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Gearing Up for Winter: Preparing for Jack Frost Before He Comes

Posted on: October 31st, 2007 by

Brrrrrrr! Is it just us, or has anyone else noticed that winter is rapidly approaching? As the cooler nights begin, it’s more than just your car and house pipes that need winterizing. The outdoors for our four-legged friends can be more than just uncomfortable: they can be downright dangerous.

Shore up for winter by purchasing jackets and blankets with your pet in mind. Inexpensive blankets can be found at any local thrift store, but be careful as blankets have a tendency to trap moisture. No one wants to sleep in a wet bed! Also, be sure that if your pup is outside for more than a few minutes in a chilly environment that he has adequate shelter with lots of clean, thick bedding and clean drinking water (not frozen) at all times. One solution we have found to the frozen water dilemma is to purchase a heated water bowl. No more frozen water!

Dog houses can be warmed with hot water bottles, special heat-radiating pads or cedar chips. Some dog houses even come with their own electric heaters, though the risks should not be taken lightly. If the doghouse is wooden, be sure to raise it up off the ground several inches to prevent rotting and keep out rain, and cover the door of the dog house with a mat, piece of plastic carpet runner or carpet to provide an adequate door to keep out the snow and rain.

Remember, too, that dogs lose most of their heat through their paws, ears and skin, so extended exposure to cold will have an effect on them. Long-haired dogs like Elkhounds and Huskies fare better than smooth-coated dogs, Boxers and Greyhounds, for example.

All breeds, however, including cats, are susceptible to de-icing products, including salt. Be sure to wash their paws with warm water after walking on any of these substances.

Speaking of substances, be sure to monitor your car for any anti-freeze leaks and wipe them up immediately, as these can prove lethal for both cats and dogs. Also be sure to give a good tap to the hood before you start your car in the morning if you have kitties in your neighborhood who enjoy the warmth of your car motor. (Or if your own kitty sleeps in the garage at night.)

The general rule of thumb, as always, is to do unto others as you would have done unto you. Gearing up for winter before she comes blowing in will save you and your pets some frozen preparations later.

Anesthesia Advances for Dogs and Cats

Posted on: October 16th, 2007 by

Posted by Kim Campbell Thornton on 10/16/2007 in General Articles

Managing pain in pets has always been a challenge because they can’t say where or how much they hurt. Up until 10 or 15 years ago, little was known about how animals experienced pain, and few drugs were available that could help. Of course, pets have always received anesthesia for surgeries, but beyond that not much was done about recognizing or treating any pain they might be feeling.

But thanks to owner concern about pain and anxiety, plus veterinarians’ own interest in animals, things have changed. New anesthesia techniques and medications help animals feel better and recover more quickly.

With their increased knowledge, veterinarians can use pain relief in new ways before (pre-emptive analgesia), during and after surgery. These include epidurals, constant rate infusion, and regional blocks.

Pre-emptive analgesia consists of treating pain before it happens by giving drugs that will last for several hours, well into the recovery period following surgery.

Drugs can also be delivered through an epidural, an injection into the epidural space of the spine. Epidurals help prevent pain in the abdomen and lower part of the body, so they’re especially beneficial for animals undergoing orthopedic procedures.

A technique called constant rate infusion (CRI) delivers an ongoing, constant-flow delivery of pain-relieving drugs over a period of time.

The CRI drugs target pain receptors in the spinal cord and brain, preventing pain signals from reaching the cortex, the brain’s central processing center. Each drug works on different receptors, producing a complementary effect. These very small doses, trickled into the body, block pain but don’t block physiologic functions such as breathing and heart activity.

If you’ve ever had a cavity filled – or worse, a root canal – you know what a regional block is—that shot of Novocain that numbs your face. Regional blocks, also known as nerve blocks or local blocks, obstruct the nerves that would otherwise carry pain signals to the brain, making them an important means of preventing pain in pets having surgery. Examples include the injection of local anesthetic along an incision line prior to surgery and facial blocks during dental procedures.

The way that general anesthesia is induced has changed as well. The most up-to-date method is intravenous injection of induction drugs, a more controlled way of putting a pet under anesthesia.

Advances in anesthesia techniques have made veterinary surgery relatively risk-free, but anesthetic care should be tailored to each individual animal to ensure a safe and comfortable anesthetic experience. Your veterinarian should have a plan for what things are especially important to monitor in addition to routine monitoring.

Before your pet undergoes surgery, ask your veterinarian:

Will my pet get a pre-anesthetic assessment?
Blood work to check kidney, liver and bone marrow function can identify abnormalities or infections that might make anesthesia a risk. That info can help your veterinarian make necessary anesthesia modifications to make it safer for your pet.

Will my pet have intravenous fluids while it’s anesthetized?
IV fluids help prevent dehydration and low blood pressure, which can be associated with anesthesia.

Will a qualified person be monitoring my pet’s vital signs?
Your veterinarian’s technician should be trained in the latest anesthesia and monitoring techniques, including monitoring blood pressure.

Will my pet’s blood pressure be monitored during surgery?
Blood pressure gives your veterinarian ongoing knowledge about your pet’s condition throughout surgery.

What emergency procedures and drugs are in place in the event of a complication?
These should include intravenous catheters placed so that drugs can be rapidly injected in the event of a reaction to anesthesia or a change in heart rate.

Will my pet be kept warm during and after surgery?
Cats and dogs can become cold during anesthesia and surgery, especially if they’re small or thin. Maintaining their body temperature not only keeps them comfortable, it helps ensure that the body does a better job of metabolizing pain drugs.

Although it was a long time coming, managing pain in animals is one of the defining issues of veterinary medicine in this new century. Because of it, animals recover more quickly, stay more comfortable, and regain their appetite sooner.

You can find more information about pain management at the web site of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (

Score one for Hemingway’s cats

Posted on: October 10th, 2007 by

By: Arden Moore

For nine years, I lived in South Florida and looked forward to the occasional getaway to Key West. From my home in Palm Beach County, it took about five hours to reach the final key – Key West.

Ah, but it was well worth the drive. Instead of a rainbow at the end of the trip, there was a special house, actually a mansion, which housed special cats. These cats are all descendents of polydactyl cats owned – and adored – by the late famous writer, Ernest Hemingway.

Polydactyl cats, by definition, have extra toes – on their front paws and sometimes, back paws, too. Hemingway’s felines – more accurately – their descendants – have freely roamed the grounds of the Hemingway house which is now a major tourist attraction in Key West. Many of them loved to greet visitors and pose for photos.

These cats knew they had it made. Free meals. Free lodging. Adoring fans. What could be better? Unfortunately, big government, namely the U.S. Department of Agriculture, opted to try to force removal of the cats – citing a city law that prohibits more than four domestic animals per household.

For more than a year, the feds engaged in a catfight with the locals running the Hemingway house. I am happy to report that the Key West City Commission recently voted to exempt the Hemingway house from that city law on the number of animals allowed per property.

The famous polydactyl cats will get to roam the grounds as the members of the commission ruled that these felines are indeed animals of historic, social and tourism significance.

If you ever get the opportunity to visit Key West, please do. It is one of the few remaining places in the country where freedom truly exists – without a lot of meddling laws. Just ask the Hemingway cats.

Focusing In On Feline Vision

Posted on: October 10th, 2007 by

Posted by Audrey Pavia on 10/10/2007 in Scratching Post Articles

When it comes to their eyes, cats share some similarities with people. After all, both human and feline eyes are located in the front of the face, so both species have good depth of field. A good depth of field allows people to do things like play basketball, drive cars and plant flowers. It enables cats to accurately calculate jumping distances when they are hunting or just leaping from your floor to the couch.

This is where the similarity in vision ends between cats and humans. Cats see better than people when it comes to movement in their peripheral vision. They also have a wider angle of vision. Because cats evolved as predators, their eyes are designed to take in a view of 120 degrees around them. Cats aren’t that good at discerning color and texture, but they have an excellent ability to spot motion in their field of vision.

If a cat feels threatened, its pupils dilate so it can take in an even wider range of peripheral vision, enabling it to see better in the event it has to defend itself. Also, when a cat is preparing to attack prey or even another cat, the pupils become narrow to provide better depth perception.

During daylight hours, however, people possess a much more acute vision than cats. People see details in sharp focus, while cats are believed to have slightly blurred vision. People can also see the full spectrum of colors, while cats are unable to see the color red. The reason? People have many more color sensitive cone photoreceptors in their eyes than cats do.

When the lights go out, though, everything changes. Cats have something called a tapetum in their eyes, which is a reflective layer that increases the amount of light that passes through the retina. This enables cats to see very well in dim light. They can see as well in pitch black as we can see in full moonlight. This is because cats evolved to hunt at dawn and dusk, making them most active in dim light. Cats can see six times better in the dark than people.

What is the anatomy behind all this amazing stuff? The feline eye sits inside a bony structure called the orbit, located in the cat’s skull. The eye itself is made up of the eyeball, and associated nerves, muscles, blood vessels and connective tissue that reside inside the orbit.

Within the eyeball lies the anatomy that allows the cat to see. The eyeball is covered with a white outer layer called the sclera, which rests over the uvea, an area containing blood vessels. Covering the outer part of the eyeball is the cornea, which is clear, and refracts light onto the retina, which transforms light rays into nerve impulses. These impulses are relayed to the brain via the optic nerve. The cat’s brain then makes sense of the rays and converts them into images that the brain can understand.

The next time you look into your cat’s eyes, think about what amazing organs these are. Without them, your cat wouldn’t be the incredibly special creature she is. Seeing is believing.

Look Out for Foxtails

Posted on: October 10th, 2007 by

Posted by Audrey Pavia on 10/10/2007 in General Articles

At first glance, they seem innocent enough. After all, they are just seedpods looking for a place to lay down their roots. But beyond that innocent exterior lurks a menace that can easily wreak havoc with your dog’s health.

We aren’t talking about some alien life form here, but rather, a very earthly phenomenon known as the foxtail. Found all over the United States at various times of the year, these plant parts are the bane of dog owners everywhere.

What Are Foxtails?

We’ve all seen foxtails out in nature, whether in a vacant lot, along a roadside or in a mountain meadow. Foxtails are simply fox-tail-like clusters of seeds on the stalks of certain types of grasses. The clusters have sharp points designed by nature to penetrate the soil once the cluster comes loose from the plant, enabling the seeds to take hold in the ground and grow roots.

To help ensure that the seeds will be able to take root, the seed cluster contains barbs that make it hard for the cluster to come loose from the soil once it penetrates. The outside of the cluster also harbors a bacterium that contains an enzyme designed to break down cellular matter. This helps the seed burrow into the ground past other plants.

Grasses with this feature can be found all around the country, but are most common in the Western United States. The greatest foxtail problem occurs in California.

Foxtails are most troublesome to dog owners in the late spring and summer in drier climates because this is when they come loose from the plant and “look for” a place to bury themselves.

The foxtail’s unique design provides grasses with a very successful method of reseeding in the wild. Unfortunately, these same features are what make foxtails a problem for dog owners. When a dog comes in contact with a foxtail, the cluster attaches to the dog’s fur and begins to move inward as the dog moves. The barbs on the cluster keep the foxtail from falling off or “backing out” of the fur, and the enzymes in the foxtail’s bacterium begin to break down the dog’s hair and tissue. The foxtail begins to work its way into the dog’s body, just as it would work its way into the soil had it entered the ground.

Any dog that spends time in an area ripe with foxtails is at risk for picking up one or more of these problematic seed casings.

Health Hazard

Dogs that come into contact with foxtails stand a good chance of having one of these insidious plant pieces work its way into the body. The result can be a very sick dog. The degree of illness depends on the area of the body where the foxtail entered and the amount of damage it has caused. Foxtails can enter the nasal passages, eyes, ears and mouth, and can work their way into the dog’s lungs, along the backbone and into many other locations throughout the body.

It’s up to a veterinarian to locate the foxtail inside the dog’s body and remove it. In cases where the foxtail is beyond the reach of tweezers or forceps, the dog will need to undergo surgery for removal of the foxtail.

Keeping Foxtails Away

Given the potentially destructive action of foxtails that come into contact with dogs, it’s imperative that dog owners in foxtail heavy areas use preventative measures to keep their pets free from this hazardous plant part.

Try to avoid walking your dog in fields or on roadsides where foxtails are prevalent. Since the dry season is the only time foxtails are really a problem, you don’t have to worry about walking your dog in these areas when the grass is green.

When camping or hiking with your dog, keep an eye out for foxtails in areas where your dog is walking or running. Try to keep him out of these areas if you can.

In the event that your dog comes into contact with a foxtail-infested area, be sure to go over him carefully to look for any foxtails that may have lodged in his coat. Dogs with thick hair are at greatest risk of you missing a foxtail, so look closely if your dog has an undercoat that could easily hide one of these problematic seed clusters.

To help guard against foxtails, some owners give their dogs a thorough grooming after the dog has come into contact with these plants. This includes combing through the dog’s coat with a fine-tooth comb. Owners also examine the dog’s entire body, especially the undersides of the paws, the armpits, stomach and inside the ears.

Owners of dogs with very thick hair sometimes clip their dogs down to help prevent foxtails from sticking to the hair and becoming hidden beneath it.

Signs that your dog may have a foxtail in his nose include sudden sneezing, pawing at his nose and possible bleeding from the nostril. As the foxtail works its way deeper into your dog’s sinuses, the dog’s reaction may eventually dissipate, leading you to believe whatever was bothering him has gone away. In reality, the foxtail has become even more dangerously embedded and may cause severe infection.

A foxtail lodged in your dog’s ear will cause him to paw at his ear, tilt his head, shake his head, cry and even possibly move in a stiff manner when he walks. You may not be able to see the foxtail since it may have become embedded deep within the ear.

Foxtails sometimes become lodged in the eyes, and cause tearing, squinting, and mucous discharge. Your dog may paw at his eye, but you may not be able to see the foxtail if it has lodged beneath the dog’s eyelid.

Your dog may even swallow a foxtail, causing him to gag, retch, cough, eat grass, stretch his neck and swallow repeatedly.

If you suspect your dog has encountered a foxtail that has entered his body and shows any of these signs, be sure to take him to a vet immediately if you can’t remove the foxtail yourself. It’s important to act quickly. Foxtails can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections.