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The Fourth of July can be stressful for pets

Posted on: July 1st, 2011 by

A dog with pet health insurance holds an American flag in his teeth.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
For Pets Best Insurance

The Fourth of July is always a much anticipated time of year for celebrating. Time with families, friends and fireworks brings happiness to many, but what about our pets? The sounds and sights of pyrotechnics are exciting to us, but they can also affect pet health and be very distressing for pets that have anxiety. There are some things you can do to help make this holiday fun for everyone.

Did you know that many pets go missing on July 4th? Animal control officers and shelters often see an increase in lost animals during this time. Extreme anxiety from firework noise can trigger an intense need to ‘escape.’ Pets can occasionally harm themselves and certainly can be destructive to your property during episodes of fear. Frightened pets have been reported to jump through windows, scale fences, tear though kennels, or chew their skin during fearful times. Because pets can harm themselves if they become scared, it’s a good idea to have pet health insurance for your pet. Pet insurance can often help diminish vet bills for unexpected illnesses and accidents.

If you have pets, even if they aren’t currently afraid of fireworks, there are some things you should do to keep them safe. Leaving a pet alone outside while you go off to see the fireworks display is likely a bad idea, especially if they are anxious. The noise will be louder outside, and escape will be easier. Always have identification on your pet. Microchipping is a good idea, as well as having a secure collar with your name and phone number on it.

Give your pet a calm, dark, and safe environment during the scariest times. If your pet is already comfortable in a crate, this can be a very helpful tool. Do not attempt to introduce crating to a pet that is anxious and has never been confined. This should be done much before the scary event. Turn on ambient noise, such as radios or the television to create background noise in order to drown out firework booms.

While your presence may be soothing and comforting to your pet, excessive coddling and attention may positively reinforce their negative behavior. In other words, excessive attention you lavish on your pet during scary times may have the opposite effect of encouraging the exact behavior you are wishing to avoid. Never punish your dog for being fearful, this will only make the situation worse.

The most anxious dogs may benefit from veterinary prescribed anti-anxiety medication. Medication that aims to reduce anxiety is typically more helpful than true sedatives, which sedate, but don’t relieve anxiety. While there are some over-the-counter remedies, such as Rescue Remedy, a prescription medication will likely be more appropriate for the most fearful animals. Some pet insurance companies even offer limited coverage for behavioral issues and medications.

An “Anxiety Wrap” or “Thunder Jacket” is a product you can purchase to help with noise phobias. It works by applying pressure on the dog’s body to divert attention away from the scary stimulus. It is a similar technique to that used to calm autistic children.

After the Fourth of July is over, or before it comes around, your fearful pet might benefit from desensitization and behavioral modification. For example, you might play a recording of firework noise, very softly at first, while giving a treat, or doing some other activity the dog likes. Slowly over many sessions increase the volume of the noise. It is important not to go too fast; try to end on a ‘good note’ before starting the next session. If you move too quickly and the dog becomes fearful, you’ll have to start over.

As always, in extreme cases, consulting with your veterinarian or a behaviorist is a good idea. If everybody feels safe, then you are more likely to be able to enjoy the festivities and take part in celebrating one of the best summer holidays!

Tips to keep that hot dog safe this summer

Posted on: June 30th, 2011 by

A dog with dog insurance goes for a swim.

Summer is a time of fun in the sun for many pets and their owners. However, it can also present significant risks for pets, with insect bites, sunburn, and accidental injury far more common during the summer months than during the rest of the year. Taking steps to protect your pet before you head out to enjoy the great outdoors can save you and your pet a trip to the veterinary office and ensure that you have a safe and happy summer vacation. But because accidents and illnesses can occur at any time, it’s also a good idea to have pet insurance.

Bug Bites and Poisonous Plants
Most insect bites are not serious and can be treated with cuddles and a warm dose of affection. However, heartworm prevention is very important as just one mosquito bite can eventually develop into the deadly disease. Also, if significant swelling or disorientation occurs after time outdoors, a trip to the veterinarian’s office may be required.

It is important to remember that just because something naturally grows outdoors doesn’t mean it isn’t toxic. Mushrooms can cause rapid illness, shock and even death if not treated promptly. Author Catherine Mann of Ft. Walton Beach, Florida learned this the hard way when a puppy she was fostering ate a mushroom he found under some bushes in her backyard. Catherine tried to get the mushroom out of the puppy’s mouth but the puppy, and one of her older dogs, both started vomiting.

“My son and I raced both dogs to the vet ER,” wrote Catherine. “My dog and the puppy had to receive charcoal treatments.”

Beep Beep
Car safety is a major issue when owners and their pets are out and about. Pet health care experts advise that maintaining good leash habits is crucial, especially when your dog is excited about exploring the great outdoors. Dogs can easily be overwhelmed by unfamiliar situations and may run away or break free of their leash to chase other animals or simply to investigate an interesting sight, sound or smell they have discovered. It is wise to invest in pet health insurance, as well as keep a close eye and a firm grip on your dog whenever you are around busy traffic areas.

Hot Dog
In hot, sunny weather dogs can easily overheat and even be sunburned with prolonged exposure. Most pet care professionals recommend keeping dogs inside from 10 AM to 3 PM when the sun’s rays are most direct. Ensuring that dogs have sufficient water and a cool place during the hottest part of the day can help protect them against heat exhaustion. You should also never leave your dog unattended in the car during hot weather even with open windows, as they can quickly overheat and die in the enclosed environment.

Purchasing and maintaining pet health insurance coverage for your pet is one of the most effective ways to protect his or her health in the event of an injury or illness. In general, the pet insurance cost is low compared to the services it can cover and the peace of mind it can provide for owners. Pet lovers typically view the initial pet insurance cost as an investment in their future happiness and the health of their beloved animal companions, especially during what should be the happy, carefree months of summer.

Shedding Labradoodle and Strange Lump in Dog’s Mouth

Posted on: June 29th, 2011 by

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

This one comes from Marilyn. She writes, “Our Labradoodle is shedding hair by the handful. We were told that they don’t shed. He seems more Lab than Poodle, so I wonder if that’s the problem. He also breathes heavily out of his mouth all the time. He’s 15 months old and breaths like an old man.”

In terms of the shedding, it’s true that Labradoodles can shed less than other dogs, but at the end of the day, he is a Lab/Poodle mix and Labs shed a ton. While you may have been hoping to have a less shedding dog, it’s probably normal for him.

The breathing may or may not be something you want to have checked out by your veterinarian. If he’s panting, it could just be that he’s hot. If it’s when he’s sleeping, pets will absolutely snore so it could be snoring. If this happens after exercise or is something that is concerning you, you should probably contact your veterinarian.

The next one comes from Loriali [SP]. “I have a 10-month-old Miniature Schnauzer and I’ve noticed there’s a bump on the top of his mouth directly behind the two front teeth. Is this normal?” Without seeing it, it’s hard for me to say. There are ridges on the top of the mouth that are normal in dogs but a bump might be abnormal. I would contact your veterinarian and make an appointment.

Blood thirsty beast or loving family pet?

Posted on: June 28th, 2011 by

By: Gary Eelman
For Pets Best Insurance
A Pit Bull with pet insurance looks at the camera.

When people used to ask me what kind of dog I owned, even before my wife worked in the dog insurance industry, I was always a little reserved about saying Pit Bull (I’ve owned two). Many people say they own a American Staffordshire Terrier or Staffordshire Bull Terrier just to avoid the stigma that has become an unfortunate and unwarranted part of any association with the Pit Bull breed.

How is it that the Pit Bull, which was once America’s sweetheart breed, is now largely perceived as a blood thirsty beast and banned in numerous American cities and a dozen different countries?

The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) is recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) which was founded in 1892. According to the UKC, “aggressive behavior toward humans is uncharacteristic of the breed.” During the 19th century, England, Ireland, and Scotland began to experiment with crosses between Bulldogs and Terriers, looking for a dog that combined the gameness of the Terrier with the strength and athleticism of the Bulldog. This was the origin of several breeds including the APBT. The dog was first bred to bait bulls and bears. When baiting bulls was deemed inhumane, “ratting” (a practice of putting rats in a pit for a specified time with the dog) and dog fighting became more popular. Any aggression towards humans in these activities was met with the immediate destruction of the dog and as a result, Pit Bulls became recognized for their loyalty and trustworthy nature with humans.

Pit Bulls are a fixture in American history and culture. In WWI, Pit Bulls including Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated war dog of WWI, were mascots depicting bravery and heroism. Farmers and ranchers used their Pit Bulls for work and as pets. Due to their friendliness towards people, Pit Bulls were once an extremely popular family dog in the United States and a favorite breed among politicians and celebrities such as Theodor Roosevelt, Helen Keller and Our Gang/The Little Rascals. The Pit Bull’s popularity began to decline in the following World War II in favor of other breeds such as Labrador and Golden Retrievers.

A Pitbull with pet insurance looks at the camera.

Pit Bulls are loving, gentle and loyal pets who dedicate their lives to pleasing their owners. They shed very little, never smell, and believe they belong on your lap. They are generous clowns who love to play and give kisses. However, the Pit Bull’s natural muscular build, athletic capabilities, and tenacious work drive are not to be taken for granted. Regardless of breed, any dog can become aggressive if not properly bred or socialized.

In recent times, the Pit Bull’s physical traits, along with its strong desire to please its owners, have been exploited by organized dog fighting rings which have come about in the past 20 years. For the first time in this breed’s history, fatal bites and attacks on humans caused Pit Bulls, that were not properly socialized or bred, to be increasingly reported. Because of this, Pit Bulls today are linked to crime, poverty, dog fighting rings and are over-represented as a breed in animal shelters across the country.

As a society we are easily led to believe what the media and our own fears would have us think. Amazingly, mis-information and sensationalism has led to the notion that the breed is the problem, not people. For more information on Pit Bulls, there are several organizations and celebrities, such as Cesar Milan, who work to educate the public on the breed and responsible dog ownership and breeding.

A Piper, a Pit Bull with dog insurance kisses her owner's ear. As for me and my dog, when people ask me what kind I own, I proudly say “a Pit Bull.” If they have a negative reaction, I try to educate them on how they have been misled to believe what they do. I hope more people give this maligned breed a chance and that Pit Bull owners appreciate the responsibility of raising a good ambassador for the breed so we can rise above our fears and be as good to these wonderful friends as they have been to us. For more information on various other dog breeds and other pet health information, visit

Pet health: The ABCs of OCD

Posted on: June 27th, 2011 by

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
For Pets Best Insurance

A dog with pet insurance displays OCD symptoms.

Obsessive behaviors in animals can be funny, especially at first. Turning again and again to bite a tail, or chasing a light obsessively seem humorous and harmless, but can be a part of obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD) in pets. While we don’t know what our pets think, and therefore can’t comment on obsessive thoughts, OCD is a recognized disorder that can require medical and behavioral intervention. Some pet insurance companies, like Pets Best Insurance, even offer limited coverage for behavioral issues.

True OCD behaviors are defined as inappropriately repetitive motor patterns and can include such behaviors as rocking back and forth, pacing, weaving, feather pulling in parrots, licking and obsessive grooming, shadow or light chasing, spinning, and flank sucking in dogs. Some behaviors can be harmful, especially excessive licking. Some animals can create significant self-inflicted tissue trauma that will require medical treatment.

There are many postulated underlying causes for OCD. Recently there has been discovered a genetic link in Dobermans with flank sucking behavior, suggesting some behaviors can be inherited. Stress, the environment in which the animal was reared, frustration, boredom and underlying medical problems can all be possible causes for OCD.

Kittens weaned early often have ‘wool sucking’ and kneading behaviors. Dogs bred for herding, such as Border Collies will often be obsessive about chasing lights, especially laser pointers. Underlying arthritis might cause a dog to obsessively lick a painful joint, causing damage to the skin.

The first step in treatment of OCD behaviors is a medical work-up by making an appointment with your veterinarian. Consider pet health insurance, which, in some cases, can help defray veterinary costs if a limited behavioral benefit is included. Intervention earlier when the behavior starts is more likely to manifest in a positive and successful outcome.

Treatment can include psychopharmacological administration, such as anti-anxiety medication, and behavioral and environmental modification.

Behavioral modification involves teaching substitute behaviors the dog can use to cope with whatever feelings are prompting the inappropriate behavior can be an important part of behavioral treatment. For example, a dog that chases its tail can be taught the command ‘sit’ and ‘stay.’ Repeat until the dog forms a habit choosing the alternate behavior.

Environmental enrichment includes ensuring your dog gets plenty of one-on-one attention, lots of exercise and something to ‘do.’ When you are not able to supervise, a place for the dog to rest and stay out of trouble is ideal, such as a crate or kennel. This place must not be abused, or it will become a source of more stress to the dog.

Prescription medications are reserved for the pets with more harmful behaviors, with severe anxiety, or ones that have not responded to behavioral and environmental changes. The two medications most commonly used include clomipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, and fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Both have shown promising results. Goals of treatment are to wean the dog off medications while you, the owner are implementing behavioral training.

Not all dogs need medication. For some, the aspects of a treatment plan may be sufficient. It is always important to rule out underlying medical reason for a sudden change in behaviors and seeking veterinary advice first is warranted. Research pet health insurance companies that offer limited behavioral coverage early on, so that if your pet develops OCD later, you will have coverage options.