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!

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.

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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.

Backyard Barbeque time!

posted on July 03, 2014 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Ah summer.  Season of backyard get togethers, bonfires, and barbeques.  Everyone wants to sit back, relax, and enjoy, not worry about the pets.  Use these tips to make sure everyone has a relaxing, enjoyable, and safe summer!

Sunscreens and insect repellents are not all pet safe.  Some contain ingredients that may cause stomach upset such as vomiting and diarrhea, others contain products which may cause neurologic issues (dilated pupils, drunken walking, head tilt, incoordination, etc).  Make sure you are using a pet safe product or skip it all together.  However, do note that pets with thin hair or white hair can get sunburn, so make sure shade is available!

Everyone’s brought a dish to share, so we can share with the pet, right?  Wrong.  People foods may cause a variety of issues for pets.  Some cause an upset stomach, or gastroenteritis, which may cause vomiting and diarrhea, or pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas which may require hospitalization).  Others may be toxic to pets-grapes, raisins, alcohol, chocolate, onion, garlic, and avocado being some common ones.  Artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, which can be found in sugar free products like gums and candies, or in lower calorie foods as a sugar substitute, is also toxic to dogs.  Lastly, things like rib bones, chicken bones, and corn cobs can cause choking or obstruction hazards for pets and should not be given to them for chew toys or treats.

Lighter fluid and matches are both hazardous to pets if ingested.  Citronella is a respiratory irritant that can cause pneumonia, and can cause neurologic signs if ingested. Heat stroke can occur in pets, so provide plenty of clean water and shade.  Lastly, not all dogs know how to swim, so use caution around open water.

Hopefully with these safety tips everyone in the family can have a fun and enjoyable summer!

My Pet’s Tummy is Upset

posted on March 06, 2014 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

The pet’s GI, or gastrointestinal, tract, is a word used to describe the tube that takes food from the mouth, to the stomach, intestines, and colon.  It may also include a number of organs that help with digestion of nutrients and removal of waste products, including the pancreas, liver, and kidneys, thyroid, and even the brain.  Given that most of the body is included in this list, it shouldn’t be a surprise that when a pet becomes ill, one of the many signs we might see can include the GI tract, such as vomiting.

Vomiting is a very common complaint in our pets.  You might think it means that there is something wrong with the GI tract itself, which may be true, but issues in many of the other organs of the can also lead to vomiting.  This is why we recommend an examination, take a thorough history of signs, appetite, exposure to other pets, toxins, foods, etc. and may recommend tests including blood work to look at organ function, for signs of infection or anemia, stool analysis to look at bacterial balance, and x-rays or ultrasound to look internally at the organs.

Just to give you an idea of things that can cause vomiting in a pet, here is a list.  It is by no means a complete list however, but does include some of the more common causes:

  • anxiety
  • nervous system dysfunction such as vestibular disease (vertigo), motion sickness, megaesophagus, or other motility issues within the GI tract
  • toxin exposure or ingestion
  • dietary indiscretion-this can range from eating something too rich or fatty which could lead to pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), to eating something that just doesn’t agree with the pet and causes gastroenteritis or colitis (inflammation of the GI tract or colon respectively), or eating something that is harmful to the pet (toxin, foreign material)
  • Hairballs and other foreign materials or blockages, also including intuscusseptions
  • Bacterial overgrowth or imbalance
  • Viral, bacterial, fungal, and other infections
  • Ulcers or too much stomach acids
  • Tumors
  • GDV (twisted stomach) or bloat (though sometimes the symptom of these are vomiting WITHOUT producing anything)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, dietary intolerance, allergies, or allergic reactions
  • Metabolic issues such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, Addison’s disease, or liver or kidney diseases

As you can see, there are quite a few reasons your pet may be vomiting, which is why we recommend coming in for an examination and testing as mentioned above.  Pending results of the preliminary testing, further testing to look at more specific causes may be recommended such as an ACTH stimulation test, urinalysis, fructosamine level, culture and sensitivity, biopsies, diet changes, allergy testing, barium series, or others.

By working together to determine the cause of the vomiting, we hope to be able to come up with a specific treatment plan to help your pet (and your carpets!) feel better.  Call us today if your pet is vomiting!

Winter Woes

posted on December 02, 2013 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As winter officially begins, many of us are busy dealing with the household chores that freezing weather present.  Many of these tasks present hazards to our pets however.  Ice melts and antifreeze can both be toxic if ingested by our furry friends.

Ice melts are often applied to driveways and walkways to prevent people from slipping.  If they are spilled or tracked indoors, improperly stored, or if your pet spends too much time walking on or rolling on sidewalks that are treated, they may exhibit signs of toxicity.  Most commonly seen is vomiting, but diarrhea, excessive salivation (drooling), depression, decreased appetite, tremors, disorientation, increased thirst, seizures, and even death can result.  Depending on the method of exposure, a bath may be indicated to remove salt from hair and feet.  Inducing vomiting is sometimes indicated as well, but it depends on how long ago ingestion occurred and which type of ice melt was used.  Please contact a veterinarian to see if vomiting should be induced in your situation.  Hydration via IV catheter or subcutaneous fluids will help prevent or correct electrolyte issues.  If electrolyte disturbances are noted, an EKG may be recommended.  If seizures are occurring, an anti-seizure medication may be needed until the electrolytes are normalized again and seizures stop.  Lastly, anti-nausea medications may be needed to prevent vomiting.  Many of these treatments are dependent on what type of salt was ingested and which signs your pet is having, but early detection and correction will help prevent the more serious issues such as arrhythmias of the heart or seizures.  Please call as soon as you realize your pet may have ingested ice melt.  When walking your pet in winter, wiping the feet carefully after being outside will help remove residue and can also prevent those pesky snow balls that form inbetween feet.  Clipping the hair between toes and wearing booties are other options.

Antifreeze, or ethylene glycol, is another very toxic substance for our pets.  It often has a very sweet flavor to it, so pets are enticed to lick up spills or drink from toilets where it has been added.  Ethylene glycol can be measured in the bloodstream within 30 minutes of ingestion, and reaches peak levels in 1 hour in cats, and 3-6 hours in dogs.  The body metabolizes the chemical, and these metabolites are actually what is toxic to the pet.  They cause kidney damage, acidosis, and can cause the formation of calcium oxalate crystals in the urinary tract and mineralization of the kidneys.  Often the signs seen with ethylene glycol poisoning include depression, ataxia (walking uncoordinated/like they are drunk), vomiting, increased thirst, and increased urinations.  These signs can develop and persist from 30 minutes-12 hours after ingestion or longer.  If you suspect your pet has ingested ethylene glycol, please immediately contact your veterinarian.  If treatment is delayed until kidney damage occurs and kidney values in the blood are elevated, the prognosis is much poorer.

With a little prevention, winter can be a fun and enjoyable time for you and your pet.

acewinter