The Very Basics of Eyes, Noses & Toenails

The Very Basics of Eyes, Noses & Toenails

Welcome to part 2 of 2 of a collaboration with Miss Edie the Pug.  We’re going to finish up our discussion of simple care things you can do at home to keep your pets healthy by focusing on the eyes, nose, and those pesky toenails this week.

Corneal ulceration with corneal edema

Corneal ulceration with corneal edema

Maybe your pets stares into your soul with those eyes when you get ready to clean their ears or trim their nails.  Those eyes are not something I ever recommend anyone messing with.  They only get one set so it’s best not to self-treat.  Discharge from the eyes could be indicative of an infection or a scratch.  Squinting is often associated with a scratch, which if not treated promptly, can hurt and may be difficult to heal, or in the worst cases can result in permanent damage.  Other things to watch for are swelling of the eye or cloudiness of the cornea.  Get to your vet as soon as possible if this is noted.

Normal dog nose

Normal dog nose

Depigmentation

Depigmentation

Let’s be nosey…  The very front of your fur-baby is one of the few hairless spots (unless you have a Sphyx or other type of exotic breed).  In general, you don’t need to clean the nose but you may see color changes or texture changes on the surface of the nose.  For some dogs, this could be a seasonal change or a breed related condition.  On the other hand though, some conditions involving the immune system will manifest with changes in the nasal appearance so your veterinarianshould be consulted.

Yet, in some breeds such as pugs, bulldogs, & other brachycephalic breeds, we have to deal with folds around the nose. french-bulldog-nasal folds Sometimes these folds will get dirty or retain moisture and can lead to infections so we do recommend cleaning them.  A wash can be obtained from your veterinarian but I have also recommended using baby wipes, a wash cloth with mild dish soap, or if there is more greasy build up you can safely use human acne pads.

Oddly enough, I think more dogs & cats mind getting their nails trimmed than they do ever getting any type off needle or brushing of their coat.  Some of the reason may be the restraint involved while other times they had a bad experience once and the quick, or blood vessel, was clipped causing bleeding & pain.  If nails are left too long, they can catch & break off causing more severe pain, limping, and in the worst case, an infection.  Again, like brushing teeth, I always try to get people to handle the feet of their puppy or kitten to get them used to it.

nailThe clear nails are simple, just don’t cut into the pink part and everything will be okay.  But those black nails?  Those buggers can be a problem.  There are two tips to trimming these.  First, I say make them flush with the bottom of the paw pads; the vessel typically does not extend past that.  Second, start trimming a few millimeters at a time keeping perpendicular to the curve of the nail and if you look at the nail from an end-on perspective, you can start to see concentric rings like a target – STOP!  You’re getting close at that point of the vessel.  Give your dog a treat and maybe one for you (not from the same container though!) and then repeat in about 4-6 weeks.

Hopefully this has been helpful to do some simple things to avoid bigger problems with your pets.  Your veterinary clinic can help you with a demonstration of these things – all you have to do is ask!  But if your pets won’t cooperate, we’ll always be there to help!  If there’s something you want to find out more about, or to hear my opinion on a topic, leave a comment below or over on my Facebook page.  Thanks for reading & sharing!

Even Pets Have Breasts

Even Pets Have Breasts

October is widely known is Breast Cancer Awareness month for people.  In fact here in Kingston, where I work we have done an annual fundraiser to support local breast cancer organizations.  Well, lately it’s also become a month to raise awareness for the risk of breast cancer in pets too!  Yes that’s right, Fluffy and Bella can also get breast cancer.  Unlike women though, your pets can’t check themselves for lumps.

Feline mammary tumor

Feline mammary tumor

Cats & dogs have multiple breasts, or mammary glands, that are aligned in two chains.  Normal swelling can be noted if pregnant or nursing but in any other case, a lump may be abnormal.  After animals have been spayed, they can accumulate fat in there areas and these would non-concerning lumps.  You can feel along the chain for an abnormal lump that would be at least the size of a small marble.  This is when you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian, not waiting to see if it goes away.  It can only get worse if you wait until it’s the size of a lemon.

Your veterinarian will start with a general exam then discuss some diagnostics to further evaluate the lump.  Just feeling the lump is often not enough to be able to tell you everything you need to know.  No, we don’t have a mammogram machine in our office.  Our diagnostic plan can include a fine needle aspirate to try and get some cells to look at under the microscope but sometimes this is not sufficient.  Alternatively, we can move forward with chest x-rays to assess for spreading of the tumor and then surgery.  Submitting the whole lump to a pathologist will give us a more certain diagnosis to be able to determine future treatment and prognosis.

Canine incision after removal. Surgery was delayed for months

Canine incision after removal. Surgery was delayed for months

Surprisingly, we have some good statistics when it comes to breast cancer cases in dogs.  It’s a 50-50 chance of the mass being benign.  Unfortunately, in cats the numbers are 90% malignant and only 10% benign.  Surgery can often involve the removal of the lump and the one next to it, or sometimes the entire mammary chain.  Typically, when your veterinarian is talking about breast cancer in your pet they are focusing on middle aged or senior pets.  You can help your pets by making sure to spay them.  Spaying before their first heat cycle greatly reduces the risk of breast cancer.

So do your pets a favor, check them for breast lumps.  And if you see a lump, don’t wait to see if it goes away…it won’t!

breast cancer dogs

The Very Basics of Ears & Teeth

The Very Basics of Ears & Teeth

When it comes to taking good care of your pet, several things that YOU can do at home can go a long way towards keeping your cat or dog in good health.  Doing some of these simple things can also help cut down on veterinary visits which will keep your pet’s stress levels lower (unless they love visiting the clinic – we have awesome treats!) and your wallet happier.  Regardless, even good at home care does not eliminate the need for an annual visit to your family veterinarian.

An ear infected with Pseudomonas

An ear infected with Pseudomonas

The ears are one of the best parts of a dog or cat….they can be pointed or floppy but always soft and your pet will most likely enjoy a good scratch or rub behind them.  But what about the inside?  Most pets will not need their ears cleaned, especially cats if they are kept indoors.  My cat is 13 years old and I’ve never had to clean her ears but outdoor cats are more prone to catching ear mites.  Pointy ears dogs are less likely to need cleanings than dogs with pendulous ears (labs, hounds, etc.).

Typically for cleaning ears, I only recommend doing it for dogs who go swimming, pets who have had previous or chronic ear problems, or for current treatment of a ear condition.  Usually 1-2 times a month is sufficient unless they have a current problem.  Mineral oil, vinegar, and water = BAD!  It is best to use a labeled ear cleaner that also acts as a drying agent because no matter how thorough the cleaning is, not all of it will get out so the drying aspect helps evaporate moisture. canine ear The ear canals have a vertical & horizontal section.  Pour the cleaner in (warning: they may shake it all over you!), massage the ear at the base, then wipe out the gunk with cotton balls, gauze, tissue, etc. just don’t use Q-tips and you won’t have to worry about hurting them.

Got teeth? Something I like to know of all my patients as the teeth are more important than many people realize.  Healthy teeth are great, but unhealthy teeth can make pets not want to eat, can make them irritable, or infections from the mouth can spread to other organs in the body.  We want your pets to keep their teeth, honestly we do…removing them is not enjoyable and at least they don’t have to hear the dentist drill.  Aside from that, dental procedures can be costly if postponed repeatedly.

Before dental cleaning

Before dental cleaning

Teeth after cleaning

Clean teeth after cleaning

webmd_photo_of_brushing_dogs_teeth2

Photo: WebMD

Fortunately, there are things you can do to help it just takes some commitment.  It’s best to start brushing when they are young to get them used to it.  Using a child’s toothbrush is best and you do have to use a pet enzymatic toothpaste (Colgate, Crest, Aquafresh, etc. can all damage their teeth).  It’s best to do it daily but let’s be real; life gets in the way between work, kids, relaxing time, etc.  Set a realistic goal and aim for 3-4 times a week.  Another option is using a veterinary recommended dental diet.  This kind of food has a larger kibble size and does not break as easily so it provides more mechanical scrubbing action on the teeth, much like brushing.  This won’t eliminate all the tartar but it certainly will slow down how fast dental disease can progress.

dental-kibble

This is just part 1 of 2 of a reader requested post as part of my collaboration with Miss Edie the Pug who is really popular on Facebook & Twitter.  Be sure to check back next time for a chat on noses, eyes, and nails!  If there’s anything more you would like to know about, leave a comment below!  Thanks for reading & sharing!

When a “Stroke” Is Not Really a Stroke…It’s Vestibular Disease

When a “Stroke” Is Not Really a Stroke…It’s Vestibular Disease

 

“I think he had a stroke!”  This is one of the most common lines in hear in a veterinary clinic for a not so common condition.  Vestibular disease is something that we can mostly see in dogs but I have seen in a couple of cats.  It can be very scary to a pet owner but in actuality is typically not as bad as they may fear.dizzy face

Have you ever been seasick?  Or sat in a swivel chair spinning around then tried to walk normally afterwards?  If not, try it now…  I’ll bet you’re stumbling all over and probably dizzy as all get out.  Great, now you know what these animals are experiencing.  The human medical condition most closely related would be vertigo.

Vestibular disease occurs when a portion of the middle ear is affected causing this imbalance.  This area of the ear canal is innervated by the vestibulocochlear nerve (cranial nerve VIII) and it is responsible for both hearing and balance.  In some cases, the facial nerve (cranial nerve VII) can also be affected as ear_diagram_petthey are directly adjacent to each other.  This is where some people see a recognizable sign of a stroke, as defined in a human, when the face seems paralyzed or drooping of the lips on one side.  This is not as commonly seen as the other signs.

The visible signs of vestibular disease do tend to cause some alarm because it can be so disturbing.  Ataxia, or stumbling around and being unable to walk is typically the first sign noticed and oftentimes can be severe enough that animals will fall down or be unable to walk.  This is an example of a severe case.  Many patients will also have a head tilt, leaning towards the affected side.  This can be absent if both sides are affected.  Also disturbing is nystagmus, which is the technical name for a repetitive twitching of the eyes – here is a great video examplehead tilt

So why is is not a stroke??  A stroke involves a blood clot being lodged into a vessel preventing flow and oxygenation to an area.  Vestibular disease does not involve blood clots.  In a young dog, we often target a middle ear infection as the cause for this condition.  In an older dog, they could have a brain lesion (inflammation or a tumor) or most commonly we see this in older dogs and we don’t know the reason (we call this idiopathic).

A physical exam will be needed with your veterinarian to help narrow down the cause of the problem.  We will look in the ear to assess the canal and ear drum.  Evaluation of the eyes and their movement can help CatEarExamus determine which side is affected.  In older patients, we will often recommend some baseline blood tests to check for other problems that might be complicating the diagnosis or treatment.  In some cases, we may recommend radiographs (x-rays) of the skull to help evaluate for ear issues related to a structure called the bulla.  If we do suspect a brain lesion, we may refer you to a specialist for more advanced imaging.

There is some good news despite all this!!  The overall outcome for these cases is positive for a large majority of them. For ear infections, we can treat with systemic antibiotics.  For the other causes and ear infections, we treat the patient symptomatically to help control the nausea and motion sickness.  Aside from this, sometimes it just takes good nursing care at home and the tincture of time.  Again, many of these patients do well and recover though in a very few instances a slight head tilt may remain.

Wrapping up here, I just want to say that this condition is not as scary as one might initially think.  It’s still wise to have your veterinarian check your pet over and provide recommendations to help them manage.  Not all cases can be easy to figure out but hopefully I’ve helped you to remove some of fear you might experience if you see this in your pets.

Pet Vasectomies…Are You Nuts?!

Pet Vasectomies…Are You Nuts?!

 

A reader has asked me about vasectomies in cats & dogs and why they aren’t being recommended.  I’ll do my best to answer and have a discussion about this but also use this as an opportunity to discuss the more common procedure of orchidectomy, or otherwise known as castration or neutering.  I have chosen not to include any graphic medical photos though they really would emphasize some of the complications & problems.

I’ll be honest.  A vasectomy on a cat, dog, chinchilla, horse, and other animals is not something that I was taught in veterinary school.   Neither did my wife who graduated 2 years after me or the vet students or recent graduates (within the last 2 years) that I spoke to.  This really means that the first barrier to actually doing the procedure is actually most veterinarians not knowing how to do the procedure.  The procedure is described in some surgery textbooks but the caveat is that there are two ways to do the procedure.  This typically means there are risks to both ways as neither procedure is perfect.

EnlargedProstate radsSome complications can include scrotal swelling, bleeding, and failure of the procedure (meaning if not done properly by someone familiar with the procedure, a pregnancy can still occur).  There are also options for chemical castrations but there is similarly a possibility of complications particularly due to the technical skill needed to carry out the procedure as well as the chemical that is being placed into the body.

I always love doing surgery and learning new procedures.  So why do we veterinarians recommend castration as opposed to vasectomies?  The real issue is hormonal influence and behavioral tendencies of intact dogs.  Certainly, a dog or cat that has had a vasectomy will not be able to impregnate a female but they will still have the impact of testosterone on their body.  This is the reason the zoos often do vasectomies in their population of animals so that they can’t rampantly breed but will still maintain the behavior they would often exhibit in the wild.

Let’s be honest though…your cat is not a bengal tiger and your dog is not rare breed of wolf.  Sex hormones are good foraggressive dog helping manage weight.  Dogs that are intact do have a slightly higher metabolic energy requirement but not as significant a difference as seen in female animals.  Weight problems do not tend to be an issue as long as you manage food intake and proper exercise.  Additionally, we do not recommend neutering before 6 months as doing the procedure too early can cause bone growth to go longer meaning that dogs will get larger.  This is not necessarily a good thing as it can lead to bone & joint problems.  Testosterone replacement appears to be more effective in humans than in dogs and is not a practice typically carried out in companion animal medicine.

cat fightCats & dogs that are intact do have a higher tendency to fight and roam.  From my time working in an emergency clinic, it would be a fair approximation to say that about 80% of dogs that I saw that were hit by cars, they were intact males.  Animals that are still intact also run the risk of testicular cancer.  More commonly though, the prostate becomes enlarged due to the hormones and this can cause enough swelling of the prostate gland that animals can having difficulty defecating or urinating.  There can also be an increased risk of perineal hernias which can cause further problems defecating or even the incredibly painful testicular torsion.  Lastly, have you ever smelled the urine of an intact cat?  Would you really want that in your house?

Feasibly, the benefits to castration far outweigh any potential gain from your cat or dog “keeping their manhood.”  Neutering your dog just makes sense in terms of pet over-population and the control of unwanted behaviors.  It is also a simple and cost effective procedure that can be done by your family veterinarian.  Maybe someday there will be a larger place in the veterinary community for this procedure but for now I’ll leave you with this classic line I found from Texas…neuter bumper sticker

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