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Eeeeewwww, fleas!

Posted on: March 30th, 2012 by

A dog scratches at a flea.

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

Flea prevention products are widespread and effective, yet flea infestations are still a common veterinary complaint. Fleas are more than just a nuisance; they can be harmful to pet health and your family as well. If just thinking or reading about the creepy, crawly parasites make you itchy, then read on for important information about how to prevent fleas, and why prevention is so important for your family and your pet.

There are more than 1,900 species of fleas worldwide, luckily we really only need to be concerned about one of them, Ctenocephalides felis. This is the flea that infests our pets 99.9% of the time. For such a small creature, the flea can really cause big problems.

So, what kind of problems can fleas cause pets and people?
-A heavy flea burden can be lethal to a kitten or puppy, sucking so much blood that the animal can become fatally anemic and even die.
-Flea allergic dermatitis can occur in an animal that is only bitten once or twice by a flea, without a heavy flea load. The animal is actually allergic to the flea bites, causing intense itching and sometimes self mutilation.
-Tapeworm infection. While tapeworms are not in themselves lethal, they are unappealing and not healthy for the pet.
-Feline Infectious Anemia is a potentially life threatening disease caused by a blood parasite spread by fleas.
-The plague is still around in modern day medicine and is transmitted to dogs and cats by ingestion of infected rodents or small prey or by bites from infected fleas. The plague can be transmitted to humans in the same manner.
-Cat Scratch fever or Bartonellosis is a potentially debilitating human disease. People contract this disease by cat bites and scratches from a cat that is infested with fleas carrying the bartonella bacteria.

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Some common flea myths
Myth: “My pet lives indoors, and therefore can’t have fleas….”
Fact: Fleas like to live indoors. If your pet goes outside to potty, they can easily bring fleas back into your home, where the fleas can thrive and reproduce.

Myth: “I would know if my pet had fleas because I would have bites too…”
Fact: Fleas don’t prefer human blood and won’t use it unless there is no other options or if the flea population is high.

Myth: “I would know if my pet had fleas, because I would see them…”
Fact: Animals can be very good at keeping themselves clean and can lick them away. You may never actually see the fleas and may only see the classic skin disease that accompanies a flea infestation.

Ok, I’m convinced, how can I prevent them?
It is important to be familiar with the flea lifecycle in order to break that cycle. There are four stages: the egg, larvae, pupae and the adult flea. Targeting more than one life stage will be a more effective way to eradicate fleas in your home.

Not all flea control products are created equal, and not all products work the same. For example, decades ago flea control consisted of flea collars, shampoos, powders and sprays which are generally effective at killing fleas, but don’t prevent fleas from reproducing. The newer generations of flea control products also sterilize the fleas, so they can’t reproduce. These newer products also have the ability to last for a month at a time and some have additional ingredients that can act as dewormers and ward off other parasites such as ticks and heartworms.

Most products should be obtained by a licensed veterinarian, although some are available over the counter. There are a whole slew of products available and each work slightly differently. Some can be dangerous to puppies and kittens, some are toxic to cats, some are not safe in pregnant or nursing dogs. Your veterinarian can help you decide which flea control program is right for you and safe for your pet.

6 Tips for Your Pet Health Spring Checklist

Posted on: March 28th, 2012 by

A cute dog and cute cat enjoy the spring sunshine.

Dr. Fiona is a veterinarian pet health guest blogger for dog insurance and cat insurance provider, Pets Best Insurance.

The sun is peeking through the clouds, temperatures are rising and the flowers are starting to show their heads; spring has finally sprung! For you, this means dusting off the sunscreen and sandals, but springtime can also be a good time to go through a “Spring Pet Health Check”. Here are some things to be mindful of in order to keep your dog and cat fit and happy this season:

1. Start heartworm preventives
If your pet isn’t on heartworm preventatives year round, it’s time to start up again! Heartworm disease is a potentially devastating disease that can cause heart failure and potentially death if left untreated. Treatment is costly and can be difficult. Prevention is the key in heartworm disease. If you have never had your pet on a preventative before, your veterinarian will likely want to run a quick blood test to ensure your pet is heartworm negative prior to prescribing any medications.

2. Start a flea and tick preventive
Some areas of the nation require year round prevention of external parasites, but if you stop during the cold winter months, now is the time to start back up. Ticks can carry many diseases, some of which can be dangerous, such as Lyme Disease. Flea infestations in your home can be very costly to treat and often require an exterminator. Some pet insurance companies will even help to cover a portion of flea, tick and heartworm prevention with their routine care plans. By preventing fleas and ticks, your pet and your home will be healthier.

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3. A trip to the groomer
Warmer temperatures can translate to shedding! Dogs and cats naturally like to be clean, but sometimes they need a little help. Grooming can be done at home, or with a professional groomer. In the winter you may have had less outside time with your dog, which can mean their nails didn’t wear down like they do in the summer. Be sure to keep nails trimmed in order to prevent splitting and breaking.

4. Update vaccines
There is a good chance warmer weather will mean more excursions to places where dogs are welcome. If you and your furry best friend frequent the dog park or other public places, be sure they are up to date on all required vaccinations and deworming.

5. Limit exposure to spring toxins
Spring is a common time to fertilize your lawn. Be sure to use pet safe products, and still keep your pet off the grass for the entire time recommended. Spring blooms can be pretty, but some plants and flowers are toxic to pets. Easter often brings lily flowers; these are EXTREMELY toxic to cats, less so to dogs, but exposure should still be avoided. Because accidents and illness can happen at any time, even with the most careful of pet owners, it’s a good idea to consider pet insurance for our pets. Pet health insurance may help pet owners afford the best level of care in otherwise-dire situations.

6. Ease into activity
If you and your pet have been inactive all winter, ease slowly into activity. Start with leashed walks, and shorter play sessions and gradually work up to maximum activity. Starting all at once can lead to injuries and sore muscles.

By having a small check list of spring dog health and cat health reminders, you can help keep your pet happier and healthier for the many more warm months to come!

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The fainting cat

Posted on: March 26th, 2012 by

A cat with pet health insurance lies in the grass.

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

A client came to see me last week with her 4-year-old female cat named Lily. Lily was due for her annual examination and vaccination updates, but the owner was also concerned about something she had witnessed with Lily on two separate occasions, including an episode just a couple of weeks ago.

The owner described how one day she let Lily outside under supervision to get some exercise and fresh air. Lily started munching on some grass which is typical for cats. A short while later Lily let out a strange cry, vomited up the grass and immediately passed out, fell over on her side and stopped breathing!

Lily had fainted. Fortunately, she recovered after about 20 seconds, but you can imagine how terribly frightening that was for her owner to witness.

Fainting (syncope) in cats refers to a brief period of unconsciousness due to lack of blood flow or oxygen to the brain. The collapse that results from fainting may last from seconds to minutes. The brief event ends with rapid and complete recovery in most cases. Fainting is a clinical symptom of some possible underlying problem and is not an exclusive diagnosis. Because diagnosing pet health issues like these can often take time and can also be expensive, it’s a good idea for cat owners to research pet health insurance options in advance.

Disorders of the cardiovascular system are the most common cause of fainting. These can include an electrical disturbance in the heart such as an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or a structural heart problem with the heart muscles or valves. Other conditions that can lead to fainting include severe respiratory disease or severe coughing, metabolic (body chemistry) disease, hormonal disorders, nervous system dysfunction, anemia and drug therapy.

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Lily fainted twice, and each time it was immediately after vomiting from eating grass.
Lily’s physical exam and lab tests were all normal. She had experienced what is called vasovagal syncope (fainting). This is not uncommon in cats and dogs, but it was the first time a cat patient of mine had presented with the complaint in over 20 years of practice. It’s also seen in perfectly healthy people. It’s not well understood by the medical experts, but it seems to involve an abnormal reflex reaction. Certain stimuli (vomiting in Lily’s case) affect the vagus nerve which has receptors in many areas of the body including the esophagus and stomach. This, in turn, causes an overload to a part of the nervous system leading to a rapid drop in the heart rate and blood pressure resulting in fainting.

In most instances, fainting is relatively benign, and recovery to normal is rapid. It is always best to notify your veterinarian, though, because in some cases, depending on the underlying disease and other factors, it can be life-threatening. For Lily, the force of vomiting seems to be the trigger for the vagovasal reaction. Naturally, then, I instructed her owner to avoid causing vomiting by keeping her from ingesting lawn grass. I recommended that she satisfy Lily’s craving for greens with organic wheat grass or oat grass instead, which generally don’t cause cats to vomit. I also told her to try leash walking Lily in the backyard so that she can still enjoy the outdoors while preventing her from eating grass and fainting.

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How to teach your dog to ring a bell

Posted on: March 26th, 2012 by

A puppy with dog insurance lies on the ground.

By: Judy Luther
Certified Professional Dog Trainer
For Pets Best Insurance

Before you invest in dog insurance or even teach your puppy to sit, you’ll need to train your dog to let you know when he needs to go outside. If your dog can’t communicate what he needs, he won’t be able to succeed. One of my favorite ways to teach dogs to let their owners know they need to go outside, is by teaching them to ring a bell. While this sounds like it might be hard to do, follow the steps below and you’ll have a house trained, bell-ringing dog in no time.

The first and most obvious thing you will need is a bell. Hang the bell, from a piece of string or ribbon, on the wall next to the door you plan to use to let your dog in and out. Hanging the bell from the wall, and not directly from the doorknob will help avoid bell ringing when the door is opened and closed, which can confuse the dog.

Each time you take the dog out, say ”do you want to go outside.” Then gently ring the bell and take your dog outside. After several days of doing this your puppy should start associating your cue words “do you want to go outside” and the ringing of the bell with the door opening.

The next step is to teach your dog to ring the bell. This step should not be done when you are rushing your dog out for a potty break. Show your dog the bell and then ring it. Your dog will probably touch the bell with his nose out of curiosity. If he does, praise him and give him a treat.

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Next, you’ll want to hold the bell in front of him and ask him to ring it. Let him nose the bell or touch it with his paw. Praise him each time he interacts with the bell. Your goal is for him to make the bell ring. Initially the ring may be very quiet, but be patient as this is a new skill for your dog. Make sure you encourage your dog and have fun with this learning process, giving him lots of praise!

The final step in the training process is to remind your dog to ring the bell whenever you take him outside. Take him to the door say “do you want to go outside” then ask him to ring the bell.

Tip: Keep your training sessions short and fun. This is a new skill for your dog, and it will take patience on your part to help your dog understand.

For more information about pet health and behavior visit Pets Best Insurance.

Top 12 ways to celebrate National Puppy Day!

Posted on: March 23rd, 2012 by

A puppy with pet insurance plays tug of war.
By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Animal lovers and pet health insurance enthusiasts everywhere can celebrate March 23rd, which is the sixth annual National Puppy Day, by adopting one of the many homeless puppies currently at your local animal shelter! This unofficial national holiday is designed to encourage us to consider adopting from shelters, rather than buying from pet stores or puppy mills.

If you’re not in the market for a new dog, or if you already have a canine family member, there are still plenty of ways you can help honor this holiday.

Here are 12 ways you can celebrate National Puppy Day:
1. Visit your local animal shelter and consider opening your home to an animal in need.

2. Volunteer at the local shelter, helping with paperwork, walking or grooming the animals, or helping with cleaning the kennels and runs.

3. Make a donation to the animal shelter in your dog’s name.

4. Give your unused or old towels and blankets to the shelter for the animals to use.

5. Consider getting your dog the gift of pet health insurance.

6. Help to raise awareness about the negative aspects of pet store purchases and puppy mills by posting to social media sites like facebook.

7. Treat the dog you have at home like a king or queen for the day.

8. Have an impromptu photo shoot with your dog.

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9. Schedule a grooming appointment so your dog looks the part!

10. Plan a puppy party and invite friends with dogs to get together at the local dog park for a picnic.

11. Approach an elderly neighbor with dogs and offer to walk them.

12. Make sure your dog is up to date on veterinary care and schedule a wellness appointment with vaccinations if needed.

Dogs give us so much and ask so little in return. Without a voice, it is up to us to be advocates for their welfare. Let’s take the time on March 26th to celebrate puppies, young dogs, old dogs, and everything in between!

For more information about dog health care and dog insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.