Jack’s View: Keeping your pets’ ears squeaky clean

Two dogs with dog insurance prepares enjoy the sunshine outside.

By Dr. Jack Stephens
Pets Best Insurance President and Founder

Most pets don’t require much, if any, ear cleaning as they are usually able to keep their ears clean naturally. Pets that are routinely groomed will also have their ears cleaned by groomers as a part of the grooming process.

Floppy-eared pets, like Cocker Spaniels, will likely have more ear infections and problems than dogs with erect ears. It’s thought that “pinna” or floppy ears cover the ear canal which allows moisture and bacteria to accumulate. The lack of air flow and the inability to shake out normal accumulations of wax may be why these types of dogs typically have more problems.

On a routine basis, usually when you bathe your dog or cat, you should monitor pet health by inspecting your pet’s ears as far as you can see inside the ear opening. Take a cotton ball and wipe the ear clear of wax and dirt that has accumulated. You can use alcohol on the cotton swab to help in the cleaning process but be sure not to use alcohol if there are any open sores, wounds or infection, as this will cause a painful stinging sensation to your pet. Also, a mixture of boric acid or other commercially available ear cleaner can be used on the cotton ball. For dogs with a history of infections, your veterinarian can provide you better cleansers to use on a routine basis as a preventative measure.

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Look for Foxtails (grass awns) around or in the ear after walks. Foxtails are those nasty things that get stuck in your socks when you walk through vacant fields with unkempt grass. Foxtails are especially prone to get into dogs ears and occasionally cats. Once in the ear canal, Foxtails cause ear infections and can only be removed by a veterinarian after sedating or anesthetizing the animal. Symptoms are usually sudden and the animal will generally repeatedly shake their head to try and rid themselves of the irritant.

Foxtails can also get lodged in the nose, between the toes and even the skin, causing infection and often resulting in removal surgery. These are a huge problem for pets in the summer months, causing many emergency visits. After your pet has been in a field where there are grass awns, give them a good brushing and inspection, especially near the ears. Early detection and removal may prevent an infection from forming.

If your pet’s ears have an accumulation of crusty reddish brown material in the ear, have a bad odor or there is repeated shaking of the head (ear flopping) you need to have their ears examined by your veterinarian. Unlike human ears, dogs and cats ear are vertical downward and then have a bend to a horizontal section leading to the ear drum. This anatomy makes dogs and cats much more prone to ear infections than humans. In fact ear infections (otitis externa) are one of the most common causes for a veterinary visit. Only dermatitis has a higher incidence of claims for pet health insurance than ear infections.

It is important to desensitize your pet to ear, foot and mouth inspections by starting your pet off at an early age with gentle manual handling. Open your pet’s mouth, pull the ear flap back on floppy eared pets and place your finger in the outer ear area and then one at a time, hold each of your pet’s feet, while inspecting between the toes. After each inspection, provide your pet with a treat and praise. Do so at least weekly with older pets and more often with pets less than six months old. The more you handle your pet at an early age, the better they will allow inspection by you or your veterinarian when needed.

If conditioned with positive reinforcement (treats) they will also experience less stress and better tolerance when treatments are needed. This can save you money by them allowing you to inspect at home and perhaps avoiding the need for sedation or anesthesia when a problem develops. Prevention, by inspecting your pet for Foxtails in the summer and regular monthly cleaning of the outer ear (our ear lobe) may go a long way to avoiding a costly veterinary visit.

Learn more about pet health or dog or cat insurance today!

Eight tips for a relaxing vet trip

A dog with pet insurance prepares to go to the vet.

By: Liam Crowe
Bark Busters CEO
Guest Blogger
For Pets Best Insurance

In a veterinary clinic, your dog can easily become overwhelmed by new smells, barking dogs, meowing cats and strange voices. Vet staff may also handle him in unfamiliar ways that can make him more stressed.

Before you take your dog to the vet, prepare him for what is in store by first looking into pet insurance and then help him feel more relaxed by following these tips:

1. Visit your clinic before your actual appointment. Introduce him to the smells and sounds of the clinic when it’s quiet so it won’t be entirely new to him when you go for an exam. Let him meet staff members, receive treats, even get on a scale; allow him to sniff the exam room. A few visits like this will help him to associate a positive experience with the vet clinic.

2. When things are quiet and calm at home, you can begin to help your dog become comfortable with being handled for a medical exam. Gently pat him on different areas of his body while he is relaxed, imitating how the vet will examine your dog. Try touching around his eyes and ears, gently holding his feet and toes, lifting his lips and touching his teeth, gently moving his legs, etc.

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3. Take some practice drives to somewhere fun, so your dog learns that a ride in the car can end in a positive experience. Some dogs never go anywhere in the car other than the vet and may associate it with a stress, which may make him tense as soon as you leave the house.

4. A tired dog is more relaxed and easier to manage—be sure to wear your dog out with exercise before his exam!

5. Remember that your dog looks to you for cues on how to act and react—stay calm and unconcerned so he knows there’s nothing to worry about.

6. In the waiting area, keep your pet on a short leash and maintain control of him. If he shows any signs of aggression, it is best to have him muzzled for everyone’s safety.

7. Take your small dog into the clinic in his carrier. He’ll feel more comfortable with his blanket, toys, etc., in a familiar place.

8. Reward your dog after the exam by taking him to play somewhere fun!

Your veterinarian and clinic staff will also appreciate you taking the time to help your dog be as calm and comfortable during his visit as possible.

For more information about pet health or to learn more about dog and cat insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

How to teach your dog to bark on cue

A dog learns to bark on cue.

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

Teaching your dog to bark on cue is a fun trick. My favorite way to teach this is by using the dogs’ ability to mimic behaviors.

Dogs are very observant and learn a lot by watching other dogs, so teaching your dog to watch and mimic behaviors is a useful training method.

I like to use a clicker to train this behavior. The clicker will allow you to mark the behavior quickly, as it happens, and signal to your dog that he is doing what you ask. Remember to always follow your click with a treat.

First have plenty of treats, sit in front of your dog and say “speak” or what ever cue word you choose. Then make a quiet barking noise. Wait a few seconds. If your dog makes any attempt to bark, even a quiet whimper, mark the behavior by clicking as soon as he moves his mouth or makes a sound, and give him a treat.

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You will repeat this several times until your dog gives you a bark each time you ask him to bark. At this point try just saying his cue word “speak” and see if he remembers to bark without you making the quiet bark.

Don’t worry if your dog doesn’t seem to get it at first, be patient and break the training into several short training sessions. Your dog may seem a little confused to hear you making barking noises, but soon he should join in to the fun.

I like to use this behavior to help people who wish to reduce their dogs excessive barking. If you teach your dog to bark as a specific behavior, put the behavior on cue, the dog will tend to only bark when you ask him.

For more information about dog health and behavior, or to learn more about pet health insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Spring Danger: Symptoms of Lily Poisoning

An Easter Lily, which can be bad for pet health, is beautiful but can be deadly to cats.

Dr. Jane Matheys, is a veterinarian and guest blogger for petinsurance provider, Pets Best.

With Easter quickly approaching, it’s a good time to remind pet owners that Easter lilies can be very bad for pet health, as they are highly toxic to cats. But even a single bite or nibble of a flower or leaf of the plant can be deadly for your cat.

Easter lily poisoning in cats has only been recognized as a problem by the National Animal Poison Control Center for about 20 years. Easter lilies are part of the scientific Lilium plant family that contains around 100 potentially toxic species and many hybrids. The more common Lily species that are known to be toxic to cats are the Easter lily, Tiger lily, Asiatic lily and Stargazer lily.

Easter lilies are very popular around Easter holidays, but most pet owners know little about the dangers these plants pose to cats. Because cats can experience accidents or illnesses at any time, even if they live indoors year round, it’s a good idea to have cat insurance.

Cats can suffer from kidney failure after ingesting even tiny amounts of the plant and flower or drinking water from the plant. All parts of the plant are toxic, especially the flower. Even the pollen is toxic and the large amount of pollen can get everywhere, including on a cat’s coat or paws where it can be ingested while grooming.

Cats are very sensitive to poisoning by Easter lilies. Pet health is in danger, as the kidney is the primary organ affected, and cats can die of kidney failure 3-5 days after exposure. Initial symptoms usually develop 6-12 hours after ingestion and include vomiting, salivation, anorexia and depression. Kidney failure typically follows, and the signs are increased thirst and urination, dehydration and lethargy. Toxins build up in the blood as the kidney failure rapidly progresses, and there may be a recurrence of vomiting, decreased urine production or even absence of urine production, weakness, recumbency, hypothermia and death.

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If you suspect that your cat has ingested any part of the Easter lily plant, pollen or water, consult your veterinarian immediately or take your cat to an emergency veterinary hospital without delay. The sooner your cat sees a veterinarian, the better. And having a pet health insurance plan in place, may help make tough pet health financial decisions easier. Fast treatment is imperative!

Diagnosis of Easter lily toxicity is usually made from the history provided by the owner along with blood and urine tests. Treatment is supportive and includes IV fluid therapy and protection of the gastrointestinal tract. Cats will need to be hospitalized for several days which can be costly. Consider purchasing cat insurance while your cat is young and healthy to help cover the expenses of these life- threatening emergencies.

Eeeeewwww, fleas!

A dog scratches at a flea.

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

Flea prevention products are widespread and effective, yet flea infestations are still a common veterinary complaint. Fleas are more than just a nuisance; they can be harmful to pet health and your family as well. If just thinking or reading about the creepy, crawly parasites make you itchy, then read on for important information about how to prevent fleas, and why prevention is so important for your family and your pet.

There are more than 1,900 species of fleas worldwide, luckily we really only need to be concerned about one of them, Ctenocephalides felis. This is the flea that infests our pets 99.9% of the time. For such a small creature, the flea can really cause big problems.

So, what kind of problems can fleas cause pets and people?
-A heavy flea burden can be lethal to a kitten or puppy, sucking so much blood that the animal can become fatally anemic and even die.
-Flea allergic dermatitis can occur in an animal that is only bitten once or twice by a flea, without a heavy flea load. The animal is actually allergic to the flea bites, causing intense itching and sometimes self mutilation.
-Tapeworm infection. While tapeworms are not in themselves lethal, they are unappealing and not healthy for the pet.
-Feline Infectious Anemia is a potentially life threatening disease caused by a blood parasite spread by fleas.
-The plague is still around in modern day medicine and is transmitted to dogs and cats by ingestion of infected rodents or small prey or by bites from infected fleas. The plague can be transmitted to humans in the same manner.
Cat Scratch fever or Bartonellosis is a potentially debilitating human disease. People contract this disease by cat bites and scratches from a cat that is infested with fleas carrying the bartonella bacteria.

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Some common flea myths
Myth: “My pet lives indoors, and therefore can’t have fleas….”
Fact: Fleas like to live indoors. If your pet goes outside to potty, they can easily bring fleas back into your home, where the fleas can thrive and reproduce.

Myth: “I would know if my pet had fleas because I would have bites too…”
Fact: Fleas don’t prefer human blood and won’t use it unless there is no other options or if the flea population is high.

Myth: “I would know if my pet had fleas, because I would see them…”
Fact: Animals can be very good at keeping themselves clean and can lick them away. You may never actually see the fleas and may only see the classic skin disease that accompanies a flea infestation.

Ok, I’m convinced, how can I prevent them?
It is important to be familiar with the flea lifecycle in order to break that cycle. There are four stages: the egg, larvae, pupae and the adult flea. Targeting more than one life stage will be a more effective way to eradicate fleas in your home.

Not all flea control products are created equal, and not all products work the same. For example, decades ago flea control consisted of flea collars, shampoos, powders and sprays which are generally effective at killing fleas, but don’t prevent fleas from reproducing. The newer generations of flea control products also sterilize the fleas, so they can’t reproduce. These newer products also have the ability to last for a month at a time and some have additional ingredients that can act as dewormers and ward off other parasites such as ticks and heartworms.

Most products should be obtained by a licensed veterinarian, although some are available over the counter. There are a whole slew of products available and each work slightly differently. Some can be dangerous to puppies and kittens, some are toxic to cats, some are not safe in pregnant or nursing dogs. Your veterinarian can help you decide which flea control program is right for you and safe for your pet.

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