Do Pets Catch Colds?

Do Pets Catch Colds?

This is one of the questions I have been asked numerous times, oddly more so since I’ve moved to Kingston.  With winter upon us, as well as cold & flu season for people, I thought I would do my best to answer this and shine a little bit more light on coughing & sneezing in pets.  Specifically, when you should head to your family veterinarian versus when you can monitor them at home before possibly taking them to the veterinarian.

sneezing kittenSneezing in many cases may not be a problem, yet I still see some patients who have sneezed “just a few times” and nothing more before being brought in.  There’s nothing wrong with having your pet checked if you’re concerned.  In cases where there is discharge, pets should be seen.  By discharge, I’m looking for blood or mucoid material (yellow, green, whitish-grey).  These are typically indicative of infection, foreign body, or in older animals particularly, I mightpotpouri be suspicious of cancers.  Sneezing without discharge leads me down the road of investigating allergies or other things in the home that might trigger such a response.  Things such as plug-ins, potpourri, scented candles, and treacherous dust bunnies living in closets or under furniture have all been culprits that have been identified before.

coughing_dog cartoonCoughing in most forms is a sign of something more serious internally.  In dogs, a cough can simply be a sign of Bordatellosis, more commonly referred to as kennel cough.  Coughing can also be a sign of more serious conditions such as heart failure, heartworm disease, pneumonia, or asthma.  These can all be difficult things to manage or potentially life threatening so getting your pet checked out is always a good idea.  One thing I’ve noticed personally in the winter is that with very dry environments, the airways can also get dried out and cause some irritation.  A simple recommendation I have to try and confirm this is to increase the humidity level in the home but if that doesn’t help it’s time for a trip to the veterinarian.

So the question on everybody’s minds…do pets get colds?  I would say it’s certainly possible and if your pet only has an kitty resp maskisolated sneeze or cough it could be the case.  We probably don’t see too many of these cases in practice.  Cold & flu season primarily exists among the human population and those little types of “bugs” won’t be transmissible between you and your pet.  My best recommendation is that if your pet is sneezing or coughing for more than 1-2 days, or if you see discharge, labored breathing, or lethargy, it’s time to get your furry family member seen before things get worse.

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Keeping Safe While Killing Fleas

Keeping Safe While Killing Fleas

Some of you may have seen the recent CBC Marketplace episode on dog car harnesses and also on the safety of certain flea products.  For my American audience, Marketplace is a show on Friday nights here in Canada that is investigative reporting based.  Watching the show as I sat in my home near Kingston, I noted a general theme in the discussion about flea products and also one glaring point missing from the report.

flea collar

The featured dog on this report was named Digby and he was wearing a flea collar.  Using a powder placed around Digby’s collar, they tracked to see essentially how many places came into contact with the flea collar.  Theoretically, this has the potential to spread the pesticide around on furniture & people.  While I suspect the amount that may rub off may not be in concentrated enough amounts, it does make me buy into the possibility that it could be harmful.  But what about effectiveness against fleas?colored flea

I’ve never advocated for flea collars.  In another small part of the segment on fleas, they showed numerous boxes of flea and tick products which have been reported to cause side effects to pets.  Many of these shown were over the counter products that I’ve known people to use and many times have been told they aren’t working.  Partly it’s due to the ingredients.  The other part is often improper use, most often because the proper dose is not applied.  Regarding safety, the most common mistake is that people have “just used a few drops” of the permethrin-flea-collardog product on their cats figuring that it would work since cats are smaller.  Typically, there is permethrin in these and it will cause cats to seizure.

The glaring problem I saw with the report?  Not once did they ever suggest talking to your veterinarian, even in their tips at the end.  The products carried by your veterinarian have undergone much more rigorous safety & efficacy testing.  Also, since they are being dispensed by medical professionals, you will know you’re getting the right product.  Regarding safety, we can better support your pet if something should happen to them but also we have options that will be safer for your family.advantage

The topical products we use (Advantage, Advantix, Advantage Multi,  & Revolution being the most common) will dry within 24 hours and if any skin exposure happens, a simple soap & water wash will remove any residue; but even then they haven’t been noted to have any side effects towards people like the products mentioned on Marketplace.  Even more concerned about safety?  In the last year (here in Canada, longer in the USA), a few oral tablet/chewable forms that will pose NO threat of exposure to your family have been developed.  Bravecto & NexGard are both orally taken flea & tick control methods that won’t leave a residue to get on people or objects in the home.  Another one is Comfortis which has been around longer and just does fleas.



comfortisWhile the CBC Marketplace report does make for good television, I am disappointed that they have neglected to include or consult a veterinary professional to help us educate the millions of pet owners out there.  I’m sure that for many people after they saw it there could have been a lot of fear & uncertainty.  We as a veterinary community are here to help you and your pets so don’t be shy about contacting us.  Fleas aren’t a huge issue in the winter right now, but when spring rolls back around, we’ll be here for you & your pets.

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Pet Adoptions and the Holidays

Pet Adoptions & the Holidays

The holidays are just around the corner and you know what that means…time with your family, holiday traditions, kitten giftawesome food, and crazy shopping madness.  Still looking for that perfect gift?  Why not do a good deed and give two gifts??  Pet adoption is a popular idea at this time of year.  Not only do you find a gift for that special someone but you’re giving an animal, who would otherwise be cooped up in a shelter, a forever home.  Yes, forever…

I’ve got nothing against pet adoption. I’ve done it myself and wish that more people would.  The Ontario Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) even has a special program called iAdopt to help raise awareness of the plight an animals in shelters and to increase the numbers who get homes.  Their website has lots of excellent tips to help you in choosing who to add to your family and how to integrate them into your family.  But let us look at “forever”…


Adopting a pet is a commitment that is not to be taken lightly.  We see high volumes of animals such as rabbits & ducks around Easter get purchased only to be surrendered, abandoned, or released into the wild.  However, around the winter holidays, cats & dogs are often the chosen pets to get adopted.  When you get these pets, they come with the bonus of already being vaccinated and spayed or neutered which is a great thing for them and a savings for you.

Christmas petsYet, you need to be devoted to them as much as they are devoted to you.  Realize that though they are almost always healthy when you bring them home, accidents do happen and if you adopt an adult or senior pet (highly encouraged!) some problems may rear their ugly head in the years ahead.  It’s this reason that I urge you to consider that into your decision to add a pet to your family.  Pets are a wonderful thing but they deserve all the care you can give and this unfortunately comes with a price.

I’ll suggest including an insurance plan or a savings account as part of your gift.  Many shelters give you up to 6 weeks ofmoney dog free insurance for you to try and investigate as an option but I don’t find too many people continuing it.  Another possibility is that your veterinary clinic may offer gift certificates you can get to help defray costs for anything the new pet owner may need; this is especially great for college students.

Speaking of kids…for a lot of people, they are enamored with the idea of getting a puppy or kitten for a child.  I would discourage this from happening as small kids often aren’t the ones who end up taking care of the pet.  If they are teenagers, their interests may change and the critter in question may be yours and rather than theirs.  Shelters may often have other options geckosuch as rabbits, rats, or other pocket pets which still require care and attention but don’t involve walking & bathing such as dogs but still may be a little less maintenance and easier for kids to manage.  It’s still important to know about proper pet care and make sure they have a clean habitat and fresh food.

In short, pet adoption is a wonderful gift for you, the new pet parent, and the animal who gets a home.  All I ask if that you commit to them by giving them the care and love they deserve.  If now is not a good time to get a pet, consider sponsoring one, fostering a rescue, or volunteering at a shelter and in this way you can still give back to them.  I hope you all have a happy and wonderful holiday season!

CharlieTaylor Xmas 2010

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Pancreatitis…When Organs Attack

Pancreatitis…When Organs Attack

In the past few years, we as the veterinary community have taken more of a look at the pancreas as a potential cause happy-thanksgiving-cat-dogfor some health issues when your pet comes in with more generalized signs.  We know quite a bit about this integral organ but there are still some mysteries to be solved.  With Thanksgiving coming up in the USA (unfortunately we had ours in Kingston already), this might be a good time to take a look at what it does, how it causes problems, and what we can do about it.

The pancreas sits in the abdomen adjacent to the stomach and upper small intestine.  Among it’s more important functions, it produces enzymes to help digest food and also insulin to help regulate blood sugar levels.  There are actually small tubes that secrete these compounds into the digestive tract and blood stream to help these functions happen.  But there are also inhibitors to keep these enzymes from starting to work too early….like while still in the pancreas.  If these inhibitors fail, reactions begin within the pancreas and it actually starts to digest itself.  Sounds nasty right?


It really can be quite complicated but I’ll break down the essentials.  We can see both an acute (sudden onset) and chronic (long term) form.  Acutely, the pancreas will become inflamed, can become necrotic (dead tissue), swollen, and potentially hemorrhage.  Chronically, the long term inflammation can lead to the tissue itself turning fibrous essentially killing off cells and rendering them non-functional and this can lead to diabetes or another condition called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).

baconBut how does this happen?  That can be hard to distinguish and there are MANY factors.  There is a higher incidence for dogs who get exposed to high amounts of fat whether repeatedly in their diet or the one dog I knew who unfortunately drank from the deep frier at home.  Yes, even bacon is bad for dogs.  Other factors in dogs may include certain drugs, trauma, toxins, and intestinal reflux while in cats, diets & drugs do not play a role but they are more at risk due to infectious diseases, hepatitis, diabetes, and parasites to name a few.  Terrier breeds & miniature schnauzers may be more at risk as well.  Unfortunately, the causes of almost every case of pancreatitis often goes unknown. min schnauzer

But how do you know if your pet has pancreatitis?  Of course there are tests we as veterinarians will do that can give us this answer but first they’ll show you signs at home that will be concerning to you.  Loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea are all possible signs.  Signs in cats may be vague or less noticeable with regards to vomiting and pain.  Cats also uniquely may have hepatitis and inflammatory bowel disease along with pancreatitis; this is often referred to as “triaditis.”  Blood tests will show numerous variations affecting the kidneys, electrolytes, liver, and blood cells.  Diagnostic imaging may be of use in some cases.

sick dog

Once the diagnosis is made, treatment can begin which will often include intravenous fluids, anti-nausea, anti-vomiting, pain, & appetite stimulant medications, vitamin supplementation, and in some cases antibiotics.  In certain cases, plasma transfusions can be given.  For dogs, long term management may often include low-fat diets, whereas in cats diet selection is not as important as getting them to eat what they will eat.  Despite all our options, there is no specific treatment or guaranteed course of action that will resolve a pancreatitis case but many patients will do well with these plans. hospitalized cat

This is just the basics of pancreatitis as there can be more complex problems such as abscesses or tumors though these are less common.  The important thing to keep in mind is that if your pet is showing abnormal signs, don’t delay.  It can be okay to wait a day in case of the uncommon upset stomach but it’s best to not make your pet wait almost a week to get them veterinary attention as it will only make the problem worse.  So this Thanksgiving, keep your pets safe and avoid the table foods just in case (not to mention possible toxicities)!

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Thankfulness for a Cat and a Veterinarian

Thankfulness for a Cat and a Veterinarian

At this time of year, I wanted to reflect something I’m thankful for.  During my time in practice in both Florida and Kingston, a question I’ve been asked a lot is “why did you become a veterinarian?”  Whether it is because a kid is curious how they can be a vet, somebody wants to know how I can do certain parts of my job (typically euthanasia), or if I’m being accused of being in it for the money, during this time of year I wanted to share my story about why I’m thankful for a veterinarian and a cat.

Zorro settling in

Zorro settling in

April 1986 – My dad arrives home with a new “dependent” for mom to declare during tax season.  A small kitten was found playing with a plastic bag in the middle of the street and he was scooped up by my dad.  We named him Zorro, an amazing tuxedo cat who found his way into our home and my heart.  Mom had given me the responsibility of caring for Zorro and he & I bonded.  I was especially fond of his crooked tail (shaped like a “Z”) that had been previously broken and the strong headbutts he would give to show that he cared.  In 1995 around American Thanksgiving-time, he became acutely ill…or so we thought.  Zorro had been showing all the signs of diabetic ketoacidosis except my mom & I had no clue what the signs were at the time or even knew that cats could even become diabetic.  We arrived home one Sunday from a weekend campout and found Zorro in a semi-comatose state on the floor but with 2 other cats we hadn’t noticed any changes in drinking, urination, or appetite.

First thing Monday morning, we took him to our regular vet who diagnosed him then advised us he would need ICU care so we took him to Hollywood Animal Hospital where received a more thorough explanation off the diagnosis and a guarded prognosis for the return to good health of a cat who was “mine.”  The veterinarian who took on Zorro’s case explained everything to us and she was very honest about the difficult road ahead.  He was admitted to the clinic and each day he got progressively better.

On Thanksgiving night, we had our dinner and prepared some turkey to take to Zorro in the hospital when we were going to pick him up.  While we were waiting in the room to see him again and go over the discharge instructions, the veterinarian came in and told us he had unexpectedly passed away.  I had known death before but not one that affected me so greatly.  Even though he was gone, our veterinarian still took the time to answer any questions we had and assured us that we hadn’t done anything wrong.  We simply had been uninformed to be able to recognize the problem and get him help sooner but as he had improved, his passing was not fully explainable.

Zorro, an educated cat

The light bulb clicked on…I made the decision to pursue a career as a veterinarian.  Sure I loved animals all along.  It wasn’t because of the money (because honestly, veterinarians don’t get paid as much as people think).  It wasn’t because of the high ratios of women to men in the profession (as my grandfather kidded me).  It was simply a chance to be able to help both people and animals at the same time.  I had always been community service oriented and enjoyed helping others but until this moment it hadn’t clicked.

I investigated what I needed to do and pursued my goal of becoming a veterinarian.  After graduating from the University of Illinois, I returned to Hollywood Animal Hospital as an intern and later an associate.  To this day, I make a point to return the kindness and compassion to my patients and their families especially when facing a potential end of life scenario.  It’s also the reason I do this blog to help others have a reliable source of information so that they don’t have the same experience.

Shutterbug shortly after diabetes diagnosis

Shutterbug shortly after diabetes diagnosis

I regret not knowing back then what we should have been looking for.  Our veterinarian didn’t have to take the time explain things to us, but she did, and ultimately we were able to recognize the signs later on in our other cat Shutterbug who also became diabetic.  Because of our experience with Zorro, Shutterbug was able to have a great long life with controlled diabetes for many years.  Yes, it was sad that we lost our cat Zorro but I’m thankful for the compassion of a veterinarian who made it easier to accept the experience and set me on the road to paying it forward.

Acknowledgements: Dad, thanks for picking up the little guy all those years ago.  Now you know the truth, it wasn’t the baby opossums.  Mom, thank you for not writing Zorro off all those years ago and finding a way to try and help him.  I love you guys!

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