All posts by cvp

As a veterinarian, I am often asked by new puppy owners when they can start training their pups. Some trainers are still recommending that you wait until the puppy is 6 months old. To me, this means 4 months of missed opportunity and the creation of bad habits. I believe puppy training should start the day they come home with you. You would be amazed at what an 8 week old puppy can do.
Puppy
Puppy training activities require many small treats, about the size of a pea. Soft treats are best, so that the pup doesn’t spend too much time chewing and can focus more on what you are trying to teach. Basic dog treats like Zukes minis are fine to use at home, but “high value rewards” like chicken, hot dogs, liver, etc. are needed if you are in a distracting environment, like dog shows and classes.

Here are a few puppy lessons that I have acquired from a variety of trainers.

Voluntary Attention: If your dog acts like you don’t exist, it is pretty hard to train him. When your dog learns to pay attention to you, the rest of your training becomes easier.

Start this exercise by sitting in a chair while holding your puppy on a leash. Do not talk to him or try to get him to do anything. When he glances in your direction, give him a treat. If he does not look at you in the first few minutes, show him a treat. When he looks at the treat, bring it toward your face so that he is looking at your face before you give it to him. Each time he looks at you, give him a treat. Pretty soon, he will be sitting and staring at you. You can then wait longer intervals before you treat, but don’t make it too hard, too fast.

Once your puppy can readily focus on you, you can hold a treat in your hand out to the side, up away from the pup. He will probably look at it, but he should soon glance back at your face. Treat when he looks at you. Do this for 10-15 minutes a couple of times a week. When he gets good at it, try it in a more distracting environment, like a park. If you are taking puppy classes, this is a great exercise to do when the instructor is talking and the pup is not doing anything else.

Zen puppy: Hold a treat in your hand and show it to your pup. Then close your hand around it loosely. The average puppy will sniff, paw or push at your hand. Do not let him get the treat. When he stops trying to get the treat, open your hand and say, “Take.” At first, all you are looking for is the puppy to look away or back away. When he starts to understand the concept of “I can’t just grab what I want,” you may choose to wait for a polite behavior, such as a sit. When he is getting good at this, you can try the same exercise with the treat on the coffee table. Make sure you keep him from taking it himself. He only gets the treat when he leaves it alone.
puppy 2
This is an exercise in self-control. It is a basic skill that will keep your dog from grabbing cookies out of the hands of toddlers, counter surfing for food, and similar undesirable behaviors. Dogs get what they want when you decide they can have it.

Feeding Games: At meal time, give your puppy only ¼ of his food. When he is almost done with that portion, toss another handful in his bowl. Continue in this manner until he gets his whole dinner. Every so often, you can toss in a small, yummy treat. If you have kids in your house, let them play this game with the puppy as well. Play this game at least once daily.

This simple exercise teaches your puppy that it is ok for people to be near him when he is eating. Good things happen when human hands come near his bowl. It will keep him from ever being protective of his food bowl.

Let’s trade: Give your puppy something he will really like, such as a bully stick. When he starts to chew on it, toss a high value reward about a foot away where he can see it. When he stops chewing to take the treat, pick up the bully stick. When he is done with the treat, give him his stick back. Do this several times in a row, so that he realizes he gets a treat when he stops chewing and then gets to chew some more. Win-win! As he starts to get this concept, attach a word such as “give” as you toss the treat. You can soon work toward offering him the treat from your hand, and eventually reaching for the stick as you offer him the treat. Remember to keep giving him the stick back. Soon you will be able to just say, “Give” without the treat, but I believe in intermittently treating dogs throughout their lifetimes. Good things happen when you do what you are told.

This game will be helpful when your dog picks up something he should not have, whether it is a chicken bone he found in the street or someone’s shoe that looks a lot like a toy to a puppy.

Recall games: This game takes two or more humans and one puppy to play. You can do it in a hallway or a large open room. Each person has a bag of treats and sits several feet from the others. One person starts with the puppy. The other calls the puppy by name in a very excited manner. Puppy, puppy, puppy! Yay! Puppy gets treats from that person, and the next person calls him right after he finishes them. Play for only a few minutes so he doesn’t get bored or distracted.

This can be extended to the outside as well. When the puppy is playing or sniffing, call him in your most enthusiastic voice. Treat him and let him go back to play. Coming to you should not mean that all the fun is about to end.
puppy 3
I do not use my “formal” recall command for this. (Mine is, “Come front.”) I reserve my formal command for later training. I don’t want him to learn to ever ignore the formal command (“poisoning” the command), and I am not ready to give corrections this early in his training career. I only use the puppy’s name to call him in this game.

Ring the bell: During housebreaking, there always comes a time when the puppy starts to “get it” and you start to trust him more. You pay a little less attention to where he is. He needs to pee and goes to the door. But no one knows he is there and he does not know what to do next. So he pees on the floor right there. Some people will teach their dog to bark by the door, but I really do not like to reward barking.

I use wind chimes on my back door. Some people use Christmas jingle bells. Every time you let your dog out, say, “Ring the bell.” Since we are starting with an 8 week old, you will be holding the pup in your hands. Push his nose into the bells. “Good boy! Let’s go out.” If you do this every time you take your puppy out, he will learn very quickly to ring the bell on his own. (One of my dogs had it down at 10 weeks.)

Why is this helpful? Now, that pup that goes to the door and wants to go out knows how to get your attention. I can hear my bells from anywhere in the house. (I can also tell who is ringing, as they all do it a bit differently.) So no more puddles at the door. I bring my bells when I travel, so my dogs know which door they need to go out, and they can even let me know they need to go when they are in a hotel room.

The warning that comes with this trick is that the pup is telling you he wants to go out, not that he needs to pee. You need to accept this and let him out every time he rings so that he gets the connection between the bell and going out.

Touching games: It is a good idea to get your puppy used to having you in their personal spaces. These include their feet, rear end, mouth and ears. This will make your life easier when it comes to grooming, nail trimming, teeth brushing, etc. Use lots of treats. Touch your puppy’s foot and give a treat. Put your finger in his ears, then treat him. Eventually advance to holding your pup’s paw. Work your way up to lifting up his lips and pulling back his lips to look at his back teeth. Rub your finger on his teeth to simulate brushing them. Remember lots of praise, lots of treats and don’t push things too quickly. Run a comb over him, too, and give treats. Soon touching should be no big deal to him. Have other people touch him in these ways, as well, so that a groomer or vet is not so scary.

Four on the floor: Most people dislike having a dog jump on them. Puppies are very enthusiastic and don’t know better. They need to learn early, before this becomes a bad habit.

The basic concept here that the pup is to learn is that he gets attention when he doesn’t jump on you. If the pup is coming toward you excitedly, try to bend over and pet him before he starts to jump. Use lots of praise in a calm, happy voice. If he already jumped on you, or he jumps when you stop petting him, stand up straight and ignore him. You can turn your back on him as well. When he stops jumping, reach down and pet him again. It will take many months of being consistent for the pup to learn this form of self-control.

Basic commands: 8 weeks is not too early to start to train sit, stay, down, and walk nicely on a leash. Lessons should be very short at first: two or three minutes at a time. And, of course, lots of treats should be used.

Puppy training should be a part of your new puppy’s everyday life. He will quickly learn that good behavior gets rewarded. Remember to make these lessons fun for your puppy and they will then be fun for you as well. Happy training!

Logan in his fleecy togs
I keep my home rather chilly in the winter. I don’t like wasting energy, and I don’t mind wearing an extra layer. (Could be this stems from my love of New England, where I met my husband.) My dogs and cats wear their fur coats all the time, so I never saw the cold house as a problem. That is, until Logan, my boxer, got old.

Logan, like most boxers, was not built for either hot or cold weather. On 76 to 78 degree days, he would happily bask outside in the sun for hours. More than 78, and he would stay inside and enjoy the air conditioning. Less tan 76, and he needed a coat. (We often joked that all boxers really needed to live in San Diego.)

Logan did not wear a coat just to go outside and play or to go for a walk. If he was moving, he was fine. But in the winter, if he came for a ride in the car and needed to wait in the car, he would be shivering by the time we returned. So we bought him a coat just for car rides.
Logan in his fleecy togs 2
But as Logan got older, he even got cold in the house during the night when we turned the heat even lower. We would find him curled up in a tight ball in the morning. And that is when we got him his jammies. Betty, one of our receptionists, had ordered custom pajamas for her dog, but they were made incorrectly and were way too big. So she gave them to me for Logan. Logan loved them! He would come running when we told him it was time to put them on. And he seemed quite comfy at night. Big, tough boxer in his lavender fleece jammies. Pretty darn cute.

Logan has passed on, and I now have 2 older Griffons. When they are out hunting, they will run in the fields for hours without getting cold, even in single digit temperatures. But when we are home relaxing, Hattie, my 9 year old, will be shivering, even in the day time. Just like a little old lady, she could no longer maintain her body heat as she did in her youth. So we temporarily turned up the heat while we waited for her new jammies to be delivered.
Hattie looking stylish
During this cold winter, she has worn her new PJ’s most of the time. No more shivering, and she is very happy. Gator, my 10 year old does not seem cold at all, so not every old dog need help to stay warm. But it really is quite a common issue in our senior dogs.

So if your dog is getting older, keep an eye out for signs that he is chilly: shivering or sleeping in a very tight ball. He might need to look for a cute set of jammies of his own.

Do your pets try to tell you things?  Most seem to.  Much of their communication is pretty clear, especially when you have known your pet for many years.  I’m hungry, I need to pee, let’s play.  But sometimes what needs to be communicated is more complicated.
Gator the communicator

My dog, Gator, has developed many ways to tell me what he desires.  For instance, we have wind chimes on the back door for the dogs to ring to let us know they want to go outside. Gator has extended the use of the wind chimes to indicate to me that he needs my assistance.   He will ring the bells to get my attention, then run to the sofa and stare at it.  I have learned that he is telling me that his tennis ball is stuck under the sofa and he needs me to rescue it for him.  Or if I am upstairs too long (where my dogs are not allowed so that my cats can have a safe haven), Gator will ring the bell and wait by the stairs.  “Mom, I miss you.  Please come back.”  I am always happy to help him out.

But there came a time when I could not figure out what my dog was trying to tell me.  Here is the scene. It was dinner time (for humans).  During dinner, Gator stays in his bed in the corner of the eating area of the kitchen.  Hattie, my other dog, stays in her unlocked crate at the end of the peninsula separating the eating area from the rest of the house.  The mud room, with the door to the backyard, is around the corner from Gator’s bed.  My husband and I had just finished eating dinner in the kitchen. As I was clearing the table, Gator went into the mud room to ring the bell.  But he immediately left door, meaning he did not want to go out.  So what did he want?  I had no idea.  He just stood there and looked at me expectantly.
Hattie looking innocent
Gator did this repeatedly for about a month; not every night, but most of them.  We thought, “Maybe it makes him happy to ring the bell, because Mom is going to pay attention to him.”  We even started singing, “ If you’re happy and you know it, ring the bell …”  We were flummoxed.

But eventually this behavior became annoying.  So one night after Gator rang the bell and came back into the kitchen, I got angry.  I told him, “If you don’t want to go out, you need to stop ringing.”  I grabbed his collar and proceeded to drag him out of the kitchen.  But when we got next to Hattie’s crate, Hattie jumped up and started barking aggressively at Gator.  That’s when the lightbulb went on.

Gator had been trying to tell me, “Mom, I am trapped in the kitchen.  I can’t walk past Hattie’s crate to leave.  She will attack me. I am ringing the bell because I need help. Please help me.”  But Mom was very slow in figuring this out.  Smart dog, stupid human.

Hattie is a dog who will guard her food, toys, and, as we had just figured out, her personal space.  Her body language did not seem threatening to us humans, but Gator obviously knew she was guarding the passageway out of the kitchen.

Since then, we make Hattie leave her crate right after dinner, and Gator happily trots out of the kitchen.  If we forget to get Hattie out of the way, Gator will ring the bell to remind us.  I still feel badly that I could not figure out what my boy wanted for such a long time.

So if your dog or cat is interacting with you in an unusual way, put on your thinking cap, and try to figure out what he is trying to say.  You might have a lightbulb moment of your own.

What would you do if
…your dog ate the bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips that was left out on the table?
…your cat had a seizure right in front of you?
…your dog fell down the stairs and started limping?
…your cat got into a fight and was bleeding?

I know from personal experience that cats and dogs (and other pets, too) can get into trouble at the drop of a hat and it can be really scary to see them in distress!  So, what can you do to help your pet immediately while getting them ready to go to the veterinarian or emergency hospital?  Just like with humans, there are a couple of steps to take.

1 – Assess the situation.  What has happened to your pet?  Are they bleeding, limping, falling over, vomiting, having trouble breathing, crying?  Once you know the symptoms, you can look to the next step.
2 – Determine what you can do for your pet.  Is there a towel nearby or a first aid kit?  Is there someone else in the house who can help you or can you lift your dog by yourself?  Will your pet be able to walk on its own to the car?  Determine what you can do immediately to give your pet the best chance of making it safely to the veterinarian’s office or emergency facility.
3 – Apply first aid if necessary.  This can be the scary part.  We here at the animal hospital know that when your pet is hurt, they are also scared and may not react well to being restrained or cared for.  Animals may bite, thrash around, run, cry, scratch, or refuse to be touched.  Your pet can also pick up on your fear and anxiety, which may make the situation worse.  Calmly and gently, get a hold of your pet and apply first aid, preferably with the help of another person.  Remember to keep away from the pet’s mouth and face, and keep your motions slow and calm to prevent alarm.


IF YOUR PET IS BLEEDING: Apply a towel or bandage to the site and apply direct pressure for at least 3 minutes to stop the bleeding.  Add towels on top of previous layers if they are soaking through, but do not remove them as it may disturb any clot formation.  For heavy bleeding or severe injuries, 
get your animal to a veterinarian immediately. 
IF YOUR PET IS INJURED: If possible and safe, try to stabilize injuries before moving an injured animal by splinting or bandaging them.  *Keep in mind, however, that a poorly applied bandage or splint can do more harm than good; if in doubt, leave the bandaging/splinting to professionals.  If there is a foreign body in the wound, do not remove it.  If necessary, carefully cut it short without moving it to leave 3-6 inches sticking out before transporting your pet to the veterinarian.  While transporting your injured pet, keep him/her confined to prevent further injury. 
IF YOUR PET IS BURNED: Apply a muzzle to your pet’s snout/face and flush the burn with cool (not cold) water.  Do NOT apply ointments or medications to the burn, as these may agitate the burn further.  Seek immediate veterinary care.  
IF YOUR PET HAS HEATSTROKE: If you cannot immediately get your pet to a veterinarian, move him/her to a shaded area and out of direct sunlight.  Get a rectal temperature with a non-mercury thermometer if possible to determine your pet’s temperature (if it’s over 108, seek emergency care immediately).  Place a cool, wet towel around your pet’s neck and head (do not cover your pet’s eyes, nose or mouth).  Remove the towel, wring it out, then re-wet and rewrap it every few minutes.  Use a hose or faucet or bucket to keep cool water running over the animal’s body (especially the abdomen and between the hind legs). Then, use your hands to sweep the water away as it absorbs the body heat.  Transport the pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible. 
IF YOUR PET IS BITTEN BY A SNAKE: Assume the snake is poisonous and seek veterinary attention immediately.  Try to identify the snake if it can be done without risk; do not attempt to capture or kill the snake.  Do not bring the snake into the veterinarian’s office – a photograph will do.
IF YOUR PET IS POISONED/INGESTED A TOXIC SUBSTANCE: If you know or suspect your pet has consumed something that may be harmful, call your veterinarian, emergency veterinary clinic or the Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435 – available 365 days/year, 24 hours/day; a consultation fee applies) immediately.  If possible, have the following information available: Species, breed, age, sex, weight and number of animals involved; Symptoms, Name/description of the substance that is in question, the amount the animal was exposed to, and how long it’s been since your pet ate it or was exposed to it.  Also have the product container/packaging available for reference.  Collect any material your pet may have vomited or chewed, and place it in a plastic sealable bag to take with you when you bring your animal in for veterinary treatment.  **Do not try to induce vomiting or give any medication to your pet unless directed to do so by Poison Control or your veterinarian.**
– IF YOUR PET IS HAVING SEIZURES:  Clear the area of other pets, furniture, and any other objects that may cause injury.  Do not try to restrain your pet or startle him/her out of the seizure.  Time the seizure (they usually last 2-3 minutes, but can be as short as 30 seconds).  After the seizure has stopped, keep your pet warm and quiet and contact your veterinarian.

And there are a few more that are a bit more scary than 
the previous emergency situations.  These require taking quick action 
and remaining calm.  If you do not feel you can apply first aid, go to 
your veterinarian or the emergency center immediately.


IF YOUR PET IS CHOKING: Choking pets have difficulty breathing, paw excessively at their mouths, make choking sounds when breathing or coughing, and may have blue-tinged lips or tongue.  If your pet can still breathe, keep him/her calm and seek immediate veterinary care.  Look into your pet’s mouth to see if a foreign object is visible.  If you see an object, gently try to remove it with pliers or tweezers, but be careful not to push the object further down the throat.  If it’s not easy to reach, do not try to remove it – get your pet to a veterinarian immediately.  If your pet collapses, place both hands on the side of your pet’s rib cage and apply firm quick pressure, or lay your pet on his/her side and strike the rib cage firmly with the palm of your hand 3-4 times to sharply push air out of their lungs and push the object out from behind. Repeat this until the object is dislodged or until you arrive at the veterinarian’s office.  **However, we highly recommend letting a veterinary professional take this course of action.**
IF YOUR PET IS NOT BREATHING: Open your pet’s airway by gently grasping its tongue and pulling it forward (out of the mouth) until it is flat.  Check the throat to see if there are any foreign objects blocking the airway.  Perform rescue breathing by holding your pet’s mouth closed with your hands and breathing directly into its nose until you see the chest expand.  Once the chest expands, continue administering one rescue breath every 4-5 seconds.  
IF YOUR PET HAS NO HEARTBEAT: **Do not begin chest compressions until you’ve secured an airway and started rescue breathing.**  Gently lay your pet on its right side on a firm surface. The heart is located on the left side in the lower half of the chest, just behind the elbow of the front left leg. Place one hand underneath the pet’s chest for support and the other hand over the heart.  
  • For dogs, press down with quick, firm pressure to depress the chest one inch for medium-sized dogs.  Use more force for larger animals and less force for smaller animals.  For cats and other small pets, cradle your hand around the animal’s chest so your thumb is on the left side of the chest and your fingers are on the right side of the chest, and compress the chest by squeezing it between your thumb and fingers. 
  • Press down 80-120 times per minute for larger animals and 100-150 times per minute for smaller ones (less than 25 lbs).  Alternate the chest compressions with the rescue breaths: perform chest compressions for 4-5 seconds and stop long enough to give one rescue breath.
  • Continue until you can hear a heartbeat and your pet is breathing regularly, or you have arrived at the veterinary clinic and they can take over the resuscitation attempts.
  • Please refer to this infographic of pet CPR for visual reference if it’s easier for you – Saving Your Pet with CPR

Always remember that any first aid administered to your pet should be followed by immediate veterinary care. First aid care is not a substitute for veterinary care, but it may save your pet’s life until it receives veterinary treatment.

 

I hope you don’t have to use these first aid methods any time soon, but it is very good information to know!  As the Boyscouts say, “Be Prepared!”  I know that I am much better off living at the hospital because all my minions know exactly what to do in case of an emergency situation!  I hope that this information will help you be better prepared for applying first aid to your pets in case of an emergency, too. 
  
Til next meow,
Mason

Good day, humans!  With Fall blustering in and temperatures dropping, you might think it’s ok to stop giving your cats and dogs their Flea & Tick and Heartworm medications.  But it’s not!  If anything, Fall is one of the worst times for fleas and ticks as cooler weather doesn’t kill fleas and ticks!  For example, the cat flea – the most common flea of dogs and cats – hits peak infestation in late summer and fall.  And deer ticks are at their peak during the fall and spring.   Fleas can carry tapeworms and other disease-causing organisms, and ticks can transmit diseases such as Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Ehrlichiosis!  Mosquitoes, of course, are carriers of the heartworm parasite, a life threatening nematode that can cause severe disease and even death.  Even in areas where residents do not have to worry about mosquitoes during the winter, their return in the spring and summer months can catch you off guard. It is best to be pre-prepared.

Here are a few facts that are worth remembering:

  • Fleas can live outdoors in temperatures as low as 33 degrees for up to five days (long enough to latch onto your dog, come into your home, and relish in the warmth of your living room).
  • Flea eggs can live year round in protected areas such as crawl spaces or porches.
  • Ticks are certainly more active in the late summer and early fall. However, even in the winter, if the temperature exceeds 32-40 degrees ticks will become active again.

So, how do you make sure your pet is protected against fleas/ticks and mosquitoes during the colder months?  The same as with the warmer months: apply Flea & Tick medication to your pet!  There are several brands out there that we recommend and offer at our hospital: Frontline Tritak, Vectra, Bravecto, Revolution, Heartgard, Interceptor, Seresto collars, and Certifect.  Another great product to use is Advantix.  We have had great success with these products and use them on our own pets (including myself!)  (You can see a product comparison chart here and here.) 

Now, we know what you might be thinking – “I don’t want to put chemicals on my pet!”  That’s fine!  Bravecto is a wonderful product that is a chewable tablet and prevents fleas/ticks for 3 months per pill.  Our own veterinarians use it on their pets and it works very well!  You may also be thinking, “I want to try a natural approach/product to flea and tick control.”  Sadly, there really aren’t any.  Over the years, we’ve spent some time looking into the more natural or holistic approaches and as yet there are none that are actually effective.  You can try tea tree oils, peppermint, lavender, garlic, citronella, etc, but they just will not prevent fleas and ticks from attaching and feeding off your pet.  The brewer’s yeast?  All the research shows none of that works.  The ultrasonic devices? The data shows they don’t work.  Also, just because something is “natural” or “organic” that doesn’t mean it’s safe.  Some of the citric extracts used in these “natural” products can be fairly toxic to cats.


There are also ways to protect your home from becoming a hangout for these parasites.  To eliminate fleas and their nesting places outdoors, keep the area surrounding your home clear of debris.  Remove leaf or mulch piles, tall grasses, and brush around the home and at lawn edges.  Separate lawn from surrounding wooded areas with a band of gravel or wood chips to limit tick migration.  Keep the lawn mowed.  Apply pesticides around bushes and shaded areas, as well as near doors and windows.  Keep the areas outside your home dry and free of standing water, which can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Remember that while fleas, ticks and mosquitoes may seem to be merely nuisance pests, they are actually capable of causing severe health problems, from the above mentioned heartworm infection, to skin disorders and infections, to anemia and life-threatening diseases.  These diseases are definitely better off being stopped before they start with a little bit of diligence and preventive products.  Remember to use these medications once every month, year round (unless otherwise specified by your veterinarian)!  As the old saying goes: It is better to be safe than sorry.

Til next meow,

Mason

Good morning, humans!  (Well, it’s morning for me, as I just woke us from my mid-morning feeding nap)  Today we are going to talk about something that’s been affecting me lately, and lots of other dogs and cats I see at our hospital: Joint Disease.

As our pets grow older, it becomes more probable for them to develop some form of joint disease.  It can be mild, even unnoticeable to the pet owner, or it can be debilitating, severely affecting the pet’s quality of life; joint pain may even cause partial or complete lameness.  While some pets may develop joint disease in their younger years due to injury or over-exertion, signs of joint pain usually do not appear until the later half of life, depending on your pet’s breed.  Dogs are more susceptible to arthritis than cats, and the larger dog breeds are more vulnerable than smaller breeds.  So, what should you be looking for?  The most common signs of joint disease include stiffness, limping, or favoring a limb (especially after sleeping or resting), inability or trouble getting up, reluctance to jump or climb stairs, and noticeable pain.

There are many diseases and problems that affect the joints of pets, such as:

1 – Ligament, tendon, or muscle problems and joint fractures
2 – Inflammatory joint diseases, like Lyme
3 – Congenital/genetically inherited disorders
4 – Degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis)
5 – Dietary and hormonal disease, like hyperparathyroidism or obesity

There are far more causes of joint disease in pets than are listed here, but fortunately there are just as many methods of managing and treating joint pain.

Weight management is one of the first things we look at.  All surgical and medical procedures will be more beneficial if the animal is not overweight.  Considering that up to half of the pets in the U.S. are overweight, there is a fair chance that many of the dogs and cats with hip dysplasia/osteoarthritis are also overweight.  Helping a pet lose weight until they reach the recommended weight and maintaining that weight may be the most important thing an owner can do for a pet.  This may be the hardest part of the treatment, but it is worth it.  You, as the owner, have control over what your dog eats.  This method also goes hand-in-hand with exercise.  Activities that provide a good range of motion and muscle building and limits exertion on the joints is the best.  Leash walking, swimming, walking on treadmills, and trotting are excellent low-impact exercises.  In general, too little exercise can be more detrimental than too much, however the wrong type of exercise can cause further damage.  While watching a dog play Frisbee or catch is very enjoyable and fun for the dog, it is very hard on a dog’s joints.  Remember, it is important to exercise daily; only exercising on weekends or just occasionally may cause more harm than good if the animal is sore and reluctant to move at all.  Beyond losing weight and exercise, sometimes a little physical therapy is in order.  Our veterinary staff can show you how to perform simple physical therapy and massage on your pet to help relax stiff muscles and promote a good range of motion in the joints.  Remember, your furry friend is in pain, so start slowly and build trust.  If therapy isn’t an option for you to perform on your own, we have a few wonderful Pet Therapy Specialists in the area who would be happy to help rehabilitate your companion animal!

Most of us humans who have arthritis find that the pain and other symptoms are worse in cold, damp weather. The same is true for pets!  Keeping your pet warm and insulated will be much more comfortable.  You may want to consider keeping the temperature in your home a little warmer, or provide your pet with a warming pad or cushy orthopedic foam bed.  Orthopedic or dense foam beds distribute weight evenly and reduce pressure on joints.   Another option for pain management is medication.  Medical management is appropriate for both young pets with clinical signs (mostly dogs in this case) and for older animals with chronic osteoarthritis.  Because of the high cost involved with many surgeries to correct ligament injuries or joint fractures, medication is most times the only affordable option for many pet owners.  Anti-inflammatories and joint supplements may be used in tandem to help treat joint paint, and you may even need to use pain control medications and analgesics.  Glucosamine and chondroitin found in joint supplements give the cartilage-forming cells in the body what they need to synthesize new cartilage and to repair the existing damaged cartilage. These products are not painkillers; they work by actually healing the damage that has been done.  They generally take at least six weeks to begin to heal the cartilage and most animals need to be maintained on these products the rest of their lives to prevent further cartilage breakdown.  These products are very safe and show very few side effects.  Anti-inflammatory medications (known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs) are strong and effective painkillers and anti-inflammatory agents.  They are prescription products and, because of potential side effects, careful adherence to dosing quantity and frequency must be followed.  The manufacturers and veterinarians recommend periodic bloodwork to be done on pets that use these medicines to monitor any developing liver problems resulting from their use.  And, of course, pain control medications are used often in pets with joint pain to do just that – control the pain.  It may seem as though your pet is getting a lot of medication and pet owners may be resistant to giving medications to their pets, but it really does wonders to help pets with joint pain and arthritis feel so much better!  We have seen significant improvement in painful pets with prescribed pain control medications – they are happier, move more easily, and seem like their young selves again.

**It is very important while speaking of medical pain management to mention that you may never give human medications such as Ibuprofen or Tylenol to a pet!  These are toxic and fatal to your pet!  Please ask a veterinarian for a safe, pet-approved medication to help treat joint disease pain before consulting Dr. Google.**

In the event that the above options do not work, or that your pet has a congential issue or ligament/muscle/bone injury, surgery may be the best option to correct and treat the problem.  We work with several surgical experts who can have your pet up and running via surgical procedures to correct cruciate and ligament tears, bone problems, hip dysplasia, and more.  For pets who do not need surgical repair and only display more soft tissue or muscle related joint disease,
Acupuncture may be a good treatment option.  Our own Dr. Garrood is a certified pet Acupuncturist and sees many pets who are having problems with walking, lameness, and degenerative joint pain.  Many of her patients experience great recovery within a few sessions!

So, if you see your pet exhibiting stiffness, lameness, limping, problems getting up, problems jumping or climbing stairs, weight gain issues, inactivity and sleeping more, urinating around the house or other behavioral issues, call your veterinarian promptly.  We can evaluate your furry friend and see if their problems are stemming from joint pain or related issues and get them the treatment they need to be happy and healthy again!

I personally am happier when I have my Metacam dose – it helps me a lot and keeps me jumping!

Til next meow,
Mason

It’s time for another one of Mason’s Mewsings!  Today, we’ll be talking about AAHA, the American Animal Hospital Association.  You may have seen their logo on our website or around the hospital.

So, what is AAHA?  Per Wikipedia, “The American Animal Hospital Association is a non-profit organization for companion animal veterinary hospitals.  Established in 1933, the association is the only accrediting body for small animal hospitals in the U.S. and Canada.  The association develops benchmarks of excellence, business practice standards, publications and educational programs.  Any veterinary hospital can join AAHA as a member, but must then pass an evaluation in order to receive AAHA accreditation.”

And what does this accreditation entail?  Well, to become an AAHA-accredited practice, animal hospitals and clinics willingly undergo a rigorous evaluation process to ensure they meet the 900+ individual standards of accreditation put forth by AAHA.  These 900+ standards include but are not limited to: “Patient care, diagnostic imaginglaboratorypain managementpharmacy, safety, surgery, client service, anesthesiacontagious diseasecontinuing educationdentistry, examination facilities, medical records, leadership and emergency/urgent care. To maintain their accredited status, hospitals undergo comprehensive on-site evaluations every three years, which ensures that hospitals are compliant with the Association’s mandatory standards.”  And it’s not just limited to general practice veterinary facilities – specialty hospitals can become accredited as a “Referral” practice, as well.

So, what does this mean for you, our clients?  It means that you can expect a higher standard of quality and veterinary care from us.  It means that we are holding ourselves to higher expectations and that we try to maintain and exceed current veterinary medical standards.  It means that we provide a safe, clean, contagion-free environment to come to, that we use high quality medications and anesthesia, and that our hospital protocols are designed to meet AAHA’s high standards of quality.  AAHA also recommends continuous learning and keeping staff skills up-to-date.  This helps members build team confidence and ultimately helps hospitals provide a positive client “experience,” while improving the level of patient care.  AAHA-accredited practices use a team approach to meet the needs of their clients and the pets they love.

We’re proud to say that we are AAHA accredited and have been for many years!  If you have any questions regarding our accreditation or practices, please contact us and we’ll be happy to speak with you.  My favorite part is when the staff gives me copious amounts of treats and lets me stay at the hospital as their cat!  
 
Well, you cool cats, that’s all for me today!  I have some much-needed napping to attend to!

 

Til next meow,

Mason

Hello, all you followers of Mason, you!  I have a very important topic to talk about today: low-stress handling.  The name may sound self-explanatory, but there is a lot of buzz about this “new” way of handling pets.

 

With animals, we have to rely on rewarding behavior as soon as it happens, and we must remove rewards for bad behavior before the animal is actually rewarded.  This is how we (and you) communicate with your pet.  And while animals may learn to recognize individual words, they don’t understand human language; however, they do understand our body language.  As a result we have to be aware of every action and movement we make because they all communicate something.  And we have to realize that whether we’re aware of it or not, every interaction we have with the pet is a training session.  Unfamiliar smells, sounds, and sights, and potentially threatening pets and people inundate our patients the moment they enter our office.  We perform unpleasant, sometimes painful procedures, often by force due to the unwillingness of the patient.  A single such experience can condition a negative emotional response where the animal learns to fear us.  This learned fear can result in fidgeting, attempts to flee, and/or aggression at subsequent visits.

So, what are some of the steps we take to handle your pet in a low-stress way?  We work to condition a POSITIVE emotional response.  This approach can prevent fear from developing, as well as counter-act a fear that has already been established by previous encounters elsewhere.  We pair the experience with something that naturally elicits a positive emotional response in the animal – food and love.  Food is the easiest and most powerful means of providing this response because we are all programmed with an innate positive response to food.  And we use gentle motions, soft voices, hugs, and lots of petting to calm your pet during the exam and treatments.  We use small sharp needles that do not hurt as much when we give injections or vaccines.  We use pheromone sprays and diffusers in the exam rooms to help alleviate any stress your pet may be feeling.  We use appropriate but minimal restraint for procedures and examinations, include towel restraint for cats versus scruffing.

Pets who have already developed a strong negative emotional response to a clinic setting may need a slower, more systematic approach as they may be too stressed to find food appealing at that point.  These pets are best helped by setting up a series of “Desensitization” visits. If the care needed is urgent or necessary, then sedation is recommended before beginning any stressful procedures.

With both positive reinforcement as well as coercion, the timing is the same and owners need to be equally consistent.  So, if a pet owner does not have the ability to reward consistently and with the right timing, it’s not likely they will be able to perform the punishment technique well either.  It is important to continue training your animal when not at the veterinarian’s office so that your pet will learn to be more comfortable with us and in other stressful situations.  If you are interested in low-stress handling, consult the works of Dr. Sophia Yin, the leading expert on behavior modification and positive reinforcement training.  You are also welcome to call our office and ask about low-stress handling!

Well, cats and kittens, that is all for today.  I know I always appreciate being treated gently and with lots of treats, so I’m sure your pet will, too!

Til next meow,
Mason

Mason, here!  Talking to you about a very important topic with regard to felines who live outdoors.  We all know the problem with feral cat colonies and cats who live outdoors: a lot of them aren’t spayed/neutered and their population keeps increasing!!  Trap-Neuter-Return (called TNR) is a humane and effective approach for cats living outside.  Scientific studies show that Trap-Neuter-Return improves the lives of feral cats, improves their relationships with the people who live near them, and decreases the size of colonies over time.
Trap-Neuter-Return is exactly what it sounds like: Cats are humanely trapped and taken to a veterinarian to be neutered and vaccinated, and to have their ears tipped to indicate that they have been neutered and returned to the outdoors.  This practice stops the breeding cycle of cats and improves their lives.   Since most feral cats are not adoptable, they have been trapped by animal control services and subsequently killed in pounds and shelters due to their wild nature and lack of domesticity.  Trap-Neuter-Return helps prevent the need for euthanizing these felines while allowing them to live without adding to the problem of overpopulation.

Our own Dr. Snellgrove and Vet Assistant Elizabeth Board participate in TNR clinics and love talking about their experiences in aiding outdoor felines!

Here, Elizabeth is helping another volunteer to prep cats for surgery. This involves removing hair from the surgical site and scrubbing it clean.

Here, Dr. Snellgrove (in the red top) and another doctor perform neuter and spay surgeries while technicians monitor the patients and stand by to give additional anesthesia if necessary.  The doctors have to work very fast because the felines are anesthetized with injectable medications versus gas anesthesia, to prevent any medical complications.

Don’t worry, this cat is just asleep!  Each cat has an ID number and paperwork that accompanies it, so there’s no worry of getting the animals mixed up.  You may also see animals laid out on trays in preparation for the surgeries – this helps cut down on time that the cats have to stay asleep so the neuter and spay surgeries can be done quickly and efficiently.  

his kitten just had her ear tipped in surgery prep (she’s asleep, too!).  The clamp will stay on through her surgery and be removed in recovery.  Chances are if you see a cat with a clipped ear, it was once an outside cat who has gone through a TNR program and was adopted!

With Trap-Neuter-Return, veterinarian professionals can stabilize the feline outdoor population humanely, improve the cats’ lives, save taxpayer dollars, address neighbors’ concerns, and help the entire community reach a solution that benefits everyone!  If you are interested in helping with Trap-Neuter-Return programs, you can contact Alley Cat Allies or Metro Ferals for more information.  Here at Great Falls Animal Hospital, we work with 4Paws Rescue Team directly to care for their cats and spay and neuter them!

I hope that sheds some light on a very interesting and life-saving practice that we believe in wholeheartedly!  Well, kittens, that’s all for now.  I’m going to snuggle up here and wait for Christmas!


Til next meow,
Mason

Hello, All!  Mason here.  I wanted to share a very special project that one of our employees worked on this summer!  Our technician Denise went to Guatemala with her church group to help build brick stoves for one of the villages there. 

Did you know that exposure to cooking fire smoke kills approximately two million people worldwide every year?  In Guatemala, as in many other countries, breathing in the toxic fumes while preparing food puts Mayan women and children at risk for respiratory illnesses, blindness, and burns on a daily basis.  A majority of Guatemalan families use wood as their main fuel source, and many of Guatemala’s forests are lost annually, mainly due to the need for fuel for cooking fires.  Precious family resources and a great deal of time are spent on gathering or purchasing wood.  The cooking fires themselves are open air and not contained, so the smoke fills their huts and causes a buildup of smoke, ash, and noxious fumes with nowhere to go.

Building stoves helps alleviate these problems by building vented stoves that are adapted to Mayan cooking methods.  These stoves are made of cement blocks held together by mortar, and feature a chimney pipe or smoke duct that takes the poisonous smoke out of the house.  The design of the stove reduces wood consumption and pollution greatly.  It is an ‘improved cooking stove’ and while most of us would find it rudimentary, Guatemalans are so very grateful for the vast improvement to their health and lifestyle.  They can now avoid spending the better part of the day gathering wood and cooking, and no longer have to worry about getting burned or developing respiratory problems!

Along with building stoves, the group also helps paint walls and brings materials for education that drastically improves the villagers’ every day lives.  With more time in the day available, education is very important and more attainable.

The villagers are so very grateful for the improvements to their lives.  Denise says the Guatemalans gave lots of beautiful flowers to the group as thanks for their hard work, and you could see the gratitude in their eyes and smiles!  What a wonderful project to be a part of!!

Well, kids, that’s all for now.  This is Mason, signing out until next time!

Til next meow,
Mason