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Something that keeps you cozy can hurt pets

Posted on: December 12th, 2011 by

A dog with dog insurance who has ingested antifreeze is cared for by a vet.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Vet at Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Winter is in full swing and thermostats are being turned up in order to keep everyone warm. The winter season can be a great time to get cozy with the family, but there are some winter pet health dangers that should be considered in order to keep your pets safe this year. Exposure to the cold is an easy danger to recognize, but some are less obvious. One of the most lethal dangers to pets that veterinarians see in the wintertime is antifreeze toxicity. Since emergency treatment isn’t always rewarding, prevention is the key. Because accidents like these abound in the winter months, it’s a good idea to be prepared with pet health insurance.

Antifreeze is used to keep your car running smoothly in the wintertime. It contains ethyl glycol, which has a very low freezing point, meaning at normal winter temperatures it won’t freeze. The problem is that antifreeze tastes sweet, so when animals are exposed to it, they are likely to drink it. The amount needed to harm an animal is also very little, especially in cats. The average ten pound cat could die with as little as one teaspoon of antifreeze ingestion, and a 20 pound dog could suffer severe consequences and possibly death after drinking as little as 3.5 tablespoons.

Once in the body, ethylene glycol is metabolized into formic or oxalic acid. Oxalic acid can combine with normal amounts of calcium in the bloodstream, causing calcium oxalate crystals. These crystals are large and hard, and get stuck in the small tubules of the kidneys, blocking them and causing acute kidney failure. In effect, the kidneys crystallize, which is an impossible process to reverse. Treatment is aimed at preventing the ethylene glycol from forming oxalic acid, and therefore preventing calcium oxalate crystals from forming in the first place. Once the crystals are there, damage has been done. Therefore, if you see you pet come across antifreeze, or know they were exposed to it, don’t wait until they act sick to seek veterinary care, it might be too late. Having dog and cat insurance is a good way to defray costs around the holidays when your normal vet may be closed and sometimes-costly emergency clinics are your only option.

Pets that have ingested antifreeze will often act ‘drunk.’ Ethylene glycol is an alcohol and works on the brain in a similar manner to cause stumbling, incoordination and stupor. This can happen within 1 to 12 hours after ingestion. As the kidneys stop doing their job, pets will often become very thirsty and will drink excessive amounts of water. After 12 to 24 hours the pet will become significantly more sick as the kidneys begin to fail, severe electrolyte imbalance will cause cardiac and respiratory signs, including fast breathing and a fast, weak heartbeat. By 2 to 3 days after ingestion, the pet is usually gravely ill, and might seizure and have severe vomiting episodes.

If you suspect your pet has ingested anti-freeze, you veterinarian will likely want to perform a blood chemistry, a blood gas profile and a urinalysis. These tests can become quite costly, which is why cat and dog insurance can help owners afford the best care without worrying about finances. The smaller calcium oxalate crystals forming in the kidneys can be flushed into the urine and visualized under a microscope. The presence of a certain form of these classically shaped urine crystals is a strong indicator of exposure to ethylene glycol. There is a blood test that will look specifically for the presence of ethylene glycol in the blood, but not all veterinary clinics have access to this test.

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Some commercial antifreeze solutions have added sodium fluorescein dye to help detect leaks in the car’s coolant system. The dye fluoresces under a black light and may be excreted in the urine for up to 6 hours, and may be present on the paws, fur or mouth.

Successful treatment must begin before the ethylene glycol is metabolized into the toxic oxalic acid. Patients typically require intensive hospitalization and aggressive treatment. Veterinary care can be expensive, and having pet insurance can be a crucial asset to allowing your pet the emergency care they need. Animals that start treatment 8 to 12 hours after ingestion typically have a poor to grave prognosis.

Some preventative measures you can take to help keep your pet from exposure to this deadly toxin include:

1.) Not allowing your pet access to the garage or other places where antifreeze is used or stored. Store antifreeze with appropriately marked containers.

2.) Immediately clean up any antifreeze spills appropriately and check your car regularly for leaks.

3.) Use antifreeze solutions that have an additive to make it taste less appealing to pets.

4.) Don’t allow your pets outside unsupervised.

Antifreeze toxicity is a devastating illness, but with some foresight and common sense it can be prevented. Always consider pet insurance as a way to ensure your pet can receive the care they need in a time of crisis. Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Top 6 Holiday Hazards for Your Cat

Posted on: December 9th, 2011 by

A cat with cat insurance bites a snowflake decoration.

By Dr. Jane Matheys, a Veterinarian and a writer for Pets Best, a cat insurance agency

With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to lose track of where your cats are and what trouble they might be getting into. Having pet insurance as a backup is always a good idea— but here are some holiday health tips to keep your kitty safe this season.

1. Decadent Food
Be careful not to overdo it by giving your cat foods that may cause digestive upset. Avoid feeding table scraps indiscriminately during the festivities, and remind guests not to sneak tidbits to your cats either. Also remember that chocolate can be toxic or even fatal to dogs and cats, especially unsweetened cocoa or baking chocolate. Theobromine, the toxic compound found in chocolate frequently causes poisoning in dogs, but cats are also susceptible. Between 1 to 4 hours of eating chocolate you may notice your pet showing signs of: vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, weakness, difficulty keeping balance, hyperexcitability, muscle spasm, seizures, coma, or death from an abnormal heart rhythm.

2. The Christmas Tree
There’s always something enticing to cats about a novel source of water like that in the Christmas tree stand. Do not let them drink from it. Christmas tree water may contain fertilizers which can cause stomach upset if ingested. The stagnant water can also be a breeding ground for bacteria, which can lead to vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. Try to keep the water covered or use a heavy tree skirt. Cats may also try to climb the tree, so make sure it is anchored well and away from things like glass tables.

3. Décor
Many cats cannot resist tinsel. Although the sight of your cat pawing at the tree may be cute, the ingestion of tinsel can be deadly. Because pets can easily get a hold of something like Christmas décor, it’s a good idea to have a dog or cat insurance plan—especially around the holidays.

Eating tinsel or other string-like items such as ribbon can cause serious damage to the intestine. One end can get stuck while the rest is pulled into the intestine as it contracts. The contractions may cause the ribbon or tinsel to saw through the intestine. If not caught in time, infection of the belly cavity develops and the prognosis for recovery becomes poor. If your cat has eaten something like this, signs might include: vomiting, diarrhea, depression, belly pain, and sometimes fever.

4. Lights
Decorative lights are another attraction for cats to chew on. Electrical shock can cause burns, especially in the mouth, difficulty breathing, abnormal heart rhythm, loss of consciousness and death. Call your veterinarian immediately if your cat has been injured by electrical shock. Treatment will be most effective if begun soon after the shock. Curious cats have also been known to knock down candles causing house fires. Never, ever leave candles unattended with a cat in the house. Having pet health insurance can help defray costs, especially around the holidays when many vet offices are closed and sometimes expensive emergency care is your only option.

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5. Potpourri
Liquid potpourri makes your house smell festive but may be another attraction for cats to drink. I once treated a cat that had tongue ulcers from drinking potpourri. Fortunately, the kitty recovered well with supportive care and a gruel-type diet for several days. Keep potpourri pots covered or otherwise inaccessible.

6. Plants
Probably the most important plant to worry about is the fragrant lily (such as tiger, Asiatic and Stargazer) which is commonly found in holiday arrangements and is highly toxic to cats. Just one chewed leaf can result in severe, acute kidney failure.

Mistletoe can also be very toxic to cats and you should consult your veterinarian immediately if your cat has potentially ingested any part of the plant. It’s accidents like ingestion of Mistletoe that having cat insurance can be a life saver. Holly can also be a problem, although signs of poisonings are generally mild and include vomiting, belly pain and diarrhea.

Poinsettias have received bad publicity in the past whereas, in fact, they are not very toxic to cats. They do, however, contain a milky sap that can irritate the mouth, but signs are usually mild.

For more information about pet health and pet insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Giving pets as gifts

Posted on: December 7th, 2011 by

A puppy with pet insurance is in a Christmas box.

By: Dr. Jack Stephens
President and Founder
Pets Best Insurance

Having been a veterinarian and the founder of pet insurance in the US, I generally advise against giving a pet as a gift. Owning a pet is a commitment of up to 17 years for dogs and 20 for cats, and often the recipients decide they’re not up for the job. In fact, many shelters report a surge of abandoned Christmas pets as early as January each year.

There are a host of factors to consider before purchasing a pet. Like: housing, feeding, schedules, training, exercise and veterinary care, just to name a few. Because too many pets become abandoned or are given up to shelters when people are not prepared to be pet owners, these issues should be addressed before getting a pet—not after.

One exception of when it’s ok to give a pet as a gift is when the whole family is involved in the decision. When planning for a pet, it’s important to consider a few things:

• First, determine if a pet is even right for your household.

• Second, determine what kind of pet is appropriate for your situation. Research your proposed pets’ needs and match that with your expectations before you purchase or adopt. It’s also a good idea to research cat and dog insurance so you can be financially prepared should your pet have any illnesses or accidents.

• Third, after the responsibilities for pet ownership have been extensively researched, determine who will be primarily responsible for the pets’ needs.

Another exception can be a “trial run,” to determine whether the pet is a good fit. For example, my wife and I often match a pet to a person and their needs. We provide the pet “on a trial basis” for the person to determine if they want the responsibilities of a pet and more importantly to prove to themselves our assertion that pets are good for our health and well being. We place the pet with the understanding that they must give the pet back to us if the situation does not work. This “trial run” approach is especially important for placing a companion pet with a senior citizen when there are concerns about their own health and ability to care for the pet.

An older neighbor of ours was having trouble with depression after the loss of her spouse. We provided her with one of our own pets to demonstrate the companionship value, with the expectation that we would find her a nice lap dog if her trial run went well. That was six years ago and Blue Baby is still living with her!

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On another occasion we gave a very special Daschund (whose back legs were paralyzed from a slipped disc) to an acquaintance whose husband was in a wheelchair. Seeing how well that dog adapted to his circumstances was inspirational for that man. But alas, after five years they could no longer keep Schotzie and we took him back into our household. He is now 11-years-old and has been in his cart or “doggy wheelchair” for 9 years since we adopted him. He is a happy little guy and an inspiration as a therapy pet in both hospitals and at senior care facilities.

The ultimate point being, that giving a pet to someone does not diminish your responsibility. You must ensure that the pet is going to a good home, that they understand how to care for the pet in all aspects, and finally that if circumstances do not permit them to keep the pet, you take responsibility and either find a new good home, or welcome the pet as a member of your own family.

For more information about pet health or pet insurance, vist Pets Best Insurance.

Yes, you CAN teach your dog to do laundry

Posted on: December 6th, 2011 by

A dog with dog insurance helps with the laundry.

By: Judy Luther
Certified Professional Dog Trainer
For Pets Best Insurance

Recently I received a call from a woman who had a very active Border Collie and a new baby. As I talked with this new mom it was quite obvious she was overwhelmed and exhausted adjusting to life with a new baby and a Border Collie that was not getting the attention and exercise he needed. He was resorting to barking and other destructive pet health behaviors. The woman loved her dog but could not tolerate his deteriorating behavior and had called a rescue group to come and take him away. The rescue recommended she call me to see if I could help before surrendering her dog.

Border Collies are herding dogs bred to work long hours herding livestock. They are also extremely smart. A bored Border Collie is not the easiest breed to live with, they often need a job to do to keep themselves occupied. Because these dogs are highly active, they are one of the many breeds that benefit from pet insurance.

As a trainer, when discussing concerns with dog owners, I immediately start developing a training plan to solve the dogs’ issues. This was an easy one. Generally I would suggest the family involve their dog in a dog sport like agility, frisbee or herding, but this new mom and dad were too busy with the new baby to take their dog to training sessions and practices. So I had to develop a plan to help them keep their dog busy and active, without taking time away from their new baby.

So here is my suggestion– laundry. Yes, I suggested we teach the dog to help his owner with the laundry. This incorporated several skills which would be useful in other areas. First, we taught the dog to pick up items and hold them in his mouth, then we taught him to carry items, next we taught him to drop items. To put it all together we put a laundry basket on the floor, asked the dog to pick up and hold a towel, then carrying the towel followed us to the laundry basket where we asked him to drop the towel. We then returned to the pile of towels and repeated this again. After a short time the dog was playing this very fun laundry game. Next we moved into the laundry room and asked the dog to get a towel out of the laundry basket and bring it to us which we then deposited into the washing machine. Ta Da! A dog that could help with the laundry. I have some clients who even ask their dogs to take the laundry out of the dryer.

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A good friend of mine who is a groomer trained her Australian Shepherd to take the towels out of the crates at the end of the day and take them to the laundry basket.

Having your dog help you with the laundry uses many useful behaviors. Take it, drop it, carry it, hold it can be useful in training other behaviors. When I drop something, I will ask my dog to pick it up and hand that item to me.

So what else can you teach your dog to do around the house? They can bring you the phone when it rings, put their toys in a toy basket, close doors, cabinets and drawers with the push of their nose, go out and get the newspaper, bring you the television remote, turn the lights on and off. We even taught one dog to gather small sticks in the yard and take them to an area by the firewood pile to use as kindling. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and the dogs’ ability.

Oh, and the above mentioned Border Collie, is now happily helping his family with the daily chores, and has given up his barking and destructive behaviors!

For more information about pet health, behavior and pet insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Repeat UTIs and Rashes in Dogs

Posted on: December 5th, 2011 by

Hi, I’m Dr. Fiona Caldwell and I’m a veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital. I’m answering questions from Pets Best Facebook page today.

The first question comes from Linda. “What to do about a one-year-old dog that has had four urinary tract infections? We’ve tried changing the diet and adding cranberry supplements. She’s on antibiotics once again for a whole month. We have a doggy door so both dogs are able to go out at any time. Any ideas?”

It sounds to me like you’ve been working with a veterinarian already since the urinary tract infections have been diagnosed and she’s been on antibiotics. I’m not sure what your veterinarian has already done, but I would recommend that you do a couple of additional diagnostic tests besides just a urinalysis, such as an x-ray to rule out bladder stones, which can certainly cause recurrent urinary tract infections in dogs. Blood work might be important just to make sure that her kidneys are producing normal urine and urine that shouldn’t have a problem with infection.

She’s a younger dog so there’s a possibility that she could have been born with some type of different anatomy that creates urine pooling in which bacteria can grow and then come back up into the bladder. Sometimes certain conditions like that can be surgically corrected but, of course, would need to be diagnosed.

If the bladder continues to become infected, one other thing that you might think about is culturing it. Have your veterinarian actually grow what’s in there and make sure that you’re using the appropriate antibiotic rather than just picking one out of a bunch. Those are the next things that I would do to try to keep this from becoming such a recurrent problem.

The next question comes from James. “My American Bulldog keeps getting a bumpy rash and needs antibiotics to fix it. They only stay away for a few weeks and then come back. I’ve tried changing food and am now using a low ingredient buffalo food. I feel for her and just want it to go away.”

Because you use a good, hypoallergenic diet, it sounds like you might be able to rule out food allergies as a cause, unless she’s truly allergic to buffalo. That leaves some type of contact allergen. I do think that this rash is probably related to some sort of allergies. It may be something that you don’t have a lot of control over such as pollens, dust, molds, and that type of thing. When she has a flare-up, you’re definitely going to want to see the veterinarian so that you can get the antibiotics she needs.

Things that you might do to try to prevent it from happening would be antihistamines, certain prescription shampoos and sprays. These would all be things that you would need to talk to your veterinarian about, to get dosages and that type of thing. Dogs can get allergy shots, too. Allergy testing, so they can actually get prescription allergy shots, is sometimes a possibility.

Allergies can be really frustrating, but if you work with your veterinarian you can hopefully formulate a plan that will keep her from continuing to flare up.