Veterinarian

4th of July Pet Safety Tips

The 4th of July is right around the corner, so to help keep the fur-children safe and happy we’ve put together a few tips that we hope are helpful to you:

The 4th of July has the dubious distinction as the day that more pets go missing than any other day of the year…and July 5th is the busiest day of the year for most animal shelters (I’m sure the wonderful folks at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington would like a quiet weekend!)

  1. Keep your pet safe and indoors!

  2. Have your pet identified - make sure they have a collar with an identification tag and/or a microchip that is up to date on its registration.

In the days after the 4th of July we often see a spike in cases of gastrointestinal problems that require treatment or hospitalization.

  1. Feeding your pet table food from your cook-out may seem like a good or a cute idea at the time...but many pets do not tolerate dietary changes well and is a poor decision. We see problems ranging from mild gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach/intestine) from eating food that’s out of the ordinary, to intestinal foreign bodies that need to be surgically removed (corn cobs, cooked rib bones, etc…), and pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) that often requires several days of hospitalization/supportive care.
  2. Glow sticks and citronella candles/repellants are also irritating to your pet’s GI tract and should be kept away from them at all times .

Resist the urge to take your pet to all your 4th of July festivities. It’s hot and stressful for our furry friends.

  1. Overheating, stress and anxiety are common issues seen with pets in these situations. While celebrating the 4th is fun for most of us bipedal human folk, our fur-kids have no idea what’s going on other than that their normal routine just got thrown out the window and we expect them to be OK with that.

  2. Our pets are very sensitive to the effects of alcohol - so please don’t give them any. It’s not cute to see them vomiting, having seizures or going into respiratory arrest from alcohol intoxication.

  3. Don’t assume your pet knows how to swim. If you’ll be spending your day pool-side on a boat or at the beach/lake/other large body of water, be sure you are watching your pet at all times and have a life-preserver for them to keep them safe.

  4. Never use fireworks around your pet. This may seem like a no-brainer, but we see far too many cases of injuries, burns and ingestion of the toxic substances found in many fireworks.

Noise phobias can be very distressing (to both owner and fur-child) and while many animals may just get a little anxious with the sound of fireworks - some go into an all-out distressed panic. If you know that your pet is noise-phobic please have a discussion with your veterinarian about the use of anti-anxiety medications, sedatives, and non-pharmacologic strategies to manage noise-phobias...NOW (not Saturday afternoon); and have a safe, quiet, escape-proof place to keep your pet.

Keep these tips in mind, and we hope everyone has a happy and safe 4th of July! And while we hope you don’t need it - information on a few of the local 24/7 veterinary emergency hospitals can be found here.

 

Pet Insurance

We are frequently asked for our opinion on pet insurance so we figured this would be a great topic for discussion this week… though it nevertheless remains a topic wide open for debate.

Veterinary pet insurance is a bit more comparable to dental insurance than our own general medical health insurance plans, in that the client pays the provider/veterinarian directly, files a claim, and then is reimbursed directly from the insurance company. A few hospitals may process the claim for the owner, but for the most part the hospital is uninvolved in any processing of the claims, other than providing a diagnosis and records to the insurance company when requested.

The other main difference from human health insurance is that pet insurance is for the most part designed to cover accidents, illnesses and injuries, not the routine wellness and preventative care (annual exam, vaccinations, preventatives) that one typically budgets for when acquiring a pet. It is the accidents/illnesses/injuries that come up unexpectedly and can be difficult to budget for ahead of time that most owners want the insurance against.

Each company works a bit differently in regards to yearly premiums, deductibles, pre-existing conditions, and coverage limits. It is very important to read all the fine print with any policy you are considering to be sure that there are not breed or other exclusions that may pertain to your pet. We recommend discussing the policy you are considering with your veterinarian if you have any questions.

So, all-in-all, is pet insurance worth the money? It’s impossible to say, since by nature we can’t predict which or when accidents, illnesses, or injuries may occur. The argument can certainly be made that in some cases it may be less pricey to simply set aside the money that would go towards the monthly or yearly premium so that it’s there for an emergency, but then again, a young pet can be just as likely to have an accident or serious illness as an older one who has more “reserves” in such an emergency fund.

We tend to recommend insurance the most strongly to pure-bred pets with well-known breed dispositions to certain conditions or diseases. The other question to ask yourself is that if you had to go to one of the local emergency clinics with a serious emergency or other significant medical issue — are you prepared and able to foot a several thousand dollar bill (potentially >$5,000 depending on the emergency) without getting reimbursed for any part of it down the road?

The following is a list of questions to consider when evaluating a potential pet insurance company and if their plans are right for you and your pet:

  • Are there any breed exclusions?
  • What is the policy for preexisting conditions?
  • What is the deductible?  Is this yearly, or per problem?
  • Will the premium go up yearly?
  • What is the turnaround time to get reimbursed?

Lastly, most policies won’t issue new policies on pets over a certain age, even if otherwise healthy.  The best time to sign up is usually when your pet is a puppy/kitten, before any “pre-existing conditions” have been identified.

For a side-by-side comparison of the various plans available click here. And for more information or a discussion on how the coverage a specific plan may benefit your pet, as well as to get an idea of medical costs of various illnesses, talk to your veterinarian. Hopefully this will aide in making an informed and educated decision to determine if obtaining veterinary/pet insurance for your fur-baby is the right one.

Summertime Fun & Safety Tips

It’s not quite summer… but it sure feels like it!! This week we’ve got some summertime tips and advice to keep you and your fur-kids happy and healthy.

The Weekend Warrior — Just like most people, intermittent and inconsistent exercise can lead to overexertion in our pets! If being active isn’t part of your pet’s regular routine, going for that 6.5 mile hike up Old Rag can lead to overexertion, overheating and injury. Be cognizant of your pet’s limits and if you’re planning a big hike or a long run, doing a bit of training ahead of time will go a long way in preventing injury.

High-Rise Syndrome — As it gets nicer outside, apartment cats are more likely to be let out on the balcony and windows are left open. While we always tease that cats have nine lives and are deft when falling… creating a safe balcony and making sure windows are securely screened is paramount to reducing the risk of injury or death related to a fall.

Heat Stroke and Other Heat-Induced Maladies — The hottest part of the day tends to be from 10am – 4pm and is the worst time of the day to be doing outdoor activities with your pet. Long walks, jogging, and hiking should be done early in the morning or in the evening. Certain breeds of dogs (and cats!) are more sensitive to the heat than others – breeds with “smooshed faces” (i.e. Pugs, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Himalayan and American Shorthair cats) are already predisposed to respiratory problems/difficulty… and when it gets hot those problems can be far more apparent. Additionally, you should NEVER leave your pet alone in a parked car. Even with the windows open that vehicle can become furnace-like, and quickly!

Sun & Contact Burns — Pets can get sunburn too! Dogs and cats that have thin hair or light skin are at increased risk for developing sun-induced skin cancer. The ears and nose tend to be the most susceptible. Talk to your veterinarian about using sunscreen/sunblock on your pet. Additionally, our dogs and cats can develop painful burns on their feet from walking on hot pavement. Minimizing exposure to hot pavement, walking in the morning and evening and using booties can reduce that risk.

Swimming — Swimming can be a great way to cool off for both you and your dog…however not all dogs know how to swim well! Be sure to stay within the comfort level of your dog and to use a life vest if needed. Additionally, be aware that not all bodies of water are ideal to be swimming in. Certain gastrointestinal parasites, such as Giardia, flourish in streams and small bodies of water. Bathing & ear cleaning after swimming, especially if the water source is not ideal, can also help prevent skin and ear infections.

Fleas, Ticks and Other Bugs — Fleas and ticks start to come out in full force as it gets warmer. Be sure to keep up regular use of your flea and tick preventive as that is their primary defense against many diseases, including Lyme. Additionally, other bugs (flies, mosquitoes, etc..) can bite and cause allergic reactions. If you have a pet that seems sensitive to bug bites, be sure to chat with your veterinarian about a Benadryl dose you can safely use in your pet.

Grooming — Shaving can seem like a quick/convenient way to cool your pet down – but remember that fur helps protect your fur-kid from sunburn! Cats should generally only be shaved if they’re matted or not grooming adequately – not for the heat.  And certain breeds of dogs with “double coats” (e.g. Huskies, Akitas) should NOT be shaved as their coat actually helps keep them cool in the heat!

Hydration — Finally, just as with us, hydration for our pets is paramount in the warm weather. Be sure to have clean water available and accessible at all times for both you and your pet!

We hope you and your fur-babies have a safe and enjoyable summer!

Seasonal & Environmental Allergies

Spring allergy season is already in full-force, with many of us experiencing the runny eyes, stuffy noses, and congestion typical of seasonal environmental allergies. Our pets, too, can experience environmental allergies, though in addition to the runny eyes and sneezing that we experience, they typically manifest their seasonal allergies through itchy skin and/or ears. Itchiness may manifest itself through scratching, biting, chewing, licking, and/or rubbing.

Allergies themselves cause itching and redness but in our pets, it is often the secondary infections that make matters even worse. Bacteria and yeast are part of the normal healthy flora of the skin of both dogs and cats. With an underlying allergy, the skin’s barrier function is affected, and these organisms are able to “set up shop,” leading to further itchiness and inflammation of the skin. As such, chronic/recurrent yeast infections are often a hallmark of allergic skin disease in our pets.

Unfortunately, diagnosing an environmental allergy is not always cut-and-dry. Many other things can cause similar symptoms — other types of allergies (fleas, food, contact), metabolic or autoimmune conditions, and other skin diseases can sometimes mimic the symptoms of environmental allergies. Your veterinarian will likely ask a number of questions related to the history involving your pet’s symptoms.

One of the strongest support factors for an environmental allergy is a seasonal component to the symptoms — most dogs with environmental allergies will be significantly less symptomatic during the late fall and winter months. Additionally, environmental allergies can often get worse with age, or may be worse in certain environments (unfortunately, the D.C./Northern Virginia area is one of the worst for allergies).

Intradermal skin testing is the gold standard for diagnosing environmental allergies. This is typically done by a veterinary dermatologist. However, in recent years some of the available blood testings for environmental allergies have become more reliable and provide another means of more definitive diagnosis that can be done with your regular veterinarian.

When it comes to “treating” environmental allergies, the most important thing to realize is that allergies are never cured, but are instead managed. A multimodal approach is most often the most successful. Potential therapeutic options include: medications, supplements, bathing and allergy “shots.”

Medications that we often reach for include antihistamines (though their action is not nearly as reliable in cats and dogs as we’d like), corticosteroids (to help decrease the inflammatory/allergic responses), immunomodulatory drugs such as cyclosporine/Atopica or Apoquel, and often antibiotics or antifungals to address the secondary infections. Fish oil supplements are often recommended to patients with allergies as higher doses of omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and they can improve the overall health of the skin and fur.

Frequent bathing with a medicated shampoo to cut down on the number of allergens, yeast, and bacteria on the skin often allows us to use less drugs to keep a pet comfortable (though is often more feasible in dogs than cats!). And, finally, non-pharmacologic methods with immunotherapy (allergy “shots”/vaccinations) can be very helpful with chronic management of environmental allergies, to reduce the haywire response of the immune system to a normal stimulus.

We recommend talking with your veterinarian at the first sign of excessive itching/scratching in your pet.  Fortunately, the options for managing environmental allergies are improving all the time, but it still remains a very frustrating condition since it can never be cured.  Some patience and understanding of the underlying condition can go a long way in making the condition more approachable and manageable.

Obesity & Our Pets

Obesity is the No. 1 disease of cats and dogs in the U.S. According to the 2014 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey, nearly 53 percent of American dogs and 58 percent of U.S. cats are overweight or obese.

Overweight is defined as 15 percent above ideal body weight, while obesity is defined as 30 percent above ideal body weight. Obesity predisposes animals to numerous diseases, including osteoarthritis, diabetes, hypertension, cranial cruciate ligament (“ACL”) injury, and respiratory difficulties. Additionally, there is increasing evidence that it can also predispose to certain types of cancer.

And, if we needed further reason to keep our pets at a healthy weight, the Purina’s Landmark Life Span study found that dogs maintained at a lean body weight outlived their counterparts by 15 percent, or two years, for the Labrador retrievers used in the study.

So, with all of these reasons to keep our pets at the ideal weight, why are so many pets still overweight?

The simple answer is that calories in are greater than calories out — they are just eating too much. Most of us enjoy giving our pets that little extra snack or even treat from the table. It’s rewarding to see their excitement, so we tend to over-treat and “supplement” their diets.

With regards to cats, many cats aren’t huge treat-takers, so limiting treats may not have as big of a factor on their overall calories; however, cats are most at risk for being overfed, since we tend to just leave food out for them, without measuring it out. Additionally, many indoor cats lead fairly sedentary lifestyles, so they just aren’t burning many calories on a daily basis.

How do I know if my pet is overweight?

Most veterinarians use either a 5-point or 9-point body condition score, with a score of one being emaciated, and 5/5 or 9/9 being morbidly obese.

Sometimes it can be difficult to accurately assess our own pets, since we see them on a daily basis. Asking your veterinarian for an objective score, or even a friend or family member, can be very useful.

How much should I be feeding my pet?

Because there is such variation in the number of calories per cup in pet foods, it’s impossible to say “this dog should eat X number of cups per day.”  And, to make matters worse, most pet food companies do not clearly display the number of calories per cup on the bag — this information can usually be obtained via the website, but they certainly don’t make it easy to find.

In general, though, the chart on the back of the bag can be used as guide for feeding volumes. However, because these charts tend to be very generous (the pet food companies are in the business of selling food, afterall), we typically recommend decreasing the “recommended” volume by 20-25 percent for most adult pets, dog or cat.

How do I start a weight-loss program for my pet?

If you are ready to take on a concerted weight-loss program, it’s best to meet with your veterinarian ahead of time to get a baseline weight, determine the ideal number of daily calories, a healthy rate for weight loss, and a detailed plan of action. Your veterinarian will most likely recommend a percentage decrease in the volume fed, or a specific target number of calories per day, as well as follow-up with frequent “weigh-ins.”  Sometimes changing the diet itself, not just the volume, can be helpful to promote weight loss.

With a bit of effort your pet can soon be on the path to a healthy waistline, and improved overall health to boot!

Traveling With Your Pet

As the weather improves, more and more of us will be traveling with our pets. While having our pets along on trips and vacations can be very enjoyable, sometimes getting to the actual destination can be wrought with stress for both pets and owners.

By Car

Many dogs can be anxious and/or nauseous with car travel, and often these two can be interrelated. For dogs that get anxious in the car, sometimes starting with very short rides and progressively working up to longer and longer rides can help them adapt to the car. For dogs that get car sick, there are a number of medications that can help control motion-associated vomiting, talk to your vet about which may be best for your pet.

It’s also important to provide a safe and secure place for your pet while traveling in the car.  Dogs should ideally be crated or even buckled in a seatbelt, and cats confined in a carrier.  Frequent rest and “potty” breaks should be taken to let them stretch their legs and get a drink of water and a small snack.

By Plane

Many owners will need to fly with their pets at one point or another. It is very important to check with your airline at least a month prior to travel, as many airlines require a health certificate from your pet’s veterinarian within 10 days of travel.

For international travel, it is even more important to start the process several months prior to anticipated travel. We recommend checking with the embassy of your destination country to get the most up-to-date requirements for travel to your destination country. If traveling to Japan, the United Kingdom, or Hawaii, the process typically needs to be started at least six months ahead of time, as these are Rabies-free areas that require extensive documentation of Rabies vaccination prior to travel to avoid an extensive quarantine on arrival.

When traveling overseas, specific health certificates are often required. Be sure to check with your veterinarian in advance to make sure they are USDA-certified for international health certificates, and have a plan to get those certificates cross-signed by the USDA veterinarian.

Microchips

Microchips are recommended and, depending on the destination, may be required when traveling. This serves as a way for your pet to not only be identified in the airport here in D.C. but also internationally. And with domestic travel, the presence of a microchip can be the difference of finding your pet if they get lost hundreds of miles away from home or not.

Temperature

Never leave your pet alone in the car, even with windows rolled down, as cars can heat up very quickly and cause devastating elevations in core body temperature. Even when flying, it is important to take the temperature into account as animals in crates, left on the tarmac, can reach unsafe temperatures if it is too hot outside.  Your veterinarian can make recommendations on the temperature range that is acceptable for airline travel.

Sedation

Sedating your pet for travel is not generally recommended, but there are certainly cases where the pet may be so anxious without sedation that they may injure themselves while crated. Please discuss this with your veterinarian weeks in advance of the anticipated trip so they can help you find behavioral and (possibly) pharmaceutical solutions to keep everyone safe and happy for the trip.

We wish you happy and healthy travels with your pets!

Caring for the Geriatric Pet

Geriatric is relative to the pet

It’s a common misconception that one “human” year is equivalent to seven “pet” years. In reality, bigger dogs age much faster than cats and smaller dogs, and the ratio is actually higher in the younger years, and decreases as the pet ages (for example: cats “grow up” faster than dogs in the first 1-2 years, but then age more slowly).

Age is not a disease (however, many diseases happen more commonly in older pets)

A thorough history and physical exam every six months is recommended after 6-9 years of age, depending on the species, age, and breed. Preventive care is important for the early detection of problems and often leads to earlier intervention and improved quality and quantity of life. Physical exams and geriatric blood work can aide in the screening of most of the more common age-related diseases such as heart, liver, thyroid and kidney disease. Cancer also develops more commonly in older pets, but not all cancers are created equal. Early detection can sometimes give a better prognosis depending on the type, location and nature of the cancer.

One of the most common age-related diseases, arthritis, can develop secondary to previous disease or from general wear and tear on the joints. The symptoms of arthritis can vary from a bit of slowness/stiffness upon rising, all the way to being unable to walk without assistance. In cats, it can manifest with urinary accidents, decreased grooming and reduced social interaction. Interventions include: physical therapy, acupuncture, glucosamine, fish oils and other supplements, as well as anti-inflammatory and pain modulating medications.

Making some easy environmental modifications can go a long way in easing your pet’s ability to get around comfortably (i.e. adding area rugs on slippery floors, or a ramp to the bed); and maintaining a healthy weight and routine exercise are some of the most important, not to mention cost-effective, options to address your old friend’s quality of life.

Cognitive problems are also more frequent in aging animals: nighttime waking, restlessness/inability to get settled down, increased vocalization, increased daytime sleeping, and elimination accidents are all frequently seen. These can be quite distressing as they can affect the quality of life of both the pet and owner. It is important to identify and address any underlying disease that may mimic cognitive problems such as liver, kidney or metabolic disease, pain/arthritis, and cancer. If indicated there are several medications and supplements that may be helpful with these behaviors, including: SAMe, casein, and melatonin.

Check out these senior pet checklists to see if your pet may be exhibiting some of the common aging-related ailments. You can then use these as guidelines to discuss any possible concerns with your veterinarian and together work to keep your pet healthy and happy for as long as possible.

Sometimes, we need to let go

Quality of life is of utmost concern in our aging pets and must be considered when making treatment decisions. As much as we would like our pets to live forever… they don’t. Hospice care and humane euthanasia are options owners have in the face of their pet’s declining health. There comes a time in most of our pets lives when pursuing treatment is not the right decision (for your pet, you/your family, or the disease) and difficult end of life decisions must be made.

Be sure to have an open dialogue with your veterinarian about your aging pet’s quality of life and make sure you’re all on the same page with the management, treatment goals and quality of life of your elderly companion.