Posted by Pets Best on 4/7/2006 in General Articles
Companion animals have evolved over the last hundred years into a huge component of the human household and in many cases are considered a family member. Over half a million households in the United States share a home with a pet. The change in human perception of animals and their relationships has created a mutual necessity for domesticated pets in society. Animals are amazing creatures that have unique bonds between one another as well as with their human caretakers. They can provide us daily assistance in ways man can not and can positively benefit our health and longevity.
Many humans today would not choose to live without a companion cat or dog. In addition to serving as loyal family members some animals are able to assist us in our daily lives, even providing services another human could not perform. We have all heard of guide dogs for the blind and police dogs, but today dogs are used to detect seizures to allow an owner time to prepare before one strikes, such as pulling the car over. Canines are also being used to assist people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, in the course of the disease feet can freeze in place, while the rest of the body maintains motion causing a person to fall, a trained canine can either detect the feet are about to freeze or counterbalance the person until they regain use of their feet. It is also amazing that a canine can detect hypoglycemia, low blood sugar, allowing the owner to alleviate the condition before it becomes life threatening. Currently it is also being discovered that canines are capable of detecting cancer, a service that surely will be used a great deal in the future.
In addition to trained canines providing amazing services to their owners, companions pets that never work a day in their life can also greatly benefit their owners. Many humans find their pet is a fundamental reason for them to continue with this life, and many find having a pet combats loneliness. Furthermore many individuals feel much safer with a pet in the house and carry no worries when walking or running a pet on city streets. Pets are able to offer their owners an impressive array of traits such as loyalty, enjoyment, company, and safety.
…Studies are showing the presence of an animal can positively affect blood pressure, heart rates, and cholesterol…
The health benefits being discovered that pets offer their caretakers as well as the sick or elderly is absolutely astounding. Studies are showing the presence of an animal can positively affect blood pressure, heart rates, and cholesterol. Many elderly respond to animals in ways they would not respond to a person, they may exhibit higher degrees of alertness, attentions and even reach out to touch the animal. Pets have even proven an ability to eliminate depression, and decrease feelings of fear and anxiety. Horses for many years now have been able to aid those with physical disabilities by influencing the patient’s posture, bodily movements, balance and physical functions.
Due to the huge role pets play in our lives and the correlation with a pet’s shorter lifespan can make loss and bereavement overwhelming for anyone that has lost a faithful animal companion. It can be even more devastating when that pet also provided a much needed service. Approximately sixty percent of dogs sleep in our bedrooms, even a greater number greet us at the door and when times are bad they are always a reliable friend. When a pet passes there are defiantly stages of grief we must pass through, such as anger, depression and acceptance. One thing pets do teach people is how to deal with grief and letting go. Once we have accepted the loss we can freely move on with our lives and hold on to a cherished memory.
The same feelings of lose a human feels are being discovered as being felt by animals as well. Animals that have a close bond with another animal friend show physical signs of loss. Research on horses has shown they appear to feel devastated, eating less, acting withdrawn and at times this can adversely affect a healthy animal’s health. PET scans that show neurological activity have found that humans and animals show similar changes in brain activity when experiencing grief. Some even say that when one animal passes, if there is a close companion to let the other animal spend time with the remains. This can allow the living friend a chance to say goodbye and realize that the other has passed away. Once the animal no longer shows interest in the deceased companion than it should be removed. However be prepared for the grieving animal to display strange actions, some may be fearful, show no interest while others may seem to desire a good amount of time with the deceased.
Certain unique animals have been able to form some very unusual bonds that cross beyond the lines of normal behavior but aid to exhibit the importance of needed a friend. In a Kenyan sanctuary a rescued baby hippopotamus has taken to a one hundred and twenty year old tortoise. They can be caught sleeping and even swimming together. In a Tokyo zoo a live hamster labeled as snake food as become the best buddy to that snake. The snake has now overcome a dislike for frozen rodents and the staff has named and provides care for the hamster. These unique bonds represent the need for animals as well as humans to bond with other living beings and by doing so we can gain the wealth of talents only certain species hold, enriching everyone’s life.
Sources: dvmnews.org; msnbc.com; peteducation.com; vetpurdue.edu
By: Dr. Jack Stephens
Recently, through the generous donations of General Fire & Casualty Company, the underwriter for Pets Best insurance and Greg Mc Donald, the chairman of GF&C, the holding company for General Fire & Casualty Company, the Skeeter Foundation was revitalized. If you don’t know me, you are asking yourself, “What is a Skeeter?”
Skeeter is my miniature pinscher that I write about a lot. He and Torrey (my tea cup Chihuahua) travel with me daily to work and occasionally around the country to Veterinary Conferences. Skeeter and now Torrey are the daily reminders of why I am such an advocate of pets.
My wife, Vicki and I started the Skeeter Foundation in 2000 to fund and assist volunteers who take their certified therapy pets to hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities and schools and to fund studies that prove scientifically the positive attributes of pet ownership. “Prescribe Pets Not Pills” is the foundation’s mission.
Of course we know that pets will not eliminate the need for humans to take pills. But we also knew from unscientific observations that pets make us healthier and happier. We witnessed people eliminating the need or decreasing the need for antidepressants, by the simple act of obtaining a pet. We also witnessed people that obtained pets, being less lonely, more fulfilled, meeting new friends, being discharged from hospitals quicker with less post operative pain and generally having a better outlook on life. My own personal observations during my bout with Cancer demonstrated other benefits of pets, such as distraction, entertainment, empathy and a complicated technique, the National Cancer Institute terms complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) . So, why not prescribe a pet instead of a pill, when it works?
Skeeter Foundation – The Start
A primary goal of the Foundation is to fund, organize and assist volunteer pet therapy teams to visit hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities and schools. Helping volunteers to bring some joy to others who are under stress from health care issues or educate our youth about the value of pets in society. For me, it all started over 25 years ago when I made my first visit with a therapy pet to a hospital. As the therapy pet and its owner handler walked the isles of the hospital (I was an observer), a nurse came over to us and said she really did not have permission, but would we visit a child in one of the wards who was scheduled to see a psychiatrist, because of emotional trauma associated with post operative pain. The child refused to open her eyes, after surgery. The nurse explained that the parents, siblings, doctors and nurses were unable to get the child to open her eyes, despite any pleading, promises or encouragement. It seems the little girl thought the pain would return if she opened her eyes. After several days of urging, the doctors had finally recommended a psychiatrist be brought in the next day.
The volunteer of course obliged and went to the child’s room. The nurse told the child, “that there was a furry visitor here to see her, would she open her eyes and see the nice golden dog”. The little girl refused, whereupon, the dog walked over to the bed, pushed his nose and muzzle under the girl’s hand, as if to say “pet me”.
Immediately, the young girl opened her eyes and began talking, petting the dog and after about 15 minutes when we had to leave for the other visits, I can still remember her, jumping out of bed and running down the hospital isle, with the IV stand and tubes still attached telling us, “Don’t leave yet”. Nothing against psychiatry, but wasn’t this much better, cheaper and NO PILLS REQUIRED!
That episode inspired me to learn more about how pets affect us and how pets can make us healthier. No scientific studies had been done to validate the observations of me and countless others, but we knew something powerful when we saw it. Validating the positive effects of pets is another primary mission of the Skeeter Foundation; to fund scientific studies that measure the biochemical changes that occur between humans and pets.
The Skeeter Foundation is an all volunteer organization. My wife and I donate our time, mostly Vicki, to the foundation. The foundation has many volunteers who spend countless hours training and preparing their pets for hospital visits in effort to bring joy to others.
By: Dr. Jack Stephens
Since graduating from Veterinary School, protecting pet family members has been my mission. My observations back in the late 1970’s that economic hardship was often the culprit in pet owners not being able to restore a pet to health caused me to wonder how as a society we could overcome that obstacle.
One day as I pondered the solution to helping more pets and before I ever thought about starting a pet insurance company a lady and her daughter brought in a middle aged dog to my practice that was very ill. As I examined the pet the mother kept telling me that “I should do whatever it takes to heal Fluffy, she is family.” She related, “Fluffy and been in the family since her daughter was an infant and she was family.” The daughter was crying and the mother was consoling her. After a preliminary exam, I told her that Fluffy had a serious medical problem and that I needed to take some blood to test her liver, as she was showing symptoms of liver disease. The mother replied, “Do what ever it takes” over and over. I told her we may need additional test, to which she gave the same reply, “Do what ever it takes.” She was quite well dressed and they lived in an expensive house in an expensive community, all the trappings of success. As I started to review the preliminary estimate of the cost for initial treatment, hospitalization and the testing, the mother started asking “If Fluffy was suffering?” I replied that she was very ill and was feeling more like a severe flu, than pain. She stepped behind her daughter and kept repeating the new mantra, “We don’t want Fluffy to suffer” and would shake her head from side to side in the negative to me as a signal she did not want to pursue diagnosing and treating Fluffy. I replied that although she was ill, if we were successful we would have her back feeling good soon, but until I knew more there was no guarantee. The mother again replied “We do not want Fluffy to suffer.” I got the hint and replied there was another alternative for terminally ill pets, which was putting her to sleep (euthanasia). She immediately said “If I thought that was best for Fluffy then we should put her to sleep.” Again, I stated I did not think that best, but it was an option. The mother continued to assert only that option as best, signed the approval for euthanasia and left.
Several months later I was shopping in the local grocery store with my wife and we met the client and her daughter. She said hello and said to her daughter, “You remember Dr. Stephens don’t you dear?” The response changed my life.
Her response was, “Yes, he is the man that killed Fluffy!” I was stunned! I do not remember how the conversation ended, only that I was the villain who had caused that young girl to lose her beloved pet. As a veterinarian I only wanted to treat pets, I studied even more after I entered practice than I had in school, I agonized when I could not diagnose or cure a pet, now I was a villain! To that young girl I was at fault, not the real villain the family’s finances or their attitude toward pets. Appearances can be deceiving, I will admit. As a Veterinarian I have had clients who seemed to have no money, yet they provided very expensive care for their pet and like this lady who seemed to have much wealth, not willing to spend even the $300 I estimated was necessary to find out if we could save Fluffy. Again, was it the willingness, motivation or simply having the money that was the problem? So much for Fluffy being part of the family.
After that day, I resolved to never euthanize a pet that was not terminally ill. Others could do it, but I would not. Others could put a pet to sleep because the people were moving, the pet was ill, they simply did not want the pet any more, but not me. Of course, reality is not that simple, so there had to be another way to protect pets. That’s when I started my campaign to develop pet health insurance. I had no expertise in the field; remember I was not particularly a fan of insurance. But I knew if I was to really help pets on a large scale, there had to be a broad economic method, not my skills as a veterinarian helping one pet at a time. After that day, I started the campaign to develop Pet Insurance.
“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”
Posted by Pets Best on 3/13/2006 in Training Tips Articles
If it’s true that 80% of communication is non-verbal, it stands to reason that we could learn quite a bit from our canine friends. Since the beginning of the man-dog relationship, dogs and wolves have proven to be expert communicators through their use of body language, facial expressions and vocalizations. Turid Rugaas, a Norwegian dog trainer with over fifteen years experience studying wolves, has discovered over thirty calming signals that can easily be recognized and used by humans to directly communicate with our canine companions.
In her book On Talking Terms with Dogs, Rugaas shares her insights on the fascinating world of communication between dogs, as well as between dogs and their owners. “We need to learn to understand the language of dogs so that we can understand what our dogs are telling us,” Rugaas says. “That is the secret of having a good life together.”
One signal that is commonly misunderstood in the human-canine connection is the dog’s use of the yawn. Rather than signifying that he is tired or bored, the yawn is a coping mechanism used when the dog feels threatened. When a threat is received, according to Rugaas, the dog will always respond with a calming signal such as yawning, licking his nose or turning away, among others.
Unfortunately, she says, a large majority of dog owners ignore these signals, creating stress, anxiety and even aggression in their pets. Rather than help the situation, correction and punishment only further complicate the human-canine relationship, so understanding is key.
“The dog may yawn when someone bends over him, when you sound angry, when there’s yelling and quarreling in the family, when the dog is at the vet’s office, when someone is walking directly at the dog, when you ask the dog to do something he doesn’t feel like doing, when your training sessions are too long and the dog gets tired, and in many other situations,” Rugaas says. What he’s really telling us is, “Please understand me.”
“These signals are international and universal. Dogs all over the world have the same language. A dog from Japan would be understood by an Elkhound who lives in an isolated valley in Norway. They will have no communication problems!”
The trouble then is not so much dog to dog, but dog to human. With our sweeping gestures and loud voices, too often we send our dogs into a state of panic where they struggle to communicate with us through calming signals. Even young puppies will display the use of calming signals in the hopes of communicating uncertainty or fear. And we thought that all that sniffing at the vet’s office was just out of curiosity!
Strengthening the animal-human relationship is not easy, but it is most certainly possible, especially with a little patience and a better understanding of what our four-legged friends are trying to say.
Source: HSUS.org; healthypet.com; geocities.com; newsday.com; cavolark.com; canis.no/rugaas/index; clickertraining.com
By: Dr. Jack Stephens
Veterinarians and veterinary technicians like all professionals continue their education (CE) after they graduate to keep up with all the many changes, discoveries and to learn about new technology. Gaining a degree is only the first step in what should be a lifelong journey of learning. In veterinary medicine there is a plethora of CE opportunities locally, regionally and nationally. The abundance of courses teaching new knowledge astounds me. Frankly it is intimidating for busy veterinary practitioners to maintain the pace of being informed on new techniques for surgery or diagnostics to uncover a disease. You should know that attendance by your veterinarian is at an all time high with an increasing number of CE opportunities. For instance, one that struck me was a new DNA test that eliminates the guessing of a dogs breed. According to the Western Veterinary Conference, which I attended last week one company was introducing a Breed Identification Test that will allow your veterinarian to unlock the mystery of the primary breeds involved in a mixed breed dog.
You might ask, “Why is that important?” Most of us are quite happy with our mixed breed dogs. In fact, mixed breed dogs are known to be healthier and have less hereditary or congenital defects. Yet, even with mixed breed dogs, they do posses and will at times manifest severe genetic defects that need to be treated. The premise is that early detection may allow prevention. Also, as more gene therapy techniques become available, better treatment option for some genetic conditions will be possible.
Knowing the parentage of a mixed breed pet may someday soon allow your veterinarian to prevent the onset of certain diseases, giving your dog more years of good health, according to a spokesperson for Progressive PetCare, the DNA test provider.
The recent Western Veterinary Conference also announced that canine influenza, a highly contagious respiratory disease infecting dogs across the United States is an emerging problem for dog owners. A two hour symposium was provided that discussed the outbreaks, clinical signs, new diagnostic testing, treatments and control measures. The disease has been identified in 18 states and is similar to kennel cough in its symptoms. Like kennel cough, a secondary bacterial infection can develop and lead to pneumonia. Treatments require hospitalization, isolation to prevent further spread, antibiotics for secondary infections and supportive therapies, according to the symposium. There is no vaccine for canine influenza at this time. Another of many reasons, to have pet health insurance for your pet.
Pets Best Exhibits at CE Conferences
Like most other companies that provide products, equipment or services to veterinary professionals, Pets Best insurance was at the two largest conferences recently, North American Veterinary Conference and Western Veterinary Conference. This was our unveiling of Pets Best to veterinarians and their staff. After 25 years in the business, I must admit I was still somewhat apprehensive of how our new pet health insurance would be received by my colleagues. After all, they had only known me to be at one company for all these years. I am happy to report that the response was overwhelmingly positive and even jubilant by many of my colleagues that I was back in the industry. Not only was I back, but I had improved pet insurance greatly. I knew I had made many innovative changes and improvements, but still you wonder if those most critical will notice. AND THEY DID! Your veterinarian is very sensitive to only providing their clients with good services and products, because after all their integrity is on the line every time they recommend any service, product or company.
For companies offering services or products exhibiting at CE conferences is a good method to inform and to receive feedback on how you are doing as a company with veterinarians. At Pets Best veterinarians are our first customer and pet owners are our ultimate customer. At Pets Best we recognize that we must satisfy both to be successful; our policyholders and their veterinarians.
At the Western Veterinary Conference I was able to take four of our dogs, Skeeter of course, Torrey, Obie, our Scottish Deerhound and Cricket, a Brussels Griffon. They were our official ambassadors and provided petting opportunities to all the many attendees who missed their dogs. It was also special, because Skeeter had his 14th birthday party at the conference, where he is an honorary Board member. Skeeter attends many veterinary conferences, but at the Western Veterinary Conference he has had 13 straight annual appearances and is loved by all for his stoic good nature. Crowds do not phase him. He remains calm and relaxed in front of large groups and audiences, something he has done many times. Skeeter is one of a kind.
“We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It’s the best deal man has ever made.”