Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Senior Pets and Arthritis

November is known among veterinary circles, as “Senior Pet Month” so I thought it would be a good time to blog about senior pets.  Seniors are some of my favorite patients to treat. I think its because we now have many great options available for treating seniors for a variety of chronic problems that come with age. Working with owners of senior pets is especially rewarding and I love to hear progress reports about pets that have renewed energy and are able to jump and run like they haven’t in months or years. 

So what exactly qualifies as “senior” when we are talking about a cat or a dog? There are a variety of charts available and it does depend a little bit on the breed. Generally for cats I would consider above the age of 8 years to be senior. As for dogs smaller breeds can often live up to 15 or 16 so senior is usually about 8 and up.  For large and giant breeds some of the senior health problems develop a bit sooner so we might call 6 and up senior depending on the breed.  Of course each individual ages a bit differently so there is some variation.  If you are wondering about rabbits their average life span is 8-10 years (though some live longer!) so 6 years would also qualify as the beginning of their “golden years”.

This is my dog "Jaeger". He is 6.5 years old and I call him "late middle aged" As a larger breed he is prone to joint problems

Today I will outline one of the most common health problems in our senior patients:

Osteoarthritis (aka arthritis or degenerative joint disease):
Many people are familiar with this because it affects us (people) too! Osteoarthritis results from damage to the cartilage inside the joints. In senior pets this can be from wear and tear with age and is made worse if a pet is overweight or has any other joint problems (such as a torn cruciate ligament for example).  It is estimated that about 20% of all dogs suffer from arthritis (more would be in the senior category) and in senior cats the estimate ranges from 30-90%.  Signs in dogs include limping, difficulty rising, lagging behind on walks, and difficulty with stairs and jumping. In cats the signs are subtle but can include reluctance to jump up or down, changes to grooming patterns or just changes in behavior such as acting more withdrawn.   

When dealing with the early stages of arthritis I usually recommend starting pets on a joint supplement or a joint support diet. Green lipped muscle powder and fish oils are anti-inflammatory and have been shown to help with mobility in dogs and cats.  I like to start with supplementing the diet, as this is a safe option with few side effects. The joint support diets have high levels of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids as well as glucosamine and often also green-lipped muscle powders.  We find our patients do better on these diets, possibly because the supplements are best absorbed from food as opposed to in a pill.  There are also a few nutraceutical options that are showing promise in treating arthritis and can be worth asking your veterinarian about. I have used the product Cartrophen Vet in my own pets with great success.  These can also be a good option when looking for a treatment with very low risk of side-effects. 

 When diet and supplements are not enough we turn to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as Meloxicam, Deramaxx and Rimadyl. They are very effective pain relievers and can really improve an animal’s quality of life. Like any drug they can have some mild side effects and long-term can have effects on the liver and the kidneys as well.  We will recommend blood work before and during treatment just to monitor organ function to make sure treatment is safe for your pet.  If a pet has liver or kidney disease then we can use different classes of pain medications to help with quality of life. The advantage of the anti-inflammatory class over other pain medications is that they actually work at the level of the joint and modify and slow the disease process rather than just treating the pain.

One important thing to note is that human over the counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and naproxen (Aleve), are not safe or recommended for cats and dogs and they can cause serious harm if given at the wrong dose. Don’t try to substitute a human medication that you think might be similar, as dogs and cats do not process drugs in the same way that the human body does.  Even aspirin can cause problems and there are safer more effective options for your pet. Check with your veterinarian before giving any pain medications!

For most of my patients, we are able to safely use a combination of the treatments I discussed to help keep them active and enjoying life for much longer. For me, helping to relieve chronic pain and get an animal back to enjoying life like they used to is one of the best parts of my job. 

Thanks for reading!
Dr Ingrid 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Preparing for Winter

Well its coming down to that time again - WINTER.  Just a few reminders for our pet families when the cold weather returns. 

If you have a dog, you may want to consider buying a coat to help keep the chill out.  There are so many stores that carry dog coats so the selection is wonderful.  Its not only the coats that help them feel less chilly, but the booties are definitely a good thing to invest  (if your pet will keep them on).  The booties are always a good thing to have as it will not only keep the chill off their little feet but will also help to decrease the chance of frostbite.  If you dog just gets the booties off and will not wear them, we suggest that after any walk, make sure to check the underside of your dogs paws for ice build up as it can cause irritation and we don't want your little one or big one to feel any discomfort.

If you have a dog that stays outside, please make sure there is enough bedding in the dog house for warmth and a that clean fresh water is given every day - REMEMBER TO CHECK TO MAKE SURE IT DOES NOT FREEZE.  If the temperature is really low, ensure that you have another option of keeping your dog somewhere indoors if needed.

With Winter and Christmas just around the corner (Christmas is only 42 days away) be sure to make sure the Chocolate is put away.  Chocolate toxicity is a true emergency so please seek Veterinary care if your pet ingests any type of chocolate.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

One of the Most Important Things to Teach Your Dog

After working in the veterinary field for 10 years the importance of kennel training or “crate training” a dog has become more and more apparent to me.  A lot of new puppy or new dog owners say that they don’t intend to kennel their dog when they’re not home and so they don’t think they need to train their dog to go into a kennel.  There are so many other important reasons your dog should be comfortable being in a kennel beyond where you plan to leave him when you aren’t at home.  I like to break things down into lists so here are the top 3 reasons you need to kennel train your dog or new puppy.

1) All dogs deserve to have a safe space: Dogs are naturally den animals. They have an instinct to go to a den where they can feel safe and secure and where nobody else can bother them. That is what the kennel should be for your dog. It’s his happy place. A kennel is a better option than just a bed in an open part of the house because if you close the kennel door it is secure and no other people or pets can get in. This is especially useful if you have small children or other pets. The dog can go there to get a break and have alone time if he needs it. Even if you don’t have,  or plan to have children the kennel is great if you are having visitors or house guests that may scare your dog or make him uncomfortable. When training a dog to a kennel the goal should always be that your dog has a positive experience in the kennel. That means you never put the dog into the kennel as punishment or force the dog into the kennel against his will. The kennel should be set up with a comfy bed or soft blankets inside and when your dog or puppy goes inside on their own they should be rewarded with a favorite toy or treat.  I feed my dog all his meals inside his kennel to reinforce the positive association he has with going inside and believe me he goes bounding into his kennel on a daily basis.

2) You may need to kennel your dog for health reasons: I know this seems far off, especially if you just got a new puppy but sometimes when a dog gets injured it needs to be on kennel rest in order to heal properly. We see this most often when a dog needs to have surgery on a leg or sometimes after a spay or other abdominal surgery. Post-surgery dogs may need to be kennel rested for between 1 and 8 weeks depending on the type of surgery. If your dog is not used to the kennel this can be extremely stressful on both you and him. Sometimes we see patients that need to be sedated daily after surgery in order to keep them quiet and rested in their kennels because they are anxious and not accustomed to it. If you kennel train your dog, especially as a puppy, your dog will feel content and secure during the post surgery recovery period (and no need for sedatives!). Even though he may get a little bored or stir crazy it will be nothing compared to a dog that had never had to be kenneled before.

3) You may need to kennel your dog when you travel: This one is pretty straight forward but if you go away on vacation chances are high you may need to kennel your dog. If he stays at a boarding facility or daycare he will likely be kenneled at least during the night. If you are  looking for a friend or relative to look after your dog when you are away it will also be much easier on the person looking after your dog if they have the option of kenneling him if needed.

The biggest misconception I hear about dogs and kenneling is that people seem to think putting a dog in a kennel is mean or a punishment but this doesn’t have to be the case. If you train your dog the right way he or she will learn to love the kennel.  You can still leave your dog out during the day while you are at work but at least you know you can use the kennel if the need arises. Your dog will be more confident knowing he has a safe place all to himself in the house.   

Ok,  I have convinced you to kennel train your dog right?

Here is a helpful link on how to successfully train your dog or puppy to the crate from the humane society of the United States

Thanks for reading!

Dr Ingrid