All posts by dr. vogelsang

Which Holiday Character is Your Pet?

Yorkshire-Holiday

No matter how old I get, I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow my inner child when it comes to excitement over the holiday season. The characters in this play of life may vary, yet one thing remains the same: as soon as Thanksgiving dinner is done, my holiday season begins.

My pets may not know what Christmas is, but they do know something is happening: the furniture moves around, someone’s always cooking and they get to spend their nights curled in front of a fire (well, as many as our warm SoCal evenings allow). Most of our December evenings are spent watching some sort of holiday movie or show. After so many years, I know all the beloved casts of characters by heart.

Part of the fun of revisiting these classics is imagining which roles my companion animals most closely resemble. Like people, our dogs and cats each have their own distinct likes, dislikes and personality quirks. Does your dog or cat remind you of any of the following pop-culture favorites?

The Grinch

Does your dog skulk around the house with a Grinch-like frown? Does your cat steal random ornaments and hide them away in the fireplace? Could be because the holidays can be stressful for many companion animals who are disturbed by the extra activity, changes in routine and houseguests. If your pet becomes Grinchy every December, make sure to provide them their own sanctuary. Just as the Grinch needed a cave on Mount Crumpit, sometimes they just need a temporary escape from all the noise, noise, noise, noise!

Kitty-Christmas-Tree

The Bumble

In Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the angry, roaring Bumble is reduced to a big old softie after Hermie the dentist removes his teeth. Dental disease is a big problem for both dogs and cats. Often going untreated, the result is many cranky mini-Bumbles wandering around with sore mouths. Want to give your pet a truly meaningful holiday gift? Make sure their mouths are healthy and disease-free. I am astounded at the turnaround many make once their dental disease is addressed and the source of constant pain resolved.

Heat Miser

Who can forget the Miser Brothers angrily hurling snowflakes and lightning bolts at each other in The Year Without a Santa Claus? While cold winter air can be refreshing, seniors (especially those with arthritis) might find winter less than comfortable on ailing joints. If your dog or cat seems to slow down when the temperature drops, shows difficulty negotiating the stairs, or seeks out the warmest spots in the house, make like the Heat Miser and crank up the heat. Cozy orthopedic beds, keeping the house at a comfortable temperature when they’re home alone and providing joint support can help seniors stay comfy even when the weather is frightening. Of course, make sure any new symptoms are brought to your veterinarian’s attention.

Naughty-Nice

Garfield

All Garfield wants for Christmas is plate after plate of lasagna. As a vet, I can tell you he’s not the only one with an ambitious appetite. The holidays are one of the busiest times of year for emergency clinics who witness firsthand the aftermath of counter-surfing Collies and trash-diving Torties. Pancreatitis, foreign bodies and the ever-present carpet-ruining “GI disturbances” are just some of the unfortunate consequences of four-footers gobbling holiday goodies. If your dog or cat has a reputation for sneaking a snack or seven, try not to leave them unguarded. Also, give them some healthy treats instead. Life’s Abundance offers a host of wonderful options that make for perfect stocking stuffers for dogs and for cats!

Peanuts

I’ve saved my favorite special for last. In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown frets about the consumerism of the holidays. He takes in a sad little tree and transforms it into something beautiful. As much fun as it is to get swept up in buying gifts for our furry companions, or how tempting it is to try and capture the perfect “Santa Paws” pic for Instagram, at the end of the day, the only things our critters want from us is our love and attention. Being with family and making time for each other truly makes the season special.

My dog Brody is a Linus for sure. No matter how many holiday cookies I stress eat over travel plans or finding “the right gift” for someone, Brody is there to offer a constant source of friendship and calm. I can count on him to put his head in my lap and remind me to take a breath, and be grateful for all the gifts I have this season.

I wish you and your family joy, love, and good health this December and in the New Year to come!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

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

Canine Influenza: What Pet Parents Need to Know

SadPug

Two years ago, if you had asked me whether or not I recommended the canine influenza vaccine, I’d have told you, “probably not.” Even as recently as one year ago, I probably would have said the same thing, at least here in San Diego. But that’s the thing about medicine, especially when it comes to emerging diseases ... situations can change rapidly. Recommendations that made sense as recently as six months ago no longer hold. Such is the case with the current outbreak of canine influenza. Here’s what we know based on the latest information from the CDC, American Veterinary Medical Association and the veterinary schools who are helping to research the disease.

What is Canine Influenza?

Influenza is a family of viruses that affect a wide variety of species. It has two characteristics which really set it apart from other types of virus: one, it can mutate very rapidly (hence the need for a new flu vaccine every winter); and two, it often jumps species. Such is the case with canine influenza.

Until recently, the only strain we saw in dogs was H3N8, a mutation of equine influenza that’s been circulating in the United States since 2004. While a vaccine is available for H3N8, few veterinarians recommended it as the disease was very limited and most infected dogs recovered on their own.

All this changed in 2015, when H3N2 emerged on the scene. H3N2, thought to be a mutation of an avian influenza, arrived in Chicago with a group of dogs imported from Korea. This virus behaves very differently from H3N8, as the veterinary community soon discovered. It mutates very rapidly, meaning there are already different strains of the virus all around the country. Also, it is highly infectious, spreading to all corners of the US much more quickly than anyone had anticipated. As of now, H3N2 has been identified in 46 states.

What Does Canine Influenza Do to Dogs?

Canine influenza manifests in two forms. In the mild form of the disease, dogs experience a soft cough that lasts from 2-4 weeks. They may act lethargic, demonstrate a diminished appetite, have a low fever (102.5-104), exhibit sneezing, and maybe have some eye and nasal discharge. As you can see, these are fairly vague signs that show up with many sorts of canine disease processes, so many cases of canine influenza have probably gone unidentified.

In its rarer, more severe form, dogs can become very ill. They can run a high fever (104-106) and develop pneumonia, which can lead to life-threatening complications. The fatality rate for canine influenza is less than 10%.

Other species can be infected with H3N2: it’s been diagnosed in cats, ferrets and guinea pigs. In these species, it manifests like an upper respiratory infection and usually resolves on its own. Fortunately, H3N2 has not manifested in people according to the latest data from the CDC.

Which Dogs Are Most At-Risk?

In theory, all dogs are at-risk of H3N2. Virtually all dogs who are exposed to the virus become infected (i.e. have circulating virus in their systems); about 80% of those dogs show some clinical signs of disease. What makes this virus particularly nasty is that infected dogs shed tremendous amounts of the virus whether or not they are showing signs of disease; they can shed virus for more than three weeks! That means one dog, travelling across the country to dog shows or staying in boarding facilities, can infect hundreds of other dogs in a short period of time.

Dogs are at highest risk of exposure when they are in direct contact with other dogs. The virus only lives in the environment for 24 hours, so most infection occurs from contact with respiratory secretions like sneeze droplets. Dogs at boarding or daycare facilities, training classes, competitions, dog shows and shelters are at highest risk. Of these dogs, those who become the most ill are the very young, seniors and the immunosuppressed.

How is Canine Influenza Diagnosed and Treated?

Canine influenza can’t be definitively diagnosed based on history and examination because the symptoms are so vague. If your veterinarian suspects influenza, she may recommend specific blood or nasal swab tests which can isolate the canine influenza virus.

Like human influenza, the treatment consists of supportive care and treating the symptoms while the body fights off the virus. Fluid support and antibiotics for secondary infections are the mainstays of supportive care. Infected dogs should be quarantined from other dogs for at least 21 days.

Is There a Vaccine?

Two manufacturers make vaccines for H3N2. The vaccine schedule consists of two doses three weeks apart, with a yearly booster. If you are considering this vaccination for your dog, make sure you are getting the right one because a vaccine for H3N8 also exists.

If you’re not sure whether or not you should get your pet vaccinated, your veterinarian is always going to be the best source of information as they will be aware of whether the disease has been diagnosed in your area. You can also check out the Infectious Disease Risk Calculator from the Ohio State college of veterinary medicine, which asks you a series of questions and gives you a risk assessment based on the most current data (https://idrc.vet.ohio-state.edu).

The virulence of H3N2 took the veterinary community by surprise. Fortunately, public health surveillance exists specifically for this reason. The infectious disease community was able to identify and get the word out about H3N2 quickly, so veterinarians are able to better support the wonderful canines we are fortunate enough to treat. While the virus is scary, we know a lot more than we did even a few short months ago, including how to protect your pups. You can help by getting the word out about this virus, and encouraging those you know to visit the vet if there’s any concern H3N2 may be present.

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

For more information, check out these trusted resources:

www.vetgirlontherun.com
https://www.dogflu.com
http://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/Factsheets/pdfs/canine_influenza.pdf
https://ahdc.vet.cornell.edu/news/civ.cfm
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/canineflu/keyfacts.htm

5 Reasons Why Dogs are the Absolute Best

corgi-walk

August 26th marks National Dog Day, giving us ample opportunity to celebrate everything we love about dogs. To honor this special day, Dr. V shares her personal observations and some truly amazing facts about why Americans love dogs so much.

It is perhaps fate that I was destined to consider myself a dog person … after all, my birthday falls on August 26th, National Dog Day. From the first time I held my floofy little Lhasa Apso puppy in my arms when I was seven years old, I knew that I felt a special camaraderie with canines. Often, I felt more comfortable with them than I did with people. I thought I was a weirdo for feeling that way, until I met other dog people and realized it’s just who we are.

Dogs have always made me stop in my tracks the way my friends stopped for babies. Don’t get me wrong, I love children. But I’ve never felt compelled to stop a stranger and ask to pick up their baby the way I have pretty much every puppy ever. I look at them and see patterns: the way their coat so often matches their caretaker’s hairstyle; the easy way a dog will run up and comfort someone without a word being said; the sudden brightening in children's faces when they first see their dog after a day at school. The easy bond between people and pups has been thousands of years in the making.

Everyone has their own personal reasons for wanting to share life with a canine companion. That being said, dog lovers share some common reasons for why they enjoy life more when there's a dog around. Here are the most frequently cited explanations for being an enthusiastic supporter of Team Dog …

1. Family. Dog lovers often share that their dog feels like a member of the family, as opposed to a roommate who just hangs out, eats a lot, and makes a mess. This deep bond explains why many people say that the death of a dog is just as hard emotionally as losing any other family member.

pet-parents

2. Personality. With 190 recognized dog breeds and countless lovable mixes, dog personalities are as varied and unique as we are. People often spend a great deal of time researching, visiting breeders and shelters, and getting to know different dogs before finding the one whose temperament, activity level, and size are the exact right fit for them.

3. Loyalty. A dog’s loyalty to his or her family is unmatched. As pack animals, they truly depend on us for all the necessities of life plus lots of love and interaction. In return, we are rewarded with boundless love and a friend who doesn’t care about morning breath, what we look like before our first cup of coffee, or what we sound like when we sing in the shower.

4. Understanding. Many of us intuitively sense that our dogs understand us, but does the science back it up? Researchers in Brazil and the U.K. studied a group of dogs and determined that dogs could correlate the tone of our voices with the expressions on our faces.* Up until this study, that particular cognitive ability was thought to only be found in primates! Turns out that dogs often have a better read on us than we do on one another!

beach-dog

5. Forgiveness. A friend recently recalled an incident when she had accidentally closed a door on her dog’s tail, whereupon she burst into tears. Seeing this, her dog immediately ran over to comfort her! His concern was not over his own well-being, but over his guardian’s distress. While dogs exhibit so many wonderful traits we value in each other, they seem to be missing some of the really ugly ones we humans sometimes suffer: greed, malice and holding a grudge (to name a few). They live in the moment, and never seem to hold our failings against us. So amazing!

When I speak about the most profound moments I’ve shared with my dogs, I often get choked up. Like even right now. Even in our worst moments, they provide the comfort of a loving presence that’s continually by our sides, without judgment. All they ask in return is a warm bed, nourishment and loving scritches. I think members of Team Dog will agree, that’s a small price to pay for one of the most joyful relationships a person can have!

Why are you a dog person? Share your reasons why in the comments section below.

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Reference:

 * www.reuters.com/article/us-dogs-emotions-idUSKCN0VP1DH

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

Four Common Skin Problems in Dogs

scritches

Skin problems are some of the most common complaints in veterinary medicine, right up there in the top three. Surprised? It shouldn’t be too shocking when you consider that the skin is the body’s largest organ, one subjected daily to the elements. And for dogs, skin is one of the organs most frequently affected by allergies. With well over 100 different causes of canine skin problems, it can be hard to sort out why your dog is red or itchy. So, how do you even begin to understand why your pup is scratching? Easy … you start with the basics. Today, we’ll take a look at the most common skin problems veterinarians see at the clinic.

In order to understand skin disease in dogs, we need to know the difference between symptoms and causes. The cause of skin disease is the underlying condition that predisposes a canine to the problem, such as a surface infection or something more serious, like endocrine disease. The symptoms are the outward physical manifestation of those causes. Common symptoms include itchiness (pruritus), hot spots, hair loss (alopecia) and scaly skin. Pet parents often feel frustrated when they very carefully and completely describe a set of symptoms but their vet can’t definitively determine the source of the problem. That’s because for every itchy dog, there are many experiencing multiple causes! Getting to the root cause of a symptom is the only way we can provide complete diagnosis, and hopefully provide your doggo with some relief.

Happy-Shiba-Inu

The most common causes of skin disease fall into four distinct categories: infection, parasites, endocrine and allergic disease. While this is not an exhaustive list, these categories account for the vast majority of problems.

1. Infections: Multiple organisms can take root and cause disease in the skin. We see bacterial infections such as Staphylococcus, yeast such as Malassezia, and fungus such as Dermatophytosis (which causes ringworm). These infections can cause a variety of symptoms such as hair loss, itchiness or redness. In order to determine the cause, the veterinarian often needs to look at a sample of skin cells under the microscope or send hair to culture. It is very important to know which organism is causing the infection to minimize time to resolution and make the patient comfortable as quickly as possible. Guesswork just doesn’t cut it very well! The right treatment makes all the difference.

2. Parasites: You only signed up for one dog, not the hundreds of bonus fleas or mites they can sometimes bring in. In addition to being gross, parasites can transmit infection to our companion animals (and sometimes to us), possibly leading to irritation and secondary infections when the itchiness becomes unbearable and dogs start chewing away at their skin. Some of the most common skin parasites are mange mites (Sarcoptes), fleas and ticks. The good news is, once we identify the parasite, treatment options are pretty straightforward and will eliminate the problem.

3. Allergies: Lick, lick, lick, chew, chew, chew. If you’ve ever been woken up at 2 am by the incessant sounds of a dog attacking his own skin, you know just how affected pets can be by the intense itching of allergies. In dogs, allergies fall into three major categories: flea, food and atopy (environmental allergies). Those three distinct causes all look very similar from the outside, so it can take some solid detective work and diagnostics to definitively name the culprit. While time-consuming, it’s obviously well worth it! Because allergic disease is a chronic condition, it’s one that we manage rather than cure. The more specific we are in our knowledge of the cause, the better we can manage the problem over the long term.

4. Endocrine: Disorders of the endocrine system can manifest in the skin in a variety of ways. Hypothyroid dogs may have thickened, greasy skin, while canines suffering from Cushings may have a distinctive pattern of hair loss on the trunk. While these skin symptoms are secondary to the main disease process, they offer important clues as to what’s really going on.

So, what can we as pet parents do to avoid doggie skin problems? Causes such as parasites are fully preventable with the right medicines, but allergies can be very difficult to prevent. You can, however, work on maintaining the health of the skin by giving your pet proper nutrition, adding essential fatty acids through skin-and-coat supplements. Perhaps the best first line of defense is by using dog-appropriate shampoos and conditioners that don’t strip the oils from the skin with harsh chemicals.

little-squirt

Life’s Abundance takes canine skin and coat health seriously. The first time you use Revitalizing Shampoo, you may already notice a change in your dog’s appearance after the first bath. Thanks to its unique formula, coats will be shinier and fuller, with less dander and no more “doggie smell”. With moisture-activated odor neutralizers, our shampoo features antioxidants and organic herbal extracts that penetrate into the hair shaft and promote coat health. Also included are kiwi and mango essences, selected because they too enhance the health of the skin, as well as leaving your dog’s coat smelling clean and fresh. 

Unless otherwise instructed by your veterinarian, you should not bathe your dog more than once every 2-3 weeks. If your dog’s coat could do with some freshening in between baths, use Bath Fresh Mist to neutralize odors and condition the skin and coat. And it’s so easy to use … simply spray and brush into in the coat. You will love the aroma and your dog will enjoy being pampered!

Golden-sheen

Nothing is lovelier than petting a dog with a beautiful, soft coat and healthy skin. With vigilance, premium nutrition and regular veterinary care, your dog can have the skin of a movie star! And, perhaps best of all, your pupper will enjoy the sweet, sweet relief of life free from itching.

All my best to you and your lovable dogs!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Five Ways to Make the Fourth Less Frightening

independence-day-dog

In 2012, my husband and I took the kids down to the San Diego waterfront for the annual “Big Bay Boom” Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza. As we staked a spot on the grass, I was surprised to see a couple with an Australian Shepherd puppy. Surely they’re planning on leaving before the fireworks began, I thought to myself. But as the lights dimmed and the crowd hushed, it became clear the dog was staying for the show.

Unfortunately for all of us, someone had made a grave mistake. The entire stockpile went off simultaneously. Eighteen minutes worth of explosives detonated in 15 seconds. Even for those of us expecting a fireworks show, it was terrifying. With the blinding lights, resounding booms and the ground shaking, there was mass confusion. As the smoke cleared, I turned around and saw that poor little pup cowering as his shell-shocked owners packed up their belongings. Now, this was an extreme case, but I tell this story to make crystal clear, dogs do not belong at fireworks celebrations.

July 5th is one of the busiest days in both veterinary hospitals and shelters, for many reasons: panicked pups bolt over fences, leading some to become lost and others injured; unattended food gets scarfed down, causing gastric problems; overheated canines experience heat exhaustion; and the list goes on. The good news is we know what to anticipate, which means we have the opportunity now to plan ahead to help keep the Fourth fun and safe for everyone. Here are my top five tips for a great Independence Day.

golden-flag

1. Watch out for “counter surfers”! Summer barbecues are delicious for us but full of hazards for pets. High-fat foods like burgers and hot dogs can cause pancreatitis, kebab skewers can wreak havoc in the stomach, corn cobs are a leading cause of GI surgery and ribs have bones that can splinter and pierce the intestines. Make sure all your people goodies are securely out of the way of nosy pets, and keep an eye out for party guests (especially kids) who accidentally leave plates in precarious locations.

2. Avoid glow-stick accessorizing. Resist the urge to put a glow stick around your pet’s neck. They really aren’t designed for pet use, chiefly because the liquid they contain can be quite irritating if ingested. Fortunately, there is another option! If you want your pup to look bright and patriotic, LED-lighted collars are designed to be both adorable and perfectly pet-safe.

3. Confirm your pet’s ID info. Is your pup’s tag and microchip up-to-date? If you’ve recently moved or your phone number has changed, getting a new dog tag and calling your vet to update a microchip are inexpensive forms of insurance for potentially scary problem. When fireworks go off, even well-behaved, mild-mannered pets can panic and bolt. One of the main reasons pets languish in shelters after the 4th is due to incorrect or missing identification.

4. Provide a happy distraction. If you must leave your companion animal home alone when fireworks are likely, take some precautions to help minimize anxiety. Some may even surprise you! For example, some dogs find classical music soothing (check out ‘Through a Dog’s Ear’ online), while others enjoy TV. There are non-drug calming options such as the Thundershirt or a pheromone collar. And, last but not least, try the tasty distraction offered by a treat-dispensing toy filled with Life’s Abundance kibble or treats!

5. Consult your vet before the 4th. If your doggo is prone to levels of anxiety that over-the-counter remedies can’t address, your veterinarian might prescribe medications to help him or her through the night. Here again, I can’t stress enough how important it is to plan ahead for this holiday! Vet’s offices are often slammed on July 3rd with pet parents in a panic asking for a new prescription, and it may not be available on short notice.

While the Fourth of July can be a source of stress for many canines, it doesn’t have to be! As you can see, just a little bit of planning can make a world of difference.

Be sure to check out the handy companion guide in our infographic post Fourth of July Safety Prep.

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

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.

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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

Effects of Aging on Canine Cognition

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In observation of National Pet Month, Dr. Jessica Vogelsang takes an in-depth look at how canine cognition changes as dogs age, and provides tips to help keep them healthy for many future National Pet Month celebrations!

I can’t tell you how often I ask pet parents about their senior dog and the response is “okay, but … I guess he’s just getting old.” I love this conversation opener, because it tells me two things. One, the pet parent is paying enough attention to know something has changed, even if they don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about. Two, there’s probably something I can do to help!

All living things grow old. The aging process is complicated and messy, encompassing a variety of genetic and environmental factors. Some we can control, others we can slow down, and the remainder we just manage the best we can. The good news is, there’s almost always something we can do to make a companion animal feel better.

When we think about what it means to be old, most of us jump to the most obvious complaint of age … aches and pains. The body stiffens, the joints dry out, the discs in our spines shrivel up, and we end up shuffling around like Carl from the movie Up. Almost all senior dogs develop symptoms of osteoarthritis, which is one of the reasons I recommend joint supplements for seniors. If a pet parent says, “He won’t climb the stairs anymore,” or, “He doesn’t want to go for long walks,” then I know we’re likely dealing with pain.

But what about cognitive dysfunction, the age-related decline in neurologic function? Referred to as “canine cognitive dysfunction” in veterinary medicine, some laypeople call it “doggie Alzheimer’s”. While the symptoms can be similar to what humans experience, it’s not exactly the same thing.

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Unfortunately, cognitive decline is quite common in senior dogs. More than half of all dogs over the age of 11 show at least one clinical sign. Since we don’t know for certain all the biological changes that occur in an aging brain, we describe canine cognitive dysfunction as a collection of symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Changes in activity level
  • Changes in sleep/wake cycle (e.g., wandering around in the middle of the night)
  • House-soiling
  • Anxiety
  • No longer adhering to an established routine

For many years, we simply accepted this condition as a price for living a long life. However, we’re learning that there are ways we can actually decelerate cognitive decline in dogs.

One way veterinarians manage cognitive dysfunction in dogs is through medications. Certain drugs that increase the amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine may improve brain function. In fact, the same drug used by dogs can also be used to treat Parkinson’s!

curious-dog

The other way we manage cognitive decline is through the nutrition and personal attention we provide our dogs. New and exciting research is showing that certain types of antioxidants and dietary ingredients can positively impact the brain function of senior pets! I love this because these are safe, easy changes we can use to improve the aging process for all our senior friends:

1. Feed a diet rich in antioxidants. Free radicals in the body accelerate the aging process. Antioxidants, such as those found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, can be added to a dog’s diet to limit the free-radical damage. Several studies have shown that seniors who eat a diet rich in antioxidants exhibit clinical improvement in cognitive function within just a few weeks.

2. Exercise the brain. Keep your pet’s neurons working through lots of daily playtime, walks, and puzzles. We joke that the brain is a muscle; it’s not, of course, but like a muscle it does benefit from regular workouts!

3. Fatty acids. We all know essential fatty acids are good for the skin and coat, but there’s also increasing evidence that a subset of fatty acids called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) serve as a preferred energy source for the brain and can actually improve mental sharpness.

If your dog is getting a little grey around the muzzle, don’t accept “he’s just getting old” as a fact of life. Yes, we all age, but we can do it better by taking steps to preserve health and quality of life.

All my best to you and your lovable, aging dogs!

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

Infographic: Soothing Doggie Stress

Unless you’re truly tuned in with your canine companion, you might be missing the “tail-tell” signs that your puppy’s got stress issues.

By learning to recognize the symptoms and gaining a clearer picture of the potential causes, you’ll be well on your way to helping your canine chill out on a regular basis. If that weren’t enough to perk up your ears, Dr. V also drops some helpful tips for alleviating dog stress. Definitely worthy of further investigation!

Take a page out of our pet-care book and save this handy infographic for future reference … it might just help your dog find his way back to bliss!

How-to-Avoid-Dog-Stress

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang