Were You Smarter Than a Vet Student About Canine Parvovirus?

February 9th, 2014

Photo Credit: © Susannah Kay

Thanks to all of you who responded to the true/false “Parvovirus Quiz” I recently posted. The lucky winner of an autographed copy of Speaking for Spot is Larry Fosnick Davis from Seattle, Washington.

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

1.  Dogs with parvovirus become contagious to other dogs (begin shedding the virus in their feces) at the time diarrhea is first observed.

This is false. Dogs typically become contagious four to seven days before the onset of any symptoms.

2.  A dog is no longer contagious (stops shedding of parvovirus in their feces) approximately two weeks following infection.

This is true. Keep in mind that this two-week period begins up to one week prior to the onset of symptoms (see question number one above).

3.  Once parvovirus is shed via feces into the environment, it can remain infectious to other dogs for several months.

This is true. This is the main reason why unvaccinated dogs are so darned susceptible to this disease. Parvovirus organisms are extremely hardy and remain active (infectious) in the environment for up to six months.

4.  Canine parvovirus can cause heart disease.

This is true. Parvovirus can damage the heart muscle in puppies infected when they are less than six weeks of age. Affected pups die rather quickly from heart failure. This parvovirus induced cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle) is rare, occurring only if the mama dog has no immunity to parvovirus and her pups are exposed to this disease at an early age.

5.  Adult dogs should be vaccinated against parvovirus disease annually.

This is false. The parvovirus vaccine provides a minimum of three years of protection in previously vaccinated adult dogs. To state this more clearly, if your adult dog receives a parvovirus vaccination every year he or she is being “overvaccinated”. This subjects your dog to all the potential risks associated with the vaccine and absolutely zero benefit. Additionally, you are paying for a vaccine that is completely unnecessary. To learn more about current vaccination protocols I encourage you to read “The Vaccination Conundrum” in Speaking for Spot and Canine Vaccination Guidelines published by the American Animal Hospital Association. If your veterinarian insists on an annual parvovirus vaccination, share the information found in these resources. If this doesn’t solve the problem, it’s time to find a more progressive veterinarian to care for your best buddy. Enough said.

6. Some breeds have increased susceptibility to parvovirus disease.

This is true. Rottweilers, Doberman Pinchers, English Springer Spaniels, American Pit Bull Terriers, and German Shepherds have historically been predisposed to parvovirus infection, even when vaccinated according to protocol. This breed predisposition seems to be lessening, thanks to newer vaccines on the market. Nonetheless, with a pup of a more susceptible breed it makes sense to perform parvovirus serology following completion of the puppy vaccine series. This blood test helps confirm that the immune system’s parvovirus-fighting status is up to snuff.

7.  Canine parvovirus disease causes an elevation in white blood cell count.

This is false. Parvovirus disease typically causes a marked decrease in the white blood cell count. The patient’s recovery typically coincides with recovery of white blood cell numbers.

8.  Antibiotic therapy is not warranted because parvo is a viral disease.

This is false. Although antibiotics are not effective against viruses, they are an essential component of parvovirus therapy. A low white blood cell count (see question seven above) and severe disruption of the intestinal surfaces render dogs suffering from parvovirus disease very susceptible to bacterial infection. In fact, most parvovirus-associated deaths are caused by secondary bacterial infections.

9.  The only way a dog who is sick with parvovirus can survive is by receiving round-the-clock care in a veterinary hospital.

This is false. While round-the-clock care is the very best option for treating parvovirus disease, at a cost ranging from $1,500 to $3,000 such therapy is simply not affordable for many people. A recently completed study at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine tested an at-home treatment protocol. Therapy consisted of an injection of a long acting antibiotic, a daily injection of an anti-emetic (anti-vomiting medication), and administration of subcutaneous fluids (fluids under the skin) three times daily. At a cost of $200 to $300 this regimen proved to be more affordable and resulted in an 85% survival rate compared to a 90% survival rate with inpatient care. While hospitalization for therapy remains the gold standard, it is nice to know that a viable option exists when cost is prohibitive.

10.  Unvaccinated dogs are three times more likely to develop parvovirus disease than vaccinated dogs.

This is false. Unvaccinated dogs are 13 times more likely to develop parvovirus disease than vaccinated dogs.

How did you do? Did you learn anything new?

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 www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

 

Are You Smarter Than a Vet Student When it Comes to Canine Parvovirus?

February 2nd, 2014

I can still vividly recall the fear experienced in the early 1980’s when the very first cases of canine parvovirus were detected. This disease spread like wildfire throughout the United States, causing severe illness and often death. Fortunately, an effective vaccine was rapidly developed, and this new virus was downgraded from a rampant deadly infection to a preventable disease.

Chances are you already know that canine parvovirus causes severe vomiting and diarrhea, is highly contagious (spread via the feces of infected dogs), and can be prevented by vaccinating. What else do you know about this disease? I invite you to find out if you are smarter than a vet student by taking the following true/false quiz.

Post your responses and your name will be entered into a drawing for a complimentary, signed copy of Speaking for Spot or Your Dog’s Best Health (your choice). The correct answers will be posted in next week’s blog. Now, let’s see if you are smarter than a vet student!

Parvovirus Quiz

  1. Dogs with parvovirus become contagious to other dogs (begin shedding the virus in their feces) at the time diarrhea is first observed. True or false?
  2. A dog is no longer contagious (shedding of parvovirus in their feces stops) approximately two weeks following infection. True or false?
  3. Once parvovirus is shed into the environment, it can remain infectious to other dogs for several months. True or false?
  4. Canine parvovirus can cause heart disease in young puppies. True or false?
  5. Adult dogs should be vaccinated against parvovirus disease annually. True or false?
  6. Some breeds have increased susceptibility to parvovirus disease. True or false?
  7. Canine parvovirus disease causes an elevation in white blood cell count. True or false?
  8. Antibiotic therapy is not warranted because parvo is a viral disease. True or false?
  9. The only way a dog who is sick with parvovirus can survive is by receiving round-the-clock care in a veterinary hospital. True or false?
  10. Unvaccinated dogs are three times more likely to develop parvovirus disease than vaccinated dogs. True or false?

Feeling as though you might know less about parvovirus than you thought? Think you scored 100%? You’ll know for sure in a week when I provide the correct answers. In the meantime, be sure to post your own responses and a free book just may land in your lucky hands!

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 www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

New Research That Raises Questions About Current Neutering Recommendations

January 26th, 2014

Results from a hot-off-the-press study published by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, raise questions about traditional neutering recommendations within the United States where most veterinarians advise that dogs be neutered at a young age in order to induce sterility and eliminate behavioral issues before they have a chance to begin. This new information along with data from other recent studies are a prompt for all of us to reconsider current neutering dogma.

The title of the newest study is, “Evaluation of the risk and age of onset of cancer and behavioral disorders in gonadectomized Vizslas.” The word “gonadectomized” is medical jargon for “neutered”. The research included 2,505 dogs and was supported by the Vizsla Club of America Welfare Foundation.

Effect of neutering on the incidence of cancer

Here is what the researchers learned about the prevalence of cancer as it relates to neutering:

Mast cell cancer: 3.5 times higher incidence in neutered male and female dogs, independent of age at the time of neutering.

Hemangiosarcoma: 9.0 times higher incidence in neutered females compared to nonneutered females, independent of age at the time spaying was performed. No difference in incidence of this disease was found for neutered versus nonneutered males.

Lymphoma (lymphosarcoma): 4.3 times higher incidence in neutered male and female dogs, independent of age at the time of neutering.

Other types of cancer: 5.0 times higher incidence in neutered male and female dogs. The younger a dog was at the time of neutering the younger the age of the dog at the time the cancer was diagnosed.

All cancers combined: 6.5 times higher incidence of cancer in neutered females compared to nonneutered females; 3.6 times higher incidence of cancer in neutered males compared to nonneutered males.

Effect of neutering on the incidence of behavioral issues

The research documented that dogs neutered at or before 6 months of age were at greater risk for developing a variety of behavioral issues including: separation anxiety, fear of noises, fear of gunfire, timidity, excitability, submissive urination, aggression, hyperactivity, and fear biting. Neutering after 6 months of age did not create increased risk. Fear of storms was the behavioral exception. Regardless of age at the time of neutering, neutered Vizslas were at greater risk for developing fear of storms than their nonneutered cohorts.

What does all this mean?

Interesting stuff, eh? From my perspective, I think this is a good wakeup call for anyone still clinging to the notion that all dogs not used for breeding purposes should be neutered at a young age. The recent studies that challenge traditional neutering recommendations seemingly raise more questions than they answer. All have studied large breed dogs (Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, and now Vizslas). Do these results translate to small and medium sized dog breeds as well? Would similar studies within every breed produce differing results? Should males and females be spayed at a different ages? Are the effects of neutering on behavior breed-specific?

Clearly, there is much more research to be done before determining exactly how current neutering recommendations should be altered (pun intended). For now, what makes the most sense is one-on-one discussion between family veterinarians and their clients to determine how factors such as current knowledge about the effects of neutering, intended use of the dog, breed, temperament, and the way in which the dog will be housed and cared for influence the decision of whether or not to neuter and, if so, at what age.

An important disclaimer from this author: Please do not interpret what I have written to mean that I am opposed to neutering. Nothing could be further from the truth. From a pet overpopulation point of view, I am strongly in favor of neutering. Unplanned/unwanted litters of puppies are profoundly more problematic for me than any of the conclusions recent studies have reported.

Would recent research results influence your decision of whether or not to neuter your dog?

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 www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

 

Changing Relationships Between Veterinarians and Their Clients

January 18th, 2014

Many of my veterinary colleagues have been up in arms about a recent ABC 20/20 broadcast that asked the question, “Can you trust that your veterinarian is being honest with you?” During the episode, “secret shoppers” presented two overtly healthy dogs to multiple veterinarians. Two vets recommended anesthetic dental cleaning based on minimal tartar accumulation. Another vet was adamant about administering an annual distemper vaccination- this in spite of the fact that current vaccination guidelines recommend that this vaccine be given to adult dogs no more than once every three years. The show’s intended take home message appeared to be, “Buyer beware! Not all veterinarians are to be trusted. Some appear to be more interested in their financial bottom line than the welfare of their patients.”

Know that as I write this, I am exhaling a heavy sigh………  I recognize that part, if not all, of the 20/20 piece is “sensationalized journalism.” Nonetheless, it has left me feeling sad and disillusioned. Am I surprised by what the show portrayed? No, not in the least. Thanks to my many conversations with you, my readers, I’ve been well aware of the public’s growing mistrust of my beloved profession.

The way I see it, the pendulum of public perception has now swung both ways in terms of how veterinarians are viewed. When I graduated from vet school in 1982, animal docs were universally revered, all basking under the golden glow of “the James Herriot halo”. Rarely were we questioned or doubted by our clients. Now, here we are at the opposite end of the spectrum- client mistrust of veterinarians has become commonplace. Folks are opting to consult with “Dr. Google” rather than a doctor with a veterinary degree. The fact of the matter is, neither extreme is a healthy place to be. Blind trust and mistrust both undermine what brings all of us into the exam room, namely the desire to achieve the best medical outcomes for those animals we love so dearly.

My hope is that this swinging pendulum will come to rest at a place in the middle where veterinarians and their clients can experience open and honest dialogue, discussion of options, collaboration, and mutual respect. In fact, this is the description of “relationship centered care”, the style of professional communication and interaction that produces the very best medical outcomes.

So, what can all of us do to influence the swing of the pendulum? For those of you who are consumers of veterinary medicine, if not already doing so, I strongly encourage you to work with a veterinarian who provides “relationship centered care”. There are plenty such vets out there, and working with one will readily restore your faith in the profession. If you need help finding such a practitioner, Speaking for Spot will provide you with step-by-step guidance.

What can veterinarians do? According to a recent report, approximately 60 percent of veterinarians continue to vaccinate more frequently than is recommended by current professional guidelines. If you are a vet and your vaccination protocol lands you within this 60 percent category and/or you find yourself recommending tests or procedures that do not clearly serve the best interests of your patients, I respectfully encourage you to take an honest look at your motivation for doing so. Financial gain may not be the reason, as the 20/20 show would have us believe. Pressure from pharmaceutical company reps, fear of losing clients, aversion to change, or simply staying stuck in outdated veterinary school patterns are some of the factors that may be at play. Whatever the reason, it’s time to shake things up a bit. Positive or negative, the actions any one veterinarian takes ultimately reflects on each and every one of us.

What are your current perceptions of the veterinary profession?

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 www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Tea Tree Oil Toxicity in Dogs and Cats

January 12th, 2014

Have you used or contemplated using tea tree oil to treat one of your pets? If so, please read the following information. Used without significant caution, tea tree oil can cause your pet much more harm than good.

Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil, is produced from freshly harvested leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia trees that grow in Portugal, Spain, Australia, Florida and some other parts of the southern United States. Tea tree oil is a popular over-the-counter treatment in people for a variety of skin maladies including fungal infections, acne, boils, burns, corns, cold sores, impetigo, insect bites, and lice. The oil is sometimes added to bath water or vaporizers to treat respiratory disorders. It is also marketed in toothpastes, lotions, soaps, and skin creams.

It is only natural that the medicinal uses of tea tree oil have been extrapolated to veterinary medicine. Tea tree oil products have been used to treat skin diseases in dogs and cats, predominantly hot spots  and skin allergies.

Most people tolerate application of undiluted, 100% strength tea tree oil without any problems. Not true for animals.  A report in the January, 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association documents multiple cases of tea tree oil exposure and toxicity in dogs and cats. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center database was the source for this information that spans a ten year time period (2002-2012).

The Poison Control Center data includes 337 dogs and 106 cats exposed to 100% tea tree oil, administered topically (to the skin), orally, or via both routes. Of the 443 animals exposed, 343 (77%) developed an adverse reaction consistent with toxicity.  Their symptoms developed within 2 to 12 hours following exposure and lasted up to 3 days. The abnormalities most commonly reported were depression, lethargy, weakness, incoordination, muscle tremors, and increased salivation or drooling. Less common symptoms included vomiting, collapse, coma, and skin rashes. Several animals were documented to have elevated liver enzymes. Young cats and smaller adult cats were at greater risk for development of more severe symptoms. Unfortunately, information documenting outcomes was, for the most part, unavailable. This makes sense given that Poison Control Center data is generated over the telephone only at the onset of symptoms.

Now, here’s the moral of this story. It is imperative to be extremely cautious when treating your pet with tea tree oil (or for that matter, any over-the-counter remedy or medication). First and foremost, obtain the go-ahead green light from your veterinarian. Never administer tea tree oil orally, and be sure to double check that the product you are applying to your pet’s skin has been diluted down to 0.1%-1.0% strength. Most over-the-counter tea tree oil is sold as an undiluted, 100% concentration. In Australia, 100% tea tree oil requires distinctive, child-resistant packaging with a safety warning on the label. No such precautions are required in the United States or Canada. By the way, I just fished the small bottle of tea tree oil I keep out of my medicine cabinet. Upon close inspection (reading glasses needed to do so), I learned that the tea tree oil in my possession is the 100% strength version. I’m glad I never considered sharing it with my pets!

If ever you treat one of your pets with tea tree oil and suspect you are observing an adverse reaction, contact your family veterinarian or a pet emergency care facility right away. As with any toxicity, the sooner your best buddy is treated, the better the outcome is likely to be.

Have you ever treated yourself or one of your pets with tea tree oil? If so, what condition were you treating 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 www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

Shared Office Visits

January 4th, 2014

Photo Credit: Jenny Fitzgerald

Recent articles in Time and The Oprah Magazine discuss the intriguing concept of “shared medical appointments”. Here’s how such appointments work. Up to a dozen or more patients assemble for the visit. First, a nurse or physician’s assistant evaluates vital signs such as body weight, blood pressure, and heart rate. Next, if the patient is to be examined (apparently exams are optional in human medicine these days), the nature of the visit dictates whether this happens privately or fully clothed in the group setting. Lastly, a group discussion takes place during which time the doctor addresses each patient (everyone in attendance signs a confidentiality agreement) with time left for discussion and questions.

A report in Clinical Diabetes discusses the benefits derived from shared medical appointments, particularly for management of chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Increased compliance with the physician’s recommendations has been documented. Patients report that they benefit from questions asked by other patients, and that they learn more about disease prevention in the group setting than they would during a one-on-one office visit.

Shared office visits aren’t for everyone, particularly those who tend to be more private by nature and may avoid discussing important health issues in a group setting. According to data collected by the Cleveland Clinic where almost 10,000 group appointments have taken place, 85 percent of people who attend one shared visit sign up for another

Some physicians seem to prefer shared appointments because the process streamlines the way they deliver health care. Rather than providing the same blood pressure or diabetes management spiel multiple times during the course of the day, they can deliver this important information to a dozen or so patients in one fell swoop. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, since 2005 the percentage of family medicine practices within the United States offering shared visits has doubled from 6% to 13%.

Interesting concept, eh? Naturally, when I read these articles I began thinking about how the concept of shared office visits might work in veterinary medicine. In all seriousness, I really do believe shared office visits would be effective, particularly for annual wellness exams. My experience tells me that clients love chatting with one another and “comparing notes”. I’ve witnessed many an impromptu “support group” form in busy veterinary hospital waiting rooms, complete with exchange of telephone numbers and email addresses. And, given the choice, I think most veterinarians would relish the opportunity to give their nutrition/flea control/vaccination/heartworm prevention talk once a day rather than ten or twelve times daily.

Based on the dog park model, it might be wise to separate the big dogs from the small dogs during shared office visits. Folks with the little guys would hear about dental disease and symptoms of heart failure. The big dog people would hear about arthritis management and cancer prevention. How about group visits for kitties? Hmmm, this one makes me a bit nervous. And mixing dogs and cats together would surely be a recipe for disaster!

What are your thoughts about shared medical appointments for yourself or your pets?

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 www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

Winterizing Your Pets: Ten Tips

December 15th, 2013

I want you to know that I will be taking a brief break from my computer during the last half of December. Fear not- I will be returning in 2014!

Also, be reminded that in order to take advantage of my two-for-one book sale and ensure Christmas delivery, please place your order no later than December 16th.

Happy holidays!

Dr. Nancy

 

Oh, the weather outside is frightful! Winter weather is rapidly approaching and you’ve likely begun layering your clothing and weatherproofing your car. When organizing for winter, don’t forget to think about your pets. They too are deserving of special treatment this time of year. Here are ten tips for keeping your pets cozy, comfortable, and healthy this winter:

1.  Just as arthritis can be more problematic for us when the temperature drops, so too does this apply to our animals. If your best buddy appears stiff first thing in the morning or is more tentative when navigating stairs or jumping up and down off the furniture, I encourage you to contact your veterinarian. These days, there are so many beneficial treatment options for soothing arthritis discomfort. For your pet’s sake, make the effort to learn more about them.

2.  When the temperature drops, outdoor kitties like to snuggle up against car engines for extra warmth. Be sure to provide plenty of notice before you start up your engine lest a “kitty squatter” sustain serious injury as a result of moving auto parts. Vocalize and tap the hood a few times. Better yet, lift the hood to alert any slumbering guests of your intentions.

3.  Antifreeze is terribly toxic for dogs and cats. Even a few licks of the stuff can cause kidney failure and severe neurological symptoms, usually resulting in death. Unfortunately, most antifreeze products have a sweet flavor making them appealing to dogs. Cats are too discriminating to voluntarily taste the stuff, but should they step in antifreeze, they will ingest enough to be toxic during their grooming process. Please prevent your pets from having any access to antifreeze by checking under your vehicles for leaks and storing antifreeze containers in a safe place.

4.  Wintertime is definitely dress-up time for dogs, when the clothing is functional rather than just adorable. Just like us, many dogs are more comfortable outside when wearing an extra layer. Smaller dogs in particular have difficulty maintaining a normal body temperature when exposed to freezing conditions. If the love of your canine life happens to be an arctic breed (Malamute, Husky, Samoyed), no need for canine clothing!

5.  Regardless of season, all animals need access to water round-the-clock. If your pet is reliant on an outdoor water bowl, strategize a way to prevent the water from freezing. Water bowl heaters work well. Additionally moving water is more resistant to freezing- consider creating a little “drinking fountain” for your pets.

6.  Sure the weather is cold, but your dogs still need plenty of exercise for their physical as well as their psychological well being. Besides, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of relaxing by the fire with a content and tired dog at your side! If the weather is truly too inclement for both of you to be outdoors, look for an indoor dog park or consider doggie day care, assuming your dog enjoys such venues.

7.  I’m all for hiking with dogs off leash, but in winter, be extra cautious around ponds and lakes for fear of thin ice. Not only is falling through the ice life threatening for dogs, it creates a situation that often becomes life threatening for the humans involved in the rescue operation.

8.  Salt on sidewalks and roads and even ice that adheres to all of that fuzzy hair between your dogs toes can create irritation and sores. Inspect and rinse your dog’s tootsies as needed.

9.  I strongly encourage having dogs and cats live indoors. If your living situation absolutely prevents this, and there are no other viable alternatives, please provide your pet with an enclosed shelter that is warmed by a heating device and contains plenty of clean, dry bedding. Also, remember that your pet needs just as much attention from you in frigid temperatures as during the warmer seasons.

10.  ‘Tis the time of year when we humans tend to overindulge, eating all kinds of things we shouldn’t. Don’t allow your pets to become a victim of this holiday spirit. In addition to adding unwanted and unhealthy pounds, eating rich and fatty foods predisposes them to gastrointestinal upset and pancreatitis either of which could land your four-legged family member in the hospital for several days (not to mention create some significant rug-cleaning expenses for you).

What steps do you take to ensure your pets will be happy and healthy during the winter?

Wishing you and your four-legged family members a joyful and healthy holiday season.

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 www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Holiday Shopping for Your Pets: The Importance of Boycotting Stores That Sell Puppies

December 8th, 2013

True confession………  I happen to detest holiday shopping unless, that is, I’m shopping for my four-legged family members! If you will be holiday shopping for your own pets, I have a special favor to ask of you. My request is that you purposefully avoid spending even a single penny at pet stores that sell puppies. I want the proprietors of these businesses to take a financial hit, so much so that they are forced to either close their doors or quit selling puppies (I would be content with either outcome).

Why do I feel as I do? If you are new to my blog you may not know that most if not all of those adorable little puppy faces found in pet store cages originate from puppy mills-  commercial breeding operations where dogs are housed in deplorable conditions. The breeding dogs typically serve life sentences with no chance at parole. Their puppies are fraught with behavior and training issues,  thereby increasing the likelihood they will be relinquished to a shelter or rescue organization or, worse yet, euthanized. A recently released ASPCA video does a wonderfully creative job describing the relationship between pet stores and puppy mills.

Boycotting pet stores that sell puppies is a simple step each and every one of us can take that will bring us closer to the eradication of puppy mills. Are you willing to join me in this effort? If so, please take the “No Pet Store Puppies Pledge” and urge your friends, relatives, neighbors, and coworkers to do the same. Give me a shout out/leave a comment once you’ve taken the pledge and your name will be entered into a drawing for a fabulous ASPCA gift basket filled with goodies for you (can you say, “Walker’s Shortbread Cookies”?) and some special treats for your pets.

Thank you for your help. Together we can make a difference in the fight against puppy mills. Happy holiday shopping!

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 www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

Kids Caring for Pets: Fantasy or Reality?

December 1st, 2013

If only I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “We really want a pet, but are waiting until our child is old enough to care for it.” And countless times I’ve listened to a client explain that the youngster in the room with us will be the one taking care of the puppy I am examining. I bite my tongue so as not to respond, “Yeah, right. Good luck with that house training!” Instead, I find a more tactful way to explain what the family is in store for.

My sentiments about children caring for pets are derived from 32 years as a practicing veterinarian and 29 years of mommyhood (rarely if ever did my three youngsters spend an animal-less moment). I believe that children and animals are a fabulous combination, beginning well before the age when a child can significantly contribute to caring for a pet. There is plenty of data documenting pet-associated benefits on child development. Attachment to a pet promotes positive self-esteem and is related to healthy emotional functioning. Not only do pets favorably influence social development, but cognitive development as well. Postponing this relationship until children are mature enough to responsibly contribute to the animal’s care means missing out on several years of a really good thing.

How old is old enough?

Yes, most kids can contribute to an animal’s care from a very young age, but it is naïve to believe that they can successfully and consistently provide what pets need for their physical and emotional wellbeing. Younger children are simply not capable and older kids often lack the focus, time, and/or motivation to reliably provide care day in and day out. Heck, successfully housetraining and teaching manners to a new pup are challenging propositions for most grownups!

Children may believe they are responsible and capable enough to fully care for a pet, particularly when they are in what I refer to as the “fantasy phase,” thinking about how fabulous the experience will be. When the “reality phase” kicks in, an adult must be willing and able to provide the necessary backup. Regardless of the age of the youngster who is helping care for a pet, adult supervision is required, same as for most any other activity the child engages in (Internet use, homework, social activities, etc.). In this case, an animal’s wellbeing depends on it.

Whose pet is it anyway?

The intention may be that a newly adopted animal becomes the child’s best friend, and that this relationship will nurture a greater sense of responsibility in terms of the child caring for pet. The animal often has a differing opinion, bonding more strongly with someone else in the household and causing the child to lose interest.  Exactly who his or her favorite human will be is anyone’s guess. I encourage families to avoid setting themselves up for disappointment. A newly adopted animal (referring primarily to dogs and cats here) should be considered a “family pet”. Ideally, the animal enjoys and is enjoyed (and cared for) by everyone in the household.

The bottom line

Care for a pet requires lots of adult involvement. For this reason, pets are simply not a good fit for every family. If you are feeling ready for a family pet and understand that much if not all of its care will rest on your shoulders, I encourage you to go for it. Kids and animals are a fabulous combination in well supervised situations. Watching them interact provides profound gratification, regardless of how much care the child is capable of providing.

Do you agree with these sentiments or has your experience taught you otherwise?

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 www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Full Tummies and Open Hearts

November 24th, 2013

Photo Credit: Pam Young

Of the many holidays celebrated throughout the year Thanksgiving is my hands down favorite. I love devoting an entire day to preparation of a meal and an autumn hike with my puppers and anyone else who cares to tag along. I also relish a holiday that doesn’t involve giving gifts that require forethought, shopping, and wrapping. The gifts shared at the Thanksgiving table are spontaneous, require no embellishment, and are simple to deliver. These are gifts such as love, empathy, and connectedness, all created within and delivered by an open heart.

Many different things can nurture open heartedness. For some, music, art, or a walk in the woods may be required. What is it that opens your heart? If you are like me, interactions with animals are the thing most capable of doing so. And if it’s a baby animal, forget about it! Not only does my heart open wide, I think it even grows larger!

To those who question the sanity of loving, nurturing, and caring for animals when there is so much human suffering in the world I say, “Bah humbug!” Without animals in our lives people like me would have a tough time opening our hearts to give to others. Loving our animals doesn’t make them more important than humans, nor does it “use up” our ability to tend to people in need.  Rather, loving them makes our own humanity more accessible. They nourish our hearts and allow them to open wide.

My Thanksgiving wish for you is a full tummy and an open heart. Thank you for your loyal readership.

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 www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.