All Posts tagged Pets

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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Veterinary Technicians – Trusted Partners for Your Pet’s Care

Anyone who has read James Herriot’s immortal novels about veterinary practice knows that much of the work he did with animals and pets he did by himself.  The owners in the stories were either unable or unwilling to help and having any sort of assistant was reserved for extreme situations, like a difficult calving.

Fast forward to today and many pet owners will see a wide range of people working at the veterinary hospital.  Are these veterinary technicians just like nurses in a human hospital?

The answer to that question is, to some extent, yes, but the reality is technicians actually perform a wider range of duties than do most nurses for people.  Veterinary technicians end up being the nurse, laboratory technician, dental hygienist, phlebotomist, radiology tech, anesthetist and surgical assistant for your pet as well as helping provide essential information to animal owners.

Although the first attempts to certify veterinary assistants go back more than 100 years, the very first program to provide training was actually started by the United States Air Force in 1951.  This was followed by a civilian program in 1961 at the State University of New York.  Now, interested individuals can find more than160 programs available across the US and even enroll in online education courses.

To earn certification as a veterinary technician, a student must attend either a two year or four year accredited program in veterinary technology.   This education will provide a broad background in everything from medical terminology and anatomy to pharmacology and animal nutrition.  Some schools even include business and management courses.

Although the term “technician” is often used to describe any veterinary assistant, most states’ practice acts do define a veterinary technician as someone who has obtained the education described above and then passed the Veterinary Technician  National Exam.   These folks are designated as Licensed Veterinary Technicians (LVTs), Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVTs) or Certified Veterinary Technicians (CVTs).

Veterinary assistants, on the other hand, are usually trained on-the –job, but often have similar skills and duties.  Again, each state defines what types of responsibilities and procedures assistants or technicians can perform.

Technician monitoring patient - Veterinary News NetworkIn either case, both of these vital team members function as the right hand for many veterinarians.   By performing tasks such as collecting blood samples, capturing x-rays or even providing important education to clients about parasites, the technicians help make the veterinarians more efficient.  Your pet’s doctor can now focus on doing examinations, prescribing needed medications, diagnosing problems and performing surgery.  Of course, the overall well-being of your pets is a primary concern for all technicians.  This means they are also very skilled at providing exceptional levels of nursing care to pets who might be scared, in pain or simply anxious about being at the hospital.

Some technicians will even further their education and skills by specializing in areas such as anesthesiology, nutrition, behavior, dentistry or even zoo medicine.

According to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA; www.navta.net), there is a strong demand for graduates of veterinary technology programs.  In fact, the Department of Labor lists veterinary technology as one of the top twenty fastest growing careers where education makes a difference.  Another fun fact…95% of all veterinary technicians are women!

Tech giving HWP to client - Veterinary News NetworkYou know that your veterinarian is an important partner with you in the healthcare of your pets, but it is also crucial to get to know the other vital members of the veterinary care team.  These are the folks who will be insuring that your cat stays warm after her spay surgery or that your dog’s pain medication is delivered on time.  In many cases, veterinary technicians and assistants can also provide you with some rock solid advice about vaccinations, parasite prevention and even nutrition.

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Jerky Treats for Pets Continue to Cause Problems

Using treats as a means of reward or distraction for our pets is not unusual.  “Roxie”, a Yorkie, was owned by a wonderful lady who had long suffered from severe hip arthritis and therefore could not get to the store very often.  She relied on friends to buy her groceries and even food and treats for her beloved canine companion.

Happily her veterinarian agreed to make house calls for her special situation. During a call for an exam and vaccinations, she returned from her kitchen with a bag of treats for reward.  Unfortunately, she held in her hand a newly opened bag of dog treats of a brand that has been associated with numerous complaints to the FDA.  Thankfully, the veterinarian stopped her from giving the treats and explained this serious situation.

Jerky treats have been an extremely popular treat for pets because of their high protein, low fat composition and dogs love them.  Also, the fact that the ingredient list is generally very short (chicken and some flavorings) allows people to feel good about giving their dogs something “natural”.

But somewhere along the way, something has gone terribly wrong.  Since 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued numerous warning about pet illnesses and even deaths associated with these jerky treats.  The most recent figures show more than 2,200 reports on file and these include more than 360 deaths thought to be linked to these treats!  In many cases, kidney failure was the primary reason for the sickness, death or euthanasia of the pet.  What is even more disturbing to most people is that almost without exception, the country of origin of the product is China.  The memory of the nationwide pet food recall caused by tainted ingredients from China is still fresh.   Thousands of pets became very sick and even died in 2007 from this serious problem.

Unfortunately, despite rigorous and continued testing and FDA inspections of manufacturers in China, the source of the problem is still unidentified.  Without knowing what the exact problem is, the FDA is powerless to compel any sort of recall.  Manufacturers of the treats are all reluctant to pull their products from shelves and this has led to a strong backlash from consumers and has social media buzzing.  Even now, several law suits are in progress.

According to Laura Alvey from the FDA, there are productive discussions happening with pet food firms at this time in the hopes of finding a cause for this on-going issue.  The latest testing of the treats is focused on problems stemming from irradiation of the ingredients.

So, what can you do to make sure your pet is not adversely affected?

First, and very simply, avoid buying any sort of jerky treat that is made in China.  Although that sounds easy, it is often difficult to determine exactly where a product is made.  Even products that are “Made in the USA” may source ingredients from China.  If you are not sure, call the manufacturer and ask them if the treats are wholly made in the US from US sourced ingredients.  If you don’t get a definitive answer, don’t buy the product!

Next, consider alternatives for the jerky treats.  Many dogs will happily accept baby carrots or green beans as a snack or reward.  Reputable companies, like Hill’s, Iams and others, also offer a variety of safe treats we can trust.  Other pet owners have found homemade recipes like the ones at DogTreatKitchen.com for making their own special home cooked goodies.

Remember, treats should only make up a small portion of the calories your pet receives each day.  While this sounds like common sense, in many of the complaints on file with the FDA, owners were feeding too many jerky snacks far too often.

Finally, it’s important to see a veterinarian if you’re pet shows any odd symptoms or has persistent vomiting and diarrhea.  In a review of the complaints to the FDA, a fair percentage of pet owners never saw a veterinarian or had any blood analysis done.  Without that information, it is almost impossible to say that the treats are the definitive cause of the illness or death.  Your pets rely on you to make sure their food and treats are safe and they need your help.

If you believe your pets have been affected by these products, please tell your veterinarian and file a report with the FDA online.

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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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How Sweet Is Your Cat? Feline Diabetes

Almost everyone knows a friend or acquaintance who is diabetic.  What most people may not realize is that diabetes may be present in their own home, possibly in a feline friend.

Diabetes is a group of diseases that result from either inadequate insulin production or the inability of cells to respond to this hormone.  Insulin is necessary to help move glucose from the blood stream into tissue cells for use as energy.  The predominant characteristic of diabetes is the presence of high levels of glucose in the blood…this is known as hyperglycemia.

In humans, one type of this disease is known as Type I or insulin-dependent diabetes.  This illness results from the body’s immune system destroying the cells that make insulin.   This is the predominant form of diabetes in our canine companions and there is no known way to prevent it.

Type II, or non-insulin dependent diabetes, accounts for 90-95% of diabetes in people and 85-90% of cases in cats.  In this instance, the beta cells of the pancreas that produce insulin either become exhausted or they fail to respond to signals to produce the hormone.  The important aspect of this to remember is that it is possible for treatment to lead to a remission of the disease.

While the number of cases of diabetes in dogs has remained static for many years, some veterinarians feel that they are seeing an increasing number of diabetic cats.  Although the true incidence of feline diabetes is not precisely known, estimates for North America show that about 1 in every 200-400 cats develop this disease.  What is important to remember is that as our cats have developed a tendency towards obesity, diabetes cases have risen rapidly.

Being obese or overweight is a risk factor for Type II diabetes because of the chronic inflammatory state obesity produces.  This leads to a reduction in insulin sensitivity.  In addition, fat cells in overweight animals stop producing a certain hormone essential for proper insulin receptor function.

Cats with diabetes often go extended periods of time with no real sign that anything is wrong.   When signs do appear, the first indications are a cat who needs to use the litter box more frequently and who is drinking greater amounts of water.  Unfortunately, cat owners are not always aware of these signs, especially if their kitty often goes outdoors.  This means that many cats aren’t diagnosed for months after the onset of diabetes.


Without diagnosis and treatment, diabetes will eventually cause a metabolic condition known as ketoacidosis. This leads to dangerous changes in the blood chemistry, dehydration and eventually, death.

When cats are seen by a veterinarian, this disease is often diagnosed with a simple blood test.  Hyperglycemia or any glucose in the urine (glucosuria) is often indicative of diabetes.  Veterinarians can also use a blood test known as serum fructosamine to determine the average blood glucose values over the course of the last three weeks.

In some cases, cats don’t get into the veterinarian until the disease has progressed even further.  In these cases, the presence of ketones (a by-product of using fatty acids for energy) in the urine is a definitive indicator of complicated diabetes.

Unlike diabetic dogs who will be on insulin replacement for the rest of their lives, it is possible to treat cats and allow for remission.  The goal of treatment in cats is to restore the functionality of the beta cells and their ability to produce insulin.   In fact, new evidence is now showing that high protein, low carbohydrate diets are instrumental in helping cats defeat diabetes.  In short, although your feline friend may need insulin initially, you might be able to reduce or even eliminate this medication as you help the cat lose weight.

Owners of diabetic cats can also learn to monitor blood glucose levels at home, sparing the cat from frequent visits to the veterinarian.

As with any medical condition, the very best source of information will be your veterinarian.  He or she can steer you through the diagnosis and treatment process and then help you with monitoring your pet’s progress and potential recovery.

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