Your top 5 pet health Facebook questions

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A puppy with pet insurance cocks his head.

The Pets Best Insurance Facebook page is always open to your pet health comments and questions! Here are some recent questions from our Facebook friends regarding their pets:

Delores asks: What age can you have a puppy’s dew claws removed*?

A: While some pet owners will opt to have their puppy’s dewclaws removed, many others will not. This procedure, which is considered “cosmetic” by Pets Best Insurance, and is therefore not covered, is something that should be discussed with your veterinarian. Puppies can have their dewclaws removed between 3 and 5 days of age. When younger than this, the pups tend to be a bit fragile, and when older than this, the blood supply to that declaw is increased, and stopping blood flow can be more difficult.

If you missed the tiny 2 day window for appropriate dewclaw removal, some veterinarians will remove the dewclaws when the pet is older and is spayed or neutered. This is a full anesthetic procedure and the pet will likely have stitches and bandages. But dewclaws aren’t always a bad thing. In fact, some breeds, like Great Pyrenees, are bred for their multiple dewclaws! The most important thing is to keep them trimmed because they often don’t wear down normally and can curl.

Stephanie asks: My black Lab bites himself raw. He has no sign of fleas. I have used oatmeal shampoo, tried olive oil, fish oil, even cortisone spray. My yellow Lab is OK though. Help!

A: This sounds very suspicious for allergies. It is important for you to make an appointment with a veterinarian to ensure there isn’t an underlying infection, either bacterial or fungal. Your veterinarian will also want to rule out mites, both demodex and sarcoptic and possibly a flea allergy (you don’t need to actually SEE fleas for a flea allergic pet to be itchy). When these have been ruled out or treated and he is still itchy, then allergies become very likely.

Most dogs are allergic to something in the environment, but about 5 to 10% can be allergic to their food. You might want to try a diet trial first. The most common ingredients that dogs are allergic to include chicken, beef, corn and wheat. Unfortunately, these are the most common ingredients in dog food! Try switching to a hypoallergenic brand that uses a novel protein source, such as lamb or buffalo, and a novel carbohydrate source, such as rice or potatoes. Diet trials need to be continued for at least 6 weeks with NO CHEATING, no treats, no people food or flavored supplements.

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If the diet trial doesn’t work, then these pet allergies are likely environmental and caused by things like dust, pollen, mold and maybe even to cats! There is allergy testing for dogs and about 60 to 70% of allergic respond to allergy shots, just like people with allergies. About 1/3 will respond to antihistamines. Most will respond to oral steroids, but this isn’t the safest for long term use. There is a drug that acts like a steroid, but without the side effects. It is called Atopica and contains cyclosporin. This can be spendy though, especially for larger dogs– which is why it’s important to sign your pet up for a pet insurance plan early on. The majority of allergic patients will need a multimodal approach; there won’t be one magic thing that works. It will have to be a combination of several different things that finally make a difference.

Allergies can be VERY frustrating and typically require a lot of patience. Your best bet is to forge a relationship with a veterinarian, or see a veterinary dermatologist who can walk you through the treatment options.

Pat Asks: Please ask Dr. Caldwell to comment on acupuncture as a treatment for arthritis in cats. I am considering this for my 18-year-old female Himalayan, who has such extensive arthritis in her spine that she sometimes has a difficult time walking. Does this remedy help cats? I’m told there is no medication to help her – is that true?

A: Wow, 18 is an impressive age! Undoubtedly after 18 years most pets will have some degree of arthritis pain. It is true that we really don’t have great non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications (the same class as human aspirin and veterinary drugs like Rimadyl) for cats. They cannot have human drugs, and many of the veterinary-approved drugs aren’t safe for long term use in cats, especially older ones. I would definitely encourage you to use a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement made for cats. Weight loss is helpful also if she is overweight. I personally don’t have a lot of experience with acupuncture for arthritis in cats, but if she is a tolerant kitty, I would give it a try! You have nothing to lose since acupuncture is a fairly non-invasive and worse case scenario, it might not give the results you desire.

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Becky Asks: How come my mom’s cat gets sick after eating? The vet seems to think nothing is wrong yet he hasn’t done any tests and told my mom to feed him more which makes no sense to me at all.

A: This sounds frustrating! Cats can be intermittent vomiters (I’m assuming that’s what you are referring to when you mention ‘getting sick’) and occasionally, the underlying cause can be difficult to uncover. Without knowing more information about your mom’s cat, I really can’t comment medically, but I would encourage you to not take “it’s nothing” for an answer if you truly think there is something wrong. You definitely know your pet best! Try calling the veterinarian for an additional consultation and mention that you are interested in laboratory testing. Blood work and a fecal sample might be a good place to start to diagnose illness associated with vomiting. You could always seek a second opinion from a different veterinarian as well.

Hailey Asks: My dog just recently had her teeth cleaned. When does she need to have it done again? One year, two?

A: This is a great question! Maintaining your pet’s dental health is so important for overall well-being and it’s often overlooked. Every animal is different in terms of the chemistry in their mouths. Smaller dogs tend to accumulate dental plaque and tartar faster than bigger dogs as a general rule, and will need more frequent regular cleanings. But similar to people, every dog is different! Continuing to get regular yearly routine care examinations with your veterinarian is probably the best way to know when you are ‘due’ for another. Some dogs need this every 6 months, others can wait several years in between.

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In the meantime, there are things you can do at home to help stop plaque and tartar formation!
-Brushing is the number one best method for stopping nasty plaque from turning into tartar. Once tartar is on the teeth, brushing won’t get it off. Be sure to use special dog formulated toothpaste, as ours is toxic to dogs.

-There are also dental formulated diets that are made to require more ‘chewing’ and usually have an ingredient that disinfects plaque.

-A dental rinse can also be helpful, most pets will tolerate this and its fairly easy to do.

-Dental rawhides and chew treats can be useful as well, just watch how many calories are in the treats and always keep an eye on your pet when he’s chewing on rawhides. One common misconception I hear from my clients is that animal bones can help with dental issues; this isn’t true. In general I recommend my clients not feed real animal bones to their pet. Stick to treats specifically designed for dental health.

-There are also products designed to be added to your pet’s water that will be tasteless, but will disinfect plaque and prevent it from turning into tartar. While this is probably one of the least effective methods, its better than nothing!

Thanks for all your questions! If you have additional questions, post them for me, Dr. Fiona Caldwell on the Pets Best Insurance Facebook page.

*Pets Best Insurance does not cover or recommend dewclaw removal procedures.

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