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Category Archives: pet health

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?

Cat Talk

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Cat Talk

Does your cat talk?  If so, what does he say when he is hungry? “Meow?”  What does she say when scared?  “Hiss?” When she is happy does her motor go, “Purr?”   Compared to a parrot who might actually be able to speak hundreds of words, or a dog who might know a hundred words,  the verbal vocabulary of a cat is limited.  That isn’t to say that cat’s aren’t intelligent or that they cannot communicate.

Cat’s have a rich non-verbal  vocabulary.  The classic “Halloween” cat image communicates much about its attitude..  When a cat arches its back, fluffs its tail, flattens its ears, and opens it mouth, you had best beware!  It is likely safer to pet a cat that displays a softer posture, with half-opened eyes and erect ears.

Cats also communicate with chemical signals.  Special glands on their heads and on their paws emit an odor (a pheromone) that we mere humans cannot appreciate.  When a cat smells this scent, it has a calming effect on the cat.  The makers of a product called Feliway synthesized this pheromone and sell it in spray bottles and room diffusers.  It really works.  If you spray it inside a cat carrier before traveling, many cats will relax.  Room diffusers of Feliway will usually calm cats who are anxious about strangers or new surroundings.  I often install Feliway diffusers in the cat rooms at animal shelters and spray the towels I use in exam rooms.

Felines also communicate by marking with urine.  Yes urine.  Both female and male cats will “spray.”  The more cats in the household, the more likely one of the cats will start marking on walls, rugs, couches, and beds with spritzers of urine.  There is nothing more appalling to an owner than to come home and discover that the cat urinated on the pet owner’s bed or in their shoes.

What is the cat trying to say by gifting us with urine?  Many owners wrongly assume their cat is spiteful for some perceived wrong.  But cats have other non-verbal ways of showing anger or fear.  Cats that spray are simply saying, “Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine.”  The cats are claiming their territory, in a quiet, wet, and smelly fashion.  The tough part for cat owners to accept is that for a cat, communicating by spraying urine is normal behavior.  It is just as normal as meowing, hissing, or purring.  If you punish your cat for spraying, the cat will spray more because you obviously didn’t understand the message.  They will just try again and again, until they think the message has been sent.

So what can you do if you think one of your cats is spraying or marking in the house?  Begin by taking your cat to your veterinarian for an exam.  Let your vet first determine whether the cat has any underlying medical problems that might cause frequent urination that could be  mistaken for marking behavior.  Cats with kidney disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, or a urinary tract infection will sometimes urinate outside the litter box.  Cats that have developed an aversion to their litter box will also start voiding in inappropriate places.  (See my earlier blog on Cat Box Blues.)  If there are no medical issues involved, your veterinarian can prescribe an anti-anxiety medication such as fluoxetine (generic for Prozac)  to help your cat decrease its urge to communicate in this way.

For more information, visit these web sites:

http://www.feliway.com/us

http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/healthinfo/brocuhre_housesoiling.cfm

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey, Florida.

www.BPAnimalClinic.com Please LIKE us on Facebook!

727-863-2435

 

 

Budgeting for Pet Care

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Budgeting for Pet Care

2011 PET PRODUCTS TREND
REPORT

We pamper them. We bring them wherever we go. We surprise them
with something new on special occasions. They even get holiday presents. They
are our pets!  (Taken from the American Pet Products Association website)

Yes, the trend is that pets are definitely members of our families.  So, just be thankful that your dog or cat doesn’t want a car to drive or a college diploma!  Such add-on expenses could be deal breakers for pet owners.  Nevertheless, it  can be expensive to keep a pet.

Everyday I counsel pet owners about the cost of veterinary care.  I give estimates, work with owners to create affordable treatment plans, and try to give the best veterinary care the family can afford.  I see families juggling to provide for pets, children, and spouses on their family income.  Families often tell me they didn’t know that pet ownership could be so costly.  Sometimes I witness senior citizens getting health care for their pets before they get health care for themselves.  That just breaks my heart!

So in this blog, let me speak to you as would one of my heroes, Suzie Orman.  I love listening to her straight forward, common sense approach to financial advising. How can your family budget for pet care?  Let me suggest a couple of options.

Option 1:  Consider purchasing a pet health insurance policy. 

Pet-health insurance is now available from a variety of insurance companies.  Pets adopted from shelters often come with a 30-day policy from 24 Pet Watch.  Home Again Microchips include coverage for emergency veterinary care should your pet become lost and injured.  Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) is perhaps the oldest provider in the pet insurance industry.  There are other policies promoted by the ASPCA and the AKC (American Kennel Club).  Some employers even offer pet-health insurance as an employee benefit.

However, do your homework before purchasing a policy.  Read the fine print and be sure you understand whether there are any breed-related exclusions.  For example, you might buy a policy for your new Bulldog puppy only to find that the most common health problems of that breed (related to breathing difficulties) are not covered or that your policy doesn’t cover “wellness care” such as vaccines. It is also important to note that pet policies seldom pay the veterinarian up-front for expenses. So be ready to pay for the policy, pay for the vet care out-of-your pocket, and then apply for a reimbursement from the insurance company.  Also, it is probably in your budget’s best interest to purchase the policy when your pet is young and healthy.  If you wait until a problem develops, you might encounter more exclusions and higher premiums.

Option 2:  Open a Pet-Health Care Savings Account of your own.

The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates that American pet owners  will spend about $50 Billion dollars in 2011 on pet care.  That number flabbergasts me!  Most of the money ($30 Billion)  is spent on  retail pet food and pet supplies.  Only $14 Billion is spent on veterinary care.  The rest goes for grooming, boarding,  training, and purchasing of animals.  (Clink on the link to see a graphic.)   Spending on Pets

For the veterinary piece of the pie, pet owners report they spend $200 – $250 annually for each pet they keep.  And if their pet needs a surgical procedure (such as a dentistry, laceration repair, blood work etc.) they might spend another $400 to $450.  If you consider that very young ( less than a year) and very old (over 8 years) pets will need more veterinary care, then you might expect to spend the higher end ($600 to $700 annually) for younger and older pets, but only $200-$250 annually for middle-aged pets.  Let’s say your pet lives 13 years; that would amount to your needing $5000 to $6000 over the life expectancy of your pet for veterinary medical expenses.

So open a savings account and deposit your spare change each night.  Think you might be able to find a dollar or two everyday to put into that account?  If you did, you could save MORE than enough to provide excellent veterinary care for the life of your pet.  Giving up just one item from the vending machine at work each day would help you save enough.  It doesn’t sound so expensive when you think of it in those terms.

Option 3:  Limit Unnecessary Purchases

Review the pie graph in this blog one more time.  Most of the pet care dollars go toward RETAIL food and supplies.  Does your cat really need that $10 plastic mouse or would a plastic cap from an empty milk jug offer just as much entertainment?  Does your dog really need that $50 bag of organic salmon and potato diet the clerk recommends or would a premium brand (such as Science Diet, Eukanuba, Nutro, etc) fill his bowl just as well?   If you aren’t sure, ask your veterinarian for advice.  If you save some of your hard-earned dollars in the pet store, then you will have more dollars available to make sure your pet gets all its basic health care needs met.  Sadly, I have seen pet owners spend $200 or more on retail pet supplies for a new puppy, only to scrimp on not getting the puppy sterilized, filling a prescription for  flea and heartworm medication, or enrolling in puppy-training classes.  Scrimping on prevention is a bad trade-off.  The fancy collar and leash might look good today, but it won’t stop your pet from having an expensive health or behavior problem later.

For more on this topic, please visit:

http://ebusiness.avma.org/EBusiness50/files/productdownloads/Adopt%20a%20Pet%20-%20English%202010%20(High%20Res).pdf

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43916934/

http://www.suzeorman.com/

http://americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey, Florida

www.bpanimalclinic.com   LIKE us on Facebook!

727-863-2435