Lifes Abundance posts created by dr. vogelsang

5 Ways To Optimize Your Cat's Health

“Woman

I don’t know about you, but one of the unexpected benefits I’ve gotten from working from home so much lately is the abundance of cats I’ve seen on various Zoom calls. Dogs can be put on the other side of the door, silenced with a snap of the fingers or at least a distracting treat, but cats - no one puts kitty in the corner. This is their space, we’re just borrowing it for a while, and don’t you forget it.

In honor of World Cat Domination Day this June 24th, let’s celebrate our feline friends who hold such dominion over our homes and our hearts. It’s summer- yikes! Where did the time go? - and with all the extra time you’ve spent together, why not spend some of it making sure your cat is set up for optimum health! Here are five ways you can optimize your cat’s health and honor the fantastic feline in your life:

  1. Schedule that overdue vet visit.

    Even before the COVID-19 lockdowns, people were a little reticent to bring their cat to the vet unless they really had to. I understand this. It’s hard to get them into the carrier, they freak out, and it can be an overall super stressful experience for your pet.

    With businesses easing back into the swing of things, most veterinarians are open for business as usual in terms of providing wellness services and yearly exams for pets. Even if curbside drop off is still being implemented, think of it as a silver lining- with you waiting in the parking lot, staff members are doing their absolute best to work efficiently and minimize the time you and your cat spend away from home! And if that is still too stressful, calling in a home visit vet is a perfect solution.

  2. Teach your cat a new trick. 

    No, I don’t mean the one where they walk on your keyboard and stick their rear end straight into the webcam every single time you’re trying to start a video call (or is that just my cat?)

    Start with a simple sit command, as you would a puppy. Incentivize your cat with a delicious treat or whatever they find motivating. And if it’s not their thing, it’s not their thing- but for the right prize, you can almost always make it their thing.

    “Woman

  3. Get in that deep-cleaning.

    OK, this one isn’t nearly as fun as crocheting a cat bed but it’s really important. Most people are good about cleaning out the cat’s food and water dishes, but when’s the last time you cleaned out the litter box?

    I’m not talking about scooping it, which should be done daily regardless, but a full top-to-bottom clean where all the litter gets dumped and the box cleaned thoroughly and left to air dry before filling with all new litter. Ideally you can use eco-friendly cleaners once-a-month part of your routine, but if you’ve fallen behind, you’re not the only one. If your human commode needs regular cleaning, don’t forget the cat’s does too.

  4. Become a cat chef.

    Like most of you, I have to say cooking for my cat is a bit of a stretch, especially when I have an entire pantry full of Life’s Abundance food and treats at my disposal. It’s not something I would do all the time, but if you’re cleaning out the freezer and have some chicken breast or fish that’s probably a little freezer burned, you can make it into treats for your kitty with a dehydrator.

    Cats don’t need much, so I usually slice the meat into thin, 1-inch squares before putting them in my dehydrator for 6-7 hours. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can use the oven on its lowest setting. These treats are best kept in the fridge where they’ll stay good for about three weeks, and voila! New best friend. 

  5. Take on some cat-friendly home improvements. 

    Time to toss that old, scratched up cat tree where the carpeting is all unraveled? Why not build your own!

    OK, maybe that particular project doesn’t appeal to you and, like me, you shy away from anything that involves wood cutting. Fair enough. Maybe you prefer cloth-based projects, and in that case I direct you to the arm-crocheted cat bed I tried a few weeks ago. I mean, it’s a cat bed, and it’s yarn- two of their favorite things combined! No sewing required. Watch here:

---

As we speak, my cat is dominating my dog by sleeping in his massive bed while her little cat bed sits unoccupied five feet away. Is there any better analogy for life with a cat? And we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Dr V 

FDA Loosens Restrictions On Telemedicine For Pets

Veterinarian Practicing Telemedicine With Patient

In a news release on March 24, 2020 the FDA announced that “it intends to temporarily not enforce certain requirements in order to allow veterinarians to better utilize telemedicine to address animal health needs during the pandemic.” Learn more about this positive development and how it might affect pet parents below.

---

News Update from Dr. V:

I think it was maybe four years ago when I started asking my colleagues if we could start talking about veterinary telemedicine. The answer was a near-unanimous “no!” I lectured to empty rooms about this topic I’m passionate about and wrote articles no one understood.

Sure, maybe a few veterinarians here and there showed some interest in a telemedicine app, but the chances are pretty low that it’s something you’ve used with your vet. Well, that’s all about to change.

Until COVID-19 shut down entire states and even countries in a matter of weeks, we’ve always assumed that if your pet had a problem, you would take them to the veterinarian. As a profession we are very married to the idea that unless you have your hands on the pet, you won’t get a complete picture of what’s going on and wouldn’t be doing right by the pet.

What is a VCPR?

Legally, a hands-on examination has always been required for us to create what’s called a VCPR- a valid client patient relationship. Without this VCPR, a veterinarian cannot diagnose or prescribe medication to your pet. While each state defines this VCPR, they’ve all been pretty consistent in requiring this.

Let’s pause here for a moment because the next thing I’m about to say is super important.

Once you establish that VCPR with a veterinarian, it is good for a specific amount of time- usually a year. During that period of time, in almost every state, your veterinarian can do telemedicine visits with you, including follow ups and prescribing medication. I’m not saying they will do it, but they could from a legal perspective — and that’s been the case for quite a long time, actually.

What people are talking about right now is that the FDA has temporarily removed the requirement for the veterinarian to be in the same location to establish a VCPR. In this case, you could have a telemedicine visit with a veterinarian you’ve never met, and they could make a diagnosis and prescribe a medication without ever seeing you. It happens all the time in human medicine, but those laws are very different.

So does that mean when you get up tomorrow you can google “online vet” and get some heartworm pills for your dog with a remote visit? Probably not. Here’s why:

The FDA is a federal organization. But the rules surrounding the practice of medicine are determined by the state. In this case the state laws take precedence. In only a handful of states, such as California, they have made an emergency exemption where a California veterinarian can establish a remote VCPR with a California client. I can’t tell you what other states this is happening in, because the laws are changing quite literally daily. It’s astounding.

But to get back to what I said earlier, even if you can’t establish a relationship with a new vet online, you’ve likely already been able to conduct a telemedicine visit with your current one. It’s just that very few were willing to do it. That’s what’s changing.

“Woman

How is COVID-19 going to affect you as a pet parent?

  1. You may be asked to do drive-up medicine. Although you’ve probably heard that two dogs did test positive for COVID-19 in their system, there is no evidence they get sick from it or can infect others. The health precautions we are taking have to do with keeping both you and the veterinary staff safe, and that means practicing social distancing. Many clinics are asking clients to remain in their cars or limit the number of people in the exam room to one. We don’t like it either, but it keeps us safer.

  2. You may be asked to postpone wellness care. Again, it’s to keep us all safe. In addition, many veterinarians are donating as many masks and gloves as they can to help the doctors and nurses keeping us safe in the hospitals. This is a community effort.

  3. You may find your vet is suddenly offering telemedicine. I’m biased, but I think this is great. It’s important to note that telemedicine is only useful in some situations. An emergency will always require a visit to the ER. Pets will still need surgeries and bloodwork and x-rays and get hurt, and we’re doing all we can to stay open and be there for you when you need us. 

So when are veterinarians using telemedicine?

Most of the time, it’s for things like follow up visits, skin issues like hot spots, recurring ear infections, mild limping, “is this normal” questions, prescription refill requests, flea and tick medications, and general advice. It’s a limited list, but it covers a lot of ground. Again, every veterinarian is allowed to decide for herself if and when they want to offer telemedicine, so there’s no requirement that they do.

I may be biased, but I hope they all decide to do so! If they’re not offering telemedicine services, it never hurts to ask if they will consider it. It can get put into place very quickly. In fact, I’ve spent the last two weeks working behind the scenes with my colleagues to pull together resources to help those in the profession get onboarded with telemedicine as quickly as possible- so if you see my name out there, say hi! 

I do this because I believe in helping pet owners in any way I can, and this is my way of serving the community in time of crisis. 

Thinking of you all and hoping you remain safe and well,

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Dr V 

True Or False: Only Old Pets Get Dental Disease

Vet Examining Dog Dental Care

 

Let's play 'True or False' with our staff veterinarian, Dr. Jessica Vogelsang!

When I say “puppy breath,” what do you think of? It’s most likely a pleasant thought, right? People like puppy breath (well, at least dog lovers do!)

Now what about when I say “dog breath?” Not such a great thought! No one wants to be told they have dog breath, not even a dog. So what causes the transformation from the sweet smell of puppy breath to the putrid stench of dog breath?

It’s easy to combat bad breath with dental treats, but it’s important to monitor your pet’s complete oral health on a regular basis. Did you know that medical conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, and liver disease can also manifest in the breath?

In honor of February being National Pet Dental Health Month, we’re going to play ‘True or False’ to see what you know about your pet's pearly whites!

“Only old dogs and cats get dental disease.”

  • False: While dental disease is obviously more severe in older pets who have had years to accumulate the effects of periodontal disease, over 80% of dogs and 70% of cats develop oral disease by the age of three. This is why it’s so important to begin preventive care early in life!

“It’s time to get your dog’s teeth cleaned when you can start seeing buildup.”

  • False: Dental disease is a progression that begins with signs invisible to the naked eye. The bacteria in our mouths combine with food bits to produce the invisible sticky film called plaque, which coats the teeth and sneaks up beneath the gum line. Over time, this plaque hardens into tartar, the visible brown stuff you can see on your pet’s teeth.

    This stews below the gumline and causes gingivitis, which results in the inflamed reddened gums most commonly visible on the back teeth. Left untreated, the bacteria begin to wreak havoc on the tissues and bone underneath the gums, and that’s when things get ugly.

 

Alt Text!

“Anesthesia-free dental cleanings are almost as good as a full cleaning.”

  • False: Now we’re getting into rough waters. Dogs and cats need anesthesia in order to have a full dental cleaning, because no pet likes the feeling of a dental scaler plunging into their sore gums. I mean, who can blame them?

    Without anesthesia, cleanings are limited to scraping off the plaque you can see with the naked eye. This type of cleaning makes the teeth look better, but they’re often no healthier afterwards. It’s like cutting a weed and leaving all the roots — it looks better temporarily, but you haven’t done anything to stop it from spreading.

“Some dogs are more prone to dental disease than others.”

  • True: Short-nosed breeds such as pugs and French bulldogs are more prone to disease due to their propensity for teeth overcrowding and misalignment. This creates a big net for food debris to stick around, no pun intended.

    Small dogs such as Yorkies, Chihuahuas, Poodles, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels also develop dental disease earlier in life. Their small mouths just struggle to fit all 42 teeth and often end up misaligned. Breeds such as Dachshunds, Boxers, and Shih Tzus have genetic quirks that impact their dental health as well.

“My vet’s going to judge me for this and it’s stressing me out.”

  • False (I hope!): Being vets, we are accustomed to seeing significant diseases. I don’t care about anything except helping the pet feel better! Everyone who comes into the clinic has done a tremendous thing by coming in and getting treatment.

    I can’t speak for every veterinarian on this earth, but I do know without a relationship of trust and working together, you’re not going to get the optimal results for your pet. If you don’t have a strong honest relationship, for whatever reason, I’d highly encourage you to seek out another provider. It’s fine! Both you and your pet deserve that bond.

---

How’d you do? Let us know in the comments below.

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Dr V 

National Cat Lover's Month: The Best Of Cat News In 2019

Woman Kisses Gray Cat

If I were to ask my cat Penelope if she knew that December was National Cat Lover’s Month, she’d probably plop down in the most dramatic patch of lighting she could find, start to groom herself, and say, “Of course, darling, we always save the best for last. Now fetch me a treat.”

I’m the first to admit that in the world of petdom, cats often get short shrift compared to their larger, furrier, droolier dog counterparts. What can I say? Dogs just seem so much needier than their independent, above-it-all feline housemates. I know it’s not true, and I’d like to give them their due in their month of celebration.

So in honor of National Cat Lover’s Month, I’m sharing my favorite cat news, discoveries, or insights from 2019. After all, cats deserve no less!

A Scientist Shares How To Pet Your Cat

We all know intuitively that there are right ways (gentle, front-to-back) and wrong ways (staring into their face, clutching them to your chest) to pet a cat. But a researcher from Nottingham Trent University took it a step further and actually collated the research data that exists in order to perfect the rules for successful cat-petting.

The number one factor in whether or not a cat enjoys getting pet? Whether or not the cat was the one to initiate the interaction. As anyone who has had to endure those rib-crushing hugs from Great Aunt Edna over the holidays can attest, this makes perfect sense.

Free Quilty

Like Puss in Boots or Robin Hood, Quilty the Cat is a rogue at heart. Quilty wasn’t satisfied with his plush digs in a Houston shelter, and decided to make a run for it. Over and over and over, he’d open the door handle and let all the residents of the cat room run amok. Each morning the staff would come in perplexed, having to retrieve the 15 cats Quilty had set free, and finally placed a camera to figure out what was going on.

Eventually Quilty was identified as the prison-breaking culprit and sent to solitary confinement, where his irritated pout earned him a whole different type of freedom: that of internet darling. The best part is, he earned the ultimate escape: he is being matched with the perfect home.

Cats Absolutely Love Us

Though some might interpret a cat’s natural independence as a lack of interest compared to, say, the neverending ardor of a Golden Retriever, the truth is cats do form strong bonds to their people. According to a Current Biology journal article from September that compared the attachment behaviors of cats to that of human babies, they exhibited the same patterns of caregiver attachments as infants!

So cat lovers, rejoice in the scientific proof of what you already knew — of course our cats love us. They just show it in their own cat-like way.

Cute Kitten Wants To Play

A Dog Would NEVER Interrupt an NFL Game Like This

Right in the midst of a Cowboys/Giants Monday night game, a black cat decided he was going to show the world who really held the power and brought the game to a screeching halt with nothing more than his presence on the field.

Not satisfied with merely showing up and running around, he proceeded to dramatically work his way to the endzone, working the crowd into a frenzy as he led a start-and-stop saunter into touchdown range. I haven’t heard cheers that loud at an NFL game since Prince rocked the halftime Superbowl show! Yes, cats know dramatic entrances.

Cats Know Us Better Than We Think

It’s a common belief that dogs sense and respond to our moods due to thousands of years of selective breeding. While cats are also domesticated, they evolve not from a pack species but a solitary one, so we’ve long assumed that cats aren’t as attuned to our behavioral cues as canines. But that assumption is incorrect.

Take, for example, the pointing test- a test of human-animal communication long thought to be passable only by a select few animals such as, you guessed it, the dog. But when researchers actually placed cats in the test with their owner, they followed their owner’s pointing hand as often as the dogs did- if, that is, they were paying attention.

___

2019 was the year when cats came into their own and proved, this time with the rigors of science behind them, that they are well aware of their place in our world and enjoy being a part of it. They just do it on their own terms. Will we ever understand them entirely? Probably not. Do we need to? Not really. They are who they are: fun, loving, neurotic, playful, aloof, or whatever the heck they choose to be on any given day. That’s part of the fun of having one in the house.

Best wishes to your family in the coming year!

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Dr V 

Why You Should Consider Fostering Senior Dogs Or Cats

Woman Playing With Senior Foster Dog At Beach

About ten years ago, I was on my way to a rescue to meet a Labrador named Lucy. She was four years old, bouncy, loved kids, and would have been the perfect companion for my one-year old Golden Brody.

While we were there, I saw a little black potato hovering in the shadows. That was Kekoa, they explained. She wasn’t who I had come to meet, but she sure did love meeting new people and I asked if it was okay if she came over to say hi.

Kekoa was ten or so. It was her second time being returned to the rescue. You could see in her eyes both the defeat of her return and the hope of a new family. She licked my hand gently, then gave my toddler son a very delicate kiss on the face. When she turned to leave, he ran after her. Even at two, my son knew something so many don’t:

There is no love as profound as that of a senior pet.

“I don’t want to get attached only to have to say goodbye so soon.”

First things first: People who foster pets of any age are a special kind of angel. Whether you are giving a puppy, senior, or new mother space in your home, you are doing them a tremendous service.

As an extension of the shelter system, foster families provide innumerable benefits to the community:

  1. The pet is able to wait for their forever family in a loving home environment, instead of a shelter that may be loud, crowded, and stressful. We know stress results in increased illness, and potentially reduces their adoptability. I mean, when would you rather go on a date? On a nice Saturday afternoon or Tuesday night after a terrible day at work? Calm environments allow us to be our best selves.
  2. You’re creating space for another animal at the shelter. The number one limitation in a shelter environment is space. By acting as an extension of that space, you are helping your shelter serve a larger community and reduce the number of euthanasia due to overcrowding.
  3. You have so much to offer. You’re watching their behavior. You know their preferences. You have a better idea than anyone else who is a good and maybe a not-quite-perfect long-term family for this pet. Making the right placement is key in a successful adoption.

These benefits apply to anyone. I know lots of people who prefer to foster animals under 4 months of age. I have a friend who likes to foster kittens because she knows she gets an endless supply of adorable little fuzzballs in her house, but she still has the flexibility of her busy lifestyle because she knows they are adopted quickly and rarely require a commitment of more than a month.

Foster Dog And Cat Laying Together

I also know a lot of families who choose to foster young pets knowing they are likely to keep one as a permanent family member- the ever present ‘foster failure’. For these families, fostering is a way to test their children’s ability to be responsible pet owners without the pressure of a long-term commitment if the time just isn’t right.

The motivations for fostering senior dogs or cats are a little different.

We all know senior pets are often the first to be euthanized at a shelter. This is a sad reality. With limited space, shelters need to allocate space to the most adoptable animals and those who are older, with health problems or a grey face are often the last chosen for adoption. This despite the fact that they are usually the most low-key, relaxed pets who are past the whole chewing thing, past the whole tearing up the yard thing, and just want a place to be happy.

It is a myth that seniors are more high maintenance than other pets. When in good health, it’s usually the opposite.

When you bring a puppy or a kitten into your home, they don’t have the life experience to know just how great you are. A senior, on the other hand? They’ve seen some things. They’ve had a life, and you have no idea how great or terrible it was, but something terrible must have transpired because they are here, homeless.

They understand the difference between their home and the shelter.

They understand what love looks like, and unfortunately what lack of love looks like.

They appreciate you in a different way.

You can make a bigger difference in one month of a senior’s life than you can in months or years with a younger pet, because those moments are just that important. Dogs and cats don’t hold grudges. They have astonishing capabilities for forgiveness. In this life, what they remember is this week. And the love you show in your time as a foster can erase years of sadness and neglect. Isn’t that amazing?

The timeline is a little more variable in a senior foster situation. Puppies and kittens are gone in a flash. They move on to something incredible — a forever home. Seniors may be with you for quite some time. It is a relationship. Your time together ends because they are adopted, or because their time on earth has come to a conclusion. Either way, you know you have provided something priceless to them.

My friend Karen fell into senior hospice unintentionally. She has the right heart for it. She has a type: anything with a huge head, preferably with lots of Shar Pei rolls. The rescue called her once with a perfect foster who just happened to be a senior, and she said yes. She says yes a lot now.

Three senior fosters so far that I know of.

I see her take these souls in knowing it is unlikely they will know any homes other than hers, and in their eyes you see the dawning realization that they are safe.

They go on car trips.

They sleep on couches.

They live the Instagram life.

Her stories have inspired other people to take in senior pets as well, because she does such an incredible job of documenting the transformation that can take place in just a few weeks of joy. That’s all you need. There’s no minimum amount of time it takes to make a difference in someone’s life.

November is Adopt a Senior Pet month, so it’s the perfect time to remember that. Whether you are adopting or foster, there’s ways anyone with the right heart can make a difference in the life of a senior. How about you?

Dr V 
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

 

Toxic Algae: Is It Safe For Dogs To Swim?

Dog Licks Man In Lake

On a beautiful sunny August day, three dogs named Abby, Harpo, and Lizzy went for a swim at a pond in Wilmington, North Carolina. They were happy and healthy pups. And by the days’ end, all three were gone. The cause: toxic algae.

It sounds like a scene from The Blob or straight out of your worst nightmares. How can something as benign as a swim in a lake turn deadly? Sadly, these tragic stories are popping up in the news from the Pacific Northwest all the way down to the far reaches of the southeast. The good news is, knowledge is power. You can avoid these potentially devastating situations by being aware of your pet’s surroundings. Information is hard to find and often confusing, even for a veterinarian- so I put some information together that I hope you will find helpful. Here’s what all dog owners need to know about toxic algae blooms:

What is toxic algae?
Blooms of blue-green algae derive from small bacteria called cyanobacteria. In large numbers, these bacteria aggregate to resemble a greenish sludge on the surface of bodies of water. While the current blue-green algae blooms in the news are associated with lakes and ponds, algae blooms occur worldwide in all types of bodies of water. Some, but not all, forms of these algae produce deadly toxins. These blooms are called Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB).

Why is this happening so much lately?
While toxic blooms are nothing new, they do happen more frequently in the hot, sunny days of summer and fall. Summer rainstorms also dump nutrient-rich runoff into bodies of water, fueling the algae’s growth. Slow-moving water is more likely to experience blooms, hence the increased incidence in ponds and lakes versus oceans and rivers.

Do toxic blooms only affect dogs?
No, the toxic effects of HABs can affect many animals. We see these incidents most commonly in dogs because they spend more time swimming than other pets. In addition, they often swallow water while they are swimming and are more likely to ingest a toxic dose.

These toxins can cause illness in people, birds, and other wildlife. In addition, the toxins can be absorbed by fish and shellfish, causing a chain reaction in the food supply. A 2015 outbreak on the West Coast decimated fisheries, causing die-offs of fish and shellfish from Alaska all the way down the California coast.

What are the effects of the toxins?
When a dog swallows water with algal toxins or grooms the algae off his fur, the effects can be seen in minutes to hours. Algae produce different types of toxins that affect the liver, GI tract, and neurologic system. With liver disease, clinical signs start in minutes to hours and include vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, seizures, and weakness. With neurotoxins, pets can also fall ill in minutes to hours. Affected animals produce excessive saliva, experience tremors, have difficulty breathing, seizures, or collapse. Both types are deadly. Even touching toxic algae can cause skin irritation or respiratory inflammation.

Regardless of the specific toxin, any of these symptoms after swimming in a lake should be considered a medical emergency. There is no known antidote to the toxin. Your veterinarian can provide supportive care and treat the symptoms, but sadly many dogs succumb to the illness.

Happy Dog Fetching Stick in Lake

How do I know if a lake or pond is experiencing a HAB? Is all algae toxic?
Not all algae produces deadly toxins. In fact, most do not. That’s the good news. The bad news is, one cannot tell simply by looking whether an algal bloom is toxic or not. Blooms often produce a greenish scum on the surface of the water, but can appear brown as well. Sometimes there is no mat on the surface at all and the water simply has a greenish tint. If you see water that looks like this, don’t take chances. Keep yourself and your pets away unless you have specifically been given the green light by your local municipality.

According to the CDC, the following warning signs indicate a body of water that is potentially unsafe:
Avoid entering or playing in bodies of water that: smell bad look discolored have foam, scum, or algal mats on the surface contain or are near dead fish or other dead animals (for example, do not enter a body of water if dead fish have washed up on its shore or beach)

Is there an agency that monitors water safety?
Suspect water can be tested to determine whether toxins are present in the water. Just because the water in one lake is deemed safe, it doesn’t mean the lake a few miles away is also safe.

To reiterate: these blooms are found across the globe, in lakes, ponds, and oceans. Your county or state health department is usually your best resource for finding out the current status in your area. Some states list “HAB Incident Reports” indicating harmful algal blooms in the region, such as this site maintained by the California Water Quality Monitoring Council.

A last word of caution: In an era of tightening budgets, routine monitoring is not the standard in many places and testing may not occur until after a problem is noted.

When in doubt, just stay out!

Pet Vaccine Facts: Dogs vs. Cats

Cat Getting Vaccines At Vet

It’s National Pet Immunization Awareness Month! Did you know that in addition to the “core vaccines” all cats and dogs need, there are also non-core diseases that you can get vaccines for as well? Your family vet will tell you which non-core vaccines your pet should receive, depending on factors such as their age and breed.

In honor of this awareness month, talk to your vet to make sure your four-footers have their latest vaccines and boosters. Always keep your vaccination records and schedule annual checkups for your furry family members to ensure they stay healthy and happy!

Pet Vaccine Facts for Dogs and Cats Infographic

How To Prevent Heat Exhaustion In Dogs

Woman And Dog Stay Cool In Summer Heat

Every summer, our local parks department posts warning signs at the trailhead of my favorite hike warning of the dangers of overheating. Not for people. For their dogs.

The trail is five miles round trip, winding up a rocky mountain with little shade and no access to water. If you get into trouble out on the trail, you have to either be carried out or airlifted. Fortunately, most people heed warm weather warnings for themselves, bring enough water and have the appropriate hiking attire, all of which help make rescues a rare event. The same cannot be said for their dogs, unfortunately … hence the sign.

Dogs love us and want to go along with whatever we ask them to do. This leads to dangerous situations when well-meaning nature lovers, who just want to include their canines in summer activities, forget the very real risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke in dogs.

Risk Factors

Heat exhaustion doesn’t come out of nowhere, making it a problem we can both anticipate and prevent. That’s a good thing! While any pet or person can experience this condition, there are specific risk factors that you need to be aware of that make some dogs more susceptible to heat than others:

  • Age: Both the very young and the very old are more affected by heat. Regulating body temperature is a complicated physiological process, and pets at both ends of the age spectrum have more difficulty fending off temperature extremes.
  • Breed: You can’t walk ten feet these days without encountering an adorable Frenchie or Boston Terrier, but hopefully those walks are taking place early in the morning (hint, hint). Any squishy-faced breed (referred to as brachycephalic) is more prone to heat stroke due to their anatomy.
  • Coat: When I first adopted my black lab Kekoa, I was shocked at how much more quickly she heated up during walks. Why? Dark-coated fur absorbs more heat. In addition, those beautiful thick coats that keep breeds like Huskies toasty in the snow can also predispose them to heat-related illness.
  • Weight: As if we needed another reason to warn against carrying extra pounds, obesity is a known risk factor for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

All of these risk factors add up. Let’s just say, if you have a black-coated, overweight, senior French bulldog, you might as well just follow them around with a fan and a thermometer all summer (and get them on a diet!).

Early Warning Signs

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are progressive illnesses. It takes time for a pet to go from normal body temperature to dangerously hot. During that process, he or she may exhibit any one of the following signs, meaning it’s time to stop what you’re doing and get into the shade.

  • Panting: Yes, dogs pant as part of the normal cooling process- but if they’re panting so much they can barely pause to take a sip of water, they’re too hot.
  • Drooling: Excessive drooling is a sign of heat exhaustion. Paradoxically, so are dry gums. A pet’s mouth should be moist but not dripping with saliva, nor should the gums be dry to the touch.
  • Red gums: Gums should be pink. Dark gums, which can look nearly red, can signal a problem.

Happy Dog Avoids Heat Exhaustion

Late-Stage Warning Signs

If your pet exhibits any of these during hot weather, I would proceed to a veterinarian immediately. Left unchecked, heat stroke can sadly lead to kidney failure or even death.

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Staggering gait
  • Seizures
  • Petechiae (pinpoint red spots on gums & mucous membranes)
  • Blood in stool or tarry, dark stool

What Should You Do if You Suspect Heat Exhaustion or Stroke?

If you’re not sure how severe your pet’s symptoms are, you can always call your local veterinary ER for advice. It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially with something as dangerous as heat stroke.

Avoid the temptation to douse your pet in cold water. It can actually worsen things by causing the peripheral blood vessels to constrict. You can spray your pet with cool (not cold) water while you proceed to the ER.

The best solution is, as always, prevention. Make sure pets have plenty of access to shade and cold drinking water when they’re outside during warm weather. Keep them indoors entirely during significant heat waves. Avoid walks during the middle of the day. If you’re going on a hike where help is not likely to be easily accessible if you run into trouble, over-prepare.

Have a fun, and SAFE, summer!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Guidelines For Pet Fire Safety & Prevention

Family Prepped for Pet Fire Safety At Home

When my mother was five years old, her house burned down due to a stove that was accidentally left on overnight. Decades later, she still remembers that night as if it were yesterday … the smoke filling the hallways, the feel of the grass under her bare feet. It happened, she said, so fast. Fortunately, everyone made it out alive.

When it comes to fire safety, most of us know the basics: pre-plan evacuation routes and during a fire, don’t open doors without first feeling for heat. But do your plans include your pet? An estimated 500,000 pets are adversely affected each year by house fires. For this reason, July 15th is designated as National Pet Fire Safety Day in order to raise awareness of pet safety during house fires and help you prepare so everyone is protected!


Safe Pet Evacuation Tips

The first part of your pet fire safety plan should be to review your evacuation protocol, if you have one. And if not, today’s the day to make one!

  1. Designate specific people for specific pets 

    Knowing in advance who grabs Oliver’s leash and who gets Fiona’s cat carrier streamlines the evacuation. Ideally the leashes and carriers should be kept in easily accessible locations.
  2. Know your evacuation routes 

    A second story window is not going to be an accessible route for a large dog, so plan for exits pets can use whenever possible. It is important to remember that family members should never put themselves in danger for a pet, as difficult as that may be. First responders are trained to rescue our four-legged family members when it is unsafe for us to do so.
  3. Display a window cling 

    Speaking of first responders, did you know you can put a vinyl adhesive sticker near your front door that alerts firefighters that there are pets in your home? Many fire stations make these available to the public, or you can easily shop for them online. Make sure they are updated regularly so first responders know how many pets are living in the home, should an emergency arise when you are away or incapacitated.
  4. Keep collars on at all times

    This is good practice in general, but in the specific case of house fires this makes it much easier for a firefighter to safely bring your pet out of the house. And, should they escape during an evacuation (not uncommon in times of extreme distress), he or she will have their contact information readily available on their tags.


How To Prevent Fires From Starting

Did you know dogs and cats are blamed for about 1,000 house fires every year? No, these are not deliberately destructive acts of arsonist-inclined companion animals. But still, yikes! Take the time to employ a few preventive strategies to ensure your dog or cat doesn’t inadvertently cause a flammable disaster.

  1. Use flameless candles

    Pets and open flames are a dangerous mix, particularly when you have a curious cat who likes to knock things off the coffee table. Flameless candles powered by LEDs are a pretty and safe alternative. If you really want to light that scented candle, make sure your pets are never left unattended in the same room.
  2. Use knob covers on the stove.

    Did you know that stove tops are the number one way pets accidentally start fires? One minute they’re trying to get a look over the counter to see if there’s any food up there, the next thing you know you’re getting a call from the fire department while you’re in the middle of a work meeting. Knob covers- the same type used to prevent toddlers from starting the stove- work like a charm.
  3. No glass on wooden decks.

    Many people like using glass bowls for pet dishes. There’s nothing wrong with that, but glass can act like a magnifying glass and set a wooden deck aflame. It might seem crazy, but it happens! Switch the bowls out for ceramic or plastic, and you’re all set.
  4. Use a monitored security system or smart alarm.

    Traditional smoke alarms are a vital component of fire safety, but they’re only useful for people in the house at the time. Pets home alone have no way of alerting us if there’s a problem, but monitored security systems can react quickly before a fire gets out of hand no matter where you are in the world. Conversely, a good alternative to monitored systems are smart alarms. Today’s smoke and carbon monoxide detectors function not only as in-house alarm systems, they can also send text and push notifications wherever you’d like. Our system controls the thermostat, the smoke detector, security camera, and tells us if one of the kids left the front door open.

Dog And Cat Safe At Home Thanks To Pet Fire Safety Guidelines

We’ve come a long way since that chilly night decades ago where my mother watched her house disappear. With today’s safety precautions, there’s a lot you can do to make sure your family doesn’t endure a similar tragedy. Or if you do, that everyone makes it out quickly and safely. By taking steps now to minimize the dangers and to develop a well-defined plan, everyone in your home can have peace of mind and rest a little easier.

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

The Changing Needs of Senior Cats

Caring-for-Senior-Cats

Cats are wonderful, mysterious creatures. And that's just two of the many reasons we love having them as a part of our family! On the other hand, cats are notorious for masking symptoms of disease, which can make determining their health needs increasingly challenging as they age. The signs are there, however, if we know what to look for. In what follows, we'll review the signs and reveal several things pet parents can do to optimize their cats' nutrition as they age.

When are Cats Considered Senior?

Generally speaking, cats can be considered senior if they're somewhere between 7-10 years of age. There is not one specific age, largely due to differences in quality of nutrition and the varying health states of individual cats. Unlike dogs, which have a wide variation in aging due to size differences between breeds, cat breeds all age at about the same rate.

Common signs of aging in cats include decreased jumping due to arthritis, weight changes (either gain or loss), changes in sleeping patterns, changes in drinking and/or urinating behavior, and cognitive changes such as seeming disoriented or lost. Although these symptoms are associated with age, they also reflect disease processes. If your cat exhibits any of the above symptoms, visit your veterinarian to make sure that you're not dealing with a dire medical condition that might require immediate treatment! Better safe than sorry.

Dogs vs Cats - More Differences

While older dogs have decreased energy needs, the same is not true for cats. The caloric needs of cats decrease until age 11, then start to increase again (which is why you see many obese 9 year olds but very few obese 16 year old cats). Cats are obligate carnivores so their nutritional needs are very different from omnivores such as dogs and people.

Protein & Fats

Senior cats may not digest protein and fat as efficiently as they age. Thus, the takeaway here is that not only the quantity, but the quality of protein and fats, matters. If protein intake remains too low, your cat may experience impaired immune function and muscle wasting. Digestibility is the key obtaining nutrients from foods, so it’s best to feed high-quality protein sources that are easily absorbed by a gut that may not be performing at optimal levels.

Senior-Cats-are-Awesome

Four Age-Associated Diseases You Need to Know

Diabetes is usually associated with obesity. High-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets can help blood sugar stabilize and reduce the need for insulin. Weight loss greatly improves the condition. Signs of diabetes include increased drinking and urination, sudden weight loss. Note that these symptoms are very similar to those of hyperthyroidism, another common disease in older cats.

Dental disease can make it harder for cats to crunch on kibble, leading to weight loss secondary to pain. Soft foods can help minimize oral pain. Signs of dental disease include reddened gums, bad breath and tartar.

Hyperthyroidism: a very common disease in elderly cats that is also associated with heart disease. Diet can help these cats maintain weight, but this is a disease that is best treated with medication, surgery, or radiation. Many cats do very well with treatment.

Renal disease: while kidney disease is often treated with protein restriction, this may not be the best bet for all cats. Too little protein can result in weight loss and muscle breakdown. Some cats benefit from phosphorous-restricted diets to reduce strain on the kidneys, but these decisions are best made in conjunction with your veterinarian. Signs of kidney disease include decreased appetite, weight loss, bad breath, vomiting, dehydration and increased urination.

Nutritional Challenges in Older Cats

As your cats age, they're at a higher risk of diminished appetite due to medical conditions, a loss of smell and taste due to age, all of which can lead to muscle wasting. Pet parents can help with warming food, soft food (canned is often more aromatic than kibble), or adding gravies or meat-based baby foods to improve smell and flavor.

Older cats are prone to dehydration, so getting enough water in them can be a challenge. Again, adding canned or soft foods may help, as does providing multiple water stations throughout the house.

Don't forget that premium supplements such as omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants can help address some of the signs and symptoms of aging.

So What's the Bottom Line?

As we've seen, cats are a mystery and sometimes a challenge. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to senior diets in cats, so each kitty should be evaluated on an individual basis to come up with a diet plan that will help them live their longest, happiest and healthiest lives!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM