Be Prepared: Not Just a Boy Scout Motto

May is Emergency Preparedness Month.  This piece I wrote (and updated from a previous post) originally appeared on the OSPCA blog where I have done some guest writing and they have other helpful info as well.  I wanted to share this here as well as a means of getting critical information out to help inform pet owners.

Be Prepared: Not Just a Boy Scout Motto

There’s never a good time for an emergency and they can always happen without notice.  If you’re lucky, you might get some warning about a catastrophe coming (think severe winter storm in the forecast or a hurricane).  The remainder of the time though you need to be ready to take care of yourself & your pets at least for a few days until help can be received.

Let’s take a look at what you should have prepared for your pets:

  • 3-5 day supply of food & water; don’t forget the bowls & a manual can opener if necessary.
  • At least a 1 week supply of medications plus their instructions – the info & extras are in case of a dropped dose, vomited up, or if you need to get more.
  • Leash, collar/harness, and if necessary a muzzle for your dog – this can help avoid accidents by pets going places they shouldn’t be.
  • A spacious carrier for your cats – especially in the case of needing to stay in a shelter.
  • Location of shelters or hotels that you can stay at with your pets or in the worst cases, pre-arranged boarding locations – not every place will let your pets in.
  • Get a microchip implanted AND update your contact info – this can be done at almost any clinic or shelter and if you get separated you can be reunited with your pet.
  • Current copies of vaccination records, name of your veterinary clinic, & records especially if they have any chronic medical conditions – also helpful to keep a picture of your pet for identification purposes.
  • Comfort items – toys, blankets, special treats, catnip!
  • Poop bags & cat litter with pan – you still need to clean up after all and disasters are often a time when infectious diseases can be spread.
Photo: Ontario SPCA

Photo: Ontario SPCA

What about the circumstances if you can’t take your pets with you?  This is a horrifying thought most certainly none of us ever want to encounter.  If it should be necessary to evacuate and leave pets behind, make sure the house is closed but put a sign in a visible window with info about the pets and your contact info.  Do not confine them in a cage either in case they need to get out of a room.

Hopefully you never need to experience a disaster that requires you to need these things.  But if you do, plan ahead and be prepared to care for your pets.  If you’ve been involved in an emergency situation or can think of anything else to pack, leave a note in the comments.  Stay safe!

Disclaimer: All blog posts are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my current or former employers.

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Scratching the Surface of Skin Disease

Scratching the Surface of Skin Disease

Previously, we discussed the top 5 visit reasons that pets get seen at their veterinarians.  Well, we didn’t talk about skin issues but a top 6 list doesn’t sound as cool and the integumentary system has so many facets, it deserves a post of it’s own.  When I was in Florida, I would call it a dermatologist’s dream job because of the number of skin problems.  So why are we veterinarians seeing your cat or dog for skin problems?

hair loss on the head

hair loss on the head

By far, allergies are the most common causes for skin issues in dogs & cats.  Allergy issues themselves are a humongous area of possibilities so we’ll summarize it here.  The three main causes of allergies are environmental, food, and fleas.  When it comes to the environment, it could be year round or seasonal.  The offending allergen could be as common as grass, weeds, house dust mites, or in one rare case I remember – human dander.  Yeah, this dog was allergic to his people!  Sometimes these can be managed by keeping pets away from the cause, through the use of antihistamines or other medications, or in some cases the use of hyposensitization injections.

chewing on the foot

chewing on the foot

The number one thing I hear when I bring up food allergies is always “but he/she has been eating the same food for years!”  Yes, that may be so but over time, your pet has become sensitized to something in the food that is making then scratch, lose hair, or develop skin sores.  Most often, it is the protein source – not grains – and the best way to establish this diagnosis is to do a hypoallergenic food trial.  Typically, the gold standard is going to be a veterinary prescribed diet that is hydrolyzed protein meaning it has been cut down molecularly so the body doesn’t recognize it.  The other option is a novel protein diet, meaning a protein the patient hasn’t eaten before and this could be a certain type of fish, venison, or even kangaroo meat.  The most important aspect is that your pet does not get ANYTHING else to eat for 8-12 weeks, including treats unless suggested by your veterinarian.colored flea

The evil flea…causes of so many problems.  They are the easiest thing to rule out in terms of skin problems and usually the least costly to fix.  During warmer months (though at any time of the year), you should keep your pets on a flea control medication from your veterinarian.  Trust me when I say over the counter meds don’t work and may cause more problems, as noted by a recent CBC Marketplace report.  Newer to Canada are chewable flea control products (NexGard & Bravecto) which can help pets who don’t tolerate or whose family doesn’t want to use topical spot-on products.

Severe skin changes from yeast infection

Severe skin changes from yeast infection

Aside from everything above, we can see superficial rashes or skin infections (pyoderma) which can be treated with medicated shampoos or in some cases oral antibiotics.  Sometimes when these infections are not treated promptly and the pet scratches too much at the area, it can develop into a hot spot – a large inflamed moist infected area which can be painful.  In younger pets, mange mites can be a common finding and can manifest as either scabs around the head (primarily scabies in cats) or small areas of hair loss in multiple places (typically demodex in dogs).  To clear up some confusion, ringworm is not actually a worm but a fungus that can cause crusty skin and hair loss and is also contagious to people.

Redness and crusting in a painful ear

Redness and crusting in a painful ear

Ear problems are often grouped in with skin problems.  Most ear problems can be traced to a mixed infection of yeast & bacteria but your veterinary team can do an ear swab to help decipher the cause.  Ear mites are also notorious especially in young animals and can be spread to all the pets in the house.  If too much head shaking goes on, then a swelling of the ear flap can occur – this is a hematoma and can be mildly uncomfortable.  Previously, surgery was always recommended to fix these after addressing the underlying problem but lately I’ve had good success with draining them.  When it comes to ears, only use a labeled pet ear cleaner and preferably one that also acts as a drying agent.  This means no mineral oil, no peroxide, no alcohol, no water….just an ear cleaner that is labeled for pets.

Tumor on the head

Tumor on the head

These are just the basics of many common skin problems that can be seen in pets; believe me, we could spend a few weeks talking about all of them.  There are also immune system conditions such as lupus and we can also see some specific breed related conditions.  Most skin problems will present with similar signs – itching, hair loss, body odor, and redness.  We haven’t mentioned skin lumps but my colleague Dr. Sue Ettinger has launched a campaign called “See Something, Do Something” and the basic premise is that if you see a lump present for longer than a month and it’s the size of a pea or larger, get it checked out.  As a last note, I want to add that you should never give any medications without first consulting your veterinarian.  Now what are you waiting for?  Go check out your pet’s coat & skin and maybe it’s time for that bath.

Disclaimer:  All blog posts are my own writing and or opinion and do not reflect those of my current or former employers.

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A Week With Cancer

A Week With Cancer

Hi, it’s Charlie here.  Dad (Dr. Llera) agreed to take some dictation for me so I could share some of my story.  It’s been a Charlie st patrick dayfull week since I was diagnosed with cancer again, this time with lymphoma.  I thought this was a good time to reflect on my experience and share how we see things as dogs.

Late at night some days before, I was just minding my own business….you know peeing on one of dad’s flower plants outside the house.  It was still pretty cold for dad and he was anxiously waiting for me to finish and get back in the warm house.  When I mean anxious, he was begging me to hurry up…but then his voice got silent.

Back inside the house, he called for mom and the next minute later I was being groped around my manly dog parts.  I heard them talk about it being swollen and our neighbor joking that dad should call the vet since it might have been swollen for longer than 4 hours.  Sometimes it’s hard being dog & best friend of a veterinarian because when something is wrong, you know you’re getting looked over to the extreme but at least there’s usually cookies afterwards.

The next day we got up and got dressed for the car ride to the Kingston Veterinary Clinic but I didn’t get breakfast!! Charlie at VEC April 2015 Dad was talking to the other vet people about probing me and taking blood to find out more.  Being a previous blood donor that wasn’t the scary part….but probing didn’t sound so good.  And I was right!!  I had 5 or 6 other people touch me inappropriately and putting syringes where they don’t belong trying to flush things out.  Then I got poked by another needle in a lump they found next to my parts.  It was not very fun and I bruised afterwards but I got so many cookies & a bowl full of food!  (Can you tell cookies & food are an important part of my day?)

Blood tests came back and dad asked me what was wrong with my kidneys.  How am I supposed to know?  I just gave blood at vet school, I didn’t learn anything there.  Since I was still feeling good, we started some antibiotics while waiting for test results.  Ick!  I made sure dad knew I didn’t like them as I vomited in the living room…but then I felt guilty so I ate it again quickly while he stood there looking at me like I was a purple unicorn.  He didn’t get mad at me for messing up the floor but gave me a hug instead.  I think he was just glad he didn’t have to pick it all up and just had to get out the machine for the rug instead.

charlie cone April 2015A couple days later they sucked more blood out of me but this time I knew it was bad.  Within minutes, I was put in a cage and plugged into a fluid machine.  At least they gave me a comfy blanket but I missed curling up with my buddy Taylor.  The rest of the weekend was strange as I had to still sit in a cage even in my own house; oh the indignity!  I couldn’t even go outside for some privacy and dad kept me on a short leash and made me wear a funny boot.  He also made me wear the cone of shame…grandma said I looked like a flower.

I still kept my spirits up because I knew how upset dad had been.  He cried a few times that weekend worrying about what was happening to me.  He returned the favor by taking the tubing out of my leg and I got to run around the yard again!  My plan had worked and I was happy!  But it was short lived.  Dad told me we were going on a long car trip to the big city after taking some pictures of me on another machine where everyone got to wear space age looking suits except me.  The lump came back with the cancer called lymphoma.  I knew this wasn’t good because dad hugged me for what seemed like an eternity.

cyst in the kidney

cyst in my kidney

Friday, we got in the car for our trip to a place called the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Toronto.  He forgot to feed me again!  When we got there, I met some nice doctors named Dr. Mason & Dr. Cullander who also prodded me and looked me over.  I wonder, how many more people will touch me?  I just want cookies & hugs; why can’t they understand?  Next thing I knew, I was laying on my back and they shaved my belly.  In the summer this might not be so bad, but I realized just how cold it was when I laid on the floor later.  A cold jelly was put on my belly and I got massaged by a wand which I later found out was not magical nor could it remove the cancer.  It did tell the doctors that my kidneys had cysts but that the cancer didn’t look like it was anywhere else.

hugging charlie at VECShortly after, the doctors talked to dad about some major drugs that would help to kill the cancer.  After a chat with mom, dad told them to start the chemotherapy and I was taken to the treatment room where I met many nice people until they poked me and I was waiting for the cookies.  I wondered where dad had gone but he came back for me, true to his word saying he would never leave.  We got back in the car to go home and surprise – there was food and dad even shared his chips!  The drugs made my appetite weird and another pill makes me pee a lot but at least it’s warmer outside now.

It’s been a few days since our trip and mom & dad decided to get me the treatment to help me feel better even though vincristineI’ve been feeling pretty good.  Dad said he owed it to me for all the great things I’ve done for others in my life.  Yesterday was my first chemo treatment from dad and the technicians at KVC.  It was a little strange when dad came over to me looking that that guy from Breaking Bad, except the suit was green this time, but afterwards I knew it was going to be okay when I got cookies.

I’m doing alright and am getting used to new foods but I’ve got a long road ahead.  The next 6 months will have it’s ups and downs.  But through it all, I’m gonna keep fighting cancer.  I’m going to get all the love and support I need from my family and return that love even more.  There may come a time when it’s time to let go and if it comes to that at least I’ll be able to watch over my family.  Now wish me luck!  It’s time to go for another car ride!

Charlie 1st chemo 4142015

The Importance of Blood Tests

The Importance of Blood Tests

Charlie lays here in my living room…intravenous catheter in place and he’s wearing “the cone.”  A last minute addition to my weekend on a problem I have been trying to figure out for the past week.  Because I am a veterinarian, I’m lucky that I can care for him at home in this manner. I wonder how many other people would have noted Charlie’s problem but not realized that it goes deeper. charlie cone April 2015

It was late on Monday night last week when I had Charlie outside for his bedtime bathroom break.  Having a senior pet and having been through a lot in the past year, I am checking over my pets a few times a week but only in the sense of a quick check over.  So how could I have missed a slight swelling of Charlie’s privates and inguinal lymph nodes?  It was an incredibly subtle finding and Charlie has been acting completely normal – eating his food, acting playful, going to the bathroom normally.

The following day I got some blood tests done (just 4 months after his last check) and the results came back with changes in his kidneys & liver values.  The liver enzymes were not surprising given the biopsy I had previously gotten from Charlie but the kidney values were borderline consistent with kidney disease (often referred to as failure).  We checked a urinalysis and started him on some antibiotics in case of pyelonephritis (kidney infection) even though it wouldn’t cause the noted swelling.  Three days later (on the Saturday), I rechecked his blood and the kidney values had gotten worse despite Charlie still acting normal.

Charlie blood April 2015 Charlie blood 2 April 2015Why is this important??  No, I haven’t figured out what is going on with Charlie yet and I do have my fears for something more sinister.  As veterinarians, we recommend annual wellness blood testing on your pets, particularly those in their senior years.  There is only one reason we do this: to find diseases early and prevent your pet from suffering or getting sicker.  A physical exam can only reveal so much.

In many cases, changes in organ function will show up on a blood test before you see anything at home.  This is how health problems seem to happen so fast.  In actuality, the problem has likely been brewing for awhile and your pet’s body has been compensating until it cannot keep up with hiding the illness.  This is where Charlie is now – a mostly normal clinical normal patient with abnormal blood results.  The longer a patient goes with subclinical disease, the more behind the 8-ball we get when you do see something and attempts to treat the problem are made.

I’m just like you – I LOVE my pets!  And we don’t want anything to happen to them right?  So when your veterinarian recommends wellness testing, think about it long & hard before you say “he seems healthy so we don’t need that.”  We are only advocating for them and want you to be able to spend as much healthy time with them as possible.

Disclaimer: All blog posts are my own opinion and do not reflect that of my current or previous employers.  

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Something to Chew On – Raw Diets

Something to Chew On – Raw Diets

Pet nutrition is unarguably one of the largest areas that people spend on their pets.  While the majority of people feed a commercial pet diet, there is a portion of the population that chooses to feed a raw food diet.  This is not necessarily a good or bad thing as there are pros & cons to this argument that both have validity.  Raw diets come in both home prepared forms as well as commercial forms.

People advocate that raw diets have many benefits.  Among these are the arguments that pets will have a better coat, less dental problems, “it’s more natural”, and that in general they will have better health.  The unfortunate truth is that there isn’t a whole lot of research behind raw diets to substantiate these claims.  They are subjective opinions rather than research based science.  Now this isn’t to say that there aren’t some benefits to raw diets and I think that over time as more information becomes available, there may be more proven benefits to raw food.

Raw organs (img from premiumblend.net)

Raw organs (img from premiumblend.net)

Raw diets were found to have a higher digestibility overall and reduced fecal output.  Improved digestibility can lead to better use of the diet and may help with some individual patients, particularly ones with food allergies/sensitivities.  This better digestibility is also the likely cause of the reduced fecal matter as more of the nutrients available are utilized.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (Wikipedia)

Dilated cardiomyopathy (Wikipedia)

So if these are the benefits, what are the drawbacks?  Nutrient deficiencies is one of the first things that comes to mind. In previous studies of cats eating raw diets, a significant lack of taurine was found to be the cause of the development of heart problems.  Taurine is needed by cats specifically to prevent dilation of the heart chambers and can be found in lesser quantities in muscle meat.  The additional problem with home formulated raw diets is that if research by the pet owner is not done before just feeding a raw piece of meat, other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals may be lacking.  Commercial raw food diets have been formulated to have appropriate levels for specific life stages.

Another argument for raw diets has been better dental health for pets fed a raw diet.  As raw diets contain some boney material or there is an actual bone to chew on, the amount of calculus (tartar) has actually been found to be reduced in multiple studies.  What is essentially unchanged though is the development of periodontal disease which is likely secondary to trauma from these bones to the gum tissue.

Salmonella bacteria

Salmonella bacteria

Lastly, let’s touch on contamination issues and microorganisms.  Would you eat raw chicken or beef?  Surely the human food supply has been inspected and kept healthy but it’s not advisable to eat raw meat primarily due to concerns over Salmonella.  The same concern exists for pets.  Bowls must certainly be cleaned and disinfected more regularly and people who are immunocompromised should not handle the feeding of the pets.  Even if your pets don’t get sick, they can still shed bacteria in their stool or saliva so proper hygiene on your part is paramount.

a commercial raw diet

a commercial raw diet

In short, raw diets can help but also not help…and this is one of the conundrums of raw diets.  I don’t doubt that there is some validity behind their use.  Use of a commercial raw diet (often times pre-frozen) is what I would recommend if you chose to go this route as it will meet AAFCO standards (discussed last time). It would also be beneficial to consult the Food & Drug Administration’s website on safe handling as well as potentially contacting a qualified nutrition service such as Pet Nutrition Consulting or through a veterinary college.  If you’re opposed to commercial diets, I would suggest cooking the food, rather than straight up raw, after consulting with a veterinary nutritionist.  Ultimately, it’s best to have a discussion with your veterinarian and do some research before any diet changes for your pets.

Disclaimer: All blog posts are my own opinion and do not reflect that of my current or previous employers.  Info for this post was accumulated from multiple sources including North American Veterinary Conference notes from a talk by Dr. Andrea Fascetti.  This post is intended to help people become informed.  I do not receive compensation from any food company.

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