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Blending the Best: Alternative Care with Traditional Medicine

Posted on: March 6th, 2008 by

Posted by Kim Campbell Thornton on 3/6/2008 in General Articles

Concerned about the negative side effects of medication and the invasiveness and pain from surgery, more pet owners are seeking therapies that go beyond conventional veterinary medicine to help their cats and dogs.

They want to combine the best of traditional veterinary medicine with complementary and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal medicine, massage – and more – to provide their pets with the best possible quality of life.

Ways that complementary medicine can be integrated with traditional care include using acupuncture in conjunction with pain relief medications to speed healing after surgery. Herbs such as milk thistle, licorice root and red clover can help improve liver function in dogs with diseases such as copper toxicosis.

Complementary therapies are also beneficial in preventive medicine. People with police dogs, guide dogs and other working dogs or whose dogs compete in agility, field trials and other sports use chiropractic, massage, nutraceuticals and other therapies to help their dogs maintain good condition and perform at their best. Techniques that can help include neuromuscular electrical stimulation, therapeutic ultrasound, and the application of heat and ice. These treatments help the dog maintain or regain range of motion, tissue mobility, strength and function.

Complementary medicine has many success stories, but it’s not appropriate for every situation. If you’re considering trying it for your pet, approach it with the same investigative spirit you would any conventional drug or treatment. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it can’t be harmful or that it’s a cure all.

Here are four points to consider:

1. Ask your veterinarian how alternative and conventional approaches compare as far as effectiveness for your pet’s condition. If your veterinarian isn’t familiar with CAM, schedule a consultation with a holistic veterinarian ( who can advise you. Many offer phone consultations if you’re not in their area.

2. Consider the risks and potential benefits of each approach, and compare the quality of life and safety issues. Use the treatment that will most effectively address the problem. For some things, such as heartworm prevention, conventional is better.

3. Be aware of potential side effects. Like drugs, herbs work by causing biochemical reactions. Before trying any herbal remedies, find out if they will interact with drugs your pet is already taking.

4. When possible, choose a veterinarian who’s open to integrative medicine — the use of both conventional and complementary therapies. To find a qualified practitioner, start your search with professional organizations such as the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy, the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society and the Veterinary Botanical Medicine Association.

There are many good reasons to try complementary therapies and no reason why they can’t be effectively combined with conventional veterinary medicine to become an integral part of your dog’s or cat’s veterinary care.

Sweet sixteen

Posted on: February 14th, 2008 by

By: Dr. Jack Stephens

What a great age! Sixteen, second only to twenty one as a magical day. How I looked forward to reaching sixteen and being able to drive – a milestone year for most, a year that brings much to look forward to.

Sixteen is also a milestone year for our pets, but for a different reason. Sixteen for them is more like reaching our 90th birthday. Skeeter, my special little angel man, turned 16 on January 25th.

He lost his hearing a couple of years ago and is basically blind now, with slight light vision in his right eye only. We were able to stall his inevitable blindness for nearly two years with “Nu Eyes.”

His front leg shakes more often. He sleeps more. At times, he becomes disoriented and shows signs of senility. He now has less control of his bladder, and although much more onerous for my wife and me, we recognize that it is something that comes with the aging process and we simply have to prepare and allow for it.

Skeeter, a miniature pinscher has been my constant companion and pal for nearly sixteen years now. He came to me at six weeks of age after the loss of my special Spanky, another miniature pinscher that helped me through my ordeal with cancer in many special ways. I did not want another dog, certainly not that soon. My shock and grief at losing Spanky were overwhelming.

After all, what dog could ever replace my dear Spanky? I felt it would be unfair to other dogs to bring them into my life, where I would constantly compare them to Spanky. No dog could ever measure up to the companionship and mystical ways of Spanky.

Fortunately for me, my wife and our special breeder, Norma Cacka, forced Skeeter on me, despite my ungracious attempts to repel this little six week old puppy. Alas, my self pity and grief was not meant to be.

Skeeter very quickly captured my heart, even though he was nothing like Spanky. In fact he was not only very different, but almost the opposite. Day by day, he became even more endearing and more special to not only to me, but to the community of my acquaintances and nearly the entire Veterinary profession.

Skeeter moved me to a higher plane of bonding with a pet. Skeeter soon traveled everywhere with me, whether it was a short trip or cross-country. He goes to the office with me daily and occasionally on vacations. Skeeter has indeed been a constant companion. In fact he became the “icon” for pet insurance. I remembering overhearing people say, “There’s Skeeter, the insurance dog.”

Skeeter has had a special life, meeting many movie stars and dignitaries, even Walter Cronkite, who was enamored as everyone else has been with Skeeter’s demeanor and dignity. Skeeter is steadfast and loves everyone, while Torrey, my other constant companion can be difficult and might even bite people, letting them know to leave her alone. Not Skeeter, he is comfortable in a room with hundreds of people, walking among them, mixing, being picked up by anyone, and petted by anyone. He will sit for hours on a stage, as he did twice during veterinary graduation commencement speeches and cancer survivor events that I participated in. He is the epitome of stoic behavior, friend to all, calm and loving.

Skeeter is special in many ways, and his accomplishments are too numerous to mention, but a few bear sharing. His accomplishments are remarkable when you consider he only weights nine pounds and is a dog. The following is a testament to this mighty little package of dog, now sixteen years of age!

-Two Commencement Speeches, first at University of Missouri and later at Texas A&M Veterinary schools, where he sat on the stage in a chair during the entire exercise with his own cap and gown. He stoically sat for hours on stage next to me or on the podium. While I spoke, he simply starred at the audience or dozed.
He participated in several other speeches where he sat on the podium in front of hundreds.

-Honorary Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (DVM) from the University of Missouri Veterinary School

-Broke the no pet barrier for Veterinary Conferences

-Honorary Board member of the Western Veterinary Conference, the largest veterinary conference in the world

-Scholarships in his name at two Veterinary schools

-Skeeter Foundation named in his honor that promotes research that provides scientific proof of the physiological benefits of pets and pet therapy visits to hospitals and nursing homes

-Hugged by movie stars too numerous to name

-Logged so many flights he should have his own frequent flyer card

-Chairman of Pet Relations for Pets Best Insurance

-Photo hung in the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas for several years, in the hallway of stars
Funded research to validate the positive benefits of pets in humans

-Most importantly, this wonderful dog has been a steadfast, loyal companion for sixteen years to this person awed by the positive powers of pets and animals on human health and well being. Happy Birthday, my dear friend.

Brushing Up On Dental Care for Your Pets

Posted on: February 6th, 2008 by

Posted by Kim Campbell Thornton on 2/6/2008 in General Articles

When was the last time you brushed your dog or cat’s teeth? Can’t remember? Counting on dry kibble and a daily hard biscuit to keep his teeth clean and breath sweet? Don’t.

If you ate a dog biscuit every day, but didn’t brush your teeth, your breath would smell as bad as your dog’s — or worse! Getting into the habit of brushing your pet’s teeth is one of the best ways you can keep your pet’s breath kissable fresh and teeth tartar-free.

More importantly, good dental hygiene contributes to your pet’s overall health and can even increase his life span. Veterinary dentists say that keeping teeth clean and the mouth free of bacteria-filled plaque and tartar can add as much as two years to a pet’s life.

To be successful at brushing your pet’s teeth, start when he’s a puppy or kitten. Use a small brush that fits over your finger and gently rub it over his teeth and gums. Once he’s used to opening his mouth and having your fingers inside, you can put toothpaste on the brush. He’ll probably enjoy the pet-friendly flavors of chicken, fish, beef or peanut butter, making him even more willing to submit to having his teeth brushed.

Be sure to use toothpaste made especially for pets. Toothpaste made for people can cause stomach upset in cats and dogs.

Another tip: clean the front of the teeth. Don’t worry about getting the back side of each tooth, but do be sure to brush the “cheek” teeth in the back of his mouth. Tartar buildup is especially common there.

As he grows, continue using the finger brush if that’s easiest for you – or switch to a soft toothbrush made for pets. These toothbrushes feature a large head at one end and a small head at the other end for getting those hard-to-reach teeth in the back.

Dental hygiene goes beyond brushing. Dental diets, treats coated with plaque-attacking chemicals, and tartar-control rinses, sprays, gels and wipes can help put the bite on your pet’s bad breath and its root cause, periodontal disease.

Ask your veterinarian about sprays, rinses and wipes that contain chlorhexidine or zinc ascorbate cysteine compounds. The enzymes in chlorhexidine products work to break down plaque and curtail bacteria. The ZAC compounds encourage production of collagen, which helps heal gum tissue. A tartar-control treat called Reward is coated with chlorhexidine, as are some rawhide chews. Foods, treats and other products can’t replace brushing, but they can help keep your pet’s pearly whites, well, white.

The good news is that you don’t have to floss your pet’s teeth. Your dog does that job by gnawing on a rope toy or grooved Kong. The chewing action pushes plaque away from the side of the tooth. For additional cleaning power, spread the grooves with pet toothpaste.

If your dog or cat exhibits these signs – bad breath, tartar buildup and inflamed gums that bleed when you brush the teeth – there’s a good chance he has developed periodontal disease. Book an appointment with your veterinarian to clean your pet’s teeth. Your pet will be under anesthesia during this professional cleaning. Your veterinarian may also suggest placing chips or gels containing antibiotics beneath the gum line.

Once a month, gently open wide your dog or cat’s mouth to look for signs of infection such as redness, loose or broken teeth, and painful areas. Cats, unlike dogs, get painful cavities. Take a cotton swab and press it on your cat’s gum line. If he flinches, he probably has a cavity that requires veterinary treatment. Any pet who drools frequently, rubs his mouth on the floor or other objects, or drops food when eating may have a serious dental problem.

Bottom line? Brushing is best, every day if possible.

As a helpful tip, all dogs have the same number of teeth. Toy breeds are especially prone to dental problems because they have so many teeth crammed into a tiny mouth. Keep an extra close watch on their oral health.

Happy brushing!

Pet sitting insights

Posted on: January 3rd, 2008 by

By: Arden Moore

The benefit of sharing my home with two dogs and two cats is that I get to enjoy the antics of this “furry fab four,” and they get to have a member of their own species as a pal.

The downside is when I need to travel. Hiring a professional pet sitter can cost more than the price of an airplane ticket or hotel stay – depending on the duration of the trip. Still, I consider it money well spent. My pets get to remain in their own homes and get to be catered to by a professional who is licensed and bonded.

In picking a pet sitter, I’ve learned to be, well, picky. Just because someone tells you that they love pets, doesn’t make them skilled in dealing with companion animal issues. Facing a lot of trips this year, I knew I could not afford to have just any person stay at my house and care for my pets.

I contacted two national organizations: Pet Sitters International and National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. Both referred me to local pet sitting companies who belonged to one – or both – of these organizations. The information on the websites of these local companies provide me with their fee schedules and pet policies.

In picking a pet sitter – and hiring that person for future trips, I considered the following factors:

Punctuality of the prospective pet sitter for the initial face-to-face meeting with me and my pets.
Availability of the pet sitter for future trips to provide continuity for my pets.
Comments from others who had hired the pet sitter in the past.
Knowledge of cat and dog behavior.
Acceptance that my pets are not perfect. My dog, Chipper is afraid of skateboards and will turn into a 60-pound puddle at the sight of one on a walk.
Willingness to provide daily walks for my dogs and daily brushings for my cats.
Receptiveness to meet close neighbors who keep an eye on my house and are available should an emergency arise.
Accessibility by phone or email to provide me with daily updates on my pets.
The body language of my pets when they were around the pet sitter. The person I chose brings out pure joy and goofiness in my dogs and dignified acceptance from my cats.

The next time you face a business trip or a long-awaited vacation, please plan ahead and make arrangements for your stay-at-home pets to receive the best possible care. Hiring a professional pet sitter helps reduce the chance of coming back home to a behavior problem.

Hairballs 101

Posted on: December 26th, 2007 by

Posted by Sally Deneen on 12/26/2007 in Scratching Post Articles

It is the sound no cat owner wants to hear — the gagging, the hacking. Then the hairball seems to always land on the new carpet, never on easy-to-clean surfaces. Just why do cats develop hairballs? Even more importantly, what can owners do to reduce them?

First, face the feline facts. Hairballs are common and develop because of how cats groom. As cats lick their fuzzy bodies, the tongue’s tiny barbs pull off excess hair, explain veterinarians. Inevitably, cats swallow some hair. Ideally, it passes through the body and ends up in stools, but hairballs form when hair instead wads up in the belly. The cat vomits to expel the wad, digested food, saliva and gastric secretions.

Usually harmless to pets and just a messy annoyance for owners, hairballs can become a serious medical problem, however, when they’re not expelled. Marni Bellavia of Sunrise, Fla., learned that the hard way when her Himalayan Ragdoll named Princess developed a hairball mass in her esophagus, requiring surgery to remove it.

“I was so freaked out,” says Bellavia. “It was really disgusting. After surgery, Princess, fortunately, was fine.”

Hairballs, it seems, can become so big that they cause blockages in the stomach or intestines. If a cat is dehydrated, its stomach contents can become dry and form a blockage, explain veterinarians. Curious cats who swallow string can suffer from blockages as the string mixes with hair and minerals to form compact hard obstructions called trichobezoars.

Immediate surgery is a must if the intestine becomes blocked. Vomiting and possibly pain would occur if the hairball were located in the stomach. Constipation would occur if the hair were in the colon.

Some hairballs can be removed by anesthetizing the cat and inserting a scooping tool into the mouth and down its digestive tract to retrieve the mass. Sometimes, surgery in which a veterinarian makes an incision into the abdomen and/or stomach is required.

Emergencies “fortunately are quite rare, but they can happen. Usually, hairballs are very simple problems,” says Linda Ross, DVM, an internal medicine specialist at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass.

Here are five ways to tame hairballs:

1. Bring out the brush. Good regular brushings are an important basic step, even for short-haired cats. Brushings reduce the amount of hair cats swallow. Rubber curry brushes are excellent for removing loose hair. For cats who detest brushes, try stroking gently with nub-covered grooming gloves. Strive to groom longhaired cats daily and treat shorthaired cats to a minimum of weekly groom sessions.

2. Intestinal lubricants, such as Laxatone, are a popular second basic step to employ to help hairballs pass through the digestive tract. Some cats consider it a treat. The gels come in flavors like tuna or malt. Be sure to use enough.

According to Drew Weigner, DVM, who operates a cat-only practice in Atlanta, the biggest problems with intestinal lubricants are not using enough each time or not using it frequently enough. In almost all cases, the most effective dose is a two-inch strip from the tube of lubricant twice daily for two days. Yet, this is far more than indicated on the label. His advice: For cats who like the taste, giving them an inch every day or two will prevent hairballs. If they don’t, just give the above dose for two days. When hairballs return, repeat the initial dose.

3. If all else fails, intestinal lubricants can be given along with a prescribed drug called Metoclopramide, which facilitates the emptying of the stomach, Dr. Weigner says. “Generally, hairballs should be resolved within 48 hours with this regime,” Dr. Weigner says. “If not, either the problem is not hairballs, or a hairball is lodged and may need to be removed surgically.”

4. Avoid home remedies, especially mineral oil, which “can be dangerous,” advises Dr. Ross. “You don’t want to give your cat a liquid oil like mineral oil or baby oil directly in the mouth.” Cats tend to inhale such oils into their lungs because they’re practically flavorless and they don’t signal that they’re edible.

5. Consult your veterinarian about commercially prepared “hairball diets” that have received mixed results. These higher-fiber foods are intended to help cats pass hairballs in their stools.

In the end, be prepared to go through a process of trial and error to help your cat – and don’t give up. Same goes for your hairball-assaulted carpet. The good news, Dr. Weigner says, is cleaning hairball stains from carpet is relatively easy. The mess is relatively dry, after all.

“Even in problem situations,” he says, “the material can usually be vacuumed up after it dries.”