Service Dogs: All work, some play and belly rubs

A dog with dog insurance helps his owner.

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

For centuries humans and canine companions have gone together like peanut butter and jelly. In some instances, the human-animal pairing goes even deeper than companionship. Service or assistance dogs tend to have a special bond with their owners, as their relationship transcends friendship and is also based on mutual reliance. There are stories throughout history of assistance dogs, owing in part to their loving nature and readiness to serve the people they love.

People with disabilities can directly benefit from the independence and freedom hard-working assistance dogs provide by performing daily tasks. Assistance dog training courses are rigorous, with much research and experience having gone into the programs, allowing today’s certified assistance dogs to be at the highest level of reliability and safety.

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The term “service dog” can include dogs that work in police and military forces, whereas assistance dog specifically refers to those that help people with disabilities. The first recognized assistance dog job was likely as a seeing-eye dog, meant to help assist the visually impaired, but there are many other instances where dogs have been able to aid the disabled.

We all get irritated when our dogs bark at the doorbell, but hearing service dogs get a ‘free pass’ for this behavior! Hearing assistance dogs will alert their owner when the phone rings, or somebody is at the door, or in more serious situations, like if a fire alarm goes off. This allows their owner the independence to live on their own despite their disability.

Seizure response dogs are especially interesting, as some have developed the ability to sense an impending seizure and alert its owner to take precautions, such as sitting down or summoning help. It is unclear exactly how dogs can sense this, and the behavior is usually report to occur spontaneously. There has been limited success in ‘training’ dogs to recognize their owner is going to have a seizure, which suggests not every dog has this ability. Seizure response dogs must be completely perfectly suited to their job, and it is imperative they can maintain self-control in any situation the owner finds themselves in.

Medical response dogs have been trained to recognize certain medical states, such as dangerously low blood sugar in a diabetic person, at which point they can alert that owner to seek help. In addition, the medical response dog may be able to fetch medications, call for help, provide stability for mobility or carry necessary medical equipment, such as oxygen tanks.

Psychiatric assistance dogs are given all the rights and protections afforded to service dogs with more traditional jobs. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.” Just as with all other traditional assistance dogs, psychiatric service dog is individually trained to perform tasks that lessen their owner’s disability. This might include reminding the owner to take medication, the ability to assess the surrounding in the event of hallucinations or paranoia, interrupting harmful or repetitive behaviors, providing comfort in stressful situations or retrieving objects.

The traditional service dog has been a Labrador or golden retriever, but any breed can become a service dog, as canines are typically easy to train. Typically puppies are placed in approved foster homes until they are ready for advanced training. The foster homes will teach basic obedience, manners, socialization, and desensitization toward all types of different situations and people. The dog’s temperament is assessed during this time as well. If the dog doesn’t ‘make the cut,’ they will be adopted out as a pet. Advanced training is typically done by professional trainers with the program geared towards a specific disability the dog is suited to.

Service dog work requires a special canine that is able to channel their enthusiasm and love for helping out into a productive manner. The mental capacity and intelligence displayed by service animals is astounding and the love and selflessness they possess while providing such a great service is inspirational.

For more information about dog health or behavior, or to learn how to protect your dog with pet health insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Dog Seizures: When to Worry, When to Wait

Help! My dog is on medication but continues to have seizures. What should I do?

The goal of anti-convulsants in seizure control isn’t to make pets never have a seizure again. Although this would be nice, it’s not realistic. However, the number, duration and severity of seizures should lessen with medication. If your pet continues to have breakthrough seizures in an amount that concerns you, request a simple blood test to ensure the level of medication is therapeutic in your pet.

If the level is therapeutic and your pet continues to seize, ask your veterinarian about adding another medication like bromide or phenobarbitol, depending on which one your pet currently takes – or possibly consulting with a specialist. – Dr. Fiona Caldwell, DVM

I can’t tell if my dog is having a seizure or trembling for another reason.

Shaking and trembling may be caused by reasons unrelated to epilepsy in dogs. Learn how to tell the difference in 6 Reasons Your Dog May Shiver by Dr. Marc.

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Video Transcript: 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.

This question comes from Janet, who writes, “My dog had a seizure. I took her to my veterinarian and the veterinarian wants to wait to put her on seizure medication. Is this okay?”

I’m sorry your dog had a seizure. This can be a really frightening and scary thing to watch. Seizures that are caused by epilepsy happen in less than 1% of dogs. Typically, what you’ll see is the pet losing consciousness and paddling their legs or jerking or convulsing. It can last for a number of minutes.

Definitely make an appointment with your veterinarian if you ever suspect that your dog has had a seizure. You were right to go to your veterinarian. Typically, the vet is going to want to run some type of lab work or some other diagnostic testing to make sure there isn’t a different underlying problem causing the seizure.

As a rule of thumb, dogs less than a year of age that have a seizure are typically suffering from some kind of infectious problem, either viral or bacterial. In dogs from about one to six or seven years of age, typically the most common cause is epilepsy. Dogs older than seven that come up with seizures, unfortunately this is often related to something outside of epilepsy, scary things like a brain tumor, liver disease or some other problem.

Depending on how old your dog is and what the seizure was like, it actually might be okay for you to wait to put this dog on seizure medication. There is a decent percentage of the canine population that will have one seizure and then never have another one. Your veterinarian probably doesn’t want to put your dog on seizure medication if he or she is one of those dogs who never has another seizure.

A reason that I would put a dog on medication would be if they have seizures that last more than three to five minutes. Try to take a look at your watch or at the time on your phone so that you can know exactly how long it was. This is going to help your veterinarian to better treat your dog. If a seizure lasts more than three to five minutes, this is an emergency and you should bring your dog to a veterinarian. Their body temperature can rise quickly and can be a problem. Especially as pets age, seizures that last that long can cause problems with their brain and cause brain damage.

If it’s a quick seizure, 20 or 30 seconds to a minute, and your dog pops out of it, it isn’t necessarily an emergency but you should probably schedule an appointment with a veterinarian if they’ve never had a seizure before. If your dog continues to have seizures and they’re getting to the point where they’re once a month or two to three times a month, at some point the frequency is going to warrant medication. Talk with your veterinarian. There are seizure medications that typically work pretty well for dogs and can help control their seizures.

If you guys have questions for me, feel free to post them at Pets Best Facebook page.

Rock and a hard place: Kitty bladder stones

A cat with cat insurance is lost. Dr. Jane Matheys, is a veterinarian blogger for cat health insurance provider, Pets Best.

Urinary stones (also called uroliths) are rock-like deposits of minerals and organic material. Uroliths can form anywhere in the urinary tract, but they are most commonly found in the bladder. Stones vary in size and quantity ranging from a single, small stone to multiple little pebbles or even a large stone over an inch in diameter. Because these can occur in any cat, whether it lives indoors or out, it’s a good idea to consider cat insurance early on. Pet insurance may help pet owners more easily pay for unexpected pet ailments. Different conditions contribute to the formation of different types of bladder stones. The two most common types in cats are struvite (magnesium ammonium phosphate) and calcium oxalate. Struvite stones are becoming less common as most commercial diets are now formulated to reduce the likelihood of struvite formation by limiting the amount of dietary magnesium and promoting production of more acidic urine.

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Unfortunately, the percentage of stones composed of calcium oxalate has increased since these stones are more likely to form in urine with a lower pH (acidic). High calcium levels in the blood can also play a factor in some cases of calcium oxalate formation. Cats can develop bladder stones at any age. Females seem to be at a higher risk of struvite stones, and males are a bit more affected by oxalate stones. The risk of oxalate stones increases with age, and they seem to occur more frequently in Burmese, Himalayan and Persian breeds. If you think your cat may have bladder stones here are four things you should do:

1. Check for Symptoms First, and most importantly, if your cat is displaying symptoms you will want to take her to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Cats with bladder stones usually show symptoms typical of other lower urinary tract diseases: bloody urine (hematuria), painful urination, straining to urinate, frequent urination, urination outside the litterbox in unusual places, urine spraying and licking the genital area more frequently. Some cats with bladder stones may show no signs at all.

2. Act Fast Occasionally, a small bladder stone will get stuck in the urethra as it tries to pass out of the bladder causing a total blockage with little to no urine production at all. Urinary obstruction is a true medical emergency, and any cat suspected of suffering from this condition must receive immediate vet attention. If the obstruction is not relieved, the cat will eventually lose consciousness and die. A cat experiencing urethral obstruction shows the same symptoms listed above, but as time passes, an obstructed cat typically becomes much more distressed-often crying out in pain. If bladder stones are big enough, the veterinarian may be able to feel them through the cat’s abdominal wall. However, they are most commonly diagnosed with x-rays, ultrasound, urinalysis and urine culture. The treatment of a cat with urinary stones depends on the mineral composition of the stones. For cats with struvite stones, a special stone-dissolving diet may be prescribed to eliminate the stones. If the diet fails to dissolve the stone, then surgical removal may be necessary. Calcium oxalate stones cannot be dissolved with special diets, and most often surgery is required.

3. Consider your Options Treatment of urethral obstruction usually involves catheterization under anesthesia to try to flush the stone out of the urethra. Surgery is sometimes necessary in addition to hospitalization and supportive care. This can be an expensive proposition, so it is wise to purchase pet health insurance to help cover the costs of unexpected medical emergencies. Cats that have had a bladder stone are at risk for recurrences of this pet health issue. However, dietary management can help a great deal to prevent future formation of both struvite and oxalate stones. In addition, canned diets do a better job of preventing recurrences because they encourage more water consumption than dry diets.

4. Provide After Care After your cat has been diagnosed with bladder stones, you will want to keep a close eye on her, since they can reoccur. More frequent vet check ups may be necessary. Speak with your veterinarian to determine what the best after care will be for your pet.

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The three best ways to ID your pet

A dog with dog insurance is lost.

By Chryssa Rich
For Pets Best Insurance

This week is National Pet ID Week, which is a great time to evaluate the best ways to keep your pet safe with identification! Nearly every cat or dog is capable of wandering off or running away when the mood strikes, so here are three best tips from Pets Best Insurance to ID your pet.

1. Update Your Pet’s Name Tag
Take a look at your pet’s name tag right now – there’s a good chance it’s outdated, worn down or maybe even missing completely. When we move or change cell phone numbers, pet tags often don’t get updated. And the surfaces get dinged up pretty quickly. Just a few months of scratching and playing can make the details on your pet’s name tag unreadable.

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When choosing a new tag, look for a high-quality style that includes a thin protective layer for the engraved surfaces. On most machines, the more info you engrave, the tinier the letters. So keep yours simple and easy to read by including only your pet’s name and your cell phone number.

2. Consider a Service Like Help 4 Pets
In addition to a standard name tag, services like Help 4 Pets can reconnect you and your pet in the event of an emergency. They provide a tag with an 800 number and a special code for your pet. If someone finds your pet, they can simply call the number, provide the code and get help 24 hours a day. Services like these are nice in addition to regular name tags because you can have more info than just name and phone number on record. Help 4 Pets even has a special offer for Pets Best Insurance readers.

3. Microchip Your Pet and Keep Your Info Current
Some pet owners still underestimate the power of a microchip ID. True, you can’t see it, you can’t read a phone number on it and you can’t even tell if a pet has one. But microchips are an absolute must for every cat and dog.

Think of how easy it is for your dog to back out of his collar when he doesn’t want to do something. And collars break or come apart – every pet owner has seen that happen. Cat collars are even less reliable, because they’re designed to break away if kitty gets tangled on a branch or a fence.

It has become quite standard for vet hospitals and shelters to scan pets thoroughly and check for microchips when they’re brought in as “strays”. If your pet has lost his collar, a microchip is possibly the only way you can be reunited before he is adopted to someone else, or worse.

Microchips are also becoming more affordable every day. Many shelters include them in their adoption fees, and non-profits and vet hospitals sometimes run specials as low as $12 per microchip, depending on where you live.

If your pet is microchipped, great! Do you remember the name of the company that keeps your information? Track it down and call or go online to make sure it’s current.

With these three layers of protection, you can feel better knowing that even in a worst-case scenario, the odds are good you’ll be reunited with your pet.

Learn how you can protect your pet with dog or cat insurance today!

Does your cat have acne?

A cat with cat insurance eats from a bowl.

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

One of my cats was outside under my supervision the other day enjoying the sunshine and mild spring temperatures. After he came in, I saw a couple of little black specks on his chin. My first thought was that he had chin acne that I hadn’t noticed before, but I was relieved to find that it was just a little dirt from rolling around on the dusty sidewalk.

Feline acne is a common skin condition seen in cats and can affect cats of any age, breed or sex. It is characterized by tiny black plugs in the skin on a cat’s lips and chin called blackheads or comedones. In many instances there are only a small number of blackheads which are benign and go unnoticed by the owner. However, some cases can evolve into serious, deep, painful infections, so chin acne should never be ignored. Having pet health insurance may help make the best health care more affordable for your cat, as it’s important to take your cat to the veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment if you suspect feline acne.

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A blackhead forms when excess keratin (a protein which is the main component of hair) collects in a hair follicle. Associated sebaceous glands in the skin also produce an oily substance called sebum. Over time, a sufficient collection of keratin and sebaceous debris can plug the hair follicle causing a blackhead. If the plug traps bacteria or yeast down in the hair follicle, secondary infection may result which leads to inflammation (folliculitis) and pus-filled boils under the skin called furuncles. In these severe cases, cats can get very swollen chins with draining pustules that are tender and painful.

The specific cause or causes of feline acne are poorly understood, but there are several possible explanations. These include dirty, bacteria-laden food and water bowls, allergies, genetic predisposition, poor grooming habits, defects in keratin production and overproduction of sebum.

Plastic food bowls were once considered a possible culprit for causing feline acne. That idea has since been disputed, and it’s recommended that owners keep food bowls spotlessly clean regardless of what they’re made of. It was also thought that cats with sloppy eating habits were at higher risk of acne, but even the most fastidious cats get it. In addition, it has been suggested that stress can cause feline acne. If that was true, you would expect to see a cat that’s showing many other problems associated with chronic, intense stress, but that’s not the case.

Feline acne is most often diagnosed by simple veterinary examination. In severe or chronic, non-responsive cases, your doctor will want to rule out other possibilities such as mites, fungal and bacterial infections. Testing methods include fungal and bacterial cultures, skin scrapings and skin biopsies.

Treatment of feline acne depends on the severity of the condition. In very mild cases with only a few blackheads, sometimes “benign neglect” with simple monitoring is the best option. When blackheads are more numerous, emphasis is usually placed on good hygiene. Gentle cleansing with mild, antibacterial soap or special shampoos can help to remove blackheads and other debris. Topical application of prescription products or over-the-counter products for human use can be very effective.

Treatment of severe acne can be much more complicated. Your veterinarian may clip the fur around your cat’s chin to enable deep cleaning of the affected area and to allow any topical medications to be better absorbed. Oral antibiotics or oral antifungal medications may be used depending on the source of the infection. Small doses of steroids may also be used for severe inflammation. Always consult your veterinarian if you suspect feline acne, and never treat your cat at home with an anti-acne treatment designed for human use.

Learn more about cat health, behavior and cat or dog insurance today!

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