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Cat Collars Save Lives


In the near future, the City of New Port Richey will discuss a new animal control ordinance designed to prevent animal homelessness and improve welfare for stray dogs and cats within the City. The ordinance will encourage sterilizing pets as well as identifying pets by using collars, license tags, and registered microchips. I hope the citizens of New Port Richey will embrace this important step in improving the lives of dogs and cats in our community. The mention of licensing, tagging, and microchipping pet cats will likely cause anxiety for cat owners, especially since there has never been an official concern for the welfare of cats in Pasco County

Such ordinances are nothing new for dog owners. Control efforts for canines have effectively reduced the number of dogs surrendered to local shelters and significantly reduced euthanasia rates for local dogs. The same good news does not apply to cats, however.

Historically, our animal control efforts have ignored cats in an effort to save taxpayer’s money. But the principle of “unintended consequences” applies. By doing nothing about cats, the most common animal surrendered now surrendered to our local animal shelters is feline. More than 7000 cats are handed over by citizens to the local animal shelter each year. Less than 10% of those cats leave the shelter alive. That is unacceptable.

The new ordinance will not result in animal control officers searching your neighborhood for loose cats. Nobody has the time or inclination to do that. But the new ordinance will ask cat owners to buy a license for your rabies-vaccinated cat to wear attached to its collar. If you also have your cat microchipped and sterilized, then the cost of the license will be reduced. Funds from the sale of cat licenses will support a fund for subsidizing spay/neuter costs for pet-owning residents of New Port Richey. The funds will also subsidize Trap/neuter/Return efforts to reduce the numbers of free-roaming and unowned cats in the City.

Some will worry that collars aren’t safe for cats, or that cats will refuse to wear such collars. Others will refuse to buy licenses because they keep their pet cats indoors. These are common misconceptions that lead to more suffering by cats. Cats do find ways to get outdoors and become lost. My own cat snuck out one evening and went missing for three months before her microchip helped her find her way back to me. And research shows that cats can safely wear collars. Of course, the collars must fit well, be the type that will break away if caught on an object, and the cat must be allowed to become familiar with the new life-saving tool around its neck. The good news for bird lovers is that research also shows that adding a tiny bell to a cat’s collar significantly reduces the number of birds and other wildlife taken as prey by outdoor pet cats.

Indeed, responsible cat owners will want their cats to wear life-saving collars. Hopefully, it will become the new fashion craze for cat lovers in New Port Richey. And hopefully, all the cats will enjoy the tinkling of tiny bells at holiday time.

Happy Holidays!

If you want more information about how cat collars and identification can save lives, here are some resources for you:

Arm and Hammer Free Cat ID Tag ( just buy two boxes of cat litter with baking soda)

http://www.armandhammer.com/Free-Pet-Tag.aspx

http://www.armandhammer.com/news/id-tags-and-microchips-key-to-your-cats-safety.aspx

Dr.Lord’s StudyAbout the Safety of Cat Collars

http://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/abs/10.2460/javma.237.4.387

Good Background on Types of Collars for Cats from FAB Cats

http://www.fabcats.org/owners/safety/collars/info.html

Research from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on How Cat Collars Reduced Predation

http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/catsandcollars2_tcm9-133147.pdf

A Few Good Thanks

A Few Good Thanks

This was the finest Thanksgiving I can remember.  I spent it surrounded by my children and several of my best Florida friends.    We ate outdoors overlooking pastures of heaven  here in Florida.  Dogs played, cows mooed, and geese squawked.   The conversation was interesting, the food was superb, and the weather was wonderful.   It really doesn’t get much better.

I owe it all to animals.  Animals have provided so many opportunities for me, that I must give thanks. It is because of animals that I met these great friends and ended up sharing dinner in their company.  Thank you for introducing me to these great people and their pets.

I owe my career to animals.  It is my privilege to care for them when they are hurt or ill.  Through pets, I have met so many wonderful clients and made so many great friends.  I’ve seen family pets grow older as the children grew taller.  I’ve laughed with clients when new puppies and kittens joined their families.  I’ve cried with clients when they had to say their farewells to aged four-legged friends.  I’ve taught students from kindergarten to college about proper animal care.  And I’ve loved every moment. Thank you for letting me be your veterinarian.

My children learned ethics through animals.  My kids learned to feed, groom, and properly care for the many animals that have come and gone in our lives.  There have been birds, ferrets, rabbits, chickens, sheep, dogs, cats, bearded dragons, fish, horses, and rats; am I forgetting any?  Caring for pets has taught my children about empathy, responsibility, and love.  Neither of my sons can say the name of our most beloved dog, “Margaret” without tearing up.  We still miss her.  Thank you for your love and forgiveness.

We know our lives are richer because of animals.  The kids and I have moved from Coast to Coast and back again.  But each move was made easier through the companionship of a pet.  Dog walking became a new social opportunity.  It’s much easier to make new friends with a great dog on the end of the leash to break the social ice.  Thank you for making my shy boys new playmates and me new friends wherever we travel.

And because of pets, I get to write this blog.  An editor trusts me to occasionally write something worthwhile about animal care and animal health.  Life is amazing.  Thank you for reading it.  If you have any topics you would like me to discuss, please leave a comment to let me know.

The Madness of Moving


At our house, we are in the midst of moving. The process begins with thinning of possessions, much like on those “Clutter Buster” shows on cable. For weeks, we have been sorting into piles of “keep, sell, or donate.”

One of our cats tried his own move today. Twice he jumped into the open window of the truck parked in our driveway that was waiting to haul away our donations. We didn’t intend to donate him!

The pets definitely know we are moving. There are empty boxes in which to play and wads of newspaper to bat. The dogs try to escape from the open gate whenever we briefly prop it open to haul out boxes. It is a great game for them. I wonder whether they feel how the game helps increase my anxiety.

Moving creates madness. Each new day seems to bring more frenzied activity and chaos. Routines are disrupted. It is the perfect moment for a pet to escape.

So how can we make the moving process safer for our pets? Here are a few tips:

1. Make sure the pets have proper identification including a collar, a tag, and a microchip that is properly registered.
2. Take current photos of the pets and keep them with you.
3. Have your veterinarian prepare a Health Certificate that documents your pet’s current vaccinations and any health issues.
4. Get an extra supply of any prescription medications your pet may need as well as a copy of their medical records to take with you.
5. Ask your veterinarian to prescribe a mild sedative to give your pet before long trips, or try an alternative to sedation such as a pheromone collar (DAP or Feliway) or a few drops of a Bach Flower Rescue Remedy.
6. Long before beginning to move, make sure your pet is comfortable being confined to a carrier or a crate and knows how to wear a harness or a leash.
7. If traveling by airline, be sure to call the carrier several times on different days before your flight leaves. Confirm the rules for flying with your pet. Carriers have been known to frequently change their rules for shipping pets and you don’t want to get caught by surprise change at the airport.
8. Make a reservation at a good pet day care facility or boarding facility. Your pet may be safer there on the day the moving truck arrives.
9. When you arrive at the new location, do NOT let your pets near the outside doors for several days. They may try to bolt out the door. Now is the time to confine them to one room of the new house or to a crate. Use a DAP or Feliway diffuser in the room where you confine the pets, to help calm them in their new location.

And when the madness seems particularly chaotic, stop and take your pet for a walk. It will do you both good. It will help you both say goodbye to old familiar surroundings and become familiar with your new surroundings.

Bon Voyage!

The Story of an Ear Problem


It was a dark, warm, and moist place. The perfect place for a problem to start. The perfect place for an opportunistic pathogen to thrive. It was a dog’s ear canal….

Thus begins the story of an ear problem. It begins with the perfect environment where bacteria, fungi, or parasites can get established. It continues with a breed that easily grows hair in its ears (think Poodle), or one that goes swimming daily (think Labrador), or one that is predisposed to allergies (think Lhasa apso), or one that has extra long ear flaps that tend to get messy (think Cocker Spaniel or Bassett Hound.) It gets worse when the problem isn’t noticed early in the disease process or when the wrong medications are applied to the problem.

Cats are plagued by ear infections, too. It is very common for kittens to be afflicted by an infestation of ear mites. These bugs breed in dark ears, leaving behind a sticky, crusty, black residue of their wastes. The mites spend part of their life cycle on the hair coats of the cats, and thus are easily spread from cat to cat by contact. Ear mites therefore need to be treated both inside the ears and outside on the skin to prevent spreading them. Topical parasite medication, such as Revolution, Frontline, or Advantage-Multi for cats, will safely control most ear mite infections without the need for medicated ear drops.

Contrary to popular opinion, not all discharge from a pet’s ear is due to “ear mites.” While ear mites are a common problem for cats, it is very rare for mites to be the problem for dogs or for cats that are given a monthly prevention. It is more likely that the problem in those ears will be yeast (fungus) or a bacterial infection that will need a prescription ear cleanser and an antibiotic for proper treatment.

How can you tell whether your pet’s ears have a problem? Begin by regularly checking your pet’s ears. If you notice redness, heat, swelling, or a smelly discharge, then it is time for a trip to your veterinarian.

The first thing your veterinarian will do is look inside the ears using a special tool called an otoscope. This tool helps visualize inside the “J”-shaped ear canal of a dog or cat. A peek at the canal will let the veterinarian determine whether the ear drum is still present and whether the ear canal is filled with any hair, discharge, or polyps. Some vets have cameras on the otoscope so the clients can see what they are seeing inside the pet’s ear canal. If there is any discharge in the ear canal, the vet will take a sample to examine under the microscope. Based on the findings of mites, bacteria, or yeast, your vet will prescribe an appropriate treatment plan.

Unfortunately, if you don’t notice the ear problem before your pet starts scratching its ears or violently shaking its head, your pet might be unlucky enough to develop an ear hematoma or an inflammatory ear polyp. Hematomas and polyps usually need surgery for treatment. An ear hematoma happens when the ear flap swells up with blood and feels like a puffy pillow. Once the swelling resolves, however, the ear flap may forever feel like a cornflake. The flap will be scarred and crinkly. Ear polyps can fill the entire ear canal, leading to hearing difficulties. Sometimes these polyps extend down the ear canal and reach into the palate area of the mouth causing the pet to experience breathing and swallowing difficulties. Most of the polyps in a young animal are benign. But some polyps can be cancerous. A biopsy will help your veterinarian tell the difference.

The best way to prevent ear problems is to use monthly parasite prevention and to keep your pet’s ears clean and dry. Some breeds need to have their ear canals plucked free of hair whenever they are groomed. Ask your veterinarian to prescribe a safe, drying, ear-cleanser and to show you how to properly clean your pet’s ears.

A few pets experience repeated ear infections due to food sensitivities. These pets may be sensitive to the protein, carbohydrate, or preservatives in their diet. If this is the case, your veterinarian will help you choose a limited-ingredient diet to help prevent further ear problems.

Just be happy that you live here in Florida. When I practiced in California, every summer we had to remove painful grass awns from the ears of pets. These “hitchhiking seeds” commonly called “foxtails” , attach themselves to the fur of pets. The seeds have tiny hooks on them that cause them to continually move forward and penetrate the skin, travel up the nose, or get caught in the ear canals of pets unlucky enough to walk off the sidewalks and into the weeds. There wasn’t a good way to prevent these problems for pets.

For more information about the ear problems of pets, please visit these websites:

http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=664 (Ear Mites)
http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=566 (Ear Hematoma)
http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=466 (Yeast Infections)
http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=632 (Ear Infections)

http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=131 (Foxtails)

Dr. Spencer currently practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey, Florida
http://www.BPAnimalClinic.com
727-863-2435

Good Grief


Today is Sunday, September 11, 2011. As I write this blog, I am listening to commemorative services broadcasting on National Public Radio. I hug my kids, hug my pets, and sing along with “Amazing Grace” while thanking God that my little family is still safe. I pray for peace for those families who were so disrupted by the events that took place a decade ago. The national grief is palpable today. There is no time limit for grieving.

Grief is a process that we must lean into if we ever wish to heal. Good can come from grief. Yes it hurts. Yes it includes anger as part of the process. No we don’t forget. But the process can include both sadness and joyfulness if we allow it. We can be sad that so many innocents lost their lives. But we can also be joyful that we have opportunities to love one another and support one another everyday. Embracing grief together can bring people together.

I am not a grief counselor, but I do grief counseling for pet owners and pets as part of my duties as a veterinarian. Pet owners anquish when their beloved pets become sick with a fatal illness or injury. They struggle with end-of-life care and decisions for their pets. They cry when I can extend quality of life no more and the time has come to end pain. Sometimes I can do no more than touch their shoulders as they weep. Other times I keep pets alive until their owners are ready to say goodbye. Often, euthanasia is a final gift I can give a pet and the grieving family–a gift to humanely end suffering. In the end, a good grief process brings peace. I don’t lose a client, I gain a friend.

Pets provide so much joy. They offer companionship and unconditional love. They provide services to disabled owners. They conduct therapy sessions in hospitals and schools. They search for victims and sniff out illegal substances. They lower our blood pressure and they help us get more exercise. They ask for nothing but food, water, shelter, and a bit of attention now and then. That is why it hurts so much when we lose them. We can be joyful that they blessed our lives for a short time.

People who have never loved a pet might not understand that losing a furry family member is a real grief. They sometimes try to minimize the loss for the grieving pet owners, saying “it was just a cat” or an other well-intentioned but hurtful remark. These people just don’t understand. Good grief! It is better to support a friend as they work through the pain after pet loss.

For more information about how to cope after pet loss, please visit these websites:

http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/pet-loss/
http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/ccab/petloss.html

http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/coping_with_pet_death.html

Have you ever experienced grief due to pet loss? What did you do to help yourself heal? I’d be interested in your stories.

Lumps and Bumps


“What do you think it is doc?”

That seems like a simple question. I’m asked it at least once everyday. Pet owners bring me a cat or a dog with a lump they just noticed. Or they want me to recheck a bump that has changed in some way–maybe it got bigger, or darker, or harder. They are worried. They would like an answer.

Truth is, I cannot easily tell what it is just by looking at a lump. Even with my trained hands, most bumps feel the same to me as they do to you. I need to get a sample of the cells from inside the lump to know what it is.

Sampling the lump is an easy, painless procedure I can do within the exam room. It hurts less than getting a vaccine. I take a fine needle aspirate of the lump by putting a sterile needle into the mass and withdrawing a small sample of cells. Next I spread the cells onto a glass microscope slide and stain them before I view them under the microscope. This is referred to as cytology (the study of cells.)

I am not a pathologist, but I am trained in basic pathology during veterinary school. Under the lense of the microscope I can quickly assess whether the lump appears to be a benign tumor or a more aggressive tumor. If it looks aggressive, I will recommend that we send the slide out for a board certified pathologist to review.

Once we have a potential diagnosis of what the lump is, then we can make a plan for how to treat it. Some lumps, such as benign fatty tumors (lipomas) we just monitor. If the lipoma becomes unsightly or interferes with the pet’s movement, then we can do a sort of “liposuction” to reduce the size of the mass. Other lumps require different therapies.

For example, a lump that appear to be a cancerous tumor called a sarcoma, needs prompt surgery. These types of lumps must be cut away with wide margins to prevent the aggressive cancers from spreading. For a sarcoma, the chance to do surgery is the chance to cure. Watching and waiting would be a bad choice for this type of tumor.

Other lumps might be a mast cell tumor. Mast cells are normally part of the skin. Their job is to release chemicals called histamines to rid the body of foreign proteins that challenge the immune system. Mast Cell Tumors can cause serious allergic reactions if you squeeze them, or “anger” them while trying to remove them. For these types of tumors, we must pretreat the pet with antiinflammatories such as prednisone and antihistamines to prevent complications. This type of tumor also tends to quickly spread (metastasize) to internal organs. Sometimes it has already spread by the time we diagnose it on the skin. So we “stage” this tumor prior to attempting surgery. Staging includes full bloodwork, X-rays, and ultrasound imaging to try and find any swollen lymph nodes or other evidence of metastasis prior to surgery.

One type of lump, a histiocytoma, can resolve on its own within a month or two if we can be patient. These lumps commonly appear on the legs, trunk, and face of younger dogs. We can treat these with topical ointments until they resolve. If the histiocytoma doesn’t resolve, or if it starts to bleed and ulcerate, then we schedule surgery.

The oddest lump I ever found on a dog in Florida was one with a coiled up, two-foot long worm inside it. The veterinary pathologist identified the worm as Dracunculis. This worm is known as “Guinea Worm” in Africa and it is a massive public health problem there. The worm is transmitted by drinking contaminated water. The parasite migrates through the body and finally matures on the lower legs as a painful lump on the infected person or animal. When the person wades into water, the worm extends its reproductive parts out of the lump and spreads more Dracunculis eggs into the water, continuing its life cycle. The treatment for removing the parasite from a person’s foot or leg is to slowly coil up the worm around a small stick over several weeks. In fact, the medical logo (caduceus) is a symbol of a Dracunculis worm being coiled around a stick. The Jimmy Carter Center has been working to eradicate this parasite from Africa. Fortunately, the species of Dracunculis I found in the Florida dog was not the same as the one from Africa. Instead, this form is transmitted by raccoons and usually only affects wildlife.

[See: http://cartercenter.org/health/guinea_worm/mini_site/facts.html%5D

So, when you ask your veterinarian to check a lump or a bump, expect them to ask for permission to do a few more tests. You might end up with good news. But if you don’t, your veterinarian will guide you as to the best plan of action.

Have you ever noticed a lump or a bump on your pet and wondered what it was? Did your veterinarian help you get a diagnosis? I’d be interested in hearing your experiences.

Checking Under the Hood


One of the things I love about driving in Oregon is that when you stop at a gas station, you actually get service for your auto. An attendant pumps your gas, cleans your windows, and checks under the hood for fluid levels. When I’m left to do this on my own at “self-service” stations, I admit I don’t do this often enough. My bad. I guess I subscribe to the “wishful thinking” school of auto maintenance. Surely all those meters and alarm lights on my dashboard will alert me if the oil level drops or my tires aren’t properly inflated?

I think some pet owners subscribe to the “wishful thinking” school of pet maintenance, too. They hope their pets will sound the alarm when they don’t feel well. Sometimes this is true. When a pet vomits, refuses to eat, or limps, the alarm has clearly sounded that it is time to visit the veterinarian.

However, I would much prefer to learn that the oil level in my car is a bit low rather than waiting until the “overheat” alarm goes on when the reservoir is completely empty. I don’t like leaving my auto on the side of the road with a smoking engine. I would rather top off the oil to prevent an expensive disaster.

The same should be true for our pets. Rather than waiting for obvious symptoms of illness, a bit of preventive maintenance helps to keep pets healthy and avoid expensive hospital stays. Preventive medicine is what veterinarians do best. Veterinarians are trained to diagnose problems early when we can still intervene. For example, I prefer diagnosing early kidney disease, when I can help prolong a pet’s life and decrease its suffering. When I diagnose full-blown kidney failure, there is little I can do to save the pet. And what I can do becomes very expensive.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has identified a frightening national trend. Fewer pet owners are taking their pets for wellness exams. Surveys show that pet owners question the value of veterinary exams. It seems pet owners mistakenly believe that yearly “shots” at the low-cost vaccine clinic will keep their pets just as healthy as wellness exams by their veterinarians. This misconception hurts pets.

(See: http://www.avma.org/onlnews/javma/sep11/110915o.asp)

Pets do need vaccinations. But pets don’t need every vaccine every year anymore than people need tetanus boosters every year. Over-vaccinating is wasteful, expensive, and potentially harmful for pets and people.

People need annual check-ups. Pets need wellness exams every year, too. Limited dollars for healthcare are best spent on preventive care both for people and for pets. For example, it is more cost effective for your doctor to prevent diabetes than to treat it. At your annual check up, your doctor will monitor your weight, your blood pressure, and probably check your blood glucose levels. If your doctor determines you are pre-diabetic, he/she will start you on a program to help you lose weight, eat healthier, and exercise. It is no different for your veterinarian. Prevention medicine is the goal.

So, spend your dollars on veterinary exams. Your veterinarian will look, feel, and listen to your pet from head to tail. Your vet will advise you on which vaccines your pet really needs. Depending on the pet’s age, your veterinarian might recommend blood tests, blood pressure checks, or other tests to help see how your pet’s internal organs are functioning. This is no different than your own physician recommending a mammogram or a cholesterol screening.

When was the last time your took your pet for a full veterinary exam? If it wasn’t in the last 12 months, time to call your vet’s office. Better to spend a few dollars now for prevention than a lot of dollars later for hospital care.

Instead of wishful thinking, let’s spend some time actually checking under the hood. I promise to do a better job with my car. Will you promise to do the same for your pet?

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