Thanksgiving is all about food and family. Many of us consider our pets family members and want to include them in the holiday celebration, but menu selection for pets can be tricky. For example, dogs love chocolate, but it will cause vomiting, diarrhea and hyperactivity if Fido indulges his passion with a few foil wrapped chocolate turkeys. Your cat may find the raw turkey trimmings sitting on the counter a tasty treat. Raw poultry can be teeming with organisms such Salmonella or E. coli and give Fluffy a nasty case of food poisoning. So here are simple suggestions for taking food from your holiday table and creating a healthy and safe buffet for the family pets. More difficult will be figuring out if seating Fido next to Grandpa and Fluffy next to Uncle Ray will provoke a family fracas!
When choosing Thanksgiving food for your dog’s dish, stay away from high fat dishes, such as gravy or sausage stuffing, which can provoke an episode of painful pancreatitis. Steer clear of raisins and grapes, whether in a fruit salad or stuffing, as these delicious fruits can cause serious kidney problems. A spoonful each of nice white meat turkey, sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes minus the butter, sour cream, nuts, and marshmallows would be safe turkey day fare for your dog. Fruit often appeals to dogs, and while recreating grandma’s apple crumb pie, save a couple of apple slices for your dog.
If you have a vegetarian reptile, such as an iguana, bearded dragon or a tortoise, the Thanksgiving side dishes provide an opportunity to share the bounty of the season. Winter greens such as collards and mustard greens make a tasty holiday treat. While you’re setting aside the greens for your special scaled friend, save some raw squash, yams and even a few fresh or boiled cranberries to create a colorful and healthy reptile dinner. In addition to the vegetables and fruit, your turtles might like a bit of white or dark meat turkey added to their plate.
Because cats think of you as their servant, dishing up what you believe to be a special holiday meal without asking their permission may result in rejection of your best culinary efforts. Perhaps just serve up the turkey flavor of your cat’s favorite canned cat food and call it a day in the kitchen! If you must cook for your kitty, consider simmering the giblets from the turkey until they are cooked through. Once they are cooled, mince them finely for a feline Thanksgiving Day indulgence.
Pocket pet provisions
If you have a small mammal, such as a rabbit or guinea pig, save some salad fixings, like lettuce leaves and carrot pieces, to make Thanksgiving extra special. While you are making the pie, save a small piece of apple before it is mixed with sugar and cinnamon as a rabbit dessert. The family ferret can feast on small bits of plain turkey meat without gravy or seasonings.
Before you add the butter, sugar or marshmallows to the steamed or boiled sweet potatoes, save a small portion for your bird’s Thanksgiving dinner. If you garnish your vegetable dishes with pecans, walnuts or slivered almonds, they too can be added to your bird’s holiday fare. Selections from the vegetable side dishes, such as carrot pieces, green beans and Brussels sprouts, make a tasty and healthy addition to your bird’s plate, but be sure to set them aside before butter or salt is added!
The Animal Medical Center wishes a happy Thanksgiving to all! “Bone” Appétit.
Since November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month, this image posted on Twitter by @PetLiving caught my eye. Adopting a grey muzzle pet bypasses the need to housebreak, train and socialize your pet, all necessary tasks when you adopt a puppy or kitten. The text accompanying this photo highlights just two of the health issues, loss of vision and hearing, that you might expect when you adopt a senior pet.
Do you have a senior pet?
A dog or cat is considered a “senior” when he or she is in the last 25 percent of the breed’s expected lifespan. So a Great Dane with a life expectancy of 8 years might be a senior at 6 years. Conversely, a miniature poodle with an expected lifespan of 15 years might not be a senior until 11 or 12 years. The lifespan of cats remains more consistent across breeds than in dogs, and cats over 10 years of age are considered seniors.
Keeping your senior cat healthy
Essential to keeping your senior cat healthy are regular preventive care visits to the veterinarian. Over the past 10 or so years, the frequency feline patients see their veterinarian has dropped to less than one time per year. Without routine care, small problems become big ones. Take for example feline teeth. In a British study of over 140,000 cats, nearly 15 percent suffered from periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease is a painful condition which can be nipped in the bud by routine dental prophylaxis. Wait too long to have your cat’s teeth treated and the need for multiple extractions increases. Preventive health care visits allow your cat’s veterinarian to perform blood tests which can reveal kidney disease at a time when dietary therapy can be effective. Routine visits to your cat’s veterinarian also help to keep tabs on your cat’s weight. Overweight cats have a greater risk of developing diabetes and bladder problems.
Keeping your senior dog healthy
Three critical factors in keeping your senior dog healthy are preventing obesity, promoting mobility and monitoring for cancer. A multi-year study of Labrador retrievers demonstrated the negative impact of obesity on longevity. Dogs fed a restricted amount of food lived nearly two years longer than dogs fed a higher number of calories.
Keeping your senior dog in lean body condition is directly tied to maintaining mobility. Overweight senior dogs with creaky joints have a much more difficult time getting around than their slimmer counterparts. More time sitting on the sofa translates to a decline in muscle strength and turns into a dog that can barely walk. During your twice yearly senior pet checkup, your veterinarian has in her pharmacy a variety of medications to keep your senior dog moving comfortably. Experts estimate that almost 50 percent of all dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer, making this a significant problem in the senior dog. You can easily monitor for skin cancers by simply doing a through belly rub and petting your dog from nose to tail. If you find any lumps or bumps, bring them to the attention of your veterinarian immediately.
Better medical treatment means pets can live longer and healthier than ever before. Don’t assume your senior pet is just slowing down as a normal part of aging. Slowing down could indicate your pet is developing a disease. That’s why veterinarians recommend your senior pet see them twice yearly. Make an appointment for your senior pet today!
Your pet needs a second opinion from a board certified veterinary specialist and your veterinarian has helped you set up the appointment with the right specialist. You know this is going to be different than seeing the familiar veterinarian you have trusted with your pet’s care since you brought him home from the shelter in a cardboard carrier. How can you make this nerve-wracking experience efficient and affect the best possible outcome for you and your pet?
Look at a consultation with a veterinary specialist at The Animal Medical Center or another specialty hospital like you do any other meeting. If you are running a meeting at your office, you will be sure the right people are invited to attend the meeting; the meeting will have an agenda agreed upon in advance; it will have a start and stop time and meeting attendees will be assigned tasks to complete after the meeting is over. All of these points also describe your appointment with a veterinary specialist.
The Right Attendees
I am a veterinarian and my job is to take care of sick pets. To me, your pet is a critical participant in the specialist consultation. While your role of transporting your pet to the appointment and being its spokesperson is also crucial, I really need to examine your pet and see first-hand the problems that need correcting. You would be surprised at how many people come to see me without their pet. If you choose to leave your pet at home and fly solo at a consultation with me, I can guarantee one of your tasks after the meeting will be to bring your pet to The AMC for an examination.
A veterinary specialist has been trained to approach patients with a basic agenda:
- Ask about the past history and review any documentation from the primary care veterinarian
- Perform a physical examination
- Make a list of possible diagnoses
- Create a list of tests to determine which diagnosis is the correct one
- Interpret the test results once they become available
Pet owners can streamline that agenda by having medical records, x-rays and blood tests sent in advance of the scheduled consultation.
Pet Owner Agenda
Simply put, the pet owner agenda for a specialist consult revolves around one of three issues: making a diagnosis, treating a disease or improving the quality of life. For some pet owners there may be other issues that are equally important, such as having the pet attend a family function. If there is an important issue for you and your pet, be sure to let the specialist know what it is and how you feel this issue might impact the recommended diagnostic and therapeutic plan.
The To-Do List
At the end of the consultation, the specialist or a member of their team will explain the plan for your pet. It might be to give medications or schedule a follow up test at your veterinarian’s office. Following the plan exactly and scheduling tests or treatments on time will help get your pet back on its feet as soon as possible. And having a healthy pet is what makes any visit to the veterinarian’s office special.
The title of this blog takes its name from author and New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman’s bestselling book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. The book’s thesis explains globalization in the 21st century as a result of wide accessibility to personal computers and fiber optic cables which make communication via email and information gathering via the internet nearly instantaneous. This form of globalization renders geographic divisions between countries irrelevant.
Friedman describes “ten flatteners” including: the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Netscape and workflow software. My own observations of the world of veterinary medicine indicate that it is not much different than the global economy Friedman describes in his book. Paying tribute to the Pulitzer Prize winner Friedman, here are my veterinary flatteners.
A New Workflow
Digital radiography has changed the workflow of daily veterinary practice. In the pre-computer days, each x-ray was a piece of film, not easily copied and very easily misplaced. Now The AMC and many other veterinary hospitals have switched to using digital radiography, using a machine that looks like a regular x-ray machine but which takes digital images similar to those taken with your smart phone. These x-rays can’t be lost because the images are stored in a picture archiving and communication system (PACS). The image files are very large, but can be transported by burning them onto a CD or transferring them through any number of file sharing systems.
Electronic Medical Records
As it has revolutionized the global economy, the personal computer is revolutionizing veterinary practice. Electronic medical records systems (EMRS) allow rapid dissemination of medical information between specialists and primary care veterinarians. I can write a letter to a patient’s primary care veterinarian after I have completed my consultation with their patient. Through the magic of the EMRS, I can have the letter in that veterinarian’s inbox for his/her review before the pet has returned home.
Twenty-five years ago when I started the process of becoming a board certified veterinary oncologist, there were only about 25 veterinary oncologists in the world. The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine now has certified over 300 oncology diplomates and there is a European College of Veterinary Internal Medicine which certifies oncologists as well. Board certified specialists all over the world form a healthcare network that trades patients back and forth when pet owners relocate or go on vacation, just as I described in a previous blog: “Clea’s International Healthcare Team.” Since veterinary oncologists and other specialists have expanded their reach worldwide, specialist veterinary care no longer has geographic boundaries.
Multinational Veterinary Companies
Specialists are not the only international flatteners. Because international companies provide veterinary products and services, veterinary specialists can access information about pets seen by a veterinarian practicing on a different continent! Take for example my patient Gigi. She came to The AMC from Kuwait, but because the biopsy of her tumor was sent to the European branch of the same laboratory used by The AMC, I was able to ask additional questions about the biopsy result. The biopsy sample was retrieved from storage and then reviewed by a pathologist in Europe. The answers to my questions were sent via email.
Real Time Communication
The internet has changed the face of veterinary education. Today, veterinarians no longer have to travel to earn continuing education credits necessary to maintain their licenses. Continuing education comes to them though their computers. This year, the keynote speaker addresses at the annual Veterinary Cancer Society Meeting were streamed live to members unable to attend. Additionally, several internet based companies offer on-demand veterinary continuing education opportunities.
The veterinary world is indeed flat and that means your pet can get excellent veterinary care from a veterinarian in your neighborhood or from a specialist somewhere a long way from home!
Just before Christmas, The Animal Medical Center held its annual residents research abstract presentations. As part of their specialty training, residents are expected to design, execute and report on research in their area of clinical specialty, and this mini-conference provided a forum for exchange of the knowledge gained from research between members of The AMC medical staff. The AMC performs a very specific type of research – clinical research. This means we study diagnostic testing, new treatments and procedures in the patients we care for as part of our effort to improve the health and well-being of our patients. We do not test or treat any animal for the sake of “research.”
Caspary Research Institute
Research at The AMC is not new; when The AMC moved uptown in the 1960’s from Lafayette Street to its present location, a decision was made to locate the new veterinary research institute right in the middle of the Upper East Side’s strong human-focused biomedical community. The AMC became the fifth biomedical institution in the neighborhood, joining The Rockefeller University, Cornell University Medical College, Sloan-Kettering Institute and Memorial Hospital for Cancer and Allied Diseases. Early architectural drawings of the AMC building show a sign on the north side of the building saying, “Caspary Research Institute.” When The AMC opened on 62nd Street, research and patient care were its main focus areas.
Short and Sweet
From a research point of view, an abstract is a very short presentation – 12 minutes, followed by a 3 minute question and answer period. Resident research abstract presentations are commonly preliminary reports which allow discussion of data and help formulate the interpretation of results prior to the writing of a manuscript for publication. Because the information presented was preliminary, I have a few interesting tidbits to report.
One study evaluated treatment of cognitive dysfunction in dogs with an anti-seizure medication compared to dogs treated with a placebo. In order to help veterinarians and owners make an unbiased assessment of patient response to the actual medication, our colleagues at Best Pet Rx Pharmacy made every dog’s medication look exactly the same. No one could tell which dogs were getting the medication being studied and which dogs were getting placebo pills. This is called double blind study design. Double blind because two people, the patient and the researcher, don’t know the treatment group assignment because it is hidden by the look-a-like pills.
Challenge of Science
Most research projects do not proceed exactly as planned. A study of ICU patients was designed to follow the effects of treatment on dogs with low blood protein (hypoalbuminemia). Dogs were to have a blood sample prior to treatment and 48 hours later. The study did not meet the enrollment target. Why? Despite an impression that dogs stayed in ICU longer than 48 hours, most dogs did not stay that long and fewer dogs than projected entered the study. Of course, we were happy your dogs went home earlier than expected, which was a scientific finding on its own.
The AMC’s ICU patients often need to be fed intravenously. We use a commercially available product called Procalamine. This product provides amino acids, the building blocks of protein and glycerin, as a source of glucose for energy. One emergency critical care resident studied patients receiving Procalamine as part of their treatment protocol. Patients receiving Procalamine through a catheter in their leg had more inflammation of the blood vessel than patients who get Procalamine through other, larger blood vessels. Although the directions for Procalamine indicate it can be given in the legs, we now will try and avoid this whenever the patient’s condition allows it.
Helping Pets Everywhere
These types of studies enable AMC veterinarians to improve the level of care for your pet. Through the publications that will result from these and other studies performed here, the knowledge will improve the care of pets everywhere.
The webmaster at The Animal Medical Center fields questions related to pet health from all over the world. Many of the recurrent questions are related to pet health insurance. Here are the answers to a few of the most common pet health insurance questions.
What insurance policies does The AMC accept?
Pet insurance is different than human insurance. My doctor’s office has negotiated contracts with several insurance companies; therefore, she cares for patients who purchase policies from those companies. The contract in pet insurance is between the pet owner who purchases the policy and the pet insurance company. The AMC provides information and invoices to the pet owner, who in turn submits a claim to their pet’s insurance company and is reimbursed for their expenditures by the insurance company.
What will pet insurance cover?
Coverage depends on the company and the details of the policy. Trupanion policies focus on coverage for illness and recovery rather than preventive healthcare. The ASCPA policy, underwritten by the Hartfield Group, has several different levels of care, two of which include coverage for preventive healthcare.
How much do policies cover?
Commonly, policies state they reimburse 80-90% of customary and usual charges for covered services. Each veterinary hospital sets its fees to reflect their costs of operation. If you live in a city where the cost of living is high, ask if the insurance company has higher “customary and usual charges” for calculating your level of reimbursement. Alternatively, ask a prospective insurer what percentage of submitted claims is paid out to pet owners in your area. Healthy Paws reimburses based on the actual veterinary bill as do a couple of other companies. Some companies have annual or lifetime caps on total payments. Others cap payments for specific conditions.
Can I get pet insurance for all my pets?
All companies insure dogs and cats. Insurance for the other members of Noah’s crew, including birds, reptiles, small mammals, marsupials, amphibians, rodents and lagomorphs is available only through VPI, the oldest pet insurance company in the United States.
What about coverage for pre-existing conditions?
Again, this type of coverage varies from policy to policy. For example, some policies exclude genetic conditions, such as elbow dysplasia and hip dysplasia, from coverage. If your dog has already had a cruciate ligament repaired on the left and the right cruciate ligament ruptures, he will not be covered by all policies as some consider cruciate disease to be a bilateral disease. Pets Best seems to be one exception to this exclusion.
Another point to keep in mind: your veterinarian may recommend therapies not covered by your policy. If she does, your claim would be denied. Before you renew your policy, ask if any illnesses reimbursed in the previous policy cycle will be excluded as pre-existing conditions once your renew.
I found several interesting features of the policies I reviewed. Pet’s Best lists coverage for some groundbreaking treatments, like stem cell therapy for feline kidney disease. I found a 13 page list of medications covered by one plan, and another with coverage for boarding if you are hospitalized and need to board your pet.
A recent news article highlighted increasing numbers of companies offering pet insurance as an employee benefit. Check with your human resource department before you select a policy for your favorite fur person.
Final word: Read the policy carefully
I found at least one policy that does not cover two common (and costly) problems of older dogs and cats: heart disease and diabetes. Cancer is another group of diseases which are not covered by all policies; although many policies can be upgraded to cover cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Is there a new puppy in your family? Has the backyard cat installed himself on your family room sofa? Have you inherited grandma’s piano and her parrot? If so, you won’t want to leave the important decision regarding the choice of your new pet’s healthcare provider to chance. Here are some tips for choosing the right veterinarian and veterinary hospital for your pet.
Location, location, location
In Sunday’s New York Times, healthcare reporter Elizabeth Rosenthal, talks about choosing a hospital for your own care. She writes, “Indeed, with thousands of good hospitals across the nation, the best selling point for routine medical care may simply be convenience…” Whether or not you agree with her point of view regarding your personal healthcare, proximity may be a consideration in choosing a primary care veterinarian. A new puppy will need several rounds of vaccines and a spay or neuter surgery requiring transporting the pet to and from the hospital on multiple occasions. But if you have a parrot, the closest veterinary hospital may not have a veterinarian with expertise in avian medicine and you will need to choose a clinic providing bird care, not necessarily the closest clinic.
Proximity plays an even more important role in the selection of an emergency hospital. When your pet is hit by a car and in shock, has serious bleeding or can’t breathe, time is of the essence and the closest animal ER is the best ER for your pet.
Assessing hospital quality
If you personally needed a heart valve replacement, for example, you might look for data on outcome for valve replacement surgery at the various hospitals in your area. In New York State we have the New York State Hospital Report Card. You could also search the doctor ratings on the website of your healthcare provider. Since this type of information is lacking for veterinary hospitals, you might turn to online sources to read the opinion of pet owners who have posted their experiences. I must admit, to me, these online reviews can often seem more like rants and may not provide the objective information you need to guide your pet healthcare decision making process.
A better method of assessing hospital quality would be to look for a hospital accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Their website also allows you to search for the AAHA accredited hospital nearest you. Choosing an AAHA accredited hospital assures pet owners that the hospital they select has the staff, equipment, medical procedures and facilities that AAHA believes are vital for delivering high-quality pet care. The Animal Medical Center has been AAHA accredited since 1976, and to maintain our accreditation we voluntarily receive triennial evaluations on over 900 standards of small animal hospital care.
Finding the right specialist
The easiest way to find a specialist for your pet is for your primary care veterinarian to recommend one she works with on a regular basis. This will ensure a good line of communication and seamless medical care. If your veterinarian doesn’t have a recommendation:
- Search the website of the type of specialist you are looking for, e.g. veterinary cardiology, veterinary surgery or veterinary dentistry.
- For a cutting edge therapy, you might have to travel a good distance to find the specialist your pet needs. Use a scientific search engine like PubMed or Google Scholar. Search for the procedure your pet needs. When the search identifies a particular hospital where the procedure is commonly performed or a veterinarian who is a frequent author of scientific articles on the procedure, focus your search on this clinic or veterinarian. Examples of this type of procedure include repair to a ruptured ligament in the knee or image modulated radiation therapy.
Quick tips on finding the right veterinary hospital
- Know where the closest animal ER is and keep its address and phone number in your GPS device, cell phone and on the refrigerator list so you are prepared for an emergency.
- Don’t be afraid to visit potential veterinary hospitals before booking an appointment. Find out if their clinic schedule matches your availability. Ask the receptionist about their preventive healthcare protocols.
- In case your pet develops an unusual medical condition or requires specialized surgery, ask your trusted primary care veterinarian about the network of specialists they recommend.
International travel with pets is a complicated affair. Each country has its own set of rules about vaccinations, blood tests, deworming and microchipping. For island countries free of rabies, an elaborate scheme of testing and vaccination is required to prevent a dog or cat from introducing the disease to the country.
Some families handle the international health paper requirements better than others. Take for example Justin Bieber and his pet Chapuchin monkey, Mally. Passports are required for band members on the Believe Tour to enter a foreign country, and Mally the monkey needed special health papers to enter Germany. The problem was, proper papers were lacking and Mally’s concert touring days prematurely ended. Apparently, Mally remains overseas.
Here’s a better story of a family that did their homework regarding international pet travel. Today I saw a cute dog named Avatar, in need of an international health certificate. One of the requirements for entry into her home country is a health certificate signed by an accredited veterinarian. Not every veterinarian is accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), but this family knew to ask for an accredited veterinarian because they had carefully researched this information.
Avatar came to my office with a pile of papers carefully detailing all her vaccinations. I need this information to be sure she meets the entry requirements and to document vaccinations on the international health certificate. Another requirement for Avatar’s destination country is vaccination against leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is an infectious disease caused by a bacteria spread in the urine of wild animals. Happily, the paperwork indicated a vaccination against leptospirosis and I quickly checked off that requirement.
Avatar’s destination country did not require a microchip, but documentation of a microchip is a common requirement for entry into many countries. Some countries also have their own import paperwork, but Avatar’s accepted the USDA form. Once I signed off on my part of the health certificate, Avatar had another stop: the USDA area office at JFK Airport, where she received the endorsement of their New York area veterinarian.
How can you avoid a Bieber epic fail when traveling internationally with your pet?
- Start early to ensue you have enough time for required testing or vaccination protocols.
- Do your homework. Start with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website and the website of your destination country for pet import requirements.
- If you need the signature of an accredited veterinarian like me, check to see if your veterinarian is accredited or ask for a recommendation.
- Keep your pet up to date on vaccinations and other preventive health care measures to avoid any delays in getting your pet’s international health certificate.
It’s spring cleaning time, but if you have pets please clean cautiously since some of the most common cleaning agents can be toxic to your pet. Birds are especially sensitive to the fumes from household cleaning agents.
Chlorine bleach has an extremely wide spectrum of activity against common bacteria and viruses. Its low cost makes bleach an attractive disinfectant and laundry additive. Bleach disinfects by oxidizing cell membranes, rupturing and killing cells. Bleach has the same effect on the gastrointestinal tract if your pet drinks undiluted bleach or chews on the bleach container. A splash of bleach into the eye of a curious pet can cause tearing, irritation and even an ulcer.
Some websites recommend the use of phenol-containing pine scented cleaners as a deterrent for cats who urinate outside their litter boxes. If you use these products, you may no longer have a healthy cat and the litter box issues will seem insignificant. When walking across your freshly mopped kitchen floor, your cats get phenol on their feet. Phenol is caustic to the delicate paw pads. Then, when cats groom, they ingest the cleaner which damages their liver and kidneys. When compared to dogs, cats are extremely susceptible to phenol toxicity since their liver lacks an important enzyme for metabolism of phenol.
Although not technically toxic, steel wool and metal mesh scouring pads can cause intestinal obstruction if consumed by your pet. At first glance these products do not have much culinary appeal, but when encrusted with steak bits from the grill or some scrambled eggs from the frying pan, a scouring pad becomes a tasty treat for your dog or cat. As you can see in the x-ray, the scouring pad unravels and prevents food from normally passing though the intestine. The sharp strands can also slice into the intestinal wall. Emergency surgery is required for removal.
Quaternary ammonium compounds are disinfectants with a broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity against bacteria, viruses and fungus. These compounds are popular cleaning agents colloquially called “quats.” Serious injury can result to both pets and people if they inadvertently come in contact with quats. Caustic burns, convulsions, low blood pressure and even death occur following ingestion or contact with the skin.
The AMC Emergency and Critical Care staff recently teamed up to save the life of a young Yorkshire Terrier with severe oral swelling and respiratory distress from ingestion of quaternary ammonium. Read his story: Yorkie Ingests Deadly Poison and Survives.
Not sure if a product is pet-safe? Download the material safety data sheet for any product you might purchase to prevent bringing a dangerous product home.
It’s that time of year again; the time when we make New Year’s resolutions. I seem to make the same ones every year: eat healthier, exercise more, be kinder. My suggestion for 2013 is for every pet owner to be a responsible one. To achieve that goal, the American Veterinary Medical Association has developed a list of guidelines for responsible pet ownership.
Fur the Love of Pets believes this is a good list for pet owners to review before making their 2013 list of resolutions:
As the holidays approached, I received several tweets discouraging pets as holiday gifts since a pet is a lifetime commitment and acquiring one should not be an impulsive decision. You must choose the right pet for your lifestyle and should have as many pets you can comfortably care for, both physically and financially.
Having a pet requires an investment of both time and money. Preventive healthcare saves money in the long run and helps prevent costly emergency visits.
Although vaccinations are part of a preventive healthcare program, the rabies vaccine protects human health as well.
Every pet should have both permanent and temporary identification. Permanent identification should preferably be a microchip, but a tattoo is a viable alternative. A collar with tags is a good temporary and immediate method of letting people know where your pet belongs if he should become lost.
Help decrease the nation’s pet overpopulation problem by spaying or neutering your pet. Preventing unwanted litters limits the number of animals entering shelters each year.
Prepare for your pet’s future like you prepare for your family’s future. Assemble a “go bag” for your pet. Include your pet in estate planning; don’t assume your family is prepared to add your pet to their household and make provisions for your pet in case you can no longer be the primary caretaker.
A recent survey of both pet owners and veterinarians interrogated the pet health issues each group thought were most important. In last week’s post, I discussed the issues from the veterinarian’s point of view. In this blog I will write from the pet owner’s point of view.
Pet owners said they were primarily concerned with vaccinations, fleas and ticks, heartworms, intestinal parasites, and spending money on medications. This list appears to overlap with the veterinary list on the topic of intestinal parasites, and both owners and vets are squarely focused on preventive healthcare; care to keep their favorite furry, feathery, or scaly companion healthy.
Vaccinations float to the top of most pet owners’ lists because they save pets’ lives. Before vaccinations were available for common diseases like canine distemper and feline panleukopenia, these diseases spread through neighborhoods like wildfire, often resulting in the deaths of many pets. Decreases in the recommended frequency of some vaccines, coupled with the association between injections and tumors, has raised many questions in pet owners’ minds.
Both pet owners and veterinarians agreed intestinal parasite control was an important issue for pets. How could it not be? Intestinal parasites are high in yuck factor, high in pet discomfort, and on the list of diseases people and pets can share.
Fleas and ticks
These critters are very similar to intestinal parasites with regard to yuck factor and pet discomfort. A pet with a flea infestation may mean you also have a house or apartment with a flea infestation since fleas spend more time off your pet than on. Pet owners want to avoid an expensive exterminator bill by preventing fleas on their pet. Pet owners also want to prevent fleas and ticks to protect their pet against diseases like Lyme disease and blood parasites.
Because heartworms are a serious health concern in both dogs and cats, they are an important medical issue for most pet owners. Nearly every state in the United States reports cases of heartworm in resident dogs and cats. This map shows heartworm cases by state.
Year-round heartworm preventative is a “two-fer” since most prevent both heartworms and some intestinal parasites.
Pet owners want the best for their pet. In my mind, the best are veterinary-specific products. I prefer to prescribe medications developed specifically for veterinary patients rather than human or compounded medications. Veterinary-specific medications assure you, the pet owner, the product has been tested in dogs or cats and will be absorbed, metabolized, and effective in your pet. But, because most pets do not have insurance and medications are paid for “out of pocket,” many times pet owners can be surprised at the cost. As a pet owner myself, I believe that these veterinary-specific medications are worth paying for.
After looking carefully at the two lists of pet healthcare issues, one from pet owners and the other from veterinarians, are they really so different? Both groups’ lists really have only one item and it’s the same one: healthy, happy pets.
A recent survey of both pet owners and veterinarians interrogated the pet health issues each group thought were most important. In this blog, I will write from the veterinarian’s point of view and in next week’s post, the issues from the pet owner’s perspective.
Starting with an exam
In an exam room with a pet owner and a furry, feathery or scaly patient, veterinarians focus on performing a complete physical examination, a pet’s need for routine blood testing, intestinal parasite control and issues related to senior pets and pain management.
Physical examination detects abnormalities in your pet’s body that veterinarians can determine the cause of through blood tests, x-rays, and other specialized tests. For example, crusty eyes will be tested for tear production, or a brown discharge in the ears will provoke an ear swab and a microscopic examination of the discharge to determine the best medication to clear it up.
If your cat is losing weight or your dog has a bad haircoat, thyroid testing might be indicated.
A complete physical examination is just one component of assessing a pet’s health. Veterinarians use blood tests to monitor organ function, monitor drug therapy and discover disease. Without them, we can only guess about your pet’s health. You shouldn’t be surprised that blood tests are high on our list.
Intestinal parasite control
The Companion Animal Parasite Council, a group of parasite experts, recommend all pets be treated with monthly anti-parasite agents. The recommendation stems from the need to keep your pet healthy and also protect humans against infection. Tummy upset is a common reason for urgent visits to veterinarians. Parasite control helps keep these visits less frequent and keep you and your pet happier.
A pet lifetime is compressed into 10-15 years. Once your pet reaches 8-10 years of age, she is considered a senior pet where one year of life represents multiple years of aging. To detect age related conditions, experts have recently increased the recommended frequency of visits for senior pets to a minimum of twice a year. When we see your senior pet, we will consider age related changes such as pain from arthritis.
Veterinarians know pain from arthritis is an important issue for their patients and their families, but families and veterinarians alike struggle with how best to diagnose pain and measure response to treatment in pets who cannot talk. Watching them engage or not engage in their normal daily activities provides the best clue. Sometimes a hunch leads us to try pain medications and when we see a positive response, know we have made the correct diagnosis.
Now that you know what’s on your veterinarian’s mind you will be better able to understand how we can collaborate to keep your pet in perfect health. Be sure to take a list of what’s on your mind when you visit your pet’s veterinarian to promote this collaboration.
Hurricane Sandy created hardships for people living up and down the East Coast. Residents were displaced from their homes and sent to evacuation shelters or lived in flooded apartments, and life in general was disrupted. Sandy spared few. Animals, too, suffered as a result of the high winds and flood waters inflicted by the storm. The concept of zoobiquity springs from the fact that animals and humans share many of the same diseases. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I would argue we share much, much more.
Animal homes flooded
The ponies of Chincoteague Island have always held a special allure for me, and after visiting this barrier island last summer, I was concerned for the ponies’ safety as the storm surge rose. Before the storm, the pony caretakers opened the gates on the fences around the pony habitat, allowing the ponies to go to higher ground and have free range of the entire island. All the ponies safely weathered the storm, as you can see on this video of their hurricane experience.
The New York Aquarium sits right on the famous boardwalk of Coney Island and is at the epicenter of New York City hurricane damage. Although the aquarium was without power for several days, generators ran filters and staff members pumped oxygen into tanks, keeping the fish, invertebrates, and mammals well cared for in their watery homes.
One of the newest aquarium residents, Mitik, an orphan baby walrus, seemed to enjoy the storm, not unlike many other New York City youngsters who rejoiced when school was cancelled for a full week.
Aquarium residents were not evacuated from their home, but many New York City pets were. All New York City evacuation shelters accepted pets and Mayor Bloomberg encouraged residents to take their pets with them as they evacuated. The New York Veterinary Emergency Response Team has monitored the census of pets in evacuation shelters in the New York area. As of Veteran’s Day, 141 pets still remained in the city’s shelters.
Other animal displacements were a pair of brown pelicans. Brown pelicans are normally southern birds and are neighbors of the Chincoteague ponies. Wildlife rehabilitators reported two displaced brown pelicans blown off course by Hurricane Sandy and found in Rhode Island.
This time of year, Rhode Island is much colder than the birds’ normal southern habitat and these fellows are currently resting and recovering from their harrowing hurricane experience while awaiting transport home.
Families, animals included, reunited
Despite the upset and havoc Hurricane Sandy caused, there are happy stories too. Neighbors helping neighbors, runners of the cancelled New York City Marathon helping in relief efforts and families reunited. Patches the cat was rescued from the rubble of his home by a dump truck operator and Sandy the dog is back with his family.
My fellow animal lover, Jill Rappaport of NBC News, made this touching video about pet families and the hurricane.
What you can do
Microchips are a large part of the reason why happy post-hurricane stories can be told. If your pet is not microchipped, don’t wait until the next big storm. Now it the best time to get one.
The Animal Medical Center’s friend, Amy Sacks at The Daily News, has posted great information about how you can help pets affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Do you know anyone who had their lives or those of their pets disrupted by the storm? Share your stories in the comments below.
Photo: Matt Stanton
For college students, the fall semester is well underway. While undergrads percolate chemistry experiments, burn the library lights late into the night, and strike keyboards as they type out the latest term paper, some will find themselves homesick and missing their family pet. Often on a whim, many students go so far as to take a quick trip to the local animal shelter to adopt a puppy or kitten to fill the void. But is this a good idea?
I asked this exact question of my college best friend when she simultaneously announced her daughter, Colleen, had been accepted to Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and was getting a puppy named Fripps as a graduation gift. As you can see, veterinary college suits Fripps and Colleen and they have made lots of friends already.
First, a backup plan
Colleen is lucky — her parents love Fripps. If Colleen’s academic demands become overwhelming, her parents will keep Fripps at their home with their own dogs. Many parents might not be as accommodating as Colleen’s are. So, if you are a college student considering a pet adoption, think about how you will provide for your pet if you have the opportunity for a semester abroad or if your roommate develops allergies. Check with your parents to see if they would agree to provide you with the backup you might need. If the answer is no, you will need to think of another alternative, such as a friend or relative who can take in your pet when necessary.
Since Fripps came before Colleen found a place to live, she leased a pet-friendly apartment. If you already have an apartment, check your lease to determine if yours is pet friendly. Talk to your roommate(s) regarding his or her feelings about having a pet in the shared areas of your apartment. Considering a dog adoption? Investigate doggie day care options for days when you have late classes – or simply want to have a burger out with friends before going home. Fripps goes to the Shaggy Dog three days a week, since there is a three days for the price of two special, and being a college student, Colleen is on a budget. Remind yourself, a pet is a lifetime commitment and those lives can last 10-15 years. A college education is partly about exploring opportunities. Although adopting a pet is a wonderful experience, it may limit opportunities for academic travel and work experiences offered by your college.
Not only does your new furry friend need food, a collar and leash, and a crate or carrier, but preventive healthcare will be a must. A puppy or kitten series of vaccines and a spay or neuter surgery are just the start. Fripps has access to good medical care through Community Veterinary Services at Mississippi State University, but college students on a limited budget must consider how they will pay for routine veterinary care. For some budgets, a prepaid plan might make sense. To help handle the cost of emergency care, college students — and all pet families — should investigate pet insurance. If you are an automobile-less student, investigate how you and your new pet will get home to visit your family and the veterinarian.
Parents listen up!
If your college student sounds pet homesick on the phone, guide them in making a wise decision about adding a pet to their list of college experiences. With some advance planning, your homesick college student may benefit from a friendly furry face greeting him at the door every evening.
As parents, we want to raise children who have a reverence for all living things, and what better way to educate them about animals than to spend a day at a petting zoo, a country fair, or a natural science museum featuring live animal displays? Animal events are fun and educational for the entire family, but before you attend an animal event, your children need a bit of advance preparation to protect themselves. Animals in public setting have been associated with some preventable health issues such as infection, injury, and allergic reactions.
Rodents, reptiles, livestock, pocket pets, and even wild mammals visit schools and are displayed at county fairs and science museums. The potential dangers vary from animal to animal. Livestock can carry the bacteria E. coli, which causes gastrointestinal upset in humans. Just last week I read a report of an E. coli outbreak linked to a fair in North Carolina.
Reptiles commonly shed another bacterium causing gastrointestinal upset: Salmonella. This organism is the reason turtles less than 4 inches in size have been banned from sale. Most experts consider turtles appropriate pets for children over five years of age.
Approach animals cautiously
Parents take their children to visit animal displays because they want their children to be comfortable around animals and to appreciate the natural world. Before you go, make sure your child understands if the animals can be touched and, if so, how to approach one safely. If your child is bitten during one of these events, you risk dampening your child’s enthusiasm for animals and simultaneously exposing him to a serious injury or infection.
Even iguanas can cause allergies
If you have a child with animal allergies, check with her allergist about how best to handle an animal visitation. Most children allergic to dogs and cats are likely to be allergic to other furry critters such as guinea pigs, chinchillas, and rodents. Some people even have allergies to iguana scales.
Take home messages
- Teach children how to safely interact with an animal before visiting a petting zoo, county fair, or school event featuring animals.
- Wash hands after every animal interaction or use hand sanitizer.
- Children should not kiss animals or put their hands in their mouth after handling an animal.
- Children too young to follow directions about hand washing and keeping their hands out of their mouths should not handle animals in public displays.
- Because of the risk of transmitting an infection, hands should be washed after petting animals and before snack time.
- Wild animals do not make good pets.
If you are an early childhood educator, guidelines for animals in schools have been developed by the Centers for Disease Control.
October 14- 20, is a celebration of the contributions to the healthcare of animals made by veterinary technicians. Often called “nurses,” these licensed professionals practice under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. In New York State, veterinary technicians prepare and give medications as ordered by the veterinarian, take x-rays, induce and maintain anesthesia, and assist with medical and surgical procedures. Most importantly, they are critical members of the team caring for your pet. Last year, in honor of Veterinary Technician week, I wrote about the care received by Jack Black the Cat.
Just as in human healthcare, nurses for animals are in great demand. Not only are career opportunities available for veterinary technicians to work in general veterinary offices, but specialization in various disciplines such as oncology or anesthesia, participation in biomedical research, enlistment in the military and even working as a technician in zoo and wildlife medicine are also widely available.
Like all professionals, there is a backstory about the day-to-day life of veterinary technicians. If you are considering a career as a veterinary technician or just know someone whose job it is to be a technician, you may be unaware of what a typical day entails. Hopefully this blog will give you a bit of the inside scoop and provide a greater appreciation for the labors of love they each perform every day for our pets.
Fashionistas need not apply
Looking for a job where you look great and wear fabulous clothes? Unless your skin tone becomes more ravishing when you wear scrub-suit green, being a veterinary technician is probably not for you. However, if you like to change clothes frequently, we can accommodate your needs. A shake of the head can send ear drops flying right onto your freshly laundered ensemble or a pooch with a bloody nose can change you plain shirt into a polka dot one!
Seeing cute animals all day, every day brings a smile to every technician’s face, since like veterinarians, they love being around animals. But loving animals occasionally has a darker side. Every animal hospital provides its employees with plenty of options to adopt a new pet: a basket of kittens left on the doorstep or a dog tied to the lamppost, but every family, even those with a member skilled in providing pet care, has a limit to the number of pets they can handle, both emotionally and financially.
Compassionate technicians may run the risk of trying to help too many of the animals in need that they encounter. Reliable resources for helping these animals are at the tip of the fingertips of the best technicians who know or have learned the limits of their care.
Like many businesses, The AMC tracks statistics on workplace injuries. No surprises here: topping the list are bites and scratches, followed by back injuries. Fortunately, licks and kisses are not considered injuries, just part of the fun of being a tech.
A heartfelt thanks to all veterinary technicians
During National Veterinary Technician Week 2012, the veterinarians of The AMC would like to recognize our nearly 80 technicians – and every technician nationwide – for their commitment to their profession and the support of ours.
If you are thinking of a career as a veterinary technician, visit http://www.veterinarytechnician.com.
You will find lots of useful information and even job opportunities in your area.
A rare form of human meningitis has recently been in the news. The outbreak, believed to stem from fungal contamination of a medication compounded to treat back pain, has resulted in several fatalities. The manufacturer of the implicated medication is not a big pharma or an overseas company; the medication was produced by a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts. The Food and Drug administration has identified fungal organisms in a sealed vial of methylprednisone acetate produced by the compounding pharmacy.
Pets not affected
This outbreak is unusual since the fungi involved, aspergillus and exserohilum, live in soil and water. Exactly how they came to contaminate the medication is under intense investigation. Since veterinarians don’t treat back pain in dogs and cats with steroids like methlyprednisone acetate injected around the spinal cord, there are no reports of fungal meningitis in pets, but veterinarians do use compounded medications, and understanding their role in managing disease in your pet is important.
Compounding is the alteration of the original drug dosage form for the purposes of ease of administration or because the original dosage form is unsuitable for the purpose intended. Translated for the pet owner, compounding is flavoring a medication to hide the bad taste, dissolving pills into a liquid to facilitate administration, or putting multiple medications into one capsule to help a pet owner comply with a multidrug treatment protocol. Without a good compounding pharmacy, my job would be impossible.
Compounding is not regulated by the FDA because it is a process initiated by prescription and on a case-by-case basis. In veterinary medicine, compounding rules have been stretched in an attempt to create cheaper medications. Some compounding pharmacies offer expensive medications at unbelievably low prices. I suspect these cheaper products are being produced by what is known as bulk compounding from raw materials. Just last week, I had to advise a pet owner against using the compounding pharmacy’s cheaper “house” brand of an expensive medication. That medication is not currently available as a less expensive generic. Although I am sympathetic to the financial burden of treating a pet with cancer, my overriding concern is for the patient and the efficacy and safety of the prescribed treatments. Prescribing an approved medication provides some assurance of efficacy and safety for my patients.
Listen to your veterinarian. If they believe a particular medication is better, ask why. If they are concerned about the safety and efficacy of a compounded medication, I recommend trying to make the standard formulation work for your pet.
Learn more about safely medicating your pet.
Today, Friday, September 28th is World Rabies Day. This annual event serves to increase awareness about rabies in both animals and humans. In the United States, human cases of rabies have dramatically decreased since the 1970’s due to the “One Health” collaboration between public health officials, veterinarian-directed rabies vaccinations for companion animals, and wildlife vaccination programs.
Something new under the sun
Described in ancient Babylonia, by Homer in the Iliad, and also by Aristotle, rabies is possibly the oldest infectious disease known to both man and beast. But two recent developments, a shortage of the human vaccine, and increasing reports of rabies in animals has led to new issues in the prevention of rabies.
More animals and more species of rabid animals
Wild raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes harbor the rabies virus and transmit it to domestic animals and people. Airplane passengers got a scare earlier this year when a rabid bat checked himself into an Atlanta bound flight.
As cute as some wild animals are, we must never forget they are, in fact, wild and can cause great harm to humans. Most of us are wary of the typical rabies carriers like raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes, but recently, reports of rabies in unusual animals reminds us to look and not touch any wild animal, including groundhogs, beavers and deer.
Even NYC is not immune to rabies. We had a small raccoon epidemic a couple of years ago in Central Park.
Cats are the number one domestic animal infected with rabies, and just a few days ago, rabid kittens inadvertently adopted by families in Georgia provoked a public health scare.
Human vaccine shortage
Six cases of human rabies were reported in the United States in 2011; in 2010, only two cases were reported. Since rabies is virtually always fatal, even one case is too many. Some people at high risk, like veterinarians and international travelers, are vaccinated against rabies as a precaution. For those not vaccinated, post exposure prophylaxis is administered.
The same vaccine works for both pre- and post-exposure treatments, but right now vaccine supplies are limited. Priority for vaccination goes to those possibly exposed to rabies, and preventive vaccination is on hold. Government officials believe this situation will resolve shortly.
Protect your pet, protect yourself
- Rabies vaccine is safe and readily available for companion animals. Talk to your veterinarian about rabies vaccination for your pets.
- Both you and your pet should avoid contact with wild animals. If you find an injured wild animal, report it to the appropriate authorities; don’t try and care for it yourself.
- Don’t encourage wild animals to visit your yard by feeding them.
If you want more information about rabies, review the most recent surveillance report from the American Veterinary Medical Association that was published just two weeks ago.