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Medicine versus Mom

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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Probiotics for Pets: Are They a Solution for Your Pet?

Medicine versus Mom is back to discuss another very important topic for pets; probiotics!

As a pet parent, you are probably receiving health information from a variety of sources; family & friends, pet blogs (oh, hey!), groomers, pet sitters, veterinarians, veterinary technicians, pet store owners & professionals, holistic veterinarians, integrated health veterinarians, and the list goes on…

When it comes to certain topics like food, or health additives like probiotics, you might hear a lot of different opinions. So today, we would like to provide you with information that can help you make the most informed decision for your pet!

The Importance of Digestive Health

Gastrointestinal upset was a very common symptom for many of the patients I saw at the veterinary hospital. In fact, no matter the reason for the visit, we always asked if a pet had recently had any vomiting or diarrhea. Why? Because any sign of gastronintestinal upset indicated potentially serious health problems for the pet. According to Healthy Pets with Dr. Karen Becker, it is important to understand two critical points about the GI tract:

  • “The gastrointestinal system must be healthy to avoid disease.”
  • “The GI tract is the body’s number one barrier to disease and disease processes.”

Dr. Becker clearly states that in order for a pet to be healthy, their GI tract should be healthy too! In some cases, this is where probiotics can help.

What are probiotics?

According to Nestle Purina, who makes one of the probiotic products I am most familiar with, FortiFlora, probiotics are defined as:

Probiotics are live microorganisms similar to those found naturally in the intestines, which help maintain balance in the digestive tract. After being consumed, they help to inhibit harmful pathogens from colonizing the GI tract.

The most important thing for you to know as a pet parent is that probiotics can do 3 things for your pet:

  • Improve food digestion
  • Assist and boost the immune system
  • Help your pet absorb more nutrients

Although probiotics can be very helpful to your pet’s immune system and integral to their overall health, it is important to not add probiotics to your pet’s diet as a solution to health issues without first discussing with your veterinarian.

Does my pet need probiotics?

This is an excellent question!

If your pet has any of the following symptoms, it might be worth discussing probiotics with your veterinarian:

Vomiting, Diarrhea, Constipation, or Excessive gas

brought on by:

  • Stress
  • Dietary problems
  • Changes in food
  • Antibiotics

The important thing to remember here is that probiotics are not always the solution to vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or excessive gas. If your pet is having these symptoms, a variety of issues could be causing these problems and should be discussed with your veterinarian to rule out other health issues before determining GI imbalance.

What you might not know is that probiotics are present in some pet food recipes, so your pet might already have some probiotics protecting their GI tract. Additionally, some food recipes contain prebiotics which provide food for the good bacteria in your pet’s GI tract. My point is that your pet might already be benefiting from probiotics, the question is, do they need more?

Are probiotics considered a treatment or prevention?

Another great question! In my experience, probiotics are a treatment and potentially a long-term preventative solution. However, as mentioned above, some veterinary and pet professionals might disagree with me.

According to The Whole Dog Journal, all pets can benefit from probiotics. Additionally, some research supports using them proactively during times of stress (i.e. boarding) or after antibiotics. This could be true, but I will once again caution every pet parent to discuss with their veterinarian prior to adding anything to your pet’s diet and overall health plan.

Are all probiotic products created equal?

The answer here is, no!

Not only are all probiotics different from one another, but all pet digestive systems are different. While many of the same types of bacteria are seen in pets, some pets might have a different mix of bacteria than others! Why is this so important?

One of the fundamental rules of holistic pet care is to always remember that no two animals are alike. – The Whole Dog Journal

In a story from The Whole Dog Journal, a pet parent named Tina provides nothing but the absolute best for her Standard Poodle, Curly. However, despite top of the line food and probiotics, Curly is thin, not putting on weight, and having trouble with bowel movements. While there were perhaps a variety of reasons why Curly’s mix of probiotics didn’t work for him, the most important takeaway for any pet parent is that probiotics are not all made equal.

If you are still not convinced, here is a quote from a 2012 article written by the Veterinary Practice News:

Not all probiotics sold in the veterinary market have evidence to support their claims, so veterinarians should make sure that the levels of microorganisms are guaranteed and that the manufacturer can provide support of efficacy. – Grace Long, DVM, MS, MBA, Director of Veterinary Technical Marketing for Nestlé Purina PetCare in St. Louis

What can you do as a pet parent?

  1. Remember, probiotics are an option and a potential additive for treatment of specific GI symptoms.
  2. Always discuss probiotics with your veterinarian!
  3. Make sure that you store your probiotics correctly!

The most effective way of keeping probiotics alive in the packaging process is in a cool, dry environment away from air exposure. – Grace Long, DVM, MS, MBA, Director of Veterinary Technical Marketing for Nestlé Purina PetCare in St. Louis

Do you use probiotics for your pet? If so, what brand? Any tips for other pet parents?

For Carol’s Dog Mom perspective on this topic, please visit FidoseofReality.com!

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What Pet Parents Have a Right to at the Vet’s Office

A visit to the veterinary hospital can be overwhelming.

You walk in confident and ready to discuss the list of items you brought to your pet’s annual exam, and then you are completely thrown off the second your vet says something like, “What’s this we found here?”.

Suddenly, your mind starts racing.

“What do you mean?”

“What did you find?”

“What’s wrong with my baby?” (this is the first thought I would have).

Amongst all of your emotions you hear your veterinarian say, “I want to take a closer look at this lump”. And, now you are wondering…

…”Why? Is it cancerous?”…and then panic ensues.

While even the best veterinarians provide the most thorough explanations intended to ease your worrying and provide you with sound reason, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed and agree to their recommendations immediately. Your hope is that there are more answers than questions provided by their initial tests.

After your pet is back in your arms and you have been reassured that everything is okay, you have been hit with a larger than expected bill. And your only thought is, “…wait, what’s happening?”

While many veterinary offices have no intention of overwhelming you, most days they are a place of well-organized chaos. Which can leave you feeling overwhelmed with perhaps more questions than you have answers.

Today, I would like to share with you some of the things you can keep in mind while at the veterinary hospital. Specifically, things I believe you have a right to:

A right to ask questions:

As a former veterinary professional I can tell you that we don’t mean to seem like we are in a hurry or that we don’t want to explain things further, it’s just that we do this for a living, so sometimes we forget to slow down and explain. Therefore, don’t forget that you can stop us at any time and ask questions!

Questions are important and your veterinary staff wants you to leave the hospital with all of your questions answered. Veterinary staffs are often on a very tight schedule, so you may have to wait a few moments to have a chance to speak with a member of the veterinary staff, but take your time and get all the info you need while you are there.

What Pet Parents Have a Right to at the Vet

A right to an estimate:

Always ask for an estimate! Estimates are particularly useful anytime your pet receives more treatment than you planned, i.e. when your veterinarian makes a discovery during their annual exam.

When I worked at the veterinary hospital we wrote an estimate anytime we treated a pet (ex. they needed more than just vaccines). We understood that everyone’s financial position is different and we wanted people to feel prepared when they went to pay their bill.

A right to alternative treatment plans:

Often, we would provide both a low & high estimate. The low end of the estimate would include any treatments deemed absolutely necessary to protect the health of your pet by the veterinarian. The high end would include some additional tests that would make the veterinarians diagnosis more accurate and might save money in the long run.

As a technician, I went over these estimates with our clients regularly and explained each item one by one. Specifically, I explained why the veterinarian wanted it and how the test was going to improve the health of their pet. If you aren’t sure about any of the items on your estimate, don’t forget to ask questions and ask for alternatives.

A right to the whole appointment time:

This point relates back to asking questions. While veterinarians may have very busy schedules, you did pay for their time so you have a right to use that time to ask questions.

Additionally, sometimes veterinarians have to be pulled away from appointments to assist in emergency cases. If this ever happens to you, be patient. If it was your pet having the emergency, you would want all veterinarians helping them too. However, you still have a right to your full appointment, even if you have to reschedule you should get the 20-30 minutes you paid for.

A right to purchase medications at a different pharmacy:

Some of the medications used to treat animals are also used to treat humans. Which means they might be available at your local Walgreens or Costco. Sometimes you can save money by picking up medications at these other pharmacies. Keep in mind this isn’t an option for every prescription.

Further, veterinarians might be willing to price match, so you might save yourself a trip by bringing up pharmacy alternatives.

A right to ask for a take-home guide:

At the last hospital I worked, many of the veterinarians provided take-home guides. The guide included a description of your pet’s condition, a summary of their medications, next steps for treatment, and follow-up care instructions.

While your veterinarian might not have take-home guides as a standard practice in their hospital, you can ask them to write things down for you if you know you are going to have a hard time remembering the course of treatment when you get home (remember the overwhelm we described above?). Many veterinarians are happy to provide you with this information especially if this means you are going to follow their treatment plan thoroughly.

A right to a demonstration:

There were 3 main training sessions (or demos) I gave pet parents while working at the hospital:

  1. Subcutaneous fluids
  2. Nail Trim
  3. Insulin injections

Each of these tasks can be daunting for a non-medical professional. If you know you need to perform these treatments at home, don’t hesitate to ask the staff to show you how to do it or at least, give you some pointers.

The above list represents my opinions, but I have been on the side of both client and veterinary professional and I can tell you that it is really important to advocate for yourself and your pet!

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

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