Category: Medical & Chronic Health (page 2 of 5)

Senior Pet Care – How You Can Help

senior pet dogPeople everyday are getting a new puppy, kitten, or other pet to join their family.  And yes, most of the time these new additions are just in their first few months of a long life.  For a few of these pets, we as veterinarians will see them for their initial vaccines, adoption exams, maybe a spay or neuter surgery.  Some of them will make annual visits for a check up while others we may not see for several years once they are much older or only if they are sick.  It’s these senior pets that we often can make the most difference in their quality of life.

I cannot stress enough the importance of an annual examination, or in the case of pets with chronic illnesses every 6 months.  This should start from the time they are young adult animals until their final days.  Early detection of a condition can save lives and keep pets healthier for longer.  Who wouldn’t want their furry kid to have a happy life for as long as possible?  That’s the first step you can do to help your pets with the aid of your veterinarian.  Yet, there are somethings you can do yourself or that you should pay special attention to help them out in their golden years.

buzby toe grips

www.toegrips.com

Mobility issues can be quite difficult to overcome but can make a significant improvement in how a pet feels.  Signs can be obvious from a noticeable limp to more subtle signs such as dragging a foot, difficulty with stairs, or a decreased appetite.  While some patients will benefit from supportive medications, the most important thing you can do is to keep them at a healthy weight!  If you have slippery floors, you should look at adding some area rugs or another idea is a product called Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips.  These grips fit onto the nails on your dog and help them in getting traction so they can walk around better.  Another quick tip: If you’ve got stairs, consider a ramp.

cytology from a lump aspiration

cytology from a lump aspiration

Lumps and bumps are often seen as a part of growing old.  Sometimes these lumps can be benign but that means there’s also a potential chance for them to be malignant.  The tendency for many people tends to be watching the lump to see if it changes in size, color, temperature, or texture.  The problem is when those lumps grow in areas such as the legs which make it difficult to remove them entirely or not without a higher risk of complications.  Another risk if is the pet chews on the lumps or if they burst.  Let’s be honest for a moment…when someone tells me the lump wasn’t there yesterday, that can only be the truth less than 20% of the time.  So as my colleague Dr. Sue Cancer Vet says, “Why wait? Aspirate!”  Basically, if a lump is there for more than a month and is larger than a pea, you should get it checked out before it’s too late.

from dogs-looking-like-people.tumblr.com

from dogs-looking-like-people.tumblr.com

Much like people, senior pets can show signs changes in their behavior similar to Alzheimers disease in people.  In cats & dogs, we call this cognitive dysfunction.  There are no definitively effective treatments unfortunately but there are some things that can help.  In particular, some specialty prescription diets can help protect the brain from free radicals which can lead to oxidation of cells in the brain.  Hence, the idea of antioxidants can help to reduce this damage by blocking the reactions.  Something else to consider would be to go against the adage of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and work/play with them to give their brains something to be challenged by.  Studies show that for people doing activities like crossword puzzles that encourage thought processes can delay or help fight the onset these changes so maybe there’s some hope that it could work for pets too.  Some ideas to work on are scent or food detection (think the object is under one of three bowls sleight of hand trick) or even reinforcing previously learned behaviors or tricks.

corneal disease

corneal disease

Other changes that you might notice might be with their eyes.  Some eye conditions may affect vision but could possibly be painful as well.  For some breeds such as brachycephalics (pugs, pekingese, shih tzus), they will often develop a condition called dry eye which while not necessarily painful, can be uncomfortable and cause a pigmentation of the cornea.  If they are going blind, just don’t rearrange the furniture.  Moving to the back end of the pet, incontinence is often over-represented as a presenting complaint when pets arrive at the clinic.  Yes, they may be leaking urine but in reality, the odds of a urinary tract infection, kidney disease, or diabetes creating urine overflow are much more likely.

Your pets aren’t “just getting old.”  While they are aging, they are living longer than they did 20 years ago and that means we’ll see more health problems.  There are many facets to the care of your senior pet.  You are their biggest advocate and need to be the watchdog over their health.  By noticing subtle changes and having them addressed as soon as possible, you can keep things from getting worse and making treatment less difficult & more promising.  A general rule of thumb is a check up every 6-12 months.  Senior pets are just like our older relatives, treasured companions that are still full of love; so be sure to take care of them!

Disclaimer: All blog posts may contain opinions which are my own and may not reflect those of any current or former employers.

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The Hairy Truth About Hairballs

from www.tvacres.com

from www.tvacres.com

Horf horf horf, ack!  Ah yes, the sound you might hear at 3am and don’t make the connection until you wake up in the morning and step in it.  You know, the cold wet clump of fur your cat brought up a few hours ago.  For some cats and their owners, it has just been written off as a part of life.  But for others though, hairballs might be a sign of a larger problem.

In many cases, we can point the finger of blame to evolution whereby we got the joy of long haired cats on Earth and later we can thank the Egyptians thousands of ears ago for worshipping these glorious felines.  From that those days on, cats decided to make us their servants and remind us of our place…  What better way to do this than to make us clean up their recycled hair in a wet, clumped format?  It’s not just long haired cats that provide us with hairballs however as my own domestic shorthair Gremlin almost daily now reminds me with a small gift on my side of the bed.  (It turns out, she was actually constipated and once that was addressed the hairballs stopped!)

from www.vetoquinol.ca

from www.vetoquinol.ca

Hairballs, or trichobezoars, in most cases are the product of grooming as part of kitty’s normal cleaning habits.  Typically, they might only have an episode every few weeks to months and this is not so problematic.  Brushing your cat (if they’ll let you!) can help remove dead hairs and minimize how much they are ingesting.  For cats that aren’t amenable to brushing or if it still isn’t enough, many veterinarians will recommend using a gooey flavored paste (Laxatone or Tonic-Lax are 2 common products) that can help bind up hairs and grease up the insides a bit to help them pass more easily out the back end.

Sometimes though, hairballs are much more frequent than expected.  But why?  Over-grooming can be a common cause but is often linked to other issues.  Cats may over-groom if they are stressed for behavioral reasons.  Another cause is underlying skin issues such as allergies or infections.  I’ve even seen a few cats lick their bellies clean of fur and they were found to have problems on the inside such as bladder infections or stones and in one case an intestinal tumor.  The most likely thought is the inflammation was so uncomfortable that the licking was almost as if they were trying to relieve the discomfort on the inside.  But then again, they can’t talk to us so maybe their obsessive behaviors in those cases were them telling us there was a problem.

Hairball noted by arrows, Morgan Animal Hospital, Ontario

Hairball noted by arrows, Morgan Animal Hospital, Ontario

Another cause to consider would be gastrointestinal issues.  We know cats eat their own hair, and who wouldn’t like silky smooth hair?  That hair may sit in the stomach for a prolonged time if there is a motility issue such as delayed emptying of the stomach or an excessive amount of tissue that prevents things from passing into the intestine.  On occasion, these clumps of hair can join with other ingested material and cause an obstruction which might involve surgery to remove.  To help with these issues, your veterinarian may recommend a hairball control diet which has certain amounts of digestible fiber to stimulate intestinal movement or, if needed, medications can also be used to help keep a normal flow.  If there is an increased frequency of hairballs, it may often be linked to inflammatory bowel disease.

As I try to tell people, a one time incident in these cases isn’t usually a cause for alarm.  Multiple times or increasing frequency deserves a trip to your trusted veterinarian.  So next time you step in a hairball, maybe you cat is trying to tell you something and you should listen.  Or they’re just getting revenge for that horrible outfit you made them wear at Halloween.

www.metzgercartoons.com

www.metzgercartoons.com

Disclaimer:  Blog posts may contain opinions which are my own and do not reflect that of any current or former employers.

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3 Out of 4 Ain’t Bad (or 3-Legged Pets)

3 Out of 4 Ain’t Bad (or 3-Legged Pets)
Image from Cassie's Three Legged Dog Club

Image from Cassie’s Three Legged Dog Club

Animals are amazing, most of us know that I think.  Whether it be the unconditional love they give, the ability to brighten up any day, or making awesome videos to entertain us on the internet, the world is a better place with animals but especially our pets.  You know what else is incredible about them?  Their ability to adapt to life’s changes (unfortunately not 100% of the time); specifically I want to talk about amputees – or more affectionately known as tripods.

Severe distal humerus fracture

Severe distal humerus fracture

Pets may only have 3 legs (or even 2!) for just a few reasons; some are even born that way.  Whether it be cancer, irreparable injury, or congenital (from birth) as the cause, they have a remarkable capacity to adapt to their new lives.  Sadly, many animals are euthanized rather than undergo a limb-sparing surgery.  For many people, the thought of a pet losing a leg or being “disabled” is more than they can bear.  Certainly, not every patient is a candidate to undergo such a procedure but for those that are, the emotional aspect should not dismiss the idea.  Let’s look at both sides of the coin.

To finish on a good note, we’ll look at the cons first.  The immediate post-op period does take some adjustment and there is a difference between front legs and back legs in terms of recovery and ultimate mobility.  In my opinion, losing a front leg may be easier especially in terms of using the bathroom (much harder to balance without a second back leg!) but in time, most animals will learn how to move around wonderfully.  Additionally, missing a leg will put added stress on the opposite side which can potentially lead to some joint problems or make arthritis seem worse – hence, it is important to keep these patients at a healthy weight.  Your pet may also experience a phenomenon known as phantom pain, which will make them feel as though the limb is still part of the body.  Lastly, things may seem cosmetically unattractive to you….let me assure you, Rover won’t care what his surgery site looks like.  He’ll just be happy for treats, belly rubs, your assistance in learning to walk again, and being alive.broken leg puppy

So why should you adopt a tripod or consider having an amputation surgery done on your pet if one is recommended?  One main reason: the procedure is done as a way to eliminate pain (after the recovery period) from conditions such as nerve damage, non-reparable fractures, or bone tumors.  A pain free life is a good life!  That’s really THE reason to elect for that surgery.  Sometimes cost for a fracture repair may be too much or the prognosis for recovery will be poor and amputation will be brought up.  Aside from relieving pain, this may be done to preserve the bond you have with your pet; rather than euthanizing them, you can still let them live out their natural lives by your side.  There’s so many intangible benefits as well!!  They won’t hold a grudge against you for making this decision because you’re removing the pain.  If they are 3-legged and awaiting adoption in a shelter, they will love you just as much as any pet with four legs.  And if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can help them set up their own social media accounts to share their story & to help advocate for other tripods!

my own tripod Louie

my own tripod Louie

Three legged pets often have an interesting story and are natural survivors.  Losing a leg is not a death sentence; it’s a second chance at a renewed life.  I’ve seen this with my own cat.  Louie is a laid back, happy, fluffy speed demon who outruns our other cats and adores my wife who actually performed the amputation.  He’s also an excellent mouser.  So if your veterinarian brings up amputation as an option in treating your pet, don’t rush to a decision without considering all angles.  For more information, including a broad support network, visit tripawds.com

Disclaimer:  Blog posts may contain opinions which are my own and do not reflect those of my current or any former employers.  I was not compensated by Tripawds.com for this post but I do enjoy their community!

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