Taking better care of our older pets

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Pets are living longer thanks to advances in veterinary care, diagnostics, and earlier intervention. But the key to enjoying our “senior” pets lies not only in extending their life span, but in helping them enjoy their later years to the fullest.

Like people, dogs and cats are prone to debilitating ailments as they age. Kidney failure, heart disease, arthritis, dental disease, cancer, and cognitive dysfunction can occur during the normal aging process. In the past, because many diseases weren’t diagnosed until advanced stages, veterinarians could do little more than make a pet’s golden years a little more comfortable by treating the symptoms of age-related illness. If the pet was lucky, the problems would progress slowly. Most pet owners just accepted the fact that their four-legged friends were just going to live a relatively short life, get old, and pass on.

But thanks to technical advancements in modern veterinary medicine, surgery, diagnostics and nutrition, not only do pets live longer but their quality of life has increased dramatically as well.

One example follows human medicine in the development and use of the new generation of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs help the aches and pains of many senior pets while keeping side effects to a minimum.

Many age related problems are still seen as inevitable, but the attitudes of both veterinarians and pet owners have changed. The belief now is that “age is not a disease”, and veterinary medicine is putting increased emphasis on senior pet health through preventative wellness programs.

“The earlier we can intervene, the better, says veterinarian Dr. John Phillips in New York. “We now have greater knowledge, improved diagnostics and better therapeutics all of which mean we can effectively prevent or manage many senior health care issues.”

Eighty three year old Sam Edwards was raised on a farm and has had pets all of his life. He has taken advantage of advancements in veterinary medicine to extend the lives of his pets. “As I’ve gotten older, I’m glad that some of the same medical advancements that have helped me age well are good for my pets, too.”

Edwards shares his home with “Niki”, a 15 year old cat, and a 16 year old terrier mix named “Bones”. “If you had told me twenty years ago that I would be brushing my dogs’ teeth, I’d thought you were crazy. But I brush Bones’ teeth every night while we watch the news. It’s something we both enjoy and my vet says it’s one of the most important things I can do to keep the old guy healthy.”

Pets are living longer due to advances in veterinary care, diagnostics, and earlier intervention. Even so the key to enjoying our “older” pets lies not only in increasing their life span, but also in helping them enjoy their later years to the fullest.

Just like people, cats and dogs can be vulnerable to incapacitating health conditions as they grow older. Kidney failure, heart disease, arthritis, oral disease, malignant tumors, and cognitive dysfunction can take place through the typical maturing process. In earlier times, simply because quite a few health conditions weren’t recognized until the pet was in the advanced stages, veterinarians could do nothing more than make a pet’s golden years a tad bit more comfortable by caring for the symptoms of age-related health issues. If the pet was lucky, the issues could advance slowly. Most pet owners merely accepted the fact that their four-legged buddies were only able to survive a relatively brief life, get old, and pass on.

Yet breakthroughs in technical advancements in modern day veterinary medicine, surgery, diagnostics and nutrition, not only do pets survive longer but their quality of life has increased enormously as well.

One example follows human medicine in the development and use of the new generation of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs help the aches and pains of many senior pets while keeping unwanted side effects to a minimum.

Several age related problems will still be viewed as unavoidable, however the attitudes of both veterinarians and pet owners have changed. The belief now is the fact that “age is not a disease”, and veterinary medicine is adding greater emphasis on senior pet health through preventative health plans.

“The earlier we can intervene, the better, says veterinarian Dr. John Phillips in New York. “We now have greater knowledge, improved diagnostics and better therapeutics all of which mean we can effectively prevent or manage many senior health care issues.”

Eighty three year old Sam Edwards was raised on a farm and has had pets all of his life. He has taken advantage of enhancements in veterinary medicine to lengthen the lives of his pets. “As I’ve gotten older, I’m glad that some of the same medical advancements that have helped me age well are good for my pets, too.”

Edwards shares his home with “Niki”, a 15 year old cat, and a 16 year old terrier mix named “Bones”. “If you had told me twenty years ago that I would be brushing my dogs’ teeth, I’d thought you were crazy. But I brush Bones’ teeth every night while we watch the news. It’s something we both enjoy and my vet says it’s one of the most important things I can do to keep the old guy healthy.”

At what age is a pet considered a senior? Generally, smaller breeds of dogs live longer than larger breeds, and cats live longer than dogs. Life spans vary with individuals, and pets, like people, grow older at different rates, some more gracefully than others. A few smaller breeds of dogs, like Bones, are considered geriatric at fifteen. Large and giant breeds like Labrador retrievers and rottweilers are considered seniors as soon as seven years old. Cats, especially if they are kept in the house, frequently live to their early twenties and do not attain their golden years until their teens.

The single most crucial way a pet owner can take to keep their pet happy and healthy as long as possible is to pencil in regular veterinary exams. As pets age, these exams tend to be more critical than ever, because as with people, quick detection is essential for disease and problem intervention. Younger pets need routine examinations once or twice yearly. However as dogs and cats approach middle age, these exams should be much more frequent because each year in a pet’s life is equivalent to 5-7 people years.

“Keeping Niki and Bones healthy helps me stay young, too”, says Edwards. “All of us have arthritis so exercise is important to stay in shape and keep from getting stiff. Years ago, when my pets got arthritis, I just accepted it as old age and let them lay around. Now, we go for walks, and there are safer medications for arthritis pain. They even get glucosamine and antioxidants in their senior pet foods!”

Veterinarians tend to recommend routine lab work, electrocardiograms, blood pressure monitoring, and x-rays to locate early conditions like thyroid, kidney, heart, and liver disease. With early detection, pets with organ function conditions can be treated with prescription medication along with specific doctor prescribed quality diets that not only prolong their life span but the quality of their lives. Sometimes, health conditions could even be arrested.

Dr. Leslie Maclean a Tulsa, Oklahoma veterinarian followed the advice she gives her clients and found a hormone problem in one of her own Scottish terriers. “I discovered a rare adrenal gland problem on Brin’s first senior wellness exam. He was acting perfectly normal but his lab work picked up a problem. Early detection meant early treatment and easy management of his disease.”

In general, quite a few early warning signs that your family pet might be having a problem are:

* drinking more water than usual and urination

* urinary incontinence or having mishaps in the house

* recurring throwing up

* terrible breath, drooling or difficulty eating

* excessive panting or tires more quickly when exercised

* lumps, bumps, nodules or alterations in areas of skin color, bumps that bleed or are ulcerated

* change in appetite – ingesting more or less than normal

* changes in behavior for example “spacing out” or increased whining

* abnormal bowel habits – diarrhea or constipation

* fluctuations in body weight – gaining or reducing weight

Watch pets closely and convey any uncommon behavioral or physical matters to your vet without delay. Talk with your veterinarian and develop a specific senior wellness strategy for your pet’s distinctive needs so your precious pooch or kitty can enjoy getting old gracefully.

Ear Disease in Pets

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The most common ear problem in dogs is inflammation of the outer ear, technically termed otitis externa. The area between the outside opening and the eardrum can be irritated by infections, parasites, allergies and foreign objects.

Signs of Ear Problems

Signs of irritation include scratching, shaking the head, and reacting painfully when the ears are touched. You may also see discharge. Ear hematomas are common if irritation goes untreated. Depending on the cause, one or both of the ears may be affected.

How Ear Problems are Diagnosed

Your veterinarian will use an otoscope to look into the ears. He will also take a sample of ear discharge and examine it microscopically to check for signs of infection or ear mites. If infection is present, the sample may be sent to a lab for culture. Cultures provide information about the kinds of bacteria present and the medications that can help. During the examination, the veterinarian may also see foreign objects such as foxtails in the ear canal. If your dogs ears are very painful, sedation or anesthesia may be required.Ear Problems

Common Causes of Ear Problems
Some pets are prone to ear problems due to anatomy, allergies, or skin conditions. Ventilation of the ears is poor in dogs with floppy ears, resulting in a warm, moist environment perfect for growth of bacteria and yeast. Certain breeds of dogs are also more likely to suffer from skin allergies and disorders like sebhorrea. These skin problems affect the ears too, causing chronic inflammation and susceptibility to infection. The lining of the ear canal, like the rest of the skin, normally contains small amounts of bacteria and yeast. These organisms are harmless unless they multiply out of control. Overgrowth causes irritation, inflammation, foul odor and discharge. Chronic infection can lead to damage to ear tissues, including rupture of the ear drum. If the ear drum is ruptured, the infection can gain access to the middle ear, causing serious problems like head tilt, loss of balance, and inability to walk normally. Parasites in the ear include ear mites and ticks. Ear mites are tiny creatures that are just barely visible with the naked eye. They are quite contagious between animals. They cause severe itching and produce large amounts of black, waxy discharge. Pets with ear mites scratch their ears incessantly. This can lead to ear or skin infections as well as damage to deeper ear structures. Ticks can attach to the inside of the ears. They may irritate the ears or obstruct the canal, preventing normal ventilation and interfering with hearing. The most common foreign bodies in the ears are foxtails or grass awns. These pointy seeds get caught in pets fur and gradually work their way into the skin, nose, ears, and paws where they can cause major damage. Foxtails in the ears are very irritating. If they are not removed, they can penetrate the ear drum.

Treatment for Ear Problems

The first step in treating ear problems is a thorough cleaning of the ears. This may require sedation or anesthesia. Once the ears are clean, specific medications are prescribed. Antibiotics are used for bacterial infections, antifungals for yeast, anti-inflammatories for irritation and allergies, and insecticides for ear mites. Most of the medications are administered directly into your dogs ears proper administration is crucial for effective treatment. Medication must be given exactly as instructed and continued for the full duration prescribed, even if the pet seems to be fully recovered sooner. The final step is to minimize the factors that can put pets at higher risk for ear problems. Skin problems and allergies may respond to dietary supplements, antihistamines, or anti-inflammatories. Routine ear cleaning with a product recommended by your veterinarian can also help. Check out our own brand- Spring Pet Products Ear Cleanser to help maintain a healthy ear environment. Avoid allowing pets in areas that contain foxtails and check for foxtails when they return from outdoors. If signs of ear problems recur, seek prompt medical attention before the condition worsens.

Spring Pet Ear Cleaner for Dogs and Cats ~ 16 Ounces ~ Soothing Aloe Vera and Vitamin Veterinary Strength Formula Made in USA

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus – FIV

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Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a serious viral disease of cats that is similar to HIV/AIDS in humans. About 1 3% of cats in the United States are infected. It does not affect other animals or people. Secondary infections caused by FIV can  be treated and the cat can live for an extended time, but FIV cannot be cured and the cat remains infectious.

How Cats Get the Virus
FIV is spread mainly through bites that occur when cats fight. Rarely, mother cats pass the virus to their kittens during pregnancy, birth or nursing. Blood transfusions are another potential, but uncommon, source of infection. FIV does not survive outside a cats body, so the disease is not spread by casual contact or by sharing food bowls.

What the Disease Does
When cats first become infected, there are few if any symptoms. Some cats develop a fever, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea or anemia. Once infected, almost all cats harbor the virus for life but many remain healthy for years. At some point the virus attacks the immune system, leaving the cat unprotected against other diseases and parasites. Microorganisms that do not ordinarily harm healthy cats can make FIV infected cats severely ill.

Signs of FIV infection include loss of appetite, severe gingivitis (gum disease) and sores in the mouth, diarrhea, vomiting, anemia, eye disorders, nervous system disorders, chronic fever, and chronic infections of the skin, ears, and respiratory system.

How to Find Out if Your Cat Has FIV
Your veterinarian can perform a simple blood test to check for FIV. Its a good idea to test all new cats, especially if you already have other cats in your household. Cats that go outside should be tested every year. If your cat tests positive, follow-up tests can double check the accuracy of the first one. This is especially important for kittens under six months of age, in which positive results are often caused by immunity from the mother. If these cats test negative later in life, they likely were never infected with the virus.

Caring for FIV-Positive Cats
Although there is no cure for FIV, there are several steps owners can take to keep their FIV-infected cats as healthy as possible. To protect him from secondary infections and to prevent the spread of the virus, keep your FIV-positive cat indoors. It is preferable to separate him from uninfected cats. Keep him up to date on his routine veterinary care and vaccinations. Checkups are recommended every six months. Although FIV is incurable, treatment is given for secondary infections and to reduce symptoms. Immuno-modulators and antiviral drugs may also help.

Preventing FIV
Because FIV cannot be cured, prevention is crucial. Keeping cats indoors is the best method because it prevents exposure. Cats that do go outside should be spayed or neutered to reduce the likelihood of fighting. When adding a new cat to a household, test it before it meets its housemates. Infected and uninfected cats can live side-by-side without transmitting the infection as long as they don’t bite each other. However, there is always a risk.

A vaccine is available to protect against FIV, but the effectiveness of this vaccine is still questionable and most veterinarians do not recommend it (including myself), Also, there is no test to distinguish between a vaccinated cat and an infected cat. This creates a serious dilemma, since infected cats require special care. Worse yet, FIV-positive cats are commonly euthanized by animal shelters. Until new tests are developed, the decision whether or not to vaccinate will be a difficult one you need to discuss with your veterinarian.

Common Toxins in Pets

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We share so much with our pets, our house, our bed and our food, that we sometimes forget that they are dogs and cats and their physiology, and psychology are different than ours. Their are a few food items that we can eat, but our four legged friends cannot, as the owners of Sparky discovered last night.

Dad was treating himself to some chocolate covered raisins, and left the bag sitting on the couch when he went out on an errand. When he returned, the bag of raisins was consumed by Sparky, a rat terrier. Both chocolate and raisins are considered toxic to pets, and Sparky spent the night in the ER.

The top five common toxins ingested by dogs and cats include:

  1. Chocoloate
  2. Rodenticides (mouse and rat bait)
  3. Ethylene Glycol (anti-freeze)
  4. Metaldehyde (slug bait)
  5. Marijuana

Ingestion of these items warrants a trip to your veterinarian for decontamination and treatment.

The top ten human medications that commonly poison our pets are:

  1. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs): These are common pain-relieving medications we all keep around the house.  Whether you refer to them by brand name (Aleve®, Advil®, Motrin®) or by generic (ibuprofen, naproxen), these medications are very dangerous to pets.
  2. Antidepressants: As we begin to understand more of how chemical imbalances can affect our moods and our mental stability, an increasing number of Americans are now taking these drugs.  Examples include:  Effexor®, Wellbutrin®, Prozac®, and Zoloft®.
  3. Acetaminophen:  One of the most common pain relievers in North America, Tylenol® may be great for us, but it can be deadly to cats.   Dogs are also affected, but often not to this extreme. Dogs can experience liver damage and occasionally red blood cell damage.  A single extra strength Tylenol® has been known to kill cats.
  4. Methylphenidate: This medication is used for treating attention-deficit, hyperactivity disorder.  Like antidepressants, it is all too common in North American households, especially where children are present.  Ritalin® is an example of a medication containing methylphenidate. Methylphenidate is also supplied as time release patches.
  5. Fluorouracil: This anti-cancer drug is used to treat minor skin cancers in humans. Discarded cotton swabs used to apply this medication are a prime source of pet poisonings.
  6. Isoniazid:  First line tuberculosis drug with a very narrow margin of safety. Extremely dangerous to dogs.  Dogs will have serious seizures and then enter a stuporous state. Toxic doses:  Five 300 mg tablets are fatal to a 10 lb dog.
  7. Anti-diabetic medications: Glipizide (GlucotrolR)  gliclazide, and glyburide (MicronaseR) belong to a class of drugs known as sulphonylureas. These tablets work by stimulating the pancreas to produce more insulin.  Medications like glipizide and glyburide can cause sudden and major drops in blood sugar of pets.
  8. Vitamin D derivatives: Calcipotriene (Dovonex®) is a form of Vitamin D used topically to treat psoriasis.  It is available in ointments or solutions.
  9. Pseudoephedrine:  This very popular decongestant is found in a variety of cold and sinus products (Dimetapp®, Sudafed®, etc).  It is also a common ingredient as a precursor for methamphetamine. Ma Huang is used as an herbal weight loss aid and is also toxic to our pets.
  10. Baclofen:  Baclofen is used to treat muscle symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis and spinal disorders, including spasm, pain and stiffness.

The Top Toxic Plants

  1. Azalea
  2. Rhododendron
  3. Lily
  4. Oleandar
  5. foxglove
  6. milkweeds
  7. Castor Beans
  8. Cyad Palms (Sago palms)
  9. Lily-of-the-Nile
  10. Squill
  11. Marijuana
  12. Mistletoe
  13. Amaryllis
  14. Tulips and Daffodils
  15. Cyclamen
  16. Kalanchoe
  17. Autumn Crocus
  18. Pothos
  19. Chrysanthemums
  20. English Ivy
  21. Scheffelera
  22. Peace Lily
  23. Yew

The Top Toxic Foods

  1. Chocolate
  2. Moldy Foods
  3. Onions
  4. Macadamia Nuts
  5. Avocado
  6. Rising Bread Dough (Yeast)
  7. Grapes and Raisins
  8. Tobacco
  9. Xylitol (Sugar substitute)
  10. Garlic

Other toxicities that can occur are with improper use of flea and tick medications, insecticides, ant and roach bates, glow sticks, toilet bowl drop-ins, silica gel packets and zinc pennies (pennies minted after 1982).

In the event of ingestion of these substances, contact your veterinarian and the ASPCA Poison Center

I hope you find this information useful

Heart Disease in Cats

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As cats get older, problems with their heart, kidneys and other organs can occur. The most common diseases affecting aging cats are cancer, renal or kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism (disease of the thyroid gland), dental disease and heart disease. Cats age seven times faster than humans and examinations done by your veterinarian twice a year can help detect diseases earlier when they can still be treated. Diagnostic tests such as blood work, ECG, ultrasound and blood pressure monitoring can help detect problems earlier.

The most common heart disease that occurs in cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM occur more frequently in cats, and is considered rare in dogs. HCM is an acquired heart disease that affects the walls of the heart causing them to become abnormally thick. As the disease progresses the pumping capabilities of the heart reduces. The ventricular heart muscle eventually gets thicker and stiffer and decreasing the ability to contract to push the blood out as it should. The narrow heart chamber holds a smaller volume of blood, so less blood is pumped out of the heart with each beat of the heart., This results in the amount of blood that once filled the heart is less than it should be and the heart muscle can’t contract as well to move the blood out of the heart into the body. The heart now has to pump faster and harder than normal to keep the blood flowing throughout the body. The resulting pressure begins to back up the blood into the lungs causing edema and congestion and eventually leads to congestive heart failure.

Sometimes, the faulty heart will have changes in the conduction system that tells the heart when to contract. This some times causes arrhythmias and can result in sudden death similar to those found in some of our young athletes that collapse during practice.

Cardiomyopathy can also cause feline aortic thromboembolism or FATE. Occasionally, blood clots can dislodge and clog the arteries going to the rear legs. The thrombus (blood clot) causes a loss of blood flow to the rear legs resulting in sever pain, paralysis and possibly death,. This condition is commonly called a saddle thrombus. About 40% of the cats can recover from a saddle thrombus with expensive and intensive therapy and may regain use of their legs over time. However, these cats still risk developing another episode and still suffer from the primary heart condition.

Cats are very good as masking underlying physical problems so early detection is key to helping these cats live a full life. A fat and lazy cat may be hiding a heart condition. Of course not all fat and lazy cats a have heart disease, and exams by your veterinarian can help detect disease if it is present. Laboratory tests, such as, EKG, blood pressure monitoring and ultrasound can help the veterinarian diagnose heart disease. The thickened walls of the heart can be seen with ultrasound and is a screening tool for cats as well as our young athletes.

Medications can help cats with their heart function, reduce the edema in their lungs and may help reduce the blood clot formations. The prognosis for a cat that has already developed the congestive heart failure is guarded, and even with medication, survival rates are 12-18 months after diagnosis and sudden death can occur at any time.

Develop a wellness plan with your veterinarian for early detection and diagnostics. By detecting diseases earlier, small changes in diet or medications can help your cat live longer.

Heartworms in Pets

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With over 250,000 known cases across the United States, canine heartworm disease continues to plague our pets, causing emotional distress to the owners and financial worries to their pocketbooks. The saddest part of all: this disease is completely preventable.
We know what causes heartworm disease, we know how to treat it, and we even have safe, effective medications to prevent the disease. So, why are more than a quarter of a million dogs and cats still getting this terrible disease?

According to a survey recently released by the American Heartworm Society over 250,000 dogs and cats tested positive for heartworm infection nationwide in 2004. Since these cases only included dogs that routinely see the veterinarian, some estimates of the true incidence of heartworms in dogs range as high as 11 million canines infected with the parasite. Throw in coyotes and foxes and one can easily see the huge reservoir of potential cases.

Heartworms are a parasite that reside in the vessels leading from the heart to the lungs of many different mammals, but are primarily suited for life in a canine. The immature larva of the adult heartworms are taken in during feeding by mosquitoes and then spread from mosquito back to dogs after a short, 2 week maturation period in the mosquito’s stomach and salivary glands. After returning to their natural host, the heartworm larva migrate through the dog’s body over the next four to six months, growing in length until they reach the heart. Upon reaching the heart, the foot long parasite becomes sexually active, producing large numbers of larva, which, in turn, wait to be picked up by a feeding mosquito, continuing the disease cycle. Infected dogs might have as few as 5 or 6 adult worms or as many as 250!

Adult heartworms absorb nutrients from the blood stream of the dog. In an attempt to rid the body of the parasite, the dog’s immune system fights the invader, often causing collateral damage to the blood vessels and lungs. In severe cases, large numbers of heartworms can block the major vessels entering and leaving the right side of the heart, causing high blood pressure, bleeding into the lungs, kidney and liver problems, and even death. Treatment of the disease itself involves the use of an arsenic compound. Although deadly side effects with the medication have been extremely rare, many dogs succumb to blood clots in the lungs as the adult heartworms die. And the cost of treatment is also a concern. Appropriate diagnostics, medications, and re-testing of the heartworm positive dog might run as high as $500 to $1,000, depending on the size of the pet.

“Many people are just not aware of how deadly heartworms can be, especially to active pets.” says Dr. Tom Nelson, President of the American Heartworm Society. “Heartworms can live 5-7 years and the owner may not see of any of the symptoms. Many of our pets might be considered less active and these pets will not show the signs of heartworm disease until it becomes severe.”

Keeping your pet indoors will not insure that your pet will not get exposed. It only takes one mosquito getting into your house or one potty trip outside to be bitten by an infected mosquito. Even a few worms can cause severe damage to the heart, lungs and kidneys. Now even cats are presenting with heartworms and we are recommending both dogs and cats use a heartworm prevention all year round.

On a more positive note, veterinary medicine has a wide variety of options available to the pet owner for prevention of this disease. Easy to give monthly chewables are the most convenient way to prevent infection. The most commonly prescribed monthly chewable is called Heartgard. Administration of these preventives at the appropriate time intervals can virtually guarantee protection for your pet. In fact, manufacturers of heartworm preventive will stand behind their product and reimburse any medical treatments necessary should a dog develop heartworms while on their product.

Newer products, such as Revolution and Advantage-Multi, are applied on the skin and also help protect against fleas and internal parasites. New Trifexis is a chewable tablet that covers heartworms, fleas and intestinal parasites.

It is vitally important to test your dog prior to starting heartworm preventive or extreme allergic reactions could develop. Your veterinarian will draw a small amount of blood from your pet and, in many instances, you might know the test results prior to leaving the veterinarian’s office. Due to the extreme prevalence of this disease, the American Heartworm Society strongly encourages annual re-testing of all dogs.

According to Nelson, pet owners seem to be likely to switch products, with or without the knowledge of their veterinarian. This product and brand switching has the FDA concerned about a perceived lack of protection, or even potential product failure. “We need to make sure we catch this disease as early as possible, thus the strong recommendation for annual testing.” says Nelson.

Also to be considered is how society has changed in the last 20 years. As people and their pets move from the wetter regions of the Midwest and Southeast to the sunshine of southern California and Arizona, they often bring along these unwelcome parasites. Nelson says “If you have mosquitoes where you live, heartworms, even if they aren’t native to the area, will be there as well.”

Hurricane Katrina caused many heartworm positive dogs to move into all parts of the country thus accelerating the spread.

As spring time approaches, we all welcome the return of the bright sunshine, the longer days, and the blooming of nature. Just remember, the return of warmer days will mean the return of mosquitoes and the potential for heartworm disease spreading. Make sure your best friend protected! Call your veterinarian today and schedule a heartworm test. For more information, visit the American Heartworm Society at www.heartwormsociety.org.

Dr. Debra Garrison is a veterinarian at the Treaschwig Veterinary Clinic

Diarrhea in Pets

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As a pet owner it is often distressing to have a sick or ailing pet. Diarrhea in your pet is one such ailment that can often cause discomfort for the owner as well as the pet by causing accidents around the house. Diarrhea is the passage of unformed, loose stools and may appear for many different reasons. This handout will review the causes of diarrhea, treatments for diarrhea and observations that will be helpful for your veterinarian to diagnose the problem.

Diarrhea occurs when digested food speeds through the digestive tract too quickly and forms loose, watery stools. It is also marked by the decreased absorption of water, electrolytes and other nutrients. The causes of diarrhea are wide ranging. Some animals experience mild diarrhea due to stress, allergies, change in food patterns, or stomach irritants. This stomach irritation can range from mild to severe and may be caused by some form of bacteria, virus, plant or chemical. It is important to remember that while diarrhea by itself is not a disease, it may be a symptom of a larger more complex problem.

Remember that variations in stools occur for many reasons. However, one of the concerning complications of prolonged diarrhea is dehydration. Observe your pet closely and if your pet has experienced diarrhea for two days, seems lethargic, refuses water or has other symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Before a treatment can be started, the cause of the diarrhea must be determined. There are many different tests that can be performed to determine the many causes of diarrhea. However, initially, a more generalized, cost effective and less invasive approach is often tried first. This approach calls for withholding food for 24 hours while encouraging water consumption. This allows the irritated stomach and bowels to calm down. Then gradually and in small portions, bland foods are offered to the animal. The foods most often recommended are white boiled rice, pasta, chicken broth and skinless chicken breasts. As the animals stools return to normal, then small portions of their normal diet may be gradually incorporated with the bland foods. If this generalized approach does not seem to be calming your pets diarrhea distress, then your veterinarian may perform more tests to determine if the diarrhea is a symptom of larger and more far reaching problems. Clinical workups may include blood work, stool samples, urine cultures and food trials. These tests will determine if the diarrhea is simply caused by a bacteria, virus or food allergy or if the distress is a symptom of larger issues, such as cancer.

In order to assist your veterinarian with the proper diagnosis, observe the following details about your pet:

  • How frequently is your pet defecating?
  • What are the consistency, smell and color of the stools?
  • Is your pet exhibiting any other symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting or weight loss?
  • Has there been any change to your pets normal routine, food or environment?
  • Does your pet have access to small objects that might have been swallowed?
  • Has your pet escaped your house/yard recently and had access to foreign objects?

Ringworm in Pets

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Not Really a Worm At All
Ringworm, technically called dermatophytosis or dermatomycosis, is a skin condition that can be transmitted between people and pets. It is caused by one of several kinds of microscopic fungal organisms. The disease gets its confusing name from the fact that a common symptom in people is the appearance of a reddish ring on the skin which was once thought to be cause by a worm.

Ringworm in Pets
Ringworm fungi can infect dogs, cats, rabbits, farm animals, and other mammals. Pets with ringworm often have areas of hair loss. The skin in these areas may become crusty or scaly, and the hair breaks off easily. The lesions increase in size quickly and can spread over the entire body. However, some infected animals, especially cats, do not show any symptoms at all.

Ringworm is diagnosed by the appearance of the lesions, plus the results of one or more tests. Some types of ringworm will glow under ultraviolet light. Hairs or a skin scraping from the affected area can be examined under the microscope to look for the fungal organisms. The most sensitive test is culturing; hairs are applied to a growth media and observed for development of the ringworm fungus.

Mild cases of ringworm can be treated with topical antifungal creams. Sometimes it is beneficial to shave the affected area prior to application of the medication. Antifungal shampoos and dips are also available. In more severe cases, hair is shaved from the entire body of the pet and repeated shampoos or dips are performed. Oral medication may also be prescribed in these more serious cases. A ringworm vaccine is available for cats but is not helpful in all cases your veterinarian can advise you whether it would be of benefit.

A telltale ring-like marking on the skin is the most common sign of ringworm in people. Lesions can be seen on the skin or on the scalp. In people, the disease is also called tinea. Most people recover quickly from this condition, especially with treatment.

Ringworm in people is mainly diagnosed by the appearance of the lesions, but a skin scraping may be performed to confirm the disease.

Most human cases of ringworm are treated with a simple antifungal cream applied to the lesion. Keeping the skin clean and dry is also helpful. Because people are not as hairy as pets, the condition is more easily treated in humans, and most people recover within a few weeks. People who are properly applying antifungal medication are generally not considered contagious during treatment. Unless your doctor advises otherwise, it is usually OK to go to school or work.

Preventing the Spread of Ringworm
Ringworm is highly contagious. The fungus produces spores on the skin or hair these tiny spores can fall off and survive in the environment for long periods of time. People and pets may be exposed to the spores by contact with other people, pets, or soil. Ringworm can be spread by objects such as brushes, combs, unwashed clothing, and in showers and pools.

People most commonly get ringworm from other people. Avoid sharing brushes, combs, or clothing. Wear sandals when using public showers. Keep your skin and hair clean and dry.

Animals can also be an important source of infection. Avoid handling stray animals showing signs of ringworm. Pets with signs of ringworm should be seen by the veterinarian, tested, and treated. During treatment, minimize handling of the animal and keep it separate from other pets. Infected pets can be contagious even after the obvious symptoms have resolved, so it is important to use medications for the full duration prescribed and see your veterinarian for follow-up testing. Some animals, most commonly cats, can be carriers of ringworm without showing symptoms. If you become infected with ringworm and the source of infection is unknown, your doctor may recommend having your pets tested.

Kidney Disease in Pets

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The kidneys normally filter the blood, cleansing it of waste products, toxins, and other substances. They maintain the correct balance of water and electrolytes, help regulate blood pressure, and keep the blood pH at the right level. Unfortunately, failure of the kidneys is one of the most common diseases of dogs. In this condition, the functional tissue of the kidneys is damaged, leaving them unable to filter the blood adequately. Toxins build up within the body, a condition known as azotemia.

Acute Renal Failure (ARF)
Acute Renal Failure means that the kidneys are damaged suddenly. This is usually caused by poisoning or a lack of blood flow. Poisons that can cause ARF are ethylene glycol (antifreeze); heavy metals such as zinc and lead; and large doses of certain antibiotics, acetaminophen, and chemotherapy drugs. Inadequate blood flow can be caused by shock, hemorrhage, low blood pressure, or dehydration. Infectious illnesses like Leptospirosis can also cause ARF.

Signs of acute renal failure are not very specific. Loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea or dehydration may be seen. Some pets with ARF urinate excessively while others stop urinating altogether. Information on the pets recent experiences is crucial in diagnosis of ARF. Once the veterinarian suspects kidney disease, blood and urine tests are used to determine the cause and the severity of the condition.

Animals with ARF are treated with IV fluids. Additional medications are used to correct electrolyte and pH imbalances and to reduce symptoms. Specific treatment for the original cause of the kidney damage is given if the cause is known. Healing can occur in tissues that are merely damaged, and viable parts of the kidneys will work harder to compensate. Unfortunately, the portions of the kidneys that have been destroyed will not recover.

Pet owners can do several things to reduce the chance of ARF. Keep antifreeze away from pets, and clean up spills immediately. Follow medication dosage instructions, and never give people medicine to pets without first consulting your veterinarian. Make sure that pets, especially older ones, always have access to fresh water.

Chronic Renal Failure (CRF)
Chronic Renal Failure is seen most often in pets over eight years of age. CRF occurs when the functional structures of the kidneys wear out. The damage happens gradually, so months or years may pass before symptoms appear. As much as 75% of the kidney tissue may be destroyed by that time.

Like ARF, symptoms of CRF can be vague. Early signs include loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and sores in the mouth. As the illness progresses, animals drink more water, urinate more, and may have urinary accidents in the house. Eventually, toxin buildup and electrolyte imbalances can damage the nervous system and the eyes, causing seizures, coma and blindness. Many animals with CRF become anemic, because the kidneys are also responsible for stimulating production of new blood cells. The veterinarian will perform blood and urine tests to confirm a diagnosis of CRF and to assess the severity of symptoms.

CRF is a progressive, irreversible disease. Treatment is aimed at slowing the rate of damage and minimizing symptoms. Diets for pets with CRF usually contain restricted amounts of high quality protein and are low in minerals. Many pets require supplemental fluids given periodically under the skin or intravenously. Medications are given to manage nausea, correct electrolyte and pH imbalances, control high blood pressure, and stimulate blood cell production.

The newest treatments available for pets with CRF are hemodialysis and kidney transplantation. These procedures are very costly and are only available at certain veterinary teaching hospitals and specialty practices. Hemodialysis is used as a temporary, emergency method for cleansing the blood. Transplantation can extend a pets life for two or more years. Kidney transplants are complex surgeries with a high rate of success. Pets that receive transplants must remain on anti-rejection medicine for life. Regardless of the type of treatment, the goal is to maintain the pets quality of life. When this is no longer possible, euthanasia may be considered.

Chronic Renal Failure is not preventable. Although some have suggested that low protein diets might have a protective benefit for animals with healthy kidneys, scientific research does not support this belief

Caring for the Older Cat

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If your cat is seven years or older, he has entered his golden years. In middle and old age, the metabolism slows, the digestive system has more difficulty absorbing nutrients, and joints and muscles become weaker. Diseases such as diabetes, kidney failure, hyperthyroidism, and various cancers are more common. The good news is that many illnesses respond to treatment if discovered early. Here are some simple steps to keep your senior cat healthy and happy.

Routine Veterinary Visits
Even if your cat seems fine, he should visit the veterinarian at least twice yearly. Remember, cats age the equivalent of four or more years for each calendar year. Your veterinarian will perform a comprehensive physical examination and listen to your cats heart and lungs. He will check for signs of illness, especially conditions that occur commonly in older cats. Your veterinary visits are also a great opportunity to ask questions.

Diagnostic Tests
When people reach middle age, routine tests such as blood analysis, cancer screening, and evaluation of the heart are recommended to maintain good health. The same is true for older cats. The reason, in both cats and people, is that some illnesses are not visible during a physical examination, but can be detected in other ways. Tests recommended for cats seven years or older are listed below.

Comprehensive Blood Panel Each type of blood cell is counted and the chemical components of the blood plasma are measured. This provides information on the health of the bone marrow, kidneys, liver, pancreas and thyroid, and can help to detect infections.

Complete Urinalysis The concentration and chemical constituents of the urine are measured. Cells and other solids in the urine are examined microscopically. The urinalysis provides information on the health of the kidneys and bladder, and is also useful in the detection of diabetes.

Chest X-Rays X-rays allow visualization of the internal organs of the body. Chest x-rays are recommended to assess the condition of the heart and lungs and to detect tumors.

Abdominal X-Rays X-Rays of the abdomen are helpful to detect tumors and to assess the condition of the kidneys, bladder, intestine, and spleen.

Electrocardiogram This test measures electrical impulses within the heart, using sensors placed on the skin. The ECG is helpful in detecting heart conditions.

Just as he did when he was younger, your cat continues to benefit from the protection of regular vaccinations against infectious disease. Your veterinarian will recommend a vaccine program tailored to your cats age, lifestyle, and health status.

Healthy older cats require a diet that is lower in calories, while still rich in essential nutrients such as high quality proteins, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Special diets are available to address the more specific requirements of cats with medical conditions. Your veterinarian is your best advisor in selecting a diet that will keep your cat purring.

Dental Care
Keeping your cats teeth and gums healthy is critical to his well being. Dental disease is painful and can lead to infection in the internal organs, such as the kidneys and heart. Your veterinarian should check your cats teeth regularly. He will let you know when your cat needs a professional dental cleaning. Under general anesthesia, all of the plaque, tartar, and bacteria is removed from the. After your cats teeth are clean, it is your job to keep them healthy. Tooth brushing and dental diets are highly effective.