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Winter Weather Tips to Keep Fido Warm ‘Til Spring

Posted on: February 9th, 2007 by

With the cold winter nights and short days, winter’s hold is still apparent, not just for us, but for our pets, too. More than just inconvenient, outdoor winters for our four-legged friends can be more than just uncomfortable: they can be downright dangerous.

Jackets and blankets purchased with your pooch in mind can help stave off the cold in some instances, but most pet experts recommend that Fido and Fluffy be allowed to sleep inside until spring’s rays start to warm the earth again. If your pet must sleep outside, 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, for pets left outside for more than a few minutes, be sure that they have adequate shelter with lots of clean, thick bedding and clean drinking water (not frozen) at all times.

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. Also, 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.

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 when they come inside 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.)

Since the groundhog saw his shadow this year, spring is coming, but isn’t here yet. Be sure to protect your pets from the cold nights that are still upon us.

Claim Examples

Posted on: January 3rd, 2007 by

By: Dr. Jack Stephens

A Routine Visit Helps Identify Tumor Early

Bebe, a 10-year-old Bicon Frise, recently went in for a routine annual visit. Bebe’s owner had enrolled in Pets Best’s Best Wellness plan and was using the benefits for Bebe’s annual visits.

It was suggested to Bebe’s owner that since the wellness benefits provide for an annual blood test that blood be drawn and sent to the lab. Although it was almost an afterthought, the blood test revealed an elevated enzyme that occurs with liver damage.

Further testing, including an ultrasound, revealed that a tumor was present. A veterinary specialist in Los Angeles was able to remove the tumor, which would not have been found except for the routine annual visit and blood work.

Pets Best reimbursed Bebe’s owner 80%, or $3,440 out of $4,300, since the per-incident deductible had already been met. Additionally, Bebe’s owner was reimbursed $1,012 for the expense of her regular veterinarian. To date $4,452 has been sent to Bebe’s owner for Bebe’s squamous cell carcinoma of the liver, a very deadly tumor type that was thankfully caught in time.

Separate Incidents, Same Dog

Miss Pugsly, a 5-year-old Pug, recently developed pancreatitits, an infection of the pancreas. After a referral from Miss Pugsly’s regular veterinarian and an emergency clinic to the Teaching Hospital at Texas A&M Veterinary School, a biopsy was performed. The biopsy cost was $2,341, of which Pets Best paid 80%. Thankfully, the mass was not malignant.

About a month after developing pancreatitis, our curious Miss Pugsly decided to swallow rat poison. For this trip to the vet, Pets Best reimbursed $1,400 towards this treatment, or 80% after the deductible.

We’re hoping that 2007 is a stress-free year for Miss Pugsly and her owner!

Sam’s Story

Sam, an 11-year-old Golden Retriever, developed severe diarrhea and vomiting, much to his owners’ distress. X-rays revealed a foreign body in the intestinal tract. Upon exploratory surgery to remove the foreign body, it was discovered that Sam’s intestines had ruptured, causing a severe infection in the abdominal cavity. The cost of Sam’s surgery was $4,262, of which Pets Best reimbursed $3,344, or 80% after the deductible.

Paco’s Troubles Still a Mystery

Paco, a 1-year-old Shih Tzu, developed vomiting for reasons that are still unknown to his owner. After a trip to the vet, Pets Best reimbursed Paco’s owner $1,486, or 80% after the deductible, for diagnostic testing, including a blood panel and x-rays, hospitalization and treatments.

Pets & New Children

Posted on: December 15th, 2006 by

By: Dr. Jack Stephens

There are many reasons why people should not consider “getting rid” of a pet when a new child enters the home. Unfortunately, this happens all too often with pets that have provided years of companionship. They become disposable. The pet owner mistakenly believes that a new child and a pet are incompatible. They may be concerned that the added responsibilities will be too much for them, or that the pet might injure the child. However, the many advantages for pets in households with children far outweigh these concerns; usually, those who consider disposing of their pet are unaware of the many positive benefits that result from pets.

HEALTH BENEFITS
It now documented and scientifically proven that pets are good for our health and well-being. The simple act of petting a dog will improve a human’s internal biochemistry in several ways. Interaction with a dog or other pet increases certain hormones such as prolactin (the feel-good hormone) and oxytocin (the warm-feeling hormone). These are interesting bodily changes in our chemistry, especially given that these hormones are higher in women and even higher in women with newborn infants! Prolactin is responsible primarily for milk let-down in nursing mothers, and oxytocin is primarily responsible for the birthing stimulus. In other words, Mother Nature gives women higher levels of these hormones, so they will be more nurturing towards infants. Over the eons of interacting with animals, this same biological benefit was also being developed by safe, quiet interacting with animals for both men and women. If pets provide us with higher levels of the very same hormones, ones that cause us to be more nurturing and to generally feel better, why remove the stimulus?

Pets also decrease cortisol, the stress hormone. Blood levels of the primary hormone that can be measured when we are stressed (cortisol) actually decrease when we pet a pet. It has been a long time since I raised my four children, and I loved them dearly when they were small; but I can tell you it was stressful being a parent. Why remove the pet that actually reduces your stress and has the other proven benefits of reducing your blood pressure?

Additionally, pets increase certain neurotransmitters and other favorable chemicals that allow your nerves to work more efficiently and effectively. Pets improve Serotonin levels, decreasing depression. Think about all the post-partum depression that occurs and how having a pet may play a role in alleviating depression. It has been well documented – and I have personally seen many times – that obtaining a pet will lessen or even alleviate depression. I have witnessed people eliminate antidepressants completely by the simple act of acquiring a companion pet. Notice I said “companion pet,” because the pet needs to interact with you daily and be part of your life in order to obtain the maximum health benefits. If a household pet, such as a dog or cat is not feasible, consider an aquarium. There are even measurable benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, that have been observed with the interaction of pet fish and people.

INTRODUCTION OF CHILD AND PET
Household pets, especially older pets, should be introduced with the new child, just as you would introduce the new infant to a sibling. After all, we don’t call pets our babies and treat them like children for nothing; and – as with human siblings – there can be some jealousy of a new member of the family. Proper introduction can head that issue off and prevent a negative association with the new member.

Allow the pet to see and sniff the new family member. Praise and pet the pet as you do the introduction, and always follow up with a treat. A few episodes of positive reinforcement with praise and petting, followed up by a treat, will soon associate the new family member with rewards. This same pattern should be used for any new family member, whether four-legged or two-legged. This should work in most all cases, if not; consult a professional behaviorist for advice. There is a solution to almost all situations.

THE CUROSITY FACTOR
Most pets are simply curious about a new family member. After all, this has been their household, and anything new in the environment demands their attention. Pets, like humans, need to assimilate and understand how change affects them. They have questions, which, while they cannot be expressed in language, are important to resolve through positive reinforcement and close supervision at the introduction.

Pets, like very small children, are curious and need to know how to avoid anxiety, frustration and undesirable results. Also, pets, like children, cannot express, nor can they understanding in our language, what is going on. In other words, you can not simply tell a dog how wonderful it is that the new baby is here and expect him to understand. Once their curiosity has been satisfied and they receive positive feedback for their curiosity, things will return to normal in most households, and nearly all pets will accept, if not welcome, the new member of the family. It is important to understand that a pet’s behavior is a direct result of your actions and reinforcement through the positive feedback mechanisms of praise and reward.

WELCOME DISTRACTION
In our hectic lives pets can be a welcome, non-judgmental distraction from our stresses of the day. We have many demands, and a new child, although most welcomed, does come with stress. There are more concerns regarding how they are doing, their comfort, feeding, bathing, and changing of diapers, for instance, that increase the parents’ work load. The argument that adopting the pet out will relieve a few more burdens or chores that take time away is not valid, because the pet does not take that much time away. And – as we know from the positive biochemical and hormonal changes pets provide – valuable improvements in our lives because of our pets allow us to be even better parents.

ALLERGIES
The old school of thought that keeping children, especially infants, away from pets was helpful for preventing allergies has now been scientifically shown to be wrong. Evidence supports that early exposure to pets is actually better at preventing future allergies and non-exposure causes greater allergies for many children. Having pets around infants may actually improve their chances of having fewer allergies, certainly to pet dander, anyway.

LOYALTY
In life, we owe certain loyalties to individuals, our family, society, the community and our government for the benefits they provide us. There is no less loyalty owed to a companion pet who has been there for you and been part of your family. You owe them an allegiance for the value they have brought to your life. Changes in your family situation do not change your loyalty to your other family members. It does not change your loyalty to society or to your community, nor should it change the loyalty you have to your pet. We are the protectors of children and pets. The creator granted us dominion over animals, but with that dominion comes responsibility. All things are temporary and transient, but how you deal with life and others is not. Pets give us unconditional love and loyalty. That loyalty should be reciprocated and not abdicated when family situations change.

PROTECTION
I realize your pet may not be a Lassie that will save your child as Lassie did for Timmy many times, but it does happen. Pets commonly protect children introduced to them when they are mature. As the children age, many animals bond to children in their homes, in a manner that is still to be quantified. In fact, many breeds of dogs were specially bred to protect the children of emperors and nobles. There are many stories of pets protecting children and families. Cats have awoken their owners when a fire was present in the home, saving their owners’ lives. A pot bellied pig, when its owner suffered an incapacitating stroke, went into the street and would not move until a person followed her to her stricken master. Dogs have pulled children out of lakes and pools.

Dogs and horses have saved children from poisonous snakes. Even birds can be early warning signals for toxic fumes. Remember the canaries in the coal mines? Coal miners placed canaries in the mine shafts to warn of deadly toxic gases, by giving their lives as an early warning. Now instruments have been designed to take the canary’s place and measure deadly gases in the air.

One never knows when disaster will strike, or what form danger could come in for your child. Why not have trusted pet companions that can sense and know things you do not and can be there when you are not to protect your child?

There are many positive benefits of companion pets for you and your child. With a few easy steps, you can be assured of a good relationship between you, your pet and your new child or family member. The benefits of keeping the pet far outweigh the attitude that when new family members come, pets must go.

Dogs Help to Find and Cure Rare Human Disease

Posted on: September 18th, 2006 by

By: Dr. Jack Stephens

At the University of Missouri-Columbia, Tibetan terriers are contributing to a canine DNA bank in an ongoing research program that studies the genetic basis of a neurological disease that affects both dogs and humans.

The disease is neuronalceroid lipofuscinoisis (NCL) in dogs and Batten disease in humans. A rare, inherited neurological disorder, NCL/Batten disease does not currently have a cure. According to Dr. Martin Katz, professor of ophthalmology with a dual appointment in the School of Medicine and the College of Veterinary Medicine, human NCL often goes misdiagnosed due to its rarity and symptoms that are similar to other diseases. Affected children develop symptoms that may include blindness, seizures, cognitive decline and loss of motor function.

But Dr. Katz feels the purebred Tibetan terrier may hold the key for the genetic basis of the disease. By comparing the mutated genes of affected dogs to unaffected dogs, researchers have been able to pinpoint the mutant gene and identify through a complicated mapping process where the gene is in the DNA sequence.

A simple test for the mutation can then be performed on any dog using DNA extracted from a blood sample. This test will enable breeders to screen dogs prior to breeding to prevent future generations from being affected. This process will also lead to making it possible to determine whether any humans with NCL have the same mutations in the corresponding human genes.

The shorter life span of a dog allows researchers to conduct their studies much faster than with people, and the similarity of the disease will allow for better and faster results for humans. Another benefit of studying the genes in dogs is that there is excellent record keeping by the breed registries and close observations by the dog owners, which make them ideal subjects for genetic studies.

Another way man’s best friend continues to help us.

Source: Veterinary Medical Review, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Missouri.

Cantankerous Goose Helps Elderly Cancer Patient

Posted on: September 9th, 2006 by

By: Dr. Jack Stephens
9/9/2006

A northern Idaho man diagnosed with terminal cancer says a usually cantankerous goose that befriended him on his walks has helped him live past doctors’ predictions. Bill Lytle, 73, a two-time state legislator told the Coeur d’Alene Press that after retiring, he became a founding member of a walking club that walked around a local lake where a goose was well-known to actually attack humans. After he was diagnosed with cancer, the goose, called Mr. Waddles, began to attach himself to Mr. Lytle. For some strange reason, this change in behavior only happened after he was diagnosed with cancer and seemed to be limited to this one person.

Mr. Lytle thinks Mr. Waddles knew he was sick and started coming up to him and letting him pet him. The goose now rubs his head against Mr. Lytle, yet will snap at anyone else who comes too close! This has inspired Mr. Lytle to continue his walks despite feeling ill, in order to have the daily meeting with Mr. Waddles. “He keeps coming to me, and I look forward to the daily sessions. Although I have cut my walks, he inspires me to keep going even when I do not feel like it,” Lytle said. (Coeur d’Alene Press)

Another example of animals helping humans. It is a mystery why this goose-who was well-known in the area for being a bird to stay away from-would change from a goose that would charge and nip anyone straying to close to suddenly befriending one ill person. Why would its behavior change so dramatically to this one person and become a motivational factor in this man’s battle with cancer?

My own personal experience with Spanky, coming to my rescue in my battle with cancer, was similar in that his behavior changed suddenly when I was diagnosed with cancer-although not as uncharacteristically as Mr. Waddles. He became tuned in to my need to fight the disease with more than drugs and radiation-a mystery in life that I feel is somehow rooted in our biology from eons of interaction with animals. My faith says humans are the stewards of animals, but is that because of our hierarchy or is it much more because they benefit us in ways we do not understand?