturing and label claims, does not give a definition to “natural” but has not objected to its use as long as the foods do not contain artificial flavors, added colors or synthetic substances.

Organic signLike “natural”, the word “organic” also has been legally defined.  Pet foods and treats that wish to be labeled as organic must meet standards set forth by the National Organic Program.  These requirements include both how the food is grown as well as how it is handled.  Additionally, organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and no antibiotics or growth hormones can be given.

But, please remember this, despite modern folklore and Internet rumors, organically grown foods have not been shown to be superior in either nutrition or health. It has become one of those huge marketing gimmicks used to motivate you to buy something that may or may not be good for your pet family members.

The use of the term “natural” also does not always mean healthy or even safe.  A prime case in point is a naturally occurring mycotoxin known as Aflatoxin that can cause serious liver disease in dogs and occasionally sparks pet food recalls, many of these brands are labeled “natural”.

Unfortunately, many pet owners are swayed by other labels and none of them has a legally defined meaning.  One of the worst offenders is the use of the term “human grade” or “human quality”.  A pet food company that markets this way is implying that their pet food is edible for people.  AAFCO has stated that using these terms without meeting all federal regulations is a misbranding of the product. This is government-speak for mis-leading, some would call it fraud.

When you see the term “human-grade” in marketing or on bags of foods, remember that this term has no significant meaning for pet diets.

So, what about all these marketing gimmicks?  Can you always trust foods sold as “premium”, “holistic” or even “gourmet”?  It’s important to remember that all of this promotion is designed for your benefit, not your pets.  How do we choose correctly, safely and also economically?

First, find a food that has undergone AAFCO feeding trials.   This statement can be found on the bag’s label and assures you that  the food is digestible, palatable and that your pets can successfully use the nutrients in the food.  Next, look at the price.  If you are paying less than a dollar per pound of food, that diet won’t work.  You will end up feeding more just to meet your pet’s energy and nutritional requirements.  Look for a food that costs around $1-2 per pound.

Grain free dog food labelFinally, ask your veterinary team about the reputations of pet food companies and for their recommendations.  After all, who knows your pet and their needs better?

As you can see, it’s easy to become confused when the Madison Avenue ad agencies start working their magic.  Your veterinarian and their staff will often have some sound advice concerning pet nutrition.  Better yet, it will often come without all the marketing hype!  The relationship between you and your pets is personal, and the relationship you have with your veterinarian is personal.  Rely on that, not on the impersonal decisions made in a board room.

More