Today | Pet Care
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.
Veterinary Medicine in a COVID World
by Dr. Sanjay Jain
This past year has been a trial for us all. We have had to isolate from our friends, coworkers, and our aged family members. The imposed isolation of the virus led us to seek out the company of non-human company by adopting shelter animals. This has increased both demand for veterinary services and the time it takes to get an appointment.
The problem is the number of veterinarians available to fill the demand was already diminished before the pandemic. According to a lecture held in San Diego in December 2019, the unemployment rate of veterinarians was half of the national level. Add the pandemic, and the situation left the remaining staff even more stressed.
To keep the veterinary staff safer, we have had to resort to curbside service. Please understand we WANT to have the face-to-face contact with owners, but if the support staff or veterinarian gets infected, the practice would need to close temporarily to allow heavy disinfection and recovery. My practice has had to close twice in 2020 due to staff getting infected. And if we are re-exposed and remain healthy, we don’t want to infect someone else.
The Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association (WVMA) has been trying to get veterinarians on the list as essential workers so we can get the vaccine. The Department of Human Services (DHS) has turned down the livestock vets twice and just recently allowed teachers in early March. But the companion/small animal vets have been turned down three times, and they won’t be allowed until all people of any age are permitted.
Therefore, I’m asking clients to PLEASE be patient! We want you in the rooms with your fur-babies, but a lot of clinics were not built for the social distancing. If you really feel that your pet needs you present, and you are willing to pay the higher costs, there are a few mobile practices you can call for an appointment. Thank you for your understanding!
Feline Feeding Pitfalls
by Dr. Carla Edwards
Though we want our cats to eat all at once, we may be doing more harm than good. By thinking about their natural behavioral instincts, we can help our cats from becoming too thin or too heavy and eliminate stress.
Mimicking their ancestral need to hunt for food, cats “graze” by eating small amounts at a time. If we suspect they are walking away from the food because they don’t like it or are fussy, we tend to change foods or add treats that may indeed get them to eat more at a time until they go back to eating less and we change foods again. This not only causes stress, but also causes them to become overweight.
For those with multiple cats, feeding them all at one time in one area can lead to problems and stress. Cats prefer to eat alone and can get anxiety when they are forced to eat in a group. The tension can create a negative association with eating, and they eat less. The same tension may cause other cats to overeat, thinking that the other cats might get their food if they don’t eat it. This can also cause regurgitation. Sure, it’s more difficult to feed cats separately but it may be worth the effort to eliminate stress, overeating, regurgitation, or weight loss.
If you have a fussy eater or an overeater, there are many things you can try to prevent both, if you consider their natural behaviors.
- Measure the appropriate amount of food per day for each cat.
- Feed small amounts of food more frequently with an option to use a timed feeder and a treat ball to encourage exercise.
- Vary stations and include a high location, a secluded spot, and one up or downstairs.
The Slip Felt Around the Yard
by Dr. Jain
There are several diseases that can affect the stifle (knee):
1) partial to full tears of the cranial cruciate ligament (rarely the caudal ligament)
2) arthritis from age
3) bone cancer above or below the actual joint
4) patella luxation (kneecap).
Patella luxation is when the kneecap moves out the femur groove it normally slides up and down in and moves to the inside (medial) of the groove. This results in an inability for the leg to support weight due to the quadriceps muscle group attached from the hip to the patella pulling with no bone support. The classic sign is an animal holding its leg up in pain. A dog can also have a congenital (birth) defect that allows the patella to easily slip out of the groove. After the initial tear, usually the animal is not in pain, but can’t use the leg. In mild cases, you can readjust it yourself or the dog may learn to stretch its leg straight to slip it into the groove again. The severity is measured on a 1 to 4 grade scale with 4 being the worst. This determines the likelihood that surgery is going to be needed.
A grade 1 or 2 is a mild luxation and requires rest or simply being aware of what is happening. It usually means the patella is in its groove most of the time with grade 1 requiring us to push it to the inside and grade 2 occasionally slips on its own. A grade 3 is mostly out of the groove and this along with a grade 4 (always out of the groove) will require surgery to correct.
The surgical correction will depend on the grade and how long the condition has been going on. These may include:
1) a simple imbrication (tightening of the outside joint capsule), 2) screwing a “ridge stop” device to inside of the groove to raise the height to prevent slippage, 3) deeping the groove (trochleoplasty), and 4) cutting the attachment point on the tibia and moving it more lateral (outside) of its original location (tibial tuberosity transportation). Grade 4 luxations are the most difficult and therefore may require a board-certified surgeon.
It is important to note that even low grade luxations may require surgery if the instances are occurring frequently enough and the condition is more common in small breed dogs where there is shorter leg muscles and bones and less muscle usage.