All posts tagged 'veterinary care'

Make Vet Visits Less Stressful

car-trip

Does your dog experience mild-to-severe apprehension when it comes time for a veterinary check-up? If so, you’re definitely not alone. My own dogs, Oliver and Zelda, are well-adjusted happy campers. But when it’s time to go to the vet’s office, they both start to freak out before we’re barely out of the door.

Until something dawned on me. I had been going about vet visits all the wrong way. Even though I had incorporated all the tricks I’ve learned over the years – travel to places other than the vet, trips to the vet where we just visited with the techs and no exam was given, taking a pocket full of Tasty Rewards or Turkey & Berry Chewies – and though there was marginal improvement, the fear factor continued to be all too real for my puppers.

My realization? Dogs are fundamentally pack animals. I know, I know, everybody knows this. But how might I apply that to vet visits? What if, I thought, instead of one person taking one dog to the vet, we made it a family outing? And so it was settled. Both my wife and I decided we’d BOTH make the time to take BOTH of our dogs, even though Zelda (the younger) was the one with the appointment.

And the most amazing thing happened. There was no jittering or shaking. There was no rapid panting, just the regular riding-in-the-car excitement. We were traveling as a pack. I truly think dogs feel like they can handle anything as a complete pack.

Traveling-to-vet
Zelda accompanied by her big little brother/therapy dog Oliver

We arrived 15 minutes early at the vet’s office, and we walked all around the building, taking our time. I think not being in a rush helped too. We entered the office as a united front, and low-and-behold both dogs were fine!

When it was time to go into the patient room, we all went in and hung out on the floor. The vet tech came in and asked us about Zelda’s history as she fed both doggos some of the treats I had brought. We asked that any tests be done while we were together, which they were happy to do. Of course, it helps to have a great veterinary staff, which we’re fortunate enough to have found. When Zelda was getting her exam, we were all nearby and talking calmly and cheerily. And for the first time in nearly four years, she barely even noticed when she got her vaccines or had blood withdrawn. We were all honestly amazed at the difference!

We hope you’ll try this "power of the pack" strategy to make your next vet visits less stressful … maybe even enjoyable! And feel free to submit your own ideas in the comments section below.

For those interested in learning more about the effects of pet stress, be sure to check out Dr. Jane’s insightful post on pet anxiety.

Dave Mattox
Content Editor

The Future of Veterinary Medicine

orange-tabby-outdoors

Our lives have been immeasurably changed since the dawn of the computer age. It’s hard to overstate the impact of technology on the future of medicine: it’s changed virtually everything. Much of it is already working its way into your veterinary office. So, what does the veterinary clinic of the future look like? Here are my predictions:

1. You’ll Be Taking Advantage of Telemedicine Options

Fifteen years ago, if your vet wanted a radiologist’s opinion on an x-ray, she would have to pack the film into an envelope and send it off. Nowadays, with digital x-rays, an expert opinion is just a click away.

Right now, telemedicine is mostly used as a means for one veterinarian to consult with another one. Having a remote veterinarian examine and diagnose your pet without seeing him or her in person is currently against the law in most states. Expect veterinary medicine to follow the trends in human medicine; I can talk to a doctor I’ve never met before over the phone about my child’s ear infection and get a prescription, so it’s only a matter of time before consumer demand will make veterinary telemedicine more accessible. It won’t happen until state regulatory boards make it legal, though, so don’t expect this to happen anytime soon.

The intermediate step you will probably notice first is either remote consultations with a veterinarian you already have a relationship, or a third-party triage service that can provide general advice without providing a diagnosis or treatment recommendation. Both of those options are legal under today’s laws. Once that becomes the norm, the rest will follow suit pretty quickly.

2. Health Monitoring Technology Will Grow

Each night, my husband and my son sit down to compare notes from the little fitness trackers they wear on their wrists and see who got the most steps in for the day. In the morning, my husband can tell me exactly when he was in REM sleep and how often he woke up. These devices even sync with our scales. The amount of data is almost overwhelming!

Over the past five years, multiple fitness trackers for dogs have come and gone. Most are still too large to fit on a cat’s collar due to the limitations of the battery size, but we’ll get there soon. Some of them just track steps for the day, but the latest versions can look at data such as breathing rate and whether or not a dog is scratching excessively. That’s good data to have if you are concerned your pet is in pain or wondering if those new allergy meds are helping!

In veterinary medicine, these fitness trackers are just the start. For those who live with diabetic cats, a litter box is in the works that can track glucose in the urine, a vital marker for diabetes. Imagine if that same litter box also could tell you when your cat loses a pound, which is a substantial health concern but often subtle enough that owners don’t notice right away. Expect these technologies to help us catch disease processes sooner rather than later, which will undoubtedly save lives!

chocolate-lab

3. We’ll Be Using DNA Analysis to Predict Health

Ever swabbed your cheek and sent it off for a DNA analysis to learn about your ancestors? That’s only the beginning. Genetic testing to see what dog breeds make up your dog’s DNA has already expanded into an enormous database that helps improve our understanding of canine disease. Mapping of the dog genome already allows us to pick up early markers for many genetic diseases such as the MDR1 gene, degenerative myelopathy and Von Willebrand’s disease. Our ability to anticipate these disease processes before they develop will allow us to provide much more meaningful care and prevention.

Having such specific health information about individual companion animals will allow us to make completely individualized treatment plans!

4. We’ll Be Using Bioengineered Solutions to Treat Disease

Stem cells are a huge buzzword these days … but do the results really backup the hype? According to many veterinarians who use them to treat dogs, cats and horses, the answer is “yes!”

Stem cells are unique in that they can differentiate into different cell types, which makes them particularly useful in orthopedic disease where regeneration is a challenge. Stem cells can be harvested from a dog or cat’s own adipose tissue, grown at the lab, and returned to the veterinarian to be introduced to the site of an injury. A 2008 study in Veterinary Therapeutics showed a significant improvement using stem cells in dogs with elbow injuries, a notoriously difficult joint to treat.

Another area of research that makes this vet excited is immunotherapy: a cancer treatment that helps the pet’s own immune system recognize cancer cells as abnormal. Scientists are currently investigating the ability to create immunotherapy treatments for tricky cancers such as mast cell tumors, melanoma and osteosarcoma. Imagine a future where an injectable vaccine reduces the need for more invasive treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation!

Technology is both a blessing and a burden. I admit I sometimes long for the days when I wasn’t accessible 24 hours a day, and have to chase my kids outdoors and off their mobile devices. That being said, I am also so very excited to see how these amazing new developments will improve life for both pets and people!

Are pet health monitoring devices something would consider using? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Dental Care 101

Does your fur kid have dental disease? If your dog or cat is over the age of two, then the answer is “highly likely”.

It’s February, which means it’s also National Pet Dental Health Month! If you’re wondering why the awareness campaign lasts for a whole month, it’s because periodontal disease is the most commonly diagnosed disease in dogs and cats. Veterinary dentists will tell you, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of two have some form of periodontal disease.

That number may seem awfully high, but unfortunately it’s also accurate. Plaque and tartar accumulate on our pet’s teeth just like it does on our own, but the vast majority of pet parents don’t brush their companion animal’s teeth twice a day. Or even once a day. (It’s OK to admit it, you’re in good company). By their second birthday, your fur kid is basically fully grown. And far too many of these adults have never had their teeth brushed.

“But his teeth look fine!” you might protest. That very well may be true. However, plaque (the gummy film that forms on a pet’s teeth within hours of eating) isn’t obvious to the naked eye. Over the course of several days it combines with minerals to harden into tartar. Over weeks and months, this tartar builds into a thick brown stain. Often referred to as “yuck mouth”, there are less familiar technical terms for it (such as Stage IV periodontal disease, the worst level). With routine care and attention, you should be able to prevent them from ever experiencing that stage.

Evaluating a pet kid’s teeth and gums begins with a visual inspection. I call it “flip the lip” because you really need to lift that lip up to view the back molars, which is where the really bad buildup occurs. During the visual exam, we check for tartar, any anomalies (like extra or missing teeth), and for gum inflammation. We also check for any unusual masses. Two of my dogs have had oral melanomas, both discovered during routine exams.

Even if you regularly brush their teeth, they will eventually need a full cleaning at the veterinarian. This dental cleaning will often include x-rays of the mouth, a vital component of an oral exam. Bone loss, where the root is diseased below the gum line is more common than many realize.

Cats suffer a unique condition that makes x-rays even more crucial. Three quarters of cats over the age of five suffer from tooth resorption, a painful condition where the body reabsorbs the protective dentin covering on a tooth, leaving the root exposed. The cause is unknown, and it can affect just one or many teeth. The worst part is, the entire lesion may be below the gum line, resulting a normal-looking crown but with a terribly painful root. The only treatment at that point is extraction of the affected tooth. As stoic as felines are, even the most observant pet parents won’t see any evidence of this problem. Scary, right?

The concept of “anesthesia-free dentistry” has become very popular over the years, but I would caution you to know its limitations. We anesthetize our fur kids because that is the only way we can be thorough in our examination, clean underneath the gum line where much of the bacteria and plaque reside, and extract teeth if necessary. I have seen many dogs and cats at my clinic just weeks after an anesthesia-free cleaning who are still suffering from significant dental disease. If you do use this option, just know that while it may remove tartar and plaque from the visible surface of the tooth, it does not provide the health benefits that a full cleaning under anesthesia would.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, treat your companion animal to the gift of health! Many veterinary clinics offer special deals or packages during the month of February, so if you’ve been putting off that dental cleaning, there’s no time like the present to schedule an appointment. And be sure to check out the Life’s Abundance dental-health products discounted for the month of February in celebration of National Pet Dental Health Month. We’re offering these great products at their reduced Autoship prices (up to 18% off retail!): Gourmet Dental Treats, Porky Puffs and Buffalo Bully Sticks!

By making just a couple of improvements to your care regimen, you could help to add years to your pet kid’s lifetime.

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

A Family Guide to Coping With Pet Loss

As a veterinarian, a person regularly tasked with the sacred duty of helping beloved family members pass over the Rainbow Bridge, you might think that I had lots of training in vet school about how to help people during such a challenging time. To be honest, I didn’t. Almost none, in fact, which is a shame.

Oftentimes, the death of a pet is the first major loss experienced by a person, especially children. We know now that for many people, the pain and grief of losing a pet is as profound as the death of a person, yet people are often expected to carry on the next day as if nothing has happened. Openly discussing grief makes others uncomfortable, mostly because they don’t know what to say.

Because of this, we are often ill-prepared for helping people navigate the complicated maze that is grief. After working in pet hospice for several years, I have a better understanding than ever before about how profound this experience is for people, as well as how often they are pretty much left to figure things out on their own. There is much we can do as a veterinary community to better prepare families for the death of a pet, and also much that pet parents can do as well.

How To Talk to Kids

How many of us grew up with parents who said, “Oh, Fluffy ran away”? For many years this was the accepted way of dealing with a pet’s death: Denial. Not only does this deprive children of the opportunity to mourn, many kids (myself included!) felt a deep sense of betrayal when we got older and realized our parents deceived us. Although it comes from a loving place, it’s always best to be honest with our little ones.

1. Be Direct. Children do not understand euphemisms such as “put to sleep”. Children under five may not understand that death is permanent. It is normal for them to repeatedly ask when their pet is coming back, even after you have told them that a beloved companion animal has died.

2. Be Reassuring. It is natural for death to cause anxiety in children, and they may even experience nightmares. By reassuring them and being there for them, children know that they can trust in their family even during sad times.

3. Allow Them to Be Present. Depending on your own comfort level, of course, I strongly believe that children benefit from being present during the euthanasia process. I find children to be curious, accepting and often a very big comfort to their grieving parents! It is healthy for them to see how peaceful the dying process can be, rather than relying on their active imaginations to fill in scary details.

4. Allow Them To Grieve. There are so many ways children can express themselves during the grieving process: talking, drawing pictures, having a ceremony. In our house we had a Celebration of Life for our dog, complete with a poem my daughter wrote. I know of other families who hold goldfish funerals. It’s good for kids to know that memories and love do not end when the body is gone.

How to Deal With Other Pets

For a long time, I was ambivalent about whether or not other pets in the family needed to be present when a pet passed. After all, most of the times I helped with a euthanasia, it was in the veterinary clinic. All of that changed when I started going to people’s homes and experiencing the death process with the entire family.

Dogs and cats understand death. Perhaps we tell ourselves this based on intuition, but having seen it firsthand I truly believe it. I have seen feisty dogs full of energy calm down and curl up next to their dog brother or sister after they have gone; cats may wander in for just a moment and wander off, but they still take note. Either way, they seem to be able to sense the change that has taken place, some moment imperceptible to us. Just like children are confused when a pet suddenly disappears, there’s no reason to think our fur kids are any different.

How Grief Affects You

Make no mistake, the loss of a pet is a terrible thing. There is no need to minimize that sadness or try to push it aside; deep sadness reflects the depth of your love. You need to allow yourself the time to mourn the loss of your friend, the loss of what they brought to your family, and the time in your life that they signified.

1. Be Gentle With Yourself. If you find yourself surrounded by people who say unhelpful things like, “It was only a dog! You can get another one,” or some other inconsiderate things, find new people to talk to! Many areas offer pet loss support groups; if those are not available, you can talk to one of many pet loss support hotlines or even jump on the daily internet Pet Loss Support Chats run by the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement.

2. Know That There is No Timeline. Some people grieve for months or even years. Don’t let anyone tell you it is “time” to get over your loss.

3. Read Up On Pet Loss. One of my favorite pet loss resources for pet parents is The Loss of a Pet by Wallace Sife. This excellent book details the process of grief, specifically with pets, and also helps readers identify when grief is such that a professional counselor might be helpful.

4. Be a Good Friend. When a friend says goodbye to a beloved pet, remember how it felt for you and offer a kind word, a good memory and a big hug. Even if they say, “I’m OK!” it is often because this is what everyone expects them to say, and a compassionate ear can mean so very much.

It may sound strange to say this, but memorializing a loved one can be a truly life affirming moment. It teaches children (and ourselves!) that what is gone is not forgotten, that death is sad but it doesn’t have to be scary, and that we can get through anything when we support each other. The lessons we learn by saying goodbye to our fur kids carries over to other losses in our life, and helps us process grief in a healthy way so that we can move to a place where we are able to remember our loved ones with peace and joy.

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Six Steps to Fear-Free Vet Visits

For some pet kids, trips to the veterinary clinic can be quite traumatic. Some dogs and cats even seem to have a sixth sense, trembling in fear when an appointment approaches.

Fortunately, we have an inside voice to give us tips for calming vet-visit fears … our very own Staff Veterinarian! If your companion animal experiences mild-to-severe apprehension when it comes time for a check-up, you will not want to miss this episode of Pet Talk! In this video, Dr. Sarah reveals six measures anyone can take to ensure fear-freeTM visits to the veterinarian.

Thank you so much for watching and check back next month for a new episode of Pet Talk with Dr. Sarah. And be sure to submit your comments below.