All posts by dr. vogelsang

5 Meds That Are Toxic to Pets

dog-at-vet

The past four months have been a blur of training, cleaning up and chasing around after our new puppy, Dakota. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I did forget how much trouble a curious puppy can get into! Last week I found Dakota chomping on a travel-sized bag of trail mix that included chocolate covered raisins. Chocolate covered raisins! How did that even get into the house? I still don’t know where it came from, but fortunately I was able to intervene before he opened the bag.

Most people know that chocolate and grapes can be toxic for pets, but potential threats can lurk elsewhere in your home. Prescription and over-the-counter medications are among the top reasons people call into poison control hotlines for both kids and pets, and with good reason. Here are the top five medications of concern when it comes to pets and toxicity:

1. Ibuprofen. As the active ingredient in common over-the-counter products such as Advil and Motrin, ibuprofen is unfortunately ingested by pets both accidentally and intentionally by owners unaware of its potential side effects. Cats are particularly sensitive to its effects. The most common clinical sign is vomiting or gastrointestinal ulcers, though it can also lead to kidney damage. Other NSAIDS such as Aleve can also be problematic.

2. Acetaminophen. Speaking of pain medications, acetaminophen-containing products such as Tylenol are also high on the list of pet poisons. Like ibuprofen, cats are particularly sensitive to the effects of this medication, and one pill is enough to kill a cat. Both cats and dogs can experience liver damage as a result of this medication, starting with decreased appetite and leading to yellow skin (a sign of jaundice), swollen paws or difficulty breathing. Acetaminophen is a common ingredient in combination products like cough and flu remedies, so be careful to read the label on your products!

pill-spill-dog

3. Stimulants. ADHD medications such as Adderall and Ritalin can be toxic to companion animals. Sadly, they are more likely to be ingested by pets as they are often prescribed for children who may be less vigilant about keeping the pills out of the reach of the household dogs and cats. Signs of ingestion may include dilated pupils, seizures, shaking or hyperactivity.

4. Antidepressants. Antidepressants fall into several categories depending on their mechanism of action. In the most commonly prescribed medications (such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Effexor) work by increasing the concentration of neurotransmitters in the brain. When overdosed, the brain can be flooded with these chemicals and pets can experience a variety of symptoms such as depression, hyperexcitability, seizures and vomiting.

5. Vitamin D. As doctors are starting to diagnose Vitamin D deficiency more often, this is a common supplement in people’s medicine cabinets. When there is too much in the body, blood calcium levels also rise, resulting in serious damage to the kidneys. It is so effective at causing damage that it's commonly used in rat poisons such as d-Con. Vitamin D might appear on rodenticide labels as “cholecalciferol,” and should be avoided.

There’s no time like the present to ensure any of these items in your house are safely secured away from prying pet paws. If you suspect your dog or cat has ingested any of these harmful substances, call your veterinarian or a pet poison control helpline ASAP!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Why is My Dog So Nervous?

scared-pug

My neighbor’s dog Chuckie is, by all accounts, an anxious canine. Sweet as can be, but nervous. Chuckie hides behind his mom when new people show up. He still doesn’t trust his dad, who is the one who lobbied so hard to bring Chuckie home in the first place (three long years ago). He runs away from him and wedges himself under a table whenever my friend's husband looks at him directly - about which the poor guy feels rather despondent.

When a dog is this fearful, many people assume that at some point he or she has been abused. It’s the catch-all people use whenever a dog whose history is unknown shows stress or fear. We say, “He’s scared of men so he must have been abused by one." Or, "She’s scared of ballcaps, so she must have been abused by someone who wore one.” The same sentiments are expressed for men with beards, people wearing sunglasses, pulling out a camera, you name it!

It would be horrifying to think that every dog who exhibits fear (chiefly because there are a lot of them) do so out of a direct result of abuse. While it certainly happens, and it's terrible when it does, a much more likely and less harrowing explanation is that these dogs may not have been adequately socialized as a pup.

nervous-lab

After puppies are born, a great deal of neurological development takes place, much of it occurring in the first 16 weeks. Their early experiences in this crucial time make a lifelong impact on their ability to react to stress. During this period, they are most open to new experiences, sights and sounds. From vacuum cleaners to cats to children (and, yes, men with beards wearing sunglasses and baseball caps), a dog who has a positive experience with these things during this critical time is much less likely to react negatively to them down the road.

Most puppies go to a new home at eight weeks at the youngest, ideally even a little older than that. Back when I started out in veterinary practice, vets were trained to advocate from a health standpoint: keep puppies at home and away from potential sources of illness until they are fully vaccinated at 16 weeks. Unfortunately this "common knowledge" means pups may be missing out on some key socialization time.

As our understanding of the importance of socialization has increased, many trainers are opening up puppy classes to 12-week-olds and veterinarians are re-evaluating the four-month quarantine rule. Each of us needs to assess the risk/benefit analysis of taking puppies out into the world, but in a controlled environment around dogs who are healthy and up-to-date on vaccines, many of us find the socialization benefits are well worth it!

When Dakota came home with us, he was 14 weeks old. He spent his early weeks in a house with nine adult dogs and all of his littermates, which was quite chaotic. But, it led to him being super comfortable meeting new pups. Before coming home with us, he had already gone home with an elderly couple who returned him after a couple days when the reality of living with a puppy set in. So he had been exposed to quite a lot! Nonetheless, as he was current on his preventive care, we also attended socialization classes from the get-go. Based on his reactions at the door, it’s clear he was never exposed to men in UPS uniforms, but we’re working on it. 

happy-poodle

When talking to friends who are experienced breeders, I learned there are several formal programs you can use to socialize puppies at the very early stages of life (aka, “puppy preschool"). These programs are great because they walk people through each important aspect of social exposure needed for good socialization, from touching to meeting strangers, to music and doorbells. In fact, the breeder we are getting our next Golden puppy from is doing it as we speak, and started when the litter was only one week old! And yes, that is my way of saying I am bringing another puppy into the house this summer, which is insane but at least I will have lots to talk about here on the blog! 

As for Chuckie, his family has come to love and accept him as he is. That isn’t to say that dogs can’t change or improve after 16 weeks of age has passed! I often see Chuckie walking to the dog park with the husband, who learned that when Chuckie is in the presence of other dogs he also relaxes more with people. Their patience and love has helped him adjust and modulate his fear, even as an adult.

Have you ever used a puppy kindergarten training program with a new litter? Do you think it helped? What have you done to diminish your dog's outsize fear?

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Cat Adoption Made Simple

kitty-cuddle

June is Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month and we are ready to celebrate! Even though adopting a cat is rewarding, it is a big step. To make it more doable, we’ve broken that big step down into a bunch of manageable steps. 

The week before

  • Gather supplies! Most cats prefer a dust-free, unscented clumping litter. They also usually prefer a litter box without a lid. Your cat will need water and food bowls, toys and something to scratch. You already know where to go for the perfect cat food!
  • Create a cozy space. As a species that can be both predator and prey, cats like somewhere they can feel secure and safe. There are added bonus points if this space has some height, which is one of the reasons cats love tall cat trees so much.
  • Prepare a room. During the first few days, plan to have your cat contained to a smaller space like a laundry room or bathroom while she adjusts to her new surroundings. Once she’s feeling braver, she'll be ready to explore on her own.
  • Prepare family members. If your family isn’t used to having a cat around, make sure they understand the basic rules about gentle play, and giving the cat space when they make it clear they would rather be alone. Older kids can be assigned chores such as feeding, brushing and litter box cleanup (they love that one.) Younger kids, especially toddlers, will need direct supervision as they often do not understand gentle play.

comfy-kitty

The first day

  • Congratulations, your cat is home! Now leave her alone. OK, maybe not entirely alone, but give her some time to explore her new surroundings without being stared at by multiple sets of strange eyes. If you have a dog, make sure he’s not sniffing loudly under the door or pawing at it thus scaring the heck out of the cat.
  • Make sure you have food. Cats can be very finicky, and many refuse to adjust to a sudden change in food. Plan on several days minimum, and maybe even several weeks or more, to adjust to a new food. It will be worth the effort.
  • Make a vet appointment. Always start a new life together with a clean bill of health! Vaccines may need updating, de-wormers may need to be given, and you’ll want to know if there are any health issues to be aware of.

nuzzle-cat

The first few weeks:

  • Be patient! Social kitties may come out and cuddle right away, but others need a little more time. Don’t push a cat who’s not ready to be held or petted. Over time their personality will shine through!
  • Make that first vet visit. Ask the veterinarian if they are cat-friendly or use Fear Free practice guidelines, a new way of low-stress handling that minimizes the pet’s discomfort during visits. This is a great way to ensure a lifetime of good health!
  • Course correct as needed. Remember, you and kitty are going through a transitional period. She needs to learn about you just like you’re learning about her. If she scratches in the wrong place, doesn’t want to sleep in the new bed you bought, or kicks litter all over the floor, take a deep breath and remember that it’s all going to be all right. Don’t be afraid to enlist the advice of a vet or cat behaviorist if you are concerned.

Just keep in mind, any new pet relationship may encounter some bumps, especially at the beginning. But, with love and patience, you too can make that deep connection and begin to forge a bond that will last a lifetime. It’s a lot of work, but well worth it to bring in a new family member!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

What You Need to Know About Lyme Disease

bright-eyed-pupper

If you’ve ever had the displeasure of finding a tick on your pet, you know how revolting they are. The first time I found one on my Golden Brody, I was petting him when I felt what I thought was a skin mass. When I looked closer I found to my horror that it was a huge, engorged tick. We had just moved to another part of the county a month prior; in our previous home we never had a tick issue, so I was using just a flea and heartworm preventive. That changed quickly!

Which brings up a couple of points. First, as gross as ticks are, the bigger concern here is that they carry a variety of diseases that can negatively impact your pet’s health. The most prevalent of these tick-borne diseases is Lyme disease. Second, even within relatively tiny geographical regions, the parasite risk can vary tremendously. If you read last month’s blog post on heartworm disease, you’ll remember this trend of microclimates combined with two years of hot, wet weather has created a huge increase in the prevalence of heartworm in areas where they were never a problem before. The same goes for fleas and ticks.

If you haven’t heard of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (capcvet.org), bookmark their site now. It has the most comprehensive parasite data available. Although it’s geared towards veterinarians to help them educate clients, you can absolutely use and share this wonderful resource with your pet parents friends. It's an invaluable tool for assessing the specific risks in a particular geographic location.

sad-pupper

Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. It affects both pets and people, but it is not transmitted to you directly from your companion animal. A bacterial disease, symptoms begin with headaches, fatigue and fever, but it can progress throughout the body and negatively impact multiple organ systems if left untreated. Because the signs are so vague, many cases are left undiagnosed for a very long time. For more detailed data about its symptoms, visit cdc.gov/lyme/signs_symptoms/index.html.

The CAPC just released their 2018 Parasite Forecast, and it’s got some bad news about Lyme disease. As the tick population has spread, so has the incidence of Lyme disease. While veterinarians in the northeast are well-versed in recognizing signs, it is becoming a much bigger problem in areas such as the Dakotas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. It may not even be on the radar for most people who live in these areas, but it should be.

The data is so specific that you can click on your state and find the statistics by county - how many pets were tested for Lyme and how many came back positive. As a well-informed pet parent this is invaluable if you find a tick on your pet. It can help you answer questions like "should I tell my vet?" and "should I really pay for the test?" We encourage all of our readers to search the database, available here: capcvet.org/maps/#2018/all/lyme-disease/dog/united-states.

reading

But it’s not all bad news! Once diagnosed, Lyme disease can be treated with a course of antibiotics. And there’s plenty that you can do right now! First, be aware of the risk in your specific area. Second, use a good tick medication. You have choices ranging from monthly spot-ons to collars and even oral medications available from the vet. They are all quite effective, so it’s a matter of personal preference and what works best for you. There is a vaccine as well. If you live in a Lyme endemic area, talk to your vet about whether the Lyme vaccine is a good option for you.

And mostly importantly, check your pet for ticks, especially in the areas where they like to hide: under ear flaps, between the toes and in the armpits. Removing ticks promptly decreases the risk of Lyme disease, as most cases of transmission occur when the tick has been attached longer than a day.

Fortunately for us, Brody’s tick issue was a one-time affair. From that day forward for the rest of his life, he was on year-round prevention. As soon as Dakota hit the weight limit for the preventive I wanted to use, I started him on tick prevention as well. I check him every day but so far all I find are little burrs from his rolling around in the grass. Hopefully it stays that way!

We love sharing our collective knowledge and experiences here at Life’s Abundance. Have you ever had a pet diagnosed with Lyme disease? How was it diagnosed? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

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

Five Ways a Puppy Changes Your Life

Labradoodle-puppy

Is there anything quite as wonderful as puppy breath? I keep reminding myself of this, and all the other happiness-inducing qualities of puppies in general, while mine is attempting once again to gnaw on my fingers even as I write this. But seriously, watching a pupper experience all of his “first things” is a source of joy. And guess what … March 23 just happens to be National Puppy Day, so let’s celebrate!

First-Ride-Home
Dr. V's new puppy, Dakota, on his way to his new home

It’s been eight years since we’ve had the pitter-patter of puppy paws in the house, and we’re just a couple of weeks into the process with our poodle mix Dakota. As a vet, I try to warn prospective pet parents that puppies require a significant investment in time and energy. Our memories are kind when it comes to recalling just how much work they can be. Even so, it’s worth every second. In honor of Dakota and National Puppy Day, here’s my list of the Five Ways a Puppy Changes Your Life:

1. Get a Head Start on Spring Cleaning.

Puppies get into everything, and I do mean everything. Dust bunnies under the couch. Shoes you forgot you had. Every little crumb and morsel you missed while you were vacuuming. All the socks you thought you’d lost. The cat’s litterbox. Puppies force you to be very honest with yourself about how good (or not so good) of a housekeeper you’ve been. A few days of that and you’ll be cleaning up more than ever before.

2. You’ll Get in All Your Steps.

One of the benefits of housetraining a dog is achieving your step count earlier in the day. Going outside every couple of hours means extra moving on your part, especially if you’re taking them on a short walk. And don’t get me started on chasing him around when he finds whatever forbidden item you thought you had hidden well but really hadn’t. Yes, you’re going to be burning all sorts of calories!

Muddy-Dakota
Uh-oh, you didn't track that through the house, did you?

3. Better Stock Up on Cleaning Products.

Even if you’re religiously housetraining your pup, accidents are bound to happen. Just like with babies, messiness is part of the puppy bargain. Be sure to check out our pet-safe, family-friendly cleaning product, Bio-Base Floorwash, available on our Pet Care page.

4. Improving Your Agility.

Avoiding the tiny, shark-like puppy teeth provides an excellent opportunity to perfect your lightning-fast reflexes. Pretty soon, you’ll be honing ninja-level quickness almost overnight.

Dakota-and-Kitty
Dakota isn't sure what to make of this kitty creature

5. Spending Quality Time With Your Vet.

Ever wish you got to see the smiling face of your veterinarian just a little more often? Good news! You’re going to be spending a lot of time shuttling back and forth over the next few months. Bring your favorite Life’s Abundance pet treats to ensure your puppy has a positive outlook on trips to the vet’s office. Want to score some bonus points? Bring cookies for the people too! Positive reinforcement is fun for everyone.

OK, this list might be a bit tongue in cheek, but it does reflect the amount of time you need to be prepared to dedicate to raising a happy, healthy, well-adjusted puppy. As we can all agree, the effort you put in at the beginning is well worth the results! Between your time commitment and a healthy Life’s Abundance diet, your puppy - and my Dakota - are going to be off to the best start possible!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

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Health Scares & Family Togetherness

Golden-sheen-2

It’s no secret amongst medical professionals that December is one of the toughest months for pet parents. No one really understands why, but both people and pets fall ill this time of year more frequently than at other times, making what should be a happy time of year one of the saddest. In my time working the veterinary ER, I got to see it firsthand, and it was always just heartbreaking.

We had our own scare last month. The week before Christmas, my beloved Golden Retriever became seriously ill. At 8, he’s old enough to be susceptible to a myriad of problems but young enough that despite his whitening muzzle I still think of him as an overgrown puppy with lots of time ahead of him. He collapsed on a Sunday morning. We headed straight to the ER.

Although Brody was stabilized on intensive care and had undergone myriad tests, they were unable to determine the cause of his symptoms and suggested we take him to a cardiologist as soon as possible. In between taking the kids to a holiday play and maintaining some semblance of normalcy, I shuttled him to the specialty center an hour away at midnight, hopeful for some sort of resolution or at least answers.

After three days of hospitalization and test after test, we were still without a diagnosis. Multiple specialists at the top of their fields came up empty. The “cancer” word was suggested multiple times. After all, this is a Golden Retriever we’re talking about. But despite our best efforts, every diagnostic evaluation came up short. We did what you always do when you don’t know what’s going on: treat the symptoms and hope for the best.

I brought Brody home with a pile of medications worthy of your Great Uncle Joe’s medicine cabinet while we regrouped to await test results. Biopsies, ultrasounds, blood tests, all normal. And despite all indications to the contrary, Brody started to slowly improve.

No one was more shocked than me. In all my years of practice, I can’t recall the last time I saw a dog as ill as mine bounce back. It was truly a Christmas miracle, and we couldn’t be more thrilled and grateful. I had fully planned to spend Christmas staring at his empty stocking in a puddle of tears, and here we were instead, cuddled on the couch like nothing had ever happened.

lap-of-luxury-doggo

I’m sharing this with you for a couple of reasons: first, as hard as it is for me to not know what happened, it’s a good reminder to all of us that medicine is an imperfect science. The people on his case are the smartest I know, and the fact that they couldn’t tell me what was wrong isn’t an indication that they were somehow lacking so much as the fact that sometimes there’s just nothing that can be found. I am so incredibly grateful to the medical professionals who spend the holidays away from their families so that we have somewhere to go when our pets are sick. Their care brought him back to me.

Second, this gives me a real impetus to actually follow through on a New Year’s Resolution for once. I always say I’m going to value my relationships more and spend more time with my loved ones, but this time there is an urgency to it that I’ve never had before. I was quite sure I was going to enter into the new year minus one fluffy lovebug, and yet here we are: I still get to wake up to his face on the side of the bed, roll my eyes in a not-really-mad kind of way at the amount of fur he sheds, and wrestle with him for space on the couch at night.

Every day with our loved ones is a gift, and nothing makes you appreciate that more than the prospect of no longer having it. I have no delusions that everything is back to normal; although we could find nothing wrong, something did go wrong with my dog, and it is very likely to come back. But since I have no control over it, for now I will just be grateful for the small things that fill a dog lover’s heart with joy: dog kisses, tail wags, and unabashed joy at something so simple as a short walk. There are no givens for the upcoming days or weeks.

No matter what happens tomorrow, our time together today is a blessing, so let’s make the most of it. From all the pet lovers here at Life’s Abundance (that’s pretty much everyone), wishing you and yours all the best for 2018!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Pack a Go Bag for Your Pet

It’s hard to pick up the news these days and not be worried about the safety of our family. As a California resident, I can tell you … the fire here is pretty terrifying. When a wildfire grows larger than the size of Manhattan, it truly beggars belief.

Whenever I start to worry, I make plans. Plans help us feel more secure in the moment, and should disaster strike, we’ll have the confidence of being prepared.

Most of us will probably never have to deal with anything more extreme than an extended power outage. But, as we see in the news, situations can arise at the drop of a hat that necessitate having to leave home in a hurry.

Few things can put your mind at ease like having a go bag. You’ve probably seen these in films and TV shows. It’s a pre-packed travel bag with a few days’ worth of supplies. You may already have one ready to go … but can you say the same for your companion animal? Here’s a short list of items to pack in case you need to bug out with your dog or cat.

Simply click on the image below to view the full-size PDF and print for later reference. It’s always good to be prepared!

PDF Document
PDF Document

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

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

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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!

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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