Pets Best Insurance Facebook Q&A with Dr. Fiona Caldwell

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Pets Best Insurance solicited questions from our Facebook page fans relating to pet health, happiness and everything in between. Dr. Fiona Caldwell, a practicing veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital weighs in! Read on to see if your question was answered.

Question: Any suggestions on the origin of a hard-packed earth-like substance about an inch long and 1/4-inch wide that my dog coughs up on occasion? It’s always a surprise and she doesn’t act sick or in pain beforehand. She’s 12-14 years old.

Dr. Caldwell: This is not normal and should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian. Keep one of the samples that she coughs up and bring it to the appointment. In an older dog, especially, this should be evaluated.

Question: My kitty, born Feb 26, 2010, is occasionally semi-aggressive, swatting my son’s feet or mine (claws mostly sheathed), ears partially laid-back. We can tell when she’s in this mood, but there doesn’t seem to be a trigger to start it. How can I get her to stop without seeming to reward the behavior? Throwing a toy will stop her, but I don’t want her to think that she should act like that to get play time. We play with her at least 3 times a day, for an hour to 1 1/2 hours at a time. (She is spayed.)

Dr. Caldwell: Behavioral issues in cats can be challenging! Great job on the play sessions you are having with her now, in addition to having her spayed. The best thing you can do to negatively reinforce this behavior is to walk away from her. Tell her a firm no, and then remove yourself from the situation.

Cats have short attention spans, so you can return after a few minute ‘time out’, but if she does it again, then you’ll firmly say no and walk away from her again. This tells her you’re not interested in being around her if she acts like that. Additional attention, even negative scolding attention can be misinterpreted. I agree with you that switching to playing with toys can be inadvertently rewarding her for her negative behavior. Make sure all family members are on board with your new plan so she has consistency.

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Question: This may have already been asked but what are the recommended things to get done at your pets annual exams and how should this change as they get older? With older pets what should you watch for between exams that could be a sign of a senior disease requiring a check up?

Dr. Caldwell: This is a fantastic question. Preventative medicine is the BEST way to keep your pet healthy! Young dogs (depending on the breed, but up to about 7 to 8 years of age) should be seen at their veterinarian at least once a year. This annual exam should include a good overall exam, especially examining the oral health, and weight. Obesity and dental disease are some of the most common problems seen in young dogs.

The vaccine schedule in your area may differ from others, but generally after a series of 3 to 4 vaccinations starting at 8 weeks of age, adult dogs need either yearly or three year vaccines including, but not limited to a rabies vaccination, and distemper/parvo combination vaccine. Most dogs should be dewormed annually, depending on their lifestyle. Most areas of the nation agree that dogs should be on heartworm, flea, tick and parasite preventions programs as well. Talk to your local veterinarian for additional information about this.

Older dogs, generally 7 to 8 years and older (sooner for giant breed dogs like Mastiffs and Great Danes, and possibly later for smaller breed dogs like Chihuahuas and Yorkies) should start having a more ‘senior’ approach to veterinary care. This is a great time to start screening blood work. Ask your veterinarian to run a ‘senior panel’ to screen for common senior diseases such as thyroid dysfunction and organ changes.

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Some pets might benefit from biannual visits to the veterinary clinic. If every dog year is worth 7 human years, then six months is the equivalent of three and a half people years! Specific things to bring to the attention of your veterinarian include difficulty rising or limping after activity, vision loss, behavioral changes, changes in coat quality, changes in urination and drinking habits, changes in appetite, and weight loss or gain.

Question: Any tips for cats dental care? Using a tooth brush isn’t practical with most cats but I’m not sure what other options are effective. One thing I heard about is that if they chew on raw bones such as a chicken wing that will really help but I’m not sure if there is a risk of choking etc.

Dr. Caldwell: It is great that you are thinking about your cat’s dental health! I agree that brushing teeth can be tricky, or even downright intolerable in cats. Most veterinarians would agree you should NOT give your cat bones to chew on. Cats are typically ‘gnawers’ like dogs anyway. There are dental products aimed at cats that might help keep his or her mouth healthy. For example, there are specifically designed cat chews with ingredients to combat plaque. Some cats won’t chew on them, which means they won’t work for you though. There are dental rinses available, and even a water additive that disinfects plaque. Most veterinary clinics sell these over-the-counter, meaning you don’t need a prescription for them. Call your local veterinarian to ask.

Question: Sierra, my 8 year shetland sheepdog, pants ALL the time. (cold and warm weather) In the beginning they said that she needed to lose some weight. She did and she still pants. What gives? Other than that she is as healthy as a dog can be. Also, any suggestion on how to teach a dog to play with toys, even to go after one? From the time we got her (when she was 15 months) she has never played with a toy or even go after one. (when we through one, she looks at us like saying ” You threw it, you go get it)

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Dr. Caldwell: Panting can be a sign of an underlying endocrine disorder, or even breathing issue in older pets. I recommend you go back to your veterinarian with the problem. Show them that you have followed the instructions to lose the weight, but it hasn’t helped. While I applaud your weight loss efforts for her, it may not be enough weight loss, or there may be a different underlying problem. Diseases such as Cushing’s disease and laryngeal paralysis are just two potentially more serious underlying problems that can be ruled out.

As for playing with toys, every dog is different in terms of their affinity for toys. Some dogs never quite ‘get’ fetch, or if they do, it’s not fun for them. A dog can’t really be taught to like toys, much like you can’t be taught to like heavy metal music, if you don’t. Focus on things they do like to do, such as grooming, petting, or maybe leash walks or trips in the car!

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