Author Archives: Hadley Rush

Pet health: You got a flu vaccine, should your dog get one too?

A veterinarian nurses a dog back to health.
By: Fiona Lee Caldwell DVM
For Pets Best Insurance

It’s just about flu season! Did you know that dogs have their own flu bug as well? Here’s what you need to know about the canine flu to ensure proper pet health this season.

Influenza, affectionately called the flu, is a virus that causes upper respiratory illness in animals and people. For the most part, the virus is very species specific, meaning dogs can’t catch swine flu or avian flu or even the human flu. However, the influenza virus is a unique virus that mutates, or changes, at a rapid rate. It can change significantly even during one flu season. This is why researchers spend so much time determining what the new influenza virus will act like each year in order to prepare a vaccine. This mutation rate also means it is possible, but rare, for the virus to change enough to infect a different species.

It has been recently proven that the canine influenza virus was originally the horse influenza. Twenty two greyhound dogs on a racetrack in Florida came down with respiratory infections in January of 2004.

Subsequent identification of flu infected dogs throughout the United States from 2003 to 2005, support the theory that a single virus mutation from horses to dogs occurred. In addition, the new mutated canine virus was able to be transmitted from dog to dog. To date, about 30 states and the District of Columbia have confirmed influenza infections in dogs. Most of these are in shelter settings.

Clinical signs of the canine flu include most commonly a mild cough with fever. Ten percent of infected dogs will show no clinical signs at all, but can ‘shed’ the virus, meaning other dogs can catch it from them, even though they aren’t sick. Most pets, about 80% with mild cough, recover without treatment. Some will require treatment with hospitalization, but rarely. While it is true that some dogs can develop severe illness and there have been some reports of deaths, this is uncommon. Canine influenza is not a highly fatal disease; mortality rate is about 6%, and likely to be even less in a clinical/hospital setting versus research or shelter setting. Like human influenza, the canine virus is very contagious, if exposed, most dogs will develop antibodies to it, but not every dog will get sick.

Treatment, when indicated, generally involves antibiotic therapy in addition to supportive therapy such as intravenous fluids and nutritional support. Dog health care can be compromised, and the virus can be ‘caught’ through causal contact, aerosolized nasal secretions, or shared bowls and toys.

These reports of canine influenza led researchers to develop a canine influenza vaccine in July of 2009, which is now available at many veterinary clinics. Here are some important facts to remember prior to getting the vaccine. It doesn’t prevent your dog from becoming infected, and it does not prevent shedding (infectivity). It has been shown to lessen the severity of the respiratory illness your dog develops. Most vaccinated dogs will have a shorter, milder course of illness. For optimum dog health care, two doses are necessary for protection and length of immunity is unknown at this time. The manufacturer recommends annual boosters.

The risk of your dog contracting canine influenza is low. Some states have never reported any cases of influenza at all. Most veterinary clinics consider the vaccine non-core, meaning experts are not recommending the vaccine unless there is an unusual circumstance, such as plans to travel, exposure to racetracks or exposure to shelter settings. There is, however, an indication for shelter housed animals, as an outbreak and threat of infection is higher, with more detrimental consequences.

It is important to assure pet owners that there is NO evidence there is any risk of spread of canine influenza to people. If you have more questions about the canine flu or the influenza vaccine, contact your veterinarian.

*Pets Best Insurance does not cover the canine influenza vaccine

Finding the perfect pet sitter

A pet sitter walks multiple dogs.
When boarding and doggie day care are not options and family and friends are unavailable, it’s time to look into dedicated, in-home pet sitting services.

Those with one well-mannered cat or a healthy dog and a fenced-in backyard might be able to get away with hiring a neighborhood teenager in lieu of a professional pet sitter. However, the level of professionalism required is proportionate to the number of pets in the home, pet health, and how often services are needed. and are two reputable membership sites where caregivers and pet sitters are listed by zip code, often with background checks and reviews included. Not all individuals listed are professionals, but these sites are great for pre-screening potential sitters and setting or negotiating affordable pet sitting fees.

Pet Sitters International also has a pet sitter locator on its website, Founded in 1994, PSI is the go-to source for professional, accredited pet sitters. These care providers are often bonded, carry pet insurance (for sitting services), and have been educated in dog and cat health care, nutrition, and business and office procedures.

“The U.S. Department of Labor reports that animal care and service workers held 220,400 jobs in 2008,” wrote Karen Maserjian Shan in The Poughkeepsie Journal. According to the October 2008 article, Wappingers Falls Dog Day Care Does Well, pet sitting services are only going to become easier to come by.

“Employment of animal care and service workers is expected to grow 21 percent between 2008 and 2018, as the pet population is expected to grow,” Shan wrote.

Pet health: How to pet proof for dogs and cats

A dog watches as his owner cooks.
Posted by: H.R
Pets Best Insurance Editorial Manager

It doesn’t take long after adopting your first kitten or puppy before you realize you must pet proof your home for the sake of pet health alone. Often, potential dangers are spotted instinctively as a new pet parent thinks like a spunky kitten or naughty pup. But there may be hidden animal attractions yet to be adjusted.

How to Dog Proof a Home
Dog’s noses are their biggest asset and their biggest source of trouble. They don’t discriminate much on smell; if it smells like anything, they’ll eat it. All food must be stored in the refrigerator or high in cupboards.
Trash cans must be very cleverly hidden. Most dogs can figure out how to nose open a cupboard. Trash should be secured behind child-proof locks or inside a heavy-duty garbage can that doesn’t easily open. Keeping the garbage in the garage is even better when you need to dog proof the kitchen.

The best way to keep a dog safe when he cannot be supervised is with crate training. Done right, dogs come to see a crate as their safe den. The crate can be associated with meal time, working up to nap time and away time.

Pet gates are also helpful for keeping dogs confined in safe zones. Pet safety gates are a wonderful investment that can be repurposed over the years, from potty training to sick days to times when repairmen or company are over. For big dogs and cats, two gates stacked together can prevent jumping.

How to Cat Proof a Home
When you cat proof your home, not only do you need to look at your home from down low, but you also need to look up. Cats can get into and onto just about anything, which can compromise pet health.

In an October 2010 Daytona Beach News-Journal article, author Jacque Estes highlights some of the most common dangers for cats.

“Cords of any kind, electrical and curtain, should be secured from the cat that likes to chew,” she wrote in the article, “Tips To Make Your House Cat Proof.”

Aside from chewing, cats also like to play with dangling cords, which can wrap around their necks or rip out a stuck claw.

Sorry, green thumbed cat lovers, but house plants and cats do not mix. “Cats jump, which makes few areas ‘out of reach,'” wrote Estes. Even if care is taken to only fill the house with plants that are not toxic to cats, chances are they will feast too much on the foliage.

Breakables need to be secure. Cats may be graceful, but they can also gracefully knock over an antique vase with one swoop of the tail.

For both dogs and cats, caution should be used with chemicals brought into the home. Just because something smells strong doesn’t mean a curious dog or cat won’t try giving it a lick. Spray-on products used to freshen up the home contain chemicals that a pet will likely ingest. This can compromise pet health. There are safe, eco-friendly products that are just as effective.

Volunteers work to keep stray cat numbers down

A feral cat hides in the wild.
Posted by: H.R.
Pets Best Insurance Editorial Manager

There are many different types of homeless cats: strays who are lost or abandoned, others that are waiting in shelters, pounds and foster homes, and an estimated 70 million “wild” feral cats in the United States alone, according to a 2004 National Geographic News article.

“The Humane Society of the United States believes feral and stray cats produce about 80 percent of all kittens,” wrote Patrick McCallister in a Daytona Beach News-Journal article entitled Oak Hill Seeks to Tame Feral Cat Growth.

The October 2010 article explains that the city is trying to establish a trap-neuter-release pet health program, in which feral cats are trapped and fixed to avoid further breeding of homeless pets. Because feral cats have never lived with humans and are usually not eligible for cat adoption, they are then released back into the area where they were found.

Volunteers across the country run similar programs in a never-ending effort to keep the number of stray cats down. With an estimated 6-8 million homeless pets already waiting for homes in pet adoption centers, according to a recent article in the Gary Post-Tribune, spaying and neutering is an important issue for animal advocates.

Low-cost spay and neuter clinics have opened in cities across the country in hopes that more pet owners will choose to spay or neuter their pets if the price is more affordable. The clinics also provide services for trapped feral cats. Such clinics are able to keep costs down by releasing pets hours after the desexing surgery rather than keeping them overnight for observation. And because they provide limited services, they can see more pets in a day than veterinary clinics.

The American Humane Society asks pet owners to help with pet overpopulation by spaying and neutering all pets. According to fact sheets on the Society’s website, it is safe to spay or neuter healthy pets as early as 8 weeks of age, and when fixed young, puppies and kittens heal faster and with less pain and stress than adult pets. Fixing pets can also help diminish cat and dog health care issues.

Things to consider before adopting a shelter dog

A puppy-eyed dog waits to be adopted at a shelter.
As October’s “Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog month” comes to an end, shelters are urging the public to consider adoption. According to a recent study by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, the number of cats and dogs entering shelters each year is approximately 6 to 8 million. Of those animals, only 3 to 4 million are adopted, leaving 3 to 4 million animals euthanized each year.

The most common reason for surrendering a dog to a shelter is that the owner is moving. Other reasons include too many animals in the house, cost of pet health, and not having time for a pet. Surprisingly, behavior problems ranked last on the list.

There are several things to consider before adopting a dog from one of your local shelters. You should first consider the ages of the people in your household. This will help you determine the size of dog you should choose. For example, families with small children would generally do better with a smaller dog.
Before adopting, it’s also important to make sure that you have the time necessary to dedicate to caring for a dog. Do you have time to walk and train your dog every day?

Finally, consider how much money you can spend on the dog. Take into consideration adoption costs, routine yearly dog health care and the dog’s food and supplies. There are also unforeseen costs, such as taking an emergency trip to the vet after an accident or illness. It’s also a good idea to consider purchasing pet health insurance.

Make sure when you are making the decision to adopt a puppy or an adult dog, that you are committed to providing the dog with a loving home for the remainder of his life.

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