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Medicine versus Mom

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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Should Pet Parents Use Medication for Behavior Problems?

The answer to this question is not a simple yes or no. But rather, a series of questions you can ask yourself that will help you determine if medication is the best option to improve, or correct, your pet’s behavior problems. In order to help you make a decision, I want to cover a few things; typical behavioral problems, the circumstances that can bring out unusual behavior, and the questions you can ask yourself to help you make the right decision for your pet.

Typical Behavioral Problems

Aggression

Aggression in dogs can be circumstantial or constant. Either way, it is important to understand the underlying reason for the behavior. According to ASPCA Pet Health Insurance, common types of aggressive behavior include: territorial, possessive, protective, or fearful. Once you understand the reasoning behind the behavior, you can work with your veterinarian and a professional trainer to improve the behavior. Many people make the attempt to avoid the circumstances that cause the behavior to arise, however, that isn’t always possible. I will share Charlie’s story as an example:

He was a relatively young Tibetan Terrier-ish mix whose parents were running a daycare out of their home. They had been running this daycare for years. However, as time went on, it became clear that Charlie wasn’t fond of kids. The daycare had started to stress out Charlie. Due to the fact that children often can’t read dog behavior, his parents were concerned that at some point, he would begin acting aggressively toward the kids.

It’s been a few years, so it’s difficult to remember all of the details, but I believe there were a few other indicators that led us to prescribe Fluxotine (anti-anxiety medication for dogs) to ease Charlie’s stress. Not only did the Fluxotine improve Charlie’s relationships with the kids, but it also removed stress in the house which allowed his relationship with his pet parents to flourish. In this case, not only did the medication work well, but it allowed Charlie to stay with his parents despite their current employment situation. The moral of Charlie’s story is that not all aggression should be treated with medication. However, if the circumstances prevent pet parents from removing or avoiding the cause of the aggression, it might be worth a conversation with your veterinarian.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a common problem in dogs and can be such a serious issue that the dog’s behavior can be harmful to their health. This reminds me of a story:

I worked at a shelter and there was this beautiful Alaskan Malamute who had been adopted by the Owner and Manager of the shelter. The only problem was that he had extreme separation anxiety. It was so bad that if she was on the other side of the door, he would do whatever he could to get through that door so he wouldn’t be away from her. Fortunately, she was able to use the resources she had at the shelter to make sure that he was never alone and always looked after.

But what if she had a job that didn’t allow her to keep her dog all the time? This would be the case for many pet parents. In this circumstance, it might have made sense to explore the option of medication to keep a dog with this level of separation anxiety safe.

Fear & Destructive Behavior

What do the two behavioral problems above have in common? Fear. Fear can present in the form of aggression, separation anxiety or just plain destruction. When fear is the underlying factor, medication may be necessary in order to make the pet comfortable enough to begin behavior modification:

“With many problem behaviors related to fear, medication is necessary to reduce the dog’s fear to a level that allows treatment to begin.” – Pets.WebMD

All the above behaviors can be addressed with training as well. However, it’s important to consider your pet’s immediate stress and the severity of the behavior.

Depends on the Situation

Sometimes medication for a behavioral problem is only a situational issue. For example, when I worked at the veterinary hospital, a few patients needed to be prescribed sedatives just to get them to be comfortable within the walls of the hospital. Additionally, I knew quite a few pet parents who provided their pets with sedation or anti-anxiety medication during the 4th of July or other stressful holiday situations.

While not everyone is comfortable with the concept of using medication to alter behavior, medication is something to consider if the behavior is situational as well.

Ask Yourself These Questions

Will medication allow your relationship to flourish?

If a pet is straining relationships in a home, it can be difficult on the whole family. Additionally, it might strain the relationship you have with your pet. If medication can help your pet remain integrated into the family, it just might be the solution. The fact that Charlie (story above) was not brought to the shelter, or a rescue, for his behavioral problem was better for him and arguably better for the entire pet community. Any time a dog or cat is able to stay in their home (assuming their home is safe and they are well taken care of) that is one less pet in the shelter, which is what so many rescues and shelters are working toward.

What if it isn’t a behavior problem?

In the past, I have reminded many pet parents that inappropriate urination is not always a behavior problem. Sometimes, pets are urinating inappropriately because they have a Urinary Tract Infection. It’s important to consider that your dog or cat may be exhibiting symptoms of a disease or condition rather than exhibiting unwanted behavior. Before jumping to conclusions, check with your veterinarian to make sure that the behavior is not a part of a possible health issue.

Have you considered other options?

I want to be clear. I am not saying that you always have to exhaust ALL other options before turning to medication as a solution. Actually, I believe that medication can be the right solution from the get-go at times (see “Fear” above). But, it is an important question to consider for many. Most importantly, you are going to want to know what all of your options are regarding your pet’s health. The best way to find out, is to talk to your veterinarian, and depending on the behavior, also consult the help of a professional trainer.

Are they harming themselves?

Sometimes an unwanted behavior can actually be damaging to a pet’s health. For example, some cats can over groom themselves due to stress, or, as we discussed, dogs can be destructive due to separation anxiety. Medication might help them take the first steps in the right direction before they hurt themselves or their long-term health.

Is your veterinarian involved in this decision making?

Please, please, please consult your veterinarian. On several occasions I have seen families struggle with a pet’s behavioral problems only to find out later than their veterinary could provide a clear and multi-faceted solution.

Now, hop on over to Carol Bryant’s blog, Fidose of Reality for her Dog Mom perspective on this topic.

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Canine Massage: Necessity or Luxury?

Canine massage is currently being debated amongst many veterinarians and pet parents as to whether canine massage is a necessity or a luxury. However, based on my experience with massage and my years of experience in the veterinary field, I think massage is very useful. In fact, I think the real question isn’t whether or not massage is effective, but rather; is canine massage being used as prevention or treatment? Today, we would like to discuss this debated topic, the benefits of massage to dogs of all ages, and different massage techniques.

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The Great Debate

For human health, the topic of massage and it’s efficacy is still being debated. So, it comes as no surprise that canine massage is such a hotly debated topic. While the evidence of success is clinical, and there are very few double-blind studies, alternative therapies and integrative medicine have made excellent strides in the last 15 years, and will undoubtedly continue to do so as pet parents begin learning more about whole body health. Which is why, despite critics disregard of the benefits of massage therapy, the list of benefits for canine massage therapy is growing! Particularly as it relates to alternative therapies and the whole body approach. Let’s put this idea of luxury to rest, shall we?

Benefits of Massage

If you benefit from regular massage yourself, it might be easier for you to understand the benefits of massage for dogs. Here are the benefits and goals of canine massage, according to the Integrative Veterinary Care Journal:

  • Relief of pain
  • Reduction of swelling and edema
  • Reduction of muscle tension
  • Improvement of circulation
  • Promotion of tissue healing
  • Reduction of fibrous tissue and adhesions
  • Improvement of range of motion

As outlined above, it is clear that there are many benefits to canine massage therapy, but can massage benefit every dog?

Which Dogs Can Benefit from Massage Therapy?

As I mentioned previously the benefits of canine massage therapy are clear, but not all benefits are the same. In some cases, massage therapy is being used as a treatment, while in other situations it is being used as a form of prevention. I have outlined my personal thoughts on the list below. According to the Integrative Veterinary Care Journal, here is the list of ailments that can benefit from massage:

  • Tight and contracted tendons, Ligament and muscle injuries (Prevention/Treatment): Tension in the muscle tissues could be caused by repeat motion or strain. Kat Scicluna, an Equine Canine Sports Massage Therapist, mentioned canine neck pain as a condition due to overuse that many pet parents don’t realize can become an ailment.
  • Chronic inflammatory conditions (Treatment): The most common inflammatory condition being arthritis in dogs. According to VetStreet, 65% of dogs between the ages of 7 and 11 suffer from some degree of arthritis.
  • Scar tissue and edema (Treatment): Scar tissue often develops from a previous injury.
  • Post-surgery or trauma (recovery) (Prevention/Treatment): Alternative therapies such as hydrotherapy, acupuncture and of course, massage, have had a lot of success in post-operative recovery as well as, degenerative diseases and neurological problems (PetMD).
  • Maintenance of competitive levels (Prevention): Massage is very commonly used to maintain the muscle health of competitive horses (VCA). I am curious to see if this practice grows among competitive dog sports such as agility.

Additionally, Kat Scicluna, (ESCMT), mentions in her interview with the Honest Kitchen the benefits of massage for improving emotional issues in pets, particularly those in shelters or rescues with less daily human contact.

“I show up early and begin rotating the foster animals through a series of short massages that will put them at ease and in a relaxed state. It makes the foster clinics more enjoyable for both sides as the fosters are calmer and more apt to human contact after massages. Easier to adopt out!”

Canine Massage: Necessity or Luxury?

Different Massage Techniques

So now, we know that not all massage are created equal, it is important to understand that while massage is a great option for many pets and their common ailments, there are a variety of different massage techniques. According to VCA, here are some of the common techniques: trigger-point massage, craniosacral therapy, acupressure, friction massage, and passive range of motion therapy. Due to the significant variance from technique to technique, it’s important to keep in mind that the more specialized the technique, the more it’s necessary to seek out the right type of veterinary professional to improve, or prevent, a condition for your dog. But how do you find the right professionals with the right background?

How to Find the Right Treatment for Your Dog

Keep in mind, massage is an independent therapy. Meaning, you should always seek out the best treatments and therapies for YOUR dog. So, you know I am going to say it. You need to speak to your veterinarian. Make sure that you receive referrals from your trusted veterinary community, and feel free to ask them for help on techniques if you feel that you want to help your pet with massages at home as well.

To learn more about how you can massage your dog with the appropriate techniques, I will refer you to my friend Carol’s blog: Fidose of Reality, where she discusses the Dog Mom point of view on the topic of dog massage.

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Words of Caution

While it may seem harmless to perform a massage on your dog (or have a professional do it for you), it is important to keep in mind, that there are situations and circumstances where you could potentially make things worse for your pet (IVC). If your dog has any of the following conditions, please avoid providing them with a massage:

  • Fever problems
  • Any infectious disease (bacterial or fungal)
  • Internal organ problems
  • Gross fractures (or suspected fractures)
  • If the patient is on any medications that would cause major side effects if their absorption rate was increased
  • Under no circumstances should massage be performed on any kind of mass that has not been diagnosed as benign
  • On the area of any recent surgical intervention

I know this last part seems scary, but it’s important to understand how massage effects the body, particularly, when it can negatively effect a condition.

So, I obviously think that massage is beneficial to the health of our pets and not just a luxury. What do you think?

How Important is it for You to Understand Your Dog’s Hormones?

Hormones! This is a word we often hear blamed for adolescent, or immature behavior for humans, but rarely do we stop to realize that hormones play a major role in our pet’s lives as well. Understanding your dog’s hormones is a critical aspect of caring for their health.

When I was completing my Animal Science degree, the endocrine system was a topic we studied in almost every class. Hormones are so significantly related to our health and the health of our pets, yet they are often not discussed.

Therefore, Carol from Fidose of Reality and myself, are here to discuss with you the importance of hormones to your dog’s health and what you as a pet parent can do to help them maintain ideal levels.

Firstly, let’s clarify some terminology:

Horomones: “Hormones are chemical messengers that have many different functions. The effects of hormones in the body are wide-ranging and varied.” – The Merck Manual

Endocrine System: “The endocrine system consists of a group of tissues that release hormones into the bloodstream for travel to other parts of the body. Most endocrine tissues are glands (such as the thyroid gland) that release hormones directly into small blood vessels within and around the tissue.” – The Merck Manual

Basically, throughout the post, when we refer to a hormone we are referring to a specific hormone with a specific function, but the term endocrine system will refer to how the tissues and hormones work together. Some hormones affect only one tissue in the body, where other hormones actually affect many different systems in the body.

The Problem Children

In my veterinary experience, there were some hormones (or lack there of) that cause many patients a variety of health problems, and can lead to an endocrine system disease. Some of the most common endocrine-related diseases that I saw were:

Hypothyroidism

According to Dr. Karen Becker, there are two ways that your dog can develop hypothyroidism. Either your dog’s body simply stops producing the normal amount of thyroid hormone, or your dog has an auto-immune response where their body is attacking their thyroid gland and depleting the body of the thyroid hormone.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism include: Lethargy, Depression, Weight-gain, Dry skin or Hair Loss, or Chronic infections

Breeds Most Commonly Affected: Airedale Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Dobermans, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Greyhounds, and Irish setters.

Diabetes

According to Pets.WebMD, diabetes can develop due to a lack of insulin production or a lack of response to insulin in the body. Most dogs with diabetes experience a lack of insulin production and need regular insulin injections. While the disease is manageable, it is important to be urgent and diligent about treatment and management of this disease.

Symptoms of Diabetes include: Increased Water Consumption, Increased Urination, Weight Loss, Change in Appetite, or Lethargy.

Breeds Most Commonly Affected: Australian Terriers, Standard and Miniature Schnauzers, Dachshunds, Poodles, Keeshonds and Samoyeds.

Cushing’s Disease

According to PetMD, Cushing’s disease is a disease associated with a benign tumor of the pituitary gland (occasionally on the adrenal gland) that causes hyperadrenocorticism. Hyperadrenocorticism describes a condition where there are excess levels of cortisone in the bloodstream, which interferes with the body’s metabolism and causes stomach upset and hypertension.

Symptoms of Cushing’s include: Lethargy, Increased water consumption, Obesity, Pot-bellied abdomen, Loss of hair & more

Breeds Most Commonly Affected: Poodle, Dachshund, German Shepherd, Terriers such as Yorkies and Dandie Dinmonts.

What Can You Do As a Pet Parent to Protect Your Dog’s Hormones?

1. Understand that many endocrine system diseases are treatable and manageable. Work with your veterinarian and their staff to come up with the best possible plan and solution for you and your pet.

2. Know what endocrine system diseases, if any, are common for your dog’s breed.

3. Understand the symptoms associated with the most common endocrine system diseases.

4. Don’t skip your dog’s annual exam! Because some endocrine system diseases affect the entire body, it is crucial to catch these diseases early.

5. Opt for the bloodwork. Pet’s can’t tell their veterinarian that their leg falls asleep every day, or that their experiencing some stomach pain. For this reason, bloodwork can be so important to assessing your dog’s health during an annual exam.

Just understanding the effect that hormone imbalances can have on your dog’s health is the first step to protecting them from endocrine system diseases.  

For Carol’s Mom perspective on this topic please visit her post at Fidose of Reality.

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