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Cat Box Blues

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Cat Box Blues

Thinking outside the box is generally regarded as a creative and rewarding activity. Unless it is your cat that is thinking outside his/her litter box. Feline litter box issues are the main reason cats either end up living totally outdoors or get surrendered to animal shelters. Best to prevent the problem if you can. If your feline friend has already decided that the litter box is out-of-bounds, here are a few tips that could help return the cat to the proper potty place.

How many litter boxes do you need? Veterinary behaviorists recommend you have one more litter box than you have cats. Yes, if you have three cats, you need four litter boxes! The boxes need not be all the same. Nor do they need to be in the same spot in your house. Some can be covered. Some can be open models. Many cats are fearful of the mechanical (self-cleaning) litter boxes, though, so don’t make this your only option.

What type of litter should you use? That’s simple. Use the type your cat prefers! Sometimes cats don’t like the feel or the smell of certain litters. To each their own. You might need to set up a kitty litter buffet to test which type your cat prefers for duty. You can do this by getting several cardboard soda flats from the store. Place a sample of different litters in each flat. You might try clay, recycled paper, corn cob, sand, some with odor crystals, some without, some pelleted, some clumping, etc. Paws down, your cat will accept the challenge and christen her preference. Not all boxes in the household need to have the same type of litter, however. If you have multiple cats you might offer a variety of litter types.

Where to place the litter box? You might know where you want the box. But your cat could have other ideas. Tucked away in the laundry room seems like the best spot for many households–until the cat is inside the box when the dryer alarm rings or the washer spins off-balance. Once the cat is startled in the privacy of her box, she may never return to that location. So pick some quieter, more private spaces. Next to the cat’s food and water bowl is not a prime choice either. If your cat is older, don’t make him climb the stairs to get to his box. Also get a low-sided box for cats that have arthritis symptoms. If your cat is already soiling the bathroom rug, you will need to put the litter box on top of the rug! Leave it there until the cat reliably uses the box on the rug, then gradually move the box an inch away each day until it is relocated in a more convenient place.

How often should you clean the litter box? Ideally you will scoop every day, each time the box is used. And you will empty the box and scrub it with soap and water at least weekly. Promise. Because if you don’t, you might later regret it. Cats are fastidious about odors and textures. If they need their box and it is already soiled or smells like bleach, they might decide to go elsewhere. Cat box liners are not recommended either. They might make your messy cleaning job easier, but cats typically don’t like the plastic feel in their space.

Remember, it is relatively easy to train dogs. For cats, just do what they want and everyone lives happily ever after.

Next time I’ll discuss what to do about cats that spray or mark objects (like your shoes) with urine. Spraying is a whole different cat problem that is not necessarily related to avoiding the litter box.

Have you ever experienced cat box blues in your household? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

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

www.bpanimalclinic.com LIKE us on FaceBook!

727-863-2435

Thunder and Noise Phobias

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Thunder and Noise Phobias

It’s finally the return of the rainy season here in Florida.  I love that time of year when you can set your clock by the afternoon thunderstorms.  This is the “lightning capital” of the U.S., though.  So, every storm brings another anxiety-ridden few hours for some pets.  They cower, tremble, hide, and generally feel miserable while their pet owners fret over what to do.  And if the cracking of regular thunder boomers isn’t enough to terrify pets, think about what happens around New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July–because the sales of fireworks are not restricted here in Florida.  For weeks around those holidays some neighborhoods sound and smell  like war zones.  Pity the poor noise phobic pets and their owners!  These are times when some pets try to escape, and later find themselves checked in to the closest animal shelter, lost and frightened.

What can a pet owner do to help a pet through such noisy events?

  • If your pet is still young, try to prevent noise phobias from beginning.  During the critical first 4 to 6  months, make sure to calmly expose your young pet to loud noises so they won’t be frightened later as an adult.
  •  Be calm yourself, offer immediate food treats and praise for relaxing while loud noises occur.
  • Train your pet that a crate or a kennel is a safe and comforting place to be anytime–and reward them for going to their assigned dens during loud noises.  Reward them in their dens with special treats and toys.
  • “Jolly” pets through loud events, as you might a young child by playing or distracting them during a stressful time.  If your pet experiences a loud event calmly and associates it with comfort, then future noisy events should  be less of a problem.
  • Microchip your pet.  Update the microchip registration every year.  Also be sure your pet is wearing an ID tag and proper license tag.  Proper identification will help get your pet back to you should they make an escape attempt during a stressful event.
  • If your pet already shows symptoms of noise phobia, employ a good dog trainer to set up a desensitization/counterconditioning program  for  you and your pet.  Such programs might take several weeks or months of practice before achieving good results.
  • Try a “storm jacket” or “thunder coat” to swaddle your pet during noisy times.  “Dog muffs” are also available to help dampen noise for pets.
  • Ask your veterinarian to prescribe a sedative or tranquilizer to give your pet during very stressful times, such as Independence Day.  Certain sedatives help pets relax and focus enough to receive training.  Others sedate so heavily the pet becomes sleepy and cannot focus on training.  Work with your veterinarian to pick the correct medication for your situation.  Your veterinarian will need to do a complete physical exam of your pet before prescribing any medications.

Welcome to summer in Florida!

For more information, visit these websites:

http://www.aspcabehavior.org/articles/9/Fear-of-Noises.aspx

http://www.healthypet.com/PetCare/DogCareArticle.aspx?art_key=81e3bfeb-9444-4df5-8c5b-8a3daa837bb2

http://www.aspcabehavior.org/articles/92/Weekend-Crate-Training-.aspx

http://www.healthypet.com/PetCare/DogCareArticle.aspx?art_key=91544a78-a549-4837-9be5-ceaf7bb3ef1e

http://www.aspcabehavior.org/articles/14/Desensitization-and-Counterconditioning.aspx

https://anxietywrap.com/default.aspx

http://www.petexpertise.com/dog-safety/mutt-muffs-hearing-protection-for-dogs.html

http://www.aspcabehavior.org/articles/32/Finding-Professional-Help.aspx

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic

727-863-2435

bpanimalclinic.com

Protect Your Dog from Parvo

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Protect Your Dog from Parvo

Today I spent lunch discussing  Canine Parvo Virus with a friend who just had a new foster puppy in her home break with Parvo. My friend had agreed to foster the puppy from a shelter in Northern Florida until it could get a permanent home.  She had the best of intentions.  But when the pup arrived, it immediately stopped eating.  Within 24 hours it was vomiting and lethargic.  Her vet diagnosed the puppy with Parvo and  hospitalized it.  Four days later, the puppy is still under treatment at the veterinary hospital.  It is bad enough that the pup’s veterinary care is expensive and the puppy could still die.  But my friend is also worried that she accidentally exposed her personal dogs and all of her neighbors dogs to this highly contagious virus.   And she is worried about bringing the puppy back to her home if it does survive, because the puppy will be contagious for a couple of weeks after it feels better.   She was devastated and ready to quit being a foster mom for rescued dogs.  I tried to assure her that Parvo is preventable.  Here is what I told her.

Parvo isn’t a predator.  It isn’t some alien beast that stalks your pet.  But, parvo is a nasty virus that can make your pet extremely ill.  With aggressive (a.k.a, expensive) veterinary care most dogs survive the illness.  It is a highly contagious virus that is difficult to kill with commonly used disinfectants.   The virus mostly affects unvaccinated dogs, puppies, and dogs with weak immune systems. Well-vaccinated dogs and dogs that survive the infection once are immune to the disease, but they can still shed the virus in their feces.   The virus is common on the ground and on the floors of kennels– anywhere a dog may have defecated, Parvo virus can be lurking.   It is the reason that shelters and kennels pick up dog droppings, scrub with a cleanser, and disinfect with diluted bleach or a product such as Virkon or Trifectant everyday.  The risk of Parvo virus is why your veterinarian warns you not to let your puppies off leash or around other dogs until the puppy vaccination series is completed at 12 or 16 weeks of age.

Dogs exposed to the virus begin developing symptoms within a week of exposure.  Unfortunately, before the dog appears very ill, it is already shedding the virus in its feces.  The virus can live for months on the ground.  A contaminated yard or kennel can stay contagious for up  to a year if not properly disinfected.  It is not wise to bring puppies into a contaminated area for at least 6 months.    Most shelters won’t let puppies play on the ground because sand, dirt, grass, and gravel cannot be easily disinfected.  Puppies get to play on surfaces that can be scrubbed and sanitized because it is too risky otherwise.

A dog infected with Parvo virus develops severe vomiting, bloody diarrhea, fever, and dehydration.  The virus kills rapidly growing cells in the lining of the gut and in the bone marrow.  Bacteria from the gut escape into the blood stream causing a massive infection.  At the same time, the bone marrow is unable to produce enough white blood cells to fight the overwhelming infection.  The dog quickly becomes septic if not treated with intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and sometimes plasma transfusions.  Some veterinarians also prescribe antivirals.

Every 4-way or 5-way vaccine is designed to protect your pet against Parvo.  The  DA2PP or DA2PPL vaccines each protect against four different viruses (Distemper, Adenovirus type 2 (also known as Canine Hepatitis), Parainfluenza, and Parvo). The 5-way vaccine adds protection against a bacterium known as Leptospirosis.  All five protections are generally recommended for dogs living in Florida, but exactly how often to give and specifically to which dogs is based on risks and age.  A dog that was properly vaccinated when young then boosted as an adult at least once with a quality vaccine will likely be protected against Parvo virus for at least 3 years,  if not longer.

Check with your veterinarian to be sure your dog is properly protected against infectious diseases.  Remember, giving too many vaccines can be just as bad for your pet’s health as not giving enough vaccines.  And, don’t let puppies play around other dogs until your veterinarian says it is safe.  Before you bring a new dog into the household, check with your veterinarian first to find out how to prevent spreading diseases that might come along for the visit.

For more information about Canine Parvo Virus, visit these websites:

https://ebusiness.avma.org/EBusiness50/files/productdownloads/parvo_brochure.pdf

http://www.aspcapro.org/canine-parvovirus.php

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

727-863-2435

www.bpanimalclinic.com

Custom Bred Mutts

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Custom Bred Mutts

By Terry Spencer, DVM

Visiting the very pet-friendly town of Carmel,  California is a treat for dog lovers like me.  Many of the restaurants have items on the menu just for your dog.  Most of the inns allow pets.  Dogs are welcome to romp on the beach.  Boutiques sell trendy pet supplies.  And you can play “Name That Breed” as you stroll the sidewalks downtown people-pet watching.

When I lived near Carmel, I used to  like to play with people by walking one of my dogs along the Carmel streets. “Lucy” was small, perky, white, and full of spunk on her leash.   To me, she looked  like a cross between a Jack Russell Terrier and a Chihuahua.  Her paperwork  from the Monterey County Animal Shelter from where I adopted her merely said she was impounded as a stray from the town of Greenfield in a more inland part of Monterey County.   Whenever asked by curious Carmel pet admirers,  “What breed is your dog?”  I typically responded, “She is a Greenfield Terrier,” and just kept walking. That answer was probably a bit mean.   I imagined those curious people rushing home to their breed identification books searching for more details about “Greenfield Terriers.”  Since there are so many different types of Terriers, the “Greenfield Terrier” certainly sounded plausible.  However,  “Lucy” was just a “Custom Bred”  mutt, not a purebred dog.

If I could have cloned “Lucy” the Greenfield Terrier” I bet I could have sold her clones very easily–even if she wasn’t a breed actually recognized by the American Kennel Club.  Currently, designer-breeds of dogs are very popular.  Each week, I examine new puppies that clients have purchased with breed names such as:  Morkie (a cross between a Maltese and a Yorki), or Schnoodle ( a Schnauzer crossed with a Poodle), or Bug ( a Boston Terrier crossed with a Pug), or a Cavashon ( a Cavalier King Charles crossed with a Bichon Frise).  The list of possibilities is endless.  All of these puppies are adorable.  But surely people who pay hefty purchase prices for these custom-bred dogs recognize they are paying for mutts, don’t they?

A purebred dog will be able to reproduce with another dog of the same breed and produce offspring that look like the parents or the grandparents.  While not clones,  the puppies should all breed true to conformation.  Thus two Beagles will produce puppies that look like more Beagles.  But two Bugs that mate will produce puppies that look only like second-generation mutts.   If you cross a Bug mutt with a  Bug mutt, the next generation will  not necessarily resemble the earlier  generation of Boston or Pug.  Designer dogs are not true breeds of dogs, no matter what the selling price.  They are just “Custom Bred”  for looks and profit.

Irresponsible breeding of dogs for looks and profit can result in heartache for purchasers and suffering for the dogs.  Over the past few months I have examined multiple designer puppies with serious health issues.  Some of the puppies had treatable problems, such as intestinal infections or tooth problems .  But others had serious orthopedic issues, for which the new pet owners were not financially prepared.  One puppy  had a birth defect in its shoulder joint that resulted in a lame front leg that needed  expensive orthopedic surgery.  Another puppy became paralyzed at five months of age because its cervical spine was malformed.  I was able to temporarily stabilize its neck by fashioning a brace out of a paper cup.  But a consultation with a neurologist gave no hope of any long-term recovery, and so the puppy was euthanized.  The pet-owner was devastated.

Bottom line:  if you want a healthy puppy, adopt from a shelter or buy from a responsible breeder of purebred dogs.  Good shelters and good breeders will give you some limited health guarantees and want you to see their facilities.  Responsible breeders and shelters do want to make a profit, but they are also interested in maintaining good reputations for quality animals.  Irresponsible breeders focus on your money and don’t stand behind the health of the puppies.   Such breeders probably won’t let you see their breeding facility or meet the parents.  Such lack of transparency should make you question whether the seller is running a puppy-mill that doesn’t humanely care for the dogs.

For more tips on how to select a healthy puppy, visit these links:

https://ebusiness.avma.org/EBusiness50/files/productdownloads/SelectDog_En.pdf

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17616672/ns/health-pet_health/t/want-designer-dog-check-pound/

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

www.bpanimalclinic.com
727-863-2435

Who’s Afraid of F.I.P.?

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Who’s Afraid of F.I.P.?

By Terry Spencer, DVM

Recently a reader of this blog asked me to discuss FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis).  I am happy to oblige and appreciate the suggestion.  If you have topics you would like to learn more about, please let me know in your comments. 

(FIP) is a deadly virus that affects mostly young cats and kittens.  The FIP virus doesn’t act much like any other virus common to pets.   Affected cats don’t survive the infection, although they can linger with symptoms for some time.  Unfortunately, there currently are no vaccines that protect against this virus, and there is no exact way to diagnose the infection while the cat is still alive.  FIP remains a diagnosis of suspicion until confirmed after death with a necropsy. The cat must be the right age, coming from the right background, and with the right symptoms to be considered possibly infected.   It is definitely a frustrating disease for veterinarians to diagnose and for pet owner’s to experience.

FIP is a form of the very common Feline Corona Virus.  Almost every kitten is exposed to Corona Virus soon after birth. Corona Virus lives in the GI  (gastrointestinal tract) of cats, usually without symptoms and is spread by cat feces.  A few cats will have symptoms of mild diarrhea or sneezing, but most cats show no symptoms of Corona Virus at all.  Because it is such a common virus, testing a cat for antibodies to corona virus does not verify a diagnosis FIP.  Having a blood titer that is positive for Corona Virus simply means that a cat was previously exposed to Corona Virus.  A higher titer doesn’t mean a cat
has FIP.  It just means the cat might have an active or recent infection of Corona Virus.

For a few cats, the normally mild form of Corona Virus seems to mutate to the deadlier FIP. For these unlucky cats, their own immune system carries the disease throughout their bodies.  The virus then affects internal organs in one of two ways.  In the “wet” form of the disease, the cat’s chest and/or abdomen begins to slowly fill with a sticky, yellow, fluid.  By the time this becomes noticeable, the cat already has difficulty breathing, eating, or moving.  Veterinarians can temporarily drain the fluid from body cavities, and testing the fluid can help support a diagnosis of FIP.  In the “dry” form of the disease, there are no outward symptoms.  The cat slowly deteriorates, and blood work shows multiple organ failures.  Biopsies can support the diagnosis.  Sadly, FIP is almost always fatal.

Feline Corona Virus seems more likely to mutate to FIP in cats exposed to large numbers of other cats.  FIP is more common to cats that once lived in a colony, rescue, shelter, or other facility where many cats mingled.  And, research also seems to point to a common genetic link among the affected cats.  Only those cats with a genetic susceptibility to the virus that are also exposed to the form of the virus that is more likely to mutate, develop FIP.   It happens to a few unlucky cats every year.

For now, there is no way to predict which cats will be affected. The best a pet owner can do to prevent the disease is keep your cat well fed, well vaccinated, and away from other cats.  If you must bring a new cat into the home, keep the new cat isolated from your other cats until your veterinarian gives you the OK to let them mingle.   FIP isn’t the only disease that cats freely share.  So a short quarantine time can prevent many problems when introducing a new cat to the household.

Veterinary scientists are busy working on better diagnostics, treatments, and preventions.  Fortunately, FIP is still a rather rare infection.  But those unlucky few cat owners who experience the disease are forever scarred.

So who is afraid of FIP? I am.  I hate to diagnose it, and I hate that I can’t prevent it.

To learn more about FIP, please visit Cornell University’s Feline Health  Center  at:   http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/brochures/fip.html

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

www.bpanimalclinic.com
727-863-2435

Off to See the Wizard

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Off to See the Wizard

By Terry Spencer, DVM

My son and I just re-watched The Wizard of Oz.  And I admit, I still cry when Toto is in danger.   But these days, I view those scenes through a different lens.  When I was younger, I always felt disgust toward the cranky old neighbor who complained about a loose and menacing ankle-biter.  Now I just think, really?  What was Dorothy thinking not putting that little terrier on a leash?   It isn’t Toto’s fault that Dorothy is an irresponsible pet owner.   Why does Toto have to pay for her lapse? Perhaps I need a trip to the Wizard to ask for some tolerance.

Dogs don’t come with owner’s manuals.  It is as difficult to raise a well-adjusted dog as it is to raise a well-adjusted child.  The difference is the window of opportunity for socializing and training a dog isn’t as wide.  Most of the opportunity lies between 6 weeks and 2 years of age before the dog goes through puberty.  After that, you can still teach an old dog new tricks, but it is much easier if the dog already knows the basics.  I urge early puppy socialization experiences.  Research shows that children who attend Head Start or preschool do better as adults compared to those children who don’t get early socialization experiences.  The same is true for puppies.  Just think of how differently the fictional movie dog Old Yeller behaves compared to the one known as Marley.   Both are yellow Labrador Retrievers.  But,  I would bet Old Yeller attended preschool everyday as a puppy.  Marley skipped too many classes.    

In my practice, I like to “start” puppies.  It is fun to see them every three to four weeks for their wellness care visits.  They grow quickly, and I like to hold them and smell their “puppy breath” as I work to keep them healthy with basic vaccinations, dewormings, and other preventive care.  But I also take each opportunity to remind new puppy owners about socializing this new addition to their family.  During those first sixteen weeks of life, I want puppies to experience everything they need to be comfortable with as mature dogs.  I ask pet owners to go through a checklist of experiences:  has the puppy experienced riding in the car; seen people in uniforms; had its ears, feet, mouth, tail, toes, touched daily; been left alone; been around other dogs and cats; heard loud noises; worn a collar and a leash; received a bath and grooming, waited for a food bowl; had a food bowl taken away while still eating; played with children; had its nails clipped; etc?  And after sixteen weeks it is time for spaying or neutering and completing basic obedience classes.   To me, all of this makes for a well-socialized pet and a responsible pet owner. 

What does all of this have to do with veterinary medicine?  I think it is one of the most important things I do.  I believe in “holistic” veterinary medicine where I care for the health of the whole dog.  This includes both behavioral and physical health.  And I want pets that enter a home to bond to that home and stay homed for life.   I have failed if a dog ends up given away, turned over to a shelter, or forgotten in the back yard.     

You see, I have worked for many years in animal shelters.  Most of the dogs surrendered to shelters are un-neutered, poorly trained animals less than three years old.  The fate for most of these impounded dogs is euthanasia.   I cannot tolerate that.  So when I went to the Wizard and asked for more tolerance, this is what I received:   a veterinary degree.     The Wizard was wise. 

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

www.bpanimalclinic.com     727-863-2435