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Distemper can kill: Vaccinate that kitty!

Posted on: October 4th, 2011 by

Three kittens with cat insurance are vaccinated against feline distemper.

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

We saw our first case of feline distemper in many years at our clinic this week. Personally, I had previously never seen distemper in all of my 21 years of practice. Many people have heard of feline distemper only because the distemper vaccine is part of the regular recommended core vaccines for all cats. Some cat insurance companies, like Pets Best Insurance, even help pay for a portion of this vaccine with their wellness plans.

Because the vaccine is highly effective, most cat owners do not have experience with the disease or even hear much about the actual feline distemper infection. The 4-month-old kitten that we saw was from a group of strays being fed and cared for by one of our kind-hearted clients. Kittens are especially susceptible to feline distemper because their immune systems are underdeveloped, and, despite our best efforts, the kitten declined very rapidly and died within 24 hours.

Distemper, also known as feline panleukopenia virus, is caused by a parvovirus and is seen worldwide in cats. It is closely related to the canine parvovirus, but does not harm dogs. The virus is extremely stable in the environment, and it can survive indoors at room temperature for a year. It is resistant to many disinfectants, but, fortunately, a 10 minute soak in bleach (diluted 1 part bleach in 32 parts water) exposure will kill it.

Feline distemper is spread through contact with an infected cat or an infected cat’s secretions such as feces, urine, vomit, or saliva. It can also be spread through contact with anything contaminated with an infected cat’s secretions including bedding, food and water dishes, and litter boxes. In addition, humans can infect a cat if their clothes or hands are contaminated with the fluids of an infected cat. Most free-roaming cats are exposed to the virus during their first year of life, so kittens can acquire immunity from their mothers, but the protection does not last long. Infection is largely limited to unvaccinated cats, usually kittens and young adults, living in groups. Barn cats and feral colonies, like the one that our kitten came from, are at high risk for outbreaks.

Symptoms typically show up within 10 days of infection. The first symptoms are usually a high fever and loss of appetite. The virus attacks the bone marrow which suppresses the production of white blood cells, hence the term “panleukopenia” (literally, “all-white-shortage”). White blood cells are immune cells needed to fight the infection, and without them the patient is completely vulnerable to the advance of the virus. In the intestine, the virus causes ulceration leading to diarrhea, life threatening dehydration and secondary bacterial infection.

A special syndrome occurs if infection happens during pregnancy. If the infection is in mid or early pregnancy, the kittens simply abort. If the kittens are fairly far along, the part of the brain called the cerebellum is involved resulting in cerebellar hypoplasia. The cerebellum controls unconscious balance and movement. Without a normal cerebellum, the kitten is born with marked intention tremors. Whenever the kitten focuses on purposeful movement like putting his head toward the food bowl to eat, the tremors are so much that normal movement is impossible. The head wobbles and shakes making eating and other activities difficult.

A diagnosis of distemper is based on compatible clinical signs and the presence of panleukopenia (very low white blood cell count). There are also special tests available that can be used in the clinic to show the presence of the virus in the feces.

Feline distemper requires aggressive treatment if the cat is to survive. There is little chance of survival without hospitalization. Treatment is through supportive care with antibiotics and aggressive fluid therapy to control dehydration. Other medications are added as necessary. If a cat is lucky enough to recover from infection, generally no permanent damage is retained and the cat goes on with lifetime immunity. Virus is shed for up to 6 weeks after recovery, so precautions still need to be taken to prevent spreading of the virus.

Vaccination is the most effective method of prevention. Excellent vaccines that provide solid, long-lasting immunity are available. I recommend starting vaccinations at 6-8 weeks of age with repeated doses every 3-4 weeks with the last dose given at or after age 16 weeks to avoid interference of immunity gained from the mother’s milk. The vaccine is repeated in one year and every 3 years thereafter.

October is Adopt a Dog Month!

Posted on: October 1st, 2011 by

A dog with pet insurance is adopted durign the month of October.

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

October is adopt a dog month! Dogs have been proven to help keep us happier and healthier by reducing stress, providing companionship and giving unconditional love. Honoring this bond with a month devoted to adoption also helps keep homeless dogs out of shelters and can help raise awareness about pet over-population. Adopt a dog month is sponsored by the American Humane Association and encourages people to consider shelters and rescue organizations when choosing their next four-legged family member. But before you adopt a furry canine friend, there are a few things you will need to consider– like what will be the best pet insurance, how you will train your new pet, and if the new dog will be a good fit for your family dynamic.

Shelter animals occasionally get a bad rap as abused, disobedient, unwanted and incapable of being trained. This is untrue! It is true, however, that some of the dogs brought into shelters have trust issues and often are under socialized. These dogs require much more time and devotion to training than you might be able to provide. It is important to recognize how much time and emotional energy you have to offer. Taking on a ‘project,’ while it may make you feel good to be helping a dog in need, will fail if you don’t truly have the resources to provide for the dog. There are plenty of dogs that don’t have behavioral issues and are given up for other reasons.

Before choosing a dog, take a look at your lifestyle. Do you live in an apartment? Do you work 10 hours a day and travel a lot? Do you have children? These are all very important factors to consider prior to picking out a dog. It is unreasonable to expect a high energy breed, like a border collie to sit quietly alone at home for hours at a time. On the other hand, an older poodle might be perfectly content to watch cars go by out the window while you are at work. Consider getting an older dog if you don’t have the time to train a puppy. It is untrue that older dogs are incapable of learning new ‘tricks,’ like basic obedience.

Be sure that you are financially prepared to care for a dog. Consider pet health insurance, as this can be invaluable in times of medical need. Veterinary care is expensive, and also important. Remember the cost of food, toys, bedding, leashes, kenneling when you are on vacation… This adds up. It is estimated that as a country Amercians spend $41 billion a year on their pets! According to the Animal Pet Products Association 2011-2012 survey, the average dog costs over $1,500 a year. Because healthcare can be one of the most costly parts of dog ownership, you will want to look into dog insurance early on.

After you have examined all these fundamental aspects and made the decision to open your home to a dog, consider rescue organizations and humane societies. Even if you have a specific breed in mind, there are many rescue organizations that cater to one breed. Some shelter will allow you to be notified if a dog meeting your breed standards turns up for adoption. By considering organizations whose mission it is to help animals in need, you can become part of the solution to pet overpopulation. Every year, about 8 million unwanted and stray animals are taken in by shelters across the country. Tragically, about 3.7 million, almost half, are euthanized because good homes cannot be found for them.

Let’s take time this October to honor these wonderful pets and the joy and smiles they can bring! And for more information about pet health insurance and other pet tips, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Scratch Scratch, Sniff Sniff, Achoo!

Posted on: September 30th, 2011 by

A Chihuahua with dog insurance is itchy from allergies.

By: Dr. Jack Stephens
President and Founder
Pets Best Insurance

Unlike humans, who typically have nasal and sinus allergies, the most common form of allergies in dogs tend to be related to scratching and itching. While cats can develop allergies too, they tend to be more prevalent in dogs. Investing in pet insurance is a wise choice, considering that any pet can develop an allergy at any time.

The most common allergy, by far, is Atopy or allergic skin disease. These allergies can manifest all over the body with hives, itching, and constant scratching and may lead to a bacterial condition called pyoderma. All dog breeds can be affected by this, and symptoms usually begin between 1-4 years of age. At first the symptoms may be mild, but can worsen each year. This kind of allergy is usually seasonal and may be due to pollen, mold, house dust, mites and especially fleas.

Fleas are one of the more common causes for scratching and itching and dogs can become allergic to the flea saliva causing an intense allergic reaction over most of the body. Fleas can cause mild to severe symptoms depending upon the pet’s allergic response to the saliva. A bite from even just a few fleas can cause an allergy.

Some dog breeds are far more susceptible to allergies overall. Dalmatians, Bulldogs, English Setters, Irish Setters, Pugs, Golden Retrievers and many of the Terrier breeds are often most seen for allergy-related health problems. Like humans, pets can also develop food allergies and become allergic to specific ingredients or foods.

Although pets have natural protection from chemicals and other skin irritants because of their fur, they can still be sensitive to these things. Pets can also be allergic to vaccines, insect bites and drugs. These kinds of allergies are one-time episodes that only manifest when the pet is exposed to them. They are also usually easy to treat.

Avoidance of the allergen or irritant, if possible, is best. Dietary supplements, such as essential fatty acids, may help and if a food allergen is the cause, then complete avoidance of the offending food is required.

Allergy treatment will vary depending on the cause and severity of the symptoms. Steroids are commonly prescribed for short-term relief. Antihistamines have limited success, but do not have the negative effects that can come with long term steroid therapy.

Once the allergen has been determined from a skin test, they can also respond to injections or desensitization. Some allergies will respond to therapeutic shampoos and topical treatment with cortisone sprays. Secondary or primary pyodermas will require antibiotics, both topically and systemically. More intense treatments may require a referral from your veterinarian to a veterinary specialist in dermatology. Because allergies can occur in pets at any time from such a variety of culprits, cat and dog insurance is recommended.

Allergies can be very complex. Palliative type treatments provide relief but do not cure the condition. Complete cures are rare. Often, pet owners get discouraged by the cost and continuous treatment required for allergies. If an allergy has severe symptoms and manifests often, it’s wise to invest in a good diagnostic work-up at your veterinarian or licensed veterinary dermatologist.

Severe allergies can be frustrating and require good communication and record-keeping . Keep a log of what has worked for your pet so you and your veterinarian can adapt the diagnostics and treatment approach as necessary. Together, with the help of your vet and your pet insurance company, you can develop a maintenance plan to control the symptoms and help your pet live a long, healthy, happy life.

Animal cancer: What are your options?

Posted on: September 23rd, 2011 by

A dog with dog insurance is screened for cancer.

By: Ashley Porter
Guest Blogger
For Pets Best Insurance

Finding out that a beloved pet has cancer can be just as difficult as if it were a close friend or family member– since many people regard their pets as a part of their family. While we know that there are many different treatment options available for humans, what can pet owners do if their animal has cancer? The good news is that treatment options for pets are available as well, and pets have a better chance of successful cancer treatment today than ever before. Any pet owner should know about these options so that his or her furry friend can get treatment as soon as possible. It’s a good idea to research and purchase the best pet insurance policy for your pet early on– as cancer treatments can be costly.

If you suspect your pet has cancer:
If you find a lump or bump on your cat or dog, especially one that slowly changes, it is important that you talk to your vet as soon as possible. Keep in mind that fatty lumps are common on a dog’s trunk, and so a benign growth may not be cancer if it does not change in size. However, any lumps found on a cat should be examined immediately, as growths are not normal for felines. If you discover anything unusual, be sure to schedule an appointment with your vet.

In addition to abnormal growths, your pet may exhibit other symptoms such as:
- Sores that do not heal
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Bleeding or discharge from any opening on the body
- Offensive odor
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Weakness or loss of stamina when exercising
- Lameness or stiffness
- Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating
(Please note that these symptoms may also be due to another illness).

If you suspect cancer or anything abnormal in your pet’s health, the best thing to do is always to consult your veterinarian as soon as you can. Because treatment of cancer can be expensive, it’s important to look into pet insurance early on, to ensure the condition isn’t preexisting, and that it would be covered by the pet health insurance company.

If your vet confirms that your pet has cancer, you should find out what type of cancer it is because treatment options may vary. You can discuss these options with your veterinarian to decide which would be best for your pet.

Treatment options

1. Aspiration and diagnosis of fatty lumps:
If a lump is discovered, it is important to determine whether or not it is cancerous. A fine needle aspirate of a mass can usually be performed on an outpatient visit and sedation is not necessary. If the lump is simply a fatty mass, a veterinarian will usually leave it in place and monitor for changes in size and consistency. However, if there is rapid growth or the lump is already big, the veterinarian will probably recommend surgery.

2. Surgery:
Surgery to remove fatty cancerous tissue can often cure the animal of cancer. Even if it is not completely curative, it can decrease the size of the tumor and help the veterinarian give an accurate diagnosis.

3. Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy treatment has been shown to significantly extend the lives of cats and dogs with cancer. It has been especially effective on lymphoma, which is one of the most common types of cancer in cats and dogs. Animals with chemotherapy treatment generally have fewer side effects and less hair loss than humans, and the doses are much smaller. If your vet does not specialize in chemotherapy or surgeries for cancer treatment, there are many animal cancer centers that offer these types of treatment to which your local vet can refer you.

4. Holistic options
Some animal cancer treatment centers also offer holistic services such as acupuncture and herbal doses to reduce pain and improve the pet’s immune system. They may also prescribe pain medications formulated specifically for animals.

If you find out that your pet has cancer, don’t get discouraged. New diagnostic methods are helping to detect animal cancer earlier, and the improvement of treatment methods means better success rates and fewer side effects for your pet.

Ashley Porter is a pet lover who writes about various topics including pet health insurance and other releated pet health issues and is the owner of the site Veterinarian Technician.

Straight Answers to Icky Pet Questions

Posted on: September 22nd, 2011 by


Hi, I’m Dr. Fiona Caldwell and I’m a practicing veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital. Today I’m at home answering your questions from Pets Best Facebook page.

The first question comes from Leslie. She asks, “My five-year-old cat is healthy and rarely has hairballs, and is really good about using her litter box. She’s regular and rarely has gastrointestinal problems but recently she went outside of the box on the carpet. It was diarrhea, not vomit. I don’t think she ate or drank anything besides her normal food and she hasn’t had any problems in the past couple weeks. Should I still take her to the vet?”

This is a great question. Dogs and cats can have isolated incidents of illness that can resolve on their own. If she’s acting completely normal in every other aspect and it was just one isolated bout of diarrhea, she’s probably fine if she’s otherwise healthy. If it continues to be a problem or something else comes up, I would recommend that you take her to the vet.

Her second question is, “I also have a three-year-old Chihuahua mix who has anal glands that express when she gets very relaxed, usually in my lap. We have her glands done every two weeks. Any suggestions?”

Anal glands are basically under-developed scent glands that dogs have. They’re designed to express a little bit every time the dog defecates or if they’re trying to mark their territory as sort of a scent. Obviously, dogs don’t really need them anymore as house pets, but unfortunately they’re still there.

Something you can do to help with this problem would be to increase the fiber content of her diet. She sounds like a little dog so you would want to use just a couple tablespoons of something like canned pumpkin. Metamucil is a good supplement as well. What this will do is actually bulk up her stool a little bit so that when she defecates it can help express them.

I would also recommend that you continue to get them expressed regularly. If they stay empty, they’re less likely to empty on your lap. Probably the best thing to do is just continue with keeping up on the problem and going in at least every two weeks to have them expressed.
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