Due to advances in veterinary medicine, and the commitment of those in animal jobs (such as your veterinarian and veterinary assistant), our pets are living longer and healthier lives. However, they can suffer the same ailments as senior humans – diabetes, dental disease, liver and kidney disease, stiff joints, heart disease, and cancer. As pets age seven times faster than their human companions, a 10-year-old, 20 to 50 lb dog would be 60 in human years, while a 10-year-old feline would be the equivalent of a 64-year-old human senior.
Many conditions can be detected early by your veterinarian and treated successfully by your vet assistant (with guidance from your veterinarian) while adding years of a comfortable and active lifestyle to your pet’s life. A routine, semi-annual physical exam with blood testing and other diagnostics along with careful observation by pet owners can assist the veterinarian and veterinary assistant in detecting possible problems. Diagnostics are usually recommended when pets reach the age of seven years old.
Indications of possible problems could include:
• Increased water intake, more frequent urination, or “accidents” in the house
• Changes in hair coat (thinning or roughness), lumps, or changes in the color of the skin
• Inability (or unwillingness) to jump up, limping, or difficulty getting up
• Drooling excessively
• Bad breath
• Coughing or choking
• Reluctance to play or tiring easily
The following tests, done often by the veterinary assistant, can help the veterinarian detect the possibility of certain problems:
• The Complete Blood Count (CBC) and chemistry panels can detect infections, problems with the liver and kidneys, assess the condition of the pancreas (which produces insulin and enzymes), and check the level of calcium and phosphorus in bones and electrolytes in the body. Blood is drawn and tested by your vet’s veterinary assistant or technician.
• Thyroid testing for hormonal imbalances by your veterinary assistant or technician can indicate the pet’s thyroid level. Too low of a thyroid level can result in weight gain, poor hair coat, and listlessness, while a thyroid level that is too high (mostly in senior cats) can cause kidney and heart disease along with weight loss.
• Urinalysis (also completed by the veterinary assistant or technician) will help detect bladder and kidney problems.
• Parasite exams, done by your veterinarian and/or his/her veterinary assistant or technician, include flea control and identification of internal parasites such as giardia, coccidia, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, and whipworms.
• Heart exams could detect heart murmurs. Further diagnostics using x-rays, ECGs and/or ultrasound imaging may be required if a murmur is found. Your veterinarian will conduct the heart exam, though imaging is usually done by the veterinary assistant or technician.
• Skin inspections by the veterinarian and/or veterinary assistant include checking for bumps or changes in skin color which could indicate cancer.
• Eye exams include checking for cataracts and/or glaucoma.
• Radiographs can help in detecting masses in the abdomen, bone cancers, and conditions of the chest and lungs. Radiographs are often completed by the veterinary assistant and then assessed by the veterinarian.
• Dental exams are done by veterinarians to detect infections in the mouth and dental disease which can occur by the time your pet reaches the age of seven years old. Tartar and broken teeth need to be removed and/or repaired.
Keeping your pet at a healthy weight through a good diet and plenty of exercise, scheduling him or her for routine exams and proper vaccinations, and giving him or her lots of love will help your pet to live a longer, healthier life.
Cold weather affects pets as well as humans. Some pets are better suited for cold weather than others. There is a common (and false) belief that dogs “will do just fine” if left outside. This is not true; professionals, including veterinarians and veterinary assistant, will tell you that all pets need proper shelter and protection from the cold. Pets should not be left outside for long periods of time in freezing weather as they can suffer hypothermia and frostbite just like humans, especially the young or very old.
A designated area inside is best, but if that is not possible, an adequate shelter that is insulated with blankets or straw and that is protected from wind, snow, rain, and cold will help retain your dog’s body heat. Also, don’t forget to provide plenty of fresh water as licking ice or snow will not provide enough fluids. Using a heated water dish will keep the water from freezing. Consult pet professionals such as a veterinary assistant school graduate or pet care specialist at your local pet supply store about finding heated water dishes.
The use of heat lamps, space heaters, or other electrical devices is not recommended as they may not only burn your pet but may also create a fire hazard. Pet product suppliers have heated mats for pets to sleep on. A recovering pet will generally be placed on such a mat in a veterinary facility post-surgery. These mats could also be placed under a dog house. Be sure to read all manufacturers’ directions carefully to avoid misuse or injury to your pet. Also, note that outdoor pets require more food than normal for energy and for maintaining body heat. Veterinary assistant or your vet technician can provide guidelines regarding feeding during cold weather seasons.
Large chunks of ice can get between your dog’s or cat’s foot pads, causing discomfort. Clipping the hair between the pads will help in keeping such ice from forming. Some dogs will tolerate dog boots which offer protection when walking in snowy areas or on icy sidewalks. Your groomer or a vet assistant can help you in trimming the fur between your dog’s or cat’s toes.
Salt and Chemical De-Icers
De-icers can cause chapped, dry, and painful paws, and afflicted pets will lick their paws. This could cause stomach irritation and vomiting. Be sure to wash your pet’s feet with warm water after a walk on icy ground.
Antifreeze is sweet-tasting, and pets are prone to lap up spills. Clean up any antifreeze spills immediately. If it has ingested antifreeze, the pet must be taken to a veterinary clinic to be assessed and treated by a veterinarian immediately.
The warm engine of a car is a tempting area for cats to curl up and sleep during cold winter nights. Before starting your vehicle, honk the horn or bang the hood to frighten off any sleeping animals.
Senior pets with arthritis have a more difficult time in the winter cold. Be cautious of icy walks, provide warm and soft bedding, and handle pets gently. Should you notice that your arthritic pet is having trouble getting around, contact your veterinarian and have your veterinarian and his/her veterinary assistant or technician examine your pet.
Finally, be sure to have plenty of supplies in case the roads become unsafe.
• Pet food
• Fresh water
• Warm blankets
• Any medication that the pet takes on a daily basis
Have a happy, safe, and warm winter with your pets!
Parvo or Parvovirus is a serious viral disease that affects puppies and young dogs. It has been shown that certain breeds of dogs are more susceptible to this disease. Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, Pit Bulls, Labrador Retrievers, and German Shepherds do have an increased risk to this disease. Carriers of the infection can shed the virus without showing any clinical signs. It can last up to 9 months or longer in the environment which means excessive heat or cold will not kill it.
Parvo causes an inflammation of the small intestine (known as Enteritis) causing vomiting, listlessness, loss of appetite, fever and a very distinct foul and bloody diarrhea. The clinical signs usually appear suddenly, usually within 12 hours or less but the incubation from the actual exposure could be from 3 to 10 days.
Although the enteritis is the most common sign of Parvo, severe inflammation of the muscles of the heart and the death of cells (called necrosis) would cause difficulty of breathing and death in puppies less than 8 weeks old. If the dog is older, the chance of survival is better but it will cause scarring in the muscles of the heart.
Treatment for Parvo is mainly supportive care which would include giving fluids either intravenous or subcutaneous (under the skin) to replace the loss of fluids due to the vomiting and diarrhea, something to stop the vomiting (an anti-emetic), antibiotics to help fight infection, and possibly a blood or plasma transfusion for protein loss and to help with possible anemia.
To protect your puppy, vaccinations should start at 6 weeks of age, and be repeated at 9, 12, and 16 weeks with a booster every 3 years. It is best to check with the veterinary assistant or technician at your pet’s veterinary clinic regarding the Parvovirus risk in your area and vaccinate accordingly.
Although highly contagious, it is not transferable to cats or humans. And it is important to remember that any breed of canine can get the Parvovirus so it is important to keep the vaccines up to date and current.
Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA, is a type of bacteria that is resistant to some forms of antibiotics, particularly the cillin class of medications. Staph aureus is common bacteria found on our skin and doesn’t usually present a problem.
For many years, it was thought to be exclusively a human condition. But MRSA has been reported in horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, sheep and cattle. There are two ways to contract MRSA- hospital acquired (HA-MRSA) and community acquired (CA-MRSA).
HA-MRSA is defined as an individual who has contracted the bacteria after being hospitalized or who have had a medical procedure preformed.
CA-MRSA is contracting the bacteria without being exposed to a medical facility. Risk areas for CA-MRSA include athletic facilities, child care facilities or schools and veterinary hospitals.
MRSA is primarily transmitted by direct contact but may also be spread by indirect contact with sports equipment, towels, bedding or contaminated bandages. In the veterinary community, it has been estimated that up to 10 of veterinary staff members are colonized with MRSA.
Clinical signs in animals are similar to humans. Usually it manifests as some sort of skin infection, such as an abscess or pus filled sore. People often think they’ve been bit by a spider. To diagnoses MRSA, in humans or animals, a swab of the infected area is sent to a laboratory for bacterial culturing and antibiotic sensitivity testing. Treatment involves a course of oral antibiotics. It’s important to place an absorbent bandage on the affected area if the wound is draining.
Preventing contamination is as easy as practicing excellent hygiene. Proper hand washing is an essential task for the veterinary assistant. You must use warm water and soap, thoroughly washing in between fingers, for a minimum of 30 seconds. An alcohol based hand sanitizer is also effective in lieu of a sink. Avoid touching mucus membranes, such as your nose or eyes, until you’ve properly washed your hands.
If you are changing bandages on an animal with infected wound(s), wear gloves and always wash your hands after properly disposing of the contaminated bandages. Your veterinary assistant can provide further information on household hygiene. Above all remember, basic hygiene is the best prevention.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, approximately 6 to 8 million cats and dogs enter one of the approximately 6000 U.S. animal shelters each year. Of these animals, an estimated 3 to 4 million are euthanized. An estimated 25 of these animals are purebred. A veterinary assistant or any veterinary professional can inform you of the benefits of spaying and neutering pets.
Many of the animals euthanized in animal shelters are perfectly healthy and young. The animals are commonly the offspring of a beloved family pet that had an unintentional litter, and as is common in most cases the owner wasn’t able to find homes for each puppy or kitten. There are simply more homeless animals than there are people willing to provide them with loving homes.
A fertile dog may produce two litters of puppies per year with an average of six to 10 puppies per litter. Cats can produce up to six kittens per litter and have up to three litters per year. Spaying and neutering is the only 100 effective way of controlling the ability of cats and dogs to reproduce. Spaying or neutering your pet will help you to avoid adding to the pet overpopulation problem.
The benefits of spaying your Female dog or cat are as follows:
• She won’t go into “heat,” meaning that there will be no mess for you to clean up.
• Eliminate the risk of diseases like pyometra (pus-filled uterus), uterine cancer, and ovarian cancer.
• Drastically reduces the risk of mammary gland tumors (cancer of the mammary gland).
• No risks associated with pregnancy like false pregnancy, retained placenta, prolapsed uterus, dystocia (difficulty giving birth), or eclampsia – all of which are extremely expensive to treat and may result in death of the mother.
The benefits of neutering your Male dog or cat are as follows:
• Neutered animals tend to be calmer and more relaxed and may be less territorial or aggressive.
• It decreases the risk of a male pet “running away” or “roaming” when they sense a female “in heat”.
• It eliminates the risk of testicular cancer.
• It drastically reduces the risk of an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer. Over 80 of un-neutered male dogs develop some form of prostate disease.
Ashlie Herring a veterinary technician who works with animals says, “There are many misconceptions about spaying and neutering. For instance, some people think that pets that have been spayed or neutered become fat or lazy. It is up to the owner to make sure that her cat or dog gets fed a healthy diet and has regular exercise.” Surgical sterilization will also not affect the physiological development of a dog or cat. There is not scientific data that supports the theory that spaying or neutering affects a pet’s physiological or psychological development. Again, it is up to the owner to provide her pet with adequate nutrition and the loving care that is necessary to help their pet grow into a happy and healthy adult.
Also known as feline distemper, Panleukopenia is a very contagious viral disease that occurs in any age of cat. However, cats that have not been properly immunized, sick cats or young kittens are more susceptible.
Passed from an infected cat to another cat through fecal waste and/or other secretions of the body, it can also be transmitted through bedding, food bowls, and the hands and clothing of pet owners. The virus is very stable in the environment and can live for months or even years. Once exposed to the virus, the loss of cells causes complications and/or bacterial infections.
Panleukopenia causes the white blood cells to decrease in number, and it usually occurs within four to six days of exposure. The cells in the intestines and the lymph tissues are most susceptible, but the virus can also affect the G.I. tract.
Symptoms can include a dull coat, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, the appearance of the “third eyelid,” lack of grooming, and a hunched-over appearance which indicates abdominal pain. The owner may also note that her cat is hanging around the water bowl and is exhibiting a marked depression. Some owners may be led to believe that their pet has been poisoned or has swallowed a foreign object, which sometimes delays treatment.
Supportive therapy is the recommended treatment. This includes giving fluids either intravenously or subcutaneously (under the skin) to help combat the fluid loss that occurs with diarrhea and vomiting as well as nutritional support and antibiotics to prevent the secondary bacterial infections that can occur with this disease. It is important that the patient is isolated from other cats, kept warm and clean, and given a lot of attention, petting, and love along with hand-feeding as the depression can cause the cats to “give up.” It is also important that the caregiver does not transmit the disease on their clothing, hands and/or shoes.
Cats that survive the disease can develop an active immunity to help protect them for the remainder of their lives. However, vaccines are the best method for protection as they stimulate the cat’s system so that it produces its own antibodies. It is important to give the vaccine prior to the cat being exposed to the virus.
The frequency of the vaccine varies from area to area. It is best to consult with your veterinary assistant to determine the correct schedule for your cat.
When bringing home a new kitten or puppy, a little preparation goes a long way. It only takes a little planning and forethought to make sure your home is ready for your furry bundle of joy.
First, Do Your Research
If you have never owned a cat or dog, especially a kitten or puppy, your first step should be to gather information about how to care for your new pet. There are several books available on the topic, as well as endless options on the Internet. Be sure you are getting your information from a reputable source though, such as websites for well-known pet food and supply companies or pet welfare organizations. In addition, the veterinary assistants and technicians at your local veterinary clinic have a wealth of information about this. Don’t be shy—ask for advice.
Acquire appropriate bowls, foods, brushes, toys, blankets and any other necessary supplies, such as litter and litterboxes for kittens or potty pads for puppies. Pet gates (similar to baby gates) are useful for keeping young ones of all kinds out of areas that might be dangerous for them. Large kennels or indoor pens are also great for keeping young puppies and kittens in a safe, secure area when no one is available to supervise them.
Get down on the floor and look around your home. Seeing the room from your kitten or puppy’s point of view can help you determine potential trouble spots. Kittens and puppies love to explore tiny spaces, such as under or behind appliances and furniture. See if you can spot things that might look like toys to a young animal. Puppies and kittens can become entangled in and strangled by cords, ropes or strings. These items can also cause intestinal blockages if pieces are chewed off and swallowed. Cords also pose an electrocution hazard if chewed. Any small item within reach can also be chewed or swallowed. Also, train your eye to fragile items that could be knocked down and broken or items that could topple and fall on your pet. Remove as many hazards as possible and block access to areas that are unsafe.
A Place of Their Own
It is important to set up a safe, secure area in advance for your new arrival. Make sure he or she has a soft bed. Be sure the area is free from drafts and that there is a source of warmth for very small and/or very young animals. Food and water must be available at all times. Set up separate areas for sleeping, eating and going potty. Toys should be available to keep your baby interested and entertained. Keep new arrivals indoors and away from other pets at first.
Now that everything is in place, it’s time to bring your new family member into his or her forever home.
If your pet requires surgery, such as for spaying or neutering, you should be aware of the extra care and consideration he will need to recover quickly and completely.
At the time of your pet’s hospital discharge, a veterinary assistant or staff member will go over the veterinarian’s instructions and answer any questions you may have regarding at-home care, follow-up appointments, exercise, feeding, etc.
If your pet is prescribed medication, make sure you know what it is and its purpose. Every prescription should have a label that contains the following: the medication’s name and strength; administration instructions (how often and when, with or without food, shaken or diluted, etc.), storage instructions (refrigerated or not), expiration date and the veterinary hospital’s contact information.. If you miss a dose, check with your veterinarian on what to do. If this is your first time administering the type of medication prescribed, such as ear drops or a pill, ask the veterinary assistant to show you how before attempting it at home.
You will also be advised on feeding. Will your pet on a special post-op diet? This is especially important to know if you were planning on hiding the medication in something tasty. You’ll also want to know how often and how much you should feed your recovering pet. The majority of pets will be back to normal in no time. That said, it is better to feed your pet smaller but more frequent meals the first day or two following surgery. If your pet is in pain, he may have a decreased appetite. However, a complete absence of any desire for food should be reported to your veterinarian. Unless specifically instructed otherwise, fresh water should always be available.
Limit Your Pet's Activity
After the surgery, your pet should be kept calm in order to prevent injury; if needed you can use a crate or ask the veterinarian to prescribe a sedative. Designate a safe and quiet space for your pet’s recovery, and make sure he has proper bedding.
Your pet may also be groggy due to pain medication. Make sure he doesn’t have access to the pool or stairs, and limit access to slippery surfaces as his balance and coordination may be affected. For routine procedures, such as spaying, you will be instructed to limit activity and exercise for approximately 14 days. For dogs, this means they should be on a leash when taken outside for any reason.
Prevent Wound Licking
Since dogs and cats have a tendency to lick at their wounds, you need to make sure you prevent this behavior as it can seriously jeopardize healing. Your pet should be fitted with an Elizabethan or cone collar. It should be longer than your pet’s muzzle so that he is incapable of reaching the wound. Bitter apple or similar bad-tasting sprays can also be topically applied to discourage your pet from licking; however, it may not always be effective.
Your pet’s incision site is another concern. Usually, a veterinary assistant will instruct you on how to keep the incision site clean. Applying non-prescribed ointments are not necessary and may be unwanted; check with your veterinarian before applying any over-the-counter ointments. If there is a bandage, it should be kept clean and dry at all times.
Watch For Excessive Discharge
What if there is discharge? Some redness and swelling is to be expected after a procedure, as is a small amount of reddish or yellowish fluid. Inspect the sutures daily. If you notice any additional redness, swelling, foul smelling odor, excessive discharge or opening of the wound, take your pet to the hospital as soon as possible. Even the most routine surgeries can have unexpected complications, so it is better to keep a vigilant eye on your pet’s recovery.
Older/Weak Pets Care Tip
Older or weak pets may need to an extra hand when it comes to getting upright and even walking. A towel underneath a dog’s belly or a “belly sling” can be used to give them a boost, but only if it doesn’t cover and put pressure on the wound site. (This method is not intended for spays, as the incision is on the belly.)
Make sure to call your veterinary hospital if you have any questions or concerns. Surgery can be pretty traumatic for a pet as well as the owner, but with some tender love and care, you can make the recuperation process a lot easier on your friend—and you.
Toxoplasmosis is a single-celled parasite that is found throughout the United States and can infect any warm-blooded animal, bird or human. You may be at a higher risk of contracting Toxoplasmosis if you work with animals. However, the parasite rarely causes significant clinical diseases in cats or any species.
The eggs, or oocysts are ingested by rodents, birds, or other ground feeding mammals such as sheep, cattle, goats and pigs which then migrate to the brain and muscle tissue. When an intermediate host eats an infected prey, the parasite is released into the mammals’ intestinal system and is passed into the feces where the life cycle is repeated.
The danger lies in the fact that any warm-blooded host, the T.gondii can also be transmitted in utero (or across the placenta) and through the milk. In the United States, people are more likely to become infected with Toxoplasmosis through eating unwashed fruits and vegetables or raw meat then from handling cat feces.
Cats are the primary hosts of T.gondii as they are they only mammals in which the parasite is passed through the feces. Because cats only shed the parasite for only a few days in their entire life, the chance of human exposure is very small. Having a cat does not mean you will come down with Toxoplasmosis and it is very unlikely you would be exposed by touching an infected cat merely due to the fact that they do not carry the T.gondii on it’s fur. If you are unsure if your cat has Toxoplasmosis you can contact your local veterinary hospital and speak to a veterinary assistant for testing. Cat bite and scratches also will not infect humans with the disease.
Common symptoms include fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. However, most infected pregnant women do not exhibit symptoms. Treatment for toxoplasmosis requires a course of antibiotics or other drugs that will inhibit the T.Gondi reproduction. The treatment needs to start as soon as a diagnosis is made and must be continued for several days after the signs have disappeared.
Pregnant women or people who are immunodeficient (someone is who is undergoing a immunosuppressive therapy such as for cancer or organ transplant) are at the highest risk.
There are several factors that will reduce the risk of becoming infected:
- Wear gloves while gardening and wash hands when done.
- Wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
- Keep children’s sandboxes covered.
- Do not eat undercooked or raw meat.
- Wash hand prior to eating.
- Remove feces from litter box daily. However, people with suppressed immune systems or pregnant women should not clean the litter box.
- Don’t drink unpasteurized milk
- Clean food prep areas with warm, soapy water after handling raw meat.
- Boil any water that is taken from the streams or ponds.
- Control the rodent population or other intermediate hosts.
One of the most common intestinal worms for cats and dogs are roundworms (Toxacara). They can be identified in your pets stool or vomit as they look somewhat like pieces of cooked spaghetti as they are long and thin. Other symptoms include diarrhea, a lackluster fur coat, vomiting and / or a pot-bellied appearance.
Pets can be infected by being exposed to feces that contain roundworms or by ingesting animals (such as mice or rats) that are infested with roundworm. Puppies and kittens can also be infected by their mothers before birth or shortly afterward when they are nursing. They are often found in soil and the eggs are very resistant to not only weather but also chemicals. And they can survive for many years which could mean your pet can be infected over and over again. Pets can pick up the eggs in their fur or paws ingesting the parasite when they groom or lick.
The eggs hatch and become larvae which continue to grow in the pets intestine. After 3-4 weeks, the larvae mature and become adults which then produce more eggs. Those eggs are passed through the feces to begin the cycle again.
Treatment is a two or three step process. The preventive medication for roundworms only kills the adult worms. That is why it is necessary to give a second dose 3-4 weeks later. If that dose is skipped, the eggs that were laid by the adult roundworms will hatch, produce more eggs and will continue the cycle and your pet will become re-infected. It is essential to follow the protocol given by your veterinarian.
When a pet is being treated for roundworms, it is very common the roundworms to be passed through the stool. If you do not see any worms, there is no reason for alarm. Some worms may or may not pass.
Part of the wellness for puppies is for a fresh stool sample to be brought in for testing for worms. You can contact you local vet and speak to the veterinary assistant at the hospital for any information or questions you may have.
Many veterinarians do recommend routinely deworming puppies and kittens even if there is no sign of an infection because of the possibility of infecting family members.
The pain that pets experience appears to be similar to the pain humans feel. It was previously believed that pets had a high tolerance of pain. It was believed that pain helped to keep pets quiet so they could heal. Added to that fact, they thought there was no real way to know if a pet was in pain or not. That is why the idea of pain management has changed over the last 10 years. Like humans, pain not only can shorten a pet’s life, but also the quality.
Pain management does not necessarily mean the use of drugs: like humans, physical therapy, vitamins, weight loss and other life style changes such as more exercise can make a difference to lessen pain.
There are several types of pain:
Acute pain – comes on suddenly due to an infection, surgery or injury. This type of pain usually only lasts until the reason for the pain has been identified and treated.
Chronic pain – longer term and can be slower to develop. Old age problems such as illness, arthritis, cancer and/or bone disease can lead to chronic pain. Because this type of pain could have developed over time, the pet could have developed a tolerance and had learned to live with it.
Symptoms of pain could either be the pet is abnormally quiet and listless or whining, crying or, for a cat, meowing nonstop. Biting or licking at one spot of the body could mean there is a problem. Acting out of character, looking for a lot of attention, trouble eating, sleeping or getting comfortable could also be signs your pet is in pain.
The most effective way to manage pain is by blocking it before it starts. That may only be possible with elective type of surgeries such as spays, neuters, orthopedic procedures or mass removals. For that type of pain, giving medication prior, during and/or after the procedure would provide the best pain management.
If the pain is already present, such as bone disease, broken bones, arthritis, etc., there are many types of medications to help relieve or block the pain from progressing further. Please talk with your local veterinary assistant about different options you may have for your pet.
If you think your pet is in pain, a complete physical will be needed so your veterinarian can figure what is wrong and give you several options to choose from. There will be questions such as your pets appetite, movements, attitude and behavior. The more information you can provide will assist the veterinarian with a diagnosis. You can speak to your local veterinary assistant in advance to be more prepared for the physical.
Cats seem to hide pain as natures way to protect them from predators. However, although there may be no outward signs of pain, that does not mean that pain is not present. You have to assume it is present and take them to the veterinarian.
A physical exam can include x-rays, blood tests, lab work or even a scan. After that, your veterinarian will be able to recommend a treatment protocol. There are many pain medications that are now available to pets. They can be given via pill, liquids or even a skin patch or gel which helps not only with acute but also chronic pain. The veterinarian will discuss what medications would be best for your pet.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) are commonly used for many types of orthopedic pain. There are other animal jobs that offer alternative pain management that include message therapy, holistic medicine, or even acupuncture. Keep in mind the side effects and the time needed for each treatment option including the risks versus the benefits of each option.
There are non-pharmaceutical compounds and or neutraceuticals that have been developed in the past few years for joint heath. Glucosamine and chondrotin help joint inflammation that is common with old age or joint disease.
If you pet has had surgery, pain management is very important of more rapid healing. It is important to follow the veterinarians or vet assistant’s instructions carefully and call if you have any questions or problems. If you pet has been prescribed a pain medication, give it on time and as directed.
Keep your pet warm and comfortable plus quiet and relaxed, allowing them to heal with re-injury. It is also very important to keep them from the surgical site as they will lick and / or remove stitches. If needed, a special collar can be obtained from the veterinary hospital. Don’t forget that lots of love and attention will go a long way in your pet’s recovery.
Pets cannot tell us what is wrong with them. The veterinarian relies on the owners’ observations and intuition to know when their pet is not acting quite right. One of the tools the veterinarian will use is doing certain tests, depending upon the symptoms and / or age of the animal.
One of the more common tools is doing blood work and a CBC (complete blood count) is a typical laboratory procedure. The CBC measures the packed cell volume (PCV), total plasma protein, total white blood cell count and the total platelet count. It is a screening test that can check for such problems as infections, anemia and other diseases. You can contact you r local veterinary assistant to schedule an appointment for a CBC test.
The PCV (packed cell count) is a way to estimate the amount of red blood cells in the body but it could vary depending upon if the pet is dehydrated or their age. A decrease in RBC’s could be due to external or internal bleeding, or some conditions that causes a reduction in the production of the red blood cells.
Total plasma protein includes plasma pre-albumin, albumin globulin (which are simple proteins and is needed for proper healing) and fibrinogen (which becomes fibrin and assists in blood clotting). White blood cells or WBC’s ( also known as leukocytes) are part of the immune system that helps the body to fight infectious diseases. An increase in the WBC count could mean there is some type of viral or bacterial infection. However, certain types of cancer can also cause an increase in the white blood cell count.
Platelets are actually irregular shaped disks that are sticky. They are instrumental in stopping bleeding by forming clots in the blood. Too many or too little platelets could indicate different problems such as blood clots that obstruct the blood vessel if the number is too high to excessive bleeding if the number is too low.
For the CBC, blood will be drawn from either a vein in the front or rear leg, or the jugular vein in the neck. Many veterinary hospitals have special hematology analyzers that are able to run tests in-house. Other facilities will send blood samples to a laboratory, which means the results, would not be ready right away. Veterinary assistants are usually responsible for not only drawing the blood but also for running the in-house tests.
The packed cell volume is a simple test that helps to determine the relative amount of red blood cells that are in the body. Depending upon the age of the animal or if they are dehydrated will determine whether the PCV is high or low.
Red blood cells carry a protein called hemoglobin. It is the hemoglobin that gives red blood cells their red coloration. Hemoglobin is what carries oxygen through the body. When the PCV is low, which means there are fewer red blood cells, it is called anemia.
Anemia can be caused by external or internal bleeding, hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells) or because the body itself is not producing enough red blood cells in the bone marrow. A puppy, kitten or small dog can get anemia due to an infestation of fleas and or ticks.
In cats, the feline leukemia virus may cause anemia.
Onions, raw, cooked or dehydrated can also cause anemia. Ingestion of aspirin, zinc propylene glycol (found in some canned food) and acetaminophen, found in Tylenol can also lead to toxin reaction and blood loss.
To run a PCV, a small amount of blood is drawn and placed in a very thin tube then spun down. The veterinary assistant will usually be the one to draw the blood and run the test.
Treatment will depend upon the cause of the anemia. In some cases, a blood transfusion will be needed to increase the red blood cells in the body. IV fluids and certain medications may also need to be given to reverse the anemia.
To prevent anemia, do not give any drugs or over the counter medication unless specifically requested by the veterinarian. Remember that giving Tylenol can be fatal to both dogs and cats. There are many products on the market that will repel or kill fleas and ticks that are easy to apply. For felines, limit your cats contact with unfamiliar cats or by vaccinating for Feline Leukemia.
56 percent of dogs and cats in America are overweight. When a pet is overweight, they are at risk for developing severe, secondary medical conditions. These include:
High blood pressure
Heart and respiratory disease
Shorter Life Expectancy
Not only do heavier dogs and cats have less interaction with their human companions, but they tend to live shorter lives. Because of the extra pounds they carry, some owners feel it is “normal laziness” or that “cats are supposed to sleep all day” which may mask more serious, medical conditions.
Is Your Pet Overweight?
How can you tell if your pet is overweight or not? Looking from the side and the top of the animal, you should see a distinct waist line. There should not be any bulges or bumps. You should be able to feel the ribs as you lightly run your hands over the chest area (no cheating – squeezing the chest does not count!). If you can reach under your pets belly and grab a hand full of fat – your pet is overweight.
Check With Your Vet
Although weight loss is tough, it will add years to your pet’s life and make those years more enjoyable for both of you. To start, check with your pets veterinarian before starting any weight lose program as there may be medical conditions that is causing your pet to be overweight. Some common diseases that tend to pack on the pounds are Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism and they need to be ruled out before beginning any diet or exercise routine. You can schedule an appointment with your local veterinary assistant to check for these conditions.
How To Exercise Your Pet
An easy place to start is with exercise. Although dogs like to “stroll” at a leisurely pace, checking each bush and blade of grass for the previous visitor, a more brisk pace would certainly burn more calories. Keep the leash tight and close to your body. Start off at an easy walk or jog (remember to pick a pace that you would be able to handle) for 10-15 minutes. For cats, feathers attached on the end of a stick and waved around is usually enough to grab and hold their attention for several minutes of chasing and playing. Squeaky toys, balls, or anything that your pet finds fascinating is a good choice for play time.
However, sometimes exercise is not enough and the possibility of lowering the calories your pet consumes has to be added to the weight loss program. Attending a veterinary assistant school will help you learn how to recognize an overweight pet where you can assistant the owner in ways to reduce their pet’s weight.
Counting calories for pets can be challenging but a safe guideline is 3-5 body weight loss per month. Check with your veterinarian, the vet technician or veterinary assistant about how much your pet currently weights and how much they should weight. Your veterinary assistant will be able to recommend several special weight reduction diets that will help trim the calories out of your pets’ daily intake.
Offering a diet food, in small portions, several times a day will help reduce your pets’ caloric intake. But watch the treats and no adding human food to encourage them to eat. Many treats are high in calories and Grandma’s left over meat loaf gravy is high in fat and sodium. And follow the guide lines of the food you are giving: giving too much will not reduce the calories and giving too little can cause a serious disease. Cats that are not eating enough can develop a condition called Hepatic Lipidosis (or fatty liver disease.
The easiest way to reduce the caloric intake could be to just feed less of the food you are currently feeding. If you are feeding 2 cups a day, cut it down to 1 ¾ cups a day. The reduced food intake coupled with exercise will trim your pet and keep them healthy.
Most pets will reach their ideal weight in about 6 to 8 months so don’t become discouraged if they don’t slim down quickly. If it takes longer than 8 months, either the diet needs to be updated or the exercise routine needs to be increased. Keeping a log of your pets’ initial weight and the pounds they are losing, will help encourage the dedicated pet owner to stick to a weight loss program.
Also keep in mind that younger, more active pets will tend to lose weight faster than older, more sedate animals. The secret to weight loss is their loving and caring human companion as pets don’t realize they are overweight or that the extra weight could cause serious health problems.
When you work with animals, you learn how to recognize an obese pet and can assist the owner if choosing a reduced calorie diet that will work for both them and their pet.
Losing weight is tough for both the two legged caretakers and four legged pets. Being cute and cuddly may not have anything to do with the amount of fur our pets have. It is not a matter of if an obese pet will develop a serious, secondary medical condition but rather when.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our dogs or cats can tug on our heart strings. The sad eyes at dinner time, the paw on the leg as you enjoy a steak dinner as their dry kibble sits untouched in the kitchen, the rolling on the back begging for attention is enough to melt even the most stern resolve. Face it: our pets have us well trained.
To help with your pet weight loss program, try these few tips;
- Give some veggies as a snack rather than a bite of chicken or just a little more kibble in their bowl. Pets actually like vegetables such as carrots, peas or celery.
- Give smaller meals more often, especially at the end of the day.
- If your dog is begging and the food bowl is empty, take them for a walk or outside to play. Sometimes all they really want is attention and a walk, throwing a Frisbee or bouncing a ball is a distraction.
- Don’t free feed. Any pet will eat out of boredom or just because it’s there.
- Make them work for their meal. Put the bowl of food upstairs so your pet has to walk up the stairs to eat.
- If you live in a multi-pet household, separate the pet that is on the diet away from the other animals.
- Make sure there is plenty of fresh water to drink.
- Be sure to check how many calories those treats contain. Even a few too many will keep the pounds packed on.
- No adding leftovers – human food is loaded with fat, sodium and calories.
- Kitties can pack on the pounds too. Even a string dragged across the floor will peak enough interest for them to run and chase. Laser lights or a cat nip ball can bring out the kitten in them.
Check with your veterinarian or the veterinary assistant with other ways to sneak the pounds of your pet. Remember, it’s up to us to keep our pets healthy and happy for a longer and more enjoyable life.
Finding a lump or bump on your family pet can be an unsettling situation. As our pets live longer lives, cancer becomes a common concern as they can get all types of cancer – bone cancer, skin cancer, lung cancer, cancer of the liver and pancreas. The lump could be nothing but it can also be bad news.
Some can be felt or even seen on the skin or be discovered just under the skin. Cancer would automatically come to mind but a lump or bump on the skin could be an abscess, a hematoma (blood filled), a benign tumor or just hives due to an allergic reaction. Plus soft lumps that are just under the skin could be a simple fatty tumor (called a lipoma) and are usually not considered a problem. You can learn about different kinds of lumps and bumps in veterinary assistant school.
Any lump or bump that you find should always be evaluated by the veterinarian. You should consult with a veterinarian right away if the lump or bump is ulcerated, painful, warm, and seems attached to the underlying tissues or has been growing rapidly.
The veterinary technician or veterinary assistant may ask a series of questions such as how many lumps have you found and where are they located, how long has the lump been there and how fast has it been growing. They may ask for you if your pet has had any recent injections or vaccines and if the lump has changed in appearance, size and color. Also if your pet has gained or lost weight, any diarrhea or vomiting, loss of appetite, drinking more or less water, or changes in behavior.
The veterinarian may aspirate the mass checking for fat cells, blood cells or cancerous cells. This is done by inserting a small needle that is attached to a syringe and drawing out the cells. These cells are then placed on a slide, stained and viewed under a microscope for identification. This process is quick, painless and can usually lead to a diagnosis.
If the diagnosis is unclear, a biopsy may need to be performed which either means a small sample is taken or the veterinarian may suggest removing the entire mass which is then is sent to a laboratory for analysis. If the mass is simply a benign (non cancerous) lump or a fatty tumor, most times nothing needs to be done. If the diagnosis is cancer, there are many chemo treatments that are available, depending upon the type of cancer and its location.
Through diagnostic testing and treatments, the pet’s life can be saved and they can live a long, comfortable life. If you are concerned about a lump or bump that you have found on your pet, you can contact your veterinary facility and speak to a vet assistant for further help.
With our pets living longer lives due to better medical treatments, diagnostic tools and advanced nutrition, pets are heather and happier than ever. But with these longer lives, more and more cases of dental disease have been arising. In fact, most of the severe medical problems diagnosed in veterinary hospitals are dental problems. It is as important for our pets to have good dental health as it is for us.
Puppies have 28 baby teeth that will erupt at about 4 weeks of age and will have 42 adult teeth around 4 months of age. Kittens have 26 baby teeth at around three weeks and will have 30 adult teeth around three to four months of age.
According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease with periodontal disease the most common problem in dogs, especially the smaller breeds. Another common problem is broken teeth, especially with outdoor dogs and cats. This can be caused by aggressive chewing on something hard and many times it’s due to a commercially available chew toy. About 28 percent of cats can develop painful lesions during their lifetime.
Just like their human counterparts, pets get plaque, tartar buildup and periodontal disease.
Pets rarely get cavities but they are prone to tartar build-up and gum disease. Food and bacteria collect along the gum line which forms plaque. If the plaque is not removed, it combines with the minerals in saliva which creates tartar (or calculus) within 3-5 days after it forms. Gingivitis is the tartar that causes the gums to become inflamed and looks like reddening of the gums next to the teeth. This contributes to bad breath with red and inflamed gums. You can learn more about these signs from your local veterinary assistant.
If the tartar is not removed, it causes a build up under the gums. This build up can cause pockets around the teeth which will cause bacteria to build up. This damage is usually irreversible, can cause teeth to fall out, bone loss and or infection. This condition is called periodontal disease and the build up of bacteria may enter the bloodstream. This in turn can cause endocarditis or infections of the heart valves or even infect the kidneys.
With proper care from your veterinarian, the disease can be slowed or stopped.
With the advent of pet dentistry becoming more common and with newer and more sophisticated procedures, our pets can live longer and healthier lives. There are more and more veterinary and veterinary assistant schools that specialize in pet dental health. Root canals, crowns and even braces are becoming more of the norm.
The old days of just pulling teeth are becoming a thing of the past with new products being developed for veterinarians and their owners to provide the best care for our pets.
The first step in preventing oral disease in pets is to have routine physical examination which includes an oral exam. These exams can help to identify potential problems such as plaque and tartar, gingivitis, periodontal disease along with broken and / or abscessed teeth. The veterinarian will examine the teeth and gums along with checking the “bite” to see if anything is maloccluded. They will also look at the soft palate (or the roof of the mouth), the tonsils and the tongue. Any swelling or discharges along the head or under the eyes could suggest an infected tooth or abscess. Smaller dogs are more prone to dental disease rather than large dogs are you are more often feed softer foods. However, all pets should have a regular home care.
Home oral care is another step to preventing dental disease. This includes brushing the teeth with specially formulated toothpaste. Regular human toothpaste should never be used as most contain fluoride which can be toxic to pets, bleaches or other irritants that will upset their stomachs. There are many commercially made toothpaste formulated for pets.Also the use of a pet toothbrush is recommended as the bristles are softer for pets and are shaped for the canine and / or feline mouth. You should start brushing your pet’s teeth when they are young so they get use to the idea. Start slowly and carefully, concentrating on the gum line. Also, giving them kibble to eat or hard biscuits and / treats will also help keep the tartar to a minimum. It is also a good idea to check the gums and teeth on a regular basis. Reluctance to eat or drink cold water, pawing at the mouth or cheek area, bad breath, bleeding gums or any unusual growths in the mouth are signs of concern and should be checked by your veterinarian. If you are concerned, call the veterinary facility and
speak to the veterinary assistant as they will be glad to answer any of your questions.
Most pets need, at some point or another, a dental cleaning at the veterinary facility. Unlike their human counterparts, pets are reluctant or unwilling to sit still for a dental cleaning. This means they will have to be put under anesthesia to accomplish this task. Blood work must be performed prior to induction and antibiotic may be prescribed. The procedure can be accomplished within one day with the pet returning home in the evening. While they are under anesthesia, dental x-rays may be needed to check for abscesses, bone loss or broken teeth at the roots. Each tooth can also be inspected and any abnormalities can be recorded for future reference. The area under the gum line must also be cleaned, and plaque and tartar scaled off with an ultrasonic cleaner followed by polishing to smooth the tooth surface.
There are also commercially available chew toys that will aid in removal of plaque: however, good home care and regular visits to the veterinarian are the keep to good health.
Normally in the fetus, the patent ductus venosus, also know as a shunt, is present. This shunt bypasses blood away from the liver to the placenta so that the blood for the fetus can be cleansed by the mother. Then, within three days after birth, once the fetus is born, the shunt closes, and the puppy’s liver must clean the blood on its own. However, there are times, when the shunt does not close off. This is an abnormal vessel that allows the blood to bypass the liver not allowing the blood to get cleansed by one of the body’s filters (the liver). This is called a liver shunt (a portosystemic shunt).
There are different types of liver shunts. Two of the main ones are known as intrahepatic shunt (inside the liver) and extrahepatic shunt (outside the liver). The intrahepatic shunt is commonly found in large breeds and tends to be much more difficult to operate. The extrahepatic shunt is usually easily operable and more commonly found in small breeds. As a vet assistant you may learn about these types of liver shunts.
A few clinical signs you may learn in a veterinary school include abnormal behavior after eating, pacing and aimless wandering, pressing their head against the wall or constantly rubbing their head, (the blood not being filtered causes ammonia build up which makes their head feel funny), constant illnesses, (since the liver is not filtering the blood, it causes toxicity in the blood making your pet constantly ill), episodes of apparent blindness, low weight gain, bad mouth odor, (young pets should have good breath), lethargic, not very active, decrease in appetite, crystals in the urine,(this is from the excess ammonia), and UTI’s. Some dogs may show several clinical signs while others only show one. Furthermore, some dogs might not start showing any signs until they are older.
There are a variety of tests that could be done to diagnose a portosystemic shunt. An ultrasound can help identify the shunt. A variety of blood tests can also help support this diagnosis. The most common test to help diagnose a liver shunt is a bile acid test. Once your pet is diagnosed then you may begin treatment. Your pet will have to be on a low protein diet. Protein promotes toxicity in an animal that has a liver shunt. Giving your pet lactulose may also help. At first this may cause diarrhea but then it will immediately help to detoxify your pet’s system.
Your Veterinarian will choose the best treatment option. One option might be to operate and the other might be to medically manage your pet depending on what type of liver shunt it has. A scintigraphy will help determine if the shunt is intrahepatic or extrahepatic.
If surgery is the best option, then your dog will have to be as stable as possible. This involves your pet being on a low protein diet and on prescription medication such as antibiotics and lactulose. If you have questions about what kinds of food are low in protein, you can ask your veterinary assistant or vet tech. The antibiotics are used as bacteria to circulate in the blood. Normally it is removed by the liver, but in this case, it will bypass the liver.
After surgery, your pet might be in some pain for a few days. Then within the next four months, you will begin to notice weight gain, muscle development, improvement in general appearance, lots more energy and no more head rubbing. After four months, you might also have to redo the bile acid test to check on the surgery status. If the test results are normal then you can put your pet back on regular food. Surgery is normally the best option, and it has an overall success rate of 85.
Restlessness and / or pacing: this can be a sign of a serious problem as dogs that appear restless or won’t stop pacing can be due to distress, discomfort and / or pain.
There is a condition called “bloat” that involves the stomach and gives the appearance of a pot belly appearance.
Unproductive vomiting: also another symptom of “bloat.” You need to call your veterinarian right away and speak to the veterinary assistant on duty regarding your dog’s symptoms. If it’s an emergency your pet will need immediate attention which may include emergency surgery.
Loss of appetite: can be the first indicator of an illness. They may not want to eat or are unable to eat which will be a serious health issue if it lasts over 24 hours.
Labored breathing: if your dog is having trouble breathing, they are not getting enough oxygen to their lungs. Plus, in the case of heart failure, the heart will not be able to pump blood to the muscles and other tissues. This could be labored breathing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. There may be an accumulation of fluid around the heart and / or lungs causing the symptoms.
Redness of the eye: could involve one or both eyes. Causes could be a foreign body in the eye, glaucoma which is pressure with the eye itself, or certain diseases. It may affect the cornea, the third eyelid, or the eye ball it’s self. If left untreated, it could lead to blindness.
Distended abdomen: known as bloat, it is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. An enlargement of the liver, spleen or kidneys may also give the appearance of a swollen abdomen. The accumulation of fluid will place pressure on the lungs causing labored breathing. This is an emergency situation.
Bleeding and bruising: abnormal clotting can occur on the skin, the mucous membranes (the gums), the internal organs, tissues and the body cavity.
Coughing: continuous coughing could be pneumonia, heartworms, tumors in the lungs, kennel cough, an obstruction in the windpipe or heath failure. Persistent coughing needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet, please contact your veterinarian right away. Make sure to let the vet assistant or technician on staff know how long your pet has been displaying the symptom(s) and if they have worsened. This may help the veterinarian decide what could be the causing of the symptom(s) and / or if they are related to a known illness.
As an owner, or someone in an animal career there are many symptoms in pets that should not be ignored. The symptoms listed below may help you save your pet or a clients pet. Please make sure to contact a veterinarian right away if you notice any of these symptoms in your own pet, or a client’s pet.
•Fainting or collapse: a sudden loss of consciousness can cause your dog to loss strength and fall. Dogs usually recover fairly quickly and can appear normal afterwards. However, whatever caused your dog to collapse needs to be addressed by your veterinarian as soon as possible.
•Weight loss: can be considered clinically important if it goes over 10 of the
normal body weight. The reasons vary greatly including gum disease and / or tooth problems, reduced caloric intake, tumors in the stomach or intestines, worms, or cancer.
•Trouble urinating: if your dog is straining to urinate, shows discomfort while
urinating or makes frequent attempts to urinate, there are several underlying causes and they must be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Symptoms include constant licking of the urogenital region, crying out when attempting to pass urine or turning around and looked at the urogenital area while trying to urinate. Do not wait as this is an emergency situation.
•Jaundice: when there is an appearance of yellow in the whites of the eyes, gums or skin. This is caused by an elevated amount of bilirubin in the blood. Although there are many causes, it is an abnormal condition and needs to be checked out by the veterinarian.
•Excessive drinking and / or urination: This is a classic sign of diabetes mellitus, thyroid gland problems, or pyometra, which is an infection of the uterus in a female.
•Convulsion or seizures: Can vary from a serious episode of falling down, barking, paddling, uncontrolled urination and defecation to a slight twitching to the face and can last from several seconds to several minutes. Although not a disease, it is a sign of a type of neurological disorder with the cause being tumors, an ingested toxin such as antifreeze or a form of epilepsy. Make an appointment with your veterinarian as tests will need to be run. Check with the veterinary assistant on duty to verify which tests will be needed.
Fever: The normal temperature for a dog varies from 100.5 to 102.5 Fahrenheit.
Although a fever is believed to be the result of the body’s defense system to fight bacteria or viruses, a prolonged fever can have long term adverse effects.
Since the life cycle of the flea and tick vary between several weeks to several months it may take that long to get the infestation under control so be patient. Fleas combs, dips, shampoos, sprays and powders will usually kill the fleas and ticks that are on your pet: however, you must remember to treat the environment also. There are many choices for killing and / or preventing fleas and ticks on your pet but be sure to check with your veterinarian before combining fleas products such as shampoos along with topical products and / or foggers for your home. You can also get assistance in choosing the right products from an ABC Certified Veterinary Assistant.
Keeping your pets out of the grasses and wooded areas will help to keep ticks from attaching to them: however, fleas are prevalent in all areas.
Once a month flea and tick products are applied to a small area along the back or neck of the pet. They last the longest, are the easiest to use and are contained in pre-packaged doses. But some only kill fleas and not ticks so it is important to read the product information before using. It is also vital that these products are used correctly:
- Use the correct dose for the correct weight of the pet.
- Do not apply more than the recommended dose – more of the topical flea and / or tick product is not better and can cause serious side effects including skin irritation or sickness.
- Never apply topical flea and / or tick products that are made for dogs on cats: this can cause serious illness or even death.
Shampoos and Dips:
Some shampoos have a residual action as opposed to dips but should be applied in a well ventilated area. When shampooing or applying a dip, the entire animal must be covered and the shampoo and / or dip be allowed to sit for several minutes (read the instructions carefully) before rinsing the pet. It is important to not only protect the eyes of your pet (shampoo and dips will sting the eyes and may cause ulcers on the corneas) but also the ears. Placing a cotton ball just slightly into opening of the ear will keep any shampoo and / or dip from entering the ear canal. If you are not comfortable doing this yourself make an appointment with the veterinary assistant or receptionist at your local veterinary hospital.
Powders can be quite messy so use in a well ventilated area and try not to inhale any of the powder yourself. It is important that the powder reaches the skin of your pet so you must lay the fur opposite the growth and apply well. Do not allow the powder to fall into your pet’s eyes as it will cause irritation.
Cervical Vertebral Instability, more commonly known as Wobbler Syndrome, is a deformity of the spinal column typically seen in large breed dogs like Doberman Pinchers and Great Danes. Although this syndrome is relatively rare, genetic background, lifestyle and traumatic injury can predispose some dogs to developing this disease. It is thought that early nutrition may play a role in the development of this disease. Large breeds tend to go through quick growth spurts during puppy hood.
A few studies have shown that large breed puppies which are fed diets designed to promote fast growth may be at a higher risk of developing this disease. Disproportionate growth can cause deformity and compression of the vertebrae, thereby damaging the cervical portion of the spine. As an ABC Certified Veterinary Assistant, you may be called upon to care for these animals during hospitalization. These animals typically require a high degree of care due to the sensitive and painful nature of this condition.
Dogs with Cervical Vertebral Instability typically have an obvious uncoordinated gate, weakness or lameness in the hind limbs. In a standing position, the hind legs may appear to be spaced awkwardly apart and bent (not fully extended) which makes the dog look as if it is crouching. Diagnosis typically involves injecting a radioactive solution into the spinal column. Many veterinary hospitals may not have the proper equipment to perform such a test. Many dogs suspected of having this disease may be referred to a Veterinary College for testing.
Initial treatment of Wobblers typically involves medication to reduce inflammation around the affected vertebrae. Dogs with a confirmed diagnosis of Cervical Vertebral Instability will require surgery to relieve the compression around the spinal cord in order to relieve the dog of pain and help prevent further damage. This surgery is not considered curative. However, the purpose of this surgery is to prevent further damage to the spinal cord and to relieve any pain. Success is dependant upon the amount of existing damage. Some loss of function in the hind limbs may be permanent and can predispose these dogs to arthritis of the knees, hips and back.
There is no specific diagnostic testing that can reveal when or if a puppy is going to develop this disease. Wobbler Syndrome is generally not noticed until the dog has developed a noticeable wobbling walk. Veterinary assistants should be familiar with risk factors associated with the development of Cervical Vertebral Instability in order to provide the best possible care for these special patients.
During the holidays it is extremely important for a Veterinary Assistant to know all of the hazards that can occur to the family pets. Knowledge is power and if pet owners are educated, they can make sure their pets have a safe, fun, and happy holiday season.
Halloween is an extremely important holiday to be educated on as there is a large amount of candy that is circulating the family home. Many Halloween treats, mainly chocolate, can be poisonous to dogs and cats. Candy should be kept in a location where it is not easily knocked over and spilled on the floor, which grants easy access to our furry friends.
Decorations can also be hazardous. Remember to keep open flames out of reach from inquiring noses and paws. A great alternative to candles are electric flameless candles that can be found at all locations that sell Halloween décor. It is also the job of Veterinary Assistant to caution owners on the safety risks of certain décor like cotton spider webs and their plastic spiders. These tend to be of interest to cats and dogs. The suggestion should be made that these decorations should be hung at a high enough location that the family pets are unable to reach.
A fun toy to play with during the holiday season is silly string. Silly string is known to be poisonous to ingest. This is why it is very important for the Veterinary Assistant to caution pet owners about this hazard. This product should be cleaned up after the festivities are completed and kept away from pets in the home. Be mindful of your four legged family members whenever you are having a holiday party or fun festivities. Pets should be kept in a location away from the front door, since during Halloween the door is likely to be opened frequently and possibly for long periods of time. Frightening costumes and loud noises could scare your pet and cause them to flee or suffer from noise fright.
As much as we humans love to dress up for Halloween, our domesticated partners may not be so thrilled. Owners will need to be considerate of their pets’ comfort and health. Some costumes are known to be constricting and uncomfortable to pets. Little Fluffy should not be made to wear something that could cause her harm. If you do decide to place your pet in a costume, it should be checked to make sure that it does not fit too tightly or agitate your furry friend.
Sadly, another big thing to remember is that all cat owners should keep their feline companions inside on Halloween. Cats are known to disappear on this holiday, so pet owners should err on the cautious side and keep them in for the night. Client education is a very large role to a Veterinary Assistant and should be considered one of the top tasks to be completed on or near any major holiday.
Dogs and cats have different blood types which can be an important factor before a blood transfusion is given. Just like humans, animal blood types do not change so the test would only have to be done once. Also, just like humans, if an incorrect blood type is given to an animal, especially in cats, reactions can occur.
The blood types for cats are A and B with a rare type of AB. Cats with the rare AB type can be universal recipients for blood transfusions, which mean they can receive either type A or Type B blood. The majority of cats in the United States are Type A. For dogs, there are eight to twelve canine blood groups which are categorized under the DEA system. DEA stands Dog Erythrocyte Antigen with Erythrocyte being the red blood cells. The system is grouped into a DEA category followed by a number or numbers which indicates the antigens that are present on the red blood cells. An antigen is something that can induce the formation of antibodies.
In order to determine what blood type your dog has, the veterinarian, veterinary technician or veterinary assistant must draw a blood sample. This blood sample is dropped onto a type of well that contains certain proteins that is then mixed with a blood typing fluid. This fluid is then checked for clumping. If clumping occurs, the dog would be considered a DEA 1.1 positive. Dogs do not seem to have any naturally occurring antibodies as cats or even humans. Cross matching, which is used to detect antibodies in the dog that is receiving the transfusion with the antibodies in the dog that is giving the blood, may seem less important. However, if the dog receiving the blood has had a transfusion before, it should be cross matched to make sure the blood is compatible before receiving subsequent blood transfusions.
For cats, blood must be drawn and deposited in two wells, one marked “A” and one marked “B”. If the blood that is dropped into well A clumps, the cat is a Type A. If there is clumping in well B, the cat is type B. If the clumping occurs in both well A and well B, the cat is type AB. There are certain disorders or diseases that will cause the blood to clot. This means that the blood must be sent to a special laboratory that would be able to detect the blood type despite the naturally occurring clumping.
If you are interested in having your dog or cat tested for blood type, contact your veterinarian and speak to the veterinary assistant about scheduling a test.
Just like in human medical emergencies, giving blood to a veterinary patient can save a life. There are programs where owners can register their dog and sometimes their cat to become a blood donor. Critical care animals with clotting issues, cancer, anemia or some types of injury (such as having been hit by a car that caused internal bleeding) need blood or plasma. Depending upon the city where you live, there may be a volunteer based animal blood bank. Check with your veterinarian or veterinary assistant to receive a list of local animal blood banks that may be near you. Keep in mind that while some blood banks utilize both dog and cat donors, many are dog only banks.
There are certain guidelines for a pet to become a blood donor:
- They must be friendly and even tempered
- They must be between the ages of one to six years old
- They must be in general good health
- They must be current on vaccines and on heartworm preventive medication (if the area you live in is prevalent with heartworm)
- Females must be spayed and have never been pregnant
- They must have never been a recipient of a blood transfusion
- Cats must be indoor cats only and cannot have a heart murmur
- They must be a large dog (over 50 pounds) or a large cat (over 10 pounds)
If your pet meets these requirements, an initial blood screening with a physical examination must be preformed and you may have to commit your pet to donate six to eight times a year for dogs and four to six times a year for cats.
The actual blood donation usually takes around 30 minutes but many hospitals require the pet to stay for several hours after donating as nourishing fluids are given to replace the blood that was removed. Sedation is not usually necessary for dogs and they will need to be fasting for 10 to 12 hours prior to donation. During an average dog blood donation, approximately 450 milliliters or 16 ounces of blood will be taken. A catheter is usually placed so the replacement fluids can be given intravenously.
Cats are usually given a mild sedative to keep them calm. During an average cat blood donation around 60 milliliters or 2 ounces of blood are taken and replacement fluids are given under the skin to hydrate them. The area around the neck is shaved and surgically scrubbed as the jugular vein is utilized for obtaining the blood.
Being part of a blood donation program not only means you and your pet are saving lives but your pet will receive annual blood work, heartworm, Lyme disease and other screening tests for free.
Most blood banks have some type of donor program along with membership requirements. Membership usually includes benefits such as free blood products for the life of the donor and its housemates.
Let’s talk about the most prevalent disease that affects our beloved furry family members; periodontal disease. Periodontal disease affects up to 85 of dogs and cats by the time they are 4 years old. It is estimated that 80 of people brush their teeth daily. What would you guess the percentage is for our canine and feline counterparts? Oral health is as important for our pets as it is for us.
Periodontal disease affects 4 types of tissues in the mouth that support the tooth structure; the gums (gingival), cementum (a boney like connective tissue that covers the roots of the tooth), the periodontal ligament (fibers that actually connect the tooth to your jaw bone) and the jaw bone itself which is called the alveolar bone.
The first stage of periodontal disease is gingivitis. This is the only stage that is reversible. It starts with plaque accumulation. Plaque is what we call a bio-film composed of mucin (which is a protein found in saliva), skin cells of the oral cavity, and bacteria (lots of them!). Once removed, plaque will reform within 24 to 48 hours.
The second stage of periodontal disease occurs when plaque has combined with mineral salts found in food and tartar has formed. Most humans stay within the tartar range, but since most of us do not take our animals in for their 6 month dental check up, animals develop something called calculus, which is a very thick layer of tartar. Once this calculus accumulates the bacteria levels have increased. Calculus is also really irritating to the gum tissues. The bacteria combined with the irritated tissues can change the pH of the mouth, allowing the bacteria to move under the gums. The waste product from these bacteria actually eats away at the supporting tissues, such as the periodontal ligament, resulting in a 25 loss of tooth support.
The third and fourth stage is a more progressive form of the first two stages which results in loss of the periodontal ligament and alveolar bone. Not only is this causing discomfort to your pet, but studies have shown, (in both humans and pets) that periodontal disease also affects other organ systems, causing kidney dysfunction, heart damage and even diabetes.
Prevention is the key. If your animal already has calculus formation, it must be removed professionally at your veterinarian’s office. Many people have concerns about placing their animal under anesthesia and have heard about “anesthetic-free” dental cleanings. These are usually performed by non-licensed individuals who have had minimal training. This is considered practicing veterinary medicine without a license and is illegal. Firstly, bacteria found inside the mouth becomes aerosolized when being removing mechanically. When your animal is having a professional cleaning, an endotracheal tube is placed into the trachea to provide a pathway for the gas anesthetic to reach the animal. This endotracheal tube also protects the lungs from these bacteria, preventing a lung infection. The animal is not protected if they are awake. Secondly, it can be very painful to the animal, particularly if there is an infection. Thirdly, this type of “cleaning” can do more damage than good, for both the operator as well as the animal. The facilitator getting bit by the animal is only one hazard. If the animal makes a sudden movement, oral tissue can be profoundly damaged.
Once your animal has had their teeth professionally cleaned, you may start on a home routine. Your veterinary assistant can show you techniques that will effectively remove plaque formation. While there is a flood of products on the market that claim to keep your pet’s mouth in excellent shape, nothing takes the place of mechanically removing the plaque.
One of the first things to note is that you must be dedicated to this. The “occasional brushing” defeats the entire purpose. It must be done on a regular basis, minimally three times a week. The ideal scenario would be a daily cleaning for your pet. If you do start a home regimen, remember, animals do not spit and fluoride is toxic if swallowed. You need to be sure that you are using an animal specific dentifrice. They often come in animal friendly flavors, like chicken or fish, and have enzymes that assist in breaking down the plaque. Your veterinary assistant will recommend introducing this to your pet by letting them lick a bit of paste from your finger. You will want to gradually introduce the brush and increase frequency once accepted. Most dogs will allow this to be done. Cats, however, are individual with their acceptance, but do not let one “not so perfect” incident discourage you. Patience and perseverance will result in a healthy, long lived relationship with your furry family member!
One of the most common orthopedic problems in dogs is a torn anterior cruciate ligament. If you are a sports fan, you are very familiar with this injury, especially since it puts the player’s career on hold. A torn anterior cruciate ligament (or ACL) is a tear of the ligament (tissue holding two bones together ), located in the knee.
The dog will limp usually although sometimes the limp going away for a while despite the presence of the tear. The inside of the knee can swell up. The veterinarian’s exam will include a physical examination and x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. During the exam the vet holds the femur in place and if the ligament is torn, the tibia will usually slide forward when manipulated. While examining the x-ray, the veterinarian is looking for fluid retention, possible bone fragments and the degree of arthritis that has set in.
In dogs, ACL is caused by a variety of possible factors. One of these factors is heredity. Certain breeds have had higher occurrences of torn ACL’s then others. Also, obesity will put more stress on the knee and potentially lead to knee degeneration. Or it can be a simple mis-step that finishes off the already affected but not yet torn ligament.
In small dogs, under 30 lbs, the veterinarian may opt to restrict the dog`s activity and prescribe anti-inflammatory medication. With the proper care the ligament will start healing and the condition may improve between 6 weeks to 2 months. Keep in mind that a lack of a healthy ACL may cause bone spurs, pain, arthritis and decreased range of motion.
In the case of large dogs, surgical repair is required, as the ligament is not able to heal on it’s own due to excessive size and body pressure. There are multiple surgical techniques, all of them with the intention of stabilizing and reconstructing the joint. They can consist of using synthetic sutures to re-create the ligament or cutting and repositioning the bone with plates and screws. Post-operation, the dog will not be bearing weight for about 3 weeks. With proper care, they should be able to start using the leg fully in 2 to 3 months.
Keep in mind that when one leg is affected, the other leg will carry much more weight then normal. This added strain on the unaffected leg can often lead to a tear of the ligament in the opposite knee.
When the dog is discharged from the hospital after the surgery, the veterinary assistant will make sure that the owner is thoroughly informed of the proper care. One of the things you can do at home, to help the healing, is ice the knee in order to reduce swelling. The veterinary assistant can demonstrate passive range of motion which is a great physical therapy. The emphasis needs to be placed on restricted activity, for surgical and non-surgical cases. This includes keeping the patient confined in a crate at all times during recuperation, except for leashed short walks only for the animal to void their bladder and defecate. Especially with large dogs, assistance while getting up may be needed. For giant breeds you may need to use the sling up to 4 weeks, while small breeds may not need any assistance at all. If the dog is overweight, a diet needs to be implemented. Hydrotherapy is also a great low impact exercise, but it is up to the veterinarian’s discretion to include it as a part of the treatment plan.
In short, if you notice your dog being lame on a hind leg, take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible, not only to treat the problem, but also to prevent any possible complications. Unaddressed injury can cause permanent lameness and pain.
Dog parks have popped up all over the United States. These parks provide a chance for that couch potato pooch to get up, get moving and meet new friends! Dogs, just like humans, need both physical and mental stimulation to achieve a sense of well being. (They say a tired dog is a good dog!) Dog parks provide this outlet. However, there are a few things to consider before you pack up Fluffy and head on over!
Many people think that if they put their Maltese in with that group of Boxers, all will be fine and they will naturally form a play pack. This is not necessarily the case. It’s important to assess your own dog’s personality. Even though you may feel that this would be a great experience to get out and meet new friends, your dog may not be the social butterfly type and he may prefer long walks with you or maybe some playtime in a familiar environment with familiar dogs. Dog fights are no joke (for both the dogs as well as the owners involved) and if you know that your dog may not be the best fit to run with the pack, then it’s best to respect your dog’s personal boundaries.
Are You Current On Your Vaccines?
Dog parks are a bit like preschool! Sharing is caring, but do you want that adorable Lab puppy to share his Parvo with your pooch? Many viruses can be shed through feces without the animal showing any outward symptoms themselves. This particular virus is pretty hardy and can remain in the soil for over a year! Not only is picking up after your dog good etiquette, it also keeps communicable diseases (and parasites) from being spread via dirt and soil in a dog park.
Bordetella (Kennel Cough) Vaccine Option
A common infection that dogs love to share is Bordetella, more commonly known as Kennel Cough. It’s a complex of viruses and bacteria, but it’s quite contagious and airborne. As with Parvo, the animal can look perfectly healthy but still be contagious. While there are a few other very contagious viruses that can be shared, the core vaccinations for dogs usually have incorporated these components in what is frequently called the “distemper” vaccine. The DHLP-P stands for Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parvo and Para Influenza. Some veterinarians do not incorporate the “L”, or Leptospirosis, into the vaccinations at their office. Bordetella is a vaccine that is optional, so be sure to discuss your dog’s lifestyle with your veterinary assistant so you can be sure that his needs will be met.
Parasites- Inside and Out!
Parasites, both external (like fleas and ticks) and internal (like roundworms) are another thing that dogs do not mind sharing! Intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and giardia all may be found in a dog park environment. Again, a dog may harbor these parasites but seem perfectly healthy. However, dogs can still pass microscopic eggs on to other dogs through their feces. All it takes is your dog to walk by and have a casual sniff and get a bit of microscopic eggs on their nose. A quick lick of the nose has now introduced those eggs to your dog’s intestinal track! Luckily, most heartworm preventions and some topical preparations (by prescription only) can help prevent not only heartworms, but many of these parasites as well. Again, discuss your dogs lifestyle with your veterinary assistant and she can help you choose what heartworm and/or flea and tick treatment with the extra benefit of intestinal parasite protection will be the best fit for you and your dog.
You may think that you have to cross the dog park off of your weekend to-do list, but this does not need to be the case! The socialization with both humans and other canines is important for your dog and, of course, the exercise benefits a fit body and psyche for your canine companion. Common sense and communicating your dog’s lifestyle needs with your veterinary assistant is all that’s needed to ensure that your dog is protected and ready to romp!
In order to work with cats, whether it be as a veterinary assistant in a private practice or at home (or even as a cat trainer), it is important to know a bit about their body language and communication in order to understand them better.
How Cats Communicate
Cats actually have many ways of communication. We are probably most familiar with their voice. Cats have several types of meows, depending on what they are trying to communicate. (Fun fact: Adult cats usually don’t meow at each other. They save it for their humans.) The one we most frequently hear is the “hello” meow! Of course, this is the cat’s way of saying "welcome home," especially if he has been alone for the day. Of course, anyone who’s owned a cat can tell you about the slightly more urgent meow of "food time." Additionally, if you have a cat that goes outside, you will note the longer meow of "please let me in."
When a Cat Yowls
You may note that a previously quiet cat may become more vocal as he ages too. Cats can suffer from cognitive dysfunction and become confused. If you couple this with a bit of elderly loss of hearing, your senior cat may yowl! This yowl will be made loudly to seek reassurance from his owners.
Other Cat Noises
Along with meows, cats have a wide repertoire of chirps, growls, hisses and purrs. Cats will frequently chirp or chatter when highly excited. For example, they can become excited when they are hunting and have spotted prey (or if they are indoor cats, when they have an interactive toy that they are “hunting”).
Growls and hissing are usually self-explanatory for both human and other cats. “You’ve caught me off guard, but I’m ready to tussle. Watch out!” is their main motive. Purring is, indeed, an expression of contentment; however, many people may not know that a very stressed cat (say the one in the exam room at the veterinary hospital waiting for vaccinations) may purr as well as an indication of stress.
Understanding a Cat's Body Language
Body language is the main form of communication between cats so this may be very helpful for the veterinary assistant to be able to interpret in a clinical setting. They use their ears, tail and body posturing and even facial expressions. The tail is a wonderful barometer of how the cat is feeling. A tail that is straight up, which may be shaking as well, indicates excitement. The tail that is moving side to side is indicating that this cat is becoming impatient, which could lead to a sudden whipping of the tail! Watch out! That cat is ready to strike! A tail that is hanging down means this cat is relaxed.
Watch a Cat's Facial Expression for Clues
Facial expressions can give you some insight to what kitty is thinking. Ears that are held straight up and forward signal a happy, relaxed cat. Couple that with eyelids that are partially closed and winking a bit means you have one very content kitty! If your cat’s whiskers are positioned forward while his ears are in this position with narrow pupils, but wide eyes means kitty is ready to play (watch your toes!).
A scared cat will have the whiskers positioned very close to the face, ears held flat and eyes wide with dilated pupils. Use slow movements when handling this guy. An angry cat will stare you down with narrow pupils. Those ears will be up a bit, but twisted back.
Reading Body Posture
Cats’ body posturing may be hard to determine, but when you take in other locations of the body, it’s easier to determine their state of mind. A cat that holds his head up high or stretched out along with his back legs fully extended says this is one confident feline. A cat that has slightly bent hind legs and keeps his head down a bit, along with being more compact in the body (crouching, more or less) means the cat is feeling defensive and protective. We are all familiar with the Halloween cat stance - back arched, hind legs fully planted and most of the fur erect - which means this is a very angry cat and needs to be approached with utmost caution.
When working with cats as a veterinary technician or veterinary assistant, it is important to learn to read the cat’s body language. This can mean less stress for the cat and less injury to the staff, which is a win-win experience for all.
Catnip (also known as catmint, cat’s play, catswort, Chi Hsueh Tsao) is a perennial herb, a member of the mint family, and is best know for its hallucinogenic effects on cats. Catnip is native to Europe, Africa and Asia plus it grows in some parts of Canada and the Midwestern United States. It not only affects the common house cat but also ocelots, lions, bobcats, leopards, pumas and lynx but not tigers. Rats and mice may dislike catnip and avoid the areas where it grows.
How your cats responds to catnip is genetic as some cats (around 30) are not affected by it. The cats that do inherit the “catnip” gene do not seem to develop a reaction until around three months of age. In fact, kittens under 8 weeks of age usually have an aversion to it and will try to avoid it.
The active ingredient, nepetalactone, found in leafs and stems of the plant are what create the amusing behavioral reactions. Sniffing the catnip will create the first reaction. Cats will sniff, lick and chew on the plant, rolling or rubbing against it. They may bite it, paw at it, rub against it, roll and jump over the catnip. Purring, salivating and growling, meowing and even hissing may also be a reaction to the catnip. However, not all cats will re-act the same. Some cats may become aggressive and may fight with other cats in the household.
The effect usually lasts about 10 to 15 minutes at the most. Despite what it appears, catnip is not addicting to cats. There will be no withdrawal symptoms and they cannot overdose on it. Once the cat is done with the catnip, they will simply walk away.
The reason why exposure to catnip causes such an intense happiness is not really known. It is believed that the reaction to smelling the nepetalactone causes the cat to eat or bite the stems and leaves which releases the essential oils. Some experts feel that catnip stimulates a pleasure center that may mimic feline courtship.
Humans have used catnip for medicinal uses: drinking it like tea. It is believed to help settle an upset stomach, treat insomnia and help headaches. Some cultures use it for muscle pain and toothaches while it can also be used as an aromatic herb in cooking and salads.
Good quality catnip is dark green and smells like mint. It can be purchased from many veterinary hospitals and pet stores. It can be used fresh or dried, as an extract, an aerosol spray, as seeds or in dried form. Many cat toys contain catnip. If you are concerned about the effects of catnip on your feline family member, contact your local veterinarian and speak to the Veterinary Assistant with your concerns.
Most people think the process of caring and feeding a cat is general knowledge, but often a lot of mistakes are made. The most common error is to feed cats dog food. Cats need twice as much protein as dogs. Plus, cats also need taurine (an amino acid) in their diet along with vitamin A. Over time, a cat that has been eating dog food could develop severe heart disease and other health issues.
Unless a veterinarian advises it, do not add vitamin supplements to your cat's diet. Excessive vitamin A can cause sterility and hair loss while an overdose of vitamin D, phosphorus or calcium can cause kidney and metabolic bone disease. Supplementing vitamins are not needed as long as your cat is fed a well-balanced diet.
Contrary to popular belief, fish is not the usual diet for cats. Raw fish contains an enzyme called thiaminase that destroys thiamine, causing a B vitamin deficiency. This can result in loss of appetite, seizures and brain damage. Cooking the fish will remove the enzyme, but a regular diet of fish does not contain adequate amounts of needed vitamins and minerals. Tuna as an occasional treat is fine per most veterinarians. However, tuna does not contain enough vitamin E and can cause yellow fat disease, or Hepatic Lipidosis, which damages the liver.
Many owners these days think a homemade diet is best. However, a homemade diet may not necessarily mean a healthy diet. Unlike dogs, cats are carnivores (dogs, like humans, are omnivores.) Feeding a cat a diet loaded with tuna, liver or oils, such as cod liver oil, can lead to vitamin A toxicity, which could result in dry skin, brittle bones and joint pain. If you wish to feed your cat a homemade diet, be sure to check with your veterinary technician or veterinary assistant who can recommend a good balanced diet.
As with dogs, cats should not be given table scraps, as they are usually too spicy and contain too much fat. Plus, feeding scraps from the table can lead to begging and/or stealing from the table. In addition, do not give any type of bone to cats. Chicken or turkey bones can splinter causing injury, and beef or pork bones can become lodged in the intestinal track.
Everyone knows cats tend to love milk. However, cats are lactose intolerant and giving them milk can cause diarrhea. Also, milk should never replace water intake as the resulting diarrhea can cause dehydration.
Lastly, feed the correct food for your cat’s stage of life. If you have a kitten, it is important to feed beginning-stage cat food since it contains more protein and fat than regular adult cat food.
As with some humans, cats are known to eat strange things. The urge to eat “non-food items” is known as “pica,” and is common for many of our feline friends. For example, there is a behavior called “wool sucking,” which occurs in cats that are weaned too soon. The younger the kitten, the greater the urge to nurse and the more likely it will suck on wool. This means fuzzy items such as sweaters, stuffed animals, towels and fleece will fall victim to this behavior.
Causes of Pica?
Some cats might find other strange items irresistible: paper, plastic grocery bags, houseplants, carpet and even electrical cords. Usually there is nothing to worry about; however, pica can be associated with several diseases, such as feline immunodeficiency or feline leukemia. In any case, a cat needs to be examined by a veterinarian since pica can be caused by several things:
Genetics: Wool sucking is seen more commonly in Siamese and Birman cats (not to be confused with Burmese cats). Wool sucking could be more of a nursing behavior, which is related to kneading.
Dietary Deficiencies: While it is normal for cats to eat a bit of grass, eating a large amount of plant material could mean something is missing from their diet. Eating cat litter might mean the cat is anemic.
Medical Issues: Besides feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency (or FIV), pica can also be associated with diabetes or brain tumors.
Environmental Conditions: Cats can get bored and therefore might need more mental or physical stimulation. Cats might also be seeking attention, be hungry, or are attracted to scents (grocery bags that contained meats, for example). It might also be a learned behavior.
Compulsive Disorder: If all other possibilities, such as a medical issue, have been ruled out, pica might be a compulsive disorder.
Although it mainly shows up in younger cats, pica can also appear in older cats as well. While occasional chewing on items should not be a problem, pica could be dangerous. Chewing on power cords can be a major problem; so is ingesting foreign materials, which can cause blockage in the stomach or the intestine. Either way, it can be fatal to a cat.
How often do you take your pets to the veterinarian? Every owner should have their pet examined at least once a year. If your pet is older, you should take him in for a check up every 6 months.
Why do older pets need to be seen more often?
As with humans, pets can develop health problems as they age. The rate of aging in a typical family pet is much higher than that for a human. For all dogs, the first year of life (in human terms) equals 15 dog years—that’s a lot higher than to the once standard 7 to 1 ratio. At 5 years, the average canine is about 36 years old. Once an animal reaches 6 years of age, the size of the animal comes into play. A large breed dog (weighing in around 50-plus pounds) will begin accumulating more dog years than that of a small breed dog (weighing in around 20 pounds or less).
For example, a large breed dog at age 10 will be the equivalent of a 66-year-old man; whereas a small breed dog will be the equivalent of a 56-year-old human. As one can see, that is about a 10 year age difference.
Blood & Urine Tests
Once critical part of an annual exam is blood and urine tests. A young healthy pet may only need a basic blood panel to check for parasites and organ functions. In contrast, older pets may need additional testing to determine how well their liver, kidneys and basic body chemistry are functioning. These tests can also reveal issues with a pet’s thyroid and lymph nodes.
For older pets, the veterinarian may order imaging diagnostics, such as radiographs. These are exceedingly important as they will help show if arthritis is beginning to form within the joints. Early detection can greatly help with your pet’s longevity as well as his quality of life.
The annual examination is also a good way for pet owners to learn about any parasites that can be found in their area, as well as the various preventative treatments that can be done to prevent infestation.
A pet’s annual exam is just as important for him as it is for you. The length and quality of your pet’s life can be enhanced through the knowledge gained during an exam. Have you taken your pet for his annual exam yet?
Spring is here. Say goodbye to winter, get your four legged companion and go for an enjoyable hike. But wait; is your dog properly protected for a springtime outing?
The most common pest that your dog can pick up on a walk— or at home—is fleas. Infestation can be easily prevented (or eliminated) with a number of products currently available, from topical treatments to oral tablets.
Another pest you may encounter outdoors is mosquitoes, which can spread diseases, such as heartworm. Dogs with heartworm infections can develop often life-threatening problems over time. The worms grow in the heart and can migrate to other organs. In regions where the temperature is consistently above 57°F year-round, a prevention schedule is highly recommended. Your veterinarian can perform a simple heartworm test as a part of your dog’s annual check up and recommend the appropriate products for prevention.
Animals that share the wonderful outdoors, such as raccoons, coyotes and squirrels, can also transmit internal parasites. As a puppy, your dog was dewormed, but that doesn’t mean he has a life-long protection. He can also become infected with parasites later in life. Your veterinarian can test your dog’s stool during an annual exam and, if needed, provide treatment for him.
While some parasites can be a nuisance and a health risk to your dog, they can also affect you. One in particular is Leptospirosis. It is transmitted by a microscopic organism, Leptospira, and its toxins can affect kidneys and liver. The contaminated animal (small mammals, deer and even domestic stock) voids the bladder and spreads live Leptospira, which could come in contact with your dog. There is an optional vaccine available; however, your dog might have an adverse reaction to it. Therefore, you should discuss the pros and cons of the vaccine with your veterinarian. The best way to avoid Leptospirosis is limiting your dog’s access to contaminated water.
Another concern for both you and your dog is Lyme disease. It is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to pets and humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Lyme disease has a variety of symptoms and can be difficult to diagnose and treat. There is a Lyme disease vaccine for dogs; check with your veterinarian about the risk of the disease in your area. It is also a good idea to use tick-repellant products, such as collars or topicals, that can prevent ticks from attaching to your dog. Don’t forget to check your dog after a walk for any ticks that might have hitched a ride.
There are a variety of products available to help protect your dog from parasites and pests. Some can combat multiple problems; for example, a product that kills fleas, can also prevent heartworm disease, and treat and control hookworm, roundworm and whipworms. Ask your veterinarian to help you select a product that will be best suited for your dog. Preventive care goes a long way.
When you trim your dog’s nails, you should pay special attention to his dewclaws. They lay a bit higher than the rest of the paw’s toes and are similar to human thumbs, except they aren’t functional. They can be found on the front as well as the hind legs. In many dogs, the dewclaws never touch the ground and thus the nails might need to be shortened. Depending on their location and your dog’s specific breed anatomy, dewclaws sometimes hang or dangle and are prone to being injured during activities. This can lead to pain, infections and eventually, veterinary intervention.
The Advantage and Disadvantage of Dewclaws
Certain breed types, such as hunting dogs, will have their dewclaws removed as puppies in order to prevent ripping and tearing when working in overgrown terrain. The procedure is usually done at the age 2 to 5 days old and requires only local anesthetic by a veterinarian.On the other hand, for agility trial dogs dewclaws can be helpful in changing direction and traction; their removal can present a disadvantage. Dogs also use it to grasp a bone or toy. Mountain breeds, such as Great Pyrenees, have dewclaws on their rear legs as a breed standard. You might even find double dewclaws on the same foot.
Should Dewclaws Be Removed?
Unlike declawing cats, which involves the removal of the tips of fingers and toes, dewclawing in dogs involves only the removal of the first digits or “thumbs”. At the time of spaying or neutering, your veterinarian might discuss the removal of your dog’s dewclaws if they are not “properly” attached and could present future problems. In such cases, the dewclaws have very little bone and muscle attachments and are connected only by the dog’s skin. As mentioned, the procedure is pretty simple for puppies; however, for an adult dog, the procedure requires general anesthesia and bandages. Aftercare can be challenging, as a dog will tend to lick at the suture site. The veterinary office staff can help you select the appropriate after-surgical measures, such as using an Elizabethan collar or no-chew sprays.
There has been a lot of controversy on the topic of removing dewclaws, especially since certain breeders sell puppies “dewclawed.” In some countries this practice is illegal. For most adult dogs, removing dewclaws is considered unnecessary aesthetic surgery. If a dog’s dewclaws do not present a problem, they are to be left alone.
Almost every dog enjoys a good walk or jog with his or her owner. A trip to the dog park can be fun, too. But there are many other ways to spend quality time with your dog. Play is a great way to exercise your dog. It also strengthens the bond between you and, of course, it's fun!All Dogs Enjoy PlayingNot only puppies but dogs of all ages enjoy playing. You might need to slow it down for older dogs, but there is no reason why a healthy senior dog shouldn't have some fun, too.
Different Types of Playing
Different dogs naturally have different styles of play. Retrievers love a good game of fetch, while terriers might prefer tug-o-war. Scent hounds, such as Beagles and Bassets, can use their natural gift to find hidden toys or even people. Herding dogs, such as Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, love to play chase. While many breeds have a tendency toward a specific behavior, a little training will most likely be necessary in order to teach your dog how to play each game.
Choose fetch toys carefully. An enthusiastic dog can break a tooth trying to catch a bone, or other hard object. A ball that is small enough to fit down your dog’s throat could wind up lodged in her windpipe, choking her. Plastic, rubber or cloth bar-shaped toys designed specifically for fetching can be purchased at many pet supply stores. Some even float for fetching in the pool or lake. Life vests made for dogs of all sizes can help make this game fun and safe.
Classic Tennis Ball Dog Toy
Tennis balls are a favorite fetch toy, too. There are several products specifically made to sling or launch tennis balls, so you can get more distance with less effort. Plush dog toys can be used indoors when a more gentle game of fetch is desired, or if the weather makes it necessary to stay inside.Rugged cloth and rope toys are great for tug games—just make sure to let your dog do the tugging. Pulling too hard can loosen teeth, and jerking back and forth can cause neck injury.
Hide and Seek for Dogs
Even dogs not specifically bred for tracking have a superior sense of smell and can get enjoyment out of seeking a hidden object. Some toys are infused with alluring scents to make them irresistible. Hide one in your home or yard and then encourage your dog to find it. You can also play "hide and seek" with your dog. If your dog doesn't perform the "stay" command well enough, someone can sit with your dog while you "hide," and then can encourage your dog to "seek."
A game of chase can also be fun and exciting. The little red dot from a laser toy is irresistible to many dogs. They can't help but follow it where ever it goes. (Note: To avoid injury, don't aim the beam directly into your dog’s eyes.)
Challenge Your Pup Mentally
Games that challenge your dog mentally are equally important. You can make a game out of asking your dog to bring you a specific toy.Psychology professor John Pilley has taken this game to amazing lengths. He has taught Chaser, his Border Collie, the names of more than 1,000 different toys. While he only offers up a couple dozen at once, he continually shuffles the selection. When he asks his dog for a specific toy, she searches through the available toys, locates the one he has asked for and brings it to him. Most of us are not willing or able to dedicate the several hours a day (for years) to see just what our own dog can learn. We can, however, teach our dogs the names of a few toys and can enjoy this game as much as Professor Pilley and Chaser do.
"Play While Your Away" Toys
There are also toys made to dispense treats as your dog plays. These types of toys are designed to encourage your dog to play while you are away, but they can also be fun and entertaining while you are home together. If used on a regular basis, you can simply allot some of your dog’s daily amount of dry food to be dispensed from the toy. Otherwise, this is one game that could cause your dog to actually gain weight.
Whichever games you choose, make play a part of your daily routine. Make a point to reward appropriate play behavior so the game stays fun and interesting for your dog. Remember, the highlight of your dog's day is spending time with you, so...go play.
By Karen Doane, RVT
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Does Your Pet Really Need Pre-Surgical Blood Work?
It's time for you to get Fluffy spayed and Fido neutered. So why then does the veterinarian recommend blood work on your puppy and kitten? Aren’t they young and healthy? Spays and neuters are commonplace and most veterinary hospitals perform several of them everyday, so what’s the big deal?
Blood Tests Uncover Health Issues
Even though these surgeries happen routinely, it doesn't mean they should be taken lightly. Any surgical or anesthetic procedure can pose a risk even for a young and seemingly healthy pet. More than likely, your young dog or cat is in excellent health and can easily undergo anesthesia and surgery without any ill effects at all. However, very rarely, even a young pet can have an as-yet-discovered health issue that could cause serious problems during anesthesia. This is why, when the veterinary assistant reviews your estimate for the spay or neuter with you before the surgery, it will include a pre-surgical blood panel.
Your Pet May Need Special Anesthetics
A lot can be determined about the health of your pet with a very small blood sample. Your veterinary team can perform a wide variety of tests that are quick, accurate and cost-effective.
Some anesthetic agents must be metabolized through the kidneys or liver. A pet with healthy internal organs will have no trouble with the process of anesthesia and recovery, but one with compromised hepatic (liver) or renal (kidney) function can have severe issues processing some of the common—and usually very safe—anesthetic agents. After reviewing the blood test results, your veterinarian will know whether or not your pet will require special anesthetics to safely undergo the procedure.
Health and Quantity of Blood Cells Matter
Pre-surgical blood work can also be used to make sure there are enough healthy red blood cells necessary to carry oxygen to maintain the function of vital tissues and organs. Still other tests check to see if the numbers and types of white blood cells indicate any type of infection. The blood’s ability to clot effectively will also be tested, as this is of extreme importance during any surgical procedure. Your veterinarian will advise you as to which steps should be taken to correct these conditions so your pet can safely undergo the procedure.
Yearly Tests Can Spot Problems Earlier
Make no mistake. A blood test that shows everything is working normally is definitely not a waste of time or money. Finding out your pet has normal results is valuable information to have for the moment, and can also prove useful in the years to come. The veterinarian will be able to compare today’s results with those from each yearly wellness check-up in the future. As a result, this information can be used to spot health issues early, giving you the opportunity to begin treatment quickly—at the earliest stage of the problem—which could ultimately improve your pet’s quality of life and add years too.
By Karen Doane, RVT
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Everyone knows cats are persnickety when it comes to being clean. However, uncontrollable scratching, chewing, or biting not only causes a cat problem, but is also a concern for the owner. Known as psychogenic alopecia (loss of hair or, in this case, fur), it is considered a compulsive behavior disorder and can be due to several situations.
A change in a cat’s environment (moving to a new home, birth of a child, new pet added to the household, etc.) can disrupt what she considers her daily routine. This change can trigger tension. When a cat grooms, she releases endorphins that make the cat feel better. However, if the tension continues, the cat continues to lick until the grooming becomes excessive.
Sometimes parasites, such as fleas, ticks, and ear mites, or dry and itchy skin can trigger tension. Pain in a localized area, such as a paw or back, a growth, or tumor on the skin can also trigger excessive grooming. Arthritis pain in any joint can cause the cat to concentrate extreme licking on one area. Medical conditions, such as cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), problems with anal sacs, and even hyperthyroidism (a common glandular disorder in cats) can cause stress. Some indoor cats become bored due to reduced exercise and less stimulation, and the lack of interest in their surroundings can manifest in extreme grooming.
Cats normally spend more than 30 percent of their lives grooming, so spotting a cat who is over grooming can be a challenge. Signs of over grooming include: fur that is down to stubble or large patches of missing fur. You might also find big clumps of fur on the floor or on the cat’s bedding. The cat can also appear nervous and tend to hide, bite herself, or not eat.
If you suspect your cat is over grooming, a trip to the veterinarian will be the first place to start to rule out any medical issues. If the cause isn’t medical, your cat may need more stimuli to reduce stress. Your cat may need more attention (especially if another pet has been added to the household), interactive toys, one-on-one playtime, or even a window perch so she can view birds and other goings-on outside. The veterinarian may also recommend pheromone therapy to help your cat feel less stressed.
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