Dogs in the military: Life saving companions

Soldier Dogs book cover.

By: Ryan Vasso
For Pets Best Insurance

Maria Goodavage is a longtime blogger and recent author of the New York Times Best Seller, Soldier Dogs. In her book, she explores the life of dogs in the military, including a Belgian Malinois attack dog and a Jack Russell bomb sniffer. Pets Best Insurance sat down with Maria to ask a few questions:

PBI: Where does your passion to write about military dogs come from?

MG: My dad served in WWII as a young soldier. He would always tell us stories of how these military dogs would save peoples’ lives during the day and then come back to the camp at night and just be dogs. Since then, I have always thought military dogs are great.

PBI: What inspired you to write Soldier Dogs?

MG: Last year, when the Navy Seals raided Osama Bin Laden’s compound, it was leaked that a dog was with them. Everyone was a little surprised that dogs were still used in the military. I had already been writing about dogs in the military with Dogster, but now this was a chance to do something more – to give these dogs recognition.

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PBI: What did you learn after writing Soldier Dogs?

MG: I have even more respect for the dogs. I didn’t realize the incredible bonds the dogs form with their handlers. Currently, the U.S. military officially considers their dogs as equipment. We are working on legislation called Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act – it will classify them as canine members of the armed forces instead of equipment.
A soldier dogs stands guard.
PBI: What are your favorite moments while writing Soldier Dogs?

MG: Besides watching so many handlers be emotionally connected to their dogs, I was able to participate with the training of a Belgian Malinois. I was standing there with this bite sleeve on my arm, waving it, and waiting for this dog who has this, “I’m going to get you look” in her eye. It was something I will never forget. The handlers do it all the time. But for me, as a reporter, it was really fun. It also made me realize the power of these dogs. My training dog was not big, or super young, but it still came barreling in on me.

Another moment was when I followed Lars, a tiny Jack Russell Terrier into a nuclear submarine. People don’t realize military dogs don’t have to be big and tough. Some dogs are in the military just to sniff and not to attack. Lars was originally supposed to sniff narcotics, but there was a mix-up in training school, and ended up being a bomb dog. So they had to figure out what to do with this one-foot tall bomb dog – so they used him on submarines. It was great to learn the military uses all sorts of dogs, not just the big guys.

PBI: Where can people go to purchase Soldier Dogs?

MG: They can go to my website, as well as online and local book stores. There is also an audio book version. In addition, people can go to my website to follow my Facebook page where I am constantly updating photos taken for the book.
A soldier dog gets in a submarine.

PBI: Do you have any tips or suggestions on creating a successful blog?

MG: I know what it’s like to start from scratch and build an audience. There is emptiness and it’s hard. It helps to reach out to other bloggers. Find blogs or articles you like and make meaningful comments and try to connect with it. People are hungry for content – and that will help you get on the map. It’s a lot of work but it eventually pays off.

Top 10 things your veterinarian wants to say

A puppy chews on a shoe.

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

You’ve made the call and the appointment is on the calendar. Fido or Fluffy is going to the vet! Whether your appointment is to help diagnose and treat a potential problem (here’s where pet insurance can come in handy, by the way) or for a routine wellness examination and vaccines, here are 10 things that your veterinarian would really like you to know prior to stepping foot in the clinic:

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1. Use a leash
Even if Fido is the best-behaved dog on the block, there could be a clinic cat on the loose, birds on a perch up front, or other less-well trained dogs present in the waiting room. For your dog’s safety and the safety of the veterinary staff, use a leash when in a veterinary clinic every time.

2. Use a carrier for cats
Cats are particular creatures and for some reason, a veterinary clinic can bring out the worst in even the friendliest and best-behaved cat. If your cat were to get loose in the parking lot and run (this has happened!), you may have a very serious situation on your hands.

3. Please, please don’t bathe your pet immediately before the appointment
Of course you want Rosco looking his best for his check up, but no veterinarian wants to smell like a soggy, wet dog for the rest of the day. If you are going to bathe him, allow time for him to dry off, or if he’ll allow it, use a low setting on a blow dryer to speed up the drying process.

4. Bring samples
If Muffy has been having diarrhea, it may seem gross, but the doctor will likely want to run a sample to see what may be causing the underlying pet health issue. Same goes for urine, or unidentified insects or worms you see on your pet, sometimes even vomit can be helpful! If it isn’t needed, it can always just be thrown away. Use a clean container, such as Tupperware, or a Ziplock baggy.

5. Don’t let you dog urinate right before the exam if there is a possibility labwork might be performed
Often screening labwork will include a urinalysis, so be sure your dog has urine in her bladder beforehand. And, of course, if your pet is being seen for a urinary problem, a urine sample will be needed; don’t let your dog void it out on the clinic lawn!

6. Consider taking pictures or video of the problem
It never fails: limps go away, coughs can’t be conjured and that horrible sneeze will be nowhere in sight the minute you step foot in the vet’s office. Consider using your smart phone to capture the behavior that you are concerned about on video to show the veterinarian.

7. Please warn us if your dog may bite
Veterinarians understand the clinic is a scary place and even sweet dogs and cats may bite out of fear. By letting the veterinarian know beforehand that your dog is anxious, we can change how we approach him or her in the exam room to try and make it a more relaxing veterinarian trip. Likely we’ll try to move slower, talk a little more softly, and avoid making direct eye contact to be less threatening. Worse case scenario, we may opt to muzzle you pet prior to the examination in order to keep everyone safe.

8. Don’t bring other pets ‘along for the ride’
The exam room can be anxiety provoking enough without it being filled with more bodies! Let other pets stay home, or leave them with another family member in the waiting room.

9. Don’t feed your pet if you think there is a chance sedation will be needed
Of course we all know food should be withheld prior to surgeries, but if at all possible, food should be withheld prior to sedated procedures as well. This might include procedure to flush an ear, or stitch a wound.

10. Try to refrain from helping restrain your pet
We understand you feel the need to comfort your pet. I find that pets will often do better if the person most likely to ‘save’ them (you) isn’t hovering.

Using good common sense will go a long way towards making the vet visit comfortable and pleasant for everyone involved! One final word of veterinary wisdom I will leave you with is something every vet I know would like to say. Research cat and dog insurance. This is one of the best things you can do to help protect both the health of your pet and the special bond you have. Pet insurance can cost around $1 a day and makes the best treatments more affordable for pet owners. If you haven’t already, get a free quote from Pets Best Insurance today and learn why they are the “best pet insurance.”

Top six rooms to cat proof

A cat with animal insurance gets stuck in a toilet.

By: Dr. Jane Matheys
Associate Veterinarian
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Cats, especially kittens, can be very curious, and we’ve all heard the saying “Curiosity killed the cat.” There can be many temptations and hidden dangers lurking around your environment that you may be unaware of, so take measures to protect your cat from harm around your house. Even if you’re the most meticulous cat owner, there are still many hidden dangers within your home. This is one of the many reasons I suggest cat insurance to my clients. Here are some tips for cat proofing your home one room at a time.

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It may sound silly, but the best way to begin cat proofing is to get down on your hands and knees and survey each room– similarly as you would to prepare for a toddler. You’ll suddenly notice things from your cat’s point-of-view, and it may help you pinpoint potential hazards that you might not see if you were standing up.

Place potentially-dangerous items like medications, cleaners, laundry supplies and chemicals on high shelves or in cabinets with childproof locks. NEVER give any medications to your cat without first consulting your veterinarian. Over-the-counter products like Tylenol can easily kill cats. Never treat your cat with flea products or dips meant for dogs. These are too strong and could be fatal.

Close toilet lids to prevent kittens from drowning and to keep cats from drinking the water, especially if you use automatic toilet bowl cleaners.

Keep your trash cans covered or stowed away to prevent cats from ingesting things such as moldy items, toxins and chicken bones. Know what food products are toxic to cats and keep foods out of reach.

Keep mousetraps, mouse poison and ant poison away from a cat’s access. Know what a product’s active ingredient is and potential toxicity for cats.

Cats like to nap in warm, dry places. Shut all doors to washing machines, dryers and dishwashers to avoid trapping the cat when you turn on the appliance.

Living Room/Family Room/Bedroom
Cover exposed electrical cords or outlets to prevent burns and electrocution as the result of chewing. Place dangling wires from lamps, TVs, stereos and telephones out of reach. Tie up drapery pulls and cords on window blinds.

Keep toys and games off the floor, especially those that contain small pieces that can be chewed and swallowed by cats. Put away any craft supplies. String, thread, ribbon and the like can be very dangerous for cats if swallowed. Foreign body ingestion is among one of the most frequent and expensive cat ailments to treat. Because there can be so many hazards, it’s always a good idea to have a pet insurance policy for your kitty. You can compare pet insurance online and decide which plan will be the best for your budget and your cat’s needs.

Be mindful of plants that you bring into your home. Lilies are especially toxic to cats. Speak with your veterinarian to find out which plants are toxic to your cat.

Use candles with great caution around cats, particularly if the candle is on top of a tablecloth. A cat may attempt to climb up the tablecloth and bring the burning candles to the floor, creating a fire hazard for the whole household.

Check your window screens. You may be surprised to find that some screens can pop out with almost no effort. A cat that goes out of an upstairs window could be injured in the resulting fall.

Keep any medications, lotions, or cosmetics off accessible surfaces like bedside tables.

Wipe up spills of anti-freeze, gasoline, oil, fertilizers or insecticides immediately. Anti-freeze in particular may be tempting to a cat because it is sweet-tasting, but even the smallest amount can be lethal. Keep these products in a locked shed or at least off the floor.

Thump on your car hood before starting your car in cold weather. Many a cat has suffered fatal injuries from sleeping in a warm engine compartment.

Fertilizers should be used carefully and sparingly. Keep cats out of the yard for at least 24 hours after any kind of chemical treatment. Do not use insecticides or lawn products around your cat before knowing their potential for toxicity.

Keep your yard and garage free of sharp tools and objects.

Take some time this weekend to cat-proof your home. It’s a simple and inexpensive way to keep your furry family member safe and happy. Despite your best efforts and vigilant care, though, accidents may still happen. That’s why it’s always a good idea to research companies that provide cat and dog insurance.

Aching joints may make kitty grumpy

A cat with pet insurance poses for a photo.

By: Dr. Jane Matheys
Associate Veterinarian
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Pets are living much longer lives these days due to the advances in veterinary medicine– this is one of the many reasons that dog and cat insurance have become so popular.

With increased life spans, however, come chronic illnesses like osteoarthritis (OA). Cats are graceful, agile and athletic creatures, but as they age, their joints, ligaments and bones are prone to wear and tear just like in people. OA is a commonly recognized disease in dogs, but it is only recently that veterinarians have begun to appreciate what the true incidence of OA might be in cats. It appears to be much more common than previously thought, and could be a major cause of discomfort, especially in cats over ten years of age.

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Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints where normal cartilage that cushions the joint is worn away, exposing the bone and resulting in pain as adjacent bones rub against each other. It can cause decreased joint movement and even formation of bone spurs and other changes around the joint.

Clinical signs of OA in cats include weight loss, loss of appetite, depression, change in general attitude, poor grooming habits, defecation or urination outside the litter box, and inability to jump on and off objects. Lameness is relatively uncommon because joints on both sides of the body are frequently affected, allowing cats to compensate and appear to be walking normally.

The hips and elbows are the most frequently affected joints in cats. The most common complaint that I hear is that the cat is having a harder time jumping up onto the bed or sofa and takes the stairs more slowly or one step at a time. The cat may also seem a little stiff in the joints, especially after just getting up from sleeping.

Diagnosis of OA in cats is difficult even for the experienced veterinarian, and the disease remains largely underdiagnosed and undertreated. The problem is that cats are masters at hiding discomfort and do not readily demonstrate obvious signs of pain. Cats generally dislike being physically handled and manipulated during examinations, so it can be very difficult to determine if a cat is pulling its leg away because of pain or simply because it doesn’t want to be touched. Cats are also famous for hunkering down on the exam table and remaining immobile and reluctant to walk around the exam room for observation of gait.

Radiographs (x-rays) can be used to try to diagnose OA in cats, but they can be misleading. In many cases, cats with OA have no radiographic changes indicative of the disease. Studies have shown that if radiographic changes are present, they may not correspond to the degree of OA in the joints. Painful joints do not necessarily correspond to radiographic findings. Due to these obstacles in diagnosing OA in cats, veterinarians will often simply rely on the cat owner’s observation that their pet is not moving around like it used to. Veterinarians will often make the diagnosis of OA by treating the cat for the disease and seeing if the owners note any improvement in the cat’s quality of life.

Weight management is the first thing that must be addressed in cats with OA. Obesity does not cause OA, but it will exacerbate the condition. Consult with your veterinarian to design a safe cat weight loss program. It may be the most important thing you do for your cat with OA.

Steroids have been used to treat OA in the past, but they’ve fallen out of favor due to side effects. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) have been life savers for dogs with OA, but, unfortunately, repeated doses of NSAIDS can cause renal failure in some cats. However, for cats with severe OA, NSAIDS may be the best treatment choice. Be sure to discuss the risks and benefits with your veterinarian. Because diagnostic testing can be expensive, I always recommend my clients purchase the best pet insurance they can while their kitties are still young.

Lower dosages should be used, and labwork should be done prior to starting NSAIDS as well as during treatment. Remember to never give your cat any human medications like pain relievers without consulting your veterinarian first.

Nutraceuticals containing glucosamine and chondroitin may be helpful in early or mild cases, but it is important to choose high quality products. The brand product Cosequin* is generally my first line of defense for cats with OA. I’ve also had good results with an injectable form of a similar product called Adequan. Other drugs being used include buprenorphine, tramadol and gabapentin. Acupuncture can be extremely effective for OA and is becoming more widely accepted.

Adjustments to the home environment are vital to improving the cat’s quality of life and can be just as important as medications. Provide soft beds in easily accessible, warm, sunny spots. Place litter boxes and food and water dishes where your cat can reach them easily. You may need to find litter boxes with lower sides. Provide steps or ramps up to higher sites like beds or sofas. Many cats with OA have difficulty grooming, so gently brushing the fur and cleaning the rectal area may be necessary. Work with your veterinarian to design a specific management program to meet your cat’s needs.

*Pets Best Insurance policies do not cover Cosequin.

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