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Kitty pulling out fur? Allergies could be to blame

Posted on: April 30th, 2012 by

A dog with dog insurance sits with a baby.

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

Spring is one of my favorite seasons, as it ushers in new life and warmer temperatures. I enjoy going out for walks to see the beautiful colors of Daffodils and Tulips, and to smell the lovely fragrances of the flowering trees like Dogwood, Cherry and Crabapple.

What brings happiness to me, though, can spell misery to allergy sufferers as pollen counts rise and their symptoms kick into high gear. A couple of my co-workers are sneezing quite noisily and they have a constant supply of Kleenex on hand to help with runny eyes and noses.

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Just like humans, cats can have allergies to things they inhale from the air too. An allergy occurs when a cat’s immune system overacts to foreign substances or particles called allergens. Unlike humans, though, a cat that has inhalant allergies (also called atopy) will often have skin problems and severe itching rather than respiratory symptoms. It would seem logical that if a cat is allergic to something it inhales, the cat will have a runny nose. But, simplistically, an allergen causes the immune system to produce a protein called IgE. This protein attaches to mast cells located in the skin causing the release of various irritating chemicals such as histamine. In cats, these chemical reactions and cell types occur in highest amounts in the skin, so that’s where the symptoms appear.

Inhalant allergies in cats usually start to develop between one and three years of age. Unfortunately, as cats age, they often develop allergies to additional things, and the response to any one allergen may become more severe. Allergens can be found in the indoor or outdoor environment, and they can be seasonal or non-seasonal. Common allergens include tree pollens (like flowering trees in the springtime!), grass pollens, weed pollens, molds, mildew and house dust mites.

The skin lesions of allergies are often the ones the cat produces by mutilating her skin through chewing, licking and scratching. Allergic cats often groom excessively and pull out tufts of hair, leaving bald patches on their skin. Their skin may appear red and sensitive, and lesions can range from small little bumps to crusty, scabby areas that bleed and ooze. Pet health issues like secondary bacterial and yeast infections are common.

Diagnosis of inhalant allergies starts with a detailed medical history and a through exam. Tests may be performed to rule out other possible skin conditions such as flea allergy, contact dermatitis, ringworm and food allergy. Specific allergy testing is done either by taking a blood test or performing intradermal skin testing. The blood tests are reasonably reliable for detecting airborne allergies, but skin testing is considered more accurate. It involves shaving a patch of hair on the cat’s side and then injecting small amounts of allergens under the skin and observing to see if it elicits an allergic reaction.

One of the most important treatments for inhalant allergies is to minimize the cat’s exposure to things he is allergic to. While it may be impossible to completely eliminate all of the offending allergens, many can be reduced with minimal effort on the owner’s part. Simple measures include keeping allergic cats indoors with windows closed during periods of high pollen season, using air conditioners or air purifiers to help reduce allergens, and rinsing the cat off after periods in high grass and weeds.

Other treatment options are chosen based on the severity of your cat’s allergy symptoms and the length of his allergy season. Mild allergy symptoms with only localized itching may sometimes be treated with topical shampoos or rinses, topical anti-itch solutions, antihistamines, omega-3 fatty acid supplements or a combination of these products. Always consult a veterinarian before giving your cat any human allergy medications.

Corticosteroids are very good anti-itch and anti-inflammatory medications. Cats show many fewer side effects to steroids than dogs do, and they can be quite safe and effective in cats when used properly. There are many different kinds of steroids available in both injectable and tablet form. Newer medications include maropitant, which has anti-inflammatory effects, and cyclosporine, which is an immunosuppressant. Both of these drugs can be used to control allergies alone in some cases or in combination with steroids to reduce the dose of steroid needed. Antibiotics and antifungal medications are used to control secondary bacterial and yeast skin infections.

Finally, severe allergies are sometimes treated with hyposensitisation therapy or “allergy shots”. Offending allergens are mixed together by a laboratory and very small injections given weekly at home over several months may help your cat to become less sensitive to them. Unfortunately, it can take up to one year to see the full effects.

Inhalant allergies tend to be chronic conditions, so it is wise to have pet health insurance to help cover the financial burden of long term treatment.

For more information about cat health or to learn more about pet insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Celebrate that special bond on National Kids and Pets Day!

Posted on: April 26th, 2012 by

A dog with dog insurance sits with a baby.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

April 26th is National Kids and Pets day! The special bond between a child and their pets is a pure and unconditional one. This day is designed to recognize and perpetuate the magical link between children and animals. Having dog or cat insurance is a wonderful way to protect the health of our beloved pets and ensure the special bond is also protected.

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Our future lies in our children’s hands, and by allowing them the experience of living with pets, we can help give them the skills necessary to make our world a kinder and better place to live.

Beyond Lassie and Timmy, kids have reaped the benefits of having relationships with animals for generations. Human development has been shown to be influenced by the presence of pets. Studies show significant correlations between and child-animal bond and that child’s social competency and ability to empathize.

Studies have shown that children in households with pets score higher in terms of ability to undertake responsibilities. Having a pet can make a shy child more outgoing by instilling social confidence. Learning disabled children might benefit from reading aloud to a pet and can achieve more academic success. Animals can also give children a sense of comfort and security, allowing them to grow into more confident adults.

In addition to emotional development, there have been noted health benefits to raising children with pets. It has been shown that kids raised in families with household pets suffer from fewer allergies, such as asthma, than children raised without pets.

While it seems as though kids and pets go together like peanut butter and jelly, there are some safety factors that should be considered prior to introducing a pet to your child’s home. Consider your child’s age and temperament prior to getting an animal, especially a dog. Dogs need to have special consideration due to their ability to potentially inflict harm by biting. Dogs don’t have the mental capacity to comprehend a moral code and will often act on instinct. Experts agree that children under school age should never be left alone with a dog, no matter how gentle the child’s or the dog’s temperament is.

National Kids and Pets day is a wonderful time to recognize the benefits of pet ownership for children. With good common sense, you can help improve your child’s health and development by fostering and nurturing the friendship between them and their animals.

For more information about pet health and behavior, or to learn more about pet health insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Anorexia in cats: Not what you’d think

Posted on: April 24th, 2012 by

A cat with pet health insurance refuses to eat.

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

Most people are familiar with the term “anorexia” as it applies to human health. Outside of medical literature, the words anorexia and anorexia nervosa are often used interchangeably.

Anorexia nervosa is a psychological eating disorder characterized by excessive food restriction, irrational fear of gaining weight and distorted body image. We’ve all probably heard about it in the news, but thankfully, this kind of anorexia doesn’t actually occur in cats. Anorexia, on the other hand, is simply a medical term for loss of appetite for food, and it’s a very common in cat health condition.

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Anorexia in cats usually starts with a decrease in appetite followed by complete refusal to eat food. It can be a very serious indicator of an underlying pet health condition that needs prompt treatment, so always consult with your veterinarian if your cat has not eaten in 24 hours. For a kitten younger than six weeks of age, food avoidance for just 12 hours can pose a lethal threat, so seek veterinary attention immediately.

Anorexia can be a symptom of a diverse number of feline health problems including a fever, nausea/vomiting from gastrointestinal disease, kidney disease, liver disease, pancreatitis, diabetes, upper respiratory infections, dental or mouth pain, trauma injuries and cancer.

Stress can be an important contributing factor. Anorexia is commonly seen in hospitalized patients and among cats that are placed in boarding kennels. Anorexia can also be induced by other stressful and psychological events such as moving into a new house, loss of a companion, a new pet/person in the house and other environmental changes. Dietary changes can prompt anorexia too. Some cats are “picky” eaters, and may dislike a new food that is offered. Whatever the cause of anorexia, the condition is never the result of a cat simply deciding not to eat like with anorexia nervosa in people.

Anorexia in cats is corrected by identifying and treating the underlying problem. A detailed medical history and thorough physical examination should be followed by any labwork or imaging studies indicated by the exam. These may include blood tests, urine tests, x-rays or an ultrasound. Results will help dictate specific treatment plans. Because these kinds of tests can often be expensive, it’s a good idea to have invested in a cat insurance policy early on.

Some cats may need to be hospitalized for fluid support to treat dehydration. Nutritional support may be provided with appetite stimulants, syringe feeding (as long as it doesn’t worsen food aversion) or via a feeding tube. Stress reduction is necessary, and it’s good to offer finicky cats a variety of foods. It’s especially important to quickly treat anorexia in overweight cats since they are more prone to a very serious liver disease called hepatic lipidosis due to prolonged anorexia and/or rapid weight loss. Treatment of the underlying cause of anorexia can be costly, so it is important to be financially prepared for unexpected illnesses in your furry friends. Pet health insurance is a good option to help manage veterinary medical costs.

Service Dogs: All work, some play and belly rubs

Posted on: April 20th, 2012 by

A dog with dog insurance helps his owner.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

For centuries humans and canine companions have gone together like peanut butter and jelly. In some instances, the human-animal pairing goes even deeper than companionship. Service or assistance dogs tend to have a special bond with their owners, as their relationship transcends friendship and is also based on mutual reliance. There are stories throughout history of assistance dogs, owing in part to their loving nature and readiness to serve the people they love.

People with disabilities can directly benefit from the independence and freedom hard-working assistance dogs provide by performing daily tasks. Assistance dog training courses are rigorous, with much research and experience having gone into the programs, allowing today’s certified assistance dogs to be at the highest level of reliability and safety.

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The term “service dog” can include dogs that work in police and military forces, whereas assistance dog specifically refers to those that help people with disabilities. The first recognized assistance dog job was likely as a seeing-eye dog, meant to help assist the visually impaired, but there are many other instances where dogs have been able to aid the disabled.

We all get irritated when our dogs bark at the doorbell, but hearing service dogs get a ‘free pass’ for this behavior! Hearing assistance dogs will alert their owner when the phone rings, or somebody is at the door, or in more serious situations, like if a fire alarm goes off. This allows their owner the independence to live on their own despite their disability.

Seizure response dogs are especially interesting, as some have developed the ability to sense an impending seizure and alert its owner to take precautions, such as sitting down or summoning help. It is unclear exactly how dogs can sense this, and the behavior is usually report to occur spontaneously. There has been limited success in ‘training’ dogs to recognize their owner is going to have a seizure, which suggests not every dog has this ability. Seizure response dogs must be completely perfectly suited to their job, and it is imperative they can maintain self-control in any situation the owner finds themselves in.

Medical response dogs have been trained to recognize certain medical states, such as dangerously low blood sugar in a diabetic person, at which point they can alert that owner to seek help. In addition, the medical response dog may be able to fetch medications, call for help, provide stability for mobility or carry necessary medical equipment, such as oxygen tanks.

Psychiatric assistance dogs are given all the rights and protections afforded to service dogs with more traditional jobs. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.” Just as with all other traditional assistance dogs, psychiatric service dog is individually trained to perform tasks that lessen their owner’s disability. This might include reminding the owner to take medication, the ability to assess the surrounding in the event of hallucinations or paranoia, interrupting harmful or repetitive behaviors, providing comfort in stressful situations or retrieving objects.

The traditional service dog has been a Labrador or golden retriever, but any breed can become a service dog, as canines are typically easy to train. Typically puppies are placed in approved foster homes until they are ready for advanced training. The foster homes will teach basic obedience, manners, socialization, and desensitization toward all types of different situations and people. The dog’s temperament is assessed during this time as well. If the dog doesn’t ‘make the cut,’ they will be adopted out as a pet. Advanced training is typically done by professional trainers with the program geared towards a specific disability the dog is suited to.

Service dog work requires a special canine that is able to channel their enthusiasm and love for helping out into a productive manner. The mental capacity and intelligence displayed by service animals is astounding and the love and selflessness they possess while providing such a great service is inspirational.

For more information about dog health or behavior, or to learn how to protect your dog with pet health insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Dog Seizures: When to Worry, When to Wait

Posted on: April 19th, 2012 by

Help! My dog is on medication but continues to have seizures. What should I do?

The goal of anti-convulsants in seizure control isn’t to make pets never have a seizure again. Although this would be nice, it’s not realistic. However, the number, duration and severity of seizures should lessen with medication. If your pet continues to have breakthrough seizures in an amount that concerns you, request a simple blood test to ensure the level of medication is therapeutic in your pet.

If the level is therapeutic and your pet continues to seize, ask your veterinarian about adding another medication like bromide or phenobarbitol, depending on which one your pet currently takes – or possibly consulting with a specialist. – Dr. Fiona Caldwell, DVM

I can’t tell if my dog is having a seizure or trembling for another reason.

Shaking and trembling may be caused by reasons unrelated to epilepsy in dogs. Learn how to tell the difference in 6 Reasons Your Dog May Shiver by Dr. Marc.

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Video Transcript: Hi, I’m Dr. Fiona Caldwell and I’m a veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital. I’m answering questions from Pets Best Facebook page today.

This question comes from Janet, who writes, “My dog had a seizure. I took her to my veterinarian and the veterinarian wants to wait to put her on seizure medication. Is this okay?”

I’m sorry your dog had a seizure. This can be a really frightening and scary thing to watch. Seizures that are caused by epilepsy happen in less than 1% of dogs. Typically, what you’ll see is the pet losing consciousness and paddling their legs or jerking or convulsing. It can last for a number of minutes.

Definitely make an appointment with your veterinarian if you ever suspect that your dog has had a seizure. You were right to go to your veterinarian. Typically, the vet is going to want to run some type of lab work or some other diagnostic testing to make sure there isn’t a different underlying problem causing the seizure.

As a rule of thumb, dogs less than a year of age that have a seizure are typically suffering from some kind of infectious problem, either viral or bacterial. In dogs from about one to six or seven years of age, typically the most common cause is epilepsy. Dogs older than seven that come up with seizures, unfortunately this is often related to something outside of epilepsy, scary things like a brain tumor, liver disease or some other problem.

Depending on how old your dog is and what the seizure was like, it actually might be okay for you to wait to put this dog on seizure medication. There is a decent percentage of the canine population that will have one seizure and then never have another one. Your veterinarian probably doesn’t want to put your dog on seizure medication if he or she is one of those dogs who never has another seizure.

A reason that I would put a dog on medication would be if they have seizures that last more than three to five minutes. Try to take a look at your watch or at the time on your phone so that you can know exactly how long it was. This is going to help your veterinarian to better treat your dog. If a seizure lasts more than three to five minutes, this is an emergency and you should bring your dog to a veterinarian. Their body temperature can rise quickly and can be a problem. Especially as pets age, seizures that last that long can cause problems with their brain and cause brain damage.

If it’s a quick seizure, 20 or 30 seconds to a minute, and your dog pops out of it, it isn’t necessarily an emergency but you should probably schedule an appointment with a veterinarian if they’ve never had a seizure before. If your dog continues to have seizures and they’re getting to the point where they’re once a month or two to three times a month, at some point the frequency is going to warrant medication. Talk with your veterinarian. There are seizure medications that typically work pretty well for dogs and can help control their seizures.

If you guys have questions for me, feel free to post them at Pets Best Facebook page.

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