Categories
Dogs News

Socialization in a non-social time

At present many of our city’s residents are home much more than in the past due to social, or physical distancing. With several months of home-time, many of our clients have added a new puppy or adult dog to the family. While being available for most of the day makes for excellent house-training, care must be take to assure that you raise a well-adjusted and socially-amicable pup. Don’t let social distancing prevent you from having a social dog. Let’s dive in.

Don’t wait to socialize

Puppies learn how to play early in their lives. Lack of proper socialization during this early period may result in development of behavioral issues, including separation anxiety, aggression, leash reactivity, fears of objects and people, and other undesirable characteristics. For new adult dogs, the same applies: socialization is key to success.

Puppy playtime has been cancelled, and dog parks have been closed. But there are many other experiences you can work on aside from the regular dog-dog interactions (more later on introducing other dogs). Recall that the dog will go to the vet, be groomed, hear a thunderstorm, encounter a garbage truck, have their nails trimmed, and more. You can work on all of these stimuli right at home.

Introduction to our scary world inside your home

Dogs are naturally curious, but our built-up world is intimidating. Recall the first time you entered a big city and were surrounded by skyscrapers. Dogs feel the same way when rapidly introduced to new stimuli and uncertain scenarios. At home you can begin to show your dog objects and surfaces, which may be encountered in the outside world such as sheet metal or a baking sheet, different flooring surfaces, gravel in the back yard, grass, plastic bottles – you get the idea. The more objects and surfaces your dog interacts with in a positive manner, the better!

Sound phobia is a major behavioral problem with dogs, especially those that were sheltered in their youth or are from rural areas. The garbage truck is Satan. If you are not walking outside much, play audio of traffic sounds softly, slowly increasing the volume over time.

Discussed in prior articles in more detail, prepare your dog for a visit to the groomer or veterinarian’s office. Rub the nails and gently hold / pull on the feet 15 times per day for about five seconds at a time. Same with the ears, muzzle, and tail. Many dogs are head or foot-shy and by interacting with these areas routinely, you will desensitize him or her to nail trimming, grooming, application of ear medications, etc. This conditioning also helps prevent bites via making your dog not afraid of a child touching the feet or ears. Perform this type of desensitization until the dog is at least 6 months old.

Introduction to our scary world outside

Current recommendations by the CDC recommend physical distancing between people, but this does not mean that your dog should stay inside. Yes, maintain social distancing, but if you have friends with dogs who you feel safe interacting with, even at a moderate distance, arrange for puppy playtime.

Walking on the street is important for a dog to develop his or her nasal sensations. They sniff. A lot. This is normal dog behavior. If you are unable to go outside, you can use treats of different varieties to stimulate their brain. Hide them in different places and play scavenger hunt! You can even take treats outside to a field and hide them in the grass, encouraging your dog to sniff them out.

Introducing your dog to people

Here’s where it gets a bit tricky: you have been instructed to stay away from people. As unusual as this sounds, consider playing dress-up. Put on a pair of glasses, carry around a few boxes and enter as if you were a delivery person, pull a wheeling suitcase around inside and outside the house, ride a bicycle near the dog, show him or her a skateboard and ride it by their side, practice walks from the Ministry of Silly Walks. You get the idea.

Sitting outside on a porch or other safe area will allow your dog to see and hear the outside world. Granted everything is quiet now-a-days, but you cannot substitute for the real world.

The car

A car is a portal to a different dimension for many pups. Start by sitting in the car for a few minutes and once comfortable, go for short rides around the block. Increase the distance with time and go to areas where you can walk at a safe distance from others.

Simple training

Well you have the time, work on training and brain games. Sit. Stay. Down. use toys that stimulate the brain, such as food puzzles. The more the dog has to work with a toy, the more successful. Part of socialization involves thinking and problem-solving. Dogs that have confidence with such tasks are more apt to be better socially-rounded.

We are in a different world today, but we should not forget that we will resume our regular lives eventually. Working on setting your dog up to be social will lead to a more successful and comfortable relationship for everyone.

Dan Teich, DVM

Medical Director

District Veterinary Hospitals

Categories
Dogs News

Beware of the wrong green this season: Cannibis toxicity

Veterinary medicine is not static and as time goes on, we are presented with new challenges. Twenty years ago a cannabis intoxication was rare to encounter, but as laws and societal perceptions have changed, such toxicities are becoming increasingly common. At present thirty-three states and the District currently have passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form, while most others allow its medical use under certain circumstances. This has led to marijuana becoming much more widespread.

Marijuana contains many compounds, including cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is responsible for most of marijuana’s mind altering effects and is toxic to dogs and cats, whereas CBD is becoming more commonly used to treat dogs with anxiety, arthritis, seizures, inflammation, and other health ailments. Safely used, CBD should not have any significant negative impacts upon a dog or cat’s health. It is important to not confuse CBD with marijuana or products that contain both CBD and THC. If using CBD products, be certain of the ingredients, quality, use, and purity. Dogs will not become ‘high’ on only CBD.

The past few yers we have seen a number of dogs who have, or are suspected of ingesting cannabis (Cannabis sativa), either from raw product or from vape pens, edibles, etc. The first case I saw was in 1998, in New Jersey, but the numbers have increased rapidly of recent. In some of the newer cases, clients know that their dog ate the product, but in others, ingestion was never seen. Unseen ingestion in a household that does not carry THC products has been observed to occur outside on the street – the dog ate the remains of a blunt tossed on the sidewalk. Sadly, people in indiscriminately tossing their butts on the street have caused a moderate health crisis.

Dogs and cats seem to be attracted to the smell of marijuana, and being a small furry creature, they have no sense of portion control and will ingest whatever is in front of them. Being in edibles only enhances the chances it will be eaten. Inhalation toxicity is uncommon, but possible, therefore care should be taken when smoking around pets.

Mild cases of toxicity manifest with lethargy, confusion, barking indiscriminately or making unusual vocalizations (aka – being high), dilated pupils, altered responses to stimulation, redness of the whites of the eyes, and overall acting abnormally. In more severe intoxication, the pet may not be able to walk, seems drunk on their feet, has a slow heart rate, vomits excessively, drools, and / or is unable to hold urine. Coma and death are possible. About 25% of dogs will show excitement and stimulation with an increased heart rate instead of depression. Such clinical signs can be seen anywhere from minutes to hours post ingestion and may last for hours to days.

THC causes the release of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain’s frontal cortex and cerebellum. The increased release of these neurotransmitters leads to the various clinical signs observed.

The majority of cases I have treated presented with multiple clinical signs, leading to the top differential diagnosis of cannabis consumption. The diagnosis, however, may not necessarily be confirmed by the owner, who may be completely unaware that a pet was exposed to the drug.

it is important that a diagnosis be obtained, as many other toxins, medications, and disease can mimic the signs of marijuana toxication. When asked about potential ingestion, it is important that clients be honest with their veterinarian regarding their potential knowledge of cannabis ingestion. Having seen a number of cases of marijuana toxicity, with proper treatment, I feel confident that patients will make a full recovery with no lingering effects.

Treatment requires supportive care, baseline bloodwork to evaluate the liver and kidneys (and to rule out other problems), possibly abdominal X-rays to assess for any other ingested objects. In cases where the ingestion was within a few hours, emesis (vomiting) may be induced to try and clear the stomach of the toxic material. Once vomiting is under control, activated charcoal is administered to absorb as much of the toxin as possible. The charcoal also speeds up the intestines, decreasing the amount of time the toxins are inside the pet. Patients showing more clinical signs are hospitalized, intravenous fluids are given, sedation administered in certain cases, temperature supports, antacids, anti-nausea medications, and other supportive care. Once neurologically normal and able to walk and keep down food, the pet is usually released from the hospital.

Marijuana intoxication looks scary and is becoming ever more prevalent. With prompt and proper care, the dog or cat will usually make a full recovery. Remember that the best way to prevent intoxication is to take care to secure such substances in the home and to monitor what your pet ingests outside of the home.

Dan Teich, DVM
Medical Director
District Veterinary Hospitals

Categories
Cats Dogs News

Slow eating for a healthier lifestyle

It’s November and Thanksgiving is almost here. While we tend to frequently over-eat, and then feel bad about it, remember that dogs and cats over-eat almost every meal. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (there really is such an organization) estimates that more than half of dogs and cats are overweight. You have the willpower to pace yourself at the festive meal – your firmed friends usually do not and constantly demand more. Pacing eating can help with weight control, decrease unwanted vomiting, improve digestion, and increase overall quality of life.

Cats are famous for eating quickly, then regurgitating the food onto your rug. The food fills the esophagus but does not enter the stomach, thus they feel the need to expel this excess food, and it winds up some place unpleasant. Slower eating allows for the lower esophageal sphincter to open and permit food into the stomach. This is not unique to cats, as dogs can have the same problem, but it is less frequent.

Another advantage of slowing down eating, involves satiety – or the feeling of being full. This is better achieved with smaller, more frequent meals, instead of one or two large portions. Many cats are grazers by nature, but allowing free access to food often leads to obesity. And restricting meals to once or twice a day may lead tp their stomach being empty, resulting in hunger or vomiting yellow bile. This condition, called bilious vomiting, is also seen in dogs.In short, there’s too much acid in the stomach and no food to neutralize it, so the pet puts it somewhere – on your floor. By having frequent meals read across dawn until right before bed, this usually can be abated.

Even if you feed frequently, some pets will gorge themselves. For many, this is not a problem, but for others, let’s discuss ways to prevent this behavior. Using a standard bowl only allows for the rapid combustion of food. Feeding dishes with ridges or knobs make your pet work to get out the food, slowing eating. There are mats specifically designed with bumps and raised areas, providing much more space to spread out the food. And even more effective are toys where the pet must push around a ball-shaped object with a hole in it – as the toy is moved, food falls out bit by bit. It can take a dog or cat up to an hour to get all of the food out. This provides great transit time in the esophaguses and is great enrichment. Out in the great wild, food is not in a bowl, the animal has to work for it!

Puzzle games are fantastic, too. Generally these should not be used for main meals unless your pet has learned how to beat the game. Start off with using puzzles as a treat with only a small amount of food. Once proficient, consider changing the game up a bit.

We use a simple low-tech method at home: we spread the food around our apartment. When we remove it from the bag we shake off all loose crumbs and then throw kibbles around each room in our dwelling. It takes Brian T. Dog about 10 minutes to get each piece. Afterwards, he is a bit tired. For cats, try using a Ripple Rug or like product. The food can be hidden between the layers of the rug.

Remember that all bowls and toys need to be cleaned regularly. Running them through the dishwasher, so long as they are safe to do so, is a great idea. Most food bowls are amenable to such cleaning.

So as you are at your Thanksgiving table, stuffing yourself, remember that slow eating is a good thing for your pets.

Dan Teich, DVM

Categories
Dogs News

Ticks! How to prevent them.

A persistent threat to the health of dogs comes from organisms contained within ticks. These small arachnids are common in many landscapes – from forests, to tall grasses, and especially along the coast. While fleas may be a nuisance and most commonly cause itching and tapeworms, ticks spread much more potent and insidious pathogens.

What makes them so dangerous is that they are hard to find. They can be tiny – almost pin-head size up to about half an inch. Ticks can be anywhere on your dog – they have heat-seeking abilities, enabling them to locate your dog, and then they attach to warmer parts of the body. They are excellent at hide-and-seek. The head, neck, and ears are common attachment points. We have seen them between the toes frequently, along with being in the groin, or even on eyelids and lips. When looking for ticks, look, feel, and repeat several times. Don’t forget to inspect inside the ears, too! They are betting that you and the dog will miss them.

Ticks lay in wait on the ends of branches and grasses waiting for you or your dog to walk past. When the branch is disturbed, it lets go and attaches to the dog. This process is know as questing. While they are good at finding a warm body, they cannot jump (thankfully). Once on the dog, it attaches and begins to suck blood. They use blood proteins to grow and mature. Many species of tick can be waiting for the right animal to pass by for over a year and a half without eating. They are patient. And they are waiting.

A tick may feed on a dog for a number of days. When they bite ticks inject saliva into the area, causing mild swelling and increased blood flow. The injection of saliva is what we are most concerned about – living within the salivary glands of many species of tick are infectious organisms. These bugs flow into the dog with the saliva and it usually takes 24 hours for a tick to transmit most diseases, which provides us with time to identify and remove or kill the tick.

Common diseases carried by ticks in the Washington, Maryland, and Virginia areas include Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Ehrlichiosis, tick paralysis and others. These organisms can cause a variety of ailments, from arthritis-like signs, to fevers, clotting problems, and even death.

It is important to remove ticks when they are found. Transmission of most diseases does not happen until the tick has been attached to a dog for about a day. Gently grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it directly off. Try to not crush the tick and use tweezers, if available.

Check your dog after every walk, especially after strolling through the woods or grasslands. This is the first line of defense. Next, use an effective flea / tick preventive. Owing to our mid-Atlantic environment, appropriate preventives should be used year-round. Preventives include topical applications, collars, and oral chews. The preventives work to rapidly kill ticks that bite dogs, with the goal of killing them before they have the opportunity to transmit disease.

We recommend use of an oral chew such as Simparica or NexGard for several reasons. First is simplicity – you know the dog ate it and second they have beens down to be highly effective. The topicals can lose effectiveness if your dog is bathed often or if the dog swims frequently. Another option is a collar, such as Seresto. It is long-lasting and has been shown to be quite effective, as well. These preventives, although useful, are not 100% effective and you should always practice good tick hygiene and inspect your dog frequently.

Tick-borne disease is common in our area. Please use appropriate caution to prevent your pup from getting a tick-borne disease. And if you have any concerns about ticks, do not hesitate to contact us or your regular veterinarian.

Dan Teich, DVM
Medical Director
District Veterinary Hospitals

Categories
Cats Dogs News

How to prevent fleas

Warmth! Rain! Spring! Fleas! It is that time again, my friends, that time where fleas emerge from dormancy and become a nuisance. While fleas are active all year here in the District Metropolitan Area, they can become a menace when the temperatures are consistently above fifty degrees. Let’s understand the flea life cycle and how to prevent these buggers from annoying you and your furred friends.

The common cat flea, which also infests dogs, has been around for millenia. Be thankful you live now and not millions of years ago. We have fossils of fleas the size of golfballs. Seeing as they have been around long before humans or even dogs, they know what they are doing. Our main goal is to prevent flea infestations. We will discuss flea treatment in a bit.

A female flea is capable of laying over six hundred eggs during her lifetime. Fleas may live anywhere from two weeks to eight months, depending upon temperature, humidity, and food supply. Their lifecycle is rather fascinating (well, I think so) and is important to understand when trying to manage their control.

Adult fleas lay eggs on a host (in our case, a dog or cat) and feed on the animal. Feeding means biting and sucking blood. Think of them as tiny vampires. They digest the blood and then poop it out onto the pet. They also lay egg in the fur, too. When the pet lays down to sleep, the eggs and the feces from the adult fleas falls onto the ground, be it a bed, carpet, leaf litter. If the temperature is right, the eggs hatch into larvae (grubs) and eat the feces from the adults. They grow and shed their outer skin several times. This is called molting. After several molts, they spin a small cocoon similar to a caterpillar, where they turn into an adult flea. And here they can wait for months. They want for the perfect time – where a hatching is triggered by vibrations of an animal walking by. And they are hungry! They then jump onto the passing animal and begin the cycle all over again.

Flea bites are itchy – and remember, fleas eat blood, so they bite frequently. The saliva triggers an allergic reaction, leading to itching. It only takes a few bites to cause some dogs or cats to be extremely itchy. Aside from the itch, they can also transmit tapeworms (if the flea is eaten) and a host of other diseases. While itching and fleas are the most common sequela in our area, they can transmit a host of other diseases, too, including plague.

No one wants fleas on their pet or in their home! While we have effective oral and topical flea preventives (to be discussed later), a bit of home maintenance can help, too. Vacuum regularly, especially the areas where your pets sleep. Fleas love carpet and slightly moist areas, such as basements. These are prime areas for flea eggs to mature. Vacuum then wash pet bedding on a regular basis in hot water. Once young fleas turn into pupae, the only method to eliminate them is through mechanical means – or let then hatch.

Vacuuming helps, but is far from sufficient. An array of products have come to the market, which prevent infestations and / or kill fleas on pets. Capstar is an oral tablet that rapidly kills any flea on a dog or cat. Its drawback is that it is a one shot deal: fleas can reinfest the pet rapidly. It can be used in urgent situations. Topical preventives have existed for over two decades, with eh most popular brand being Frontline. The medication floats within the skin oils of the pet, killing fleas for a month. Its efficacy decreases if the pet is bathed frequently. Its main drawback is that it is topical and may not spread over the entire pet. Some pets also have a sensitivity to the alcohol which suspends the active ingredients.

Seresto collars are effective for flea control. The collar can last up to six months and is worn at all times. The drawbacks are that the collar is a topical medication and the collar can be lost.

Newer generation flea preventives are oral tablets. These are effective for one month (Simparica, NexGard) or three months (Bravecto). The oral preventives are District Vet’s preferred method of flea control as their administration is easy and you can confirm that the dog received the dose! They are also highly effective and take care of ticks, too. In rare cases the oral preventives can cause tremors (shakes) in dogs. If observed, please tell your veterinarian. These clinical signs wear off quickly, but a different flea control should be used if observed. There is an oral preventive for cats, too, but we prefer a topical called Revolution as it also prevents heart worm disease in cats.

Fleas are here, but they do not have to be part of your home. Understanding how to prevent them is key to having an itch-free dog or cat. Should you have questions, please feel free to ask us or your local veterinarian.

Dan Teich, DVM
Medical Director
District Veterinary Hospitals

Categories
Cats Dogs News

Identify your pet! Use a chip and a tag

Buster is lost in the woods. Felix ran out an open door. Blossom was spooked by fireworks. All are missing and their people are in panic mode. How do they get back home?

Countless pets go missing each year, ten million dogs annually, as estimated by the ASPCA. Fifteen percent of households in a large survey reported that a pet went missing within the past five years of the survey date. It was almost equal between dogs and cats. Most dogs made it home due to neighborhood searches, while fifteen percent of dogs were reunited with their people because of an identification tag or a microchip. Most cats returned on their own. Only six percent of dogs and two percent of cats were found at their local shelter.

When a pet goes missing, the best method for recovery is a neighborhood search, but there are tools that you can implement to increase the chance of recovering a pet. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks.

Most popular is having a tag on your dog or cat’s collar with a current phone number. It is easy, inexpensive, and very effective if your pet is found outside. Be certain that the tag is always on the collar and that the phone numbers are current. Many times the tag is old and does not reflect a recent move. An additional method of carrying a phone number is to have it embroidered on the pet’s collar. A number of companies provide this service. A tag and an embroidered collar can be stylish, too!

A drawback is if the collar is not on your pet when in the house – or if the collar breaks away, as in the case of cat collars. Dogs that are crated should not be wearing a collar. It is recommended to be collarless in a crate to prevent strangulation. Cat collars are designed to unsnap if a certain amount of pressure is placed on the collar. This is for strangulation and entanglement prevention.

A collar and tag is by far the most effective method for identification, but it should be combined with an implanted microchip. This is not space-age technology – it is similar to a key fob. The microchip, about the size of a large grain of rice, is encoded with a number (or combination of letters and numbers), which can be read with a hand-held scanner. When the scanner is waved over the area with the chip, the number appears on the scanner’s display. Once the number is obtained, it is entered into a web portal, which directs the user to the service which maintains the registry for the chip. These people then contact the pet’s owner, or if permission is granted during chip registration, the finder of the pet is given the owner’s information.

Microchips cannot be lost and are a permanent form of identification, but there are a few drawbacks, too. First, the chip must be registered. When a pet receives a chip, the owner must either have the veterinary hospital register the chip or do this themselves. The information is placed into a database and will be there forever. It is imperative that if you ever move, that the information in the database is updated. This usually only takes a few minutes and can be done online, in most cases. Last, a chip must be scanned in order to be effective! Almost all shelters and veterinarians have scanners.

New on the horizon are GPS-enabled collars. They are programmable and can indicate the position of your pet on an app. The drawbacks include the collar falling off, the battery running low, technology issues, and being out of satellite communication.

Being a former shelter veterinarian, I cannot stress enough the need to have a collar with a tag and a microchip on your pet. In our city people are so happy to assist with getting pets back home – give them the tools they need!

Categories
Dogs News

Knee injuries in dogs: The CCL tear

Dogs are prone to many orthopedic injuries, but none is as common as rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL). The knee is a complex joint, composed of a number of ligaments and cartilage padded areas. When there is damage to the CCL, the knee becomes unstable, leading to discomfort, damage to the cartilage, and eventual arthritis.

The CCL in dogs is analogous to the ACL in humans. This ligament is frequently torn in athletes during a traumatic episode (think football), but in dogs, the ligament begins to weaken when they are young, leading to possible rupture during mundane activities.

The CCL serves to stabilize the bones of the knee. The femur (long bone that extends from the hip joint to the knee) sits on top of the tibia (shin bone) and is prevented from sliding off the tibia by the CCL. The ligament also helps prevent twisting of the bones on top of each other. When the ligament is torn, the femur has excess mobility leading to possible damage of the protective coating of cartilage in the joint, inflammation, and pain. Walking becomes more difficult as well. As the inflammation and instability persist, the body reacts by producing scar tissue in an attempt to stabilize the joint. After some time, the joint develops arthritis, leading to chronic pain.

We frequently see dogs for CCL damage and the history may involve jumping playing, or nothing at all. Since the ligament weakens in many dogs at a young age, it may simply rupture when out for a walk. In working or highly active dogs, the damage may be secondary to trauma or a hard landing, but frequently, the dog is simply lame after a walk. Common breeds for CCL damage include all pit bull breeds and retrievers. Large breed dogs are also over-represented, but we do see problems in small dogs, too.

Diagnosis of a ruptured CCL is based upon history and an orthopedic examination. X-rays are useful, but do not show the ligament damage as most ligaments do not appear X-rays. During the examination, the veterinarian will assess if the joint is stable by flexing and extending the knee, along with testing if there is drawer or tibial thrust. The later two techniques show if the femur slides back and forth on top of the tibia.

Once a presumptive diagnosis of a CCL tear is made, X-rays are frequently taken of the knees and the hips. It is important to be certain that there are no other abnormalities within the knee and to ascertain if the hips are normal. If you fix a damaged knee, but the hip itself is problematic, you may not have made a positive difference in the walking or comfort of the dog – or the hip itself is the real problem, and not the knee!

Initially torn CCLs are managed with rest, an anti-inflammatory medication for pain and inflammation control, and a glucosamine supplement such as Dasuquin Advanced. Not all CCL tears are complete and with time, medications and rest, some may stabilize and not require further intervention. Regenerative medicine – including stem cells and platelet rich plasma, along with physical therapy and rest may greatly aid in recovery of dogs with less than 50% partial CCL tears. For those with a complete tear, surgical intervention is necessary to obtain the best outcome.

Several surgical techniques are employed to stabilize the knee joint, but the tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) is the most common procedure. For brevity we will only discuss the TPLO as we at District Vet believe it to have the best outcomes for our patients. The TPLO does not recreate the broken ligament, but changes the position of the top of the tibia bone so that the femur sit more flatly upon the tibia, eliminating the need for the CCL. This is performed via making a circular cut in the tibia, rotating it into position, and securing it with a steel plate and screws. Post operative the pup is placed on pain medications, joint supplements, omega-3 fatty acids (Welactin brand is most recommended), Adequan (an injectable joint supplement), rest, and given physical therapy. Dogs recover quite quickly and frequently resume their pre CCL rupture activities within three months.

Remember earlier where it was discussed that CCL rupture is usually a degeneration of the ligament? Well, in 50-60% of dogs that damage one CCL, the other will be damaged within 15-18 months. The best treatment is to repair a CCL when it ruptures and then repair the other, too.

CCL ruptures are common in dogs, but can be effectively treated in all sizes of dogs. If your pup is suddenly lame in a hind leg, the CCL may be to blame. We are here to help.

Dan Teich, DVM
District Veterinary Hospital

Categories
Friends News

Pocket Pets 101!

Pocket Pets 101

Everyone knows that I live with Brian T. Dog, an adorable golden retriever with a bevy of themed bandanas. There are many of us with cats, too. But what if you are more space-limited or enjoy having smaller companions in your house? Pocket pets! While we know that they are smaller than the aforementioned creatures, they frequently require an outsized amount of care. Small furry creatures can be wonderful companions, so please do all you can to assure that they receive the best husbandry possible. Let’s explore a few care tips about these friends.

Guinea Pigs
These precocious creatures originate in South America and have been pets (and food!) for thousands of years. Guinea pigs are born looking like miniature adults and nurse from their mothers for only two to 3 weeks! Their lifespan can range from 5- 8 years, but some have been know to be in their teens. They also make really cute grunting noises. Special needs of guinea pigs include plenty of exercise, an ability to explore and be stimulated, regular brushing, and vitamin C!
Diet: Timothy hay, commercial guinea pig pellets, fresh veggies and fruits (slice of orange, apple, romaine lettuce, carrots, collard greens). Be sure to routinely offer fruit with Vitamin C as it is an essential nutrient for them. Many guinea pigs have died from a poor diet and lack of Vitamin C. Always have access to fresh water.
Housing: A large cage with ramps, platform, and hiding places is required. Bedding should be shredded paper and cleaned daily.
Special considerations: Brush your little pigs daily with a soft brush. Be sure they get exercise outside of their cage frequently. They do better in pairs, but do not have different sexes – or if you do, be sure to have them spayed and neutered.

Rabbits
House rabbits have become very popular and can live in excess of ten years. They can be very social and frequently get along well with other pets, supervised, of course. Like guinea pigs, rabbits are social animals and require quite a bit of playtime daily. They make great indoor pets and can readily be litterbox-trained!
Feeding: Grass hay (timothy, rye, barley), rabbit pellets, and plenty of fresh leafy greens (romaine lettuce, collard greens, carrot tops), occasional carrots.
Housing: As large of a cage as possible with a solid bottom. Provide paper-based bedding, never cedar shavings. They will drink from a large water bottle with a nozzle. They require chew sticks (available at pet stores) to help keep their teeth from growing too long.
Special considerations: Spayed or neutered rabbits tend to live longer, healthier lives. Learn how to properly hold a rabbit – improper handling can result in the rabbit breaking its back – really! Rabbits also eat a small amount of their own feces daily, this is why you don’t house them in a cage with a wire mesh bottom. Annual veterinary exams are important for your rabbit.

Chinchillas
These creatures are really mostly fluff! When handled from a very young age, they can be quite tame and make great companions. Like rabbits, they, too are social and require attention. They are from Chile and Peru – cooler environments – and do not tolerate temperatures above 75F or below 50F, or high humidity. A chinchilla is a longterm pet – they can live up to twenty years.
Feeding: Chinchillas eat mostly grasses: timothy hay is best. Chinchilla pellets (without treats) may also be used in addition to the hay. Give treats rarely as they may cause digestive issues. Safe treats include a Cheerio (only one), a few unsalted sunflower seeds, a small amount of fig. Always have fresh water- a stoppered water bottle is great.
Housing: Again, as large of a chew-proof cage as possible. Have ramps and a sleeping box, too. Shredded paper is best as bedding, avoid pine and cedar. If you are busy, it is better to have two chinchilla than one – they will play with each other. A solid exercise wheel (avoid wire ones) will help with exercise. Let them play, while being supervised, outside the cage in an enclosed room whenever possible.
​Special considerations: Dust baths! Yes, you read correctly – they daily need to bathe in dust to reduce oils in their fur. Be sure the dust is very fine and not coarse like sand. Like rabbits (and most small furry creatures of their ilk), they need chew items – wood or pumice. Special chinchilla dust and chews are available.

Hamsters
There are now several varieties of hamsters available as pets. From larger teddy bear hamsters, to tiny Russian dwarves. Hamster care is bit more forgiving than rabbits or chinchillas, but they also have much shorter lifespans: approximately two years, sometimes a bit longer.
Diet: Hamsters will readily eat commercial hamster mixes and love small amounts of fresh vegetables and fruit added to their diet. They are trainable and you can use small pieces of apple as the reward! A stoppered water bottle is essential. Hamsters also tend to hide their food – allow them to do so in their cage, but do clean this area at least every few weeks.
Housing: Personal experience: hamsters have teeth that can chew through almost anything. Use a large glass aquarium for their environment or a really high quality wire cage. Provide a nest box area and offer empty cardboard tubes for them to chew and play with. Bedding can be wood shavings (not pine or cedar), paper-based, or even sand. Give them wood wool to use in making a nest area – a bit of toilet paper works well, too!
Special considerations: In the wild, hamsters are nocturnal, so they may be most active at night. The Syrian hamster (teddy bear) usually lives alone and if two are placed in the same enclosure they may fight to death. Russian dwarf hamsters prefer to live peacefully in groups. Be careful though – you could wind up with a whole host of them like Dr. Teich did when he was a kid if you have members of both sexes living together!

The above information is only an introduction to pocket pets. Before you bring a new furry creature into your house, please do your research and preparation! Like creepy crawly, scaly, or slimy creatures? Stay tuned for a later edition exploring facets of their care! Dr. Teich has an affinity for frogs, salamanders, and fish!

Categories
News

Pet Disaster / Evacuation Preparedness

Pet Disaster Preparedness

The past month has reminded many of us that weather-related disasters are real and can happen anywhere along the coast. Remember 2003 and hurricane Isabelle? Weather is a fact of life, but being prepared for an emergency is a choice. Resolve this month to put together a plan for an emergency – whether it be related to meteorological events or another disaster / event. Do not assume that your location precludes you from having to leave your residence: gas leaks, fires, power outages, and other reasons can necessitate an immediate emergency. We live in the city in smaller quarters, so storing two weeks’ worth of water is usually not practical, but there are simple steps that can be taken by any city-dweller.

Prepare an Evacuation Plan
If you need to leave, where will you go? Discuss with friends and relatives in nearby and more distant places if you can place your animals with them for temporary shelter. Having a destination location will greatly ease the burden upon you in an emergency. Many times it is not possible to reach more distant places, so also check with your local emergency management / disaster government website regarding local pet sheltering. In the District of Columbia consult: https://hsema.dc.gov/

Have a Pet Carrier at the Ready
You should have one clean carrier per pet readily accessible. This is not necessary for larger dogs, but may be useful should your residence have the space. Being buried in the back of a closet or in an attic crawl space does not qualify as readily accessible. Rule of thumb: be able to access it from anywhere in the house within one minute.
Place a copy of your pets’ most recent vaccine history in a plastic bag taped to the top of the carrier or in a side pouch. Do this after each annual vet visit. Should your pet need to be sheltered, having this information makes life much easier. A paper copy is ideal as it can be used numerous times, even when the power is out.
Be certain the carrier is labelled with your contact information and that of a trusted friend / relative.

Have a Spare Leash and Basket Muzzle at the Ready
Always have two dog leashes, with one of them in a dedicated place. When you need to evacuate quickly, you should not have to look for a dog leash. It is also useful to have your contact information on the leash – either via embroidery or a tag. This information should also be on your dog’s collar.
Why a basket muzzle you ask? Here’s the reality – many times in a disaster pets will be sheltered, but not in the same area as humans. The disaster organization sets up a de facto kennel operation and when checking into the shelter, many times you will be standing on a long line with many other pet owners. Dogs may become agitated and stressed. Should your pup show any aggression, there may be new problems to tackle. Basket muzzles allow a dog to drink, eat small treats and breathe normally.

Microchip Your Pet
In times of duress, pets may become separated from their people. Collars may fall off or, in the case of an indoor housecat, there may not be a collar at all. Pet microchips – about the size of a large grain of rice and implanted under the skin between the shoulders – provide rescue teams a reliable method of reconnecting pets with owners. Always be sure the information in the chip database is unto date and correct. We routinely place microchips – it is quick and easy and can be done most any day.

Spare food containers
Near your pets’ main food supply, keep a waterproof container that can hold a week’s worth of food. In an emergency this enables you to quickly grab food and go. Have a small collapsable water dish within the container, as well. Maintain severe gallons of bottled water near the food container, too. It is important to remember that when pets are sheltered in an emergency, the shelter staff may not have your particular food in stock. Frequently sheltered pets are supplied with a main brand dry food to feed every pet of that species.

Medications
If your pet is on a chronic medication, or is known to receive a periodic medication, it is advisable to always have a two week supply of the medication at home. This depends upon if the medication is stable to last for two weeks. Your veterinarian will appreciate you not calling at the end of the day needing a refill after you have run out of medication. This is some advice for humans, as well.

What to do if You Need to Evacuate
At the outset of many evacuations, many assume the need to leave will be brief, but soon find out that they will not be able to return home for an extended period of time. If an evacuation order is issues, don’t delay. The sooner you leave, in general, the better the outcome and the more resources available to you. The last thing you want to do is increase your chance of becoming a disaster victim yourself. Always take your pets with you if safe to do so. Going back to retrieve them may not be possible once you have left your residence.
Place pets in carriers, fill the food container / bring the food bag and canned foods, grab any medications and essential supplies, leash pets, and then leave your residence.

We at District Vet are always happy to discuss emergency preparedness with you. We also have this article and further information a dtistrictvet.com/disaster. Please remember that an hour of planning may translate to saving your best friends in time of disaster.

The above information has been adapted from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s “Saving the whole family” campaign.

Dan Teich, DVM
(c) District Veterinary Hospital 2017

Categories
Cats News

Hairballs – More than just fur

Hairballs

Every so often, your otherwise fastidious cat will do an alarming and somewhat disgusting thing. She’ll awake from a peaceful nap, rise up on her paws, retch convulsively for a moment or two, and spit up what may appear at first glance to be a damp clump. What the animal has disgorged — in the middle of your kitchen floor or, worse yet, in the middle of your prized Persian rug — is a trichobezoar, a wad of undigested hair that is commonly referred to as a hairball.
Despite the term, disgorged hairballs are not usually round. They are often slender and cylindrical, shaped more like a cigar or sausage than a ball. According to Richard Goldstein, DVM, an associate professor of small animal medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, a spit-up hairball’s elongated shape is imparted by the narrow food tube (esophagus) in which it develops or through which it passes on its journey from the cat’s stomach to the outside world. However, he notes, a hairball that is not disgorged and remains in the stomach will indeed be round — “like a sponge or a rolled-up sock,” he says.
Regurgitated hairballs are variable in size; though usually about an inch long, they can be as long as five inches and an inch thick. The color is mainly that of the cat’s coat, darkened by the color of the animal’s food and various gastric secretions, such as green bile. The ejected matter will typically have an unpleasant but tolerable odor.

Hazardous Potential
Hairballs are the unsavory by-product of a normal habit. As your cat grooms herself, she swallows a lot of loose hair. This happens because the tiny backward-slanted projections (papillae) that roughen the surface of her tongue propel the hair down her throat and into her stomach. Unfortunately, Dr. Goldstein explains, the main structural component of the hair — a tough, insoluble protein substance called keratin — is indigestible. While most of the swallowed hair eventually passes through the animal’s digestive tract and gets excreted intact in the feces, some of it remains in the stomach and gradually accumulates into a damp clump — the hairball.
It’s not uncommon, says Dr. Goldstein, for a cat to regurgitate a hairball once every week or two. Aside from inconvenience to the owner, this is nothing to worry about. However, the wad of matted hair can pose a serious health threat it if grows too large to pass through the narrow sphincters leading either from the esophagus to the stomach or from the stomach to the intestinal tract. Also threatening, he notes, is a hairball that manages to pass into the small intestine and become tightly lodged there. “This is uncommon,” he notes, “but it is very serious when it does occur. Without surgical intervention, it can be fatal.”

Relieving the Obstruction
A cat that is lethargic, refuses to eat for more than a day or two or has had repeated episodes of unproductive retching or true vomiting should be examined by a veterinarian without delay, he advises. It’s possible that the frequent hacking has nothing at all to do with hairballs. It may instead be a sign of another gastrointestinal problem or of a respiratory ailment, such as asthma, in which case emergency treatment may be necessary.
Diagnosis of intestinal blockage is based on physical examination, bloodwork, X-rays, perhaps ultrasound, and a history of the animal’s pattern of hairball regurgitation. If a blockage is detected, surgery may be required in order to remove the hairball. More often, however, therapy will center on protecting the intestines through several days of clinical care that includes the use of a laxative to move the hairball through the digestive tract.
Although laxatives may be effective in enabling passage of a stubborn hairball, Dr. Goldstein strongly advises owners never to give their cats a laxative without the approval and supervision of a veterinarian. The same advice applies to the use of commercial diets that claim to be effective in preventing or relieving such an obstruction.

(c) District Vet – 2017