Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pet Health Tip #9- Impacted Anal Glands

Many people see their dog scooting across the floor and assume they must have irritation due to worms.  However, scooting across the floor is almost never a symptom of intestinal worms.  Instead, it is almost always an indication that the dog’s anal glands are full or impacted.

Every dog has two glands located on each side of the anal sphincter.  These glands are filled with a liquid that is sprayed onto the fecal material when the dog eliminates.  The pressure of the fecal material passing through the anal opening along with the constriction of the anal muscle help to express the liquid out of the glands.  When these glands do not empty normally, they become overly full and the liquid can thicken into a paste-like material.  The full glands cause an irritation and the dog scoots on his butt in an attempt to empty the glands.  Occasionally, the dog is successful and the glands empty as a result of the scooting.  However, often times, the material inside the glands has become too thickened and they will not empty when the dog scoots.  In this case, the glands need to be manually emptied.  This is something you can be taught to do for him.  However, due to the unpleasant nature of the task, most people elect to take the dog to a professional (i.e. vet, vet tech, or groomer) to have them emptied.

Several factors contribute to full anal glands.  Some breeds of dogs, especially small terrier breeds, are prone to having anal gland problems.  Hereditary issues, such as position of the glands, can contribute to the dog not being able to empty the glands naturally.  However, most of the time, it is an issue with diet.  If the dog is overweight, then the glands are cushioned by fat deposits and are not expressed when the dog eliminates.  Also, the diet can cause the stool to be too soft.  Therefore, it does not apply enough pressure to express the glands when the dog eliminates.

So, should you worry when you see your dog scooting?  Not necessarily.  As I stated earlier, often times the dog is able to get the job done by scooting.  However, if you see your dog scooting on a regular basis, and/or he starts to bite at the area or act as if it is painful, then the glands are probably impacted.  Impacted glands can rupture through the dog’s skin and cause a pretty nasty infection.  Therefore, it is important to have the anal glands checked anytime you see repeated episodes of scooting.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

PET HEALTH TIP #8- Spay/Neuter

A major decision that you have to make for your pet is whether or not you are going to have him or her spayed or neutered.  So, should you spay or neuter your pet? Absolutely!

Multiple benefits result from spaying or neutering your pet.  All of these benefits add up to one thing: your pet will live significantly longer.

For female dogs: Each time a female dog goes through a heat cycle, her chance of developing breast cancer increases.  Therefore, it is important to have your female dog spayed prior to her first heat cycle (approx. six months old).  Another major benefit is that the older your female dog gets, the greater her chance for developing a uterine infection (pyometra).  Pyometra can be life-threatening.  The treatment is to have the dog spayed.  The risk of surgery is much greater when you have an infection involved.  So, get your dog spayed before the pyometra develops!

For male dogs: Intact male dogs are at a much higher risk of developing prostate cancer than neutered dogs.  Also, intact male dogs can develop testicular cancer.  Finally, intact males are more likely to wander away from home, increasing the likelihood they will be involved in an accident (i.e. hit by a car) or become lost.

So, as you can see, there are definite health benefits to having your pet spayed or neutered.  But, again, your bottom line is that they will live significantly longer.  We do not have them for very long as it is, so why wouldn't you want to extend that time?

Another point to consider is at what age they should be spayed or neutered.  I am a big supporter of pediatric spays and neuters.  These surgeries are performed at 10-12 weeks of age.  As long as the pet is over 2 lbs, then they can undergo the surgery.  Puppies that are spayed or neutered at this young age heal much faster than older puppies.  I worked in an animal shelter and performed thousands of pediatric spays and neuters.  It is amazing how quickly these puppies heal.  They are up and moving right after the anesthesia wears off, and the incision is gone within a few days.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

PET HEALTH TIP #7- Premium Pet Foods

Over the course of my career, I have had a lot of people ask me whether or not I think premium pet foods are really that much better than the cheaper brands.  By premium pet foods, I am referring to the more expensive brands of commercial dog foods, not the pet foods prepared by a pet food bakery.

Here is my answer:

Premium pet foods have been formulated to provide a well-balanced diet for your pet.  These brands of pet foods do not contain as much "filler" as many of the less expensive or “off” brands.  The lack of filler leads to several benefits.  First of all, you do not have to feed as much to your pet for him to get the same amount of nutrition.  This actually lowers the cost per feeding, making the premium foods a little more comparable to the cheaper brands.  In addition, when your dog is on a premium diet, the volume of feces that he will eliminate is significantly decreased.  This is due to the fact that you aren't feeding him as much, as well as the fact that the foods have less "filler" in them.  Finally, the consistency of your pet’s stools will be more solid.  This is especially important for dogs.  Dogs have glands that are naturally expressed when he eliminates.  If the stool is too soft, then the glands will not be expressed.  This can lead to problems if the glands become impacted (See #9 Impacted Anal Glands).

So, to sum it all up, do I think that premium pet foods are worth it?  Definitely!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

PET HEALTH TIP #6- Canine Heartworms

Heartworms are transmitted from dog to dog through mosquito bites.  An immature stage of the worm is picked up out of an infected dog's bloodstream by a mosquito.  It goes through a developmental stage inside the mosquito and then is injected into another dog’s skin.  It then migrates through the skin into the blood stream and eventually ends up in the dog’s heart.  The heartworm can grow to be several inches long and live up to four years inside the dog’s heart.

Heartworms can be very dangerous.  One mosquito is capable of delivering anywhere from 1-100 of these worms into your dog.  A low burden (only a few worms) may not cause your dog any problems.  However, a high burden can cause several problems.  First, they could cause your dog’s heart to have to work harder than normal due to the resistance to the flow of blood through the heart and vessels.  Occasionally, a dog will have such a high burden of worms they will actually block the flow of blood completely causing heart failure.  Additionally, these worms can also set up residence inside the lungs or other places in the body and cause allergic reactions.

There are several medications on the market to control heartworms.  Most of these medications are designed to prevent heartworms from maturing into adults; therefore, keeping them from setting up housekeeping in your dog's heart.  Because they are preventive in nature, these medications need to be taken regularly, with most being recommended monthly.  You should consult your veterinarian on the type of preventive medications that he or she recommends.

Heartworm infestations are treatable.  However, the treatment can be dangerous.  The risk of the treatment depends on several factors including your dog’s age, health, and the potential burden of worms.  Unfortunately, the tests for the presence of heartworms don’t tell us if your dog has a few worms or a hundred worms.  They only tell us whether or not the worms are present.

When having your dog treated for heartworms, it is imperative that you follow your veterinarian’s advice carefully.  Your dog will have to be confined for an extended period of time (possibly several weeks), while the worms are dying.  It is essential to keep the dog from getting overly excited because these worms do not just disappear when your dog is given the medication.  They are killed, and then it takes time for them to be absorbed and metabolized out of the bloodstream.

Heartworm prevention can be expensive.  However, it is safe and very effective.  By not giving your dog a prevention, you are taking a big risk with the result being that your dog will develop an infestation and have to undergo an expensive and dangerous treatment.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

PET HEALTH TIP #5- Dental Hygiene

Dental health is as important for your pet as it is for you.  Chronic dental disease is the number one cause of heart disease in older pets.  This is one area that most pet owners neglect.

The idea of brushing your dog's or cat's teeth is not very appealing.  However, it is the most effective way to prevent dental disease in your pet.  There are two main ways to brush your pet's teeth.  The first, do it the same way you brush yours, with a toothbrush.  There are a few dogs that will allow this, but most will fight pretty hard when you stick a toothbrush in their mouth.  The usual result is that you end up jabbing your dog in the gums with the end of the toothbrush, and that is the last time you are allowed to do that!

The next alternative for brushing your pet's teeth is to use a finger brush.  This is a little toothbrush that fits on the end of your finger.  It allows you to have a little more control and will help avoid injury to your pet.  This is the safer method for your dog, but not very pleasant for you.

The good news is that although brushing your pet’s teeth is the best way to ensure dental health, it is not the only option.  One good preventive measure is to make sure you feed your pet kibble and not canned food.  The kibble will naturally keep tartar from building up on your pet's teeth.  Feeding your pet canned food is one of the worst things you can do for dental health.

Another important thing you can do for your pet's teeth is to have them cleaned on a regular basis.  For most dogs, that means having a dental cleaning every three years.  There are some breeds of dogs, such as Greyhounds, that need dental cleanings on a more frequent basis.  The best way to know if your dog needs his teeth cleaned is to lift up his lips and take a look at the teeth.  If they have tartar build up, then they need a cleaning.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

PET HEALTH TIP #4- Obesity

In the same way that obesity has become a problem for people, it has also become a problem for our pets.  Several health issues can arise as a result of obesity.  Many of these health concerns are the same ones that obese people face.

For cats, the major health problem that can arise as a result of obesity is diabetes.  Overweight cats are at a significantly higher risk for diabetes than cats who are at a healthy weight (See #31 Diabetes Mellitus in Cats).

For dogs, the main health concerns associated with obesity are heart failure and arthritis.  Just like in people, when a dog is carrying around more weight than he is meant to carry, his heart has to work overtime.  When the heart has to work extra hard, it wears out before it would have otherwise.  In addition, the extra weight puts too much pressure on the dog's joints causing extra wear and tear that leads to arthritis.

Bottom line: Obesity will significantly reduce your pet's lifespan.  So, stop killing your pet with kindness!  What do I mean by that?

The number one contributor to pet obesity: Feeding your pet people food!  I hear all the time, "But he really likes it and will throw a fit if I don't give it to him."  First of all, if you don't start, then you don't have to stop.  Secondly, just like a child will choose donuts over green beans, your pet will choose people food over pet food.  There are some perfectly acceptable pet treats that your pet will appreciate that are much healthier than people food.  Your pet will adapt to the change, just be consistent.

The next question is, "How do I know if my pet is obese?"

There is a simple illustration:  First, make a fist.  If your pet’s ribs look like your knuckles when you make a fist, then it is too thin.  Second, turn your palm face up with your fingers straight out.  If your pet’s ribs look like the pads over your knuckles on your palm, then he is too fat.  Finally, turn your palm face down with your fingers straight out.  If your pet’s ribs look like your knuckles, then he is the ideal body weight.  In other words, you want to be able to easily feel his ribs when you rub your hands over them, but you don't want to see his ribs.

Finally, "What do I do if my dog is obese?"

First, stop feeding him people food.  Second, cut back on the fatty treats.  By that, I mean things like rawhides and pig's ears.  There are some very good low fat treats that you can use.  Alternatively, one of the easiest things to do is give him a piece of his kibble (dry food).  Since it is being given outside of his normal feeding time, he will think of it as a special treat.  Also, if you are feeding canned food, either stop all together, or cut it back significantly.  Canned pet foods are much higher in fat than dry kibble.  Additionally, canned food is a major contributor to dental disease.  Finally, just like people, pets need to exercise.  So, get him moving.  This will not only help him slim down, it will also improve the health of his joints.

Again, a pet at a healthy weight will live significantly longer than an obese pet. I don't know about you, but I want my pets around for as long as I can have them!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pet Health Tip #3- Puppy Hair Loss

There are a several different underlying causes of hair loss in puppies.  I am only going to address a few of them.

Patchy hair loss with associated pruritus (itchiness):  The most common cause for patchy hair loss is fleas.  However, it can also be caused by the Sarcoptes mites.  This is often referred to as “Sarcoptic Mange.”  Infestation with Sarcoptes mites causes severe pruritus.  The puppies will scratch constantly.  Because of the constant scratching, and the damage that it does, the puppies often develop a bacterial skin infection.  These puppies will have red, crusty skin lesions in addition to the hair loss.  Sarcoptes mites live on the skin, and treatment is usually topical.  However, due to the skin infection, the puppies may also need to take antibiotics.  Sarcoptes mites easily transfer to other pets and can cause itchiness in people as well.  They don’t infest humans, meaning they don’t set up permanent residence on our skin.  However, they will bite us if given the chance.

Patchy hair loss without pruritus:  There are two common causes for these symptoms in puppies.  The first is ringworm (See #13 Ringworm for details).  The second common cause is another mite called Demodex, often referred to as “Demodectic Mange.”  These mites live in the skin.  They do not typically cause pruritus, so the puppies don’t usually scratch.  The treatment for demodectic mange is oral and usually requires a long treatment therapy.

Demodectic mange is not contagious to other pets or people.  The puppies actually obtain the mite from their mother, during nursing.  In addition, there is a genetic component that determines whether or not the animal will have any symptoms associated with the infestation.

In conclusion, several underlying factors cause puppy hair loss.  Therefore, it is important to consult your veterinarian for a specific diagnosis and treatment options.