December 6, 2013
Brrrrrr! Winter is here and it is extremely cold. Our local weather watchers are warning the Treasure Valley that it is going to be even colder in the next few days, with our high temps in the single digits. With this extreme cold, it’s important for pet owners to protect their furry family members. As you are aware of the dangers from heat for animals, intense cold can also harm our pets’ health.
A few important tips:
Wellness exams. Cold temperatures may worsen some medical conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances. When pets are unable to regulate their body temperature easily, these health conditions may deteriorate. Have your pet examined by a general practice veterinary annually, and ask him or her about how your pet’s condition could be affected by changing temperatures.
Your pets’ limits. Your pets’ ability to tolerate the cold can vary based on his/her coat, body fat, activity level, and health. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says that, “Long-haired or thick-coated dogs tend to be more cold-tolerant, but are still at risk in cold weather. Short-haired pets feel the cold faster because they have less protection, and short-legged pets may become cold faster because their bellies and bodies are more likely to come into contact with snow-covered ground.”
It’s not just the cold, ice can be treacherous. Arthritic or senior pets may be more prone to slipping and falling.
Inside is best. With these temperatures in Southwestern Idaho so dangerously low, it is best for pets to stay indoors. There is a mistaken belief that cats and dogs are resistant to the cold because of their fur. It’s simply not true. Pets are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia—even breeds (like Huskies) who have thick coats and more cold tolerance.
This advice also applies to cold cars. Our little friends can’t wait in the parking lot in sub zero temperatures, it’s best to leave them home when holiday shopping.
If you are unable to keep your dog indoors during cold weather, a warm shelter is critical as well as access to fresh (not frozen) water. Watch your pet for signs of problems including whining, shivering, showing anxiety, moving slowly---or not moving, appearing weak, and looking for warm places to burrow. These are signs of hypothermia, you need to get your pet inside quickly. Frostbite damage may not show until a few days after the damage is done. Regardless, if you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Peek at the paws. During and after a walk, check your dog’s paw for cold weather injuries like cracked pads or bleeding. In addition, if you notice a sudden lameness during your walk, it may be due to ice build-up between your pet’s toes. Pet stores and retailers offer snow shoes or booties for dogs— you may want to consider using them. Certainly, if your dog has a short coat you can utilize a sweater or dog coat to help keep them warm.
Quick clean up. Another important note from the AVMA, is to clean up your pet after you’ve outside in the winter fun.
“During walks, your dog’s feet, legs and belly may pick up deicers, antifreeze, or other chemicals that could be toxic. When you get back inside, wipe down (or wash) your pet’s feet, legs and belly to remove these chemicals and reduce the risk that your dog will be poisoned after (s)he licks them off of his/her feet or fur. “
Let’s ALL have a safe winter in Idaho—stay warm!
December 4, 2013
Our pets are such a joyous part of our lives, and as owners, we embrace them and love them knowing full well that their life span will be much shorter than ours. At some point, we will have to say goodbye, and often we may face the difficult decision of euthanasia.
One of our Emergency & Critical Care veterinarians, Dr. Laura Lefkowitz, has been helping owners through this difficult time for nearly 20 years. She shared some great insight to help owners with a senior pet.
Common medical and behavior changes due to age. As pets age, many symptoms are slowly progressive and it’s easy to attribute them to ‘just getting old.’ Pet's bodies age at a rate of about 7-10 years for every one year of our own, but it is important to understand that "age itself is not a disease, the disease is actually a breakdown in specific areas of their body such as their joints or internal organs,” says Dr. Lefkowitz. “Many times we can intervene and help to slow down these aging changes and make your pet more comfortable in his geriatric years.”
As pets reach middle to geriatric ages, yearly veterinary exams and routine screening test become increasingly important in detecting medical problems.
You may notice that your pet is less active or less mobile than it used to be. These may be symptoms that your pet is having discomfort in its joints or spine. This discomfort makes them less willing to move. Owners expect that their pet will let them know when they are painful by vocalizing in some manner, however, the truth is that most animals are more likely to express pain by withdrawing from activities, sleeping more, or becoming more irritable. Limping or abnormal gaits are also signs of pain. These changes in activity level happen slowly, over time, so we are less likely to notice them.
“The simple act of adding anti-inflammatories, joint supplements or physical therapy exercises may drastically improve their ability to move. People are often amazed that their once inactive dog is now able to go on hikes that they haven’t done in years once they start these therapies,” notes Dr. Lefkowitz.
It is a good idea to keep a notebook of your middle age to older animal to record things like their willingness to play or the distances they can walk. This will allow you to look back and remember their normal activity level.
Also, charting things like your pet’s weight and the amount of water he consumes will allow you to observe trends over time that you would not otherwise have noticed. Slow declines in weight, decreased interest in food, or a progressive increase in how much they are drinking are indicators of medical problems such as kidney disease, liver disease or painful dental disorders. Simple things like a dentistry or teeth extraction or changes in their diet may significantly improve your pets comfort level and may slow down the progression of a debilitating disease.
Another common problem we see in older dogs is changes in their breathing patterns. You may notice that your geriatric dog is making louder noises as it breathes. In the smushed face dogs, like pugs or bull dogs, this may be due to changes of structures in their mouth which blocks their airway. In longer nosed dogs, such as Labradors, this may be caused by the larynx failing to open normally.
“In both cases the loud breathing noises are telling you that your pet simply is not getting enough oxygen and this is what makes him unable to exercise like he used to," says Dr. Lefkowitz. "It breaks my heart when I hear dogs breathing in this manner because I know that with a short, routine surgery they could be running around again and will no longer be struggling to breathe.”
Quality of Life Assessment. There comes a point in time when you recognize that your pet has a finite period of time to live. This may be because of progression of a disease process that it has or because of his inability move around normally. Many animals may slowly lose the ability to stand up and may be immobile enough that they become incontinent. This is the point when you need to start assessing his quality of life.
Quality of life assessments for animals include factors such as appetite, pain levels, happiness, activity level, incontinence, interaction. There are worksheets available that allow you to assign a numerical value to factors involved in these categories. (One that is particularly useful may be found HERE.)
Making this assessment on a regular basis will help you to notice more subtle declines in your pet’s health. Comparing these assessments to your previous notes will help you to determine your pet’s health status more objectively.
Here are some signs of declining health which should prompt you to seek humane euthanasia for your pet:
- Pain which is unbearable or which you are unable to alleviate with medical or surgical interventions
- Inability to breathe normally despite medical therapy
- Inability or unwillingness to eat
- Inability to stand or walk
- Difficulty urinating/defecating normally
- Loss of interest in activities or interactions with people.
Pick endpoints early on which will help you to definitively make that final decision. Examples of endpoints may be ‘When my pet will not eat I will make the decision to euthanize’ or ‘when my pet can no longer get up on his own I will make the decision to euthanize.’ Having these statements written down will make it easier to follow through when you are questioning your decision.
Try to make the decision to euthanize before it before it becomes an emergency situation. You want to be able to say goodbye to your pet in a peaceful, safe environment and not unexpectedly in the middle of the night at an emergency hospital
Remember that it is not just your pet’s quality of life to consider, but your own quality of life as well. Pets who are suffering from progressive diseases may be overwhelming due to the owners own physical limitations, or due to time, family or financial constraints.
Dr. Lefkowitz goes on to say, “While it is common to feel guilt about this decision, keep in mind that you have done the best you can throughout your pet’s life and even at this difficult point you are still doing the best that you can for your pet. It is only because of all of your interventions and care throughout his life that he has made it to this geriatric age. Rather than feeling guilty you should feel proud of how well your pet has done all of these years because of your efforts.”
Preparing for euthanasia.The decision of "putting your pet to sleep" or euthanizing is one of the most difficult decisions you will ever have to make. For both pet owners and veterinary professionals, determining when that time is right is extremely difficult. It is often a decision based on many combined factors. While it would be ideal for senior pets to simply slip away while they sleep, this unfortunately, doesn't happen very often. It is best to try and prepare yourself for the possibility of euthanasia.
The following are a few things you may want to consider:
- Decide where you want the euthanasia to be done. Contact your family veterinarian to discuss the options they offer.
- If it is important for you to be home with your pet for the euthanasia, you must plan this in advance. Several years ago Dr. Lefkowitz started a Treasure Valley home euthanasia service called Gentle Goodbyes so owners could remain with their pet in a familiar environment during their last moments.
- Second, decide if you and/or other family members want to be present. Animals look to their owners for comfort, for this reason you should consider being present with them. Very young children or exuberant family pets may distract you from this important moment with your ailing pet.
Finally, consider the aftercare options. You may choose to bury your pet in a special place, or if that is not feasible then cremation options can be arranged by your veterinarian. Crematoriums offer the option of returning your pet’s ashes to you which allows you to keep your pet’s remains in an urn at your home or which allows you to bury or scatter their remains at a later time. Be sure to inquire ahead about the costs involved in cremation.
The euthanasia itself is usually performed by giving an injection which first produces a deep sedation and which then allows the animal to progress peacefully to death. Veterinarians strive to make the euthanasia process as gentle and peaceful as possible. In retrospect, most people express that they are grateful to have the option of this comfortable way of dying for their beloved pet rather than having to watch them suffer through a painful disease process.
Watching your pet age is a difficult part of being a pet owner. The best we can do for them is to keep them healthy and pain free for as long as possible and to relieve their suffering when we can no longer keep them comfortable.
November 26, 2013
We were excited to see Rocky, a new Boise Police K-9 officer featured recently on KTVB. (Photo credit: Eric Turner/KTVB)
Reporter Bonnie Shelton told how Rocky and his companion Boise Police K-9 Officer are completing their training, you can see her full story HERE.
Rocky is a Belgian Malinois and was treated briefly at WestVet by Dr. John Chandler. Several months ago Dr. Chandler performed a minor surgery on one of Rocky's limbs, and it's clear from the video that he has recovered beautifully and is working diligently now alongside Boise Police Officers.
November 15, 2013
November has been designated as National Pet Cancer Awareness Month as a continuing effort to educate pet owners about the prevalence, detection and treatment of pet cancers. WestVet is pleased to offer the services of Dr. Carrie Hume, Idaho’s first Veterinary Oncologist. In addition, we will be providing a full spectrum of treatments for pets suffering from cancer including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Detecting cancer in your pet. The first line of defense for pet owners is regular, routine veterinary care.
“An annual examination is a great time to evaluate a pet for signs of cancer,” Dr. Hume said. “Veterinarians give their patients full physical examinations yearly; this will include listening to the heart and lungs, looking for any new lumps and bumps, feeling the lymph nodes, touching the belly to check for any pain or tumors, and evaluating for muscle or bone pain. Any abnormality can be investigated further to look for evidence of cancer.”
If your family veterinarian is suspicious of cancer, you may receive a referral for advanced oncology care with Dr. Hume at WestVet. She routinely performs several additional tests in partnership with the pathologists who lead the WestVet Diagnostics Laboratory to quickly confirm the diagnosis of cancer and its severity.
For tumors inside and outside of the body, a needle can withdraw cells for analysis. Internal cancers can be visualized with the use of x-rays, ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans. Blood and urine can be analyzed to assess organ function and to look for cancerous cells that may be circulating in the blood.
“The results of these tests also often determine the extent, or stage of the cancer,” Dr. Hume said. “The stage often dictates what treatment options are available and provides more specific information regarding how quickly the cancer is expected to progress.”
Common signs and symptoms. Similar to human medicine, the earlier cancer is detected, the better chance of effective treatments for both dogs and cats. Below is a list of a few indications of cancer in animals which include, but are not limited to:
- Lumps that grow quickly
- Unexplained weight loss
- Sudden weakness
- Difficulty breathing
- Persistent lameness
Dr. Hume noted that while any animal may develop cancer, there are some specific breeds and types of cancers to be aware of:
- Lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, and mast cell tumors are common in Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers
- Histiocytic Sarcoma is common in Bernese Mountain Dogs and Flat Coated Retrievers
- Bone tumors are common in Greyhounds, Great Danes, and Rottweilers.
As far as prevention goes, one of the best ways to prevent mammary cancer in both female dogs and cats is to have them spayed before their first heat. Dr Hume says this simple action decreases the risk tremendously.
After a cancer diagnosis. Once the information is complete, there are numerous factors to consider when determining the best course of treatment, including if treatment will be successful. Determining whether or not to treat a pet’s cancer is a personal, and often very hard, decision; a consultation with a veterinary oncologist can be helpful in determining the best plan for a family.
Treatment options include medication, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Frequently, a combination of treatments may be needed to provide the best outcome. However, sometimes, the recommendation may be not to pursue treatment as there are some types of cancers in animals that cannot be cured or put in remission for a significant amount of time.
Overall the common goal is simply to make an animal feel better for as long as possible. “Regardless of the treatment that is recommended, my job as a veterinary oncologist is to keep my patients happy. Therefore, aggressive cancer treatment protocols that have a high risk of significant side effects are often avoided.”
“In addition to helping owners choose the right path for their pet and family, it is also my job to help them recognize suffering and the time when bad days are outnumbering the good days. Regardless of the decisions made, early diagnosis and a trusting, open relationship with a veterinarian can make a difficult time easier.”
Pet Cancer Awareness Month. In 2005 Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI) partnered with the Animal Cancer Foundation to launch November as Pet Cancer Awareness Month. In 2012 VPI processed more than 55,000 claims for cancer diagnosis and treatments in pets. This puts cancer-related conditions collectively as one of the most common type of medical clams received.
This year, throughout the month, VPI will donate $5 to The Animal Cancer Foundation (up to $10,000) for social media posts that use the hashtag #CurePetCancer. This includes photos, stories or posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
To date, VPI has raised more than $160,000 to benefit the ACF.
November 8, 2013
We have been amazed at the drive and ambition of one of Boise’s own, Karen Bostick, CEO and Founder of PETSPAGE.COM. While this new, fun, and informative social media site is designed to enable pet owners to learn about veterinary care, share photos, connect with pet professionals, and purchase fantastic pet products, there is a much broader mission at hand.
Karen wants to educate pet owners about the availability of specialty veterinary medicine, something that actually saved her beloved Tinks’ life. A few years ago, Tinks received a specialty referral to WestVet’s Dr. Victoria Ochoa as he was clinging to life. He was suffering from a rapid and severe blood disorder that could only be treated with help from a Veterinary Internist. After Tinks’ recovery, Karen was surprised to learn about the many specialized veterinary services available, as both a responsible pet owner and the daughter of a veterinarian she knew she could not be alone. Her life passion was born.
For the past eight months, this amazing lady has worked tirelessly launching PETSPAGE.COM and spreading the word about Veterinary Specialty care. She and Tinks have been all over the Treasure Valley, meeting new fans at the Hyde Park Street Fair, greeting pet professionals at WestVet's Appreciation Picnic at Zoo Boise, cheering on pet owners at See Spot Walk, and being featured on KBOI TV2, Pet Radio Show, and the local magazine Urban Liasion—just to name a few.
Now she’s reaching out to her thousands of fans and supporters seeking help to expand her message and mission. This week Karen & Tinks launched a crowdfunding campaign that invites fans, pet owners and pet professionals to help support an upcoming documentary to be shown on PBS’ Outlook program. Karen and Tinks invite you to get involved and help support this important mission. You may donate and see the fun perks HERE. In addition, you can connect with the dynamic duo through multiple social media platforms to follow Tinks’ daily adventures.
Tinks’ inspiring story has caught the world by storm! We are excited to watch this little Malti-poo and his owner change the world and we thank them for including WestVet in many of their stories, blog posts, and press releases.
Previously we have shared with you the story of this sweet little dog in our blog, read all about Tinks' illness and recovery HERE.