Saturday, April 29, 2017

Leptospirosis - Potentially Deadly Pee

Leptospirosis, a disease common to many mammals, is caused by a type of bacterium called Leptospira. It seems to be on the rise in dogs the last few decades and has shifted from a rural disease to a suburban and even urban problem. 
Dr. Carsen Brandt of the Emergency and Critical Care Service at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicines has reported a tenfold increase in cases since 2013. There have been fairly recent outbreaks in Fresno, California and Denver, Colorado. Dr. Richard Goldstein of the Animal Medical Center in New York City says he sees cases of Lepto every week, including dogs that have never left Manhattan. So much for the image of this as a rural disease!

A typical scenario goes something like this….. a raccoon urinates in the grass in a suburban yard or a puddle in a park during the night. A dog then sniffs or licks at that curious odor while out for a walk the next day. Bingo, the dog has now been exposed to one of the eight strains of Leptospira bacteria that cause Leptospirosis in the dog. The bacteria quickly begin to replicate and move into various target tissues such as the kidneys, liver, spleen and central nervous system. The infected dog typically begins to show signs of illness within 7 days of exposure. The severity of the illness can vary considerably – from mild and vague symptoms to acute kidney failure to fairly sudden death.

 So, what other wildlife carry these Leptospira bacteria in their urine? In addition to the ever present raccoon, mice and rats are common carriers of Leptospira and this includes the ubiquitous wood rats and citrus rats that populate most of Florida. The opossum, skunk, deer, cow and pig can carry other infectious strains of Leptospira bacteria. There is some question as to whether squirrels are also carriers for Leptospira.

If a dog contracts Leptospirosis, what happens next? Unfortunately, the clinical symptoms of the disease are not very distinctive, making diagnosis trickier. The affected pet will usually be lethargic and have a poor appetite – they may or may not have a fever. The majority of affected animals will have some vomiting and about a third will have diarrhea and weight loss. None of this is terribly specific and it sounds like many other illnesses. Routine lab tests may show significant abnormalities in the urinalysis, as well as the kidney and liver values. None of these are terrifically specific either, but it does start to help narrow the diagnosis list. At this stage, the veterinarian is likely looking to test for Leptospirosis. The older Lepto test can take up to a week and won’t catch every patient. A newer type of test, an Elisa test, can be run right in the hospital in under 30 minutes. It’s still not perfect, but it will detect many patients right away.  A patient with these symptoms is likely already on intravenous fluids and medication to help with the vomiting and discomfort. A diagnosis of Leptospirosis indicates a need for very specific antibiotics as not all antibiotics will do the trick. If IV fluid support and the appropriate antibiotics are started in a timely manner, the prognosis is good and most patients (80 plus percent) will recover. If it takes longer to make the diagnosis due to the vague symptoms or a delay in seeking medical care, the dog may suffer kidney failure, but many can still be saved with dialysis. Not all will survive.

Did I mention that you can catch Leptospirosis too? Yes, it is actually one of the most common infectious diseases in humans worldwide. Thankfully, it is not common in humans in the U.S., at least outside of Hawaii. The odds of catching it directly from your dog are pretty slim, but if your dog has been diagnosed with Leptospirosis, your vet will give you detailed instructions on methods to protect yourself and family. You are far more likely to catch it from swimming in rivers, streams or walking through swampy water. In 2005, 44 out of 192 adventure racers in Tampa (23% of the participants) caught Leptospirosis from running through swampy water. There was an earlier outbreak in Illinois in Triathlon runners. Dogs can contract it directly from contaminated water as well.

Leptospirosis Bacteria - Scanning Microscope
Given the large population of potential wildlife carriers and the difficulty in diagnosing the disease early, prevention is a more prudent approach in the areas where Leptospirosis is a risk. The older vaccines (1970’s and 80’s) carried a higher risk of vaccine reaction and only covered two strains. Because of this, they had fallen out of favor in that era and were used only in the higher risk rural areas. Leptospirosis was labeled a non-core vaccine to use only for “at risk” populations. But the definition of which dogs are at risk seems to have shifted significantly in the last decade or two. The rural outdoor large breed dog that was the poster child for Leptospirosis in 1985 is now a fluffy suburban or urban Shih Tzu or Cocker Spaniel. We currently have Leptospirosis vaccines that protect for four strains and have a much lower risk of vaccine reaction than the older vaccines – they are more highly purified as vaccine manufacturing technology has evolved over the last 30 years.  Some internists believe that even though our current vaccines only include four of the Leptospira serovars, there may be cross reactivity and some protection from the other infective strains as well. Leptospirosis is very uncommon in vaccinated dogs, regardless of the strain or serovar of Leptospira bacteria involved. It is a series of two doses given 3-4 weeks apart and then yearly boosters.

If your pet tends to be sensitive to vaccines and you’re worried they may react, have this administered separate from any other injectable vaccines – the more vaccines given in one day, the higher the risk of a vaccine reaction, regardless of which specific vaccinations are given.

Given the changes in Leptopsirosis over the last few decades, from the shifts in which strains are causing disease and the populations of dogs being affected, it is time to rethink our approach to managing this dangerous disease. The vaccines are more protective and less reactive than ever before and our suburban house dogs are at a higher risk than we believed possible even twenty years ago. If your dog is not already protected from Leptospirosis, it may be time for a conversation with your veterinarian about the risk factors in your specific area and whether vaccination is appropriate for your beloved dogs. I can assure you that my dogs are vaccinated against this potentially deadly disease – raccoons, opossums and citrus rats are rampant in my suburban neighborhood and the risk of potential exposure is real, and all too scary to ignore.

Friday, March 10, 2017

International Veterinary Volunteerism with World Vets

World Vets is a young,  non-governmental U.S. based organization (NGO) that provides veterinary care and disaster relief throughout the world. Established in 2006, World Vets provides services through multiple programs such as veterinary field service projects, civil-military humanitarian aid, training programs and disaster relief.  Their mission statement is simple and direct: “To improve the health and well-being of animals, people and communities by providing veterinary aid and training in developing countries and by providing disaster relief worldwide.”

As a veteran of four overseas field service projects, I am impressed both with the breadth of the veterinary services World Vets provides and the dedication of the many volunteers who participate in these projects.

Field service projects are typically oriented towards a small animal or large animal focus and occasionally a mix of both.  Volunteers join these projects based on their experience, interests and the skills needed for the specific project. The field service projects are most often located in underdeveloped areas with limited veterinary resources and most are in communities that suffer from animal over-population. World Vets currently serves South and Central America, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, and Africa. North America has many resources and organizations to provide veterinary services, so World Vets limits its activity to disaster relief here.

The Albania Team
I recently participated in a World Vets pilot project to Shkodër, Albania. This was a typical small animal field service project providing spay/neuter clinics and medical care to dogs and cats. This was World Vets first trip to Albania, but likely not their last. The local rescue group, Animals Need Me, applied to World Vets for assistance and helped organize the project locally.

The World Vets team traveling to Albania was fairly typical for a pilot trip and consisted of a field service vet or leader, five veterinarians, three veterinary technicians, several veterinary students and vet-tech assistants from all over the world. Most of us had never met before, although a few of us were already acquainted from prior trips with World Vets.

We flew into the capital of Albania, Tirana, and then drove a few hours north to Shkodër, near the border to Montenegro. The driving in Albania is interesting as many drivers are relatively inexperienced and dodging bicycles, goats, and pedestrians is quite a sport. We stayed at a historic hotel, Hotel Tradita Geg & Tosk, first established in the 1600's. We spent the first day recovering from the lengthy travel and exploring Shkodër a bit. We visited the ancient Rozafa Castle which rises imposingly above the city between the rivers Bojana and Drin. Past communist government outlawed religion in 1967 and Albania was declared an atheist state. Following the decline of communism, religion has resurfaced including Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic faiths, which all seem to coexist quite peacefully. 
We enjoyed a lovely lunch our second day, during which we found a terribly injured, fragile kitten with an infected partially amputated limb. He obviously had suffered some horrific injury days earlier and appeared to be starving. Of course, we captured him, christened him Odie and acquired antibiotics from a local pharmacy for him.  We fed him baby food and tinned tuna - there was no cat food at the local grocery at all and we only saw a few small bags of dog kibble for sale anywhere. Two other volunteers found several stray dogs that also needed care and they spent the night with them in the parking area so they could bring them to the clinic the next day.

Waiting for Surgery & Vaccinations
The local rescue group, Animals Need Me, obtained access to an abandoned laboratory for our use, and we set up two surgery suites with five operating tables, an anesthesia induction area, and a post-op recovery room.  Amazingly, within just a few hours of starting the clinic, the group of 15 volunteers with very diverse backgrounds coalesced into an organized, efficient spay/neuter team. Volunteers from Animals Need Me and the Peace Corps helped us run the clinic and keep organized – a much appreciated addition of manpower. Speaking no Albanian ourselves, we were also very dependent upon them for translation skills!  While the World Vets team spoke at least five different languages between us, none of them shared any similarity to Albanian (also known as Shqip). We were fortunate that the Peace Corps volunteers received language training before starting their official tours and were tremendously helpful - as was the leader of Animals Need Me, Oli Pero.

Kitties Snoozing after Surgery
For three days we spayed and neutered dogs and cats, more than 200 in total. We also performed other surgeries such as tumor removals and wound treatment. Many of the dogs and cats we treated were owned but there was little to reflect that. Few had collars of any sort although one kitty had an adorable handmade necklace of wooden beads. Unfortunately, several of the dogs had mange and most had fleas and ticks - all received treatment for these parasites. We did have to remove a few ticks from ourselves between surgeries! Following surgery, the animals all received appropriate vaccinations, de-worming, topical parasite control and antibiotics. All of the medical and surgical care was provided at no cost to the pet owners or to the rescue group.
A Mom & Her Pups after Surgery

Canine population control in Albania consists of shooting strays that walk the streets or gather in the roundabouts, so most all of our canine patients were provided yellow ear tags to help identify them as animals of value and to reduce the risk of them being shot. Tolerance for cats is much higher than dogs and they seem to wander freely without such risk. In fact, there was quite an array of cats and kittens hanging out at our hotel. The hotel owner was grateful that we spayed, neutered, and immunized all of them as well.

Our Day Off in Montenegro
We all enjoyed relaxing after the final day of clinics and many of us spent our last day in country visiting the gorgeous coastal town of Montenegro to the north. Montenegro also seems to have a significant stray population so perhaps that will be the site of a future World Vets project. World Vets will be back in the Balkans next month with another pilot trip, this one to Romania. I wish I could join that one too!

World Vets is a wonderful non-profit organization doing fabulous work to help many animals in underdeveloped areas. Over 90 percent of donations received to help fund World Vets go directly toward animal care and service. While a young organization, they have already received much recognition and several awards including being a top rated charity by Great Non-Profits. 

If you are interested in supporting such work, just visit the World Vets site at If you are interested in information on volunteering for a project, see their volunteer opportunities page on the website for upcoming projects. Special training is not required to volunteer as an assistant.  You need only fortitude, the ability to travel and a desire to help animals. Volunteering with World Vets is tremendously rewarding and the experience is life changing for many participants. Perhaps I’ll see you on a future trip!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Good, the Bad and the Lumpy

Lumps and bumps seem to crop up everywhere on our middle-aged and older pups. You hear about these fatty lumps, but don’t know whether to worry or not. The most common masses we find on our dogs are lipomas. Lipomas are benign tumors comprised of a discrete collection of fat cells beneath the skin. The majority feel soft and squishy although some will feel harder if they are beneath muscle or other tissue. Lipomas are benign in that they do not spread to distant places, like metastasis to the lungs as so many cancers do. They typically will not recur when removed unless they are an unusual form referred to as an infiltrative lipoma. In those cases, the lipoma has actually infiltrated into the local tissue and is difficult to impossible to fully remove. Malignant fatty tumors, called liposarcomas, are thankfully rare as they are quite nasty and invasive.

The typical lipoma is round to oval and soft beneath the skin. They occur most often on the trunk of the body and less often on the legs or head. Although they are not malignant, they can still cause a fair bit of trouble. They are capable of growing to impressive sizes and often appear in awkward spots like beneath the foreleg (the dog version of an armpit). In some locations they can disrupt the dog’s gait or change the angle of the limb which affects joints and movement. Others simply grow to pretty amazing size and cause discomfort and mobility problems due to their sheer size. They can easily weight 3 to 5 pounds and cause a dog to list to one side! When lipomas create these sorts of problems, removal is mandatory even though they are officially “benign”. Of course, it’s easier to do this before they reach such size, but because they are benign, we are often tempted to ignore them. If sudden growth is noted or if the location affects limb movement, it’s ideal to get them off before they get too sizable.

The other problem we can encounter is mistakenly thinking a lump is a benign lipoma based on how it feels when it is really something else altogether. The safest bet is to have a small aspirate taken from every subcutaneous mass when they first appear (or if they suddenly start to grow quickly) to determine if the contents are fat or not. It’s a simple in-office procedure for your veterinarian to draw a bit of material into a very small needle (think injection in reverse) and then put that sample on a slide for the pathologist to review. Anything that is not clearly fat should be examined by a pathologist as there are some really dangerous subcutaneous masses than can appear on our dogs. And unfortunately, they often don’t look particularly scary on the outside. The pathologist can generally guide us regarding the cell type of the mass and whether it is benign or malignant from that fine needle aspirate sample although occasionally they need a full tissue biopsy to make the diagnosis. As you might expect, the earlier the mass removal is performed (and the smaller the mass), the easier the surgery is for the dog and the better the prognosis will be for tumors that are malignant 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Acupuncture and Animals

Acupuncture is a therapeutic option for many veterinary health problems, most especially pain. It was originally believed to be based on energy flow through the body and has been practiced for thousands of years.

The science is now pretty clear and much of the benefit of acupuncture can be verified with functional MRI. During acupuncture, very thin needles are carefully inserted to stimulate nerves in specific locations – this impacts correlating organs or areas of the body based on the specific acupuncture point. Acupuncture points are located at places where nerves are accessible and quite often are where nerve bundles and blood vessels come together. At a physiologic level, a great deal happens when those skinny little needles are inserted. The effect of acupuncture is often referred to as neuromodulation because of the impact on the nerves and the entire neurological system during the process. The primary goal of acupuncture is to promote the body to heal itself. Many things occur during acupuncture to make this happen and neuromodulation is a complex series of events that occur with appropriate acupuncture point stimulation.

·        Acupuncture stimulates the release of the body's own pain relieving substances such as endorphins.
·        Acupuncture can stimulate the release of anti-inflammatory substances to facilitate pain relief and healing.
·        Muscle spasms and myofascial trigger points in the muscles can be released at the site of needle insertion.
·        Acupuncture stimulates tissue blood flow, oxygenation and removal of metabolic wastes and toxins.

Acupuncture probably does even more than this and research is continuing in an attempt to fully characterize all the benefits of acupuncture. How can these complex physiologic responses to acupuncture be used to help our pets?

·        Pain Management is one of the most common indications for acupuncture, in humans and animals. It can be used alone or in combination with traditional techniques for pain associated with arthritis, hip dysplasia, surgery, cancer, trauma or injury and intervertebral disk disease, a common and very painful condition of the spine. It can also be used for pain not associated with the musculoskeletal system such as pain associated with the bladder, pancreas and other organs.
·        Neurological problems such as loss of motor function due to a ruptured disk or trauma to a nerve can respond very well to acupuncture.
·        Skin problems such as lick granulomas or hot spots may respond well to acupuncture.
·        Gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, diarrhea and digestive imbalances can respond to the increased blood flow and stimulation of acupuncture.
·        Respiratory problems such as asthma can benefit from the neuromodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture.
·        Elimination disorders such as fecal and urinary incontinence can be addressed with acupuncture & electroacupuncture.
·        Acupuncture can be used as part of a preventive care program (as is common in China) including helping athletes (agility, dock diving, lure coursing) stay in top physical condition.

Most pets do remarkably well with acupuncture. We generally start with calming points that promote relaxation followed by the specific acupuncture points indicated by the treatment plan. Some animals actually start to fall asleep during treatment! Acupuncture has been used in virtually every species from dogs and cats to rabbits, lizards, snakes, horses, goats and many exotic species.

Acupuncture is very safe and side effects are quite uncommon. It can be used alone or in combination with supplements and drug therapy without any fear of a negative interaction with those compounds.

For an acute injury or problem, acupuncture may be performed only once or twice. For a chronic issue such as osteoarthritis or spinal pain, the treatment will typically start with frequent sessions (2-3 per week) followed by a gradual reduction in frequency as the pet improves. Neurological issues may require an aggressive schedule initially with a rapid decrease if the response is favorable. Some patients will receive electroacupuncture, often abbreviated as E-stim. The additional of electrical stimulation to the acupuncture points can amplify the body's response to acupuncture and is especially helpful in neurologic problems such as paralysis. Acupuncture is also often combined with therapeutic laser for many of the conditions listed above.

Acupuncture in animals must be performed by a licensed veterinarian as understanding the specific anatomy of the species is critical to successful acupuncture as well as to prevent harm. Ideally, it should be performed by individuals with extensive post-graduate training in veterinary acupuncture, preferably those certified to perform acupuncture by one of the small number of internationally recognized veterinary acupuncture training programs.

Acupuncture can open new doors to treating our animals by allowing us to harness and direct their own healing powers to facilitate pain control and recovery from a variety of health problems. It can provide additional treatment options for those patients who don’t tolerate certain medications and can also be used in combination with medications and other therapies to optimize patient care and facilitate successful outcomes for our pets.

Acupuncture - when ancient art meets modern science - giving us the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Beneful dog food, is it dangerous or not??

Ah, Purina's Beneful brand of dog food is in the news again. It appears some folks in California have decided to sue Purina claiming that Beneful killed their dogs. It is officially a class action suit with attorneys encouraging others to join in the lawsuit. So, what's the real scoop?
After you remove all of the hype and hoopla, there's not much left. That is evidence, at least. Thus far, there has been no scientific or laboratory evidence produced to indicate that the pet food was in any way toxic or harmful or actually caused any pet's death. One claimant had fed Beneful for 3 years before his dog died, supposedly as a result of the food. I'm not clear why the first three years of Beneful were supposedly fine and then suddenly it wasn't. But remember, one doesn't have to provide any proof to file a lawsuit - you just need an attorney willing to file the lawsuit. And Purina has very deep pockets that may look inviting to some.

Meanwhile, part of the accusation is that Beneful contains antifreeze. Hmm, not hardly or every pet would die from eating it as antifreeze is very toxic to all mammals. It does contain minute amounts of propylene glycol, which is FDA approved as a food additive.

Propylene glycol is closely related to ethylene glycol, or antifreeze, but so is ethanol, which does not make them interchangeable. There is a brand of antifreeze made from propylene glycol, but it's nearly pure, not trace amounts added to a food product.You might actually be surprised to know how many food products do contain small amounts of propylene glycol as it is regarded as a safe food additive. Some examples include certain salad dressings, packaged frosting, flavored iced teas, food colorings, cake mixes and some ice creams, including several flavors from Cold Stone Creamery. Hmmm, this doesn't sound terribly toxic now, does it?

So why sue Purina? The cynic in me wonders if it's just the perceived deep pockets and the hope that they'll pay people off to stop the bad publicity. More likely, this may just be anger and frustration over losing a beloved pet and a hurting human seeking a rational reason for their loss. Anger is a normal phase of grief and blame is not an unusual part of the grieving process. The folks who've lost their pets deserve our sympathy while I can't say the same for the attorneys facilitating these nuisance suits.

So, as a veterinarian, would I stop feeding Beneful? Nope, but to be truthful, I've never fed it anyway. Beneful is not an especially healthful food compared to many of the excellent dog food options available, so it's never been in my pantry. The package looks like healthy food and  is appealing to consumers, but the food itself is not so impressive. It has, however, passed an AAFCO feeding trial as being nutritionally complete and adequate for adult dogs. So, it's not a food I recommend to my clients, but is it killing dogs? There's nothing to indicate that it is harming any animals and an awful of of people are looking for anything in the way of evidence. We'll continue to watch this closely, but thus far, it appears to be all smoke and no substance.

And do keep in mind the undeniable truth... most dogs did eat some brand of food in the day or days before they died. Sad as their passing is for each of us, that doesn't mean the food caused their death anymore than drinking water or chewing on a toy or walking on the grass was the cause of their demise. Grief does strange things to people and this lawsuit may just be the result of those painful feelings that many animal lovers have experienced themselves.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Resolution for Fluffy & Fido

So, it’s that time again… I’m thinking about New Year’s resolutions and what I should try to do for myself and my pets this year. And I’m trying to decide what to recommend for others for their pets.

Weight Loss
I guess I must put weight loss on the top of this list for my patients. Since over 50% of American pets are overweight and over 20% are deemed to be obese, this is a tremendously important concern. One study showed that keeping dogs at healthy weights can increase their lifespan by two years! That’s a pretty “wow” kind of number when you consider what an extra two years of healthy, happy life adds to a dog’s lifespan. I’d give anything to have an extra two years with my dogs. [I've always sworn the hardest part of being an animal lover is accepting the grief their short lifespans bring to us.] However, I am a food Nazi, so my dogs have no problems with obesity. And I do own two Golden Retrievers, so it’s not like they aren't trying to eat everything that isn't nailed down! The simplest trick for me is simply measuring food and rationing treats and watching the scales. That and healthy food are the key to weight control at our house. One of my dogs gains weight just by looking at food, so we have to be very careful with him. And all of them will steal food if we are careless - we must be vigilant!
Yes, I did catch them eating bark off the firewood since they think I starve them! For treats, they each get one healthy cookie per day, some raw baby carrots, ice cubes and a slice of raw sweet potato here and there. They have no idea what people food tastes like & that does make it easier. The puppy’s training treats are actually deducted from her daily food total. I told you I’m a food Nazi! But it does work. That and lots of exercise. When the weather is good, they spend a fair bit of time outside playing. One of my resolutions is going to be taking more trips to the dog park for more consistent, high calorie burning exercise. In truth though, the food is a bigger part of the weight equation for most dogs than exercise. As the overweight pets begin to trim down, their activity level and energy start to increase automatically, which furthers the weight loss. If you feel like you've tried everything and your dog is still a chunk, consider Slentrol. Yes, it is a medication, but obesity is an illness… using medication to get the ball rolling isn't a bad thing! You wouldn't hesitate to give a heart medication so your dog could live an extra two years, so why not an aid for weight loss? It works a bit like one of the human products in decreasing fat absorption and convincing the body it’s already getting enough food and thereby reducing appetite. It is not a stimulant and does not crank the pet’s metabolism up, so it’s very safe. Just remember, food is not love... it can lead to an early death!

Dental Cleaning
Getting your teeth professionally cleaned may not be at the top of your personal list of New Year’s resolutions, but then again, you brush (and if you’re good, you even floss) your teeth every day. Unfortunately, none of my dogs or cats have mastered this skill! Thankfully, they don’t get cavities most of the time, but they certainly do get periodontal (gum) disease and it can be pretty serious. Actually, 80% of dogs and cats have dental disease by the age of three! The periodontal structures are what hold the teeth in place, so disease there causes loss of teeth. Even more importantly, the bacteria in periodontal pockets can spread to other parts of the body like the heart valves and kidneys. This can be fatal! Chronic gum infection can actually cause irreversible kidney damage and that’s a tough illness to manage. So, not only does dental disease cause pain & discomfort, it can cause some mighty serious (and expensive) health problems. Besides, animals use their teeth like hands… they pick up toys and groom themselves with their mouths. Imagine if it hurt every time you tried to eat or touch something... what a drag! So, a professional cleaning may be an excellent resolution for your pet. If you’re not sure, take a whiff of their breath. Bad breath is actually not normal! Visible stain and calculus (yellow- brown discoloration) are signs they need a professional cleaning too. And don’t be fooled by claims that the bather/groomer will brush your pet’s teeth and get them clean. It’s better than nothing, but not by much. You can’t remove the hard calculus this way, nor can you clean out the periodontal areas that are so critical to dental health. It sounds great, and done daily it is fabulous, but if it’s done less often than once a week, it is of no great advantage from the perspective of dental health. Save those teeth brushing fees for a real dental cleaning, above and below the gumline, with x-rays!

Fun Stuff
Nothing will make your pet happier than time interacting with you. Do you have a kitty that loves to be brushed? Resolve to take 10 minutes twice a week to give her a good brushing. Do you have a social butterfly who loves going to the dog park? Try to set time aside for weekly visits. But even a 15 minute walk at the end of the day will make your dog happy… and it’s a great way to burn off some of that ucky “just left work” mojo and relax a bit yourself. A nice peaceful walk communing with nature can be great for the soul! So Fido’s not so fun to take on walks? Then perhaps an obedience class to help teach him good walking manners is the ideal resolution. Does your dog have a ton of energy to burn? If so, think about an agility class to direct that energy in a positive fashion. A few of the local dog parks even have some agility equipment to give you an introduction to the sport. Most cats would sooner be shot than walk on a leash, so what do you do for exercise with them? Get a laser light if you haven’t one already. Trigger those hunting & stalking instincts and get Fluffy off the couch. You can hide small treats selectively around the house to get her up and moving too. Kitties love vertical perches, so resolve to add one or more to your house. If the traditional cat tree is too large for your space, check out some of the newer options from our Christmas gift article.

Other ideas to consider:

Spend more time together (and sneak in some exercise)

  • ·        Take an agility class
  • ·        Hit dog beach a few nights per week (or join the Crystal Beach sunset group)
  • ·        Take 10 – 15 minutes to play ball or Frisbee
  • ·        Check out some different parks for your walks (John Chestnut ParkClearwaterDunedinSafety Harbor)
  • ·        Run your cat up & down the stairs with a Laser or toy

Change to a healthier diet

  • ·        Trade high calorie treats for baby carrots or sweet potato slices
  • ·        Change to a higher quality food (check out Dog Food Advisor & other resources)

Just for cats

  • ·        Check out wall perches and shelves
  • ·        Check out Catios, great for year round use in Florida
  • ·        Explore litter box alternatives to reduce your own workload
  • ·        Look into the newest carriers for an upgrade


  • ·        Brush longer hair coats every other day (even 5 minutes helps)
  • ·        Trim nails every 3-4 weeks to keep the quicks short
  • ·        Brush their teeth once weekly (or more often)
  • ·        Groom or bathe more often (but no more than every 7 – 10 days to avoid drying their coats too much)


Other ideas

  • ·        Purchase pet insurance to prepare for future illness or emergencies
  • ·        Get your pet a microchip
  • ·        Train your pet & enroll them as a therapy dog or cat
  • ·        Purchase a water fountain to encourage water intake There is one version for cats and another for big dogs)
  • ·        Include your dog when running errands (except grocery stores and places serving food)
  • ·        Open a savings account for unexpected medical bills or veterinary emergencies 

     So, what are your New Year's Resolutions for Fido & Fluffy? 
            Any other suggestions?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling....

It's that time of year in Florida again, the summer thunderstorm season is here. The monsoons have begun and many are accompanied by a flash of terrifying lightening followed by a cacophony of earth shaking thunder. Many dogs suffer from thunderstorm related anxiety, and for some, that is generalized to noise phobia that includes fireworks and any other loud sudden noises (vacuum cleaners, garbage trucks, etc). While fear of the vacuum cleaner is a great excuse for me to skip that boring household chore, I ache at the thought of my dog being terrified by everyday noises. Thunderstorm anxiety can be very mild or quite severe. In severe cases, the dog may destroy doors or break through glass windows to "escape" the storm. 
 As you can guess, these levels of anxiety create a horrible experience for the dog. Unfortunately, it tends to worsen with time rather than improve. Given the impact storm anxiety has on the pet's quality of life and the tendency for it to worsen with time, early treatment is strongly recommended. Imagine cringing in fear that the world is about to end every afternoon from June to September. That's what these poor dogs are feeling all summer long. I can hardly imagine the level of anxiety they suffer at this time of year. 
The goal is to help the pet relax and then attempt to change their fearful associations with storms. Classic desensitization and counterconditioning are definitely feasible with this disorder. But first, the dog must be calmed enough to teach them storms won't hurt them. For many, this requires medication in the initial stages. And sometimes we have to get through the season and do the counter conditioning exercises when Mother Nature is no longer scaring the daylights out of Fifi every day. 
There are several medications that can help with this disorder. Since our summer storms are usually a daily event and they often appear with little warning, it is difficult to medicate just before the storm with short-acting medications. So, for moderate to severe thunderphobia, we recommend daily medication throughout the season to help alleviate anxiety. Ideally, we like to start 4-6 weeks in advance to allow the medication to equilibrate. Although these medications can occasionally cause sleepiness in the first few weeks, side effects are otherwise uncommon. There are also short-acting medications that can be given for the panic that ensues when the storm hits. These short-acting medications are often enough for dogs that are afraid of fireworks since it's easy to predict when those will happen. Unfortunately, we are usually not home every afternoon to medicate an hour before every thunderstorm.
For animals with mild storm sensitivity, we have other options as well. Anxitane is a nutritional supplement that can help reduce anxiety. Adaptil or dog appeasing pheromone collars can help with anxiety by imitating the pheromone released by the mother dog when she's nursing. Dogs are "hard-wired" to relax around this pheromone as it takes them back to feeling the protection and safety of Mom. There are a few "natural" remedies that can help with very mild anxiety such as "Rescue Remedy" and Anxiety TFLN by Homoepet. A product called Harmonease may also be useful in mild cases. Keep in mind, these can be combined with the Adaptil collar to maximize impact also.
 For many dogs, the static electricity that builds up in the fur can add to the anxiety and fear because it is associated with storms. Multiple options are available to help with that issue. The Storm Defender Cape, the Anxiety Wrap and the Thundershirt are all popular. They do not work for every dog, but are a big help with many animals (about 70%). Of course, these can be combined with any of the previously mentioned treatments. Fortunately these wraps and capes no longer look like they came from a bad B movie from the 1950's.
 So what can you do in the longer term to help decrease the anxiety triggered by storms? Counterconditioning does work, so try having "storm parties". Create good experiences during storms to help diffuse the anxiety and retrain your pet that storms can be associated with good things. Put on that Anxiety Wrap, have some special treats, offer a special toy while ignoring the storm sounds yourself. Try to avoid directly soothing the fearful dog (it rewards the fearful behavior) or jumping when you hear the thunder yourself. Instead create a happy environment of play and treats without rewarding the fear itself. If your dog is too anxious to even take a special treat, you may need medication to help make them comfortable enough to work on counterconditioning. Background music can also help with the noise portion of the stimulus.
Signs of anxiety and fear
 To perform classical desensitization to the sound of rain & thunder, find a CD with these sounds and confirm it makes your pet react at higher volumes.  Then try setting the volume super low, so they can hear it, but low enough that they don't react by showing their classic signs of fear (trembling, shaking, tail tucked, lip-licking, yawning, ears held back, etc.). Repeat short (5 minute) sessions several times a day. If the pet is relaxed & not anxious, increase the volume a hair, but stop before they get anxious. Repeat and try
to very gradually increase the volume. You can do this several times a day three to five times per week. You only new a few successful minutes each time to help counter-condition.  Just remember, patience wins on this. If you increase the volume suddenly and your dog becomes very anxious, that can undo some of the progress you've already made. Forcing them to tolerate loud thunder sounds (called flooding) is a technique that often fails with noise phobias. Through a Dog's Ear produces a series of CD's with instructions on their use for desensitization. Although it is ideal to do this when we are not in storm season since you can't control the real thing, it can still be done at any time of year. 

For the anxious pet, you can create a small, dark "den" for your pet to hide from the storm & play classical music nearby. Often a small crate in the back of a closet works well. The space should be enclosed, small and dark. This helps in the short term while the longer term goal is to reduce the anxiety enough to have storm parties and counter-condition the dog. Fear is an awful emotion and these medications and methods can help remove that terrible sense of impending doom that some dogs suffer during thunderstorms. The goal... a calm, happy, peaceful pooch all year round.