HAIL THE TENNIS BALL
Dogs still go crazy for a toy never meant for them
By Dr. Marty Becker
If there’s anything more versatile than a tennis ball, I can’t imagine it. One afternoon, I just sat down with a pad and started jotting down all the things you can do with a dog and a tennis ball. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Fetch. Toss, return, repeat. You know the drill. This is the game by which all dog activities are measured, and sometimes there’s just nothing better than the classic.
2. Find. Hide the tennis ball, then let your dog find it. For dogs who are already retrievers, this game is remarkably easy to learn. Hide the ball in plain sight a couple times so she’ll know what you want her to do, then watch how easily she can find it anywhere.
3. Herd. Fetching uses one ball, but if you’ve got a herding dog, try tossing out a few and giving your dog a place to gather them all together. Since this game works with your dog’s natural instincts, most pick it up very quickly for a treat reward.
4. Get wet. Water dogs love nothing more than the chance to go after a favorite ball and get wet. What more could a pup want?
5. Monkey in the middle. Got kids? Got a dog? Amuse everyone with the classic schoolyard game with the dog playing the monkey. Pass the ball by tossing, rolling, kicking — whatever works, and give Rover a small treat each time he intercepts it and gives it back.
6. Flyball. This one is a real sport, and one that tennis-ball loving dogs live for once they learn to play. Add a series of jumps to a tennis ball, and you’ve got a fast-paced, wildly entertaining game for both people and pets, participants and spectators.
Tennis balls are even better because you can often get them for free. If you have friends who are tennis players, ask them to save their old balls for you. A tennis ball that hasn’t the “oomph” for a good game of tennis is still perfect for playing fetch with your dog.
One important thing to know, though: Tennis balls are not chew toys. Put them away when you’re done with your game of fetch. Dogs have been known to compress tennis balls in their mouths, and then die when the ball springs back to full size in the back of the mouth, cutting off the air supply. And even if that never happens, the materials in a tennis ball are designed for … tennis! They’re not made to be chewed on or swallowed by dogs.
So have your fun, and lots of it. But don’t leave the ball with your dog when you’re done. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to throw a tennis ball for our family’s dogs!
Reports of sick dogs, people, from pet food
• The VIN news service (news.vin.com) reports that six animals have been reported dead and more than 50 claimed to have been made ill by salmonella contamination in commercial pet foods made under various brand names by the Diamond company. The information was obtained from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration via a Freedom of Information Act request. Many of the foods have been recalled by the brands and the manufacturer. Meanwhile, DVM36.com reports the filing of a lawsuit against Diamond and retailer Costco charging that the contaminated pet food made a New Jersey infant severely ill.
• The U.S. Department of Agriculture is attempting to update its oversight of commercial pet breeders, including those substandard ones widely referred to as “puppy mills.” Current regulations developed before the widespread use of the Internet exempt pet stores from the Animal Welfare Act. Many commercial breeding operations now skip retail outlets to sell and ship animals directly to consumers, taking advantage of the loophole to avoid regulations intended to ensure humane treatment of breeding animals and the sale of healthy young ones. The requirements would affect operations with four or more breeding animals, a number intended to allow reputable hobby breeders to continue raising animals in their homes, among other exemptions. Comments are currently being accepted on the proposed changes at www.aphis.usda.gov.
• Celebrity dog trainer Cesar Millan is ending his phenomenally successful — and equally controversial — show when the current set of episodes has finished production. The “Dog Whisperer” has been successful both for Millan and for the Nat Geo WILD cable network, but the trainer’s use of physical correction for poorly mannered dogs has attracted widespread criticism from veterinary behaviorists and some training organizations. Concurrent with announcing the end of the “Dog Whisperer,” Millan revealed plans for a new series, “Leader of the Pack.”
— Gina Spadafori
Pick A Vet
Your veterinarian needs to be a partner in your pet’s health
By Dr. Marty Becker
Time passes at such a crazy pace — and if age creeps up swiftly on us humans, then it practically gallops where our pets are concerned.
Because pets age more quickly than people, they may get illnesses earlier than you’d think. Making sure your pet has regular checkups with the veterinarian is the best way to catch and treat developing health issues before they become serious problems.
I recommend twice-yearly wellness visits. Just as in human medicine, veterinary care has come a long way in its ability to detect health problems before they become symptomatic — and to treat many of those problems simply and effectively.
The old adage about an ounce of prevention is just as true in your pet’s life as it is in your own. Preventive, proactive veterinary care can add years to your pet’s life.
For some pets, the veterinarian is just a vaguely familiar person who gives them treats and rudely palpates their privates once a year. For others, though, this is someone associated with all kinds of discomfort: strange and disturbing odors, barks and hisses of unfamiliar animals, and memories of pain from visits during an illness or following an accident. The veterinarian’s office can be a scary place, indeed.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, and it shouldn’t be.
Making sure you and your pet have found the right veterinary practice can cut down on the stress and strain of visits. Having a practitioner — and an actual veterinary practice, from front desk to veterinary technicians and more — you can trust and count on when it comes to your pet’s health care is essential to your pet having a life as long, healthy and happy as possible. Because without a well-run practice, an expert team and great veterinarians, neither you nor your pet will be likely to go as often as you need to, and that means less than optimal health for your pet.
What makes a great veterinarian? It starts with your level of confidence and trust and goes from there.
•Does your dog’s veterinarian put you at ease? Do you feel comfortable calling or coming in with any question or concern? Are you taken seriously when you bring your pet in for something non-specific, like overtiredness, a slight change in bathroom habits or becoming snippy with the kids?
• Does the veterinarian acknowledge your role as “Dogtor Mom” or “Dogtor Dad”? A good practitioner respects the fact that you are her eyes and ears at home. You’re the one who knows your pet’s normal habits and attitudes, and you can be trusted to raise an alarm when something is outright wrong or your pet is just a little “off.”
• Do you like the way pets are treated at the practice? It’s fair to expect to have confidence in everyone from the receptionist to the surgeon in your vet’s practice. Ask for a tour of the entire clinic before becoming a client. Beyond reception areas and exam rooms are the areas where the nitty-gritty work of the office takes place, and most veterinarians will be happy to show you around. Employee- and pet-only rooms should reflect the same level of care, compassion and cleanliness as the ones out front. In fact, they must. I have a mantra that you should demand from your veterinarian: that she treat your pet exactly as if you were standing there looking over her shoulder.
When you find the veterinarian you can feel that way about, you have found the right one. Make that appointment for a wellness check and get your pet’s health on track!
(Dr. Marty Becker is currently on a national tour for “Your Cat: The Owner’s Manual,” his newest book with fellow Pet Connection writer Gina Spadafori. “Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual” is now available in paperback. For information on where to meet Dr. Becker, visit Vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker.)
Feed Your Feline
Check in with your veterinarian for cat’s nutritional guidance
This week’s column is an excerpt from the just-released book, “Your Cat: The Owner’s Manual.” To get the entire first chapter free, visit www.vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker.
By Dr. Marty Becker
Nearly everything about your cat’s anatomy suggests her genetic heritage to hunt, and hunt well. Her feet are designed for silent stalking; her claws can hook anything and won’t let go; her teeth are long, pointed and razor-sharp.
So what do you feed a creature who is so obviously designed to fend for herself?
Choosing a cat food should be simple business, but with so many options available, it can be tricky to find the right diet for your cat’s best health. Even after 30 years of practicing veterinary medicine, I have to admit I sometimes find myself a little staggered by today’s pet food aisle.
When I was a kid, we fed our cats in the barn from a 50-pound bag of generic, feed-store kibble. Now, I go to the grocery store that sells my own food, and see row upon row of dry, canned and even refrigerated fresh foods for felines — something for every taste, dietary need and preference.
As a consumer, it’s great to have choices. But you have to be able to sort through your options, weigh costs vs. benefits, and know how to compare to do your cat justice. After all, selecting a healthful, appropriate diet for your cat and feeding right-sized portions is one of the most important things you can do to ensure her good health and longevity.
Knowing how your cat’s nutritional needs differ from your own may help put her very distinctive dietary requirements in perspective:
•Must have meat. The feline system is designed to depend on the consumption of other animals to survive and thrive. Unlike humans and dogs, who are omnivores and can stay healthy on a variety of diets, cats are “strict” or “obligate” carnivores. Just like their distant cousins the lion, the tiger and the cheetah, house cats not only prefer meat, they can’t maintain good health without it.
• Pound for pound, cats need far more protein. A cat needs more than double the amount of protein per pound of body weight that a person requires. And even though we omnivores can meet our protein requirements with non-meat foods like dairy products, nuts and beans, cats don’t have that luxury — animal protein is the only kind that fulfills their nutritional needs. If a cat doesn’t get enough protein in his diet, his body will actually break down his own muscle tissue to get the nutrients he needs
• Cats sponge vitamins and amino acids from their prey. There are some nutrients that an omnivore can produce or convert from food that cats have to get ready-to-use from their diets. Unless your cat is dining on a whole, fresh vermin several days a week, you need to provide a diet that provides these nutrients in usable form.
• Many cats don’t get thirsty. Cats are descended from desert hunters, and many scientists believe this is the reason they don’t seem to have a strong thirst drive. In the wild, this isn’t too much of an issue — any fresh prey a cat would catch is mostly made of water. In a world of indoor cats eating dry kibble, however, this can become a big problem. Cats need plenty of water, whether they drink it directly or get it from their food. Without enough water in their diets, cats are susceptible to urinary tract problems. To help prevent problems with dehydration, make sure your cat absolutely always has fresh water available. A better solution is a pet-sized water fountain — these encourage your cat to drink more, and more often.
Your cat’s veterinarian is the best resource for advice on choosing a food that’s best for your pet. Whether you shop for pet food in a grocery store, pet boutique or big-box retailer, your veterinarian will be able to point you in the right direction.
Don’t assume dogs know the rules for water safety
By Gina Spadafori
Warm weather came early this year to much of the country, and that means lakes and rivers — and even swimming pools — are already being enjoyed by dogs who love to swim. But every spring, as my field-bred retrievers (who happily swim year-round) greet new dogs at the river’s edge, I see dogs at risk of drowning.
Most times, some caution on the part of their owners would prevent any problems. The keys to water safety for dogs: prevention, preparedness and awareness.
No dog should be given unsupervised access to a backyard pool or a neighborhood pond or creek. Swimming pools are best fenced-off for safety. And if that’s not possible, they should be equipped with alarms that sound when the surface of the water is broken by a child or pet falling in. Escape ramps are a great idea, but it’s better to prevent pets from getting in unsupervised in the first place.
Prevention also includes teaching your pet what to do when he’s in the pool. Dogs don’t understand the idea that the steps are on one side only, and they may tire and drown trying to crawl out the other side. If your pet likes to swim, work with him in the pool to help him learn where the steps are, so he can get out easily. Tip: Put contrasting paint or tape on the fence behind the steps to give your dog a visual clue he can count on.
Finally, obedience training is extremely important. Your dog should come when called, even while swimming, so you can call him back before he heads into deeper water or stronger currents. Emergency shortcut: Always carry extra retrieving toys. A dog who’s heading out into a dangerous area after a ball or stick can often be lured back to shore with a second item thrown closer in. It’s no substitute for training, but it could save your dog’s life.
Before letting your dog swim in any natural surroundings, survey the area for safety. Rivers and oceans can change frequently, and an area that was safe for swimming one visit can be treacherous the next. Consider currents, tides, underwater hazards and even the condition of the water. In the late summer, algae scum on the top of standing water can be toxic, producing substances that can kill a pet who swallows the tainted water. When in doubt, no swimming. Better safe than sorry.
One of the best things you can do is to take courses in first aid and CPR for your pets. Many local Red Cross chapters offer these classes, and some veterinarians may also teach them in your community. A dog who’s pulled out near death from drowning may be saved by your prompt actions — if you know what to do.
If your dog isn’t much of a swimmer, or is older or debilitated, get him a personal flotation device. These are especially great for family boating trips because most have sturdy handles for rescue if a pet goes overboard.
Be aware of your dog’s condition as he plays. Remember that even swimming dogs can get hot, so bring fresh water and offer it constantly. When your dog is tiring, be sure to call it a day. A tired dog is a good dog, but an exhausted dog is in danger of drowning.
Be particularly careful of young and old dogs. Both can get themselves into more trouble than a healthy adult dog with lots of swimming experience. Young dogs can panic in the water, and old dogs may not realize they aren’t as strong as they used to be. Keep them close to shore, and keep swimming sessions short.
Swimming is great exercise and great fun for all, and with these few simple precautions you can keep the cool times coming, with safety in mind.
Equipment Use Limited during Halloween Season
El Paso, Texas – As is customary during this time of year the Animal Services Program will limit the number of cat traps made available to the public during the Halloween season, the Environmental Services Department announced today.
Traps will be issued only for cases involving bites or sick and injured felines starting from today (October 24) and through November 6.
The temporary change is implemented annually around Halloween as a precaution to protect cats from animal cruelty. To learn more, call Animal Services at 842-1000.
Halloween Safety Tips for Pet Owners
·Keep identification on all their pets and safely secure them indoors, if possible, during Halloween since pets can become frightened or feel threatened when costumed children come up to the door yelling, “trick or treat.”
·Safely store Halloween treats away from pets since ingestion of even small amounts of candy can result in serious harm or death.
·Keep pets away from live flame decorations like candles and carved pumpkins, and restrict your pet’s access to hanging decorations, such as streamers. Pets are curious and can become entangled, frightened or injured if they chew or play with decorations.
·Avoid the urge to put your pet in a costume. With rare exception, pets don’t like the constraints of costumes, plus masks and flowing capes can cause injury to your pet.
Taking pets to visit family means permission and planning
By Dr. Marty Becker
Our culture has become very pet-friendly, but as much as I love this shift in attitude, I am also aware that some people don’t approve of the change, especially when other people start planning to bring dogs home for the holidays.
Now I’m a veterinarian, not a family counselor. But I do have some suggestions for minimizing the friction between those who always want their dogs with them and those who believe pets should never be imposed on people who don’t like them.
When bringing together people and pets, everyone should be honest about potential problems, as well as likes and dislikes. And you need to be honest with yourself about your dog. Is your pet well-socialized, well-mannered, and well-groomed? If not, your dog’s not ready to tag along on a family visit. Your pet should also be up to date on preventive health measures, especially those involving parasites.
If your dog is a party-ready animal, ask your host if it’s OK to bring your dog along. Never just show up at someone’s house with a pet in tow.
My “ground rules” suggestion is that the person who has the ground sets the rules, and the decision to bend or break them is hers alone. If you want to take your pet to a family gathering but your son-in-law says absolutely not in his house, respect that. If your host has pets who don’t get along with or would be stressed by a canine visitor, respect that, too.
If you’re dealing with someone who will become ill if exposed to a pet, the discussion is over. Leave your pet out of the mix. This extends to people who are afraid of animals or when there will be other guests who might be at high risk of injury around a pet, such as your great-great-aunt who has already broken her hip twice.
If you’ve been invited to bring your dog along, here’s what you will need:
÷A considerate attitude
Taking your dog to someone else’s place is a privilege. Ask where your dog is and isn’t allowed to be and where you’ll be taking him to potty.
÷ Potty bags
You will need to pick up after your pet. And ask where those little bags should go after you pick up.
Your dog might be awesome at home, but in a new environment you never can tell. Good manners dictate you keep your pup under control.
Taking a crate when you visit someone allows you to give your dog a room of his own wherever you are and provides your host with options to accommodate other guests.
÷ Food dishes
Don’t expect to borrow bowls from your host’s kitchen. Take your own and ask where you should clean them after meals. Don’t be offended if it’s a utility sink in the garage.
It’s a good idea to take a sheet to throw over your bed if you’re allowed to have your dog in your bedroom when you stay over at someone’s house. Pack towels as well, since your host may not want you to use the good towels to dry your dog.
If you’re a considerate guest, chances are even those who don’t like dogs won’t have complaints — and you and your dog will be welcome back. That’s the goal, isn’t it?
WILD THINGS – Feral-cat management offers alternative to killing
By Gina Spadafori
The very reason our ancestors first decided they wanted cats around is used today to argue against allowing any cats to roam freely: They hunt, efficiently.
The predatory skill that cats brought to eliminating rodents in grain storage is now labeled a danger to endangered species and prized songbirds. That’s another good reason for keeping pet cats inside, but what to do with the ferals — pets gone wild and their unsocialized offspring?
Advocates of TNR — trap, neuter and release — say maintaining healthy, neutered feral cat colonies is the best way to reduce feline numbers and problems. And, they argue, it’s both a kinder and more effective way than trapping and killing untamable cats.
There have always been kind-hearted people who feed homeless cats, even if it’s just sharing a tuna sandwich from a park bench. There have also always been people who find colonies of feral cats to be annoying: The cats make noise, they mess and spray, and they multiply like, well, cats.
Cities, colleges and military bases — and other institutions with large pieces of land to manage — used to routinely handle feral cat colonies by trapping all the cats and killing those who could not be tamed for adoption.
However, TNR advocates argue that just feeding feral cats makes the problem worse (because the animals keep breeding), but that trapping and killing the cats doesn’t solve the problem in the long run, either.
Instead, TNR volunteers trap the cats, place the ones they can in caring homes, and return the truly untamable to their original territory after they’ve been neutered and vaccinated. These colonies can then be fed and cared for in a hands-off but humane way, while their numbers dwindle naturally because the reproductive taps have been turned off for good.
Trap, neuter and release programs for feral cats seem counterintuitive to many people. If you don’t want cats around, wouldn’t it make sense just to remove them permanently?
But when you remove cats, TNR advocates say, other animals take their place. That’s because the food sources that attracted the cats will still be there, which means more cats (or rats, coyotes or raccoons) will eventually show up. They point to studies showing that TNR policies really do reduce feral cat populations.
Neutering reduces the fighting, yowling and spraying behaviors, many of which are associated with fighting over mates. The neutered cats defend their territory, too, and prevent other animals from moving in — including unneutered cats who could breed. The colony caretakers are quick to remove and find homes for any abandoned pets who turn up, as well as any kittens.
While such programs aren’t perfect — and aren’t considered appropriate for ecologically sensitive locations or areas where the protection of small-prey species is necessary — trap, neuter and release is an option that must be considered where feral cats are a problem.
TNR is a strategy that’s both humane and sensible, and it should be allowed to become the new “common knowledge” when it comes to feral cats. Want more information? Visit the website of Alley Cat Allies (alleycat.org).
Bulldogs, pugs need protection from the heat
By Dr. Tony Johnson
Mother Nature usually does things pretty economically, trying to get genes passed on from one generation to the next with a minimum of fuss.
When people step in and start mucking about is usually when the troubles begin. When we breed for a particular look (rather than for a purpose intended to maximize the chances of passing on genes), function gets tossed out the window at the expense of form, and things can get bogged down pretty quickly.
Lots of different dogs suffer from problems because of fad breeding, but perhaps none so much as the short-nosed, or “brachycephalic” breeds such as pugs, English Bulldogs and the like. As the weather turns warmer, we see a lot more of these dogs suffering from heat stroke in our emergency unit at Purdue’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
Dogs are largely unable to sweat. Maybe a little around the feet (sometimes my more nervous patients will leave cute little paw-shaped sweat prints on the exam table), but not through their skin as people can. They regulate their body temperature largely though panting, which dumps heat from their bodies through evaporation of water from their tongues rather than their skin.
In order to keep cool through panting, dogs need a good airway. Brachycephalic dogs almost all have narrower windpipes relative to other dogs of comparable size — a condition known as “tracheal hypoplasia.” Bulldogs often have a trachea that would keep a Yorkie quite happy, but for the bulldog, it must be like breathing through a coffee stirrer. When we have to intubate brachycephalic dogs for surgery (which involves placing a soft, plastic tube into their trachea to deliver oxygen and anesthetic gases), they will often wake up with the tube in place after the procedure and seem quite happy to have an open and bigger airway for the first time in their lives. Most other dogs can’t wait to get the dang tube out!
Brachycephalic dogs can also have little blobs of tissue in the back of their throat (known as “laryngeal saccules”) that can turn inside out and block the airway, and they often have teensy-weensy little nostrils that look cute but don’t move too much actual air. Together, tiny tracheas, lumps of flesh and wee nostrils are called a “brachycephalic airway syndrome,” and while surgery can fix a few of the problems and provide for a better life for some of these dogs, the threat of heat exhaustion always remains.
When they try to dump excess body heat through panting, brachycephalics have to work so hard to move enough air through their tiny tracheas that they actually end up generating more heat and making things worse. It would be like having a coal-fired air-conditioner in your house; when the house gets warm, the A/C kicks on, but the heat from the coal fire would make the house warmer.
When the weather turns warm and humid, these dogs need to stay in a carefully controlled and cool environment to avoid overheating.
Signs of heat exhaustion — the last step before heat stroke — include bright red gums, an inability to get up and loud, raspy panting. Dogs that are going into full-on heat stroke often vomit, become severely lethargic and can have explosive diarrhea. Once heat stroke develops, cooling them down is the top priority but it often is not enough. Some dogs will go down the slippery and tragic slope into multi-organ failure and be unable to be saved, even with days of ICU-level care.
Prevention is the key with this condition, so remember to keep these dogs in a cool environment and always watch out for heat exhaustion.
If you think your dog is suffering from heat stroke or exhaustion, douse them in cool water, get them out of the heat and calmed down, and head for the nearest veterinarian without delay. Even a few minutes can make all the difference in the world.
Dr. Tony Johnson is a board-certified specialist in emergency and critical care and a professor at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine. He is on the Pet Connection advisory board.
Fun ferrets need owners who keep them out of trouble
By Dr. Laurie Hess
“I’ve never had to bring him to the vet before, because he’s never been sick …”
At the animal hospital, I hear this same declaration every day from pet owners about their sick pets, regardless of the species they own. And here’s the catch-22: If these folks had brought in their pets before they were sick, instead of waiting until after they showed signs of illness, their pets might not have become ill in the first place.
This is especially true of ferrets, those masked mischief-makers who make wonderful companions but have become so popular as pets that their domestication and inbreeding have made them susceptible to a handful of common — often preventable — illnesses. Among the top preventable health problems in ferrets are:
?Foreign object ingestion: Just as human children put everything in their mouths, so do young ferrets. Shoes, parts of the couch, toys — you name it; they’ll eat it. And then they develop intestinal obstructions, which are marked by diarrhea, bloating and sometimes vomiting. This requires lifesaving intestinal surgery to resolve. So if you ferret-proof your crazy critter’s environment by removing all small objects from the floor and never leaving him out of his cage unsupervised, you can avoid a costly trip to the emergency room.
? Hairball ingestion: Just as young ferrets eat foreign objects, middle- to older-age ferrets ingest hair, and can develop intestinal obstructions due to hairballs. These furry friends often groom excessively, consuming large amounts of hair that stick together with mucus in their saliva to form cigar-shaped mats that plug up their narrow intestines, leading to diarrhea, lack of appetite, lethargy and occasional vomiting. Sometimes a laxative treatment will help these hairballs pass, but more often, complicated intestinal surgery is required to unplug these tiny creatures. With brushing and a couple of oral doses of a petroleum-based cat hairball laxative each week, you can avoid this situation.
? Urinary-tract obstruction: The most common cause of urinary-tract obstruction in male ferrets is prostate gland enlargement, which compresses the urethra (outflow tract of the bladder), preventing urination. Prostate gland enlargement in ferrets is most often a result of an adrenal gland tumor that produces hormones that cause the prostate to swell. Both males and females can develop these tumors, but because females don’t have prostates, they don’t develop urinary-tract obstructions. While the cause of adrenal disease in ferrets is not completely understood, and we cannot prevent it, we can recognize its telltale signs — hair loss and itchy skin — and treat it with hormones and sometimes surgery when it first occurs, before urinary obstruction develops. So if your ferret starts scratching and showing patchy baldness, it’s time for a visit to the vet.
? Dental disease: Can you imagine eating every day and never brushing your teeth? That’s what most pets do, but at least most cat and dog owners take their pets for regular dental cleaning. On the other hand, most ferret owners never do. In fact, most ferret owners are not even aware that their naughty nibblers need dental cleaning. Ferrets, like dogs and cats, should have an annual dental scaling and cleaning, and ferret owners should brush their pets’ teeth weekly to help keep tartar buildup down. There are tiny toothbrushes that fit on a human finger that are used with poultry-flavored toothpaste especially designed for ferret fangs. Regular tooth care in ferrets reduces gingivitis, tooth root infection and tooth loss that commonly occurs in ferrets as they age.
So if you own a ferret and he has never visited a vet, it’s time for a checkup — even if he isn’t ill. Remember, an ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure.
Dr. Laurie Hess cares for birds and other exotic pets, such as rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, smaller rodents and reptiles at the Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics in Bedford Hills, N.Y. Dr. Hess previously served as head of the Avian & Exotic Pet Service at the renowned Animal Medical Center in New York City.
CUT PET CARE COSTS
Simple strategies can save money without short-changing your pet
By Dr. Nancy Kay
Today, the human-animal bond is stronger than ever. The more tumultuous the world is around us, the tighter we cling to our beloved pets. They soothe us with their predictability and unconditional love, and they consistently give in excess of what they receive. Imagine then, the heartache someone feels when it’s necessary to cut back on a pet’s health care because of financial hardship.
If you are in a financial pinch — who isn’t these days? — here are some things you can do to economize while still doing a great job of caring for your pet’s health.
? Lay your financial cards on the table when talking to your vet. Talking about your bank account may be difficult, but such a discussion can lead to options that make better financial sense. Rarely is there only one way to diagnose or treat a disease, and you are entitled to an explanation of every single option for your pet.
? Request a written cost estimate for veterinary services before they are provided. How else can you know if your bill will be $200 or $2,000? Requesting an estimate does not reflect how much you love your pet; you are simply being fiscally responsible.
? Kick the once-a-year vaccine habit. We used to think that standard vaccinations such as distemper needed to be given annually. We now know that these vaccinations provide a minimum of three years’ worth of protection, once the puppy or kitten series has been completed. If your vaccine reminder card suggests otherwise, talk to your veterinarian.
? Don’t neglect your pet’s preventive health care, as it could cost you money in the long run. For example, administering a heartworm preventive is less expensive for you (and safer for your dog or cat) than treating heartworm infection.
? Feed your pet less food! Just as with humans, many dogs and cats are overweight. Ask your vet for her honest opinion about your pet’s waistline. If she agrees that your precious family member could lose a few pounds, put less food in the bowl. This new habit will translate into cost savings and result in a healthier animal, which means fewer veterinary bills.
? Be a savvy consumer of supplements for your pet. Some supplement suppliers would like you to believe that your pet’s good health is dependent on their products. Avoid being seduced by such ads, and talk to your vet about exactly which supplements are worthy expenditures for your dog or cat.
? Investigate options for paying your veterinary bills. Perhaps the clinic administrator is willing to barter for products or services. Look into CareCredit, for example, a reputable line of credit that can be used to pay for veterinary expenses. The company provides interest-free payment plans that may be advantageous compared to standard credit card payments.
? Consider investing in pet health insurance, especially if you are inclined to take the “do everything possible” approach for your pet. Do the math and determine if insurance makes financial sense in the long run. And before you sign on the dotted line, do some research to find a provider that is a good fit for you and your pet.
What should you do if your pet is ailing and you are forced to contemplate euthanasia because of financial constraints? Before succumbing to such a drastic decision, I strongly encourage a thorough investigation of every other conceivable option. Consider researching rescue associations, borrowing money from friends or relatives, applying for a donation from a pet health assistance organization, or finding a financially capable guardian for your pet. Exploring these options might just save a life and will do wonders for your peace of mind.
Dr. Nancy Kay is a board-certified specialist in internal medicine and the author of the book “Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life.”
KINDEST CUP OF ALL
New surgical technique means easier spays, faster healing
By Dr. Timothy McCarthy
The first spaying I ever watched was in a small rural practice in 1958 when I was 13 — the same time I first became interested in veterinary medicine.
The surgery was performed using ether and catgut suture from a spool that had to be manually threaded onto a needle. There was no surgical cap, mask, gown or gloves, and only a postage stamp-sized surgical drape. There was no pain medication, and the ovaries were pulled up to the incision by tearing their attachment to the abdominal wall. This was the state of the art at that time.
Today, nearly all aspects of spaying have improved. We have better anesthetics that have minimal negative effects on the patient. We use individual sterile packages of suture with attached needles made using the same synthetic suture material used in human surgery, which causes minimal tissue reaction and is completely removed by the body with time.
We also use caps, masks, gloves and gowns, and use drapes of adequate size to prevent any contamination of the surgical field. We no longer need to pour antibacterial agents into the surgery site. Aggressive pain management with drug combinations is used before surgery to block pain before it starts, and the medications are continued during the post-operative period.
However, we are still using the same barbaric blind tissue-tearing technique to rip the attachment of the ovaries away from the abdominal wall. This technique does work — because we’ve been spaying dogs and cats this way for more than 50 years. But now there is a better way: laparoscopic spaying. It changes our technique from tearing tissue blindly to cutting tissue where we can see what we are doing, and it is the final step toward achieving modernization of this surgery.
To perform a laparoscopic ovariectomy, we first place a small endoscopic telescope into the abdomen, and the abdominal wall is lifted away from the internal organs by filling the abdomen with carbon dioxide gas so that we have a space to work. Specially designed surgical instruments are placed into the gas-filled abdomen. The first ovary is found and can be seen clearly on a video screen with magnification, which the surgeon uses for the duration of the procedure. The ovary is lifted gently away from the other organs, and its attachments to the abdominal wall are cut with a device that electronically seals the blood vessels. The freed ovary is removed from the abdominal cavity through one of the small incisions made for the telescope or the instruments. The procedure is repeated for the other ovary.
When the surgery is completed, no foreign suture material is left in the abdomen because we have electronically sealed the blood vessels, and we have only two small incisions in the abdominal wall.
The equipment and instruments needed to perform laparoscopic spaying are expensive, but they cost no more than many other advanced medical devices commonly seen in small-animal practices (such as ultrasound, digital X-ray systems and lasers) and are far less expensive than others (CT and MRI). Additional training is needed, but this surgery is easier to learn and perform, with fewer problems and complications than many other new surgical techniques that are being incorporated into small-animal medicine. This technique is well within a skill level attainable by most general practitioners.
The bottom line for pet owners: Animals spayed with laparoscopy recover faster and have less pain than those operated on using the traditional technique. It’s time for a change!
Dr. Timothy C. McCarthy is a board-certified surgeon in the Portland, Ore., area who has pioneered the application of many minimally invasive diagnostic and therapeutic techniques that are now becoming the standard of care.
ONE THE MOVE – Simple, safe steps for moving with a cat
By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
One of the most pervasive myths about cats is that they care more about places than people.
It’s true that cats are territorial and will seek out familiar places when stressed, which is why they sometimes attempt to return to their old homes when moved. But they’ll be much happier going where you go if you take steps to ease their transition from one home to another.
While you’ll never manage a stress-free move for either yourself or your cat, you can make the best of the situation by keeping your pet secure before, during and after the move, and then by allowing your pet to gradually adapt to his new surroundings.
The best way to move your cat is to confine him to a “safe room” before and after the move, and to transport him from one house to another in a secure carrier. The ideal safe room is a spare bedroom or bathroom where your cat isn’t going to be disturbed, and where he can be outfitted with food and water, a litter box, a scratching post and toys.
Don’t feel bad about confining your pet. He’ll be more relaxed in a small space where he won’t be subjected to the stress of seeing people tromping around his house with the family belongings. Confining your cat also prevents him from slipping outside, which is a danger at both the old and the new home. A frightened cat may be hard to locate on the day of the move if you don’t make sure he’s somewhere that you can put your hands on him.
When you get to your new home, leave the carrier — with its door open — in the safe room. Close the door to the room and leave him be while you unpack. Coaxing him out of the carrier with treats and praise is fine, but let him choose when and how much of the safe room he wants to explore. Never drag him out — you’ll upset your cat, and you might get scratched or bitten.
A couple of days after you’ve unpacked and things have settled down, open the door to the safe room so your cat can explore the rest of the house. Even if you plan to let him outside, keep him in for a couple of weeks. He needs to stay inside to start forming a bond with his new surroundings. Better still, make the most of the opportunity offered by a move and convert your pet to indoor-only status. Your new neighbors will appreciate it, and your cat will live a longer, safer life.
It’s relatively easy to make the conversion to indoor cat when you move to a new home. He’d carry on like crazy in your old home if locked in, but in new surroundings he’ll accept the change with little fuss. Part of the reason cats don’t like to convert to indoor-only is because they’ve marked the outside as part of their territory and have a natural desire to revisit it. A newly moved cat will learn to accept the territory he has been offered, and if the outdoors isn’t part of it, he won’t miss it as much.
Above all, don’t rush your cat through a move. Confinement during the transition is also good for avoiding behavior problems that might pop up with the stress of moving. By limiting your cat’s options to the litter box and the scratching post in his small safe room, he will quickly redevelop the good habits he had in your old home.