How Do You Know if Your Dog is in Pain?

June 6, 2011

I get asked this question daily by at least one worried dog owner. Since dogs can’t talk, how do we identify a dog in pain?

Jack's legs

Dogs and Pain
Sometimes identifying pain is easy. Dogs hit by a car or suffering from another traumatic injury are obviously painful. Here is a photograph of an Irish Setter, with two reasons to be in pain. The leg on the right side of the photo looks red, sore and swollen. This skin change is induced by radiation therapy used to treat a bone tumor and it will resolve now that radiation is completed. The swelling is caused by a bone tumor. Bone tumors are particularly painful and tend to cause limping, which is what clued the dog owner in to Jack’s problem. Treatment is already making him walk better.

Sylvie after back surgery

Back Pain in Dogs
A dog with a slipped disc in the back (intervertebral disc disease) typically cries and whines, without external signs of injury, but the dog owner can readily determine there is a pain problem. Sylvie, shown here after her back surgery, came toThe AMC because her owners noted her crying when they picked her up. Later, they noticed she was having difficulty walking. Examination at The AMC identified her back as the source of the pain and she had surgery to remove the disc and relieve the pain.

Signs of Subtle Pain
Extreme pain is reasonably easy to identify; subtle pain may not be so easy to spot. With hospitalized patients, we look for changes in the sleep-wake cycle, a decrease in appetite or poor grooming habits. We also watch how the dog sits or lays in its cage. Painful dogs may hide in the back of the cage or sit in a strange fashion to protect a painful area of their body. Licking, rubbing or scratching a particular area of the body may also indicate a painful area. Whining and crying are not reliable pain indicators, but we monitor these behaviors in our hospitalized patients in case they indicate pain in a particular individual.

If you think your animal is in pain, a trip to the veterinarian is in order. In the past few years, new drugs to treat pain have been developed for dogs. Keep in mind, painful animals are typically frightened and even the most docile pet can bite when handled if it is experiencing severe pain. If your dog is injured and needs transportation to the ER, consider using a muzzle, or if you don’t have one, a necktie to gently tie his muzzle closed while he is handled because you don’t want to have to go to the ER too.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Prescription: A Cat and a Cardboard Box

June 2, 2011

June is Adopt a Cat Month. Since I am hoping many cats will be getting new homes this month, I am going to devote my Wednesday blogs in the month of June to cat issues to help new cat owners raise healthy happy cats.

“She’s not eating,” wailed one of my cat owning clients the other day on email. This cat has a complicated set of problems, all of which could decrease her appetite. Later that morning, we examined the cat and could find no specific reason for her not to be eating. Blood tests were A-OK, but she seemed more anxious than usual.

Valium, Prozac, Xanax? No, I prescribed a cardboard box, nothing fancy, a generic Staples copy paper box. I sprayed the box with Feliway® and set my little friend up in a quiet cage with a plate of food, a water bowl and the open side of the box facing the back of the cage.

All day long she relaxed, safely hidden from prying eyes, and snacked on her plate of food until it was licked clean. At the end of the day, I sent the box home with the owner.

Why a cardboard box? Cats are mostly solitary creatures who like their privacy. When they are ill or upset, privacy is even more important to them. Providing a safe place for them to hide… and eat, is just one way we humans can improve their environment. Feliway is another.

Feliway is a synthetic version of a naturally occurring substance called a pheromone. Pheremones are produced by the cat’s body and serve as a chemical signal to other cats. The signal induced by Feliway is one of comfort and reassurance, just what my patient needed that day.

Would your cat be happier with a cardboard box and Feliway? Check with your veterinarian. For other great suggestions on improving your cat’s (and dog’s) home environment, review the great materials on the Indoor Pet Initiative website.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit http://www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Careers in Veterinary Medicine

May 31, 2011

On May 26th I participated in a career fair at IS 204 in Long Island City, Queens. In case there are any aspiring veterinarians reading this, I thought I would give a review of what I talked about at the career fair with these middle school students.

Most middle school students in New York City are exposed to veterinary medicine through the care a neighborhood veterinarian provides to a family pet such as a cat, dog or other companion animal, but the opportunities the profession offers are much wider.

Nearly 100,000 veterinarians in the United States provide healthcare to animals who supply us with food, such as cattle and fish, produce fiber for clothing, such as sheep and alpacas, and protect the public health though their efforts on behalf of local, state and federal agencies. Veterinarians care for animals in research laboratories, wildlife parks, zoos and classrooms. Other veterinarians become professors, training the next generation of animal caregivers.

Neighborhood veterinarians are typically generalists, providing preventive and general healthcare to their patients. Some veterinarians, like me, are specialists, with additional training. My training is in treating pets with cancer.

For middle school students interested in a career in veterinary medicine, choose a high school with a strong college preparatory program, especially in science and mathematics.  Use your summers to explore veterinary medicine by volunteering at an animal shelter or veterinarian’s office. Participate in an animal related summer program. One such program is sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo.

Colleges of veterinary medicine offer summer programs for high school juniors and seniors. My alma mater, Cornell University, offers four programs for high school students. Michigan State University, Tufts University and the University of Pennsylvania, among others, host similar programs.

When choosing a college major, it is not essential to choose biology or animal science. I went to veterinary school with someone who had majored in Russian literature, but she completed all the science and math prerequisites required to apply to veterinary school. Keep in mind, grades matter. The University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine offers a college level summer “camp” for preveterinary students.

If the four years of college and four years of veterinary school are not for you, but you are interested in being part of an animal healthcare team, you might want to consider becoming a Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT). Multiple programs throughout the country offer associate degrees in veterinary technology. The closest program to both The AMC and IS204 is at LaGuardia Community College, also in Long Island City, Queens.

Veterinary medicine offers great diversity in career options for the student interested in biology, zoology and mathematics. Additional information on pursing a career in veterinary medicine and veterinary technology can be found at the American Veterinary Medical Association website.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Name This Puppy!

May 25, 2011

The adorable West Highland White Terrier pictured here is in search of a name. His new family is considering Harper, a name of Scottish origin that also belonged to a famous Southern American author, Harper Lee, or Henry because of the puppy’s regal bearing and royal personality. Or perhaps my readers have a better suggestion. Go to the Animal Medical Center’s Facebook page and join in the discussion about this puppy’s name. Below are some of my thoughts on memorable patient names to help you start thinking. We would also like to hear the story about how your pet got its name.

During the course of my career as a veterinarian, I have heard lots of unusual pet names. To write this blog, I reviewed my personal patient archives to remind myself of some of the colorful names my patients have. Unlike human baby names, which are recorded by the Social Security Administration, and reported on websites like parenting.com, there is no registry of pet names.

Popular culture influences baby names, and 2010 was no exception. The Twilight Saga gave us the top boy and girl names of 2010: Jacob and Isabella.

Popular culture also influences pet names. Over the years I have noticed an evolution in Rottweiller names. For example, a common name in the 1980’s was Mr. T. Tyson became popular in the 1990’s, and more recently Kruger or Hannibal.

Remember the movie Milo and Otis? Milo was an orange cat. Every veterinarian will tell you orange cats named Milo increased dramatically after this movie was released and The AMC has over 300 cats named Milo in its patient database.

Here are some more fun names of pets, in alphabetical order so no one will be offended.

Abie – A West Highland White Terrier owned by a pianist. The name was a truncation of the Composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin.

Barbara, Diana and Mary – An entire litter of three female miniature black poodles named after the Motown group, The Supremes.

FSBO – (pronounced fizz-bo) A real estate acronym which stands for For Sale By Owner. This dog’s family worked in the real estate business.

Handsome – An aptly named, fabulously handsome Pug with velvet black lips.

Pugsley – When I first met this dog I spent a lot of time in the waiting room looking for a Pug or a Puggle, but I just found a brown, mixed breed dog. Turns out the owner just liked the name and its choice had nothing to do with the dog’s appearance.

Quay – A dog rescued from a drug dealer and previously known as Quaalude.

Sapphire – This cat should have been named Spitfire. No veterinarian could get within a mile of this cat without risking life and limb.

Simon – A Morkie, was thought to look British in a photo sent to a family member and he immediately became Simon.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Spring Allergies in Dogs

May 23, 2011

Spring finally has come to New York City. I know because of the springtime changes I see. No, I don’t mean the daffodils, tulips, flowering trees or the verdant carpet of grass in Central Park , nor the return of the robins, Yankees or Mets. It is the phone calls from the owners of Willie, Coco, Willa and Roman who have noticed their dogs licking, scratching and chewing at themselves and shaking their heads due to itchy ears.

Signs of an Allergy
Dogs that are licking, scratching and chewing at themselves likely have allergies to something in the environment, a common disorder in dogs. One of the major pet insurance companies in the United States reported the top claims for 2010. The top three in dogs were all related to allergies: ear infections, skin allergies and skin infection/hotspots.

Types of Allergies
Your dog can be allergic to the same allergens you are – seasonal ones such as fleas, mold and pollen from trees, flowers and shrubs. Dogs also suffer from non-seasonal allergies to dust mites or feathers. And poor Roman has been diagnosed with being allergic to cats! This time of year we suspect seasonal allergies, but if the scratching and itching continue into the winter months, then we worry about year round allergies.

Treating Allergies
If your dog has seasonal allergies, frequent bathing with soothing shampoos and medicated rinses often help, especially after weekend romps in the park. If your dog develops a skin or ear infection as a sequel to her allergies, your veterinarian can evaluate an ear or skin swab and determine the proper medication to remedy the situation. Sometimes antihistamines or steroids are prescribed to help control the itch.

Seeking a Veterinary Dermatologist
When the allergies are present year round or are not controlled by the methods described above, a veterinary dermatologist can perform special testing to determine the allergen(s) causing the problem. Two types of allergy testing are available for dogs: a blood test and intradermal testing (the skin prick test your allergist may have used on you). The veterinary dermatologist will determine what test is best for your dog. Most dogs are allergic to more than one thing and a custom allergy vaccine can be created for them based on the test information. You give your pet small volume injections under the skin to decrease the immune system’s response to the allergen, and over time the itching, scratching and associated skin and ear infections subside.

If your dog is scratching more this spring or seems to always have an ear infection, maybe he has allergies. See your veterinarian for advice on management and follow the directions closely to avoid a serious hotspot or ear infection this spring.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


The Second Annual NYC Pet Show

May 19, 2011

Dr. Ann Hohenhaus with Meteorologist Ron Trotta & Scmitty the Weather Dog

If you are in the New York metropolitan area, I have a great weekend activity tip for you: check out the NYC Pet Show at the Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street, from 12 noon-5 pm on both Saturday and Sunday.

This event is fun for the whole family, including the furry members of the family. Leashed pets are welcome and will have a great time testing all the latest pet products. The humans attending will love listening to the expert speakers in addition to having a great opportunity to network with other dog and cat lovers. Schmitty, the weather dog, who was at The Animal Medical Center to broadcast with me on Monday will have her own booth.

During the course of the show there will be expert presentations throughout the course of the afternoon. On Saturday, my friend Charlotte Reed will give her view on “What You Need to Know to Have a Pet in NYC” and Bill Berloni, of Theatrical Animals, will let you in on his secrets training animals for Broadway shows.

Sunday yours truly will present “Why is the vet pushing on my pet: Demystifying the Wellness Exam” at 12:15. My presentation will be followed by members of Rescue Ink who will talk about the animals they have rescued. Rescue Ink’s members are tough talking tattooed bikers with a big soft spot for animals. While I like their mission, I am partial to the temporary tattoos offered by my friends at Angels on a Leash — a cute little purple dog with a heart of gold. One of my dog patients is a volunteer with this great organization.

In addition to seeing new products, attendees will be able to see some pet products I have highlighted in previous blogs. Both Pioneer Pet Products and GoPet will be at the NYC Pet Show. I highlighted the Feng Shui water fountain and the self powered exercise wheel in my holiday gift blog. CityKitty, who makes tasty low calorie bonito tuna flake treats will also be there for those pets watching their weight.

If I have convinced you to go attend the NYC Pet Show, “Tales from the Pet Clinic” and AMC blog readers will receive a $5 discount on their tickets by using the special promotional code AMC, when buying their tickets online. See you at the show!

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


10 Reasons to Go to the Pet ER Now!

May 16, 2011

Although I regularly share pet healthcare information on the AMC blog, I also like to remind readers that this information is not a substitute for a vet visit. You should always contact your veterinarian in an emergency. In case you are unsure as to what constitutes a pet emergency, here are my top ten reasons to take your pet to the ER (in no particular order):

1. Vomiting or diarrhea — not the run of the mill variety, but more than 2 or 3 times in an hour or if it is bloody. If the retching is unproductive in a dog with a distended abdomen, worry about bloat.

2. Red eye, runny eye or an eye injury. The littlest eye injury can quickly turn into a big problem.

3. Ingestion of a possible toxin, such as antifreeze (ethelene glycol), rat poison, human medications or a toxic plant.

4. Difficulty breathing or excessive coughing. Your dog might hold her head and neck extended to get more air or your cat might start breathing through his mouth.

5. Traumatic event such as being hit by a car or falling from a window. On the outside your pet might look fine, but internally may have suffered a serious injury.

6. Straining to urinate, especially if no urine is being produced.

7. Collapse, loss of consciousness or a possible seizure. Early intervention could prevent another one of these frightening episodes.

8. Bleeding from anywhere: a cut, a torn toenail or serious bruising under the skin.

9. An acute allergic reaction, especially if it involves swelling of the face and could compromise breathing.

10. Just to show the ER doctors how much better your pet is feeling and to thank them!

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


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