Celebrating Senior Pets

It can be difficult seeing our pets get older, they start slowing down and don’t have quite the energy they had when they were younger. Since September is Senior Pet Wellness Month it’s a good time to consider how to best care for our older furry friends. Keep reading to learn some simple ways to help your aging pet live a long and happy life.

Pets age much faster than humans (especially larger breed dogs) and are considered to be “senior” at around age 7. Because of the faster aging process in our pets, health problems can occur over a much shorter period of time. Wellness exams every 6 months, for the life of your pet, can help catch diseases earlier when they are easier to correct or manage. Wellness exams consist of a full physical exam by a veterinarian, as well as discussion of any physical or behavioral changes your pet may be experiencing. Symptoms to watch for at home that may indicate illness would include changes in appetite, changes in weight, drinking more, urinating more, changes in behavior or activity level, bad breath, lumps or bumps on or under the skin, vomiting, diarrhea, labored breathing and coughing. Further tests such as bloodwork, urine testing, radiographs or ECG may be recommended based on history, exam findings, and the age of your pet.

Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a very common condition in senior pets. DJD occurs when the cartilage present in joints becomes damaged or worn. This deterioration of the cartilage induces secondary inflammation and pain in the joint. Animals with osteoarthritis typically have a hard time getting up or down from a laying position, seem stiff or even limp when they first get up, have difficulty going up or down stairs, or may no longer be able to jump onto furniture or into the car. There are many ways to help manage osteoarthritis in pets. Keeping your pet at their ideal, or slightly lower, body weight is one of the most important ways to help manage DJD. There are nutritional supplements available that contain Glucosamine and/or Chondroitin sulfate that help promote cartilage repair and slow destruction of cartilage. Managing pain and inflammation is also important in the management of osteoarthritis. Typically non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are used to control pain and reduce inflammation. Additional pain medications are often prescribed as DJD progresses. Moderate exercise, such as walking and swimming, is important to maintain muscle tone and strength. Strenuous exercise should be avoided so as not to further damage the joints.

There are things you can do at home to help make your senior pet more comfortable. Providing well padded beds for pets to lie on, keeping food dishes, litter boxes and water easily accessible, and putting carpet or non-skid runners on stairs or other slippery floor surfaces will make life easier and more comfortable for your pet. Minimizing use of stairs or providing ramps for pets to use to get on furniture or to replace stairs will help reduce the risk of your pet injuring themselves.

It is important to continue to maintain good dental health and good nutrition in your pets as they age. Poor dental health can lead to pain, infection, reduced ability to eat and weight loss. Routine home dental care such as brushing your pet’s teeth, using oral rinses or water additives and dental treats and bones is very important. Your pet will still need routine veterinary dental cleanings as well. Keeping your pet at an ideal body weight not only helps manage symptoms of osteoarthritis but extends your pet’s life. A study done by Purina showed that dogs maintained at an ideal body weight lived almost 2 years longer and had fewer health problems than dogs who were overweight.

Unfortunately we can’t make our pets live forever, but there is plenty we can do to give them as long and healthy and happy a life as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

Fleas and Ticks

We’re in the prime of summer and I know the heat and humidity has many of us looking forward to cooler weather, but it’s not quite here yet so make sure you’re still thinking about keeping those creepy crawly critters off your pets.  The critters I’m referring to are fleas and ticks.  In addition to just being a nuisance these parasites can also carry diseases that can affect the health of your pet.

Fleas are the most common ectoparasite of dogs and cats and are the cause of the most common skin disorder of dogs and cats; flea allergy dermatitis (FAD).  The flea life cycle involves 4 life stages consisting of egg, larval stages, pupa, and adult.  Adult fleas lay eggs that fall off the host (your pet) and into the environment (your house and yard); these eggs then hatch into larvae.  The larvae go through two molts and the third stage larvae spin cocoons around themselves and then become adult fleas.  This life cycle from egg to adult can take as little as 14-28 days.  However, under certain environmental conditions third stage larvae can remain in their cocoons for months, waiting to emerge as adults when the right host comes along.

Fleas feed on the host’s blood, and in cases of heavy infestation, can cause severe anemia.  Flea anemia is most often seen in young puppies and kittens, or debilitated animals.  Fleas also serve as the intermediate host for tapeworms, an intestinal parasite the dog or cat contracts when ingesting an infected flea.  Fleas can also carry mycoplasmal parasites that infect red blood cells and can cause severe anemia and illness in infected cats.

Ticks are another ectoparasite, and like fleas, feed on the host’s blood.  Ticks are arachnids, like spiders, mites, and scorpions.  Ticks have 4 life stages; egg, larva, nymph, and adult.  Depending on the species of tick, and environmental conditions, the life stage can take anywhere from 2 months to 2 years to be complete.  Adult female and male ticks will engorge themselves on the host’s blood and then mate.  The female tick then lays eggs, often as many as 3,000 to 6,000.  The eggs then hatch into larvae.  The larvae find a host, take a blood meal, and molt into a nymph.  The nymph finds a host to feed on and molts into an adult.  Ticks cannot jump or fly, they can only crawl.  Ticks crawl onto tips of grasses or shrubs and wait for a host.  When the animal brushes past the grass or shrub the tick crawls onto the host. 

There are a lot of different species of ticks, but only a few that are commonly encountered in the United States.  These include the American dog tick, the Lone Star tick, the Deer tick, and the Brown dog tick.   Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis are the more commonly encountered tick borne diseases in animals.  

There are several flea and tick preventatives on the market, and some work better than others.  It is very important to make sure that any product you plan to use on cats is approved for use in cats.  Cats are sensitive to certain flea products and improper use can result in severe toxicity and even death.  Vectra 3D, Advantix(dogs only) and Frontline are the most commonly recommended topical flea and tick preventatives, and are applied to your pet on a monthly basis.  There are some new oral products on the market for flea and tick control, such as NexGard and Bravecto. There are also some collars that are effective for tick control alone (Preventic) or flea and tick control (Seresto).  It is important to treat all animals in the household every month, all year.  Flea infestations in particular are much easier to prevent than they are to treat.  Talk to your veterinarian about what product is best for your pet.



 

Adopt a Shelter Cat


The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 6-8 million cats and dogs enter shelters each year and 3-4 million of those are euthanized.  Our local animal shelter, BARCS, takes in over 11,000 animals each year, approximately 5,000 find new homes.  The Maryland SPCA places 3,000 pets in new homes each year.  Since June is “Adopt a Shelter Cat Month”, it’s a great time to consider giving a cat in need a wonderful home!  Both BARCS, and the Maryland SPCA, waive their adoption fees for cats during the month of June.

So maybe you’ve adopted a wonderful new feline friend…now what?  It’s important to make their environment comfortable, fun and to reduce stress and anxiety.  Food and water should be kept in quiet places and should not be near litter boxes.  Cats often prefer multiple food and water stations, bowls should be clean, and water should be fresh at all times.  It’s important to feed diets formulated for the age of your feline friend, and to measure out specified quantities each meal to help prevent obesity.

Ok, let’s talk litter boxes.  Inappropriate urination and defecation in cats is often a result of stress and anxiety and many of these cases can be prevented with proper “litter box etiquette”.  The general rule is that there should be one more litter box than the number of cats in the household.  Cats generally prefer unscented clumping litter.  The litter should be scooped at least once daily, and the boxes emptied, cleaned, and refilled with new litter once every 1-3 weeks depending on the type of litter being used.  Some cats do prefer covered litter boxes, but the majority of cats do not.

Cats should also have access to several scratching posts.  Scratching is a normal behavior for cats.  The scratching post should be sturdy and be tall enough for the cat to stretch out full length.  You can use catnip to encourage your cat to use the scratching post.

 Play time is a great way to provide exercise and mental stimulation for cats.  Having a variety of toys available and rotating them so your cat doesn’t get bored is helpful.  Laser pointers, feather toys, toy mice and toys stuffed with catnip are popular.  There are food-dispensing toys available as well that cats often enjoy.  Outdoor bird feeders can be very entertaining for cats.  Cats also enjoy having elevated perches available.  Cat trees and ledges or beds that attach to window frames are readily available at pet stores.

 Most cats adopted from shelters will already have been spayed or neutered, and received some if not all needed vaccinations.  It’s important to have your new feline friend examined by a veterinarian shortly after you adopt them.  They can make sure your new cat is healthy and determine if any further vaccination, deworming or lab tests are required.  You can consult your veterinarian for any further questions about caring for your new cat.  You can also visit www.catalystcouncil.org/ for more helpful information on a variety of topics relating to cats.

 

Microchipping Your Pet

We’ve all seen those heartbreaking flyers with pictures of lost pets and wonder whether or not they were ever reunited with their owners. Most pet owners worry about their pet becoming lost and what they would be able to do to find them. Hopefully you’ll never be faced with that situation but there are measures to consider taking in case you are. Microchipping your pet is one way to help ensure that you will be reunited with your pet in the unfortunate event they are ever lost.

A microchip is a small electronic chip, about the size of a grain of rice, implanted just underneath the pet’s skin. This chip carries a unique identification number that cannot be altered or duplicated. When a scanner is passed over the chip, the chip is activated by the radiowaves from the scanner. When the microchip is activated by the scanner the identification number can be read and is displayed on the screen of the scanner. Once an animal is microchipped, the owner and pet information is registered with a database. Once the scanner reads the microchip number the owner contact information can be obtained from the database. The owner can then be contacted and the pet returned to the owner. It is very important this contact information be kept current.

Ideally all microchips would conform to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) global standard for microchipping, but historically this has not been the case. The ISO standard for microchip frequency is 134.2 kHz. There are microchips, as well as scanners, that do not follow these standards. The concern is that a microchip in a lost pet may not be detected because not all scanners read all microchips. There are forward-and-backward compatible, or universal scanners, now available that can read any frequency microchip. Most shelters and veterinary practices have these universal scanners.


Microchipping is not meant to replace collars or tags. Your pet should have a collar with identification tags that are legible and have accurate contact information. Tags and collars can however be lost so microchipping is a permanent identification system that increases your chances of finding your lost pet.

Summer Pet Care

The hot, humid days of summer are almost upon us and we’re all looking forward to outdoor picnics, street festivals, fireworks and long weekends. The outdoor activities and nice weather that we enjoy may not be so enjoyable for our furry friends. It’s important to keep our pet’s needs in mind during the hot summer weather. Pets can easily become overheated and dehydrated in hot weather. Pets should not be left in cars for any period of time in hot weather. Make sure to limit your pet’s exercise to early morning and late evening when the temperature is cooler. Even then, limit the amount of activity to make sure your pet does not become overheated. Animals are not able to dissipate heat from their body as easily as humans can. They pant to help give off excess heat and can sweat a small amount from their paw pads, but that’s it. It is very easy for animals to become overheated and suffer from heatstroke. Heatstroke is very serious and life threatening. Symptoms of heatstroke include weakness, labored breathing, frantic panting, a glazed look to the eyes, vomiting, rapid heartrate, and collapse. Any animal suspected of having heatstroke needs to be seen by a veterinarian right away. Water, water, water!! Make sure your pet has plenty of fresh, cool water available at all times. If you’re going on a walk, even a short one, have water with you and offer it to your pet often. Try walking in the shade or at least take breaks in shaded areas during walks. As much as we all like to show off our dogs and take them out in public for everyone to meet, street festivals and firework exhibitions are not the place. These situations are usually very stressful for animals and very hot; often with little to no shade, or water, available. Please leave your dogs at home during these events. Of course summer is a very popular time for us humans to vacation so make sure your pets are taken care of too. If you’re planning to kennel your pet make sure the vaccinations are up to date. Most boarding kennels book up quickly in the summer so be sure to make your reservation as far in advance as possible. And don’t forget that mosquitos, fleas and ticks like warm weather too. So make sure your pet is on monthly heartworm and flea and tick prevention. Pets should be on these preventatives all year, but make sure not to skip any of the warmer weather months. Have a safe and happy summer!

Canine Influenza Virus: What You Should Know

As the heat dips down and walks in the park become a pleasant way to enjoy an evening, dog owners may spend extra time walking their dogs and giving them more opportunities to socialize with other dogs in the neighborhood. And as the holidays approach and planning for vacation and visits becomes a priority, dog owners may begin considering which facility provides the best place and community to house their dogs during time away from home. These activities and considerations raise certain questions about the health risks dogs face as their level of social contact with other dogs increases: What types of illnesses can a dog be exposed to? How can dog owners prevent their dogs from getting sick? What health issues should owners consider when selecting where to board their dogs during their travels? These questions are important and dog owners are right to have them. Although contact with other dogs is a necessary and beneficial part of a dog’s life, there are risks dogs face when socializing with other dogs. To help raise awareness of the risks and alleviate any worries they produce, this article will focus on a serious, yet preventable risk you and your dog face during times of increased contact with other dogs: Canine Influenza Virus. 

Canine Influenza Virus (CIV) is a highly contagious respiratory infection which causes persistent coughing, green or yellow nasal discharge, and low-grade fever, and, in some cases, facilitates the development of the more serious illness, pneumonia. First observed in 2004 in greyhounds at racing tracks, CIV has spread across 30 states and the nation’s capital. It can be transmitted through direct contact with infected dogs or virus-contaminated clothing and hands as well as through airborne carriers generated from coughing and sneezing (yet it is not communicable to humans). Despite its presence across the country and its high risk for contraction, CIV can be prevented and contained through awareness and vaccination. 

As with the seasonal flu virus among humans, the key method of protecting your dog from contracting the infection is vaccination. In 2009, the USDA approved the first CIV vaccine, H3N8. This vaccine introduces an inactivated virus into a dog’s body in order to increase the dog’s immunity to the virus. Although the vaccine may not always prevent infection, it does lessen the effects of symptoms, decrease the duration of illness, and reduce the possibility of spreading the virus to other dogs. In short, it is the best method to protect your dog and other dogs from Canine Influenza Virus. 

All dog owners, especially those owners whose dogs are in frequent contact with other dogs, should get their dogs vaccinated against CIV. If you are a new pet owner or you and your dog are new to the area, we offer the vaccination, as well as other veterinary services, at CityPets (please contact us for more information). Otherwise, contact your veterinarian for more advice concerning the CIV vaccine and how you can protect your dog throughout the year. And always remember that awareness and preventative measures are the best ways to keep your pets safe, healthy, and happy!

Thank you, 
Jill Shook, DVM, and Mike Lang, Associate Writer 
CityPets Veterinary Care and Wellness