Giving Thanks for our Pets

posted on November 01, 2016 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

There are many reasons we are thankful for our four-legged, furry friends.  Below are just a few!

  1. Comfort and love.  A pet’s love is unconditional.  It doesn’t matter what happened to you during the day, your dog is ready to greet you with a kiss and your cat will cuddle with you regardless.  The physical contact of being with your pet can provide warmth, soothe aches, and may even lower your blood pressure and heart rate which can be beneficial to your health.
  2. Support and mental health benefits.  Pets can help improve our mood, provide us with a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and can help decrease anxiety and overcome loneliness and depression.  Residents in nursing homes or assisted living facilities have a positive change when pets are regularly brought in-they become more active and outgoing.  People with pets tend to be more socially interactive as well.  Pets make a great conversation starter and basis for friendship!
  3. Pets can help us get into shape.  Dogs need regular walks, which can motivate us to get more active.  The CDC states that owning a pet has been linked with lower risk for obesity, and also states that decreased blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels are additional benefits of owning pets.  Pets can also lead to better control of diabetes and an easier time quitting smoking.  Cat ownership is associated with lower risk of death from heart disease
  4. Pets make us laugh.  Their funny antics and play behavior is often a source of great amusement to us.
  5. Pets provide security.  Dogs can bark at intruders, and there are documented cases of pets waking owners when there are fires in the house.  Just having someone nearby can make you feel more secure.
  6. Pets teach us.  Pets can teach us many of the lessons in life.  They teach kids responsibility.  They teach us the circle of life and loss.  They teach us to love unconditionally and forgive easily.  They can teach us patience, joy, and tenacity.  They can help us grow and can teach us to care for something else above ourselves.

Overall, pets have many attributes which we are all thankful for.  In this month of giving thanks, take time to appreciate your pet too!

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More than just a pretty face…

posted on July 01, 2016 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Periodontal disease is inflammation or loss of support structures for the teeth-including the gingiva (gums), periodontal ligament, and the bone.  85% of dogs and 75% of cats over the age of 3 have periodontal disease.  As periodontal disease progresses, it can lead to tooth loss.  However, there are other, less obvious side effects to periodontal disease.  The chronic inflammation in the mouth leads to inflammatory mediators and bacterial byproducts and toxins to be circulated throughout the body and can cause distant organ effects.

In human medicine, studies have shown that stage 2 periodontal disease, which means there is greater than 21% of bone loss surrounding the teeth, leads to a greater than 70% increase in death. This is greater than the risk of smoking!  Obviously pets aren’t people, but studies have shown organ changes from periodontal disease.  We often see an increase in liver enzymes from the inflammation of the mouth.  There are increased fibrotic (scar tissue) changes in the kidneys, liver, and heart muscles found on post mortem exam.  Diabetes control is more difficult in patients with periodontal disease as well.

Patients with periodontal disease had a 14% increased risk for cancer, after adjusting for other known risk factors.

The eyes can become affected by dental disease as well.  Facial swelling, draining tract, exophthalmos (eyes protruding from their sockets), and blocked tear ducts can all be secondary to dental disease.  Pain on opening mouth can also be from dental disease and cellulitis (inflammation of the tissues) surrounding the eye.

The nervous system can also be affected by periodontal disease.  Retained baby teeth can be a risk factor for tetanus in rare cases.  In humans, there is a 57% increased risk of stroke associated with advanced periodontal disease.

Lastly, the heart can be affected by dental disease.  There is one study performed by Banfield that seems to suggest there is an increased risk of infective endocarditis (infection of the inner tissues of the heart, usually the valves).  There have been changes found in the papillary muscles of the heart in pets with increased periodontal disease.  And again, there has been found to be increased risk of strokes in humans.

Overall, there is proof that it’s more than “just teeth” and that dental health is an important factor in a pet’s overall health.  We assess teeth with every physical examination we perform, and grade your pet’s teeth on a 0-4 scale.  Zero is new puppy teeth, no tartar or gingivitis present.  Grade 1 is some tartar but no gingivitis seen.  Grade 2 means we are starting to see inflammation of the gums.  Grade 3 means the gums are receding, and grade 4 means teeth are loose which indicates bone loss.  Grades 3 and 4 are not reversible, so we recommend performing a thorough examination, probing, cleaning, and polishing of the teeth under anesthesia before we reach this level.  Ask us at your next visit what your pet’s dental disease score is!

* A special thank you to Dr. Donnell Hansen, DVM, DAVDC for the use of these statistics from her lecture.

Forget the apple a day, have a pet to keep the doctor away!

posted on February 04, 2014 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

A recent study done in Australia found that kids that have a pet (specifically a guinea pig) in the classroom have better social skills and fewer problem behaviors.  This study was particularly looking at classrooms that had Autistic children present.  However, it has been found that animals can help a variety of human conditions and can be beneficial to your health overall.

According to WebMD, there are many benefits to having pets.  Pets can reduce allergies, asthma, and eczema.  They can reduce anxiety in Alzheimer’s patients.  They can increase exercise and companionship.  They can decrease depression.  They can decrease blood pressure and heart disease risks.  They can help with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, and ADHD.

Dogs can also be trained to help people with diseases in a more specialized way-low blood sugar sensing dogs for diabetics, seizure sensing dogs for epileptics, seeing eye dogs for the blind, and cancer detecting canines.  Can do canines, a local facility, helps place dogs with people with a wide range of disabilities.

While not everyone needs a specially trained pet, there are many studies proving that pets can help improve your health and well being.  So give your furry friend a hug and enjoy the release of endorphins you’ll receive!

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We let pets into our hearts, don’t let heartworms into theirs!

posted on May 02, 2013 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Heartworm disease is a common illness here in Minnesota.  It is carried by mosquitoes, and spread when an infected mosquito bites your pet.  As the worms mature, they can block the blood vessels of the heart and lungs, causing both circulatory and respiratory disease such as difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance, asthma like symptoms, blood clots, anemia, heart murmurs, irregular heart beats, high blood pressure, and thickening of heart muscles (hypertrophy).  Infection can also cause protein loss through the kidneys, which over time can damage the kidneys.  Lastly, it can be fatal.

Treatment of heartworm disease involves a series of shots which are derived from arsenic.  There is a lot of follow up and cost involved-multiple chest x-rays, medications to help prevent reactions to the arsenic and dying worms and anaphylactic shock, hospitalization, and follow up testing.  Pets must be kept confined to a cage just large enough for the dog to stand, turn around, and lie down in for a couple of weeks.  This to help prevent the pet from having a blood clot or piece of dying worm getting stuck in a blood vessel in the lungs, called a pulmonary thromboembolism or PTE.  PTE can cause difficulty breathing and even death.  Cats and ferrets cannot tolerate the arsenic compound used to treat heartworms, and there is not a medical treatment available to these pets.  In severe cases, open heart surgery has been used, but often these pets make poor anesthesia patients.  Because of all of the terrible side effects to a very risky treatment, prevention is much easier and safer for the pet.

Yearly testing for heartworm disease is recommended by us at Heritage Animal Hospital, as well as Companion Animal Parasite Council, and the American Heartworm Society.  There are several reasons for testing yearly.  No preventative is 100%, and let’s face it, most of us are not 100% on getting it on time every month.  The sooner a diagnosis is made, the less evidence of disease changes are present in the body, and the more successful treatment can be.  Also, the preventative, if given to a heartworm positive animal, has a slim but real chance of causing the same side effect of a PTE that treatment does.

We also recommend yearly heartworm preventative for all pets as opposed to seasonal for a number of reasons:

  • Mosquitoes may survive indoors longer than the traditional 6 months of treatment
  • Many pets travel with their owners during the winter months and may go to an area where heartworm disease is a threat year round
  • Many of the heartworm preventatives also cover intestinal parasites such as hookworm, whipworm, and roundworm, as well as some having flea and/or tick control
  • Approximately one third of cats diagnosed as heartworm positive are indoor only pets!

Heartworm disease is a preventable illness that can be quite serious and possibly fatal.  Talk with us today about our recommendations for your pet and heartworm preventative!

Obesity as an Epidemic

posted on August 03, 2012 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As the calendars turn to August, one thought enters my mind-food on a stick!  August brings the state fair, and while I know a deep fried candy bar on a stick is not healthy for me, as an occasional, once a year treat, it is okay to indulge.  While many people realize watching what we eat is important for a number of health reasons, these same people may not realize watching what our pets eat is just as important.

You may think an extra pound or two can’t hurt that much, but a pound is not just a pound.  While two or three additional pounds may have very little effect on you or me, they can be quite serious for your pet.  Three extra pounds on a 15 pound dog is equivalent to a 150 pound person gaining 30 extra pounds, and  3 extra pounds on a 10 pound cat is equal to 45 extra pounds on a 150 pound person!

Obesity and overweightness is the #1 health condition affecting American pets today.  Purina estimates that 58% of cats and 45% of dogs are overweight or obese.  This equals 35 million dogs and 54 million cats!

This is a serious epidemic as being overweight has been linked with a higher incidence of a number of health issues including oral (mouth) disease, skin disease, diabetes, pancreatitis, thyroid disease, joint diseases such as arthritis and hip dysplasia, hepatitis, urinary tract disease, asthma, torn ligaments such as ACLs, liver disease, heart disease, kidney disease, exercise intolerance, slower wound healing, increased anesthetic risk, and cancer.

Even more importantly, it has been found that being overweight can significantly decrease lifespan.  Purina did the first life-long study in dogs regarding diet and its effect on pets.  Half of the dogs were fed free choice, meaning they were allowed to eat as much as they liked.  The other half of the dogs were fed 25% less than what the free fed dogs ate.  The differences were amazing!

Dogs that were allowed to free feed had an average body condition score (BCS) of 6.7/9 (4.5/9 being ideal), whereas dogs that were slightly restricted had a BCS of 4.6.  The control fed dogs lived 15% longer-almost 2 years, with an average of 13 years in the control fed dogs versus 11.2 years in the free fed dogs.  Lastly, the control fed dogs didn’t start needing treatment for medical conditions until a median age of 12 years, whereas the free choice pets started needing treatment at a median age of 9.9 years.

What does this mean for your pet?  Simply put, a pet kept at a healthy weight throughout life is a healthier pet, and has a longer average lifespan.

How can you help keep your pet healthy?  Veterinarians use something called the body condition score to assess a pet’s weight, as there can be quite a range of “normal” weights for a specific dog breed.  Body condition score is a way to judge how much fat or muscle is on an animal and is more accurate than weight in judging an animal’s body composition.  It is based on a 1-9 scale, with a 4-5 being a healthy weight.

To score body condition, a couple areas are looked at:

  • Are the bones visible?  Bones such as the ribs, spine, and hip bones should not be visible in most dogs and cats.  Some breeds are naturally leaner and in them it may be normal to see the bones.
  • How easily are the ribs felt?  They should feel as though you are running your finger over the back of your other hand’s fingers.  There should be a slight fat covering, but you should not have to push hard to be able to feel the ribs.
  • Is there a tuck of the abdomen visible from the side of the animal?  There should be a nice tuck visible.
  • Is there a waist visible when viewing the animal from above?  There should be a waist visible.


If you think your pet may be overweight or obese and would like help formulating a diet plan, or if you would like to prevent your pet from becoming overweight, please contact us to discuss calorie requirements and feeding guidelines for your pet, or visit our website for more information.

Posted in: Obesity