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Medical Monday

Is Your Pet Improving Your Mental Health?

Many Americans are aware that the concern regarding mental health and stability among adults is increasing.

Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year” – National Alliance on Mental Health 

The term “mental illness” refers to conditionals such as bipolar disorder, depression, or schizophrenia (Newsweek).

While research regarding mental illness grows, so does the research surrounding pets and their positive affect on our mental health. Therefore, today, I would like to discuss some of the ways our pets improve our mental health.

Nurturing – It’s Important

According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), the ability to care for living things is necessary for human health even though it has become increasingly under appreciated. Nurturing and caring for another being is associated with beneficial improvements in mental and physical health. Why is this important? Because the inability to care for other beings and social isolation can cause a person to be more likely to be diagnosed with depression and illness. Therefore, having a pet in your life provides you with the nurturing opportunities you need to decrease your risk of being diagnosed with depression or other mental illnesses.

It is important to note that the ability to care for something includes pets, but is not limited to cats and dogs.

The pet-health link has been well established for relationships with dogs, cats, birds, mammals, reptiles, aquarium fish and horses. A prominent researcher in this field also suggests that similar benefits may extend to individuals who care for their gardens, farmers actively tending their crops, 4-H children with pet animals, as well as bird watchers and wild bird feeders.” – AIS

Is Your Pet Improving Your Mental Health?

Improving Physical Health

While this discussion is primarily focused on mental health, there are very strong links between mental health and physical health. So whenever pets are improving our physical health, they are also improving our mental health.

People with any chronic physical disease tend to feel more psychological distress than do healthy people. Poor physical health brings an increased risk of depression, as do the social and relationship problems that are very common among chronically ill patients. – PsychCentral

So, how exactly are pets improving our physical health? 

There are so many ways that pets improve our physical health. Here are a few examples:

  • Pets can lower blood pressure and decrease your heart rate in stressful situations due to the comfort their presence provide by being in the room. (The Review)
  • Studies showed an improvement in “Activities of Daily Living” in elderly individuals. The people were better able to perform physical tasks and reported feeling more positive about different aspects of their lives (VCU).
  • Pets reduce a person’s risk of getting heart disease.

Owning pets is associated with reducing your risk of heart disease, and there are a variety of reasons that may be at work that influence this relationship. – American Heart Association

  • People who walk their dogs are more likely to have the daily required amount of exercise.
  • Some research has shown that there is a possibility that pet owners can have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels

Social Interaction versus Isolation

Pets provide us with social support in a variety of ways. Not only do they improve our ability to connect with people in the same room, but they also encourage us to be more social and leave the house. Additionally, their ability to improve our heart health and physical health, also fights depression.

For example, the combination of heart disease and depression can cause twice the reduction in social interaction than either condition alone. – PsychCentral

So Much More

As research regarding the Human-Animal bond grows, the evidence suggests that pets help us in more ways than originally considered. According to the National Center for Health Research, people with pets are healthier in a variety of ways.

Some research studies have found that people who have a pet have healthier hearts, stay home sick less often, make fewer visits to the doctor, get more exercise, and are less depressed. Pets may also have a significant impact on allergies, asthma, social support, and social interactions with other people. – National Center for Health Research

In conclusion, your pet(s) is (are) improving your mental health in the following ways:

1) Providing you with a being to care for which decreases your chances of being diagnosed with mental illness or depression.

2) Improving your physical health, which directly affects your overall mental health.

3) Improving social interaction and decreasing social isolation which also decreases your chances of becoming depressed.

4) Being there. The evidence suggests that the benefits of pets in our lives is cumulative. They have a positive effect on us that overall improves our physical and mental health.

Did you know that pets improve mental health?

Medicine Versus Mom: Why Vaccines are Important and What You Can Do to Protect Your Pet

MedicinevMom-Vaccines

Once again, Carol Bryant from Fidose of Reality and myself, have decided to bring together our experiences in order to give you two sides to the same story. If you missed our inaugural post of Medicine versus Mom, you can check it out here.

 If you aren’t familiar with Carol Bryant, she is a good friend and fellow pet blogger. She is the founder and CEO of Fidose of Reality. If you haven’t checked out her blog, your really should! As a seasoned blogger and writer she brings her dedicated pet parent perspective to share will all “Dog Lovers of the Highest Order”. Her posts are always a must read for me, and for any other pet parent out there. As we progress through our Medicine versus Mom series, I hope to share with your even more reasons why Carol is awesome! 

Today we want to discuss the importance of vaccines, their controversy, and what you as a parent can do to protect your pet.

Firstly, I want to make it clear that vaccine protocols vary significantly by region and lifestyle. Keep in mind, that I am most familiar with the vaccine protocol in Northern California, and there may be variations from your pet’s vaccine protocol depending on where you live in the U.S, or the world.

Here is a quote from VetStreet that gives you an idea of how complicated vaccine protocols can be here in the U.S., “medical decisions concerning vaccine selection and administration protocols are among the most complicated medical decisions facing veterinarians today.”

Why is this such a complicated issue?

VetStreet sites the following as reasons for vaccine protocols being so complicated and varying:

1) Information regarding knowledge of the immune system is constantly changing

2) Susceptibility to various diseases in different regions can change

3) The increase in “animal valuation” within the family. Here, I think they are implying that as pets become a more integral part of families, it becomes more complicated to provide the correct type of preventative treatment without risk of liability.

4) Animal life expectancies are getting longer and medical records are getting better which provides more information about the effects of vaccines in the short, medium, and long term.

It is important to understand that no matter your stance on vaccines, they do protect both humans and animals against diseases that can be fatal. As a pet parent however, you need to be aware of which vaccines are necessary and which ones you can safely for go.

A typical puppy vaccine protocol includes:

3 Boosters of a DHPP or DHLPP that are given about 3 -4 weeks a part starting at 8 weeks of age, and a 1 Year Rabies Vaccine at 16 weeks of age.

After the initial booster shots of DHPP, I have seen two different vaccine protocols: 1) DHPP/DHLPP is given every year 2) DHPP/DHLPP is given every 3 years. There is a bit of controversy as to how often this vaccine should be given, so don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian why they believe the vaccine should be given as frequent as their hospital protocol suggests.

After the initial 1 year Rabies vaccine, the boosters are given every 3 years. In my experience, this is standard.

DHPP protects against Canine Distemper, Parvovirus and Canine Hepititis (Canine Adenovirus-2), the L stands for Leptospirosis (which is given based on lifestyle). All of these diseases can be fatal and are very important to the vaccine protocol.

Distemper is a virus that is described as being similar to measles. The scariest part about this virus is that it is HIGHLY contagious, and potentially fatal. About a year ago, In-Sync’s Exotics Wildlife Rescue (who I follow on Facebook for their amazing photos) had a huge outbreak of Distemper in their facility, and they unfortunately lost a few of their amazing animals to this extremely contagious virus.

Parvo is a disease I experienced firsthand. Parvo is another highly contagious disease that effects the gastrointestinal tract and can be very fatal. Many puppies barely survive this disease, if at all. This disease can be extremely fatal and should be taken very seriously.

According to the American Animal Hospital Associations Vaccine Protocol, there are Core Vaccines and Non-Core Vaccine. Core Vaccines include the DHPP and the Rabies Vaccine, which are included in the puppy vaccines protocol above.

Non-Core Vaccines include Bordetella, Lyme Disease, Leptospirosis, Canine Coronavirus, and Parainfluenza

I am most familiar with Bordetella and Leptospirosis.

Bordetella should be given if your pet spends any time at doggy day cares, boarding facilities, or the groomers.

Typically, pets are vaccinated for leptospirosis if they are considered “outdoorsy”. They are exposed to the virus through other animal’s urine, and therefore, when they go hiking with you, or to other outdoor places, it is worth it to add this to your vaccine combo.

Lyme can be very dangerous, and you can read more about it from Buddy’s story, here.

In order to determine the best vaccine protocol for your pet you must discuss with your veterinarian:

1) Where you expect to take your dog. i.e. the mountains, lakes, oceans, etc.

2) What types of activities you expect to do. i.e. hiking, running, swimming etc.

3) Don’t be afraid to ask them their professional opinion on why they believe certain vaccines are necessary.

4) Be aware of what vaccines are most likely to cause a vaccine reaction, and what the signs of a vaccine reaction are.

5) Ask you vet if your senior pet really needs vaccines, or can they simply have titers?

What are your personal opinions about vaccines?

To read Carol’s doggy mom perspective on vaccines, please click here.

MedicineVsMom

Medical Monday: What is Megaesophagus and Why is it Dangerous?

MMMegaesophagus

Welcome to another edition of Medical Monday where we discuss veterinary medical issues experienced by pets and their families.

Hi Everyone! I know it has been a few weeks since my last Medical Monday, but I promised they would be returning, so here we are to talk about a disease called Megaesophagus.

What is Megaesophagus?

Megaesophagus is the generalized enlargement of the esophagus, which is the muscular tube that connects the stomach to the throat (PetMD).

Photo Courtesy of www.veterinarypartner.com

Photo Courtesy of www.veterinarypartner.com

Why is this an issue for my dog?

The ability to move food or liquid down the esophageal tube is called motility, megaesophagus causes a decrease or complete absence of motility (PetMD). Meaning, that the esophagus itself is too big to efficiently and effectively move food and liquid from the throat to the stomach.

If food is not appropriately consumed in the esophagus, your pet may begin regurgitating or vomiting, which can lead to food going down the trachea, to the lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia.  Additionally your pet may become malnourished and dehydrated if they are unable to consume the appropriate amounts of food and water.

Are certain breeds of dog more prone to this disease?

Yes.

Firstly, this condition occurs more often in dogs than it does in cats.

Breeds that are more prone to this condition include (PetMD):

Miniature Schnauzers

Wire Haired Fox Terriers

German Shepherds

Dachshunds

Great Danes

Irish Setters

Labrador Retrievers

Pugs

Chinese Shar-Pei

What causes megaesophagus?

If this is a congenital disease for your dog (i.e. they were born with it) than the cause is often considered idiopathic (which is a fancy term for unknown).

However, if they acquire megaesophagus overtime it could be due to a number of other reasons, including (PetMD):

Neuromuscular Disease

Esophageal Tumor

Foreign Body in the Esophagus

Inflammation of Esophagus

Toxicity

Parasitic Infections

In these situations, your dog’s medical history and behavior will help your veterinarian determine a probable cause for this condition.

What should I look out for as a pet parent?

Vomiting or Regurgitation: Specifically, what type of material are they vomiting or regurgitating and is there any undigested food? Also, it is important to know how long vomiting or regurgitation occurs after they eat.

The condition may cause aspiration pneumonia in some dogs (PetMD).

Diagnosis: Typically, blood work and urinalysis will look normal for a pet suffering from megaesophagus, but the x-rays will show an enlarged esophagus filled with fluid, air ,or food (PetMD).

What is the available treatment for my pet?

If the cause of the condition is a foreign body, than surgery may be necessary. However, if your pet does not have a foreign body, than there may be several options for living with megaesophogus.

Water Consumption

Veterinary Partner recommends controlling your pet’s water intake, i.e. never giving them free access to water bowls, toilets, puddles, sinks, or any other body of water.

Ideally, after your dog drinks water, you will hold them vertical for at least 5 minutes. You would want to hold them by their front paws with their back even with your legs. This will obviously take some training and getting used to, but it will prevent your pet from regurgitating the water, and prevent them from becoming dehydrated (Veterinary Partner)

Think of it like controlling your own acid-reflux. Whenever humans suffer from acid-reflux, it is recommended that they don’t lay down, but sit up right.

In a multi-pet household, this may mean offering water to your other pets several times a day.

Exercise

You will want to discuss your plan for exercising your pet with your veterinarian. Your pet may benefit from exercise at regular times, that may need to be scheduled around their eating times.

Veterinary Partner does reassure owners that there are many dogs with megaesophagus that are able to exercise regularly just like healthy dogs.

Food

Feeding your pet in a vertical position is key for getting the food to fall from the throat into the stomach, due to the lack of motility associated with the esophagus.

I know what you must be thinking…if my dog suffers from megaesophagus am I going to have to hold my dog up after every meal and every drink of water?!?!

Well, one dog owner has already thought through and awesome solution, its called The Bailey Chair.

Veterinary Partner recommends emailing the inventor for access to the DVD on how to build your own Bailey Chair matthew1@earthlink.net.

This video below shows a super cute lab using his Bailey Chair to eat…

You can feed your dog either in a liquified or meatball format. Both of these formats decrease the chances of aspiration pneumonia, and don’t irritate the lining of the esophagus by leaving small particles behind. Ideally their food should be high density so that they get more calories by eating less.

Other options for treating megaesophagus include surgically placing a feeding tube so that your pet can receive their nutrition directly into their digestive system.

This condition can be quite overwhelming for some pet parents, so if you know someone whose pet suffers from megaesophagus, please encourage them to seek support through support groups like the Yahoo Megaesophagus support group.

Do you know anyone whose pet suffers from megaesophagus? What do they do to improve their pet’s quality of life?

Medicine versus Mom: Why Did They Muzzle My Dog?

Medicine-v-mom-muzzles

Once again, Carol Bryant from Fidose of Reality and myself, have decided to bring together our experiences in order to give you two sides to the same story. If you missed our inaugural post of Medicine versus Mom, you can check it out here.

 If you aren’t familiar with Carol Bryant, she is a good friend and fellow pet blogger. She is the founder and CEO of Fidose of Reality. If you haven’t checked out her blog, your really should! As a seasoned blogger and writer she brings her dedicated pet parent perspective to share will all “Dog Lovers of the Highest Order”. Her posts are always a must read for me, and for any other pet parent out there. As we progress through our Medicine versus Mom series, I hope to share with your even more reasons why Carol is awesome! 

Today we want to discuss a very fragile topic in the animal world: the muzzle.

As a former veterinary technician, I have muzzled quite a few animals in my time (yes, they also make cat muzzles), and I always seemed to get different reactions from pet parents about their dog’s being muzzled. Usually, pet parents fall into one of the following categories:

 They don’t ever want their dog to be muzzled under any circumstance.

They understand that their dog needs to be muzzled under certain circumstances, but they are still not comfortable with the idea.

They know that their dog may need to be muzzled and are indifferent to the situation.

They know that their dog may need to be muzzled and are supportive of the decision.

They know their dog needs to be muzzled for certain situations and they give the veterinarian and their staff that information up front.

Whether or not you identify strongly with one of the above categories, if you are a pet parent who’s dog has needed a muzzle, I guarantee you were uncomfortable with the idea at one point of another, but I hope today to give you information that will make you slightly more comfortable.

Firstly, I want to say that my experience as a veterinary technician has taught me that both cats and dogs only know how to say “Ouch!” in a few ways…one of those ways is biting. Shoot, some humans bite doctors, dentists and nurses, and we have plenty of ways to speak up for ourselves….so I completely understand why a dog would bite someone who was poking them with needles and they didn’t understand why.

That being said, a veterinarian can’t allow their staff to get injured constantly, so the staff must protect themselves in order to do their job, but I can say for certain we always have the pet’s best interests in mind.

For example, lets say that you were at the vet’s office with your new rescue dog, and you know your dog needs a nail trim, but you have no idea how he feels about them. So you tell the vet that he is new to your family and you have no existing information, and they whisk him to the back for his nail trim. You know everything will be okay, but you are very nervous about what happens when they take him to the back.

Once in the back, the veterinary staff will access your dog’s stance and general behavior before proceeding with any procedures.

Firstly, we kneel down (if it’s a big dog), or we pick up (if it’s a little dog) so that we are at eye level and not looking down at your dog and being intimidating. Then we get a feel for how they feel about us…is there any shaking? Nervous tail wagging? Hair raising? Or are they taking treats and being very friendly? Lets say in this example, your new dog is being friendly, but still a little nervous.

Many people think this is where we put the muzzle on, but we always give a dog the benefit of the doubt. If they are not showing signs of aggression, we don’t put a muzzle on. We understand that in some situations, adding a muzzle to the mix will only make things worse…not better.

Once we are ready to trim their nails, we try one of two different restraining techniques:

Restraint1

Photo Courtesy of www.livingart.org.uk

The first and most commonly used restraining technique is putting them on their side and holding their lower limbs so that they can’t spin and get up (see above). Some dogs make it clear that they don’t like this restraining technique by doing what we call, “barrel rolling”. Typically, they don’t like this type of restraint because it is very dominant. (I can say for certain Rooney hates this type of restraint, and I think holding his short legs actually hurts his hips, so I hold him like a baby with his feet up in the air). If your pet has given us signs that they don’t like this type of restraint by being wiggly, but not showing any signs of biting, we still don’t put a muzzle on.

Typically, decisions to muzzle, or not, are made by the technician who is doing the restraining. We communicate to the other staff members involved what type of “feeling” we are getting from the animal. Throughout the visit, there is a trust built between the animal and myself. We get a good sense of how comfortable each of us is in that particular situation.

If the restraining technician is getting the sense that your dog just didn’t like that type of restraint, we move to the horse style technique, which is where we have them stand while being supported from their belly, and we pick up one limb at a time to trim their nails.

If your dog did get “mouthy” with the restraining technician, and show that they weren’t comfortable, we would decide to place a muzzle on them in order to complete the necessary techniques, especially if the treatments are imperative to their health (i.e. a non-nail trim).

If the muzzle makes the situation worse, and your pet is clearly becoming stressed, we will remove the muzzle and let your pet calm down. IF their only reason for being in the back is the nail trim, and ESPECIALLY if this is their very first visit, we will offer to wait until another day and try to give them treats and love to make their experience a more positive memory.

We may also suggest that your pet come back for “happy visits”, where you bring them in and we just give them treats and then they go home. This is a desensitization technique that we used often for dogs who were skiddish.

Sometimes, when we muzzle dogs, it is the solution to being able to provide them with veterinary care. We also make a point to notify the pet parents so that you are aware of the situation, and maybe will be able to correct it in the future.

I will be honest with you, when I first got Rooney I restrained him for nail trims, and he did bite my hand, and so he had to be muzzled. I felt bad that I had to put him through stressful situations like this, but they were necessary. By trying different restraining techniques and providing lots of treats, we are now able to trim his nails at home with no muzzle. This took time, but we were able to work through it.

As a pet parent, I urge you to have an open dialog with your veterinarian, and find a veterinarian who is willing to be honest with you. The last thing you want is to have your pet being muzzled, and you being blindly unaware that they ever felt uncomfortable at the vet’s office. In my experience vets who are open and honest and willing to try new techniques, have both you and your pet’s best interest at heart.

For Carol’s Dog Mom point of view on Muzzles please see her post, here.

 Was this information helpful? Does your pet need to be muzzled? How did that make you feel?

P.S. Medical Monday’s will return next week (sorry for the delay)

Medicine versus Mom: What happens when my pet gets dropped off at the veterinary clinic?

Medical-Monday--Medicine-versus-Mom

Carol Byrant from Fidose of Reality and I have matched up to bring you a veterinary experience from a mom and veterinary technician’s perspective. I will be writing from the veterinary technician’s perspective in order to bring you some insight into what happens “in the back” of a veterinary hospital.

Please keep in mind that every veterinary hospital will have its own unique processes and procedures, so this post will be a direct reflection of my experience working in veterinary hospitals.

Today we want to answer the question, “What happens when my pet gets dropped off at the veterinary clinic?”.

For example, let’s say that your dog is being dropped off for a dental including full anesthesia, and possibly 2 teeth extractions. Estimated surgery time is 20 minutes, and total estimated anesthesia time is 45 minutes. The staff will use the additional anesthesia time to clean and polish the teeth either before or after the extractions.

The Drop off (8:00am): When your pet is dropped off in the morning, the first thing we do is weigh your dog, and get them checked in with the standard paperwork. The reason we weigh your pet the morning of surgery is that we want to make sure they haven’t gained or lost a significant amount of weight since their last exam, because that could be a sign of a possible medical issue. We also want to make sure that the anesthesia calculations use the most recent and accurate weight, since doses are calculated based on weight.

If the veterinarian who is doing surgery that day (this would apply in a multi-veterinarian practice) is already in the hospital, they may give your dog a physical exam before we put your dog in a cage. The purpose of the physical exam is to make sure your pet is in good health, and has no signs of any medical issues before we begin prepping for surgery.

If your pet’s physical exam goes well, we will go ahead and calculate their pre-med. The pre-med works as both a pre-anesthetic and a pain medication. Basically, this will start making them sleepy and serve as pain control before, during, and after surgery.

Your dog’s critical information, and reason for surgery will be placed on a whiteboard, and a name card will be placed on their cage. This helps the staff know who is in the hospital, and what treatments they will need throughout the day. Many procedures vary across hospitals, but this procedure of writing patients on the white board was true for every hospital where I have worked.

Pre-Op (9:30am): If your dog is first in line for surgery that day, we might already be in surgery with your dog. However, on any given day we could have 3 or 4 surgeries, so your dog may not be going into surgery until 11:00, or 11:30am. Feel free to ask what time your pet is expected to go into surgery, but be prepared for this time to change, as we never know what the day will bring. Around this time in the morning, we will be placing catheters in all pet’s who need surgery that day.

Placing a catheter can be an uncomfortable process, but we have already given them their pre-med, so your dog will be much more comfortable. At this time, we will also be setting up all necessary items for your dog’s dental procedure.

Surgery (10:00am): A 10:00am surgery time would be typical for a pet who was 2nd or 3rd in line for surgery that day. At this time, your dog will be comfortably under anesthesia, and your veterinarian will likely be performing the teeth extractions. The length of time to extract teeth will vary based on the location of the teeth and the quality of the roots. For example, if your veterinarian is extracting a tooth in the vary back of your dog’s mouth, and the tooth is so rotten that the roots start to crumble as the tooth is being extracted, this may lead to a long extraction time because your veterinarian will want to make sure that all roots have been removed otherwise they could cause your dog issues down the road.

Post-op (11:00-noon): After your dog’s surgery is over, we will start to wake them up. We turn off the gas anesthesia and keep them intubated, depending the quality of their other vitals, we may decide to keep them on IV fluids at this time. Your dog will start to show signs of waking up within the next few minutes depending on how affected they are by the anesthesia. As your dog is waking up from surgery, they are with a veterinary technician the entire time. While waking a patient from anesthesia we are sitting or laying with them in their cage so that they feel comfortable when then wake up.

Anyone who has had anesthesia knows that your initial wake up can be very confusing. So we are sure to be there to let them know that they are okay, and we also assess their vital signs to make sure their body is recovering from anesthesia well.

Normally, this is the time that the veterinarian will give you a call to let you know that your dog’s surgery went well, and they are comfortably recovering from surgery. However, if an emergency walks through the door (like I said you never know), your veterinarian may have to postpone their call to you another 30 minutes to an hour, so patience is key at this time. I always remind pet parents that if your pet were the one with the emergency, you would want your pet to have veterinarian’s full attention at that time.

Post-Op (noon-5pm): Most of our surgery patients get picked up between 4:30pm and 5:30pm. We typically decide what pickup time will be when your veterinarian provides you with your post-op call. During these post surgery hours, the veterinary technician on the surgery will continuously assess your dog’s health. Meaning, we constantly check on our patients. Because we spend significantly less time in rooms with clients than the veterinarian does, and we are always in the back, it is our job to make sure all post-op patients are perky, and recovering with appropriate energy. We make sure to keep them warm and comfortable, and also prepare all of their post-op medications that will be going home with you.

Sometimes we would send a picture of the patient to the client’s cell phone (if they provided the number), with a message saying something like…”Hi Mom! I am recovering well from surgery, and I can’t wait to see you when you pick me up at 5:00pm”. I think pet parent’s really liked this, and I hope other clinics would do the same.

At 5:00pm you get a chance to see your pet, and we update you on their surgery and send you home with all necessary information and prescriptions. We always go over with you the signs of pain or discomfort that you as a pet parent should watch out for:

vomiting

diarrhea

panting

extended lethargy

and other surgery specific symptoms

If you have any questions now is the time to ask, but don’t be afraid to call the next day with further questions. We would rather you ask than worry!

Please remember while your pet is at the veterinary office, no news is not necessarily bad news. Like I mentioned previously, we could have 3-4 emergencies walk in before 9:00am and completely change the course of the day, so please be patient. Your veterinarian wants to update you just as much as you would like to be updated.

Hop on over to Fidose of Reality to get Carol’s perspective of the day as a dog mom!

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