Scratch Scratch, Sniff Sniff, Achoo!

A Chihuahua with dog insurance is itchy from allergies.

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

Unlike humans, who typically have nasal and sinus allergies, the most common form of allergies in dogs tend to be related to scratching and itching. While cats can develop allergies too, they tend to be more prevalent in dogs. Investing in pet insurance is a wise choice, considering that any pet can develop an allergy at any time.

The most common allergy, by far, is Atopy or allergic skin disease. These allergies can manifest all over the body with hives, itching, and constant scratching and may lead to a bacterial condition called pyoderma. All dog breeds can be affected by this, and symptoms usually begin between 1-4 years of age. At first the symptoms may be mild, but can worsen each year. This kind of allergy is usually seasonal and may be due to pollen, mold, house dust, mites and especially fleas.

Fleas are one of the more common causes for scratching and itching and dogs can become allergic to the flea saliva causing an intense allergic reaction over most of the body. Fleas can cause mild to severe symptoms depending upon the pet’s allergic response to the saliva. A bite from even just a few fleas can cause an allergy.

Some dog breeds are far more susceptible to allergies overall. Dalmatians, Bulldogs, English Setters, Irish Setters, Pugs, Golden Retrievers and many of the Terrier breeds are often most seen for allergy-related health problems. Like humans, pets can also develop food allergies and become allergic to specific ingredients or foods.

Although pets have natural protection from chemicals and other skin irritants because of their fur, they can still be sensitive to these things. Pets can also be allergic to vaccines, insect bites and drugs. These kinds of allergies are one-time episodes that only manifest when the pet is exposed to them. They are also usually easy to treat.

Avoidance of the allergen or irritant, if possible, is best. Dietary supplements, such as essential fatty acids, may help and if a food allergen is the cause, then complete avoidance of the offending food is required.

Allergy treatment will vary depending on the cause and severity of the symptoms. Steroids are commonly prescribed for short-term relief. Antihistamines have limited success, but do not have the negative effects that can come with long term steroid therapy.

Once the allergen has been determined from a skin test, they can also respond to injections or desensitization. Some allergies will respond to therapeutic shampoos and topical treatment with cortisone sprays. Secondary or primary pyodermas will require antibiotics, both topically and systemically. More intense treatments may require a referral from your veterinarian to a veterinary specialist in dermatology. Because allergies can occur in pets at any time from such a variety of culprits, cat and dog insurance is recommended.

Allergies can be very complex. Palliative type treatments provide relief but do not cure the condition. Complete cures are rare. Often, pet owners get discouraged by the cost and continuous treatment required for allergies. If an allergy has severe symptoms and manifests often, it’s wise to invest in a good diagnostic work-up at your veterinarian or licensed veterinary dermatologist.

Severe allergies can be frustrating and require good communication and record-keeping . Keep a log of what has worked for your pet so you and your veterinarian can adapt the diagnostics and treatment approach as necessary. Together, with the help of your vet and your pet insurance company, you can develop a maintenance plan to control the symptoms and help your pet live a long, healthy, happy life.

Animal cancer: What are your options?

A dog with dog insurance is screened for cancer.

By: Ashley Porter
Guest Blogger
For Pets Best Insurance

Finding out that a beloved pet has cancer can be just as difficult as if it were a close friend or family member– since many people regard their pets as a part of their family. While we know that there are many different treatment options available for humans, what can pet owners do if their animal has cancer? The good news is that treatment options for pets are available as well, and pets have a better chance of successful cancer treatment today than ever before. Any pet owner should know about these options so that his or her furry friend can get treatment as soon as possible. It’s a good idea to research and purchase the best pet insurance policy for your pet early on– as cancer treatments can be costly.

If you suspect your pet has cancer:
If you find a lump or bump on your cat or dog, especially one that slowly changes, it is important that you talk to your vet as soon as possible. Keep in mind that fatty lumps are common on a dog’s trunk, and so a benign growth may not be cancer if it does not change in size. However, any lumps found on a cat should be examined immediately, as growths are not normal for felines. If you discover anything unusual, be sure to schedule an appointment with your vet.

In addition to abnormal growths, your pet may exhibit other symptoms such as:
– Sores that do not heal
– Weight loss
– Loss of appetite
– Bleeding or discharge from any opening on the body
– Offensive odor
– Difficulty eating or swallowing
– Weakness or loss of stamina when exercising
– Lameness or stiffness
– Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating
(Please note that these symptoms may also be due to another illness).

If you suspect cancer or anything abnormal in your pet’s health, the best thing to do is always to consult your veterinarian as soon as you can. Because treatment of cancer can be expensive, it’s important to look into pet insurance early on, to ensure the condition isn’t preexisting, and that it would be covered by the pet health insurance company.

If your vet confirms that your pet has cancer, you should find out what type of cancer it is because treatment options may vary. You can discuss these options with your veterinarian to decide which would be best for your pet.

Treatment options

1. Aspiration and diagnosis of fatty lumps:
If a lump is discovered, it is important to determine whether or not it is cancerous. A fine needle aspirate of a mass can usually be performed on an outpatient visit and sedation is not necessary. If the lump is simply a fatty mass, a veterinarian will usually leave it in place and monitor for changes in size and consistency. However, if there is rapid growth or the lump is already big, the veterinarian will probably recommend surgery.

2. Surgery:
Surgery to remove fatty cancerous tissue can often cure the animal of cancer. Even if it is not completely curative, it can decrease the size of the tumor and help the veterinarian give an accurate diagnosis.

3. Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy treatment has been shown to significantly extend the lives of cats and dogs with cancer. It has been especially effective on lymphoma, which is one of the most common types of cancer in cats and dogs. Animals with chemotherapy treatment generally have fewer side effects and less hair loss than humans, and the doses are much smaller. If your vet does not specialize in chemotherapy or surgeries for cancer treatment, there are many animal cancer centers that offer these types of treatment to which your local vet can refer you.

4. Holistic options
Some animal cancer treatment centers also offer holistic services such as acupuncture and herbal doses to reduce pain and improve the pet’s immune system. They may also prescribe pain medications formulated specifically for animals.

If you find out that your pet has cancer, don’t get discouraged. New diagnostic methods are helping to detect animal cancer earlier, and the improvement of treatment methods means better success rates and fewer side effects for your pet.

Ashley Porter is a pet lover who writes about various topics including pet health insurance and other releated pet health issues and is the owner of the site Veterinarian Technician.

Straight Answers to Icky Pet Questions

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

The first question comes from Leslie. She asks, “My five-year-old cat is healthy and rarely has hairballs, and is really good about using her litter box. She’s regular and rarely has gastrointestinal problems but recently she went outside of the box on the carpet. It was diarrhea, not vomit. I don’t think she ate or drank anything besides her normal food and she hasn’t had any problems in the past couple weeks. Should I still take her to the vet?”

This is a great question. Dogs and cats can have isolated incidents of illness that can resolve on their own. If she’s acting completely normal in every other aspect and it was just one isolated bout of diarrhea, she’s probably fine if she’s otherwise healthy. If it continues to be a problem or something else comes up, I would recommend that you take her to the vet.

Her second question is, “I also have a three-year-old Chihuahua mix who has anal glands that express when she gets very relaxed, usually in my lap. We have her glands done every two weeks. Any suggestions?”

Anal glands are basically under-developed scent glands that dogs have. They’re designed to express a little bit every time the dog defecates or if they’re trying to mark their territory as sort of a scent. Obviously, dogs don’t really need them anymore as house pets, but unfortunately they’re still there.

Something you can do to help with this problem would be to increase the fiber content of her diet. She sounds like a little dog so you would want to use just a couple tablespoons of something like canned pumpkin. Metamucil is a good supplement as well. What this will do is actually bulk up her stool a little bit so that when she defecates it can help express them.

I would also recommend that you continue to get them expressed regularly. If they stay empty, they’re less likely to empty on your lap. Probably the best thing to do is just continue with keeping up on the problem and going in at least every two weeks to have them expressed.

Why does the cat wheeze?

A cat with cat insurance and feline asthma looks past the camera.

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

Feline asthma is a common, but poorly understood respiratory disease in cats. It is very similar to asthma in people, but cats pose an interesting challenge in terms or delivering medications to control this disease! Because of the difficult nature of treating this disease, it’s advised to research cat insurance early on.

It is thought that the cause of feline asthma is related to an allergic reaction to something inhaled. Successful therapy will often include attempting to determine what in the environment the cat is reacting to. Often this is difficult to do; possible allergens include dust, cigarette smoke, mildew and mold, pollen, cat litter, and possibly household chemicals.

Cats in city environments and in households with owners that smoke do seem to be at an increased risk for feline asthma. There is no conclusive proof, but it is thought that avoiding these allergenic triggers can help to control this condition.

This disease is characterized by inflammation of the lower respiratory system resulting in bronchoconstriction. When the bronchioles narrow, there is less room for airflow. Cats will compensate for this by increasing their respiratory rate. Thus, most cats I have seen with this condition have a rapid respiratory rate and cough, but every cat can show somewhat different symptoms.

Some cats will have a slight chronic cough or wheeze for years and never seem in distress. Other cats can have a seasonal component to their symptoms. Some will only acutely present in respiratory distress without any history of coughing. Because diagnosis and treatment can sometimes be expensive, it’s a good idea to have pet insurance for your cat. Purchasing this when your cat is still a kitten is a good idea. Left untreated, cats can suffer severe bronchiospasms, leading to asthma attacks and even death.

Cats can compensate for respiratory disease in amazing ways and subtle changes in breathing can actually indicate a serious problem. Any change in character or depth of breathing, or a resting respiration rate over 50 to 60 breaths a minutes is typically abnormal in a cat. Any cat that is breathing with its mouth open, like a panting dog, is also abnormal. Respiratory issues warrant immediate veterinary attention to treat and diagnose the underlying problem. Consider having cat insurance as a way to help keep your cat healthy!

There is no one reliable test that proves feline asthma is the underlying cause. Your veterinarian will need to perform several tests, likely blood work and chest radiographs in order to rule out other diseases that can also look this way. This is really important since other respiratory diseases mimicking asthma can be even more serious; such diseases include pneumonia, heartworm disease, lung cancer, heart failure and chronic bronchitis, just to name a few.

Initial treatment in an acute crisis will likely include steroids, bronchodilators and oxygen therapy. Hospitalization and veterinary medicine in general is expensive, and considering pet heath insurance is always a good idea to help with unexpected costs. Once a diagnosis is made, most cats can be managed on two types of medication, similarly to people. One medication is used for long term control (usually some type of steroid), the other medication (usually a bronchodilator) is needed for short term immediate relief during an ‘attack.’

Believe it or not, there are feline asthma inhalers available that can deliver medication directly to the lungs. They are shaped like a face mask and are placed over the nose and mouth. This isn’t always tolerated well by cats. In those that refuse this, oral or injectable medications are needed.

An asthma attack can be a scary thing to watch, and certainly always warrants medical attention, but the good news is that cats can live very comfortable lives as a well-controlled asthmatic.

Cat’s life– hanging by a thread

A cat, without cat insurance, plays with a string.

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

Oscar, a handsome 7-year-old male, black and white, short-haired cat was brought to our clinic because his owner thought he might have eaten embroidery thread. She had come home at the end of the day to find a trail of the string she left on the kitchen counter the day prior, wrapped around the legs of the counter bar stools. The next morning she noticed that he was listless, didn’t eat and had vomited clear fluid a couple of times. Unfortunately, Oscar’s owner didn’t have cat insurance. Sometimes pet owners assume that if their cats live indoors they will be safe from harm’s way. But cats can have numerous accidents and illensses, even if they are indoor cats– just like Oscar.

As I began the exam, Oscar was bright and alert with no evident belly pain. However, I could see a royal blue embroidery thread caught around the base of his tongue. Oscar was anesthetized later that afternoon. I re-examined his mouth and found that both free ends of the thread were already down his esophagus. I removed the thread from around the tongue base and gently tried to pull it. I was only able to move the thread about 2 inches before feeling resistance, so I had to stop to prevent any tissue damage.

The resistance indicated that the thread was already in the stomach and possibly even down into the intestines. I cut the thread as short as possible in hopes that it might be able to pass uneventfully.
Cats, especially young ones, love to play with long, thin objects like string, yarn, ribbon or thread. If ingested, though, these linear foreign bodies can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening problems.

It can cause the intestine to scrunch together, or plicate, just like if you were to pull a loose thread on the hem of a skirt or pant leg. In addition, very fine objects like thread can actually start to saw through the intestinal walls where they are all bunched together. This can cause holes in the intestines and bacteria can leak out into the abdomen potentially causing massive infection and maybe even death. As you can see, it’s because of accidents like these, that cat owners should consider purchasing pet insurance for their kitties.

X-rays of Oscar’s abdomen showed a suspicious area of intestines that I thought might be starting to plicate. He also seemed to be getting a little painful in his belly at this point too. He was stabilized overnight with fluids and pain medication, and after reassessment in the morning, I decided he needed surgery to remove the embroidery thread before it caused major damage.

Oscar was anesthetized for the second time, and I surgically opened up his abdomen. I cut into his stomach and found one end of the thread inside. I tried gently pulling it out from the intestine, but it wouldn’t budge. I made an incision into the beginning of the small intestine, grabbed the thread at that point, gently pulled it from the stomach and stabilized it. I then went back and stitched the stomach closed. My next incision was about 5 inches further down the intestine from the first incision. Again I grabbed the thread and gently pulled it free and went back and stitched the previous incision.

I continued in this step-by-step manner, making an incision, pulling the thread loose and closing the previous incision, until I was able to completely remove the entire amount of thread. There was a lot of it, and it had almost made it all the way down to the large intestine. Luckily for Oscar, none of it had cut through the intestine. I ended up making nine incisions into the intestines, plus the one into the stomach.

Oscar recovered like a real trooper. He was up and about the next day wanting to eat! He went home under close supervision and never looked back. That turned out to be quite an expensive skein of embroidery thread! The total bill was nearly $2,100. Pet health insurance would have made it a lot easier on my client’s pocketbook. Especially since 5 months earlier Oscar needed surgery to remove a bladder stone, and 2 months after eating the thread, he and his housemate devoured some chocolate and ended up at the emergency clinic to make sure it didn’t make them toxic. If you have an indoor (or an outdoor cat) be sure to research cat insurance. It just might help save your kitty’s life.

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