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Medicine versus Mom

The Difference Between Obesity and Hypothyroidism

Welcome back for another edition of Medicine Versus Mom. While working at the veterinary hospital, I can’t tell you how many overweight pets we had as patients. Statistics would tell you that at least 50% of our patients were overweight and had a poor body condition score. While some pet parents seemed oblivious that their pet’s weight was not ideal, others knew that their dog was gaining weight, but felt that they were doing all the right things (not overfeeding, and providing regular exercise). This issue among pet parents is so common that Carol Bryant from Fidose of Reality and myself thought we would discuss it here today.

Specifically, we want to talk about understanding the difference between canine obesity and hypothyroidism. While both of these diseases are highly treatable in dogs, they do have similar symptoms which could lead to misdiagnosis or assumptions from pet parents about how to improve their dog’s health. I believe that by understanding hypothyroidism and it’s symptoms, you will be able to better understand when your dog needs to have endocrine testing versus needing diet and exercise changes.

What is Hypothyroidism?

According to PetMD: 

“Hypothyroidism is a clinical condition resulting from a lowered production and release of T4 and T3 hormones by the thyroid gland. It is common in medium to large-sized dogs, with some being more predisposed than others. “ 

When the production of the T3 and T4 hormones decreases, it causes the processes and the functions of all organ systems in the body to slow down. Including, your dog’s metabolism. Hypothyroidism is commonly diagnosed between the ages of 4 and 10 years old, and some breeds (listed below) are more prone to the disease than others:

  • Golden Retriever
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Irish Setter
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Dachshund
  • Cocker Spanial
  • Airedale Terrier

What are the symptoms associated with Hypothyroidism?

According to the Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health, the symptoms associated with hypothyroidism include:

  • Lethargy
  • Unwillingness or inability to exercise
  • Weight gain
  • Dry coat or skin
  • Excessive shedding
  • Hair thinning or hair loss
  • Reoccuring skin infections

What causes Hypothyroidism to occur?

According to PetMD, hypothyroidism usually occurs because the thyroid gland has been destroyed by an abnormal immune reaction. In most cases (95%) hypothyroidism is due to the destruction of the gland itself, however, in a small number of cases it is due to a tumor of the pituitary gland (Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health).

How is Hypothyroidism diagnosed?

Traditional diagnosis requires endocrine testing (measuring the amount of thyroid hormone your dog has available) of the T3 and T4 hormones.

What is the treatment for Hypothyroidism?

Traditional treatment for hypothyroidism requires providing your dog’s body with the synthetic version of the hormone they are lacking.

The deficient hormones are given in synthetic form, with the dosage adjusted occasionally based on your dog’s individual physical condition and progress. Most clinical symptoms will resolve after a few months, but only your veterinarian can determine whether your dog’s medicine dosage should be adjusted or changed. To avoid complicating the condition, do not change the type or dosage of the drug yourself, and never give anything new to your dog without first consulting with your veterinarian. This caution includes the use of herbal remedies.- PetMD

How to know when its just weight gain…

When I was studying Animal Science at UC Davis, I specifically remember learning that Hypothyroidism, while not a rare disease, was being over diagnosed in veterinary medicine. In an article written by Dr. Patty Khuly in 2008, she alluded to the over-diagnosis of this disease mostly based on the idea that people didn’t want to admit that their pets were simply gaining weight.

Not only do I find this disease of slow-metabolism to be one many of us humans wish we had (especially when at a loss to explain why we gained so much weight over the holidays)—hypothyroidism is an illness pet owners increasingly want their overweight pets tested for.

I can’t blame pet parents for wanting their dogs to be tested for hypothyroidism, especially when they feel that they have done all of the right things to care for their dogs. But, if your dog’s hormones are balanced, we don’t want to give them medication they don’t need.

So, how can you be sure that your dog is receiving the right diagnosis?

According to Dr. Jennifer Coates, if your dog has symptoms associated with hypothyroidism, and bloodwork has revealed low thyroid levels, and all other clinical signs have been ruled out, then it is appropriate to tentatively diagnose your dog with hypothyroidism. The true test will be your dog’s responsiveness to the medication. If repeat testing shows that your dog’s hormone levels have returned to normal, than your dog is truly hypothyroid and should continue on the medication per your veterinarian’s recommendations.

Misdiagnosis can occur for a variety of reasons:

Because dogs that are sick with diseases completely unrelated to the thyroid gland often develop low thyroid hormone levels. The condition is called euthyroid sick syndrome, and it does not require thyroid hormone replacement therapy. What is really needed is an accurate diagnosis and treatment aimed at the underlying problem, but this is sometimes easier said than done!

In conclusion, it is important for pet parents to be honest with themselves. Is your dog gaining weight? Or are there other symptoms on this list your dog is experiencing? Have you tried adjusting their diet and exercise? Is someone else in your house overfeeding your dog (you would be surprised how often this happens)?

If you truly feel that your dog is experiencing symptoms of Hypothryoidism, definitely take them to visit your veterinarian and be prepared for bloodwork testing.

I highly recommend visiting Fidose of Reality to hear Carol’s Dog Mom perspective on this topic!

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Cold Laser Therapy for Dogs: A Revolution in Arthritis Treatment

There is a new-ish treatment available in veterinary medicine, and it’s called Cold Laser Therapy!

I am very excited to share with your some information about Cold Laser Therapy along with my good friend Carol Bryant from Fidose of Reality. Carol’s dog Dexter has been treated with Cold Laser Therapy, so she will be able to share her Mom perspective on the topic, while I provide you with some general medical information regarding this new and exciting treatment.

What is Cold Laser Therapy?

It’s a type of treatment where “a cold laser uses a beam of light to stimulate damaged cells to produce more energy” (Veterinary General). When the laser stimulates the cells, it improves cellular function, reduces inflammation, and stimulates blood flow. Additionally, Cold Laser Therapy improves the absorption of nutrients by the cells and cellular reproduction. What most pet parents need to understand is that the most common joint damage that our pets experience is due to cellular damage, inflammation, and a lack of healthy cell reproduction. Specifically arthritis, which is defined by PetMD as:

Arthritis is a general term for abnormal changes in a joint. It can arise from joint tissue destruction after an infection, from congenital defects affecting structural architecture, and from stress and trauma to joint surfaces and supporting structures.”

Due to its positive effect on cellular tissue, Cold Laser Therapy can be used to treat the following (Veterinary General):

  • Arthritis or Musculoskeletal diseases
  • Joint injuries or Trauma
  • Post-Surgical incisions
  • Ligament or tendon injuries
  • Fractures
  • Muscle sprains or strains
  • Skin lesions or abrasions
  • Nerve damage

New-ish to Veterinary Medicine

Cold Laser Therapy is new-ish to veterinary medicine. Much of the initial research in the media was published around 2011 from my findings. However, according to Multi Radiance Medical, Cold Laser Therapy gained popularity in the veterinary rehabilitation community in the 1990s. Despite being a new-ish treatment, Cold Laser Therapy has been around in human medicine for quite some time.

“Laser therapy is a very effective modality to speed and direct healing in dogs with painful arthritis, strains and sprains and other injuries or effects of aging. It has been used in humans for a long time and dogs now can reap the benefits, too.” – Dr. Christine Zink Director of the Department of Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

What does this mean for you?

Veterinary Medicine has spent many years determining the effects and applications of Cold Laser Therapy. As the treatment continues to gain popularity in the veterinary field, your pet will have better access to improved technology.

What to Expect

Veterinarians who are trained in rehab therapy will be able to recommend the Cold Laser Therapy to your pet as part of a larger treatment plan.

Your veterinarian may recommend Cold Laser Therapy as a treatment for your pet if they suffer from a joint or ligament injury or condition. The reason that Cold Laser Therapy benefits your pet is that it is non-invasive treatment, with no recovery time. Meaning, there is no anesthesia necessary, and often, you can be with your pet during the treatment (Veterans Memorial Drive Animal Hospital).

Once your veterinarian recommends Cold Laser Therapy for your dog, you and your pet will visit the veterinary hospital for regular visits. While in the hospital, your pet will lie down and the laser will be applied to the targeted area. You may need to visit more frequently in the first few weeks until your dog reaches maintenance (Veterans Memorial Drive Animal Hospital).

Many positive stories surround the use of Cold Laser Therapy in pets. Some pet parents say their pets joints seem brand new! Others see a marked difference in the way their pet walks. Either way, it seems as though many pet parents have had a positive experience with Cold Laser Therapy.

The Skeptics

Of course, with new treatments, there will be skeptics, which is a good thing. In my opinion, the more questions that are being asked, the better the technology and research will become.

  • “Not all cases are successful.” As of 2012, some studies do show that Cold Laser Therapy is not always successful. However, due to the number of parameters and variables that can skew the research, these studies do not indicate that Cold Laser Therapy is ineffective. (Veterinary Practice News)
  • “The lasers only reduce pain, nothing else”. This is false, due to the increased circulation, Cold Laser Therapy can also improve ligament and cartilage function, as well as, decrease inflammation. (Veterinary Practice News)

To learn more about common myths associated with Cold Laser Therapy, I highly recommend reading this article from Veterinary Practice News.

Items of Note:

Based on my research, I wanted to share with pet parents a few quick items of note:

  • Not recommended for pets who have cancer because the treatment can stimulate the blood flow near cancer cells. (ABCNews)
  • There are different classes of lasers. According to Dr. Karen Becker, Class IV lasers, which are the strongest, were approved but the FDA in 2011 and are 50 times more powerful than their Class III predecessor. Additionally, new lasers have adjustable power output so that you can adjust for different types of treatment.
  • Class IV laser therapy treatments are cumulative, meaning each treatment builds on prior treatments and the animal’s condition improves continuously.” – Dr. Karen Becker
  • The treatment can reduce the probability of re-injury (Dr. Karen Becker)

Do you have or know a pet who could benefit from Cold Laser Therapy? If so, share with them this information and check out Carol’s Mom perspective on Cold Laser Therapy.

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Do You Know Your Pet’s Vitals?

The answer to this question may not seem important now, but at some point most pet parents will need to know their pet’s vitals to be able to monitor their health and know when they need treatment.

Today, Carol from Fidose of Reality and I, are going to share with you some important information about your pet’s vitals so that you can protect your pet’s health, should concerns arise.

Temperature

For both dogs and cats, a normal temperature is between 100 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. (VetStreet)

The most common way that a dog or cat’s temperature is measured by veterinary professionals is using a digital rectal thermometer. Unless it is recommended by a veterinarian, you shouldn’t need to take your dog or cat’s temperature at home. However, if you are instructed to do so by your veterinarian, you can find more information on how to measure your dog’s temperature at home in this VetStreet article.

If you take your pet’s temparture and it is outside of the normal range and you see evidence of diarrhea or bloody stool, contact your veterinarian immediately. 

Heart Rate

Heart rate varies significantly from one pet to the other. According to VetStreet, a dog or cat’s heart rate can vary anywhere from 60 to 140 beats per minute. A faster heart rate will often be found in a small dog, a puppy, or a dog who is not in very good shape. Because I check on Rooney’s heart rate, I know that his tends to be a bit on the faster side.

How to check your dog’s heart rate?

You can check your dog’s heart rate in two ways.

You can feel your pet’s heart rate by gently placing your hands on their chest, or you can feel their heart rate through their femoral artery located in their thigh (see photo).

Respiratory Rate

Respiratory rate is a really important measurement for a pet parent to know. It’s a clear indicator of your dog’s discomfort and can help you determine an emergency if you dog is at risk for overheating.

If your dog is panting frantically and is glassy-eyed, don’t count anything except the minutes it will take you to get to a veterinarian. Your dog is in critical condition from overheating. – VetStreet

A dog who is at rest should breath somewhere between 10 and 35 breaths per minute. If your dog is panting and the symptoms are combined with the description above, you may be in an emergency situation.

Vitals Monitored by Your Vet

Do You Know Your Pet's Vitals?

Photo credit: http://www.vmdtechnology.com

While the top 3 vitals are the most important for you to know as a pet parent, I want to share with you some other important information that is typically monitored at the veterinary hospital. The chart above is an example of how your pet’s vitals might be tracked if they are being hospitalized. To provide some additional transparency for pet parents, let me discuss what a few of these items mean.

Attitude

BAR stands for Bright, Alert and Responsive. This means that your pet entered the hospital looking like they feel okay; tail-wagging, normal energy, and behavior. Another descriptor that could be used here is NDR, which stands for Not Doing Right. This description might be used to describe a pet who seems lethargic, unresponsive, and sick. (PetMD)

MM = Mucous Membranes

Specifically, veterinarians and their technicians are looking at the color of your pet’s mucous membranes. If you want to check your pet’s mucous membranes, all you need to do is gently lift their lip and check their gums. You want to see bright and pink mucous membranes (i.e. gum tissue).

What you don’t want to see are membranes that are grey, white, purple, or tacky.

CRT

While checking your pet’s mucous membranes, your veterinarian or veterinary technician will also check your pet’s CRT, which stands for Capillary Refill Time. The best way I can explain how to measure your pet’s CRT is to gently press on their gums and see how long it takes the color to return (like checking a sunburn). If it takes 2 seconds or less to refill, your pet is within the normal range. However, if it take more than 2 seconds, then it is considered an abnormal CRT which might be indicative of dehydration, lack of blood flow, or lack of oxygen.

Other Metrics

While your pet is in the hospital, it is really important that someone is keeping track of their walks, water and food intake, and urination and defecation. Not only does this type of documentation make sure that every pet in the hospital gets the appropriate care no matter how busy things get, but it also provides your veterinarian with some additional insights regarding your pet’s health.

Knowing When You Can Monitor & When It’s an Emergency

Emergencies happen. As a pet parent, I am a fan of the phrase, “when in doubt, call your veterinarian”. You know your pet best and if you feel like their behavior, disposition, or overall health has changed (i.e. vomiting, diarhhea, increased or decreased urination, water intake, food intake, or defecation), call your veterinarian or emergency veterinarian.

However, at some point in your pet’s life you might need to monitor their vitals and their overall health. You should always do so with the guidance and direction of your veterinarian. That being said, I believe that knowledge is power. Knowing what the parameters of your pet’s health should be will make you that much more informed as a pet parent.

For more important information, and to read Carol’s Mom perspective on this topic, please visit Fidose of Reality.

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Is Your Dog Protected if Something Happens to You?

Do you have a plan for your dog if something happens to you?

I know this question is daunting and arguably somewhat morbid, but it’s also a necessary topic. Since it’s tax season and a time of year when people organize their affairs, Carol from Fidose of Reality and myself, thought your dog’s future plans would be a great topic to discuss.

No one wants to think about a time when they are no longer able to care for themselves or their family. However, those who do, are doing their family members and their pets a huge favor. If you are taking the time to be prepared, here are a variety of scenarios you should be prepare for:

  • If you get sick or injured: Of course I am not referring to a cold or flu, I am referring to a long-term illness or injury. Evaluating the possibility of an injury is particularly important if you are solely responsible for pets.
  • If you have a drastic change in your living circumstances: Things happen. Unfortunately, in our ever-changing financial environment, a family can lose their current lifestyle and potentially lose their home. For example, there were a number of dogs and cats that were abandoned during the recession.
    • “[In 2008], across the country, animal shelters were overwhelmed by pets that were being surrendered by their owners. In response, the HSUS set up a “foreclosure pets fund” that provides financial aid to pet owners who are facing foreclosure or eviction.”. – NPR. Many people needed temporary solutions and homes for their pet, which having a plan could provide.
  • If there is a natural disaster: Right now in California, all kinds of people are being displaced from their homes and might need to find temporary care for their pets. Keep in mind that during these times, local shelters tend to get overwhelmed and overcrowded.
  • If you pass: When I worked at the veterinary hospital, there were a few situations where veterinary technicians took responsibility for other people’s pets when they suddenly passed and there wasn’t a plan. One example I remember very well was Mr. Tankersley. Mr. Tankersley was a client at a veterinary hospital I worked at in Davis, and he had 7 cats. Unfortunately, he passed suddenly, and his family was unable to take his 7 cats. Due to their ages (between 10-12 years old) it would be very difficult to find a forever homes for 7 adult cats in a few weeks. Fortunately, Mr. Tankersley donated regularly to a cat rescue that was happy to take all seven cats and find homes for them, but even that arrangement took time as the cats had to be transported across states.

As you can see, a number of things can go wrong and leave your pet’s future at risk. Therefore, I would like to walk you through creating a plan for your pet’s future.

Creating a Plan

Can a friend or family member step up?

The Humane Society recommends not only reaching out to friends and family members to see if they are willing to care for your pet long-term, but also to make sure that you have people who can step up immediately to provide emergency care in the short-term. One very important point is to make sure that the different caregivers know each other to make coordinating your pet’s care much easier.

Choosing a Permanent Caregiver

Selecting a person that will care for your dog is a very difficult decision. Here are a few things you should ask yourself:

  • Is this person familiar with your dog’s breed? For example, Rooney is a herding breed and his herding breed tendencies are strong. I wouldn’t want someone who didn’t know anything about herding breeds to care for him long-term because frankly, they might not understand him.
  • Will this person provide the same level of veterinary care as you? If you will spare no expense for your pet, it’s important that the person you choose reflects that same decision making.
  • Does this person have room for your pets in their home? While I know a handful of people who would be more than suitable to care for Rooney should something happen to my husband and myself, I know that not every person has room in their home to take Rooney at a moments notice.

Formulate a Formal Plan with Your Veterinarian

Does your veterinary hospital know what plans you have for your pet? You can request to add emergency contact information to your pet’s medical record. You may be thinking to yourself that this is an unnecessary step. However, if you don’t have any nearby family members, your veterinary hospital can be a great resource for helping your family organize your pet’s affairs should something happen to you. For example, let’s say Rooney’s designated caregiver is named Sarah. I can call my veterinary hospital and document that if something has happened to me and my husband, Sarah (last name) has the authorization to request Rooney’s records be sent to her veterinary hospital.

Because your veterinary staff cares about you and your pets (I promise you they do), they will want to help, and it will help them and your family if you document this ahead of time.

Talk to a Local Rescue

While you can do your very best to prepare your pet’s affairs and the people who you have spoken with, circumstances change. You never know if someone will be able to keep your pet long-term. If so, be sure to provide your caregivers with the information for a local (to them) rescue. For example, if I had arrangements for Rooney to live in Southern California, I would make sure his caregiver had contact information for Queen’s Best Stumpy Dog Rescue, which is a Corgi rescue in Southern California. Should they be unable to keep Rooney long-term (and neither could either of my backup caregiver selections), I would want them to take Rooney to a breed specific rescue rather then a shelter.

Talk to Your Pet Insurance Company

Specifically, make sure that your pet’s health insurance remains if something happens to you. For research for this blog post, I called Trupanion which is Rooney’s pet insurance to see what I could do to make sure Rooney is covered should something happen to us. As it turns out, I need to make sure that Rooney’s caregiver has his policy information in order to continue his health insurance.

Funding for Your Pet

Speaking of insurance, have you considered the potential costs associated with finding a new forever home for your pet? Or the travel associated with rehoming? The Humane Society of the United States provided this sample information to include in your will so that your executor can expend funds to cover your pet’s temporary care.

“{Article Number} A. As a matter of high priority and importance, I direct my Personal Representative to place any and all animals I may own at the time of my death with another individual or family (that is, in a private, non-institutionalized setting) where such animals will be cared for in a manner that any responsible, devoted pet owner would afford to his or her pets. Prior to initiating such efforts to place my animals, I direct my Personal Representative to consult ______________________, D.V.M. (currently at the _______________________ Hospital), or, in the event of Dr. _____________’s unavailability, a veterinarian chosen by my Personal Representative, to ensure that each animal is in generally good health and is not suffering physically. In addition, I direct my Personal Representative to provide any needed, reasonable veterinary care that my animal(s) may need at that time to restore the animal(s) to generally good health and to alleviate suffering, if possible. Any animal(s) not in generally good health or who is so suffering—and whose care is beyond the capabilities of veterinary medicine, reasonably employed, to restore to generally good health or to alleviate suffering—shall be euthanized, cremated, and the ashes disposed of at the discretion of my Personal Representative. Any expenses incurred for the care (including the costs of veterinary services), placement, or transportation of my animals, or to otherwise effect the purposes of this Article ___________ up to the time of placement, shall be charged against the principal of my residuary estate. Decisions my Personal Representative makes under this Article ___________________—for example, with respect to the veterinary care to be afforded to my animal(s) and the costs of such care— shall be final. My intention is that my Personal Representative have the broadest possible discretion to carry out the purposes of this paragraph.” – Sample information from “Providing for Your Pet’s Future Without You” The Humane Society of the United States

Other things to consider:

  • Does someone have a key to your house? If you travel without your dog, and you and your spouse (or other family members are injured), can someone get into your home to let your dog out? These people should probably be the friends and family members that you identified above.
  • Are their immediate instructions available? Specifically, do you have feeding instructions and a list of medications for your pet readily available in your home?
  • Does your pet know these people you have entrusted? Rooney warms up to people quickly, so this doesn’t apply to him as much. However, if your dog doesn’t warm up to people very well, you will want to make sure your dog knows your temporary and permanent caregivers very well.
  • Do you have documentation that states who your pet should go to should something happen to you and your immediate family members? Also, when was the last time you updated that documentation? With the benefit of digital calendars these days, we really have no excuse. If you don’t have a reminder in your Google calendar now, I challenge you to take a moment to make a date and time to update your documentation (whether this is a will or a piece of paper with your signature). This update should include having a conversation with the person (or preferably people) who are in charge of your pet if something happens and see if they are still willing and able to take care of your dog.

So that’s all the information I have to share. Do you think this info can help you prepare? Are you prepared for your pet’s future already?

As always, I invite you to hop on over to Fidose of Reality to read Carol’s Dog Mom perspective on this topic.

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