Category Archives: Exotics Health

Responsible Pet Ownership

posted on February 01, 2018 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

February is National Responsible Pet Owners Month.  Pets are a joy to own, but they are also a commitment.  Dogs and cats can live 10-20 years, and some pets such as birds can live even longer.  They depend upon us fully to care for them, but in return they give us unconditional love.

So what are some ways to be a responsible pet owner?

  •  Spay or neuter your pet.  Unfortunately in the U.S., there is an overpopulation of companion animals, with many dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, and other pets living in shelters and rescues.  Spaying and neutering helps prevent further overpopulation, and has some health benefits as well.
  • Get pets from reputable sources.  On a similar note, when looking to add to your family, consider rescues and shelters.  There are many pure bred rescues if you want a pure bred, and mixed breed animals often have the benefit of fewer health issues.
  • Go to the vet annually.  While your pet may not require yearly vaccinations, the physical examination is the most important part of your visit.  Pets are very good at hiding pain and problems, and going to the vet regularly may help catch issues earlier, when they are easier to prevent or treat.
  • Microchip or otherwise identify your pet.  Tags with phone numbers are important, and having a microchip with current information can help reunite with your pet should you get separated.  Make sure to keep microchip information current if you move or get a new phone number.
  • Go to training.  Training your dog helps strengthen your bond, and can help prevent or reduce behavior issues.  Things like agility can also give you both something active to do together.
  • Provide good nutrition.  Your pet needs a well balanced, nutritious diet to have a long, healthy life.  At the same time, don’t overfeed.  Obesity is a major issue affecting our pets and can cause multiple health issues.  Talk with your veterinarian about recommended foods and amounts.
  • Provide regular grooming.  Almost all dogs need their nails trimmed periodically, and most dogs need a bath every once in awhile.  Some pets require regular brushing to keeps tangles at bay, and some dogs need professional grooming to maintain a health coat and skin.
  • Hygiene is important as well.  Ears should be cleaned periodically.  Anal glands may need to be emptied on a regular basis.  Teeth should be brushed, ideally daily, with a pet tooth paste.  Regular veterinary dental care may be required as well.
  • Be prepared for emergencies.  Have a basic first aid kit handy; there are even some made specifically for pets.  Know that certain human medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve) are toxic to pets.  Have emergency veterinarian contact information handy.  Keep a file of copies of bloodwork and other important health information handy in case you need to see a veterinarian other than your regular vet.
  • Have pet insurance or a savings account for your pets’ health.  There are multiple options for pet health insurance that may be able to alleviate the cost burden and financial part of making decisions in an emergency.  Having a regular savings account for your pet’s yearly care, with a buffer for emergency situations is another way to handle this.
  • Provide mental and physical stimulation.  Exercise is important for our pets, helping control weight, as well as giving a release for pent up energy that could otherwise feed unwanted behavior.  Mental stimulation such as scent training, puzzle toys, and foraging for food/treats is also important for that same reason.
  • Travel safely.  Pets should be confined when in a vehicle for their own and your safety.  There are multiple seat belt and harnesses available, as well as carriers, confinement nets, or crates.
  • Pet proof your house.  Wires and cords make tempting play toys to puppies and kittens.  Plants may pose a toxic threat.  Yards may have unforeseen escape routes or dangers.  Imagine yourself at their level and educate yourself about potential toxins to keep out of their reach.
  • Clean up after your pets.  Dogs can spread disease to other pets and humans via their feces, so if they have a bowel movement in public, be sure to clean it up.  This is also just the nice, neighborly thing to do!
  • Teach children to respect animals.  Discuss with children how to ask before going up to strange animals.  Teach them to understand basic dog and cat body language cues, and teach them how to approach and pet animals appropriately.  Supervise children and pets when they are together.  Lead by example.

Overall, there are many things that play a role into being a responsible pet owner.  These are just a few examples of things that contribute to having a healthy, happy pet for many years!

Spooky Skeletons and Icky Innards

posted on October 05, 2016 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

This is the month of halloween, and skeletons, goblins, and guts will make their annual appearance.  In medicine, we tend to see bones and organs in a different way that this freaky holiday portrays however.


Dog bones costume

Since the skeleton and organs are on the inside of the body, we often require some means of diagnostic
imaging to see them.  Diagnostic imaging can include a variety of tools-the most common being x-rays (radiographs) and ultrasound.  Others include things such as CT scans, MRI scans, endoscopy (and it’s many branches), fluoroscopy, or PET scans.

Radiographs or x-rays are one of the most commonly used diagnostic imaging tools used.  They take a two dimensional picture of an area of the body.  They can see bones and metal as bright white, and gas or air as dark black, and fluid, fat, and other soft tissues as other shades of gray.  It can reveal the outline of organs as well seeing some of the contents in the stomach or intestines.  X-rays can be used to see if there is heart enlargement, fluid buildup, foreign body ingestions, tumors, fractures, bladder stones, or infections present.  X-rays are not the best at seeing inside some of the other organs such as the liver, kidneys, spleen, or pancreas.

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-2-13-33-pmRadiograph of abdomen of a male dog.

Ultrasound is another common tool used to image the inside of a pet’s body.  The ultrasound is a real time movie of the organ’s insides, and can show blood flow and movement.  It has a hard time determining overall size of an organ, so x-rays are still often used to determine if a liver or heart for example are enlarged.  An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart, and can be used to see the values, wall thickness, and look for turbulent blood flow (murmurs).  Abdominal ultrasounds are able to look inside the liver, gall bladder, spleen, kidneys, bladder and intestines.  It can find small organs not visible on x-rays such as the adrenal glands, lymph nodes, and the pancreas.  However, ultrasounds cannot see through gas, so it has a difficult time seeing all of the intestinal tract and stomach, and cannot be used well to look at the lungs.

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-2-12-47-pmUltrasound of abdomen.  Spleen across top, left kidney in the center of the photo.

Pets can undergo CT or MRI scans as well.  They have to be anesthetized to have these performed, but these diagnostic tools give a better look inside the body.  They can be used to look at the brain, spinal cord, look for pinched nerves/slipped discs or intervertebral disc disease and for this reason are useful in planning back surgeries.  They can be used to look for tumors and tumor spread, and can often be used to plan surgical removal or or radiation treatment of certain types of cancer.

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-2-26-14-pmMRI machine at the University of Minnesota

Another diagnostic imaging tool available is endoscopy.  This involved using a camera scope to look inside certain organs such as the GI tract (endoscopy or colonoscopy), inside the airways (bronchoscopy), inside the nose (rhinoscopy), inside the ears (otoscopy) or inside the joints (arthroscopy).  Small samples of tissues can often be taken when using a scope to help get a diagnosis.  Sometimes removal of foreign material or tumors or polyps can also be performed with a scope.

Fluoroscopy is very similar to x-rays, but it is a live movie like x-ray.  It is used for things that are dynamic, such as collapsing tracheas or swallow studies.  This is only done at specialty clinics.

Lastly, some animals can have a PET scan done.  PET scans are a specialized test where a radioactive medication is given, and images are taken to see where the medication travels in the body and where there is uptake.  For instance, thyroid cancers tend to uptake radioactive iodine medications.  This is a very specialized type of diagnostic imaging that is only used in certain cases and is performed by specialists.

Overall, with the variety of diagnostic imaging tools available in the medicine field, we are able to diagnose a variety of diseases, perform surgery or start medications to help manage, treat, or even cure these diseases, and to monitor progress.  Through imaging, we are able to offer better medicine for our pets!

How to decide “when it’s time”

posted on September 02, 2015 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

One of the more common questions we get asked as our pets age, is when to decide when it’s time for humane euthanasia.  First off, I’d like to say there are many right answers to this question.

A number of things are taken into account when looking at quality of life.  You know your pet best-what makes your pet themselves?  Does Fido love playing ball?  Does Fifi lives to eat? Does Spot have to be in the room with you at all times?  If your pet is not able to do these things anymore or is not interested in doing them anymore, it might be time.

Important things to consider are whether the pet is still eating, able to get around, and interacting with the family.  They may be slower than they used to be, and maybe a walk around the block instead of a mile long walk is all they can do, but if they can’t get around on their own this can significantly impact their quality of life.

Nutrition is an important consideration, and if they aren’t eating on their own this can be a major red flag.  Most pets live to eat, and this is often one of the main reasons clients choose to euthanize.  An examination may be recommended to make sure there isn’t an underlying treatable or manageable condition, but if a pet is not eating for more than a couple days this is a concern.

Interactions with family is yet another major point.  Sometimes pets are painful and avoid interactions because they are concerned it will hurt.  Other times there can be cognitive changes that affect the behavior.

Lastly, overall health should be taken into consideration.  Is your pet having accidents and laying in it because they are incontinent or can’t get up?  Is your pet painful from arthritis or other medical issues?  Can they hear and see?  While deafness, blindness, or incontinence are not necessarily a reason to euthanize in themselves, they do contribute to the pet’s overall well being.

Ways to help determine when it’s time include a conversation with your veterinarian.  They may perform an examination and potentially diagnostics to determine the health status of your pet.  Measuring good days vs. bad days can also be very helpful.  A calendar marked with smiley or frown faces or penny jars where you put a penny in for good things (went for walk, ate, made it up the stairs, etc.) vs. bad things (fell, didn’t eat, etc.) can help you visualize and remember looking back.  This is an emotional decision and sometimes the head and heart don’t always agree, so a visual aid can be beneficial.

There is a chart published by Veterinary Practice News that helps give a numerical score to pet’s quality of life as well.  Again, this alone should not be the driving factor to decide, but can help quantify your pet’s quality of life.

If you are wondering if it is time, please contact us so we can have a quality of life discussion with you.  Together we hope to give your pet the best quality of life they can have, and want to help ease their suffering when it’s time.

Xylitol, a hidden danger

posted on August 03, 2015 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

A new danger is presenting itself to our pets and it’s one that is not very obvious.  Xylitol, a sugar alcohol found in many products, can be extremely toxic to our pets such as dogs and ferrets.  It is a natural product, so it can be found in items that are listed as natural or organic, and may even be listed as a natural sweetener.

Xylitol is not toxic to humans, but can cause severe and even fatal issues in our dogs.  In quantities as low as 0.1 gram per kilogram of body weight (which is about 0.01 oz per pound), it can cause hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.  This means that a 10 lb dog could eat as little as one mint or one piece of gum and show symptoms of hypoglycemia.  Symptoms of this include staggering or “drunk” walking, drooling, appearing disoriented, weakness, collapsing, seizures, or even death.

At doses of 0.5 gram per kilogram of body weight (roughly equal to 0.04 oz per pound), a more serious issue occurs-liver damage, which can lead to liver failure and death.  Signs of liver damage can include changes in appetite, vomiting, jaundice or yellowing of the skin, eyes, and gums.

Because it is non toxic to humans, it is often used in various diet foods, dental products, and sugar free foods.  It is sold as a sugar substitute and can be used in baking.  It is cropping up in multiple spots, including gums, mints, some over the counter medications and nasal sprays, some prescription medications, and even in candies, puddings, ice creams, jams, drinks, and the one we are most concerned with, peanut and nut butters.

The concern with peanut butter is that many people use this as a treat, to stuff a toy, or to give medications.  Peanut butter that is not sweetened with xylitol is safe for pets in small amounts, though it is high in fats and may not be indicated with some medical conditions.  However, if an owner accidentally uses a peanut butter sweetened with xylitol, this treat could prove deadly.


If you use peanut butter for your pet, please read the ingredients carefully.  The words xylitol, sugar alcohol, or natural sweeteners are all red flags and should be avoided.

If you think your pet has been exposed to xylitol, prompt veterinary care is recommended.  Please call us or an emergency clinic immediately after exposure is noted or suspected.

Signs of low blood sugar generally appear 1-2 hours after ingestion, but can be delayed up to 12 hours.  If the exposure is recent, vomiting may be induced to help remove the toxin, but the pet should be assessed prior to this to make sure it is safe to induce vomiting.  Blood sugars will be checked and IV fluids with sugar added may be necessary.  Hospitalization can be required for a few days in some cases, until the pet is able to regulate their blood sugar on their own again.

If the dose was high enough to cause liver damage, IV fluids with sugar may be recommended preemptively.  Liver enzymes should be monitored via blood work for a few days after exposure.  Blood clotting parameters should also be monitored as well, as the liver is responsible for making these, and spontaneous bleeding is a concern.  Medications, hospitalization, and even blood transfusions may be recommended or required.

The sooner the pet is brought in, the more we can do to try to prevent permanent damage.  Again, if you think your pet has been exposed, please call us or an emergency clinic immediately.  Lastly, try to prevent exposure by reading ingredient lists carefully, keeping human candies, gums, mints, and medications out of your pet’s reach.

Exotics need veterinary care too!

posted on March 04, 2015 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Ferrets, rabbits, and rodents such as chinchillas, mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, and gerbils are becoming more popular as pets. Because these pets have a shorter life span than their dog and cat counterparts, it is even more important that they be seen by a veterinarian at least once a year, as they age much quicker than humans.

Ferrets require vaccinations, rabbits and rodents should have their teeth examined, and everybody should have a comprehensive physical examination to look for any signs of diseases as they age. Much like dogs and cats, these animals may need blood work to look at internal organ function, x-rays, treatments for internal and external parasites, and surgery for things like spays, neuters, mass removals, and dental work.

Exotics require special care, diets, and preventative medicine, and your first visit to the vet can provide you with invaluable insight to help keep your pet healthy and happy. They are also prone to a number of common and unique diseases and illnesses that require a veterinarian who is comfortable seeing small mammals to diagnose and treat.

With the exception of ferrets, these animals are all considered prey animals in the wild, meaning they are hunted by another animal. This makes them very wary by nature, and they tend to hide signs of illness very well until they are extremely sick, as the weak and ill are the usual targets in nature. Because of this, it is very important that your animal be examined as soon as possible if you notice any signs of them not acting like themselves, be it a change in interest in food or water, change in activity level, changes in bathroom behavior, or a change in their interactions with you. Keeping track of your pet’s weight with a small postage or kitchen scale can also alert you to changes.  You know your animal best, and if you think something is not right, you are probably correct.

Posted in: Exotics Health