Friday, May 20, 2016

Cat Visits: reducing your cat’s stress when you travel to the animal clinic

Recently a client shared their terrible and harrowing experience of getting her cat to the vet clinic yearly.  The client has to shut the doors, get the cat out from the bed, and then shove the cat into the cat carrier.  I think many of us could agree, that while this is stressful for you, and the cat, this is definitely not a unique experience.  Many of our clients with cats come in a few minutes late for their appointment, with battle scar scratches on their arms, because this is commonly a trial by fire task.
We would like to share a few tips on how to make vet trips less of an ordeal for your cat.

1. Feliway.  We cannot applaud the concept of this product enough.  Feliway is a calming facial pheromone scent for you cat.  It may not work for every cat, every time, but we have definitely seen it help.  You can plug a diffuser (its like a Glade plug-in) in all the time for a stressed cat, or plug the diffuser in a few days before an anticipated stressful event like a clinic visit.  The spray or wipes can be used directly in the cat carrier 1 hour before you put the cat in.  Again, it may not 100% decrease the stress, but it will definitely bring the level down a few notches.

2. Desensitizing for the carrier.  Please, take the time to desensitize you cat to the carrier, so it is not such a dramatic experience for them to travel inside it.  Leave the carrier out periodically, add food or treats inside; you can even leave familiar bedding or warm cuddly blankets.  Allow the cat to investigate the carrier at their own pace, and reward the cat for showing any positive interest in the carrier.  If its appearance isn’t always followed by a struggle, and a stressful visit to the vet, your cat will be less worried every time it sees that dreaded box.  
3. Desensitizing for the travel.  If it’s the car ride your cat despises, do practice runs for that as well.  Get the cat in the carrier, drive around for a short car trip, come home, and reward your cat grandly with attention and treats to let them know that travel isn’t always going to equal a stressful outcome.  Your veterinarian can even offer “happy visits” for your cat (or your dog), where we check your pet in to an exam room, and a technician or veterinarian comes in, talks with you, pets the cat, or gives a few treats, and they leave without any stressful injections, or handling.  This can do wonders for breeding trust between the clinic staff, you, and your pet.
4. Understanding.  I think most importantly, owners need a good concept of why they are bringing the cat in for yearly visits.  It is not “just” for that shot that we recommend we see your cat yearly.  We want to do a comprehensive physical examination, and get a full history on how your cat has been doing since their last visit, so we can intervene on any early signs of illness, or concerns.  We aim to keep your cat as healthy as possible and live a long, peaceful life.  In addition, if you are only coming in that one time your cat has become incredibly ill, a visit to the animal hospital is going to be that much more stressful and traumatic for a cat that has never traveled from home in its life.  
5. Getting an unwilling cat into a carrier.  Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your cat still doesn’t trust the travel carrier.  Bring the carrier into a small room, and then bring your cat into the room and shut the door, limiting escape.  Gently lower your cat into a carrier with a top door, or stand the carrier up and lower into the door.  If you have a plastic carrier that comes apart, consider taking off the top, putting the cat in the bottom, and then putting the top back on to secure the cat.  Remember, no matter what process you chose, go slowly, and calmly, as cat’s can sense your stress or anxiety.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Canine Influenza: A Brief Look at What Pet Owners Should Know

The canine influenza virus made big headlines last summer as it reached almost epidemic proportions in Chicago. This was the first time the United States had experienced a new strain of the virus and it seemed to spread very quickly. Recently, central Illinois has seen the virus resurface. So what should pet owners do to help keep their furry friends safe? 
At the first sign of these symptoms, you should call your veterinary clinic. (Image Source)

It is important to remember that the influenza virus is spread through coughing and sneezing. Many dogs will shed this virus before they are even symptomatic themselves. This is why such a large number of pets can be affected so quickly. In the mild form of influenza a dog may have a cough lasting from 10 to 30 days. If the condition progresses it can lead to a serious pneumonia which may require hospitalization. The vast majority of pets will recover, however there have been some reports of pets passing away. These cases are rare and usually limited to the very old or your, or those with chronic conditions. However at the first sign of coughing, lethargy or decrease in appetite it is best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian. 
Influenza is very easily spread, so veterinary staff needs to take extra precautions during an outbreak. (Image Source)

Remember this is a virus, so unless there is a secondary bacterial component, antibiotics will typically not be helpful. Most of the time treatment is supportive care. This means making sure the pet stays hydrated and combating the fever. If there is a bacterial component then antibiotics will be prescribed to help your pet. 
Since this virus can spread quickly, it is best to keep your dog away from other pets until the outbreak has subsided. (Image Source)

If there is a known outbreak in your area, there are several ways to help keep your pet safe. One of the best options is to keep them home whenever possible. While your dog may love the dog park, or getting groomed, boarding, etc. if the influenza virus is circulating the best thing you can do is keep your pet away from other animals until the virus has been contained. We are also fortunate to have vaccinations for the two most common strains of the virus. These are the H3N8 strain and the more recent  H3N2 strain. Typically if your pet has not received these vaccines before, they will need to receive an initial dose and booster that 2-4 weeks later. After that this series, they can become yearly vaccinations. Unfortunately, there is not currently a combo vaccination containing both strains so these are two different shots, but seem to provide good coverage for the most common strains seen in the United States. As with the any virus though, it is possible for new strains to develop, so we still recommend monitoring pets closely for symptoms of influenza, even if they are vaccinated. 

We all want to keep our pets happy and healthy. If your pet frequently visits dog parks, boarding facilities or day cares, it is a good idea to talk to your veterinarian about what vaccines are right for them!

With the outbreak in Central Illinois, there has been a lot of information available to pet owners regarding Canine Influenza. There are several good websites here and here that contain excellent information for pet owners. As always, if you have any concerns it is best to contact your veterinarian. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Nail trim dos’s and don’t’s

Nail trimming.  Even though it is not what people think of a medical condition, it’s often an appointment we will see multiple times a day on our schedule.

Why don’t more clients trim their dog’s nails at home?
Many dogs despise nail trims, and this is probably the number one reason people cite as to why they bring them in to the clinic or the groomer for nail trims.  There are definitely ways to condition your dog to accept this into their grooming routine.  The first, and best way to get dogs to accept nail trims is to start desensitizing them to having their feet touched, and their nails clipped, when they are puppies.  Yes, they are squirmy, and wiggly, and small; but this is when they are most willing to learn and accept this as not a scary process.  In more mature dogs, this can be done with training and positive reinforcement, even if your pet is no longer young and impressionable.  We often recommend trimming just a few toes at a time, and then offering rewards/treats for good behavior if the experience went well, and then trying for more nails a few days later.  If you keep up this routine, everything does tend to stay trim and short.

Another reason people don’t do their dog’s nail trims at home is because of the risk of bleeding.  They have experienced one bad episode of a bleeding toe nail, and they are just too nervous to attempt a home nail trim again.  The nail is basically a hardened layer of keratin around an inner pulpy nail core, and inside all of that is a small blood vessel that runs done the length of the nail, called the quick.  There are definitely ways to avoid the quick, and the resulting bleeding, but it is important to remember that accidently cutting the quick leads to minor discomfort and not tragedy.  The “quick stop” powder that your groomer or veterinary clinic uses can be obtained where most grooming supplies are sold, and is a quick and effective way to control any bleeding mistakes.  Ways to avoid the quick include only cutting the “hooked” part of a dark nail, or looking for where the pink color stops and the clear part starts of a clear/white nail.  If the vessel is growing through a long length of the nail, frequent clipping of the nails in small increments can eventually move that vessel back so you can get the nails shorter.

If these tips and tricks don’t entice you to take on your pet’s routine pedicure treatments, routine walks on the sidewalk or any rough terrain can wear down those nails without constant need for nail trimming.  (However, be sure to avoid hot concrete during the summer time, as this can cause foot burns.)  Dremmeling (or grinding) the nails works in the same way, and often pets tolerate this type of trimming much better than the cutting action of nail clippers.

Why do your dog’s nails need to be trimmed?

Long, untrimmed toe nails actually can become a medical condition.  Long nails can catch on things and rip or break, causing exposure to that inner nail bed, predisposing your dog to infections and significant pain.  Smaller dogs that don’t walk often on harder surfaces, or are carried often,  can even have nails that grow around into the bottom of their feet (paw pads) causing pain, open sores, and infection.  Dew claws (or side claws) can do this as well and are a big concern.  Nails that are too long can make walking difficult, because they don’t allow the feet and toes to properly hit the ground with the right positioning, and can often make it difficult to gain traction for older, arthritic pets.

How often do my dog’s nails need to be trimmed?
The timing and frequency of nail trimming is certainly variable between dogs, but on average, every 4-6 weeks or so is a good starting point.  Some dogs that have previously grown out their toe nails may need trimming every 2 weeks to try to move back that quick vessel and try to get them as short as needed.  Some dogs walk enough on sidewalks that they may only need a trimming every couple of months, or may never need a trimming depending on how much rough surface they walk on.