Our pets love us unconditionally and provide us (their humans) with companionship, love, fun, and exercise. Our pets are good for us in so many ways – mentally, emotionally, and it’s been proven over and over that even our physical health benefits from our relationships with our pet companions.
Senior Pets (defined as seven years or older for most dogs and cats, and 6 years in larger dog breeds) can experience many of the same problems seen in older people – such as:
• Heart Disease
• Kidney and Urinary Tract disease
• Liver Disease
• Joint or Bone disease
Your pet’s health in later years is not entirely under your control but with a regular health examination and simple diagnostic tests, many of the problems associated with aging can be spotted even before symptoms show.
The cornerstone of preventative care is a once-a-year, or ideally twice-a year health examination for your senior pet. During these visits, your veterinarian can review other preventative care strategies such as good nutrition, parasite control, and maintaining a healthy weight and an active lifestyle.
Due to improved veterinary care and dietary habits, pets are living longer now than they have ever before. There are many medication, supplement, and diet changes that can benefit your pet for senior issues including: Liver and kidney disease, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, diabetes, thyroid diseases, obesity, cognitive dysfunction (pet senility), and more. One result of this is that pets, along with their human companions and veterinarians, are faced with a whole new set of age-related conditions. In recent years there has been extensive research on the problems facing older pets and how to best address their special needs. Next week we will explore some ideas to do this!
What Happens in Heartworm Disease
By Wendy C. Brooks DVM, DABVP
Heartworm Disease vs. Heartworm Infection
Before reviewing the clinical signs seen in heartworm disease, an important distinction must be made between heartworm disease and heartworm infection. Heartworm infection by definition means the host animal (generally a dog) is parasitized by at least one life stage of the heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis). Dogs with heartworms in their bodies do not necessarily have adult worms in their hearts; they may have larval heartworms in their skin only. Dogs with heartworms in their bodies are not necessarily sick, either. Dogs with only larvae of one stage or another are not sick and it is controversial how dangerous it is for a dog to have only one or two adult heartworms. These dogs are certainly infected but they do not have heartworm disease.
On the other hand, dogs with heartworm disease are sick. They not only have the infection but they have any of the problems listed below because of it. Fortunately, heartworm disease is both treatable and preventable. Further sections of this web page explain both treatment and prevention; we will now discuss the damage heartworms can do to a dog’s body.
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Fleas: Know your Enemy
Despite numerous technological advances, fleas continue to represent a potentially lethal plague upon our pets. Current products are effective so there is little reason for this; the problem seems to be one of understanding.
There are over 1900 flea species in the world. Pet owners are concerned with only one: Ctenocephalides felis, the cat flea. This is the flea that we find on our pets (cats, dogs, rabbits, and other species) in 99.9% of cases and in order to understand how to control the damage caused by this tiny little animal, you should learn all you can about it.
What Kind of Damage Can Fleas Cause?
It would be a grave mistake to think of the flea as simply a nuisance. A heavy flea burden is lethal, especially to smaller or younger animals. The cat flea is not at all selective about its host and has been known to kill dairy calves through heavy infestation. Conditions brought about via flea infestation include:
• Flea Allergic Dermatitis (fleas do not make animals itchy unless there a flea bite allergy)
• Flea Anemia
• Feline Infectious Anemia (a life-threatening blood parasite carried by fleas)
• Cat Scratch Fever/Bartonellosis (does not make the cat sick but the infected cat can make a person sick)
• Common Tapeworm infection (not harmful but cosmetically unappealing)
Fleas can kill pets.
This is so important that we will say it again: Most people have no idea that fleas can kill. On some level, it is obvious that fleas are blood-sucking insects but most people never put it together that enough fleas can cause a slow but still life-threatening blood loss. This is especially a problem for elderly cats who are allowed to go outside. These animals do not groom well and are often debilitated by other diseases. The last thing a geriatric pet needs to worry about is a lethal flea infestation and it is important that these animals be well protected.
Also consider that in about 90% of cases where an owner thinks the pet does not have fleas, a veterinarian finds obvious fleas when a flea comb is used. Despite the TV commercials, the educational pamphlets, the common nature of the parasite, there are still some significant awareness problems and a multitude of misconceptions.
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* Diabetes Mellitus Center
What is Diabetes Mellitus?
In order to understand the problems involved in diabetes mellitus, it is necessary to understand something of the normal body’s metabolism.
The pancreas is nestled along the stomach and small intestine. It secretes digestive enzymes into the small intestine but it also secretes hormones into the bloodstream to regulate blood sugar.
The cells of the body require a sugar known as glucose for food and they depend on the bloodstream to bring glucose to them. They cannot, however, absorb and utilize glucose without a hormone known as insulin. This hormone, insulin, is produced by the pancreas. Insulin is like a key that unlocks the door to separate cells from the sugars in our bloodstream.
Glucose comes from the diet. When an animal goes without food, the body must break down fat, stored starches, and protein to supply calories for the hungry cells. Proteins and starches may be converted into glucose. Fat, however, requires different processing that can lead to the production of ketones rather than glucose. Ketones are another type of fuel that the body can use in a pinch but the detection of ketones indicates that something wrong is happening in the patient’s metabolism. Ketones may therefore be detected in the urine of starving animals because of massive fat mobilization is required for ketone formation. Ketones can also be detected in diabetic ketoacidosis, a severe complication of unregulated diabetes so it is helpful to periodically monitor for ketones in a diabetic patient’s urine. The point is, for now, that in times of extreme fat burning (such as in starvation), ketones are a byproduct.
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Periodontal Disease in Pets
More than 85% of dogs and cats older than four years have periodontal concerns. There are four periodontal types of tissue: the gingiva (gum), cementum, periodontal ligament, and alveolar supporting bone.
Periodontal disease starts when plaque forms; plaque is a transparent adhesive fluid composed of mucin, sloughed epithelial cells and aerobic, and gram positive cocci. Plaque starts forming two days after dental cleaning. If the plaque is not removed, mineral salts in the food can precipitate to form hard dental calculus. The calculus is irritating to the gingival tissue, changing the pH of the mouth and allowing bacteria to survive subgingivally. By-products of these bacteria “eat away” at the tooth’s support structures, eventually causing the tooth to be lost in some cases.
There are two common grading systems commonly used to classify the degree of periodontal disease. The mobility index evaluates the looseness of the tooth. With Class I mobility, the tooth moves slightly. Class II is when a tooth moves less than the distance of its crown width. With Class III mobility the tooth moves a distance greater than its crown width. Class III teeth have lost more than 50% of their support and in most cases should be extracted.
Periodontal disease can also be staged:
Stage 1 gingivitis
Stage 2 early periodontitis-less than 25% support loss
Stage 3 established periodontitis- between 25%-50% support loss
Stage 4 advanced periodontitis- greater than 50% support loss
When periodontal disease is not treated, subgingival bacteria can continue to reproduce, creating deeper periodontal pockets through bone destruction.
Eventually, this progression can cause tooth loss and other internal medicine problems.
Imagine a giant tooth sitting in a 10-foot garbage can containing mud and industrial waste. Continue to pretend it is your job to clean the tooth and you are only supplied with equipment 5 feet long. What happens? The top is cleaned and the bottom is allowed to remain in the toxic waste until it eats through the can. How can you solve this problem? Try opening the side of the can to clean the waste out in order to save the tooth. That is the essence of periodontal surgery.
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Degenerative joint disease is the number one cause of chronic pain in dogs and cats. The condition is the result of long-term stresses on a joint, either resulting from an old injury or from natural development of a poorly conformed joint. While surgery may be able to help in some situations, most of the time the degeneration of the joint cannot be reversed and treatment focuses on preventing progression of damage. Numerous products are available; some are best combined with others and some cannot be combined. What we do know is that arthritis pain is best addressed by what is called a multi-modal approach, meaning that several approaches combined yield better results than any single therapy. Here, we focus on medications.
Medications for arthritis pain are divided into two groups: Slow-acting drugs and fast-acting (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone-type drugs).
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Seizures / Convulsions
Authored by: The VIN emergency medicine folder staff
A seizure is any sudden and uncontrolled movement of the animal’s body caused by abnormal brain activity. Seizures may be very severe and affect all of the body, or quite mild, affecting only a portion of the pet. The pet may or may not seem conscious or responsive, and may urinate or have a bowel movement.
Seizure activity that lasts longer than 3 to 5 minutes can cause severe side effects, such as fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or brain (cerebral edema). A dramatic rise in body temperature (hyperthermia) can also result, causing internal organ damage.
Seizures can be caused by epilepsy, toxins, low blood sugar, brain tumors and a host of other medical conditions. Your veterinarian can help you determine the cause of seizures in your pet, and if necessary can refer you to a specialist to help with the diagnosis or treatment of seizures. In general, animals less than one year of age typically have seizures due to a birth defect such as hydrocephalus (water on the brain) or a liver defect called a portosystemic shunt (among others). Animals that have their first seizure between 1 and 5 years of age typically suffer from epilepsy, while those over 5 years of age often have another medical condition causing the seizures such as a brain tumor, stroke or low blood sugar. These are general guidelines, however, and they may or may not apply to your pet.
All pets that have a seizure should have lab tests to help diagnose the underlying cause, and make sure their organs can tolerate any medications that may be needed to control seizures. Once underlying diseases are ruled out by your veterinarian, some pets require medications such as phenobarbital or potassium bromide, among others, to control seizures. These medications may require frequent dose adjustments and monitoring of blood levels, so it is best to have an open and honest discussion with your veterinarian about the effort and costs involved in treating your pet for seizures.
What to Do
What NOT to Do
Obesity has become an extremely important health problem in the Western world, not just for humans but for dogs and cats as well. Obesity in pets is associated with joint problems, diabetes mellitus, respiratory compromise, and decreased life span; recent estimations suggest that up to 35% of dogs and cats in the U.S. suffer from obesity.
Why Obesity is Bad
A common justification for over-feeding treats is that a pet deserves a higher quality of life as a trade off for longevity. While this might on some level makes sense (after all, a pet munching on a treat is certainly getting a great deal of satisfaction from doing so), the other consequences do not make for higher life quality in the big picture. Here are some of problems that obese animals must contend with while they are not enjoying their treats and table scraps.
The over-weight animal has extra unneeded stress on joints, including the discs of the vertebrae. This extra stress leads to the progression of joint degeneration and creates more pain. Weight management alone decreases and can even eliminate the need for arthritis medications. The problem is compounded as joint pain leads to poorer mobility, which in turn leads to greater obesity.
The obese pet has a good inch or two of fat forming a constricting jacket around the chest. This makes the pet less able to take deep breaths as more work is required to move the respiratory muscles. Areas of the lung cannot fully inflate, so coughing results. The pet also overheats more easily. Many cases of tracheal collapse can be managed with only weight loss.
Extra body fat leads to insulin resistance in cats just as it does in humans. In fact, obese cats have been found to have a 50% decrease in insulin sensitivity. Weight management is especially important in decreasing a cat’s risk for the development of diabetes mellitus.
When an overweight cat goes off food or partially off food because of illness or psychological stress, body fat is mobilized to provide calories. Unfortunately, the cat’s liver was not designed to process a large amount of body fat. The liver becomes infiltrated with fat and then fails. A stress that might have been relatively minor, such as a cold, becomes a life-threatening disaster.
Reduced Life Span
A study of age-matched Labrador retrievers found that dogs kept on the slender side of normal lived a median of 2.5 years longer than their overweight counterparts.
Unwillingness to Accept Therapeutic Diets
If the pet should develop a condition where a therapeutic diet is of great benefit, the pet that has been maintained primarily on a diet of table scraps may be unwilling to accept commercial pet food of any kind, much less a food modified to be beneficial for a specific disease process. This unwillingness will hamper treatment.
Increased Surgical/Anesthetic Risk
Obesity poses an extra anesthetic risk because drug dosing becomes less accurate. (It is hard to estimate a patient’s lean body mass for drug dosing if it is encased in a fat suit.) Furthermore, anesthesia is inherently suppressive to respiration and adding a constrictive jacket of fat only serves to make proper air exchange more challenging. And still further, surgery in the abdomen is hampered by the slippery nature of the extra fat as well as difficulty visualizing all the normal structures through the copious fat deposits. One never knows when a pet will require an emergency surgery (to say nothing of regular teeth cleanings).
So is the enjoyment of all those extra treats really worth it?
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What is a Seizure?
Any involuntary behavior that occurs abnormally may represent a seizure. Seizures are classified into several categories.
Generalized (Grand Mal) Seizures
This is the most common form of seizure in small animals. The entire body is involved in stiffness and possibly stiffness/contraction cycles (tonic/clonic action). The animal loses consciousness and may urinate or defecate.
This form of seizure originates from some specific area in the brain and thus involves the activity of a specific region of the body. Partial seizures may generalize to involve the whole body.
This type of seizure is predominantly behavioral with the animal involuntarily howling, snapping, circling, etc. The abnormal behavior may be followed by a generalized seizure.
Seizures (neurological events) are often difficult to differentiate from fainting spells (cardiovascular events). Classically, true seizures are preceded by an aura, or special feeling associated with a coming seizure. As animals cannot speak, we usually don’t notice any changes associated with the aura. The seizure is typically followed by a post-ictal period during which the animal appears disoriented, even blind. This period may last only a few minutes or may last several hours. Fainting animals are usually up and normal within seconds after the spell.
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Cluck, cluck, cluck. You’ll hear these sounds in nearly every state these days.
Backyard chickens have become exceedingly popular and are popping up in suburban areas everywhere. There’s plenty that’s appealing about these feathered pets — and plenty to consider before you get them.
Believe it or not, chickens are extremely inquisitive and great fun to watch. They love to explore and investigate everything. Chickens also provide companionship, and nearly every chicken owner will tell you that these friendly birds recognize their owners and respond to their voices — they bond to their human families and can be devoted companions.
Chickens also provide fresh eggs to eat. This is perhaps the main reason so many people want chickens as pets these days. There is something very rewarding about being able to step out into your yard in the morning and bring breakfast directly to your table. Chickens can also teach children about responsible pet ownership. They need to be fed and watered daily, and their coop needs to be cleaned and swept, at a minimum, once a week. Nest boxes need to be checked daily for eggs and cleaned regularly. All family members, including children, can participate in chicken care, making it a fun family experience.
Unbeknownst to most people, there are over 400 varieties of chickens in the world. Standard chickens are the familiar large birds, while Bantams are much smaller, weighing only a couple of pounds. Standard chickens are kept mainly for their egg-laying abilities, as they generally produce larger eggs more frequently, while Bantams are kept more often as ornamental pets. In addition to size variation, different varieties of chickens come in different colors with varying feather length and pattern. And some chickens can also lay differently colored eggs, from the white and brown eggs you can find in the grocery store to those beautifully colored in pastel shades of pink, green or blue.
Chickens certainly are appealing as pets, yet they are not simple to care for. What many people don’t realize is that chickens actually require a fairly high level of care.
What should you know before getting a backyard chicken? Here are six things for you to think about:
1. They Can Be Backyard Outlaws.
Before obtaining one or more chickens, you should check your local ordinances to see whether chickens can be kept legally as pets in your area. Not all locations are zoned for chickens, and they may not be allowed, even in seemingly semi-rural areas or on large lots. The laws vary not only state to state, but also town to town. Some locations specify how many chickens you can have, whether you can have roosters and even what kind of coop is allowed. Many areas also require permits to have chickens.
2. Eggs: Eat at Your Own Risk.
Most people don’t realize that chickens may carry several parasites that can be transmitted to people through contact with their droppings and consumption of eggs. Commercially raised chickens are routinely monitored for parasites and other health problems before their eggs can be sold to consumers. Pet chicken owners should seek out a veterinarian who is familiar with chickens to ensure their birds are healthy and parasite-free. A knowledgeable poultry veterinarian also will not recommend any medications that might be passed on to humans who are eating the eggs. On the other hand, vets unfamiliar with chickens might not think about concepts like “antibiotic residues” in both eggs and chicken meat when they are medicating a sick chicken.
3. It’s a Lengthy Commitment.
People often don’t realize that while chickens typically lay eggs for only two to three years, they can live as long as 15 years. As a result, many unwanted chickens are dumped in shelters and rescue groups across the country. So, if you’re thinking of getting pet chickens, you may want to contact local shelters before ordering them through a hatchery or farm supply store.
4. Your Chicken Palace: Aim for Function, Not Flair.
Many people get backyard chickens because they look pretty in dollhouse-like coops in their suburban yards. Lots of popular stores also advertise coops like they are pieces of decorative furniture. The reality, though, is that many of these fancy coops lack features that are critical for good chicken health. For example, chickens housed in cold climates need heat when it’s very cold so that they don’t get frostbite, so the coop needs to accommodate a heat lamp or other heat source.
In addition, chickens that are housed inside for many days over cold winters lack exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, which is essential to helping them make vitamin D in their skin. Vitamin D enables chickens to absorb calcium from their food so that they can make hard-shelled eggs. Without adequate UV light exposure, they can lay soft or shell-less eggs or, even worse, have the eggs get stuck inside of them. This condition is called “egg-bound” and is a life-threatening emergency for which you need to contact a veterinarian. Your coop needs to provide adequate daylight or an artificial source of UV light. Cute coops are great to look at, but they also need to be large and airy enough to accommodate your flock size and to allow for easy access for feeding and cleaning as well as providing protection from wild predators.
Finally, coops must be placed in areas where the top layer of soil can be dug up and removed at least once a year. Otherwise, chickens can ingest parasite eggs that are passed into the soil in their droppings and continually reinfect themselves.
5. “Ixnay” on the Pet Play.
Chickens are prey species and are naturally stressed when they are around predators — including pets like cats and dogs. It’s the predators’ natural instinct to chase and catch chickens as the birds flap away from them. Even docile pets who mean well and may only want to pick up a chicken in play will use their mouths to do so. But keep in mind their sharp teeth can puncture and kill a chicken in an instant. So, no matter how gentle a dog or cat may be or how much you’d like to see all your pets gamboling together on the lawn, keep your birds and your “predator pets” apart for safety.
6. Chickens Carry Salmonella.
All chickens potentially carry this infectious bacteria. Chickens can harbor it in their gastrointestinal tracts and pass it into their stool without being affected by it themselves. People or other pets in contact with chicken droppings may accidentally ingest this bacteria and develop severe intestinal infections. In fact, it has been reported that an increasing number of people are becoming infected with Salmonella due to backyard chicken flocks. The best way to prevent accidental ingestion and infection is to wash your hands whenever you touch a chicken or anything potentially contaminated with chicken feces (nest boxes, soil, the coop, food dishes, etc.). Also, never bring pet chickens inside your home, especially in the kitchen, and don’t kiss your chicken, even when she’s a cute and fuzzy little chick.
Chickens can make terrific, charming and entertaining pets — as long as you know what you are getting into ahead of time and can take the proper precautions to ensure that both you and your new feathered friends stay healthy and happy.
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