Zap! Why I finally put an E-collar on my dog

A dog with pet insurance runs after prey.

By: Chryssa Rich
For Pets Best Insurance

Electronic collars, also called e-collars, shock collars or static collars, are highly controversial among dog owners. Some believe they’re bad for pet health, and anyone who’s tried to buy one at a popular pet store has probably been intercepted by the resident trainer, pushing obedience classes over electronics.

When I adopted Jayda last year, I was definitely on team obedience. But after 15 months of dog training, I haven’t been able to put a dent in my dog’s insatiable prey drive. Jayda will run out the front door and sprint around the neighborhood looking for something to chase. She barks incessantly and chases cats and squirrels when we’re on walks or at friends’ houses. She even barks out the window at work when I take her to the pet insurance office. She jumps up on countertops to get cats and recently tried to join two wild mink fighting near the river. She picks fights with small dogs at the dog park.

In addition to being dangerous, Jayda’s behavior means she must be on a leash and prong collar 100% of the time outside the house, and she can’t come with me to visit friends who have cats. She can’t even be off-leash to fetch or swim while we’re camping.

Jayda is calm and obedient at home but seems to go into a trance when the prey drive kicks in. She doesn’t even flinch when I give a command or pop her prong collar. After one particularly stressful evening involving a Pomeranian at the dog park, I decided it was time to get complete control over my dog before she got us both in trouble.

The e-collar I chose has two buttons, a “tone” button that makes a beeping sound, and a “static” button that delivers the correction. The tone button is always used first, and for some dogs, that’s enough to disrupt the bad behavior.

The static button has 10 levels of correction, but Jayda only needed level 3 before she reacted to it. The reaction to watch for is very subtle: twitching the ears or trying to look at his or her own neck. No dog should vocalize or panic while wearing the collar. The goal is never to hurt them.

According to the instruction booklet, e-collars should only be used to correct one behavior at a time to avoid confusing the dog. This means that I‘ll only correct Jayda for chasing until she’s mastered the “no chase” command. Once we’ve covered that, we’ll move on to proper interaction with other dogs at the dog park.

Last night we took a walk and came upon the neighbor’s cat. Jayda usually goes crazy at the sight of Samson, but it was a different story with the e-collar. When Jayda started lunging, I said “No chase” and pressed the tone and static buttons. Jayda immediately stopped going after the cat and walked back to me. It was amazing. No yelping, no barking, no hissing.

I know that e-collars are controversial, but when my dog runs out the front door, goes after a cat or starts a fight with another dog, I need a way to stop her. Her life depends on it, and for that I’ll take any amount of controversy.

Dog owners and pet insurance enthusiasts , I’d love to hear from you: what’s your opinion on e-collars? How have you dealt with difficult dog behaviors?

Pets living longer means more vet care

A dog with pet insurance is tended to by a vet.

Advances in veterinary science have resulted in our pets living longer. Treatments that were unimaginable 20 years ago, are now possible for our pets. But along with those advances and increased life spans for pets, veterinary health care costs have increased dramatically. Pet health insurance is also fairly recent.

Pet insurance can help offset the cost of vet care. If you have assistance paying for life-saving procedures, it’s less of a financial burden to provide the best care possible for your beloved companions. Because of their longer lives, our pets depend on us to make sure the quality of their life is maintained. They bring us joy, providing both physical and psychological advantages to our lives.

Vets have access to more diagnostic tools, like MRIs, that allow them to diagnose problems with pets that might have gone undetected. Although wonderful for our pets, those and other procedures can be costly without pet insurance.

Still Only Small Percentage of Pets Insured
What’s surprising is that not many pet owners are taking advantage of the financial assistance an insurance plan can provide. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that in 2007, there were 72 million pet dogs and 82 million pet cats in U.S. homes. But only 850,000 cat and dog insurance policies were in place that year.

Pet owner’s awareness of the availability of pet health insurance is growing. Vet’s offices often give out brochures to their clients on various plans.

Check into the best pet insurance policy that makes sense for you. This is especially important if you have a multi-pet family. Those vet bills will add up!

Scary disease in dog refusing to eat

A dog who would benefit from pet insurance sits outside.
By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Charlie hadn’t eaten in three days. He was weak, seemed wobbly and had been excessively urinating. He was only a year old, and had always been a great eater. Although Charlie didn’t have pet insurance, when his owners became concerned, they brought him to see me. He is a beautiful white spotted cattle dog mix, and I could tell in the exam room that he didn’t feel well.

His physical exam revealed only weakness and lethargy, so a screening blood test and urinalysis were performed. While the physical exam was unremarkable, the diagnostic tests were very abnormal. The bad news was that Charlie was Addisonian; the good news is that his disease, while it can be fatal, is treatable.

Typical Addison’s disease, or hypoadrenocorticism is an inability of the body to produce steroids (cortisol) and mineralocorticoids. It is caused by immune-mediated destruction of the adrenal cortex, part of the adrenal glands. Your body is continuously adjusting your levels of cortisol, increasing levels during times of stress in order to keep you healthy. Mineralocorticoids are responsible to ensuring your electrolytes are in balance. Without them your kidneys cannot retain water, causing dehydration, and electrolytes can become dangerously imbalanced.

There is an Atypical form of Addison’s disease where there is a lack of cortisol only, and not mineralocorticoids. These dogs will have normal electrolytes on blood work and can be very difficult to diagnose.

Charlie had dangerously high potassium. Levels too high can be cardiotoxic, causing heart rhythm abnormalities. He was dehydrated, but he still had diluted urine since his kidneys were inappropriately wasting water. He was admitted to the hospital for overnight care to correct his electrolyte imbalance and to administer steroids and mineralocorticoids. Pet health insurance would have been helpful in Charlie’s case!

Diagnosis of this disease, while suggestive on routine screening blood work, is done by a test called an ACTH test. This test measures the body’s ability to produce steroids in response to a hormone normally produced in the pituitary gland. A synthetic version of this hormone is administered intravenously and a normal dog will respond by producing cortisol, which is subsequently measured. A dog with typical and atypical Addison’s disease will not produce any cortisol in response. Cortisol insufficiency can result in a decrease in the production of glucose used for energy and tolerance to stress is diminished.

Typical clinical signs of this disease can be varied from just lethargy and anorexia, like Charlie’s case, to vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, collapse and even shock. Intensive hospitalization and aggressive treatment is always warranted in the acute phase of an “Addisonian crisis.”

After the ‘crisis’ has been treated, medication for this disease is given long term, for the life of the pet. Most pets with Addison’s disease need to take daily prednisone and have monthly injections of a mineralocorticoid to keep their electrolytes balanced. Generally they need a little extra TLC too, as everyday ‘stressful’ things, such as family coming to visit, vacations, or kenneling can be hard for their bodies to adjust to. With some extra diligence though, most pets can live a long healthy life when well controlled. Always consider dog insurance to help defray unforeseen costs of pet care.

Cat health: Environmental enrichment

A cat with pet insurance sits on a ledge.

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

We all want the very best for our cats, and that is why many of us choose to keep our cats indoors. This ensures their safety by reducing the chance for pet health problems like injuries and disease, but it also produces some potential health risks of its own.

Cats in the wild are very active day to day, and are mentally stimulated on a continual basis by their surroundings. This is very different from how the typical indoor cat lives. Lack of exercise and minimal mental stimulation can cause physical and emotional stress. Science has found a connection between chronic stress and disease in humans as well as in pets. Chronic stress is thought to play a role in some of the common inflammatory diseases of cats such as interstitial cystitis (sterile inflammation of the bladder) and inflammatory bowel disease (chronic vomiting or diarrhea). Your pampered, well-loved indoor cat certainly may not seem to be under stress, but his or her health could be telling you otherwise. Because these conditions are often seen in indoor cats, it’s still important to consider cat insurance for your indoor pet.

Environmental enrichment is a way of making your home more like the great outdoors for your cat. There are 5 basic categories of life needs that all cats have: territory, food/water, sleeping area, entertainment/exercise, and litter box.

Meeting theses needs for your indoor cat in the most natural way possible to help reduce stress by replacing the stimulation and activity that he would enjoy as an outdoor cat. The goal is to look at how cats act in the wild, and try to simulate that in the home environment. Let’s take a brief look at how this applies to each life needs category.

Territory is of utmost importance to most cats, especially if they share the house with other pets. Even though some cats are very social, they are independent by nature and need a space of their own where they feel safe. Competition among cats in the same house is one of the most common causes for behavioral problems such as urine spraying, defecating or urinating outside the litter box, and destructive scratching. Each cat should have his or her own space, complete with a separate litter box, separate feeding station, and a separate space to spend time or sleep. Even though some cats may be OK with sharing space, you still need to provide this option.

Cats in the wild hunt for their food and may eat up to 20 small meals a day. This is where they get most of their exercise as well as water requirements. By keeping cats indoors, we have created a situation where they must only walk into the next room to eat. They no longer have to work for their food and are much more sedentary than their outside counterparts. They tend to consume too many calories for their activity level which can easily lead to weight gain and obesity with a greater risk of developing diabetes. Although many pet insurance companies cover diabetes, it’s important to monitor your pet’s health through food as well. I currently recommend a diet of mostly canned food to help ensure they get enough moisture and protein. Having fresh water available at all times is still critical, and many cats prefer moving water. This can be offered in the form of a fountain or fish tank bubbler placed in a bowl.

In addition to the proper food, cats need a sleeping place that is quiet and safe. Many cats like to be alone when they sleep, either curled up in or under something or often high up where they are safe and can watch their surroundings. Providing a choice of sleeping areas is ideal. If your cat chooses somewhere to sleep, there is probably a reason. Try to be accommodating if possible. Cats have a sleep and wake cycle that constantly fluctuates. In the wild, cats hunt multiple times a day, so they must nap often to maintain that activity level. It is ideal to provide a number of suitable and attractive napping spots to help keep them happy.

Many indoor cats are lacking in exercise and entertainment. This is easy to encourage, and the sky’s the limit in thinking of inexpensive, creative ways to get your cat moving in both body and mind. Many cat insurance companies, like Pets Best Insurance, provide cat health and exercise tips on their websites. Scratching posts or climbing areas are desirable for helping to remove old nail and to provide for full body stretches, muscle flexing, and physical as well as scent marking.

Offer your cat a variety of scratching options including horizontal and vertical scratching toys as well as different substrates such as sisal rope, carpet, cardboard and wood. The scratching post should be placed in a busy part of the house so the cat is more likely to use it, and placing one near their favorite sleeping spot may increase compliance, as cats like to scratch and stretch as soon as they wake up.

Multiple perches near windows will encourage more jumping and movement during the day. Provide access to shelving or bookcases if possible. Cats have a natural tendency to want to watch their surroundings while feeling safe and hidden at the same time. Plant some flowers that attract bees and butterflies outside windows or install a planter box. Consider a bird feeder, birdbath or squirrel feeder also.

You can feed your cat up off the ground to encourage jumping to get to the meal. Make sure cats with arthritis can still comfortably reach the bowl. Changing the location of the food dish on a regular basis will help keep them active and forces them to “hunt.” Try to hide small portions of your cat’s food around the home on a daily basis. A play-n-treat feeding ball is a fun toy that cats must chase and knock about in order for kibble to be released. It can increase your cat’s activity and stimulate the mind.

There are videos you can play during the day designed just for cats. Play some soothing music while you are away. Cats get bored with toys easily, so rotate the toys every 1-2 weeks. Don’t offer the whole collection at once. Some easy and cost-effective toys to add to the rotation would be: paper grocery bags to play in, large cardboard boxes filled with crumpled paper to hide in, rolled up paper or tinfoil or tape, plastic milk rings, paper Q-tips, catnip stuffed socks. Interactive things that involve both play and exercise include dragging a shoelace on the floor, laser light pointers (never point at eyes), hang a toy from a doorknob, throw dry kibble across the floor as a treat, toss a ball across a hard floor surface, treat balls, playing hide-n-seek with your cat, a ping pong ball in the bathtub, or non-toxic cat bubbles.

Many cats like to chew on grass or houseplants. Offering a source of greens to chew on can help with this natural desire and is safe. Catnip, catmint or wheat grass can all be purchased or grown indoors. I recommend organic to reduce exposure to pesticides. Remember that greens are not a nutritional requirement and may make some cats vomit. There are also some plants that can make cats sick if ingested, so be sure to research which are safe to have in your home.

Some people introduce their cats to a harness, which allows them to be outdoors in the fresh air but under supervision and safe. Screened porches or patios, outdoor enclosures and special fencings are other options available. Remember to consider flea control during summer months if needed. Some pet insurance companies will even help cover a portion of these costs.

You may want to consider adopting a companion cat if you only have one. This can help provide company and a playmate. Slow introduction is important to make the new addition work.

In the wild, cats void in a new, clean spot every time. The litter boxes we provide are not at all like what they would choose outdoors in their natural environment. The goal is to make sure the cat box is the most attractive place so they will not be tempted to go somewhere else in the house. Attractiveness to a cat includes cleanliness, safety, and convenience. There are some basic rules to follow to help keep your cat happy. Following these will help prevent behavioral issues such as urine marking or defecating outside the box.

-Have a minimum of one box per cat and at least one box per level of house.

-Place the boxes in separate locations around the house to provide options.

-Use unscented, scoopable litter, preferably low dust.

-Don’t place the box near noisy appliances or air ducts.

-Scoop the box at least 1x daily and clean the entire box monthly with unscented soap and water, not disinfectants or cleaning products.

-Litter box covers trap odors inside and may make your cat feel trapped so remove them.

-Offer the largest boxes possible. I prefer plastic storage containers to actual cat boxes.

Remember to think like a cat! Consider how a cat behaves naturally in the wild and then try to enrich the home environment to provide similar opportunities for mental and physical stimulation. Your cat will be happier and healthier for it!

A prevalent cat ailment is on the rise

A cat with cat insurance recovers in a bed.

By: Dr. Kerry Fost
Managing DVM
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Feline hyperthyroidism is the most common endocrine disease affecting pets health in middle aged and older cats. It is a multisystemic disorder characterized by the overproduction of thyroid hormone.

The thyroid gland is located in the neck region and has an important role in regulating the body’s metabolic rate. With hyperthyroidism the gland becomes enlarged producing too much hormone and subsequently increases cats’ metabolic rate. The thyroid size increases most often due to a benign tumor. Less than 2% of cases involve a malignant tumor.

The prevalence of feline hyperthyroidism is increasing. In 1979 there was 1 reported case. From 1980 to 1990, 1 cat in 3,000 was found to have the disease. From the year 2000 on, it may be more common than 1 cat in 300. This increase is not thought to be just because of the increasing number of older cats. A specific cause has not been identified. The current theory is some type of environmental agent stimulates mutation of the regulatory proteins in the gland. Some of the environmental agents being looked at include, iodine in cat food, preservatives, pesticides, flame retardants in fabrics, heavy metals and plasticizers in non- stick can linings.

The most consistent finding with this disorder is weight loss, often with a good to ravenous appetite. With an increased metabolism the cat can’t eat enough to keep from losing weight. They also often have increased thirst and urination. Soft stool and vomiting may increase as well. Some cats have behavior changes with restlessness or changes in sleeping pattern. Hyperthyroid cats often have elevated heart rates and increased blood pressure. They may pant because they feel hot.

The diagnosis of feline hyperthyroidism is usually straightforward. It is made on the basis of typical clinical signs, the presence of palpable thyroid enlargement, and a high total thyroxin (T4) level in the blood. However, in some cats with mild hyperthyroidism, the diagnosis may be more difficult and require additional testing. Cat insurance can help to make this more afforable.

Treatment of the disease is usually successful. There are three choices for treatment; and any one of these could be the best choice in certain situations. Many factors must be considered when choosing the best therapy for an individual cat. These options include:

1) Oral or transdermal medication, usually methimazole, which ties up the excess thyroid hormone. This medication will have to be continued for the life of the cat.

2) Radioactive iodine treatment. This is a permanent cure but requires the patient to be hospitalized for several days at veterinary radiation treatment center. Not every state has a treatment facility available. And because this treatment can be expensive, it’s wise to research pet insurance so you’re prepared.

3) Surgical removal of the thyroid tumor. Surgery is less common than it once was due to potential complications.

Because this is a disease of older cats other concurrent diseases can complicate the prognosis. Most cats do well with treatment and the outcome is usually positive for both the owner and the cat. At present there are no known preventive measures, which why it’s a good reason to invest in pet insurance.

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