All Posts tagged American Veterinary Medical Association

Search and Rescue Dogs – Canine Heroes!

Throughout history, dogs have helped humans in many ways, but it’s only been in the last 350 years or so that our canine friends have assisted in the rescue of lost people.  The most famous example is, of course, the work of hundreds of St. Bernards who are credited with saving more than 2,000 people from frigid deaths high in the Swiss Alps.  Like their historical counterparts, modern day Search and Rescue dogs rely on extensive training, an unshakeable bond with their trainer and, of course, their incredible sense of smell!

We all know that our dogs are great at sniffing out things, especially when food is involved.  Dogs actually have a sense of smell that is about 40 times more sensitive than a human’s and its olfactory prowess that helps make a great search and rescue dog.  Experts still don’t know exactly how dogs can locate an injured person or missing child, but current theories indicate that the dogs are using the dead skin cells that constantly fall off us.  These “skin cell rafts” contain conspicuous human scents that the dogs use during their search.

While all breeds possess a keen sense of smell, good search and rescue canines will be a medium to large breed (or mixed breed) animal in good physical health, above average intelligence and also possess good listening skills.  But, perhaps the most important attribute for a good search dog candidate is his desire to play!

Allowing an opportunity for the successful dog to play is the animal’s “reward” for properly performing their duties.  This behavior is ingrained early as training starts with puppies as young as 8-10 weeks of age and is continually reinforced throughout the dog’s career.  The search dog in training is taught to find a special toy with a desired scent and this skill is then expanded so that the dogs learn to find people in all sorts of environments and situations.

Search and rescue dogs are even trained differently, depending on how they will be used.  “Air-scent” dogs work with their nose up in the air, following a scent trail and working towards the highest concentration.  This is especially useful when trying to find victims buried in an avalanche, people trapped under buildings in an urban setting or even human remains.

Contrast this with the typical tracking dogs often seen in movies chasing down escaped criminals.  Bloodhounds and other breeds work with their nose on the ground, following a scent trail from a known starting point.  Many of these dogs also help find children that have wandered away from home and into fields, forests or deserts.  They have even found Alzheimer patients who have strayed from their safe home.

When their services are needed, local law enforcement often calls upon volunteer search and rescue organizations which they have trained with and trust.  These private groups are not components of any branch of government, but are called and deployed to help first responders in a variety of situations.  Although search and rescue dogs have been used throughout the 20th century, the teams have received more national recognition due to their work after 9-11, during the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan and in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike.

Both handlers and dogs must meet stringent training requirements that are set forth by their organization in addition to specific standards outlined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  Groups like the American Rescue Dog Association and Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States (SARDUS) have detailed websites about the training their specific groups offer to potential candidates.

So, the next time that your local news shows scenes of devastation or natural disaster, remember that our canine friends, and their human partners, are also on the front lines, saving lives and bringing hope to victims of catastrophes.

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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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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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