A Reality Check Concerning Christmas Puppies

sfsblog_dogsasxmaspresentsThinking about surprising the kids with a puppy for Christmas or showing up with a rescue dog on the eighth night of Chanukah? Giving the gift of a canine buddy is ever so tempting this time of year- the excitement is almost unparalleled. What fun it is to think about all that cuddly cuteness, particularly when gathered around the tree on Christmas morning.

If you are contemplating adopting a dog for yourself or a loved one this holiday season, be sure to prevent your excitement from clouding your better judgment. There’s a whole lot to consider before making the commitment to care for a new canine family member.

Eight questions to ask yourself

Take some time to think about and answer the following questions. Your responses will help you sort out whether or not you or the recipient of your holiday gift are ready to tackle the responsibilities associated with caring for a dog.

  1. Is there enough time to care for a dog?

Most people have a long list of commitments, and it’s super important that caring for a new dog land at the very top of this list. Dogs thrive on human companionship. Without a significant amount of it on a daily basis, they suffer profound emotional consequences and often develop negative behaviors that are sure to be bothersome to their humans.

Whoever adopts a puppy must be prepared for a full time job. There will be puppy kindergarten classes, playtime, multiple veterinary visits, playtime, housetraining, playtime, multiple short walks throughout the day, playtime, obedience training, playtime, and lots of socialization with other animals, people, and new situations. Oh, and did I mention playtime?

  1. Are there adequate financial resources?

Responsibly caring for a dog requires a significant financial commitment. Quality dog food is pricey and there are other expenses to consider such as routine medical care (heartworm prevention, annual veterinary visits, vaccinations), unanticipated medical care (a health insurance policy may make good financial sense), microchipping, grooming, collars, leashes, harnesses, identification tags, dog beds, toys, treats, and dog care when the caregiver is out of town or working long hours. Do the math and figure out if the household budget can stretch to include the “doggie budget” before making the financial commitment to care for a dog for the next 12 to 15 years.

  1. Will there be a commitment to training?

Behavioral issues are the most common cause of the demise of a new relationship with a dog. Barking, biting, fence jumping, soiling in the house, landscaping (doggie style), aggression, and destroying furniture, shoes and other valued objects can all be deal breakers. Bear in mind that, without appropriate training, a well-behaved dog is the exception rather than the rule. Canine good citizens (at least the type we humans prefer) are made rather than born that way.

Training a puppy or an adult dog requires motivation and time, and the training should begin on day one. Enlisting help from a professional trainer is usually required to accomplish training goals.

  1. Is the living situation suitable?

If you or the person receiving your gift is a renter, double check with the landlord that a dog is allowed. If so, the landlord may impose breed or size restrictions.

While a fenced yard is not an absolute must, it certainly makes life a whole lot easier and ensures the dog’s safety when outdoors unsupervised. Be sure to consider the design of the fence. Is it tall enough for the size of the dog (or the size the puppy will become)? Might the dog be able to squeeze through or under the fence? Might the fence design inadvertently snag the dog’s collar?

If the living situation is such that the dog must live strictly outdoors, I strongly encourage you to nix the notion of getting a dog. Most dogs truly prefer to be indoors, whether or not their humans are at home. Those left isolated in the yard are far more likely to experience emotional distress and develop behavior issues.

Some folks assume they cannot get a dog because their living quarters are too small or the yard isn’t big enough. Keep in mind that, when not stimulated or interacting with their humans, most adult dogs spend the majority of the day sleeping. And, a sleeping dog does not require much space. If one is committed to giving a dog adequate exercise and attention, the size of the yard and living space should not be a significant concern.

  1. Is there buy in from everyone in the household?

In an ideal world every dog would be adopted into a “forever home”. Bringing a new dog into a household in which there isn’t buy in from everyone living there is a recipe for significant discord and has the potential to turn a “forever home” into a temporary “foster home”.

  1. Are there children in the household?

If young children (under the age of ten to twelve) are in the household, I encourage adoption of an adult dog rather than a puppy. Youngsters aren’t capable of providing the consistent training and reinforcement that a puppy needs. And, it’s really hard for puppies to resist jumping up, biting, and behaving like little maniacs in response to the natural movements and sounds of a young child. Additionally, children are more likely to cause injury by accidentally dropping or landing on a puppy during play.

In advance of introducing an adult dog into a household with children, ask someone with expertise to perform temperament testing. Some dogs who interact wonderfully well with adults demonstrate aggression in the presence of children. Even dogs who have passed temperament testing with flying colors should be carefully supervised when interacting with young children.

Lastly, resist the temptation to bring home a puppy this holiday season simply because your children want one. Inevitably, the responsibility of properly caring for the youngster will fall squarely on your shoulders. Adopting a dog when you don’t really want one is a setup for an unhappy outcome.

  1. Are other pets involved?

It can be difficult to predict how a new dog will fit in with already established pets. Whenever possible, arrange for a meet and greet between dogs on neutral territory, away from the house. If there will be a cat or two (or three or four) involved it is wise to make sure that the dog has already had a successful test drive with cats.

If adopting a puppy, it is important to protect the youngster from any aggression on the part of the other household animals. Don’t forget about the large animals such as cows and horses and be sure to trim all kitty daggers (toenails).

  1. Will there be a move in the near future?

If relocation is in the forecast because of work or other life circumstances, is there certainty that the new situation will allow for dogs? If not, it might be best to postpone adoption until the living situation is more permanent.

If, after reading all of this, you feel certain that adopting a dog this holiday season makes good sense, here is one final piece of advice (in truth, it is an adamant plea). Please don’t adopt a puppy from a pet store or online from a location you will not be able to visit in person. This is the best strategy to avoid A Reality Check Concerning Christmas Puppies http://www.aspca.org/doing business with a puppy mill.

Have you ever given or received a dog as holiday gift? If so, how did things turn out?

Wishing you and your loved ones  happy and healthy holidays,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Fuzzy: A Brand New Concept in Healthcare for Pets

sfsblog_fuzzyThere’s a brand new player in the world of pet health insurance. Fuzzy is the brainchild of a couple of millenials who were motivated to create something better after their own disillusioning experiences with insurance for their pets.

How is Fuzzy different?

Fuzzy’s primary focus is on preventive care. For a monthly subscription fee, dogs and cats enrolled with Fuzzy receive all of their wellness/preventive care. This includes:

  • Up to two veterinary visits per year (thorough physical exam as well as counseling on nutrition, exercise, behavior, parasite prevention, and whatever else comes up during the discussion)
  • Multiple visits for puppies during their initial vaccination series
  • All vaccinations with protocols tailored to meet the needs of the individual animal
  • Annual heartworm testing and screening for intestinal parasites
  • Microchip placement and registration
  • All preventive medications (heartworm, intestinal parasites, fleas, ticks)
  • Electronic record keeping
  • Digital access to Fuzzy veterinarians (seven days a week)
  • Digital health and medication reminders
  • Access to an online library of pet health information

Now, here’s where it gets really interesting. Fuzzy veterinarians visit all of their patients in the owner’s home or office. The animals love this because they are in the comfort of familiar surroundings. Additionally, Fuzzy subscribers don’t have to interrupt their daily schedules as visits can be scheduled for evening hours or on weekends. More and more companies are encouraging employees to bring their pets to work, and Fuzzy veterinarians readily come to the workplace for an “office visit”.

The Fuzzy app

Fuzzy has created a fabulous app that stores a pet’s complete medical records and provides a nifty reminder system (“Have you brushed Rambo’s teeth this week?” and “Did you remember to give Molly her heartworm prevention this month?”). Members can schedule appointments via the app and can also contact Fuzzy veterinarians with questions or concerns. And, the app provides access to a wealth of pet-related health information and educational content.

The app features a Pet Health Care Quiz. After answering the questions you will receive your pet’s “health score” and better health recommendations. You don’t have to be a Fuzzy member to download the app, and it’s free. I encourage you to check it out.

Fuzzy in the future

Fuzzy is currently providing wellness care for dogs and cats in and around the San Francisco Bay Area and is gearing up to expand to other locations within the United States. Fuzzy also plans to roll out full pet health coverage insurance in 2017. This product is unique in that it will provide true cost certainty, complete transparency, and future inclusion of coverage for preexisting conditions.

Why I like Fuzzy

Okay, true disclosure time. Since its inception, I have served as Fuzzy’s Chief Medical Advisor. I chose to do this because I so believe in what Fuzzy has to offer, namely a fresh and innovative way of delivering pet preventive care and health insurance. I love the fact that Fuzzy members receive price certainty- no hidden fees, deductibles, or exclusions. I also love the mindset of Eric Palm and Zubin Bhettay, the two fellas who teamed up to create Fuzzy. Their goal is to help people enable their pets to live happier, healthier, longer lives. What could be better than this?

Do you have questions or comments about Fuzzy? Please, fire away!

Wishing you and your loved ones  happy and healthy holidays,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

A Gift for You

sfsblog_thanksgivingI am sitting at the keyboard, thinking about Thanksgiving and the many things for which I am grateful. It just so happens that our relationship (yep, the one between you and me) is on my gratitude list! Your ongoing readership feeds my love of writing, and, for this, I am truly appreciative.

My gift to you

As a way of thanking you, I want to give you the opportunity to buy my books at the prices below. These are the same prices I pay when I purchase them directly from the publisher.

Speaking for Spot: $5.65/book (retail price is $19.95)

Your Dog’s Best Health: $2.33/book (retail price is $10.99)

Please purchase as many copies as you like, and I promise I won’t think you are being the least bit greedy! You see, the more people who access what I have to say in my books, the happier I will be!

I encourage you to share this offer with any other dog lovers you know. Both books make terrific holiday gifts for friends, coworkers, dog park comrades, veterinarians, groomers, dog walkers, pet sitters, and the list goes on and on.  You can’t go wrong with this stocking stuffer, assuming you have a pretty good-sized stocking!

How to get your books

Send an email to me at  and include the following information:

  1. Your name
  2. Your shipping address
  3. The number of books you would like

I will then provide you with exact cost information, including tax and shipping. Be advised that shipping outside of the United States is ridiculously expensive. Better off purchasing books from a local source. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Be sure to hug all of your four-legged fuzzies this Thanksgiving and don’t forget to share a little bit of turkey, skin removed of course! Given the joy animals bring to our lives, it’s a must that they share in our holiday celebrations.

Will you be spending Thanksgiving with your pets this year?

Wishing you and your loved ones a happy and healthy Thanksgiving,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

The Nancy Silverman Rescue Ride

sfsblog_nancysilvermanGiven that my maiden name is Silverman, you can imagine my surprise when I spotted the van pictured here while driving just outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Not to worry, I didn’t multitask behind the wheel. My husband snapped the photo from our moving car after we both performed a double take to the tune of, “What the heck?” (It’s quite possible that we used a word closely related to “heck”.)

The Nancy Silverman Rescue Ride Program

As soon as I got the chance I did some Internet sleuthing about the Nancy Silverman Rescue Ride (NSRR) Program. Here’s what I learned. Run under the auspices of the ASPCA, NSRR relocates dogs from overcrowded high kill shelters in the Southeastern United States (where I live) to locations in the Northeast where there are greater adoption opportunities.

How many dogs?

NSRR was launched in January 2015. Thus far the program has made more than 145 trips to source shelters in the southeast. Just last month a Chihuahua-mix named AnnaMay became the 5,000th dog transported by NSRR. She was retrieved from McMinn Regional Humane Society in Athens, Tennessee and was transferred to Mohawk Hudson Humane Society in Menands, New York. Within 48 hours of her arrival, Thomas Wright of Waterford, New York and his 10-year-old daughter Abby adopted AnnaMay.

Who is Nancy Silverman?

So, who is this other Nancy Silverman? Thus far, I’ve not been able to learn much. It’s a pretty safe bet that she is a philanthropist with a soft spot for animals. I transitioned from the name “Silverman” some 35 years ago. It’s lovely to know that another dog-loving Nancy belongs to this name.

Were you aware that shelter dogs are being moved cross country as a means of enhancing adoptions?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

New Help for Dogs With Megaesophagus

Bailey Chair

There’s some exciting, hot-off-the-press news for dogs with megaesophagus. Researchers at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine have new insights about this frustrating and often devastating disease.

What is megaesophagus?

The term megaesophagus refers to weakness, dilation, and decreased motility of the esophagus, the muscular tube that normally propels food, water, and saliva efficiently from the throat down into the stomach. For dogs with megaesophagus, these swallowed materials either remain within the dilated esophagus or are regurgitated back up. Regurgitation resembles vomiting, but unlike vomiting, regurgitation tends to occur without warning. There’s no retching, grazing on grass, or assuming a particular body posture. Regurgitation takes everyone by surprise, including the dog.

As a result of this “surprise factor” the major life-threatening complication for dogs with megaesophagus is aspiration pneumonia. Food material can be readily and inadvertently inhaled into the lungs during a bout of regurgitation. Malnutrition can also be a significant issue for dogs with megaesophagus.

Causes of Megaesophagus

Megaesophagus tends to affect middle aged and older dogs, and there is no breed predilection. Most of the time, an underlying cause can’t be found, and the disease is referred to as, “idiopathic megaesophagus.” Diseases that can cause megaesophagus include:

  • Myasthenia gravis: a neuromuscular disease
  • Addison’s Disease: a hormonal disorder
  • Esophagitis: inflammation of the lining of the esophagus
  • Esophageal tumors
  • Esophageal foreign bodies
  • Esophageal trauma

Standard treatment

Treatment of idiopathic megaesophagus revolves around maintaining the dog in an upright position following mealtime so as to allow gravity to help move swallowed food, water, and saliva down into the stomach. The usual recommendation is to maintain the dog in an upright position for approximately 20 minutes following meals. Bailey Chairs (see photo) have been specifically designed for dogs with megaesophagus. They comfortably keep the dog upright and eliminate the need for direct human supervision throughout the process.

A new diagnostic test

New diagnostic testing and treatment described by folks at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine focus on an anatomical structure called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This sphincter acts like a valve between the end of the esophagus and the stomach, opening when food and water are swallowed and then closing so that food is not refluxed from the stomach back into the esophagus.

It turns out that some dogs with megaesophagus have LES dysfunction- their sphincters remain closed, even during the swallowing process. The researchers have been very clever in figuring this out. Using fluoroscopy (a type of video x-ray) they observe the “flight pattern” of swallowed food material as it travels down the esophagus. Such fluoroscopic swallowing studies have been around for a long time, but what’s new about the Missouri technique is how the dogs are restrained. Traditionally, dogs are held on their sides for these swallowing studies, a far cry from how dogs normally position themselves for swallowing. This new research has employed a nifty holding chamber developed to allow the dogs to eat and be restrained for the fluoroscopy in a normal upright position. This technique is providing much more accurate information about esophageal and LES function.

A new treatment

The Mizzou team has fashioned their treatment protocol for dogs with LES dysfunction after what is being done in human medicine. Using endoscopy, in which a long video telescope device is inserted into the esophagus, the LES is manually expanded via a technique called balloon dilation. Next, Botox is injected into the LES. This chemical paralyzes the sphincter muscles, allowing the LES to remain open. Thus far, some of the treated dogs have shown marked improvement. As Dr. James Schachtel, a member of the research team has stated,

This approach gives these dogs a chance, whereas a lot of them didn’t have much of one. At this time, it is early in the evaluation process, but it’s a novel approach that shows promise. This subpopulation can receive a really significant benefit from our direct ability to detect their malady. It can give them a really good quality of life. This is a revolutionary diagnostic technique for a disorder identified with a pathological outcome. It offers us the opportunity to use therapies that have been successful in people, so we’re optimistic we can experience similar success with canines.

While not all dogs with megaesophagus are candidates for this therapy, it is wonderfully refreshing to finally have a new strategy to treat this frustrating disease.

Do you have a dog with megaesophagus? If so, what has your experience been like? The University of Missouri team encourages veterinarians, pet owners and breeders to contact them about their megaesophagus testing and treatment protocol. You can do so by calling the Small Animal Hospital at 573-882-7821.

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

Were You Smarter Than a Vet Student About Intestinal Parasites (Worms)?

Photo Credit: Danielle Rowland

Photo Credit: Danielle Rowland

Thanks to everyone who sent your responses to me. The winner in the book drawing is Wanda Woodworth from Little Elm, Texas. She will be receiving a copy of Speaking for Spot.

Now, here are the answers you’ve been waiting for.

  1. Dogs are susceptible to all but which one of the following parasites?
    1. a. protozoa
    2. b. pinworms
    3. c. stomach worms
    4. d. whipworms

People get pinworms, but dogs do not. Dogs are, however, susceptible to whipworms, coccidia (which are protozoa), and stomach worms.

  1. Which of these parasites is not transmissible between dogs and cats by way of their feces?
    1. Roundworms
    2. Coccidia
    3. Tapeworms
    4. Giardia

Fleas carry tapeworm eggs and are the primary source of transmission of tapeworms. When dogs inadvertently ingest fleas during grooming or chewing at their skin, tapeworm infection occurs. Roundworms, coccidia, and giardia are transmitted between dogs and cats via their feces.

  1. Which parasite is least likely to shed eggs that will show up in a fecal flotation (microscopic evaluation of the feces)?
    1. Roundworms
    2. Hookworms
    3. Coccidia
    4. Tapeworms

Tapeworms are exceptionally stingy about shedding their eggs so they rarely show up in a fecal flotation, the annual recommended screening test for parasites. The best way to diagnose this parasite is by seeing tapeworm segments around the dog’s anus (when dried, they look like small sesame seeds). Roundworms, hookworms, and coccidia are readily diagnosed by the presence of their eggs in the stool sample.

  1. Puppies are commonly infected with roundworms because of which of the following?
    1. Larvae (young stages of the worms) can be transferred to the puppies while they are in the uterus.
    2. Interactions between puppies transmit parasites from one to another.
    3. Larvae can be transferred to the pup through the mother’s milk.
    4. All of the above.

Yep, puppies are true targets of roundworm infection because of the combination of mechanisms listed above. Even if the mama dog has tested negative for parasites, pregnancy is likely to activate latent encysted stages of roundworms within her body.

  1. Which species can transmit a potentially lethal form of roundworms to dogs?
    1. Raccoon
    2. Fox
    3. Horse
    4. Squirrel

The roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis) occurs in raccoons throughout the United States and Canada. Although unommon, this parasite can cause life ending neurological disease in dogs. Infection can occur when a dog has access to raccoon feces. Monthly deworming medication (commonly combined with heartworm prevention) is protective. Given the number of dogs who love to eat horse poop (mine included), thank goodness the eggs ingested this way are harmless.

  1. Tapeworms commonly cause:
    1. Diarrhea
    2. Weight loss
    3. Itching around the anus
    4. All of the above

The notion that tapeworms rob the body of nutrition is nothing more than an old wives’ tale. (Why are their no old husbands’ tales?) They cause neither weight loss nor diarrhea. As tapeworm segments migrate out through the anus, they create an itchy sensation for the dog resulting in scooting and licking and chewing at the anus. Close visual inspection will reveal small dried tapeworm segments in the fur around the anus.

  1. Which canine intestinal parasites are zoonotic (can cause health concerns in people?)?
    1. Roundworms
    2. Hookworms
    3. Giardia
    4. All of the above

Roundworm eggs are problematic for people (most commonly children) who accidentally ingest roundworm eggs. The larvae that develop from the eggs can migrate, most commonly to the retina resulting in blindness. This syndrome is referred to as ocular larva migrans. Hookworm larvae found in dirt or sand can invade human skin, most commonly the soles of the feet, resulting in an irritated rash. When giardia eggs are inadvertently eaten, gastrointestinal symptoms including nausea, intestinal cramping, and diarrhea can occur.

  1. Which statement is true pertaining to over-the-counter dewormers?
    1. They typically include medications effective against most types of intestinal parasites.
    2. They are just as effective as those prescribed by a veterinarian.
    3. When used regularly, they can take the place of an annual stool check (fecal flotation).
    4. They can be a huge waste of your money.

While it’s tempting to purchase over-the-counter dewormers for purposes of price and convenience, I discourage you from doing so. There is little guarantee of effectiveness. Most contain just one type of medication, yet different parasites require different deworming drugs. For example, coccidia, tapeworms, and roundworms each require a different medication to be cleared from the body. Additionally, recommended dosages may be inaccurate.

How did you do? What topic would you like to see featured in the next, “Are You Smarter Than a Vet Student” quiz?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

Are You Smarter Than a Vet Student About Intestinal Parasites (Worms)?

Photo Credit: Photolist, Flicker CCHere’s an opportunity to test your knowledge about intestinal parasites. Be sure to send your responses to me your responses to me and I will enter your name into a book drawing. If selected you will receive a copy of Speaking for Spot or Your Dog’s Best Health (the choice will be yours). Good luck and, as always, look for the answers a week from now.

1. Dogs are susceptible to all but which one of the following parasites?
a. protozoa
b. pinworms
c. stomach worms
d. whipworms

2. Which of these parasites is not transmissible between dogs and cats by way of their feces?
a. Roundworms
b. Coccidia
c. Tapeworms
d. Giardia

3. Which parasite is least likely to shed eggs that will show up in a fecal flotation (microscopic evaluation of the feces)?
a. Roundworms
b. Hookworms
c. Coccidia
d. Tapeworms

4. Puppies are commonly infected with roundworms because of which of the following?
a. Larvae (young stages of the worms) can be transferred to the puppies while they are in the uterus.
b. Interactions between puppies transmit parasites from one to another.
c. Larvae can be transferred to the pup through the mother’s milk.
d. All of the above.

5. Which species can transmit a potentially lethal form of roundworms to dogs?
a. Raccoon
b. Fox
c. Horse
d. Squirrel

6. Tapeworms commonly cause:
a. Diarrhea
b. Weight loss
c. Itching around the anus
d. All of the above

7. Which canine intestinal parasites are zoonotic (can cause health concerns in people)?
a. Roundworms
b. Hookworms
c. Giardia
d. All of the above

8. Which statement is true pertaining to over-the-counter dewormers?
a. They typically include medications effective against most types of intestinal parasites.
b. They are just as effective as those prescribed by a veterinarian.
c. When used regularly, they can take the place of an annual stool check (fecal flotation).
d. They can be a huge waste of your money.

Don’t forget to send your answers to me for a chance to win a book.

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

Setting Up a Trust for Your Pet

Photo Credit: Alan Kay

Photo Credit: Alan Kay

A dear friend of mine just entered hospice care. After a courageous battle, she is finally surrendering to ovarian cancer. In a conversation shared yesterday, she told me that she wants her beloved horse Partner to go to one of our mutual friends along with her truck and trailer and money to take care of him for the rest of his life. When asked if all of this was in writing (my hope was that all of this was already recorded in a notarized legal document), she responded with, “No.”

So, while I’m now aware of my friend’s intentions for her horse, there’s no guarantee that her wishes will be carried out when all is said and done. She is concerned that her husband might not be happy with her plan (he doesn’t know about it yet, nor does she want him to). I’m in the process of contacting my friend’s attorney to see if he is available to talk with her and prepare an appropriate document. In all honesty, I’m afraid that we are running out of time. I’ve typed something up myself that my friend can sign today with hopes that this will suffice in terms of carrying out her wishes.

My friend’s situation is not unique. Who the heck knows if we will predecease our pets? Just as for our children, having certainty about how our animals will be cared for after we pass away not only protects them, but also has the potential to provide us with tremendous peace of mind. Setting up a legal trust is the best way to make all of this happen.

What is a pet trust?

A pet trust is a legal arrangement that provides for an animal’s care and maintenance in the event of the pet guardian’s disability or death. The “grantor” (called the “settlor” or “trustor” in some states) is the person who creates the trust. A “trustee” is designated and holds property such as cash “in trust” for the benefit of the pet. Payments to a designated caregiver(s) are made on a regular basis.

Rules and regulations

It’s now possible to make provisions for a pet through a trust in all 50 states. Minnesota was the last hold out and, earlier this year, became the final state to pass legislation approving pet trusts.

Rules pertaining to pet trusts vary from state to state. In most cases the trust terminates when the animal passes away or after 21 years, whichever occurs first. While this works well for most dogs and cats, it has the potential to be problematic for animals with longer life expectancies such as horses and parrots. Some states allow a pet trust to continue past the 21-year term if the animal remains alive. After the pet passes away, any remaining funds are typically distributed amongst heirs as directed by the terms of the trust.

Trust details

When crafting a trust, think about who you might want to care for your pets if you are no longer able to, and then talk to that person(s). Better to check out the viability of your plan in advance than surprise your friend or relative with such news after you are gone. While not necessary for the intended caregiver to sign off on the legal document, it is certainly wise to know in advance that you have their buy in.

Instruction within the trust can be very specific, including as much detail about your pet’s care as you like. For example, you might specify preferred types of food, favorite toys, sleeping arrangements, exercise regimens, and the number of veterinary visits per year. Consider specifying how much veterinary intervention you would want should illness arise. Details about care of your pet’s remains following their death can be included.

Think about how much money would be needed to properly care for your pets and how the funds should be distributed to the caregiver(s). Remember to factor in funds for grooming, boarding, and veterinary costs.

Lastly, identify your pets within the trust with as much detail as possible. In addition to their names include details such as breed, size, identifying markings and microchip numbers. Consider including photographs.

Making a trust happen

If you don’t already have a trust prepared for your pets, I encourage you to make this a priority. Ideally, enlist the help of an attorney who specializes in estate planning. If this isn’t feasible, type up a document (as I am doing today for my friend) and sign and date it. It might be a good idea to also have the document signed by a witness or two. I suspect there are on line templates one can follow as well.

Performing such “grown up tasks” isn’t much fun, and it’s certainly no fun to think about someone else caring for your beloved animals someday. Nonetheless, I encourage you to get a trust prepared for your pets. Guaranteed, after doing so, you will feel some peace of mind having provided this true expression of love for your animals.

Do you have a trust in place for your pets? If not, will you consider making this happen?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Suicide and Other Mental Health Concerns Amongst Veterinarians

Photo Credit: prioritypethosp_FlickerCc_gentletouchIn 2014, Dr. Sophia Yin, a gifted and universally revered veterinary behaviorist, took her own life. Her passing sent shockwaves through the veterinary and dog training communities and reignited intense interest in mental health issues amongst veterinarians. There are plenty of troubling reports about depression within the profession and the suicide rate appears to be growing, perhaps at a rapid pace.

Consider the facts

A first of its kind survey in 2014 investigated the psychological well being of 10,254 veterinarians practicing within the United States. The data revealed that, compared to the general adult population, veterinarians more frequently:

– Suffer from psychiatric disorders (6.8% of male and 10.9% of female respondents)

– Experience bouts of depression (24.5% of male and 36.7% of female respondents)

– Entertain thoughts of suicide (14.4% of male and 19.1% of female respondents)

The suicide rate amongst veterinarians is not higher than the rate within the general population, but is higher when compared to other health professionals. According to a report in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, the rate of suicide in the veterinary profession is close to twice that of the dental profession and more than twice that of human medical doctors.

What are the reasons?

Those attempting to explain the high incidence of psychiatric disorders, particularly suicide, within the veterinary profession have proposed multiple theories.

Dealing with death

Veterinarians square off with death of their patients frequently, often on a daily basis. In fact, they may be involved in multiple euthanasia procedures in a single day. Putting animals to sleep is taxing for people who love animals and worked exceptionally hard to enter a healing profession. Even more psychologically devastating are “convenience euthanasias,” those dictated by the needs of the client rather than the well-being of the patient.

Unfamiliarity with failure

Speaking in generalities, veterinarians tend to be a very success-driven bunch. They are high achievers who make straight-A’s and succeed at most anything thrown their way. After all, how else would they have been accepted into veterinary school?

Fledgling veterinary school students are well acquainted with success and far less familiar with failure. Dr. Elizabeth Strand, psychiatric social worker at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine believes that, “Veterinary students are used to being the cream of the crop and are not used to being with others as smart as they are. They’re not used to failing. ‘Failing’ to them can mean getting a ‘B’ instead of an ‘A’. A mindset that says, ‘Either I do it perfectly or I’m bad’ is a mindset that we try to change.”

New veterinary school graduates encounter many situations that can be perceived as failure including: angry clients, difficulties with coworkers, clients devastated because of the loss of a beloved pet, and medical or surgical blunders that result in negative consequences. Without the skillset to deal with such “failures,” the psychological fallout can be significant.

Financial factors

Following graduation, some veterinarians find themselves unable to pay their bills despite working super-long hours. The average debt load for veterinarians fresh out of school is $150,000- $175,000. A post-graduation first full time job pays, on average, $50,000-$60,000. Dr. Malcolm Getz, author of Veterinary Medicine in Economic Transition, has stated that the ratio of debt to income for the average new veterinarian is roughly double that of M.D.’s.

Competition within the profession can be fierce, particularly in locations where there is a veterinary clinic on practically every corner. It can be difficult for new veterinarians to find full time employment with benefits. Many younger vets must piece together part time jobs and/or do relief work in order to pay their bills.

In most states, veterinarians are required to accumulate a set number of continuing education hours every year. This requires attending conferences which tend to be quite pricey once registration, travel, and accommodations are factored in. Some employers pay for their associates to attend, but many do not.

Work-related stressors

Veterinarians tend to work hours way in excess of what is considered full time. If that last appointment of the day requires emergency surgery, the “closed” sign may be hanging in the front door, but the doctor is definitely “in.” It can be difficult for veterinarians to find the time for the ingredients of a healthy lifestyle such as family time, a nutritious diet, regular exercise, a social network, and recreational activities.

Other potential work-related stressors include conflicts with coworkers, inadequate professional support, after-hours on-call duties, unrealistic client expectations, concerns about the possibility of client complaints and litigation, negative social media reviews, and lack of adequate training in client communication. Any and all of these can contribute to anxiety, disillusionment, demoralization, and depression.

Stigma of mental illness

For many people, veterinarians included, there continues to be a stigma surrounding mental illness that gets in the way of accessing support and treatment. This stigma may be particularly problematic for veterinarians who strongly identify with the role of “helper” rather than the role of being one in need of help. Additionally, veterinarians experiencing psychological distress may avoid seeking help for fear of negative career ramifications.

Access to drugs

Veterinarians have ready access to drugs that can kill. Not only does this provide the means for suicide, it may mean that attempted suicides are more likely to result in death.

Suicide contagion

News of the death of a veterinary colleague by suicide travels quickly within the profession. “Suicide contagion” refers to increased vulnerability as a result of the suicidal behavior of others. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to the increased risk amongst veterinarians.

Then versus now

I graduated from veterinary school in 1982, and my sense of things (purely conjecture on my part) is that the prevalence of debilitating psychological distress and suicide amongst veterinarians was not nearly as prevalent then as it is now. My classmates and I were not subjected to the major financial issues that new graduates face today. It was simply far less expensive to go to veterinary school and far easier to make a good living.

While not as measurable as money, the factor that I believe has contributed in a major way to psychological distress within the profession is the way veterinarians are perceived by the public. Back in the day, when I was just a pup, veterinarians were universally well respected. I would go so far as to say that we were revered. Disparaging comments about veterinarians were practically unheard of. It was assumed that our hearts were in the right place and that we were exceptionally bright and well-intentioned professionals. Invariably, we received the benefit of the doubt. I like to say that, back in the day, we were “riding on the coat tails of James Herriot.” (By the way, this wonderful veterinarian would have turned 100 years old on October 3rd of this year.)

Compare this description to the way veterinarians are regarded today. They no longer receive the benefit of the doubt. They must prove themselves as their actions, ethics, and intentions are questioned. Disparaging comments about veterinarians are commonplace. Simply sit in on a conversation at the dog park, join a Facebook dog forum, or read some Yelp reviews. Such societal shrapnel can be psychologically devastating for veterinarians.

How to help

Just as there are factors that contribute to psychological distress and risk of suicide, there are things that provide a positive influence.

A number of recent publications and communications encourage veterinarians to intervene should they sense a colleague’s distress rather than ignore the symptoms.

Additionally, some veterinary schools are now incorporating mental health education and discussion into their curricula. Participants at the recent Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges’ Health and Wellness Summit received ideas for including personal wellness practices into their veterinary school programs.

Grief counseling is also becoming part of the veterinary student experience. Approximately one year ago Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine hired a psychologist to train and assist students and faculty members with grief counseling. Dr. Givens, associate dean for academic affairs, stated, “I think anyone who would ignore the statistics indicating the stress so many individuals experience in the veterinary profession is seeking to avoid reality.

What can you do? First and foremost, I encourage you to do the work necessary to find a veterinarian you believe in and enjoy working with. Need help? If so, you’ll find this help within Speaking for Spot in the chapter titled “Finding Dr. Wonderful and Your Mutt’s Mayo Clinic.”  

Once found, make every effort to express appreciation to your “Dr. Wonderful.” Resist any urge to verbalize or post disparaging comments that contribute to the notion that veterinarians are the “bad guys.” Remember, the vast majority of veterinarians chose their professional path for all the right reasons. They genuinely adore animals and want nothing more than to help their patients and their clients.

I welcome your thoughts and opinions on all of this.

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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Guidelines for Managing Cancer in Dogs and Cats

Photo Credit: Flicker CC license, Jon_scally, Best budsGiven the ever-increasing incidence of cancer in our pets, it was a smart move for the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) to recruit a team of veterinary oncologists to draft the first ever “Oncology Guidelines for Dogs and Cats.” Written this year, the material covers multiple facets of small animal oncology (cancer diagnosis and treatment) and makes recommendations that are consistent with a high standard of care. And, people with pets have a right to know about this high standard of care. I’m a big believer in veterinarians presenting all options, regardless of cost.

I’ve previously referenced AAHA’s vaccination, anesthesia, and preventive care guidelines. Such guidelines are crafted by teams of veterinary experts and the AAHA topics range from “Judicious Therapeutic Use of Antimicrobials,” to “Diabetes Management.” As is true for all of the AAHA Guidelines, those pertaining to oncology do not represent rules that veterinarians must follow. Rather, they are suggested standards of care.

Now, being the savvy consumer of veterinary medicine that you are, I encourage you to take advantage of these published guidelines. They are yours for the taking, and will allow you to feel more confident that your pet’s medical care is in capable hands.

Oncology Guidelines

As I read through these guidelines I was delighted to see that a great deal of emphasis was placed on client communication and support. Cancer most commonly affects older pets, and those many years have allowed time for a particularly strong human-animal connection to mature and develop. Introduction of the “C” word into this relationship can generate some emotional havoc that benefits from truly exceptional client support. The new oncology guidelines emphasize the need for excellent listening skills, empathy, asking of open-ended questions, and offering options. This is fabulous, and I am proud that my beloved profession is making such forward progress on the client communication front.

In addition to client support, the oncology guidelines address the following components of cancer management:

  1. Diagnosis of the cancer
  2. Staging of the cancer: determination of the extent of the local disease and the presence or absence of spread (metastasis)
  3. Cancer treatment
  4. Safety of the personnel handling chemotherapy drugs
  5. Referral to a specialist in oncology when appropriate
  6. Patient support

The guidelines include specific recommendations in a table format pertaining to the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer in small animals including: mammary (breast) cancer, lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma, anal sac carcinoma, mast cell tumor, oral melanoma, soft tissue sarcoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.

Dr. John Berg, chair of the AAHA oncology guidelines task force, stated,

The guidelines are not meant to be an oncology textbook but are more like a snapshot of what is currently being done by specialists for animals with cancer. There is a constant flow of new clinical research coming out in veterinary oncology. It can be difficult for busy practitioners to keep up with all the information coming out in all fields, not just oncology, and the guidelines are intended to give practitioners a broad overview of how oncology specialists- medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and surgeons– currently approach cancer diagnosis and treatment.

If your dog or cat has recently been diagnosed with a cancerous condition, or this disease is suspected, I strongly encourage you to take a look at these oncology guidelines. Guaranteed you will become a better medical advocate for your pet.

Has one or more of your pets experienced cancer? If so, what type of cancer and what was the outcome?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.