Ask the Pet Vacinations Expert
December 2012 Article
Safety for Pets around Holiday Decorations (aka “He ate WHAT?”)
I’d like to start this month’s article by telling you all about a couple of dogs named Bob. Bob The First was a client animal, a young weimeraner who presented to our clinic a few years ago with an upset stomach of a few days duration. On examination, we found his abdomen to be very tender to the touch, and decided to do radiographs (xrays). The images showed evidence of a foreign object in Bob’s intestinal tract. Bob was taken to surgery, and a small roasting potato was removed from his small intestine, where it had effectively blocked all passage of food material. Bob made an excellent recovery, and was back home within a couple of days. He then broke into another cupboard and ate a 2lb bag of sugar, but that is another story…
The second Bob is my 5 year old black lab. And yes, he was named after Bob #1. Bob is a wonderful, happy-go-lucky dog, a typical lab that is eager to put anything into his mouth. So I suppose it was only a matter of time before my Bob ate something he shouldn’t. In fact, Bob managed to eat many, many things that he shouldn’t. He has just managed to get away lucky on most occasions. But on a Friday night this November, Bob decided to eat our carpet. Yes, the carpet. Why? Because he’s Bob. We eventually needed to surgically remove a good deal of long carpet fibres from his small intestine, and he has now made a full recovery.
So why am I telling these stories? First of all, gastro-intestinal foreign bodies are a lot more common than many people think. In recent memory, we have removed hair elastics, baby bottle nipples, rocks, bottle lids, socks, toy parts, string, and even a pair of panties, along with the aforementioned potato and carpet, from the stomachs and small intestines of dogs and cats at our hospital. Secondly, we are fast approaching the prime season for foreign bodies. Christmas trees and glittery holiday decorations often offer too much temptation for our four-legged companions to pass up. Tinsel is especially infamous for tempting kitties – and often they manage to get one end wrapped around the base of their tongue, and their intestines get all bunched up trying to move it along unsuccessfully.
The bottom line is this: while we may not be able to prevent all mishaps (Carpet, Bob? Seriously?), an ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure. Keep tinsel out of your house if you have cats. Monitor all pets around holiday trees and decorations, confining them away from any decorated areas when not under supervision. Please contact your veterinary team promptly if any concerns appear – persistent vomiting and inappetance (disinterest in food) are the most common symptoms to look out for, and prompt intervention is a key factor in optimizing patient outcome in these cases. Happy holidays, everyone!
November 2012 Article
With Christmas approaching, some dog owners may be planning trips that require leaving their dog in a boarding kennel. Most kennels require dogs be vaccinated for “kennel cough” prior to boarding. Whether or not your dog visits the kennel, vaccinations offer many benefits for both dogs and owners due to the cause(s) of kennel cough.
Kennel cough (or canine cough) is caused by a number of infectious agents that affect the upper respiratory tract. Coughing (which may be productive) and nasal discharge are often associated with kennel cough. Bordetella bronchiseptica [often in combination with another pathogen(s)] is the most common cause of canine cough. Canine cough is highly contagious, thus dogs coming into contact with other dogs are at risk of contracting the disease. This makes boarding kennels, as well as doggy day care and the dog park, good places for dogs to catch the infection. Most dogs show a mild, dry, hacking cough, which does not require veterinary intervention. Occasionally, however, dogs will also have: thick, green nasal discharge, decreased appetite, persistent and/or wet cough or fever, which all require veterinary intervention to help them recover. It is the combination of organisms causing canine cough, which are responsible for the severity of the clinical signs. These pathogens can also have an effect on human health.
There is evidence that shows canine cough can be transmitted to people. Family members that are very young, very old, asthmatic or undergoing chemotherapy are most at risk. Although rare in people, the disease manifests in a number of ways including: sinusitis, persistent cough or pneumonia. Because of the potential for human infection, some veterinarians recommend vaccinating all dogs in contact with immunocompromised people for canine cough to prevent possible human disease.
Canine cough vaccines can be given by injection, intranasally or orally. The vaccines, while useful for preventing your dog from contracting kennel cough, are not 100% effective. Because there are a number of organisms that contribute to the canine cough spectrum of diseases, we do occasionally see vaccinated dogs come down with kennel cough. However, these cases are generally minor and don’t require treatment for recovery. The effectiveness of canine cough vaccines will also be affected by their administration schedule. While most vaccines are good for one year, many studies recommend boostering every 6 months, especially if your dog rarely goes to the kennel. Dogs that frequent doggy day care, the kennel or the dog park are probably exposed to canine cough regularly enough that their immune system is always primed to fight off the infection. Dogs that are only boarded a few times yearly haven’t had this immune system “exercise,” and should be boostered either twice yearly or close to when they are going to the kennel. If you have any questions regarding canine cough, please contact your veterinarian.
October 2012 Article
Halloween Pet Safety
Halloween is just around the corner, so this month’s article is about keeping your pets safe during the Halloween season. Halloween is a great time to decorate the house, get fun costumes (for you and your pet!) and indulge in sweet treats. However, there are some things you should keep in mind so your pets have a safe and happy Halloween.
I believe the best part about Halloween is the spooky decorations. Things that light-up, move or make noises are incredibly entertaining for people, but can be quite stressful or even dangerous for pets. Decorations with an electrical cord should be placed such that pets, especially cats and bunnies, won’t be tempted to chew on the cord. Any decorative item with a candle or open flame should be placed to prevent inquisitive paws or wagging tails from getting singed or knocked over.
Costumes are another fantastic part of Halloween and some pets enjoy taking part in the festivities! If your dog or cat “enjoys” wearing a costume, make sure it fits well so it won’t twist and cut off circulation or get tangled up on something. If your dog/cat doesn’t like a full costume, maybe something like a Halloween bandana or collar might be appropriate, yet still festive! Humans in costume are often quite stressful for pets. If you are having a party and/or on Halloween evening when trick-or-treaters are coming to the house, it is a good idea to prevent dogs from greeting costumed guests. Keeping pets in a quiet part of the house away from all the commotion will prevent them from getting stressed. Glow-in-the-dark items are also potentially toxic to pets; the most common signs of toxicity are profuse salivation and neurologic signs. If your pet gets into a glow-in-the-dark item call your veterinarian.
Candy should be for trick-or-treaters, or at the very least, humans only. Most people are aware that chocolate can be toxic to dogs and cats. The toxic principles, theobromine and caffeine, are most concentrated in darker forms of chocolate, however if your pet is sensitive you may see toxic signs even at a low dose. Chocolate affects the muscles, heart and nervous system. Signs commonly seen are, stomach upset, nervousness or excitability, increased urination and tremors. More severe signs include seizures, coma and even death. White and milk chocolate are relatively harmless, and are most likely to simply cause some vomiting and diarrhea. If it gets severe they may require medical treatment. Rarely does ingestion of white or milk chocolate cause life-threatening cardiac or neurologic signs. There is no specific antidote for chocolate. If your pet consumes chocolate, especially dark or baker’s, calling your veterinarian as soon as possible is essential to preventing or managing serious side effects.
Sugar-free candy, if it contains a sweetener called xylitol, while ok for people, is not for dogs. Xylitol causes a sustained insulin release, leading to hypoglycaemia. Some dogs have also developed liver failure subsequent to ingesting xylitol. If your pet gets into sugar-free candy call your veterinarian immediately.
September 2012 Article
Allergies are becoming more prevalent in veterinary medicine. Whether it is better recognition of allergies, or an increase in the frequency of allergies, the reason for this is unclear. Unfortunately, many pets have both food and environmental allergies, so to control clinical signs the goal is to limit the number of allergens pets are exposed to. Clinical signs of food allergies stay the same year-round, whereas environmental allergies are worse during certain seasons.
When evaluating a patient for allergies, veterinarians usually address food allergies first – because they are the easiest to manage. Signs of food allergies in dogs and cats include: inappetance, itchy skin, recurrent ear infections, diarrhea, weight loss, dandruff, skin infections and vomiting. Cats can also show signs such as: swollen lymph nodes, skin rashes and eosinophilic ulcers.
After first ruling out other causes of the clinical signs the pet is showing, there are a number of tests utilized to diagnose food allergies. The best tool is the food trial. This involves changing your pet’s food to something they’ve never had before; preferably a hydrolysed diet from the veterinary clinic. The proteins in hydrolysed diets have been chemically broken down to a molecular size too small to be recognized by the body, thus preventing allergic reactions. After being on the hydrolysed diet for a certain period of time the pet is given a food challenge to diagnose allergies.
Other tests used to check for food allergies include blood serum or intradermal testing. There is a lot of controversy over the accuracy of these tests for food allergy diagnosis. These tests can be viewed as a starting point for animals with food allergies, giving owners a list of things to avoid and see if it helps. If the results of the test do not control the clinical signs, the results may make a food trial easier.
If the pet is still showing clinical signs after controlling food allergies, or if the signs only occur during certain seasons, then environmental allergies should be considered. Intradermal and blood tests are generally more accepted diagnostic tests for environmental allergies. Once owners know what their pets are allergic to they can try to avoid these things or they can try allergy vaccines (immunotherapy). These injections provide relief of clinical signs in 60 – 75% of dogs, but can take up to a year to have effect.
If you’re concerned your pet has allergies, contact your local veterinarian for diagnostic and treatment options.
August 2012 Article
Keeping dogs cool in the summer
Another reader suggested this month’s topic, which I thought was a great idea since summer is finally here! When the thermostat gets above the mid 20’s it is important to remember that dogs (and other pets) do not handle the heat as well as we humans do. The only place pets sweat from is their paw pads and their main method of cooling off is panting, which is not very effective in very hot weather. High humidity is also hard on pets because it makes evaporative cooling (panting and sweating) less effective. Dogs that are dark coloured will succumb to heat stroke on sunny days faster than pale coloured dogs. All dogs, especially those with short fur, are susceptible to sunburn. Short-faced dogs (pugs, shih tzus, boxers, bulldogs, etc.) are especially sensitive to heat stroke, due to the anatomy of their airway.
To help keep your pooch cool in the summer, ensure he/she has ample shade and water available. A kiddie wading pool, for instance, is a great way to keep dogs cool in the summer! If you have air conditioning, keep your dogs inside during the hottest part of the day. Also, try changing your walking schedule. If you usually go for walks at lunch or in the early evening, go first thing in the morning, or later at night after it’s started to cool down a little. Something people often don’t consider is how hot pavement can get. It is possible for the sidewalk or roadways to get so hot that paw pads will burn. If you wouldn’t be comfortable walking barefoot on the hot pavement, your dog shouldn’t have to either!
If you are worried that your dog has heat stroke, a few signs to watch for are: panting, excessive drooling, gums that are either extremely red or very pale, depression and/or seizures. If you are concerned that your dog has heat stroke, call your veterinarian immediately. Cooling your dog before getting to the veterinarian, especially if you have a long trip to get there, is a good idea. Use cool or tepid water to bathe them and put rubbing alcohol on their paw pads, armpits and groin, while avoiding wounds and sensitive areas to help with evaporative cooling. Avoid ice or very cold water as these can actually make things worse. Do not try to manage heat stroke alone, get veterinary advice first for the best chance of dealing with this potentially fatal condition.
July 2012 Article
Responsible Cat Ownership
This month we’re going to talk about responsible cat ownership. Homeless, or feral cats are a huge problem, not just in Canada, but in most areas of the world. The reason for this is their ability to reproduce at an incredible rate. Female cats are capable of getting pregnant as early as 4 – 5 months old, they can have 2 – 3 litters yearly and litters can range in size from 2 – 10 kittens, so in 1 year, an unspayed female cat can produce 4 – 30 kittens and these kittens will be producing kittens of their own before the end of the year. A popular statistic is 1 pair of intact cats over 7 years, having just 2 litters of 3 kittens each will produce 420,000 cats, when you take into account all the kittens the kittens will produce! For more statistics and information try Googling “cat overpopulation”.
The answer to cat overpopulation is to get your cats fixed, this means neutering the males and spaying the females. There are many benefits to sterilizing your cats, they will be less likely to wander and less likely to spray urine to mark territory. Many people believe that neutering male cats is unnecessary because they “don’t produce kittens”, however intact male cats are more likely to fight and potentially spread feline diseases such as FIV or the feline leukemia virus. Intact male cats do produce kittens, although their owners may not see them. The people who own the females are then stuck dealing with kittens.
Some people get desperate and abandon pregnant cats or cats with litters of kittens. The lucky ones go to the shelter or humane society, the unlucky ones are left in the country or industrial areas. Cats abandoned in these areas then become the problem of the people living and working in these areas. We have a number of kind-hearted clients who own businesses or live in areas where unwanted cats are dumped and try to help these cats by getting them spayed or neutered and treating their illnesses. Unfortunately the number of unwanted cats outweighs the financial abilities of these kind-hearted people. One would also question the reasonability of people expecting others to take responsibility for cats they do not want to care for. If you have intact cats on your property, please contact your local veterinarian and ask about having them spayed or neutered.
June 2012 Article
The Benefits of Spaying
If you have a female puppy or adult dog that is not spayed and you aren’t planning on breeding her, it is recommended that you have her spayed. Spaying involves the removal of both ovaries as well as the uterus. Spaying female dogs, even those that are not at risk of becoming pregnant, will benefit their health in many ways. Other than unwanted pregnancy, intact (not spayed) females are at risk of pyometra, a life threatening infection of the uterus. Intact females are also at higher risk of developing mammary (breast) and ovarian cancer. Should your dog develop pyometra or cancer, spaying is part of the therapy for both conditions, in addition to other therapies such as antibiotics or in the case of mammary cancer, mastectomy. Generally dogs are older when they develop these conditions, which can make them poor surgical candidates, increasing their risk of surgical complication. Although there is the potential for complications with any surgery, the risks are much lower in a healthy, young dog. Spaying dogs before their first heat is not only easier for us veterinarians, because blood vessels aren’t as developed, but is also better for the dog, as every heat they go through increases their risk of mammary cancer and/or pyometra. Clinics generally base their surgical fees on weight, so getting your female dog spayed before she is fully grown is easier on your wallet too! Contact your vet for more information on when to spay your female dog.
May 2012 Article
Summer Vehicle Safety
This month’s topic was suggested by a reader, thanks Brenda! With summer approaching it’s a good idea to remind people of some simple steps to ensure their pets are safe while in the vehicle. The best method of transporting your pet is inside a carrier or secured with a pet seatbelt. Either of these methods will keep your pet secure, safe and prevent you from getting a distracted driving ticket.
A carrier is also the preferred method for travelling with dogs in the truck bed. As veterinarians, it’s not uncommon for us to see dogs that “never jump out”, come in with injuries due to jumping or falling from the truck bed. While not ideal, preventing your dog from putting their paws up on the truck sides with a short leash clipped to a rope spanning the truck box, could also be used. Dogs secured in the truck bed should also have shade and water available to them. Did you know an unsecured dog in the bed of a truck is a violation of traffic by-laws?
Dogs should also never be left alone in a vehicle. Even with the windows cracked, temperatures can rise extremely quickly inside a vehicle. Cracked windows can also allow children to poke fingers into the car causing a potential liability for you. Because dogs don’t sweat, dealing with extreme heat is difficult and causes them to succumb quickly to heat stroke.
Please remember these tips this summer to keep your pet safe and happy while travelling.
April 2012 Article
It’s Spring, which means as veterinarians, we start to see more cases of parvovirus in unvaccinated puppies and dogs. Parvo is a virus that destroys the cells lining the intestines, causing vomiting and diarrhea, which are often bloody. Parvo may also affect bone marrow, which compromises the immune system. The destruction of the intestinal lining can allow bacteria from the intestines to migrate into the bloodstream causing sepsis. Parvo can be fatal due to sepsis or dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea. Parvovirus is shed in the feces but persists in the environment for many years, so just because your dog doesn’t eat or step in actual poop, it doesn’t mean your dog isn’t getting exposed to the virus.
Because the virus persists for so long in the environment, it’s important to bring him to the vet as soon as possible so we can support him/her through the infection. There is no treatment for the virus itself, however, we treat the dehydration with IV fluids and prevent sepsis with antibiotics. Even with treatment, some puppies will still die, survival is 70% with aggressive (and often costly) therapy. Although parvo is a devastating disease, it is easily preventable with routine vaccinations. Puppies should be vaccinated three times, one month apart and then have regular boosters. The vaccine is extremely effective at preventing disease if proper vaccination protocol is followed. Contact your veterinarian if you are concerned your dog may have parvo.
February 2012 Article
Congratulations! You’ve decided to get a new pet. Have you decided on a cat, dog or ferret? All of these pets have one thing in common, they all require yearly vaccines. Keeping your pet up to date on vaccines is an important part of preventing potentially life-threatening infections. Distemper, parvovirus, rabies and herpes virus are components of the core vaccines administered by veterinarians. In order for these vaccines to be effective they must be administered according to a specific schedule, which your veterinarian can inform you about.
Veterinarians are often questioned about the necessity of booster vaccines. Boosters ensure adequate immune response to vaccines. In young pets boosters are especially important because the immunity they receive from their mother’s milk can persist and render useless any vaccine until 10 – 12 weeks of age. Because we cannot predict how effective or ineffective the kitten, puppy or kit’s maternal immunity is, it is important to follow the vaccine schedule recommended by your veterinarian to ensure lasting immunity from vaccines.
Another common question is whether vaccines are really necessary, especially for indoor pets. There are two reasons for keeping indoor pets up to date on vaccines, personal liability and your pet’s health.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has federal regulations regarding rabies control. Although rabies is rare in this area any animal could become suspect of having the disease and subject to these regulations. Should your pet nip or scratch a person and break the skin, they may be considered “suspect of having rabies” and the government has the power to enforce 10 days of quarantine. If your pet is under quarantine and displays “abnormal behavior”, it may be euthanized because unfortunately, the only reliable rabies test is to submit the brain for testing. Although this is not a common occurrence, having ones pet quarantined and potentially euthanized is obviously something we all want to avoid. As veterinarians we also get panicked phone calls from owners who have had their indoor-only pet slip out the door, or had a bat or wild animal find its way into their home and then are worried about the potential for rabies exposure. Vaccinating your pet against rabies is not only good for their health but is good for your own peace of mind.
Indoor pets can be exposed to diseases through fomites. Fomites are any object that can carry an infective particle, these include your shoes. Diseases such are parvo, distemper and coccidiosis (an intestinal parasite) can all be transmitted to your pet through contaminated soil that you bring in on your shoes. We have seen cases of apartment or condo pets with serious diseases such as feline distemper, which are easily preventable with a yearly vaccine.
Ferrets are probably the most common pet we see that do not receive vaccines regularly. According to government guidelines ferrets should be kept up to date on rabies vaccines. There are ferret-specific vaccines available for distemper and rabies and these vaccines should be given annually to ensure adequate protection for your ferret.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding the vaccination of your pets please contact your local veterinarian or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) www.inspection.gc.ca).