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Lessons for Heartworm Awareness Month

Pug

April is National Heartworm Awareness Month, so I wanted to give everyone both a refresher and an update on this disease. Heartworms are transmitted via mosquito bites, meaning it is not transmissible directly from pet to pet. The tiny larvae are injected into the bloodstream, where they mature into fully grown adults. They live in the heart and large blood vessels. The mature worms produce larvae, which go back into circulation and can be picked up by mosquitoes, ready to transmit to another host, thus repeating a vicious cycle.

While dogs make for ideal hosts, cats can also be infected. However, canines experience the most severe form of the disease. If you are unsure whether your cat should be on heartworm prevention, speak with your veterinarian.

As you can imagine, foreign bodies the size of spaghetti strands can do a lot of damage in the heart. As the parasites disrupt normal heart and lung function, pets display signs of heart disease such as cough, low energy and coffee-colored urine. Treatment involves either surgery to physically remove the worms or injections of a drug called immiticide. Once a heartworm dies it can cause an embolus (a blockage) as it travels through the bloodstream, so patients are under strict cage rest to minimize treatment risks.

Bottom line, heartworm disease is a terrible thing and no one wants their companion animal to experience it. 

Here’s the good news … it’s completely preventable. Once the mosquito injects the larva into the bloodstream, it takes six months for them to mature into adult heartworms. During that time the larvae are susceptible to a variety of medications. Heartworm prevention is available in a number of forms: pills, injections and topicals. They are all prescription medications, so your veterinarian can advise you as to which choice is best for your dog or cat.

Buddies

If you have a dog or a cat, here are five important things you need to know about heartworm disease.

1. While heartworm disease is indeed more prevalent in the Atlantic and Gulf states, it has been diagnosed in all 50 states! Even if you live in a state with low incidences of the disease, all states have microclimates where heartworm flourishes. The American Heartworm Society tracks diagnosis information and publishes an incident map every three years. To see how many cases have been reported in your area, visit https://www.heartwormsociety.org/veterinary-resources/incidence-maps.

2. Dogs travel more than ever before. 2005 was a turning point in prevalence of the disease. Why? After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf states, humane organizations rallied together to relocate homeless animals across the nation. Some of those dogs carried heartworm disease. Suddenly veterinarians who had never seen heartworm disease in their careers were diagnosing it for the first time.

3. All-natural remedies simply don’t work. I think by now you all know by know how much I value honesty and transparency. If you want to treat your pet for fleas with natural remedies, I will let you know that they simply don’t work as well as the medications I recommend, but I’m not going to fight you on it. Fleas don’t kill dogs and cats, though. Heartworm does. It is simply too devastating a disease to trust anything but the prescription medications that we know work. Anyone who claims otherwise is, in my opinion, displaying their ignorance and spreading poor advice.

4. Pets need monthly prevention to be adequately protected. A very common question is, "why do I need to give my pet monthly heartworm prevention pills if it takes six months for a larva to turn into an adult heartworm?" As the larva develops into an adult, it transitions through several phases. Not all of those phases are susceptible to our heartworm preventives. If we only dose heartworm prevention intermittently, there’s a chance we will miss our window for catching the larva at the susceptible stage.

5. Pets should be tested yearly. Yes, even pets on regular heartworm preventive. Why? Because sometimes things happen. You are late with a dose. The dog spits out the pill when you aren’t looking. Once your pet has adult heartworms, those preventives aren’t going to work. Will it harm your pet to give preventives with active heartworm disease? No, but it’s not going to cure it either.

Here’s the bottom line: we give you very conservative, comprehensive protocols for heartworm prevention because treating adult heartworm disease is so hard on pets. Some do not survive. Having a patient die during heartworm treatment is one of my more devastating memories. Trust me, better to be safe than sorry.

It’s impossible to give a comprehensive overview of heartworm disease in this short blog post, but that covers the basics. You might have questions about things you have heard about such as heartworm that is resistant to the normal medications, or about different protocols for treating heartworm disease. If you do, congratulations for being such an informed pet parent! Your veterinarian, as always, is the best source of information for you.

Enjoy your summer and maintain that prevention regimen!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

The Amazing Reason Why Cats Purr

Whisker-Kitty

Most people believe cats purr when they are content or happy, end of story. While cats do purr when they are content, researchers attempting to uncover the answer to this 3,000-year-old mystery are finding the answer more complicated – and fascinating - than an expression of happiness.

All domestic cats purr, as do many wild cats, and purring occurs in a variety of situations. When cats purr in the presence of other unknown cats or kittens, the behavior may serve as a friendly greeting or to convey submissiveness. While it’s true that cats purr contentedly while on their pet parent’s lap, they also purr when they give birth, when they are frightened or even injured. Because kitties clearly cannot be content in all these situations, contentment or friendliness cannot be the only reason they purr.

So why else would they purr?

Natural selection tells us that a particular behavior or trait will persist through multiple generations only if it aids survival. For purring to exist in both domestic and wild cats, there must be something vital about the behavior. Purring is created by the vibration of the cat’s larynx and diaphragm, and therefore requires an expense of energy. If a kitty is sick, surely they wouldn’t burn calories unless it resulted in some sort of benefit, right?

Striking-Kitty-Face

We're all familiar with the expression “cats have nine lives”. Similarly, veterinarians have an old saying that if you put a cat who has broken bones in a room with other cats, the breaks will heal. In fact, cats are amazing self-healers: they have fewer post-operative complications than dogs, have a lower incidence of bone and joint disease than dogs, and 90% of cats survive high-rise falls! What could account for this remarkable set of facts, and is it related to purring?

In fact, there’s striking evidence that purring has healing properties. Researchers have found that vibrations in the frequency range between 25-50 hertz promote bone strength, stimulate healing of fractures, provide pain relief and help heal tendons and muscles. Bioacoustic researchers studied the purring of dozens of both domestic and wild cats, paying particular attention to frequency, pitch, loudness and duration of purring in relation to the cat’s behavior. Guess what they found? The purring is in the range of 25-50 Hz, the exact range associated with healing properties such as increased bone density!

Maybe this has something to do with a cat’s uncanny ability to heal. And just maybe purring is part of the reason why, when we fall ill, having a cat sit on our laps can actually make us feel better! Whether it is simply the comfort of having a friend nearby, or the vibrational frequencies of your kitty’s rumble, the joy of a cat purring on your lap is priceless.

References:

Rubin C, McLeod K. Promotion of bony in growth by frequency specific, low amplitude mechanical strains. Clinical Orthopedics and Related Research, 289, 165-174, 1994.

Elizabeth von Muggenthaler The felid purr: A healing mechanism? Proceedings from the 12th International Conference on Low Frequency Noise and Vibration and its Control. Bristol, UK, September 18-20, 2006.

Chen et al, The Effects of Frequency of Mechanical Vibration on Experimental Fracture Healing. Chinese Journal of Surgery, 32 (4), 217-219, 1994.

Leduc A, Lievens P, Dewald J. The influence of multidirectional vibrations on wound healing and on regeneration of blood and lymph vessels. Lymphology, 14(4), 179-85, 1981.

Rothschild BM, Rothschild C, Woods RJ. Inflammatory arthritis in large cats: an expanded spectrum of spondyloarthropathy. J Zoo Wildl Med. 1998 Sep;29(3):279-84.

Garman R, Gaudette G, Donahue LR, Rubin C, Judex S. Low-level accelerations applied in the absence of weight bearing can enhance trabecular bone formation. J of Orthop Res. 2007 Jun;25(6):732-40.

Lundeberg TC. Vibratory stimulation for the alleviation of chronic pain. Acta Physiol Scand Suppl. 1983;523:1-51.

Back to School Tips for Pet Parents

It's that time of year again. Parents across America are sending their kids back to school. For those who are also pet parents, there's an added dimension to this big routine change ... concerns about how the family's companion animals are dealing. 

Fortunately, we have some helpful tips, food for thought and some of the telltale signs of troubled behavior to watch out for, all to help guide anyone who's concerned about how to handle the transition.

To view the full-size PDF, simply click on the image below. And be sure to share this post with your friends and family!

PDF Document
PDF Document

Futuristic Pet Technologies & Gadgets

smart-dog

Fans of Doctor Who and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy know of the amazing convenience offered by the T.A.R.D.I.S. and Babel fish, both of which offer real-time translation of any form of communication, from humans to animals to aliens. A device allowing for instantaneous translation has long fired the imagination of many.

The language barriers have been breaking down since the launch of the internet’s first translation website (interestingly enough, called babelfish). We haven’t gotten to the point Douglas Adams envisioned just yet, but technology inches us ever nearer this holy grail of communication.

These days, all you need is your phone to get around the world. For example, Google’s Translate app allows you to translate road signs and blocks of text with nothing more than your camera phone!

While such advances are remarkable, we’ve only gotten as far as other humans. Cat meows, dog barks, bird chirps, and whale songs are just as much of a mystery to us as they have ever been … but that may soon change. According to a report commissioned by Amazon*, pet translators could be on the market within the next decade. What would that even look like?

The obvious problem with the concept is that dogs and cats don’t rely on verbal communication the way we do. Cats don’t even meow to other cats, just to people. A collar that claims to translate vocalizations therefore isn’t going to give us a whole lot of useful information. Therefore, one would ideally require some sort of technology that would evaluate body language, which is integral to the way that so many pets communicate.

lap-dog-ball

For the past decade, wearable tech has struggled to come up with a device that pet parents actually find useful. Smart implements claiming to translate barks fell by the wayside quickly, due to impractical tech. GPS trackers fared a bit better, but most people find they don’t lose track of their dogs and cats often enough to need them. But the final path to progress, at least based on how the technology has evolved recently, seems to be in devices that capture and interpret a pet’s movement.

Fitbit-like devices that simply tell you how much exercise a pet is getting aren’t that popular. Rather than responding to the tracker’s complaints by upping daily walks with the dogs, most people simply put the trackers in the drawer to avoid the guilt. But rather than focus on the amount of movement, pet trackers are now trying to determine patterns of motion. The newest trackers claim to recognize not only the length of physical activity but the type. Consequently, they’re able to differentiate between an itchy dog scratching all night from an anxious dog pacing around the house. Even better, these trackers could even help pet parents determine if that new allergy drug is helping, or if a dog on arthritis medication is feeling any better. Actions speak louder than words, right?

At the end of the day, as researcher John Bradshaw points out**, technology shouldn’t replace pet parents simply doing a better job of understanding the needs of their dog. A person who lives in a small apartment and works 12 hours a day may run into problems if they adopt a Weimaraner puppy. Knowing that your dog spends the first 15 minutes after you leave the house running at warp speed or tearing up the cushions is useless unless you realize this likely indicates separation anxiety, which can’t be resolved without some sort of behavioral intervention. The true benefit of these technologies is in getting a better handle on what is going on when we aren’t present.

canine-buddies

If you’re an early adopter of pet tech, you’ve probably accumulated all sorts of gizmos. Dog cameras that spit out treats with the push of a phone’s button. Remote tennis ball launchers. Specialized collars that can track a dog’s respiratory rate throughout the day. One of the more popular pieces of pet tech is the Nest camera. Many a canine and feline mystery has been solved thanks to the watchful eye of hi-def video monitoring.

The path to technological advancement is by necessity littered with castoff items that fail to meet their potential, but that’s the nature of innovation. For all the times we try out a new gadget and never use it again, there are occasionally bursts of technical genius that truly makes life better for us and our companion animals.

So, what do you think Life’s Abundance reader? Are you itching to try out mind-bending future tech to communicate with you companion animal? Or are you content with your own tried-and-true methods when it comes to canine interactions? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Online References:
* gadgetsandwearables.com/2017/07/21/amazon-shop-the-future
** theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/21/dogs-talk-tell-home-truths-technology-pets-feeling

The Real Reasons Why People Prefer Cats

majestic-white-kitty

On August 8th, we celebrate International Cat Day. To mark the occasion, Dr. V takes a look at why millions of pet parents are more inclined towards cats than dogs. Enjoy! 

Ask any pet lover if they consider themselves Team Cat or Team Dog, and you’re probably going to get some strong opinions. Although the number of U.S. households with dogs exceeds those with cats, felines win in measures of overall numbers. According to the latest survey, about 94 million felines live in the U.S. right now. Clearly, plenty of people play for Team Cat. 

After a long dark era where cat lovers were given a hard time (crazy cat lady stereotypes, anyone?), I’m pleased to see the merits of living with cats far outweighing any negative remarks. In fact, we seem to be enjoying a great renaissance of cat appreciation! Even in the virtual world, cats rule the internet thanks to endless YouTube videos. They're beautiful, mysterious creatures who share a deep and abiding connection with us mere humans. What’s not to love? 

kittens

If you spend enough time talking to people who consider themselves cat people, a few common themes emerge. Let’s take a look at some of the top reasons people find themselves gravitating towards Team Cat … 

  1. Ease of Care. When you bring home a puppy, you wind up with a 10-page list of requirements covering training, harnesses, toys and socialization. Cat parents view such lists with mild amusement. By comparison, cats are pretty low-maintenance. Once you cover the basic necessities such as food, water and a litter box, the rest is just bonus points! 
  1. Independence. Cats are naturally independent, unlike dogs who long to be part of a pack. Of course, certain cats are more social than others, but overall they aren’t as stressed by alone time as your average dog. To many people, this laid-back relationship can be very appealing! Like the cool kid in school who's a bit aloof, you almost love them just a little bit more.
  1. Big Personalities. Interestingly enough, both dog lovers and cat lovers mention personality as one of the reasons they chose one over the other. Clearly, they’re both right. It’s all about who meshes best with the family!

On a purely personal note, certain types of people tend to gravitate towards feline companionship. Folks who describe themselves as introverted, laid-back, shy, refined and independent seem to be naturally inclined toward the feline temperament. There are some who also claim intelligence as a trait of cat people, but as a dog person myself I’m not going to touch that one!

napping-in-bed

As for the notion that it’s mostly women who love cats, nothing could be further from the truth! Cat dudes are loud and proud with their love of all things feline. A few feline fans who just so happen to be famous guys include Christopher Walken, Macklemore, James Franco, Gilles Marini, Russell Brand and Tom Hardy!

Of course, there are many among us who simply can't pick one over the other. In fact, more than half of cat households are also dog households. My son and I are Team Dog while my husband and daughter are Team Cat. We're fortunate enough to have one of each, and we all love them both equally! While it’s fun to play up the differences between dog people and cat people, we’re all animal lovers, and that’s what matters the most.

So, how about you? Are you a charter member of Team Cat? Share your reasons why in the comments section below.

All my best to you and your lovable companions!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Infographic: 5 Ways Cats Improve Your Life

If you're lucky enough to share your life with a cat, you'll know that regardless of personality, felines make life better. Whether they're low-key couch potatoes or frenetic, live-out-loud adventurers, it really doesn't matter. Each kitty finds a way to bring happiness and companionship. But that's not all! They add a fullness of experience to life, in five amazing ways which we've outlined in the following infographic!

To view the full-size PDF, simply click on the image below. And be sure to share this post with your cat-loving friends and family ... or better yet, those who still need convincing!

PDF Document
PDF Document

Help Pets Stay Chill This Summer

smart-puppy-on-beach

As summer approaches, we’re going through our closets pulling out our t-shirts and shorts in preparation for fun in the sun. But what about our four-legged friends stuck in a permanent fur coat? Are they as affected by the midday heat as we are? (Spoiler alert: yes.) And is there anything we can do about it? (Also, yes.) Here’s the good news: beating the heat is as easy as ABC!

A. Always Plan Ahead

Remember, our companion animals are at our mercy when it comes to being out in the sun. While we can choose whether or not to take a midday hike or sit out in the backyard for hours, they have to go along with the decisions we make, even if it is uncomfortable or potentially dangerous for them. Heat stroke illnesses and deaths spike in the summer, stemming from three main categories:

Prolonged exercise in full heat is dangerous. People who take their pet out to walk or run during the hottest time of the day and don’t realize their pet is overheating. Limit your exercise times to morning and evening during hot months.

Leaving pets in cars. It’s a myth that cracking the windows makes the car cooler ... it doesn’t! Another common misconception is that the outside temperature needs to be high for pets to suffer. On a sunny 70 degree day, the interior can reach 90 degrees in 30 minutes. In 85 degree weather, the temperature can reach 120 in the same period of time! If you can’t bring your dog or cat inside with you on your errands, let them stay home. It simply isn’t worth the risk.

Too much activity and not enough water. I’ve seen pets get heat stroke just from playing in the yard on a warm afternoon. If you’re planning on staying outside with your dog, make sure he or she has plenty of water to drink, a shady place to retreat to, and maybe even a sprinkler or wading pool to cool down in.

orange-tabby-close-up

B. Beware the Signs of Heat Stroke

Heat stroke symptoms can begin once the body temperature exceeds 103 degrees F. While most of us don’t carry a pet thermometer around, watch for these specific warning signs:

  • heavy panting
  • excessive drooling leading to very dry mouth
  • extra-red tongue or gums
  • weakness or collapse

Brachycephalic breeds like bulldogs and pugs are especially prone to overheating, as are dark-haired breeds. Dogs and cats can and do die every summer from heat exposure, so if you suspect your companion animal is suffering heat exhaustion or heat stroke, go to the veterinary ER as soon as possible! 

C. Clipping: What About a Summer ‘Do?

Many people like to give their dog or cat a summer clip to help stay cool. If this is something you are considering, talk to your groomer to ensure it’s appropriate for your pet’s breed. Dogs whose fur grows continuously - such as poodles and Lhasas - do well with clips, while double-coated breeds such as Akitas and Chows do not. In some cases, a pet’s coat may actually help keep him or her cool, rendering a clip counterproductive. If you do opt for a trim, make sure there is at least one inch of fur remaining so your beloved pup or kitty doesn’t get a sunburn.

Although heat-related illnesses are scary and serious, the great news is that they are also entirely preventable. With just a little foresight and planning, our furry friends can enjoy the summer just as much as we do! Now get out there and soak up the rays!

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

Tips for Calming Stressed Cats

beautiful-whiskery-kitty

It’s a common belief that cats are highly susceptible to stress. How many memes have you seen referencing “neurotic kitty”? But the truth is, a cat’s normal state shouldn’t be stressed, she should be happy and relaxed! If our kitties are constantly showing signs of stress and anxiety, we owe it to them to identify solutions to help them feel better.

So how do you know if your cat is stressed versus just being naturally feisty? Well, the signs are subtle. Oftentimes, it’s a subtle change in behavior that doesn’t even seem to be related to anxiety. Some of the more common changes include …

  • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box
  • Isolating themselves from others in the household
  • Excessive grooming
  • Prolonged periods of sleep
  • Excessive vocalization beyond what is typical (remember, some kitties are naturally more talkative than others)
  • Increased scratching
  • Aggression

Over time, stress hormones can contribute to physical symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, changes in appetite or even the painful condition known as Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). Be aware that these signs are symptomatic of other medical conditions, so don’t be too quick to assume you’re dealing with feline anxiety before discussing the symptoms with your veterinarian. One of the best ways to minimize the likelihood of chronic medical conditions is to feed your cat a high quality, appropriate diet. Since you’re reading the Life’s Abundance blog, I’m probably preaching to the choir on that topic!

peeking-kitty

Let’s say your cat is exhibiting one or more of these signs of anxiety. You’ve brought her in for a check-up and medically, everything checks out. What next?

First, try to pinpoint the source of the stress and eliminate it, if possible. We tend to view these issues through our human lens, so it’s important to remember that unexpected things can be at the root of your cat’s stress. Some of the more obvious reasons include changes in living conditions – from divorce, moves, a new companion animal in the house, or new babies – to the most obvious physical cause, which is pain. But little changes can also provoke anxiety: new furniture, a neighbor’s dog barking, a dirty litter box, being denied access to their favorite location, a neighborhood tomcat taunting them from the yard, even music they don’t like! As you can see, it’s a long list.

Environmental modifications can make a big difference. For indoor cats, boredom can be a near-constant stressor, so provide lots of vertical space for exploration (they love being elevated). Home-built or store-bought cat trees are a great solution. Puzzle feeders can be a good source of environmental enrichment, as they appeal to their hunting instinct. Pheromone diffusers or sprays can also have a calming effect for some.

blue-eyed-kitty

And lastly, make sure your kitty is getting daily interaction and enrichment with you. It’ll build their confidence and form deeper connections with their caregivers. Believe it or not, many behaviorists recommend clicker training as a great way to bond with your cat. This gives her a sense of control over her environment and also offers the promise of a yummy incentive like Gourmet Cat Treats for Healthy Skin & Coat. Cats can learn amazing tricks with clicker training and treats, but it’s also a great way to reward good behavior generally.

Try to set aside some one-on-one time for your cat in the space where she is most relaxed. Optimally, this is something you’ll do every day at the same time, because cats are true creatures of habit. No distractions, which means leave your phone in another room and turn off the TV. Brush, pet, sing … do whatever pleases your cat the most. It’ll be good for both of you!

A happy cat means a happy you! If you think your cat is suffering from stress or anxiety, try some of these suggestions to help them live the “purr-fect” life.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals,

Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

Foundation Award to Elinore's Dream

Cradling a cat

It gives us immense pleasure to bring you more good news from The Dr. Jane Foundation! Here, we sing the praises of one of our 2016 recipients, Florida-based Elinore’s Dream, Inc. Headquartered in Ft. Pierce, this dedicated animal-welfare group has made significant inroads towards ending the cycle of feline overpopulation in their local South Florida area. More...