At The Animal Medical Center, our board certified surgeons and neurologists perform approximately 1,500 surgeries each year. A recently released pet insurance study completed in 2012 listed the top ten surgery claims for both dogs and cats:
Since none of us want our pets to be subjected to the difficulties most surgeries pose, I will devote this blog to suggestions on how to avoid some of the most common canine and feline surgeries.
Topping the surgery list for cats and coming in at number three for dogs were tooth extractions. Keeping your pets’ teeth healthy means daily brushing and annual dental cleanings. The American Veterinary Dental College website provides good information about home dental care in dogs and cats. Remember, doggy breath often means periodontal disease, so if your pet has smelly breath, see your veterinarian for treatment before extractions become necessary.
Skin abscess, inflammation and pressure ulcers
This list of skin conditions ranks number two as a reason for surgery in both dogs and cats. Pressure ulcers generally occur in older dogs with limited mobility. Padding, padding and more padding will help prevent pressure ulcers on their elbows and thighs. Investigate orthopedic beds for your dog and try to keep him from laying on hard surfaces like the bathroom tile floor which can aggravate pressure sores. Promote mobility in your dog through regular exercise and management of arthritis with diet and medications.
Feline bite wounds
When I was a veterinarian in a more suburban area, we treated cat bite wounds on a daily basis. Preventing cat bite injuries is as simple as keeping your cat indoors. Cat bites not only cause wounds which can become abscesses, but cat bites transmit the feline immunodeficiency virus and possibly blood parasites as well. Priceless is how I define the value of keeping your cat indoors and healthy.
The tenth most common surgery in dogs was to repair an aural (ear) hematoma. Cats can develop aural hematomas too, just not as commonly as dogs. This condition is essentially a blood blister inside the ear flap. Blood accumulates in the ear flap when your dog incessantly shakes his head or scratches her ears. Usually, the shaking and scratching is in response to an allergy or an ear infection. If you see this behavior, check inside the ear for redness or discharge. See your veterinarian immediately to treat the cause of the shaking and scratching to prevent the development of an aural hematoma.
While some surgeries are unavoidable, these are prime examples of how a visit to your veterinarian for routine preventive care can help your pet avoid surgery.
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.
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.
In my previous blog, I wrote about the steps leading up to general anesthesia designed to minimize anesthetic risk. This blog continues with medications used prior to the anesthetic agent and concludes with recommendations for pet owners.
Successful anesthesia is not just about the main inhaled or injected anesthetic agent. Most times, several drugs are administered in the hours or minutes prior to induction of anesthesia. These drugs reduce the amount of anesthetic agent required, calm the patient, and make the process better for everyone involved. If postoperative pain is anticipated, pain management may be initiated during this period.
Induction and anesthesia maintenance drugs
After the premedications take effect, administration of an agent to induce anesthesia begins. Sometimes the same drug is used to maintain anesthesia for the procedure; other times a second maintenance agent is administered. Typically a breathing tube is secured in place to allow free passage of oxygen and anesthetic gas into the lungs and carbon dioxide out. The breathing tube has a little expandable balloon cuff which acts as a safety feature. The cuff is expanded to prevent aspiration of saliva or stomach contents into the lungs during the procedure.
Nearly every veterinary hospital has a poster of drug doses to be used in emergency situations. At The AMC, we calculate the exact dose of a long list of emergency medications for every patient undergoing anesthesia. The paper stays with the pet throughout the anesthetic procedure. Emergency equipment is also available in the anesthesia area, including tracheal suction and defibrillators. During every procedure, heart rate, respirations, blood pressure, and blood oxygen level are recorded every few minutes, so if a negative trend is occurring it can by recognized and corrected immediately.
The most critical time in anesthesia is the three hours following discontinuation as this is when the most anesthetic-related deaths occur. Pets are carefully monitored until they are fully awake, once again able to swallow and ambulate normally. Here is a description of Spencer in The AMC’s recovery room.
The pet owner’s role
In addition to asking questions about the procedure and understanding the precautions your pet’s veterinary team is taking to safeguard your pet, you have other important roles. Following your veterinarian’s directions about withholding food and water before the procedure are critical in safeguarding your pet’s health. A full stomach could result in vomiting, leading to aspiration pneumonia.
In most hospitals, you will be asked to sign an informed consent document only when you understand the procedure, its risks, and have had the opportunity to ask questions of the veterinary staff. Finally, if your veterinarian recommends your pet stay overnight and recover under their supervision, listen and heed their advice. On the few occasions I have given in to client pressure and released a pet before I wanted to, both the client and I regretted it. Leaving your pet overnight allows the team to adjust the pain medications, while taking her home means she waits until morning if the prescription needs adjustment.
If I had to venture a guess as to the most fretted over issue for pet owners, it would be finding the right food for their pet. Grocery store and pet shop shelves abound with bags, boxes, and cans. No wonder the decision is difficult. Here are my tips to streamline the selection process:
1. Check the label
The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) develops regulations regarding the nutritional adequacy of pet food. If the label says “complete and balanced” for your pet’s life stage (puppy, kitten, adult, senior), then you know it meets the AAFCO regulations and is a food worth a trial run. If the AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy statement is missing from the label, this is definitely not the right food for your pet.
2. Look at your pet
Not every complete and balanced food is right for your pet. If the food you feed results in a dull coat, vomiting after every meal, or diarrhea, start over and select an alternative food. As your pet matures, switch her food to one formulated for her current life stage. With so many options on the store shelves, there is guaranteed to be a food to meet the needs of every pet and pet family.
3. Variety is the spice of life
If you feed your kitten or puppy food of the same flavor every day, you risk raising a finicky eater. Try alternating the chicken flavor of your pet’s favorite brand of food with the beef or tuna flavor. If you feed both canned and dry food, select foods from two different pet food companies. Familiarity with two different textures and tastes may come in handy if one food is taken off the market, is recalled, or if your pet develops an illness requiring a switch to a special diet.
4. Change cautiously
When a diet change becomes necessary due to life stage change, illness, or family preference, plan ahead to prevent problems. An acute diet change often results in complete rejection of the new diet or gastrointestinal upset. Gradual introduction of a new food increases your chance of success in gaining your pet’s acceptance of what you want her to eat. Place a second bowl containing a bite or two of the new food next to the old food. Don’t expect instant success and consider a sniff or a lick on the first day a triumph. If she starts finishing the bite of new food, gradually decrease the portion of the old food while increasing the serving size of the new food. The total transition should take a month.
5. Check with your veterinarian
This is the most important tip. Your veterinarian should serve as your primary resource for pet nutrition information. We see dozens of pets every week and have a good idea of what foods result in healthy, happy pets. Because your veterinarian knows the health of your pet, she will also know if a prescription diet should be part of the therapy for your dog or cat’s illness.