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Torrey’s diary May 2008

Posted on: May 8th, 2008 by

By: Dr. Jack Stephens

Hi, my name is Torrey. You may know me as the Customer Service Advocate here at Pets Best – a job I take seriously. I may be small, but I’ve been told I have the heart of a lion and, truth be told, I rule the roost, whether it’s here at work or at home with my family. Those other dogs, cats and people may be bigger than I am, but have no fear – I put them in their places just fine.

I do a lot here around the office, actually – am glad that my Dad (who most people call Jack or Dr. Stephens) brings me to work with him every day. There are a lot of things I’m good at, and one of them is running off strangers. I may only be a pound-and-a-half, but I can intimidate someone a hundred times my size. I love it!

Take this guy Andrew, for instance. I love to eat his lunch. He came in to talk to Dad just yesterday and I let him hang out, just minding my own business. I have him trained so that when he leaves, he inches for the door little by little because he knows I’ve got my eye on him. It was so great. He inched his way closer and closer to the gate that Dad puts up sometimes in his office door and then you know what I did? I made him jump it! HA! I gave him a good barking to for a couple of minutes and feel pretty confident that I intimidated the *you know what* out of him. I haven’t seen him since. It’s all in a day’s work.

People like to use the words “tea-cup Chihuahua” and “Lil’ Tornado” around me, but all I know is that I have a voice and opinions and know how to use them, know how to be sweet when it will get me what I want, such as in my Dad’s lap or a treat from one of the employees here at the office. Dad has told everyone lately not to give me as many treats because he found out that I make the rounds and have put on too much weight, apparently. Humpft. As if a little extra on a girl ever hurt anyone. I work hard for those treats!

Speaking of working hard, one of my favorite things to do is to work hard to make sure that our policyholders are happy. If you ever need me, e-mail me at I have to find someone to help me type my responses, obviously, but if anyone can get what she wants around here, it’s me!

Prescribing Pets Not Pills

Posted on: May 8th, 2008 by

Posted by Angela Klein on 5/8/2008 in Articles from Newsletters

Heather from, a blog she maintains about wellness for women, knows what it’s like to live with depression. Getting a dog helped, she said, brought her laughter and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. “I can honestly say that my dog is a big reason I am no longer depressed,” she said.

Recent studies have continued to show what Heather and others already know: pets are good for us. Looking at the multiple reasons why, it’s easy to see.

Pets get us up and moving. By walking our dogs or going to the store to buy food and treats for our cats, we’re doing more than just sitting. As the endorphins start to flow from our exercise, we feel better.

Having a pet means that we’re no longer alone, and even if we already live with others, the addition of a pet can still help tremendously. Anyone who has ever seen a dog look at its owner will understand the meaning of pure, unadulterated love. Pets look to us to meet their needs, be part of their pack, and thrive on the attention and affection we give. In return, they provide a love that asks for little and gives much.

A study several years ago at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom studied the physical and psychological health benefits of owning a pet and found that people who walk their dogs, in particular, are less prone to depression and loneliness, and have fewer problems with obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Dr. Jack Stephens, president and founder of Pets Best Insurance, has been preaching about the power of pets for years as he has seen person after person, including himself, helped by the love of a pet.

“More and more social and healthcare professions are seeing the value of pets in helping to keep us healthy and improving our health when we are ill, stressed or depressed,” Stephens said.

“The quiet interaction of petting a pet will lower your blood pressure, decrease your stress hormone and increase the levels of good hormones and neurotransmitters which will all help you feel better.”

Stephens goes on to add that spending time with our pets also increases our serotonin levels, which helps combat depression, and walking our pets helps us lose weight, keep it off and improves our overall sense of well-being.

Not only can walking a dog improve our moods and help us maintain our weight, the study by researchers at the University of Portsmouth also showed that we make more friends when we’re out walking our pets, which also eases loneliness and depression.

Giving us passion and purpose, providing a source of unconditional love and acceptance and getting us out and about – that’s what our pets do for us. So the next time you bend down to scratch your furry friends, remember to whisper an extra “thank you” for all they do without even knowing.

The Real Buzz On Bug Bites

Posted on: April 30th, 2008 by

Posted by Amy Shojai on 4/30/2008 in General Articles

On-the-go dogs delight in outdoor adventures, but too often they sniff out pesky bugs that prove aggravating or even dangerous. Recently, my happy-go-lucky German shepherd pup Magic morphed into a miserable crybaby, courtesy of “something” that bit or stung. His eyes swelled shut, his muzzle inflated, and hives made fur stand off his body in an itchy checkerboard pattern that prompted nonstop scratching.

Fur offers some protection but paws and sparsely furred tummies are at risk especially in locations that harbor fire ants. Dogs who play with bees, wasps, spiders or scorpions suffer stings on the face, head or even inside the mouth. Bites and stings beneath the fur may be hard to see or treat, but first-aid usually is all that’s needed to relieve any minor swelling, itching or redness.

Heed these seven bits of advice if your dog gets stung or bit by a bug:

-Bees leave behind the stinger, which may continue to pump venom into the skin. Use a credit card or similar rigid tool to scrape it free.
-A cold pack or compress applied to the bite helps reduce the swelling. A bag of frozen peas or corn works well, and molds against the pet’s body.
-A baking soda and water paste works great to soothe the sting, but it can be messy when applied to fur so use only on exposed tummies.
-Ammonia works great to cool the pain of fire ant bites. Moisten a cotton ball and dab on the stings. Calamine lotion also soothes ant bites.
-For stings inside the mouth, offer ice cubes or ice water for the pet to lick and drink.
-You can also mix a teaspoonful of baking soda into a pint of water, and squirt the solution into his mouth with a turkey baster or squirt gun, if he’ll allow you to do this.

As long as your dog continues to breathe with no problem, a veterinary visit may not be necessary even if the face swells quite a bit. Benadryl, an antihistamine, counters swelling and itching. A safe dose is one milligram for every pound your pet weighs or a Benadryl ointment can be used directly on the sting.

Hives usually go away on their own after a day or so, and sooner if treated with an antihistamine. Magic felt better within 20 minutes of the first dose of Benadryl. Keep in mind that this over-the-counter medication also causes drowsiness as a side effect. In my case, Magic slept through the night and recovered by the next morning.

How do I know when it’s an emergency?

Like people, some dogs can suffer severe allergic reactions when stung or bitten by insects. A single sting can prompt a dog’s muzzle to swell and an anaphylactic reaction usually occurs within 20 minutes of the sting. This causes a dog’s face, throat and airways to swell – making breathing difficult or impossible. Anaphylactic shock requires immediate veterinary treatment as a dog can die without professional medical intervention.

Please take your dog to a veterinarian if he exhibits any or all of these signs:

Acts weak
Suffers diarrhea
Extreme facial swelling
Has trouble breathing

– By Amy D. Shojai, CABC, a certified animal behavior consultant, pet care specialist and author of more than a dozen pet books, including The First-Aid Companion for Dogs and Cats. She can be reached through her website

Home Management of Chronic Renal Failure in Cats

Posted on: March 31st, 2008 by

Posted by Arnold Plotnick, DVM on 3/31/2008 in Scratching Post Articles

Chronic renal failure (CRF) is a common cause of feline illness, especially in older cats. It is also incurable. With the exception of a kidney transplant, it is difficult or impossible to improve kidney function in cats with chronic renal failure. But it is possible to slow the progression of renal failure and improve the quality of life through dietary and drug interventions.

The benefits of dietary modification in CRF have been well documented. Protein, when metabolized, gives rise to toxins that the failing kidneys cannot properly excrete. By reducing the amount of protein in the diet, the toxin level is lessened, and this helps combat weight loss, poor appetite, vomiting and lethargy. In the past, choices were very limited with regard to these diets for cats. Recent veterinary studies confirmed that cats fed prescription diets feel better and live longer.

In addition, potassium supplements now available in palatable forms seem to be helping cats diagnosed with CRF. Hypokalemia (low blood potassium) contributes to kidney failure progression. Potassium supplements aid in addressing general muscle weakness affecting cats with kidney disease.

Cats with diseased kidneys have difficulty conserving water-soluble vitamins due to the excessive amount of urine produced by the failing kidneys. Work with your veterinarian to select a multi-vitamin appropriate for your cat.

A recent study has shown that the severity of proteinuria (excessive protein in the urine) is related to survival in cats with chronic renal failure. Proteinuria can be detected by a simple urine test. Cats who lose excessive protein in their urine can be treated with a drug, benazepril. This can restore the urine protein level to normal and increase survival.

Phosphorus is filtered from the bloodstream by the kidneys. When the kidneys begin to fail, the phosphorus levels begin to rise. This can lead to further kidney damage. Limiting phosphorus consumption appears to slow the progression of CRF in humans and dogs, and there is evidence that dietary phosphorus restriction also limits renal injury in cats with CRF. Prescription diets designed for cats with kidney failure contain reduced levels of phosphorus, however, the level may not be restricted enough.

Cats with CRF need to drink large quantities of water to maintain hydration – or run the risk of becoming dehydrated, which can have additional harmful effects on the kidneys. While there are ways to encourage additional water intake (feeding canned food rather than dry food, adding water or broth to the food), often the fluid intake for cats with CRF is inadequate. Some CRF cats require subcutaneous (under the skin) fluids given every day. If the cat does well, it might be possible to decrease the frequency to every other day, or even less frequently, depending on how the cat is feeling at home.

High blood pressure, detected in almost 20 percent of cats with CRF, is a major risk factor. These cats should have their blood pressure evaluated regularly and if hypertension is detected, treatment with amlodipine is recommended. Most cats respond readily to this medication. Hypertensive cats need life-long therapy to keep their blood pressure under control.

Many cats with CRF become anemic because the kidneys produce a hormone, erythropoietin, that instructs the bone marrow to manufacture red blood cells. As the kidneys fail, they produce inadequate amounts of this hormone, and the red blood cell level drops, resulting in anemia. Anemia contributes to the lethargy and poor appetite.

A genetically engineered form of human erythropoietin given to cats can dramatically reverse the anemia. However, this hormone can have serious side effects: some cats will produce antibodies against this hormone because the hormone is of human origin. These antibodies not only attack the human erythropoietin, but whatever remaining feline erythropoietin is present. Cats develop sudden, severe anemia as a result and require blood transfusions to keep them alive.

Many advances have been achieved regarding the treatment of chronic renal failure. Treatment must be tailored to the individual cat. Although CRF is not curable, many cats can live for years after diagnosis if treated appropriately.

– By Arnold Plotnick, DVM, board-certified in feline medicine and internal medicine. He operates the Manhattan Cat Specialists practice in New York City and can be reached through his website:

Move Over Rover, Cats Can Drool, Too

Posted on: March 14th, 2008 by

Posted by Arnold Plotnick, DVM on 3/14/2008 in Scratching Post Articles

Happy cats demonstrate their happiness by kneading their paws, purring, and bunting (head-butting). A truly ecstatic cat may even drool on her owner. But drooling, while regarded as the utmost affectionate feline compliment, can also signify that something is amiss.

An excess production of saliva by the salivary glands is called ptyalism. Oral problems and central nervous system disorders are common reasons for ptyalism and subsequent drooling. Ptyalism should not be confused with pseudoptyalism, in which normal amounts of saliva – not excessive amounts – are being produced, but it overflows from the mouth due to anatomic abnormalities, such as malocclusion (abnormal alignment of the teeth) or to an inability or reluctance to swallow because of pain associated with swallowing.

The initial step in determining the cause of a cat’s drooling is a thorough oral examination. This may require sedation, tranquilization or even general anesthesia, as cats with painful mouths are often head shy and won’t allow a comprehensive exam.

Disorders of the teeth and gums are a common reason for drooling. Periodontal disease and the accompanying gingivitis, if severe, can lead to halitosis (bad breath), dysphagia (difficulty eating) and drooling. Periodontal disease is easily diagnosed during an oral examination, however, determination often requires oral x-rays. Some cats experience gingivitis or stomatitis (inflammation of the entire mouth) of such severity that they paw at their mouth, refuse to eat hard food and may drool excessively.

Biopsy of the gums or other affected oral tissues may reveal a severe infiltration of inflammatory cells. This condition, called lymphocytic/plasmacytic gingivitis or stomatitis, is usually quite painful. Treatment consists of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications and in extreme cases, extraction of all of the teeth.

During an oral exam, a veterinarian will evaluate if the cat can close her mouth properly. Some cats cannot, due to malocclusion. Although congenital and developmental disorders are common causes of malocclusion, oral tumors can cause misalignment of the teeth and/or jaw, leading to improper closing of the mouth and subsequent drooling. In fact, oral cancer is a very common cause of drooling in geriatric cats.

Damage or paralysis of the trigeminal nerve can lead to drooling secondary to an inability to close the mouth. Disorders involving other cranial nerves can also lead to drooling, but fortunately, cranial nerve disorders are uncommon in cats.

Oral trauma and associated pain and discomfort can lead to drooling. Broken teeth with resultant nerve exposure, a fractured jaw, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are traumatic injuries that often lead to pain and drooling.

Kidney failure is a very common condition, especially in geriatric cats. Cats with severe kidney failure may have significant uremia (literally “urine in the blood”). These cats often develop ulcers on the gums, tongue, and edges of the lips. These ulcers are painful, and many of these cats drool foul-smelling saliva as a result. If the oral cavity is determined to be normal, other causes for drooling that should be considered include liver disease, nausea, seizure activity and drug or toxic stimulation of salivation.

Various drugs and toxins can cause hyper salivation in cats. Unpleasant tasting drugs can cause cats to salivate profusely. The antiprotozoal drug, metronidazole (Flagyl), the antihistamine, chlorpheniramne (Chlortrimeton), and the sulfa antibiotics are particularly notorious for causing cats to drool copiously if the pill inadvertently lands on the tongue during administration. These drugs require an owner who is proficient in giving pills to their cats.

Other possible causes of feline drooling include overdosing of flea and tick insecticides, secretions of various toads and the venom from a black widow spider. Various plants, including philodendron, diffenbachia, poinsettia and Christmas trees – as well as exposure to some household-cleaning products – can cause increased salivation.

A systematic approach is necessary for diagnosing the underlying cause of drooling in cats. Yes, some cats drool from happiness, but contact your veterinarian if your cat shows signs of illness, including oral discomfort, unusual behavioral changes, foul odor to the saliva, or saliva that is blood-tinged.