Today | Pet Care
Stress Free Veterinary Visits
by Meghan Vos
Visits to the vet can be stressful for pets and owners alike. This can lead to skipped wellness exams and overdue vaccines. The way we practice veterinary medicine has changed drastically over the recent years. Your pet’s mental health is important, and we have moved away from the idea of “wrangling” pets in favor of a lower stress style.
One of the biggest challenges for most pets is being handled in ways that they are not accustomed to. You can help your pet by conditioning them to handling at home, especially their feet and ears. Dogs and cats commonly dislike nail trims or even having their feet touched. If they are properly conditioned and realize no harm will come from this type of handling, it will greatly reduce the stress of the veterinary examination. Ears can be another touchy area, particularly if the pet has had a painful ear infection. Practice handling these areas daily while giving treats to make it a positive experience.
If transportation is stressful, work on conditioning your pet to the car or carrier to ease their fears. It is safest to transport your cat in a carrier so leave the carrier out in your home for a few days with some treats inside to make it a happy place. Consider crating your dog while in the vehicle to make them feel safe and secure.
Something that many pet owners don’t realize is the effect that their emotional state has on their pets. If you are nervous, your pet will become nervous. Carry yourself with a confident and calm demeanor. Your pet will pick up on these calming signals and become less anxious. Consider using an OTC pheromone spray to help induce a sense of calm in your pet.
Some pets, even with consistent work, will still dread going to the vet. If your best efforts don’t seem to be working, reach out to your veterinarian to discuss the possibility of using a prescription anti-anxiety medication prior to appointments. These medications are frequently used to help pets have positive and stress-free visits.
The Scoop on Grain-free Diets
by Meghan Vos
Chances are, at some point over the past two years you’ve seen something about grain-free diets on social media or even the news. Much of this information is conflicting and can be difficult to interpret, so hopefully this article sheds some light on it for you.
In 2018, the FDA announced that it would investigate a potential link between grain-free dog foods and Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM causes the heart muscle to become diseased and results in an enlarged heart that cannot pump efficiently. It is irreversible and often fatal. While DCM can be genetic, veterinarians began seeing a significant uptick in non-hereditary cases in dogs fed grain-free diets.
The findings show that these diets are not a problem simply because they are grain-free, but actually because of higher proportions of certain ingredients in grain-free diets than in grain-inclusive diets. Diets containing peas, lentils, white potatoes, or sweet potatoes in various forms such as whole, flour, or protein within the first 10 ingredients are a concern. The studies are ongoing but the thought is that diets formulated in this way do not contain enough taurine and/or could prevent the body from absorbing it. Taurine is an essential nutrient obtained directly or indirectly from the diet. It is important for a variety of reasons, but especially in smooth muscle function, with the heart being the most important smooth muscle in the body. Dogs are able to make their own taurine if the diet contains certain key amino acids from meat proteins, but plant-based proteins such as peas, beans, and potatoes lack these amino acids.
While the studies are ongoing, we typically recommend staying away from grain-free diets, using a “better safe than sorry” approach. If your pet is on a grain-free diet, look at the ingredient panel to ensure that there are no beans, peas, or potatoes listed in the first ten ingredients. If you are considering a switch, reach out to your veterinarian for recommendations on high quality, grain-inclusive options that will help your pet live a long and healthy life.
The Importance of a Physical Exam
by Dr. Seth Oberschlake
The physical exam your veterinarian performs is a critical part of your beloved animal’s wellness. This is true for human medicine, and often even more true for our pets because they are so good at hiding illness and cannot always communicate with us when something is off.
Relative to humans, our pets have an accelerated aging process, so yearly exams are recommended to help catch issues sooner. Many of these things if recognized early, can make for a lifetime of better management, health, comfort, and understanding for the owner.
The physical exam tries to cover the whole animal, nose to tail, and everything in-between! Each clinician typically has their own perfected regimen, but it often starts with the eyes, ears, nose, and throat. The oral cavity is important as dental disease is one of the most common issues we see in pets. They often hide dental pain very well, so we do not ignore that area! We feel the palpable lymph nodes, examine the skin/coat and musculoskeletal system. It is always best to catch lumps, bumps, joint and muscle issues sooner!
The heart, lungs, and abdomen are other areas we feel and listen too, often catching things that we may not have expected; whether it’s a heart murmur, arrhythmia, larger liver/spleen, abnormal kidneys, thickened intestines, etc. Many of those issues can remain silent for long durations without symptoms, then suddenly cause potentially severe problems. Catching those early can be lifesaving at times. The urogenital system, nervous system, and body condition score are inspected as well to top off the exam.
In summary, the physical exam is the initial doorway to patient screening, allowing us to better assess health and make recommendations going forward for your pet’s wellness. So next time you are in for your companion’s exam, you’ll know a little bit more about why your veterinarian is looking, listening, and feeling your pet! And don’t worry, we try and get a few belly rubs or ear scratches in for good measure!
Senior Pet Care
by Meghan Vos
Thanks to advances in nutrition and veterinary care, our pets are living longer than ever. Currently, the average life expectancy of an indoor cat is 16.9 years, and while the life expectancy of our canine friends varies by breed and size, most are living happily into their teens. Here are a few tips to help your pet age gracefully into their golden years.
Cats are considered senior when they reach 11 years of age, small and medium dogs at 10 years, and large and giant dogs at 7 years. This is a good time to consider having your pet examined by your veterinarian twice yearly rather than annually. During the exam, your veterinarian may find new lumps or bumps, internal masses that may need to be addressed, joint abnormalities, age-related eye problems, abnormal weight loss, and heart or lung abnormalities. Having blood work done at these visits gives your veterinarian a big picture of your pet’s metabolic and organ function. These tests may include a chemistry panel, complete blood count, urinalysis, and thyroid function. Doing this testing every six months can help catch problems early while they can be managed through diet and medication.
While there is no one-size-fits-all diet for senior dogs or cats, there are many options, and each pet should be fed a diet specific to their needs. If your senior pet’s blood work showed abnormal changes, a prescription diet specifically formulated to their needs may be recommended to suit a variety of health conditions. Senior dogs and cats can often struggle with arthritis and general joint discomfort. There are many joint health supplements available on the market today, but they are not all created equal. Check with your veterinarian for joint supplement recommendations to ensure your money is well spent and your pet gets the most benefit.
Dental health is important throughout your pet’s life but is especially important as they age. Severe dental disease can contribute to serious conditions such as heart and kidney disease, which are not reversible. While brushing your pet’s teeth is ideal, some simply will not tolerate it. There are a variety of products available to prevent plaque and tartar buildup such as chews, water additives, and wipes. Products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council have been tested and proven beneficial, so look for the VOHC stamp of approval on the product packaging.
Food Allergies in Our Pets
by Dr. Peter Gasper
Food allergies are becoming more common in people worldwide. Food allergies seem to be increasing in dogs and cats too. However, we do not have solid data to confirm this hunch.
Food allergies are a specific thing. Gastrointestinal upsets caused by food (or treats) are either immune in origin (food allergy) or non-immune in origin (food intolerance).
Most of the food-caused gastrointestinal upsets we veterinarians see are of the food-intolerance variety. Specifically, they are the results of dietary indiscretion — your pet getting diarrhea from (maybe vomiting from) something they should not have eaten.
Interestingly, while the dog or cat is mounting an immune reaction to the food inside their gastrointestinal tract, it is their skin that brings them to us. Cats itch around their face or neck. They may have scabs or hair loss. Dog itch their face and eyes. They might chew or lick their feet. They might have ear infections.
Also interesting is that most animals have been eating the offending food for months or years with no problem.
The most straightforward way to diagnose a true food allergy is to perform a food trial. We have special diets in which the proteins have been broken down such that the protein molecules are too small to trigger an immune reaction. You’ll know in 4-6 weeks if your cat or dog has a food allergy because their itchiness will stop.
What if the food trial does not stop the itching?
That indicates that your cat or dog has allergies, but the immunologic trigger is something else — a particular plant, pollen, fleas, mange, or something else in your pet’s environment.