All Posts tagged Pets

Rehab is FAB for Pets

Human athletes have long understood the benefits of physical therapy when trying to recuperate from an illness or surgery.  After all, their goal is to get back in the game as soon as possible.  Many pet owners want the same thing and have found that physical medicine and rehabilitation may provide the help they need.

Veterinarians can either offer physical medicine in their hospital, or can refer you to a facility that does, and the benefits are remarkable. Dr. Jacqueline Davidson, a veterinary surgeon at Texas A & M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says “Animals that have had orthopedic or neurologic surgery are often seen for rehabilitation.  But even pets who need to lose some weight, those who suffer from arthritis or who just need some conditioning can benefit from this sort of therapy.”

The goal of physical rehabilitation is not only to restore the natural function of the pet, but to attempt to bring the patient back to a pre-injury state.

Veterinarians and technicians who practice physical medicine use a wide variety of methods and technologies to help their patients.  In many surgical cases, the pet needs to rebuild strength in muscles that have weakened from Dog on red balancing balllack of use.  In a case like this, carefully controlled exercises under the guidance of a trained professional can help the animal make great strides.  Pets can learn to use a treadmill or even use balance balls and wobble boards to help strengthen those de-conditioned muscles.

By far one of the most popular therapies for pets is the underwater treadmill.  These devices are especially helpful for overweight or older animals.  The buoyancy of the water helps to lessen the weight bearing impact on the joints and make it easier for the pet to build up strength and endurance.  Hydrotherapy and swimming are other popular rehabilitation options.

Other popular modalities use heat and cold carefully delivered to the tissues.  Something as simple as heat packs can increase blood flow  and help the joint’s range of motion in that area. After a therapy session cold packs, can be used to minimize inflammation.

Dog going over hurdlesCommon therapies include coordination exercises, such as weaving through cones or walking over hurdles, strength building routines, like uphill or downhill walking (often on a treadmill) and even medical massage, trigger point release and passive range of motion exercises.  A real benefit here is that many of these therapies can be learned by the pet’s owner and applied regularly at home.

There are also many high tech modalities that veterinarians are now trying in a variety of cases.  Therapeutic ultrasound and low-level lasers both deliver heat deep in the tissues.  Along with medications, electrical nerve stimulation can be used to block or ease pain.

Rehabilitation in animals is very specialized.  There are certifications for dogs, cats and horses.  An important thing to remember when searching for a rehabilitator is that any therapies applied should be performed or overseen by a licensed veterinarian. Physical rehabilitation done by someone who does not understand the subtle signs of animal pain or have a global view of veterinary medicine can actually do much more harm than good.

Many veterinary rehabilitators have undergone outstanding additional education and can become certified in the use of these treatments.  Look for Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioners (CCRP), Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapists (CCRT) or Certified Canine Rehabilitation Assistants (CCRA).  For horses look for the Certified Equine Rehabilitation Practitioner (CERP). Ask your veterinarian for help finding a certified practitioner in your area.

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Do You Know Someone Who Wants To Become A Veterinarian?

Whether meeting a client for the first time or even while traveling on an airplane, it’s not unusual for a veterinarian to hear something similar to “Oh, I always wanted to be a veterinarian!”  Veterinary medicine consistently ranks among the most respected and admired professions.  Pet owners and animal lovers do think highly of veterinarians, but many don’t know the incredible schooling that these animal doctors must complete.

Additionally, when asked what a veterinarian does, most people will respond with a phrase about “taking care of animals.”  While that is certainly true, most are unaware of the incredible diversity of careers found in the veterinary profession.  Not only do veterinarians care for our companion animals and our livestock, but they are also found doing important research that benefits both people and pets or even helping governments track and prepare for newly emerging diseases.  Veterinarians are active in the military, our food inspection services, in the public health sector and even in designing new foods and medications to help animals.

So, what does it take to become a veterinarian?

First, good grades throughout high school and an undergraduate program in college are essential.  Course work should be strong in math and sciences, but it is also important for the student to be well rounded.  As an example, communication courses are vital as the majority of veterinarians will need to effectively explain complex medical diseases and terminology to pet owners or ranchers and farmers.

4H steer showingThese early years are also a great time to focus on finding a job or volunteer opportunity that gives hand on experiences with animals.  Veterinary hospitals and animal shelters often accept school age volunteers, but don’t forget about the possibilities offered by Future Farmers of America programs or the local 4H.  These days, weeks and months of working closely with animals can help a prospective veterinary student understand the challenges of animal care.

After a minimum of two years of undergraduate work, the process for applying to veterinary school can begin.  Competition for the open spots is extremely fierce.  There are 28 schools of veterinary medicine in the United States with 4 in Canada and another 4 located in the Caribbean.  Compare that to the 134 human medical schools in the US!  Also, each of these universities generally only accepts about 100 students for each veterinary class, meaning that about 3000 slots are available for each new class.   Again, human medical schools graduate about 20,000 new doctors each year.

Once accepted, new veterinary students will find that their school days will be very regimented and filled with an incredible amount of information.  For the first two years, the focus is on the sciences.   Lectures on the anatomy of various animal species, physiology, microbiology and many more subjects are the focus on the student’s days.

DVM student and dog on exam tableThen, as the students progress into their third and fourth years, all of the information they committed to memory can now be used in a practical manner as they move towards more hands on work in the veterinary teaching hospitals and labs.  Students interact with veterinary instructors and actual clients as they learn the important skills of client interaction.  These “soon to be veterinarians” also find opportunities to assist in surgeries, extensive dental procedures and, of course, daily rounds with the attending veterinarians at the hospital.

When graduation finally arrives, the learning and education process is not over for these brand new animal doctors.  In order to practice veterinary medicine, new graduates must pass national and state board exams.  Then, even as they are learning the expertise of daily routines at their new job, continuing education (CE) is a requirement of all veterinarians.  This CE helps veterinarians stay on top of a variety of technological and treatment protocol changes.

Some veterinarians continue their education, specializing in areas like dentistry, radiology, or even lab animal medicine.  There are almost 40 different specialty organizations and veterinarians who seek to become a specialist may add another 4-6 years on to their education.

As you can see, becoming a veterinarian not only takes passion and intelligence, but a fair amount of sacrifice and commitment as well.  The degree of “Doctor of Veterinary Medicine” or “Veterinary Medical Doctor” is one of diversity and certainly a rewarding profession.

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Does your pet suffer from secondhand smoke?

The history of smoking tobacco may reach back many hundreds of years, but research in the 20th century has made it clear how harmful this habit is.  Furthermore, secondhand smoke has been implicated in the illnesses and even deaths of non-smokers.  What’s even more disturbing is that smokers may have unknowingly contributed to severe disease in dogs and cats.

Most people understand that secondhand smoke from cigarettes contains an incredible number of hazardous substances and many of them are carcinogenic.  These chemicals are found in high concentrations in carpets and on furniture around the home.  Pets sharing this environment will get these toxins on their fur and then ingest them during normal grooming.

Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a board certified specialist in veterinary internal medicine and certified veterinary journalist, has written that increased numbers of smokers and smoking in households corresponds with higher levels of the by-products of nicotine metabolism in pets sharing that home.  She further describes how carbon deposits are often seen in the lungs of these animals.

Research is now showing that our pets’ health is affected in ways similar to what is seen in humans.

X-ray of dog with lung cancerIn the early 1990s, researchers found correlations between nasal cancers in dogs and the presence of smokers in the home.  There is also a concern that environmental tobacco smoke may increase the incidence of lung cancer in our canine friends as well.

Cats may actually be at higher risk for serious disease when they live in a smoking environment.  As mentioned above, many cigarette smoke toxins settle to low levels in the home and cats will pick up these substances on their fur.  Because of their fastidious grooming habits, cats end up ingesting a higher level of chemicals and this leads to a greater chance of several types of cancer.

Lymphoma is a cancer of white blood cells and is one of the most common cancers seen in our pet cats.  When smokers are present in the cat’s household, the risk for this killer is increased by two or three times over cats living in non-smoking homes.  Sadly, when our feline friends are diagnosed with lymphoma, the prognosis is very poor and many won’t survive another six months.

Another serious cancer with links to secondhand smoke is a cancer of the mouth known as squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC.   Studies have linked a higher risk for SCC in cats living in smoking homes.  Again, the prognosis is very grave and most pets won’t survive another year.

An unpublished study has also found that the levels of nicotine found in the hair of dogs exposed to second hand smoke is similar to levels found in children living with parents who smoke.

With more than 46 million smokers in North America and about 60% of the population owning dogs or cats, the risk for the animals is substantial.  Pets are often good at hiding signs of illness, so many smoking owners fail to realize the damage that their habit is causing to the four legged family member.

Of course, the best course of action is to give up the tobacco habit entirely.  It’s not only best for the health of the smoker, it will also greatly reduce risks for pets.  Understanding that it’s not easy to quit this addictive habit, people who smoke and have pets should attempt to minimize their pets’ exposure by smoking outdoors.

Lit cigaretteAnother important thing to remember is that smoking in the car with pets can create a toxic environment, even with the windows open.  Some states and Canadian provinces even ban smoking in cars when children are passengers because of the chance for serious exposures.  If you must smoke when you drive, leave your pets and kids at home!

Pets who are developing illnesses from secondhand smoke may exhibit symptoms ranging from lethargy to coughing to the appearance of masses in the mouth.  It’s important to have your pet seen by a veterinarian if any of these signs are noted.

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Consider A Trust Fund for your Pet

Pets have become integral and beloved members of millions of families across North America.  We provide them with special diets, unique toys and even grieve heavily when they pass away.  Unfortunately, many dedicated owners fail to consider what might happen to their pets if they are suddenly unable to care for them.

Historically, this was never much of a concern.  Pets have always been considered “property” by state and national governments and so when a person died, their possessions, along with the animals they owned, were disposed of as directed by the person’s will or by the probate court handling the estate.

In today’s society though, pets are thought of as much more than property.  Although they still don’t have a different legal standing, most people will agree that their pets should be handled differently than their car, furniture or other material items.  It’s a sad fact that many senior citizens who might benefit from the companionship of a pet actually avoid bringing an animal home over concerns of care should the pet survive them.

Over the ages, many people have tried to incorporate special provisions into their wills for their pets.  English Common Law actually began to recognize pet trusts as far back as 1842.  But it’s only been in recent years that true strides have been accomplished.

The first problem to overcome was that of the legal hurdle that “property cannot legally own property”.  This means that the animal (property) cannot receive money (more property) in a will for its continued care.  In a similar manner, a pet cannot be named a beneficiary of a trust.  But, in the 1990s, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws saw the need and changed the Uniform Probate Code to actually permit pet trusts.  To date, 45 of the 50 U.S. states allow an owner to create a trust for their animals.

Dog in shelterThe next, and probably bigger issue, is to educate pet owners about their options.  Failing to consider what to do with your pet in the event you are unable to care for him or her could lead to your dog, cat or other pet ending up in a shelter or with a new pet owner.  While these situations could work out just fine, some relatives or individuals may not be willing or able to provide proper care.  In addition, the pet itself may not adjust well to the new environment, leading to behavior issues or even early euthanasia.

Pet trusts actually provide many benefits.  First, since trusts are valid even while the owner is still alive, even if he or she is disabled or incapacitated.  This simple fact allows the pet’s care to continue without the necessity of going through probate.  Leaving money to your pet in a will might provide some resources, but the amount is subject to interpretation by the courts.

In addition, if the owner needs to move to an assisted care facility or nursing home, a pet trust is valuable in helping to keep the pet and owner together.  This alone is a powerful reason to consider setting up a trust for your beloved animal.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a pet trust is administered by a trustee (separate from the pet’s carVeterinarian and client with poodleetaker) who has a legal obligation to follow the guidelines set forth by the owner.  This helps insure that your wishes for your pet are carried out and helps minimize the potential for fraud.  You will want to make sure you have selected a willing and trusted person as the caretaker before the time for one is needed.

As with any legal matter, you should discuss the potential for creating a pet trust with your attorney.  He or she can guide you through the legal ramifications and tax situations and help you draft a document that is enforceable and allows your pet to receive the right type of care in a safe environment.  Your veterinarian may know of attorneys who specialize in these sorts of trusts or even resources that will help you provide for your pet after you are gone.

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Pet Dental Health

Dental care in pets is necessary to provide optimal health and quality of life. Poor dental hygiene leads to diseases of the oral cavity,  and if left untreated, are often painful and can contribute to other local or systemic diseases.

Dental care of dogs and cats is one of the most commonly overlooked areas of pet health care. Approximately 80% of all dogs and cats have periodontal disease by the time they are only two years old. Dental disease affects much more than fresh breath. It frequently leads to more serious health problems such as liver, kidney and heart disease. That’s why we’re  not just treating dental disease, but taking new steps to prevent it. A major step in this process is encouraging our owners to participate in their pet’s oral health at home.

Periodontal disease in pets is the same as it is in people. It’s a sneaky and insidious process that begins when bacteria in the mouth attach to the teeth and produce a film called “plaque”. When the bacteria die, they are calcified into “calculus” commonly known as tartar which makes a rough surface for even more bacteria to stick to. In the beginning, plaque is soft and can easily be removed by brushing or chewing on appropriate toys or treats. But if left to spread, plaque leads to gum inflammation (called “gingivitis”) and infection. Eventually, the infection spreads to the tooth root and even the jaw bone itself – causing pain and tooth loss.

Examining a dog or cat’s mouth can be compared to opening a Christmas present. Inspecting the outside of the box may give you a hunch about the contents, but until you completely unwrap it, you’ll never really know what’s inside.  In the same way peeling away the wrapping paper and packing material brings a present into the light of day, our new dental radiology equipment allows us the opportunity to look beyond the obvious and better examine teeth and their supporting structures below the gum line – exposing hidden, and often undiagnosed, problems.

The American Animal Hospital Association has devised guidelines for veterinarians in order to highlight the need for more professional oral hygiene care for pets. The organization stressed the necessity of going beyond the traditional “scraping the surface” of routine dental cleanings, known as “prophies”. We are encouraged to teach owners the importance of good oral hygiene when puppies and kittens are only a few months old in order to begin a lifetime of healthy benefits.

Research proves that unchecked dental disease can be the root of other problems.  In a 2009 study at Purdue’s School of Veterinary Medicine, researchers have discovered significant associations between the severity of periodontal disease and the risk of cardiovascular-related conditions, such as endocarditis and cardiomyopathy.

A recent roundtable discussion between veterinary dental experts shed even more light on the impact that good preventative dentistry plays in a pet’s life. They strongly recommend daily dental care for pets and twice yearly mouth exams beginning when puppies and kittens are two months old. And while that schedule may seem too complicated for some pet owners, dental specialists, veterinary supply companies have developed products that will help pet busy owners put some bite into home dental care for their pets.

A recent development that goes beyond good veterinary and at-home care, is the actual prevention of plaque using a barrier sealant gel. This is applied by the veterinarian and continued at home by the pet owner. Called OraVet®, this system is the first method used by veterinarians to create a physical barrier that reduces bacterial plaque adhesion above and under the gum lines. It is applied at home only once a week after the initial hospital application.

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