All Posts tagged pet safety tips

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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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!

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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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Lost Pets, High Tech Returns

Jessie never went anywhere without her “wiener dog brigade”.  So, it was not surprising to see her loading up the four dachshunds and making a trip to St. Louis.   Her Mother’s Day visit, however, would not end as happily as previous excursions.  As Jessie and her husband stopped to give the dogs a much needed bathroom break, the weary travelers did not do a head count as they climbed back into the car.  It would be more than an hour until they noticed that one of their pups, six month old “Tequila”, was left behind.

As shocking as this story sounds, one out of every three pets will be lost and away from their family at least once in their lives.   More than five million dogs and cats leave home every year, either walking away or carried off by unscrupulous individuals.  So, if a pet owner finds out that his or her four legged companion is gone, what’s the best steps for reuniting?

Prevention, of course is the best option and veterinarians have long advocated the importance of some sort of identification on your pet.  Most people opt for simple ID tags or collars, but these are easily lost or even removed.  Tattoos have been used, but many pet owners, animal shelters or even veterinarians are unsure of where to call if they find a pet with a tattoo.  Microchips are a safe and effective means of permanent identification, but only about 5% of pets in North America have had this device implanted.

Jessie says, “I was so mad that I had told my veterinarian no when asked about the microchip…all because I wanted to save $30.”

Some pet owners have opted for GPS collars and devices, but results have been mixed.  Complaints about battery life, difficult collar attachments and slow notifications when the pet leaves the designated area have all been reported.

Dog on railroad tracksRegardless of whether any identification is available or not, fast action is needed when your pet comes up missing.  Veterinarians recommend that you contact local animal shelters, veterinary offices and even pet stores within a five to ten mile radius of your home to be on the lookout for your lost animal.  Websites like HelpMeFindMyPet.com or PetAmberAlert.com also offer services to registered members.  These might include faxing or calling all pet related businesses within a 50 mile radius or even creating flyers for you to print and post in your community.

“Of course, we immediately drove back to the rest stop to look for Tequila,” says Jessie, “but he was nowhere to be found.  I was able to connect with the local animal control office and police department right away, but there was no word about our little guy.”   Jessie then called various animal rescue groups and other shelters in the area once she returned home.

Having a current picture of your pet is also vital in your efforts to get the lost animal back home.  In Jessie’s case, she used her pictures of Tequila to create a new page on Facebook as well as flyers she sent in the mail.  The outreach in social media connected her with even more empathetic pet owners who, in turn, helped spread the word of Tequila’s situation.

If your pet is lost, involve your veterinarian in the quest to get the wayward animal back home.  Often, your veterinary team may have ideas and resources that can help quickly spread the word.

Black and Tan DachshundJessie’s story does have a happy ending.  Tequila was found by the local animal control office and a dachshund rescue group volunteered to drive him back.  Safely back home, Tequila is now properly microchipped and Jessie has a whole new set of online friends.

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Looking for the Right Pet Food – Part II

Our pets depend on us to keep them properly fed and in the best health.  But for most pet owners, the overabundance of different types of pet foods as well as the enormous number of brand names is often overwhelming.  Then, Internet chat rooms and forums are simply full of a wide variety of opinions on what is the “best” pet food.  How can the average pet owner make the best decision when it comes to feeding their pets?

Thankfully, there are experts in the area of pet nutrition.  Diplomates from the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (acvn.org) are specialists whose focus is the advancement of veterinary nutrition.  Put another way, these knowledgeable veterinarians know what makes a good pet food!

Dr. John Bauer, a veterinary nutritionist with the Texas A&M University, College of Veterinary Medicine says, “When it comes to choosing a diet for your pet, the first thing to think about is the life stage.  Is it a young, growing puppy or kitten or is it a mature adult trying to maintain body size?”

Puppies eatingIn other words, puppies and kittens have different nutritional requirements than adult dogs and cats or even senior pets.  So, a food that is adequate for all life stages may actually have too much of certain nutrients for some geriatric pets.  One way to determine if your pet’s food is meant for all life stages is to look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the bag.  If the nutritional adequacy statement reads “complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages”, then pet owners know that the food has enough nutrition for pregnancy, lactation, growth and maintenance.   If the label states “complete and balanced for adult maintenance”, this food is appropriate for adult pets only and not young, growing animals.

“Another important thing to look for is whether or not the food has undergone feeding trials,” adds Dr. Bauer.  Again, the AAFCO statement is helpful.  Foods that have been fed to animals prior to marketing to consumers will have a statement similar to “AAFCO animal feeding trials substantiate…” or “Feeding trials show…”.  This is a good sign that the company has invested in the due diligence to make sure pets willingly accept the diet and stay healthy on it.

Foods can also be created to meet specific guidelines.  If the bag of food simply states that “Brand X is formulated to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles”, then the food was not fed in any regulated manner to animals prior to its delivery to store shelves.  Although this does not mean that the food is poor quality or even bad, most pet owners would prefer that their pets are eating a food that has proven to do well for other animals.

Kitten eatingFinally, the reputation of the company making the food is an important consideration for pet owners.  Does the manufacturer use a veterinary nutritionist to help develop and maintain the diets or is the food one that just has a celebrity endorsement?  Does the company engage in beneficial nutritional research or do they simply follow the most recent dietary fad?

Although the Internet is full of opinions and folklore about pet foods, the best source of nutrition information will come from your veterinarian.  He or she not only has the needed schooling to help you understand your pet’s dietary needs, but many veterinarians will also attend continuing education lectures to keep up to date with the latest advances in animal nutrition.  In addition, your veterinarian understands your pet’s unique needs and any specific concerns you might have about pet foods.  Anonymous strangers in online chat rooms or forums simply won’t have that knowledge or the same level of concern.

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