I Have to Give My Cat a WHAT?!

Giving a pill to a cat is just one of those things – it gives people the shivers! But it doesn’t have to be stressful for you, your cat, or your spouse. Here are a few key points to making it an easier experience for all.

KEY POINTS

* Pills ready

* Wrap each pill in a small amount of pill pocket

* Relaxed atmosphere

* Restrain properly

* Wait for the swallow/lip lick!

* Positive experience

PREPARATION

Before you even find your cat, have the following things ready in a quiet location away from other pets:

* Take the pill out of the container and split it if required.

* Wrap a half of a feline pill pocket around the pill.

* Have a thin blanket or towel ready (if needed)

* Have a syringe of 1-2 mL of water ready (if needed)

ATMOSPHERE

Even if you’re really good at pilling your cat, it will go best if you’re calm and the household is quiet. Trying to do this in the midst of dinner preparations for your in-laws coming to visit is not going to be the easiest approach! So find a quiet 10-minute window.

RESTRAINT

Pilling most cats is a less-is-more proposition. Overrestraint is a common cause of pilling woes! There are two approaches that I find useful. Try each one and see what works best for you.

Kneeling on the Floor

Kneel on the floor with your cat tucked in between your legs. This has the advantage that your cat will have a hard time backing up. This is the method I generally prefer for most cats.

Cat on the Counter

Alternatively you can have your cat on a counter or table or chair. In this situation it might be easiest to have a second person gently holding her body. It’s important that the second person is as calm and relaxed as you are. In rare instances, wrapping your cat in a towel or light blanket might help keep your cat calm and relaxed. If this is the case, you want to wrap her so that all of her feet are within the towel (figure 1).

THE ACTUAL PILLING

Place the pill in your dominant hand between your thumb and first finger. Place your cat so that your non-dominant hand is over the top of her head. Grasp her head so that your fingers and thumb are beneath her cheekbones and then point her nose directly up toward the ceiling (figure 2). With your dominant hand, drop her lower jaw with your ring finger pulling down just in front of her teeth (figure 3). Drop the pill into the back of her mouth just behind her tongue (figure 4). For most cats this will be a straight shot as long as the tongue isn’t moving a lot. If it is, try to time your pill drop for when the tongue is not blocking the back of the throat.

CONFIRMATION OF THE SWALLOW

Release your cat’s lower jaw so that she can close her mouth but keep her head pointed upward with one hand gently under her jaw and the other still over the top of her head. Wait for her to swallow before releasing her head. In most cats, you’ll see the tongue come out and lick the nose as an indication of swallowing (figure 5).

If you haven’t wrapped the pill in a piece of pill pocket, give your cat a small amount (1-2 mL) of water to help her swallow.

POSITIVE EXPERIENCE

Ensure that this experience is as positive as possible – gently pat your cat as you’re releasing her from your hands. Offer her a favorite treat or her regular meal. For cats that enjoy playing, engage in their favorite game. If your cat just wants to leave the room, that’s fine too.

This video shows the process I’ve just described:

PRACTICING

What?? You want me to practice?

I want you to consider it. Give this a try with just a portion of a pill pocket. If your cat realizes that this isn’t going to be about getting a dry pill shoved down her throat but rather it’s about swallowing a treat, it won’t be so hard.

Thank you to “Reba” Little and “Geronimo” Gullo for participating in the photos and the video.

Cat Scratch Fever! (it’s not just a 1970’s rock anthem)

Did you know that Cat Scratch Fever is actually a disease that humans can potentially contract from their cats (in addition to being the title of an iconic Ted Nugent song)?  Although uncommon, our dogs and cats can potentially be reservoirs of infectious agents that have the potential to make humans sick, particularly the very young, very old and immunocompromised human population.   You can reduce your risk of exposure to some of these zoonotic diseases by following some simple guidelines. 

By definition, a zoonotic disease is a disease that can be passed from animals to humans. These diseases can involve viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and tick borne infections to name a few.  Don’t panic!   There are some very simple steps you can take at home to minimize the possibility of contracting these diseases but the most important factor to consider is the health of your pets. 

Routine veterinary exams are a critical component of identifying issues in your pet that could predispose you, the human caregiver, to a zoonotic disease.  Hair loss in both dogs and cats can be due to a fungus that is commonly known as ringworm.  Humans can contract ringworm through contact with those skin lesions.  Another cause of hair loss in dogs that can be transmitted to humans is Sarcoptic mange which is a mite infestation.  If your pet has an area of hair loss or is excessively itchy, your veterinarian should be consulted. 

In addition to routine physical examinations, most all pets should receive an annual examination of their stool sample to detect intestinal parasites.  Examples of intestinal parasites that can potentially infect humans include rounds worms, hookworms, Giardia, a certain type of tapeworm among others.  Regular administration of Revolution for cats and heartworm prevention for dogs can prevent some of these intestinal parasites. 

During the wellness examinations of dogs and cats, vaccinations are given based upon your pet’s risk factors.  Rabies is a viral infection that is often fatal in most mammals who are infected.  Dogs and cats can obtain Rabies through contact with infected wildlife.  Humans can contract rabies through contact with the saliva of an infected dog or cat.  Rabies vaccines are required by law for ALL dogs and cats regardless of their lifestyle due to the fatal nature of the disease and the zoonotic potential to humans.  Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that dogs can be vaccinated against.  Although it is rare in humans, it can be transmitted from a dog’s infected urine.  If your dog is not vaccinated for Leptospirosis, talk with your veterinarian regarding whether or not it is appropriate for your pet.

The lifestyles of our pets can predispose them to more infectious agents.  Although controversial, it must be mentioned that feeding dogs raw diets can predispose them to Salmonella which is shed in their feces.  Humans can contract salmonella through accidental exposure to a pet’s fecal matter from a paw for example or from an accident in the house.  Cats and dogs can contract toxoplasmosis by eating certain types of wildlife.  Humans can contract toxoplasmosis via exposure to the feces of  dogs or cats shedding toxoplasmosis cysts in gardens, sand boxes and litter boxes.  Toxoplasmosis can have severe consequences in pregnant women.   Wearing garden gloves, thoroughly washing produce and keeping children’s sand boxes covered can help to prevent human exposure.   Limiting your cat’s exposure to wildlife and the outdoors will help to minimize toxoplasmosis infections in addition to some of the intestinal parasites previously mentioned.

Lastly, it is imperative that all dogs and cats receive regular, year round protection against fleas and ticks.  If your pets are not on flea and tick preventatives (Frontline, Revolution, Nexgard, Seresto collars for example), they are more likely to bring ticks into your household.  These ticks can then infect you and your family members.  Examples of diseases that you can contract from ticks include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis among others.  Cat Scratch Fever is a bacterial infection that is transmitted to cats from fleas.  Cats can then transmit the bacteria to humans via scratches from their claws that are contaminated with flea feces.  Additionally, cat bites are another potential mode of transmission of Cat Scratch Fever to humans.    

In summary, taking care of your pet’s wellness is the first step in preventing zoonotic diseases in humans.  Seeking veterinary advice for any health issues can help to detect infectious agents in your pets that could be problematic for you.  Practicing common sense hygiene, regular application of flea and tick control and making smart lifestyle choices are equally important.  If you have concerns that you may have contracted something from your pet, contacting your personal physician is critical.   For more information on this topic, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/basics/zoonotic-diseases.html or www.petsandparasites.org

Anesthesia + Your Pet

anesthesia-cat and dog.jpeg

Something that I have observed over the past several years is how uncomfortable my clients get when our topic of conversation deals with sedation or general anesthesia for their furry companions.  So in this week’s blog post, our goal is to help you will feel better educated about anesthesia in our veterinary practice, and hopefully less anxious about the entire process.

First off, I think it is perfectly natural to be apprehensive or nervous about putting our dogs and/or cats under any form of anesthesia.  Anesthesia is scary!

There I said it.

But now that we have said it out loud, let's look into why it is such a vital tool in the medical field and how it actually allows us to provide not only safer, but also better medical care to our pawed companions.  

The first question to ask ourselves is:

Why do we need sedation or general anesthesia?  

As a general rule, sedation and/or general anesthesia are used to provide a safer environment for our patients undergoing certain procedures or diagnostics, as well as minimizing any pain or discomfort that may be associated with the procedure.  I know that may sound counter intuitive, but the simple truth is anesthesia gives us greater control of our patients while reducing the stress and pain that accompanies common procedures.

It is important to discuss the benefits that a procedure will have for our dogs and cats.  I encourage all of our clients to talk with their veterinarians about recommended procedures.  Anesthetic procedures that we may recommend range from life-saving surgery, elective surgery, diagnostics and even behavioral, to reduce stress and anxiety associated with a wellness exam.  At Southpoint Animal Hospital, we all feel strongly that you as the pet owner should fully understand why we may recommend sedation or anesthesia for your individual pets. Our clients are our patient’s biggest advocates and it is crucial that you understand what to expect before, during and following an anesthetic event. 

We cannot have a conversation about anesthesia without touching upon the risks associated.  Yes, there are risks associated with any and all anesthetic procedures, however we do everything we can to minimize that risk at every step.  If you are a numbers person, the mortality rate associated with healthy pets undergoing anesthesia is 0.005%, which is the same to say 1 in 20,000.  The most common adverse effects from anesthesia we see at SPAH are mild gastrointestinal upset, such as vomiting or diarrhea. Most of my owners note some dysphoria and lack of coordination the night of a procedure, both of which we expect to happen to some degree.  It is our mission to minimize these common adverse effects through modern anesthetic protocols and educating our owners on what signs and symptoms they should be on the look out for.

To achieve the best possible outcomes, it is best to break anesthetic procedures, no matter how major or minor, into 4 main stages.  

dog doctor.jpeg
  1. The time leading up to our pets’ appointment at home: this may include some form of fasting, administration of medication, or a stress reducing measure. Our staff will make sure that you are well-educated on any details that you need to know well in advance of the procedure.

  2. The pre-medication or sedation administration performed at Southpoint Animal Hospital

  3. During the anesthetic procedure at Southpoint Animal Hospital

  4. Recovery both at Southpoint Animal Hospital and the hours/days following once the pet has returned home.

All four phases are equally important in ensuring the best possible outcome, and it is extremely important that you as a pet owner feel educated and comfortable with each stage.  It is not only empowering when you know what to expect throughout each stage, but it also improves the cooperation between Southpoint Animal Hospital and home. Please do not hesitate to discuss each stage with your veterinarian (which would be specific to your procedure).  We want you to be a part of the process; it only improves the outcome for our patients which at the end of the day is our main goal.

If you have specific questions about anesthesia, your pet's procedures, or the process as a whole, please feel free to reach out to your Southpoint Animal Hospital DVM for more details!

Top 10 Veterinary Myths (that drive veterinarians crazy!)

Old wives tales, half-truths, misunderstandings and some just plain wrong – these are some of the myths (in no particular order) that we hear everyday. Most people are well-meaning in their advice, but it is best to consult with your pet's veterinarian before trusting an assumption!

Myth #1: A cold/warm/wet/dry nose tells us something.

Dog-Nose.jpeg

As I always like to joke – I must have missed that day in vet school!

Myth #2: Ticks fall out of pine trees.

My mother and grandmother had me absolutely convinced that I had to wear a hat to keep the
ticks from falling into my hair when wandering through the woods. Nope. They detect their prey via sensing your breath, body heat, motion/vibration or moisture. This is done while either laying in wait where their host would rest (think: your dog's bedding) or on low, outreaching plants (like ferns that branch out into a trail). No jumping or skydiving involved! And with the appropriate preventatives for your pet, this fear can be altogether avoided!!

Myth #3: Grain-free diets are best for all pets.

This is considered a half-truth as something was missed in translation. These diets came about for the right reason – to stop feeding high-carbohydrate diets to carnivores (dogs and cats); however, some of these so-called "grain-free diets" are actually quite high in carbohydrates (peas, potato, tapioca) and are not appropriate for a carnivore. The best diet for your pet can be determined by speaking with your veterinarian about your pet's specific needs.

Myth #4: All vaccines are good... OR all vaccines are bad.

Vaccines are drugs (medications). Some drugs, when used correctly, can save your life. And
some drugs, when used too frequently, or if used in the wrong manner, can kill you. We should not be giving all vaccines to all pets on an annual basis... they should be individually tailored to your pets needs, lifestyle and age.

Myth #5: A pet's mouth is clean/antiseptic.

I admit, here at SPAH most of us love when we get a sloppy kiss from a puppy or a gentle "bathing" from a cat. But we also know that 2 hours ago they were cleaning their nether-regions with their tongue. Icky, but true. A sign of affection, definitely! A miracle antiseptic? Not so much.

boy-kissing-cat.jpeg

Myth #6: Don't feed people food to pets – it will kill them!

Uh, what do you think pet food is (should be) made from? While there are certain foods we
should avoid as they can be toxic to pets, (chocolate, most dairy, grapes/raisins, onions and garlic), they most certainly can have a piece of your sandwich or a slice of apple. Just don’t make it more than 20% of the diet (or you will need to balance it) and please don’t let them get fat from the extra calories!

Myth #7: Rub their nose in it!

When dogs misbehave (or more accurately, behave in a way that we don’t like), such as
urinating in the house or chewing up the wrong item, we often want to 'punish' them. Punishing a pet simply causes them to fear us, and often the misbehavior occurred some time prior to us catching them, which makes it impossible for the pet to understand the correlation. A much better approach is through positive reinforcement training. Please let us know if you are having any behavioral issues and we can teach you a better way.

dog-eatting-grass.jpeg

Myth #8: Dogs/cats only eat grass if they are sick or are lacking something nutritionally.

Or, they like eating grass...

Myth #9: All dogs hate cats. All cats hate dogs.

Tell that to my previous cat, Cyrano, who would spend countless hours cleaning out my dog's
ears. Certainly you would not want to throw two unknown pets together without supervision, but most pets can learn to tolerate, and even enjoy, each others company!

Myth #10: Pets hate going to the vet!

Thank goodness, this is not true, and even is becoming quite the rarity! Here at SPAH, we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to facilitate just the opposite: pheromone sprays, quiet environments, hiding places for cats, loads of special treats, and spending a bit extra time to get them used to us are just a few of the ways we try to make it a pleasant experience for them. We have quite a herd of dogs and cats who are all smiles and tail wags when they get to see us, and actually hate to leave!! If your pet has learned to fear the vet, talk to us about Cooperative Veterinary Care and how we can help make visits to the vet easier on you and your pet!

SPAH Staff.jpeg

Is there another veterinary "urban legend" you are curious about? Let us know!!

Hi! Nice to meet you! Tips and Tricks for Puppy Socialization (the right way!)

Puppies are cute, snuggly, entertaining, and they make us feel super important because they need us.  We provide food, shelter, bathroom breaks, and a ton of time teaching them what are acceptable puppy/people interactions.

goldens.jpeg

People LOVE puppies... and puppies LOVE people (generally).  We often think of puppies are our extended family and want to take them everywhere with us.

Raising a puppy is fairly easy; however, raising a well-rounded, confident puppy who is a joy to be around as an adult dog is a bit more challenging. Puppies have emotional needs, in addition to their physical needs, and we must "feed" both appropriately. Do you have an outgoing Ready Freddy type of puppy, or a Wallflower Wendy? Each new puppy needs to be greeted differently and will need a different socialization strategy. But what is socialization, anyway?

“Socialization is the process of preparing your dog or cat to enjoy interactions and be comfortable with other animals, places and activities. Ideally, socialization should begin during the ‘sensitive period’ which is between 3 and 14 weeks of age for puppies, and 3 and 9 weeks of age for kittens.”
— AVMA
boston.jpeg

Many well-meaning people can overwhelm puppies when greeting them by quickly picking up the puppy, holding them tightly, getting immediately in their faces, and allowing the puppy no choice in coming, going, or staying with the human. Imagine going to a party where everyone is much  bigger than you, picks you up, holds you tightly, and then brings their teeth very close to you while talking loudly.... SCARY! The quality of socialization interactions is more important than quantity, and introducing your puppy in a safe environment to people of different ethnicity, wearing different clothing (hats, gloves, sunglasses, scarves) goes a long way to prepare our puppies for adulthood.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior's position statement on socialization is:

“During this time, puppies should be exposed to as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as can be achieved safely and without causing over-stimulation manifested as excessive fear, withdrawal or avoidance behavior.”
— AVSAB

The introduction of safe situations at the puppy's own pace is the goal. If you think about it, we as people prefer this for ourselves also!

How is best to socialize your pup? 

1)    Choose safe locations (you are your puppy’s advocate).  A safe location is rarely Pet’sMart or PetCo unless it is near closing or opening time.  You want a high ratio of staff & a low ratio of dogs parading around on (or off) leash.

2)    Give the new person a cookie or two – let your puppy walk up to the new person where they earn a treat for approaching (1 cookie) and then sitting (another cookie).  Thank the person & move to a new adult.  If your puppy jumps up – then your new person’s hands need to be lower.  Give the cookie when the puppy has 4 feet on the floor.  DO NOT say OFF, DOWN,  scream, or otherwise scare the puppy if for some reason the visit does not go as you planned.  Remember that this meet & greet is to learn that people are friendly, fun, and not scary.  It is always ok to politely remove your puppy.

3)    If you have a small puppy – hand your puppy to the new person where they give a tiny cookie or two.  Thank the person & move on.   It is very important not to overwhelm your puppy.

4)    Invite people over to your house or go to visit a dog-friendly family you know (without their dog loose).  Wine & cheese parties can be fun – but keep them short because puppies have short attention spans.

5)    Within what you can manage, have your puppy meet all looks/kinds of people, but safety for your puppy is first!  Generally, puppies should not meet children under 10 in the first few weeks out and about because both puppy and young children can behave unpredictably.

6)    Remember:  fun – short – safe VISITS will help your puppy become a well socialized and happy adult!

7)   Dog parks should generally be avoided for puppies since they often contain unsupervised adult dogs where very negative associations can occur.

dog-in-car.jpeg

 

When you take it “on the road”:

·      Take a variety of pea-sized tasty treats

·      Bring puppy’s favorite toy

·      Bring a hungry puppy

·      Bring water bowl, proper fitting buckle collar/harness and a 6 foot leash

·      Be aware of your puppy’s body language (listen & watch)

·      Be your puppy’s advocate (all humans and dogs can be scary)

·      Allow your puppy to explore at their own pace; the puppy should approach the kneeling person, not the other way around.

·      Be sure situations are controllable.  Be prepared to remove your puppy from the situation

·      HAVE FUN!!

 

Do you have questions? Want more information? Set up a behavioral consult with Professional Dog Trainer Lynn Rives or join one of our Puppy Classes, held on an ongoing basis at Southpoint Animal Hospital.

Sources:

American Veterinary Medical Association. (2018). Socialization of Dogs and Cats. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/AnimalWelfare/Pages/Socialization.aspx

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. (2018). Puppy Socialization Position Statement. Retrieved from https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Puppy_Socialization_Position_Statement_Download_-_10-3-14.pdf

 

Inappropriate Urination: Why is My Cat Peeing ALL OVER My House?!

Peeing cat.jpeg

Overview

Feline inappropriate elimination is a common behavioral problem reported to veterinarians, accounting for approximately 50% of all behavioral referrals.  At least 10% of all cats will develop elimination problems in their lifetime. Unfortunately, it is also a leading reason for relinquishment of cats.  Elimination problems can develop as a result of conflict between multiple cats in a home, a dislike for the litter-box type or the litter itself, as a result of a past or present medical condition, or a more complex issue of perceived inefficiencies within their environment. In this post, we will review some of the most common causes for inappropriate urination, and some steps to help correct the problem.  We can often categorize the underlying causes in to four main groups including Medical, Litter Box Aversion, Territorial, and Attraction to Another Location.

Medical Problems

When you notice that your kitty is urinating outside of the litter box, the first step is to rule out medical issues with a Urinalysis and bladder radiographs (x-rays). The most common medical cause is “idiopathic stress-induced cystitis,” which accounts for approximately 75% of cases. This means that there is inflammation (and therefore pain and sense of urgency) within the bladder, but there is no identifiable cause.  We do know that stress can precipitate these symptoms. Cats who are affected may have recurrent episodes with varying frequency throughout their lives if the underlying stressor is not identified and controlled (see below).  The next most common cause is bladder stones, accounting for approximately 15% of medical cases, followed by urinary tract infections, which account for less than 5% of medical case.  Less commonly, urinary crystals and bladder tumors are seen.  If a medical problem is identified, your kitty will be treated in a way to resolve the underlying medical cause, and increase comfort.

 Radiograph of a cat with a distended bladder

Radiograph of a cat with a distended bladder

Litter Box Aversion

tidybreeze-open top litter box.jpeg

It’s no secret that many cats can be very particular about almost everything in their environment, so it’s no surprise that they may have strong opinions regarding the litter box; however, preference is not the only factor in litter box aversion. Cats who have had a previously negative experience in the litter box, particularly past episodes of pain (urinary obstruction, constipation), may also develop aversion.  One common indication of litter box aversion is when episodes of inappropriate elimination occur near (but not in) the litter box, however this is not always the case.  Cats typically prefer their litter box in a quiet, low-traffic, and easily accessible location.  They often prefer an uncovered box for multiple reasons. First, cats have a sense of smell that is 60-100 times more sensitive than our own, and being cooped up within a box with excrement can be unpleasant…think Porta-Potty.  Additionally, since cats are prey animals (as well as predators), they are instinctively more vulnerable during elimination. Being able to see potential threats is important for emotional security, even for indoor cats whose greatest threat may only be the vacuum cleaner.  Most cats also prefer non-scented litter that is at least 2 inches deep for digging and burying.

Territorial

 There isn't anything more adorable than a box of kittens, but these little cuties like to spread out and have their own privacy for litter box time!

There isn't anything more adorable than a box of kittens, but these little cuties like to spread out and have their own privacy for litter box time!

One of the most important aspects of feline comfort is being able to distinguish, and have control over, their territory. It is essential to remember that cats may be threatened with any change in their environment, with some common examples including new pets, children (especially small ones that crawl and grab), house guests, conflicts with pre-existing pets, outdoor cats in the neighborhood, anything that alters the smell in the house…the list is endless!  When cats do not have the appropriate materials to help them cope with these potential stressors, urinary and fecal marking may occur, as increasing their scent helps them feel more secure.  To combat territorial marking, we must consider normal cat behavior. Cats use their scent glands on the face, paws, and tail base to mark things within their territory. This is what is happening when your kitty rubs her face and hind end, or scratches, on all aspects of your furniture, and then smells it immediately after. These pheromones let her know that she is safe and that these items belong to her. Helping to increase that sensation decreases the chance of your kitty marking in other ways.  To help increase pheromone levels, we recommend using a synthetic pheromone called Feliway, which is available in diffusers and spray. Additionally, when threatened, cats prefer seeking a positional higher than the threat, since that is where they have the most chance of safety. This can be accomplished by adding vertical space, including cat trees and shelving. They also may seek places to hide, so providing covered hiding places for them is also important.  In multi-cat households, we also recommend “spreading out the resources” so that your cats do not have to toilet, eat, drink, or play in the same area without it being their choice – nobody wants to be forced near their siblings 24-7!

Attraction to Another Location

As mentioned previously, cats like to toilet in places that are easily accessible, quiet, and have specific odors, and if the litter box is not meeting their needs, they often will find somewhere else that is more preferable. Additionally, when a cat has marked an area, it is essential to do a deep cleaning of that spot as soon as possible, as cat urine can soak through to the padding of the carpet, making it almost impossible to fully eliminate, and will continue to attract them to use this location.  Using enzymatic cleaners such as “Nature’s Miracle” helps to naturally break down the components of urine to eliminate the smell. You should always avoid harsh chemicals or those with intense scents, as this may cause your kitty to want to mark over it.

Conclusion

 Dr. Elise and one of our happy feline friends

Dr. Elise and one of our happy feline friends

Cat behavior is extremely complex, and the problems and solutions presented above only scratch the surface of the explanations and modifications for feline inappropriate elimination. The most important aspect is to first eliminate medical problems. After this is done, and you cannot immediately correct your kitty’s inappropriate elimination, please consult with your veterinarian at Southpoint Animal Hospital for further guidance. Behavioral marking is often due your cat’s perceived deficit of some aspect of their environment in which their emotional needs may not be being met.  SPAH does offer an In-home Environmental and Behavioral Assessment, with Dr. Elise Hattingh, to evaluate your cat’s environment and relationships in order to maximize feelings of security, and therefore, eliminate marking. In an hour long visit, Dr. Elise will review the environment, watch the interactions between family members and other cats, and make suggestions based on your kitty’s behavior.  This service has been extremely successful for many cats and owners to find peace in their homes.

For more information, consider attending Dr. Elise's Feline Behavior Workshop on Saturday, April 21. Details here!

6 Exercises to Keep Your Senior Dog Mobile, Happy, and Fit

This article is part two of a two post series on maintaining healthy habits for senior dogs.

Overview

For keeping the body fit, the emotions uplifted and the mind young, exercise is king. Appropriate levels of exercise vary dramatically depending on the age, comfort level and health status of your senior companion. Even if all the two of you can do is take a leisurely sniff around the yard for 5 minutes, do it every day or better yet, twice a day.

Your companion would benefit even more if you can add some gentle conditioning into her daily life. Spend 5 minutes once or twice a day adding a few of the exercises listed below. Always start with a short walk as a warm up then do the other exercises. Start with only one or two repetitions of an exercise or two. As your dog gets more comfortable with the exercises you can add another repetition and an additional exercise. Remember to keep it light and fun.

Your dog should never be sore or overly tired by her workouts. If she pants excessively, her legs start to shake, or she tries to step away from the exercise, do shorter sessions and fewer repetitions and then build up. If she’s sore the next day (slower to get up in the morning or less interested in her walk), you should back off on her exercises, cutting the repetitions down.

Of course, it’s very important to get a clean bill of health from your veterinarian prior to starting any conditioning program.

WALKS

Go for as long a walk as your dog can tolerate. If she’s sore the next day, or lagging behind more at the end than she was at the start, try shortening the walk by 30% and she should do better. If she can’t go for a walk at all, time for a visit to the vet to see what might be limiting her!

BALANCE EXERCISES

Without balance, the strength of the body deteriorates quickly. In order to keep her balance, your dog uses many “stabilizing muscles” in her trunk and legs. If these muscles have to work extra hard (for example in a dog that’s overweight, or walks a lot on slippery floors), the muscles get really sore and balance is compromised.

If your senior dog is active and free from lameness, these balance exercises should be safe to do:

  • PLANK 101 – the stand - This may be surprising to many, but standing for 10 seconds is really hard for some dogs. Start there. Does your dog stand still and comfortably for the whole time without shifting her weight around or trying to sit or lie down? If not, start with this exercise!
Senior dog plank stand.jpg
  • PLATFORM PLANK – If she does well with the basic stand and can do it for 30 seconds, have your dog stand on a low platform that’s only 2-4 inches high and 1.5 – 2 times as long as her body and 1.5-2 times as wide as her body. An exercise bench can work well. Make sure that the surface is nonslip. Start with just 10 seconds.

MOBILITY EXERCISES

  • COOKIE STRETCHES – Have your dog stand comfortably as in the “Plank 101”. Using a piece of her food, lure her nose toward her shoulder, then toward her hip, then between her front legs. Do both sides. She shouldn’t step out of place while doing this. If she does, don’t make her stretch as far. You can do this stretch every day with your companion.
Senior dog Cookie Stretches.jpg
  • FIGURE 8 – If your dog can do all of the other exercises well, try this exercise to keep her spine mobile and help her balancing and stabilizing muscles have a bit of a work out. Use a cookie to lure her in a figure 8 around a couple of cones or trashcans. The cones should be set about as far apart as your dog is long from tip of nose to base of tail. If your dog is small or limber, you can use your own legs as the “cones”. You might need to use her favorite treat to do this the first few times. Only do one or two repetitions to start as this can be a little challenging for some dogs.
                             Figure 8 with leg weave

                            Figure 8 with leg weave

STRENGTH EXERCISES

  • BACK EXTENSION – Have your dog stand with her front feet on a platform or step that’s about ankle high. She should keep her head and neck neutral and in a straight line with her back. Have her hold the position for 5-10 seconds then help her step down.
Senior Dog Back Extension .jpg
  • UP & DOWN PLATFORM – This one is particularly helpful for dogs that are starting to have a bit of trouble with the stairs. Set up a platform with a nonslip surface that’s about as high as your dog’s ankle. An exercise bench will work well for medium or large dogs. For smaller dogs a phone book wrapped in duct tape can work well. Have your dog slowly step up onto the platform and slowly (one foot at a time) step off. This sounds easy. For many dogs it’s a work out! Have your dog do this 2-3 times to start with.

Closing Thoughts

If I could have one wish come true for my grey-muzzle patients it would be that their families have the tools and knowledge to help them enter their senior years with more enthusiasm, joy, and comfort.

Educational Workshops with Southpoint Animal Hospital

As we mentioned in our New Year's Resolution blog post last month, we are excited to host pet educational workshops here at Southpoint Animal Hospital this year! We have covered many successful topics in the past, and are excited to share more of our special interests with you in the future. 

Last month we posted a poll on our blog and Facebook page surveying your interest and preference on topics for these workshops. We received tremendous feedback, and for that we THANK YOU!! Below is a summary of the results:

Workshop Poll Results.PNG

As you can see, the topics that earned the most interest were Behavioral Issues, Feline Specific Topics, Alternative Medicine/Herbals, and CPR and First Aid. We are thrilled to announce that we will be hosting an educational workshop on each of these top topics and the dates of each workshop are listed below:

Feline Behavior Workshop with Dr. Elise Hattingh on Saturday, April 21

Alternative Medicine Workshop with Dr. Brian Lapham on Satuday, June 16

Animal Behavior Workshop with professional dog trainer Lynn Rives on Satuday, August 11

CPR and First Aid Workshop with Dr. Brian Lapham on Saturday, November 10

Did your requested topic fall short of the top picks for this year's workshops? Have no fear! We will be pulling ideas for upcoming blog posts from your interest list throughout the year. Stay tuned for more info!

The Five Most Important Things for Our Senior Dogs

This article is part one of a two post series on maintaining healthy habits for senior dogs.

Overview

Some dogs are seniors at 7 years of age, while others don’t reach their senior years until well into double digits. What makes the difference? It isn’t always what you’d think. Some of it’s about genetics and size (on average, larger dogs do tend to “age” earlier than smaller dogs). But it’s also related to how lean, fit, and mentally stimulated our companions are.

We can maximize our dogs’ comfort, mobility, emotional and mental well-being, and their joy of life through many different tools and techniques, most of which are quite easy to implement.

Home Environment

As dogs age their joints start to hurt and aren’t as mobile as they once were. They have a bit more trouble getting around the house. Imagine yourself this way – perhaps it’s a stretch, but bear with me – what if you had painful hips or knees, or you had trouble walking around? Now imagine you’re wearing plush socks on your feet and you’re walking on a polished hardwood floor. You’d have to shuffle a bit, be a bit more careful, and take shorter steps. Your whole body would have to work hard to help stabilize you.

That’s the situation for many senior dogs I see. The slick surfaces might as well be ice. The hair on the bottom of their feet creates a slipper that makes it hard for them to walk (or even stand!) on slick surfaces. Here’s how we can help:

  • Provide runners, rugs, and other nonslip surfaces wherever our dogs need to walk or stand
  • Trim the hair on the bottom of the feet every 2 weeks so that the pads are completely visible
  • Trim the nails at least monthly
  • Toe Grips (which go over the nails and stay on all the time) or boots (there are many options, all should be used intermittently) provide even more stability
  • Ensure that stairs have nonslip runners or treads or that you assist your dog up and down the stairs
  • Outside provide grassy areas (keep the grass short) or firm dirt surfaces for your companion. Deep mulch, tall grass, and uneven surfaces are all difficult for the senior dog to navigate.
  • His bed should be thick enough to provide plenty of padding for your dog’s hips, elbows, and chest. The best bed is supportive but also fairly thin since many dogs have trouble getting up on thick plush beds as they age. Consider an orthopedic dog bed.
                                   Untrimmed paw

                                  Untrimmed paw

                       Trimmed paw with short nails

                      Trimmed paw with short nails

ENRICHMENT

Dogs benefit from keeping their minds and bodies active as much as we do. In fact dogs that experience dementia (cognitive dysfunction) find relief through increased physical and mental stimulation. You heard me right, mental stimulation. These are some key ways to keep your dog mentally, emotionally, and physically stimulated, no matter what their age.

  • Enrichment toys – all dogs that like to eat, like it even more if they have to “work” for it. One of the most basic of kibble-dispensing (enrichment) toys is the Kong. Once he’s an expert at the Kong (which might take 3 seconds or it might take a few days) you can progress to more challenging toys, which you can find at most pet stores.
  • Play – all mammals enjoy play, which stimulates the body, the mind and the emotions. There’s nothing better than a good laugh. For your senior dog, that laugh is probably going to be a wagging tail. If your dog isn’t interested in tugging or toys, try conditioning exercises. For most dogs, they’re really fun and will get that tail wagging.  We will be presenting specific suggestions on the blog in two weeks!
  • Field Trips – if your companion enjoys other people, consider taking him to the dog-friendly outdoor café at your local coffee shop, or on an excursion to your favorite pet store to pick out some treats and get some pats from the friendly staff.
  • Brushing – make sure to use a brush your dog really likes. However, if he doesn’t enjoy brushing this doesn’t count as enrichment.

ASSISTIVE DEVICES

As our canine companions have more trouble getting around, it can be hard on our own bodies helping them. It can certainly be harder on their bodies when slips and falls result in painful muscles and joints. Thankfully there are many devices that can help.

  • Harnesses and slings – The Help ‘Em Up Harness is my favorite for dogs with compromised mobility. With parts for the chest and the pelvis, it allows you to easily help your dog to rise, go up and down stairs, or walk. For most dogs, the harness can be worn all day and is adjustable at many points, allowing for a comfortable fit.
Help 'Em Up Harness.jpg
  • Boots – there are many types of boots and other paw coverings available to help dogs to walk on slick surfaces. You can find options at most larger pet stores.
  • Ramps and pet steps – consider a pet ramp to help your companion get in and out of the car and pet steps for getting on and off the bed or couch
Lean dog top view.jpg

WEIGHT

A lean body weight is critical for our senior companions. The very first pain relieving measure for a dog with mobility challenges is a lean physique. Not only do studies show that a dog will live up to 2 years longer if kept lean, fat is actually pro-inflammatory, meaning your dog is fighting an uphill battle with the inflammatory pain in his joints if he’s overweight. Don’t stop at “not fat”; get your companion all the way to LEAN.

How to tell if your dog is lean:

  • There’s a waist between his ribs and his pelvis
  • Easily felt ribs – place your hand on a table in a relaxed position and feel the bones in your hand. This is close to how easily you should be able to feel your dog’s ribs. They should be easily felt, but not visible.
  • There’s a tuck to his belly between his chest and his hind legs      

    For the fifth important thing for senior dogs, check back in two week's for Dr. Blackmer’s companion article, "6 Exercises for Your Senior Dog."

    This article first appeared in the April 2016 issue of The Triangle Dog.

    Fat Cat Solutions

    A fat cat is a happy cat, right?   Well, they might tell you that at meal time, but the rest of the day (and there will be less of those) not so much. There are very alarming and very critical clinical consequences of obesity, including (but not limited to):

    • Diabetes

    • Urinary disease

    • Osteoarthritis

    • Skin conditions

    • Lack of energy

    • Decreased Quality/Quantity of life

    Now that I have your attention, let’s see if your cute little butterball is overweight. Your fingers and eyeballs are probably the best test around.  Scales often lie to us, having trouble telling the difference between muscle and fat, but also because there is such a variety in normal sizes of cats.  

    At Southpoint Animal Hospital, we like to use the Body Condition Scale (BCS).  It is a 1-9 sliding scale based on physical characteristics, such as how easily palpated the spine or ribs are. Check out the BCS below:

    cat purina BCS.jpeg

    OK, now raise your hand and repeat after me:

    "I have a fat cat, but it is not my fault."

    I have a different opinion for fat dogs, but that is a whole different story. There, now that we all feel better, let’s get down to losing some kitty belly.

    Weight Loss in Cats

    What makes this such a difficult task is that cats are amazingly efficient creatures. When someone rings your doorbell and the dogs go crazy, what does your cat do? Perhaps roll over on the couch to better see the door, but most of the time they can’t even be bothered with that. However, in the wild, a cat must catch approximately six mice a day just to stay alive, they also only successfully catch their prey 1 out of every 4 hunting episodes. Therefore, they must track, hunt and attempt to catch a mouse 24 times a day. My cat hunts twice: once in the morning to get her morning yum-yums, and once at night to get her evening yum-yums. No tracking, no hunting, no pouncing, no rending of flesh - just a banquet feast for 30 seconds. And that (if you are still reading this far into the article) is how we are going to get your Chubby-Wubby to lose some weight... We gotta get them to move! Notice I did not say put them on a diet. We will get more into food later on, but first, let’s work on exercise.

    Exercise

    Passive Methods:

    HomemadeCatTree.jpg

    Place their food bowl in a more difficult location: on a raised surface, their tree house, anything that will make them move a bit to get to it. The picture on the left is my home-made tree house (that of course the cats don’t play on anymore), but they have to climb up to get their food. Make sure the location is safe and that they are actually able to get to it!

    Cat fence: Yes, you read that right. I am recommending that your cat goes outdoors. I don't mean a free for all, return to the wild to hunt 24 times a day kind of outdoors, but a properly enclosed, safe outdoor exercise area. You can easily and relatively inexpensively convert an existing fence to a cat-proof fence. Many companies offer these conversion kits. Your kitty will get all the benefits of being outside (fresh air, exercise, mental stimulation) without the dangers (dogs, other cats, cars).  Just don’t forget flea and tick preventatives if you do this!

    Get another cat: I think all homes should have 2 cats... most of the time. All cats are individuals, but they usually love to have a companion around to play, groom, and be lazy with.

    Active Methods:

    Laser lights: My favorite mode of activity with my cats because I can be sitting in my La-Z-Boy and my cats are tearing up the living room running after it. Remember that cats are sprinters - they will play for a minute or two and then want to rest. They are the big cat taking down an antelope - fast as lightening but not built for a marathon. It is amazing how much fun a $12 laser pointer from Office Depot can be. Caution - don’t point it into their eyes!

    Automatic laser lights: The lazy (or very busy!) man's laser light. Works while you are gone, and your kitty will never know when it is coming! Many versions are out there, a lot at less than $30.

    catwithtoymouse.JPG

    Good old fashion feather on a string: It kicks that predatory instinct on high. Just don’t leave the string on the floor in case a kitty might decide to eat it!

    Fake mouse: The little plastic bodied/rabbit fur cheapies at any pet store. I probably have a dozen under my fridge right now. My cats love them.

    Milk Rings: I should market these things, call them Dr. Lapham’s Special Cat Toy. Only $1.99 on sale now! I have a dozen or more also under fridge as we speak (apparently I have a lot of things under my fridge).

    Food

    If you want your cat to have no energy and NOT lose weight - put them on a traditional weight loss diet (ie - high fiber, low calorie). In other words, we need to feed them food that their bodies were meant to digest, to give them the energy to be active, and to satisfy them to not bug us at 5AM for breakfast: a canned high protein diet, home cooked diet, or raw diet- we can have the debate in person as to what is best for your cat. The key is NOT high carbohydrate, NOT dry kibble.  

    Once we have switched them to a canned high-protein diet, then we can start to reduce their total amount of energy (food) a small amount at a time, generally starting with a 10% reduction.  This should be done under a supervision of a veterinarian as we also want to make sure they are getting adequate nutrition.

    Time

    It took time to put the weight on, so it will take time to get the weight off. We don’t care so much how long it takes, just as long as your cat’s weight is going the right way.

    Resources

    For more information on weight-loss, nutrition, and other feline-related issues, we recommend the following sites and resources:

    Indoor Pet Initiative - Ohio State Univ, College of Veterinary Medicine - tons on info to keep our cats sane!

    Catalyst Council - Feline related information

    Catinfo.Org – Great info on many feline-related topics, in particular nutrition.

    So let's get to it! We've given you a lot of great suggestions to help your furry feline friend shed some weight this New Year, the rest is up to you!