Planning for an Emergency Disaster

Hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and other natural or manmade disasters can strike anyone at any time and anywhere. For pet lovers, having an emergency plan in place to reunite with your pet when the unthinkable happens is essential. Below are the best tips to help you do just that. Stay safe!

  1. Microchip your pet and ensure your pet wears a collar with up-to-date information at all times. In the event of an emergency or just a lost pet situation, this is the simplest and best way to ensure your pet is returned to you. If the thought of microchipping doesn’t sit well, check out the Barkcode collar. This collar has a scannable code that will bring up your pet’s profile and contact information. They also have their own URL and allows rescuers with smartphones to post the pet’s information online to help you and your loved ones be able to reunite with your pet.
  2. Create an emergency kit. This kit should include current medical records of your pet, proof of ownership, a photo of your pet, two weeks worth of pet food, food or water bowls, bottled water, litter boxes with litter, any medications for your pet and the contact information of a local emergency shelter.
  3. Place a sticker near your home’s front door. The sticker should allow you to list the number and types of pets residing in your home. This is the best way to alert emergency responders that their are other family members who are in need of rescue.
  4. Where applicable, plan a safety location ahead of time. In the case of a hurricane, sometimes Red Cross disaster shelters are able to accept pets as well as vet hospitals, boarding facilities, pet-friendly hotels or motels and or your own friends and neighbors can help you reunite with your pets later. When you know a disaster is eminent, taking a few minutes ahead of time can save you weeks of stress and worry later.
  5. When disaster strikes and an evacuation is necessary, never leave your pets behind. As scary as the situation is for you, it’s just as scary for your pet. Your pet will be much calmer if you can remain together.
  6. When you’re not home when disaster strikes, plan ahead with your neighbors. Show your friends, neighbors and pet sitter where your emergency kit and carriers are located.
  7. Always bring along a familiar item. Bringing along a favorite blanket or toy, familiar food and litter for your feline will help them to stay calm whether you are separated or not.

Patent Ductus Arteriosis (PDA)

The aorta is the main artery that feeds oxygenated blood from the left side of the heart to the body. The pulmonary (lung) artery travels from the right side of the heart to the lungs, carrying deoxygenated blood to be oxygenated. Once the blood has been oxygenated by the lungs, it then returns to the left side of the hearty through the pulmonary veins to be pumped out into the body by the aorta.

In the womb, the fetus’ descending aorta is connected to the pulmonary artery by the ductus arteriosus blood vessel, allowing blood to flow directly from the right side of the heart to the aorta, without stopping for oxygen in the lungs. This is because the fetus gets its oxygen from the mother’s bloodstream and does not yet need to have its own blood oxygenated.

Normally at birth, this connection is no longer patent (open). Once a newborn has begun to breath on its own, the pulmonary artery opens to allow blood to flow from the right side heart into the lungs to be oxygenated, and the ductus arteriosus closes. But in patent ductus arteriosis (PDA) the connection remains patent. Consequently, blood is shunted (diverted) in abnormal patterns in the heart. PDA allows blood to flow from the aorta into the pulmonary artery, and then to the lungs.

If the shunt is moderate to large, it can cause left-sided congestive heart failure from blood volume overload on the left side of the heart. Less frequently, a large-diameter PDA will cause injury to the blood vessels in the lungs, from the excess amount of blood flowing into he lungs. High blood pressure in the lungs, and reversal of the shunt so that the blood goes from right to left (pulmonary artery to the aorta), as well as the typical PDA shunt direction of left to right (aorta to pulmonary artery) can be expected.

This atypical right to left shunting of a PDA can cause the aorta to carry blood that is low in oxygen, sending a signal to the body to produce more red blood cells (since they carry oxygen), making the blood too thick.

PDA can affect both dogs and cats.

Look out for respiratory (breathing) distress, coughing, exercise intolerance and increased breathing rates, hind legs may be weak during exercise, arrhythmias (an irregular heart beat), a blood clot from the right to left, pink or bluish gums, bluish skin around the anus or vulva, left-sided congestive heart failure, a rapid and irregular heart beat and stunted growth.

PDA is a genetic predisposition, a birth defect, and for owners, there is no way to prevent it. Breeders should not be breeding dogs with PDA.

To diagnose PDA, your veterinarian will need to perform a thorough physical examination, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel. Your dog’s level of oxygen in his blood may also be tested (expect blood samples to be taken from different locations for comparison). Your vet may also need to use radiograph or ultrasound imaging to look at your dog’s heart. Oftentimes, an X-ray can show left heart enlargement, but a heart with PDA will appear as normal size on an X-ray.

Your vet may prescribe oxygen therapy, nitrates and cage rest. When he has regained stability, he will need surgery as soon as possible. The operation may be performed on puppies as young as seven to eight weeks of age. Unfortunately, if your dog has right to left shunting, he will not be eligible for surgery. After surgery and two weeks recovery time, your dog should be perfectly fine and you will all soon forget he was ever sick.

Cats & Heartworm

Yes, you read the title correctly. Primarily when we talk about heartworm, it’s in relation to dogs, but heartworm can and does affect cats and it affects cats quite differently. In a dog, a natural host for heartworm, a dog can primarily coexist with heartworm (in small doses). For a cat, as a resistant host, a cat’s body instantly reacts and the inflammatory response is much more severe. (Being a resistant host simply means that heartworm is intended to infect canines but it will settle for a feline body.) The heartworm parasite is found everywhere throughout North America. Keeping your cat strictly indoors isn’t necessarily going to stop the spread of feline heartworm, as mosquitos (the carriers of heartworm) can carry the infective blood indoors.

Diagnosing a canine with heartworm is relatively easy. For felines, not so much. The same test that is quite reliable for dogs will time and time again produce false negatives in felines. Dogs are also usually rife with heartworm, but it can take as little as one heartworm to infect a cat. If you or your vet suspect a heartworm infection, he will likely perform an “antibody” test screen (though the results can’t show whether the infection is active or from a previous infection) and x-ray the chest. What to watch for? Heartworm disease mimics feline asthma. Your cat will probably be coughing or wheezing. In fact, if your cat has been diagnosed as asthmatic, get a heartworm check done too. Many cats are misdiagnosed.

There are no approved feline treatments for feline heartworm disease. Treatment will include supportive care with steroids to control the inflammation. It may include bronchodilators and/or antibiotics. Treatment will also include prevention of further infection or re-infection by administering a heartworm preventive medicine. Treatment for your cat will likely span several years as you’re going to have to wait for the heartworms to die of old age.

The best way you can help your cat avoid lung damage or death from a heartworm infection is to prevent it in the first place. When you’re taking your dog in for his heartworm prevention, take your cat too. Heartworm in felines is more common than we all think.

Integrative Medical Therapies

Veterinary medicine had come a long way and keeps seeing major medical advances all the time. However, medicine alone cannot do it all. Integrative medical therapy does have its own place. How do you know which treatment is best? Let this guide help you in figuring out the best approach so when the time comes, you and your vet can make the decision together. You can always try an integrative approach out for a trial period and if it doesn’t work, than go back for a medicinal intervention. Do not allow a holistic practitioner to convince you to continue with an approach if it’s not working. These methods are supposed to reduce stress, discomfort and to improve the quality of life. Don’t administer any products, including herbs, supplements or homeopathic remedies without your vet’s approval. Try to find an integrative practitioner that is also a vet or who is closely supervised by a vet.

ACUPUNCTURE

Acupuncture involves inserting thin, sterile needles into certain sites on the body known as acupuncture points. These points when examined anatomically fall along nerve pathways.

Acupuncture stimulates nerve fibers near acupuncture points. Acupuncture activate reflexes within the nervous system to reduce pain, relax muscles and help to restore a state of homeostasis.

Benefits: Pain reduction, muscle relaxation, stress abatement, improved immune function, neurologic recovery.

Risks: Infection at needle site, puncture of major vessels or organs. (Acupuncture has a strong safety record when performed by practitioners with solid medical backgrounds. Do your homework when choosing an acupuncturist.)

Efficacy: Acupuncture has a well-researched foundation and scientific basis. Acupuncture is one of the most credible modalities among veterinarians. More vets all the time offer acupuncture as an alternative treatment.

CHIROPRACTIC

Chiropractic adjustors increase joint range of motion to alleviate pain.

Benefits: Unclear. There is little to no evidence of chiropractic benefit for the feline veterinary population.

Risks: Forceful adjustments on cats’ smaller structure and delicate joints could cause paralysis or further injuries of joints.

Efficacy: Unclear. Evidence of chiropractic benefits is inconsistent in humans, for whom the treatment has the longest track record.

DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS (NUTRACEUTICALS)

“Nutraceutical” refers to food products packaged like a pharmaceutical. They are designed to enhance health or supplementation of food (as in a special diet formulated for your pet’s needs).

Nutraceuticals supplement the diet with nutrients derived from food. They contain greater amounts of certain components found beneficial for certain organs or tissues. They may given to restore health or prevent disease.

Benefits: If your pet is suffering from arthritis, omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin or cetyl myristoleate (CMO) have been proven to help. Diarrhea sufferers or pets needing immune support can benefit from probiotics. The antioxidant s-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is often recommended for liver disease sufferers.

Risks: Avoid products that contain garlic for cats as it can damage feline red blood cells, causing anemia. Steer clear of products containing “glandulars” or “whole tissue supplementation.” These contain animal glands or organs from supposed-healthy animals (usually coming from cows, sheep or pigs). Glandular therapy says that a pet’s injured gland or organ should benefit from eating a healthy gland or organ from another animal. Who’s to say that the slaughtered animal was truly healthy and free from disease. Studies have not proven conclusive evidence that glandular therapy works. They have suggested a potential to actually worsen a pet’s condition.

Efficacy: Most research on nutraceuticals have focused on osteoarthritis which has huge benefits, including improved mobility. Probiotics have been shown to benefit the digestive tract and immune system.

BOTANICAL MEDICINE (HERBS)

Botanical medicines are products that are derived from plants that are thought to or proven by research to benefit health and/or treat disease.

Herbs, like drugs, work biochemically. But the amount of active ingredients differ from medications. There may be a gamut of herbs needed to replicate the desired effect that a single agent in a drug can produce. An example of a botanical medicine in nature would be catnip, valerian root or lavender.

Benefits: The value of herbs have not been widely studied. Anecdotal evidence suggests that catnip, valerian root and lavender all provide relaxing benefits for cats.

Risks: Differences between human, dog and cat metabolisms for herbs mean products designed for humans or that are found safe for humans may induce unpredictable or potentially serious side effects and/or interactions for pets. In fact, cat livers lack the ability to detoxify plant-based substances, leaving cats at a greater risk of toxicity which can lead to serious illness or even death. Herbs can interact with certain medications and cause over or under-dosing. The industry is unregulated and has been plagued by safety issues.

Efficacy: Unknown. Proceed with caution if you undertake any herbal supplement.

HOMEOPATHY

Homeopathic philosophy claim that “like treats like:” that minute dilutions of substances, given in larger amounts, could cause the symptoms of a certain disease, therefore you can then turn around and treat the disease.

Benefits: Human studies have found that the benefits of homeopathy are indistinguishable from placebos. Therefore, perceived effects are likely due to the belief that the treatment is working.

Risks: Waiting for a homeopathic treatment to work can cause disease progression, so much sometimes that the disease can become untreatable through medication or other integrative therapies.

Efficacy: Research on homeopathy has failed to show any reproducible benefits to patients.

FLOWER ESSENCES

Flower essences resemble homeopathy in that they constitute dilute mixtures of soaked plants that are preserved in alcohol. These plants are supposed to evoke changes in emotions.

Benefits: As with homeopathy, the benefits of flower essences match the same level of benefits from placebos.

Risks: The biggest risk of relying on flower essences for feline emotional or behavioral problems is that you’re neglecting a physical or household reason for the issue. Most flowers essences benefits are unproven and can delay proper diagnosis and/or effective treatment. Cats are also very sensitive to alcohol, so avoid using essences directly into their mouths; only apply topically. Flower essences are often confused with essential oils. Essential oils are concentrated plant compounds that can be toxic or lethal to cats.

Efficacy: Research suggests that flower essences work by “placebo effect.” You hope they’re working so you see benefits, but they aren’t really there.

MASSAGE

Massage uses techniques performed by the hands on the soft tissues of the body and promotes relaxation, pain reduction and improves function. Tension is reduced by relaxing muscles to benefit circulation, digestion and immune system by stimulating the nervous system network.

Benefits: Massage has proven to improve mobility, reduce pain and provide psychological comfort. You can also learn techniques that you can use yourself at home.

Risks: Aggressive massage can lead to injury. If your pet is not enjoying it or shows discomfort, stop immediately.

Efficacy: There is yet to be published research showing efficacy, but clinically we see the benefits in human research. Your vet may also suggest some simple movements to help your pet experience relief from muscle or joint issues. Don’t be afraid that the research hasn’t caught up to this treatment yet.

4 Easy Ways to Help Your Cat Move at Mealtime

If you have a chubby kitty and your vet has recommended you get him moving more, here are 4 easy ways to get him moving while eating.

PUZZLE FEEDER

A puzzle feeder is a ball with odd shaped cutouts. When a cat bats it around, the food will fall out. Moving around while eating is actually a normal behavior for wild cats. Once he is used to the puzzle feeder, you can increase his movement by rolling it to him and “make” him chase it like a game.

“BURRITO”

Roll up his food in a hand towel and lay it on the floor when he’s hungry. He will have to  pull the towel apart to get at his food. Once he’s used to the hand towel, you can move the towel to a higher surface and make him jump up to get it.

TREAT BOWLS

Once your cat is used to “hunting” more for his food, place several small amounts of food in various bowls in various positions that he can reach around the house. The great thing, you can set up his bowls once a day and as the days goes on, he can search them out throughout the day. You could also use a paper bag and make him work to tear apart the bag to get to the food.

TOSS AND CHASE

Put some food on a piece of paper and crumple it up, then toss your cat. He’ll be rewarded by playing with you when he uncrumples  the ball and finds his food. The more balls (and smaller portions of food you use per ball) you toss to him, the more exercise your cat will get.

Luxating Patella (Floating Kneecap)

Luxating patella, also known as floating kneecaps, generally affects small and toy dog breeds. Normally your dog will not have had a traumatic prior injury and enjoys an active lifestyle. Often luxating patella will happen out of the blue. One day, he will suddenly pick up a back leg or yelp and cry for “no discernible reason.” He may be able to put his leg back down and resume running or play with no further problems. Huh? What may have happened is his kneecap popped out place and popped back into position again.

The kneecap sits at the distal end of the femur. It helps the quadriceps muscles flow across the joint between the thigh and lower leg so your dog has mobility of his entire leg and shin. It moves up and down in a groove with patella ridges holding the kneecap in place. As long as these ridges are deep, the kneecap is only able to move up and down. Some dogs have flatter patella ridges. This means the kneecap doesn’t sit as snuggly in its groove and can pop out medially (to the inside) or laterally (to the outside, as pictured above).

As previously stated, many small or toy dog breeds have a genetic predisposition to developing luxating patella, including (but not limited to): miniature or toy Poodles, Maltese, Jack Russell Terriers, Yorkies, Pomeranians, Pekingese, Chihuahuas, Papillions and Boston Terriers. Short-legged dogs (think Basset Hounds or Dachshunds) aren’t genetically prone, but their short femurs can allow the kneecap to change the angle it sits in the ridges, meaning a short-legged breed can develop luxating patella. Larger breeds tend to not experience the condition as they have the deep grooves that keep the patella in place. However, larger dogs are prone to hip problems, namely hip dysplasia, which is a condition in which the hip sits out of place and can cause a secondary condition of luxating patella to occur.

Feline lovers, take heed as well. Cats can also experience luxating patella. Thankfully, the situation is much less severe in felines. Cats are smaller and lighter in body weight than dogs and have much more flexible joints. A cat’s body simply moves differently than a dog’s. You may never even realize your cat has a luxating patella, most cats with a significant issue won’t show any symptoms; he may not even ever limp!

There are four levels of severity of luxating patella:

Grade 1 is very mild: a kneecap pops out of place and pops right back into place. (You may be able to manually pop it in and out of place yourself.)

Grade 2 had a kneecap popping out of place, but doesn’t pop back in immediately or sometimes requires manual manipulation to pop it back in.

Grade 3 has the kneecap sitting out of position most of the time. You can manually put the kneecap back in place and it should stay in place temporarily.

Grade 4 is the most severe: the kneecap is always out of place and can’t be positioned back where it should be.

In puppies, his patella can pop out and pop back in with ease and he may not even be caused any pain. As he ages, he will gradually not want to put weight on his leg until his kneecap pops back into place which may cause him temporary flashes of pain and will otherwise appear fine. As his cartilage continues to wear down from the frequent “traveling” of his kneecap, the bone-to-bone contact becomes more and more painful for him.

If your dog is experiencing any symptoms, no matter how mild and no matter what grade your veterinarian has diagnosed him with, taking a proactive approach from the beginning can prevent future surgery,  joint degeneration and save him from a diminished quality of life.

Your first course of action will be to help your dog maintain a healthy body weight. Any extra pounds will only put a bigger burden on his knees. Your dog at his optimal body weight will mean your dog is full of lean muscles which, in turn, will limit the stress he places on his joints. It may sound counteractive, but maintaining exercise is important. Keeping up his muscle tone can help him form a cage around his patella which will keep it in place. The more toned your dog is (from top to bottom), the more stable his kneecap will be. Building muscle is the single most important thing you can do for your dog. (Yes, you want your dog to become a canine body-builder.) Once your dog is a mass of muscle, you’ll want to provide him with oral joint support supplements or glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). These GAGs will help the cartilage of the knee to maintain their integrity and improve their fluidity. Adequan is an injectable joint support supplement. This helps dogs to prevent premature arthritis by slowing down joint degeneration and improves fluid production (which is what you’re trying to do). Chiropractic or acupuncture (for canines) can also help with his luxating patella, if those are avenues you want to explore. In fact, there are many chiropractic manipulations that you can help your dog perform to keep his knees and hips in alignment. Diet-wise, an anti-inflammatory, carb-free (or at least very low in carbs) will reduce joint inflammation for your dog. As always, consult with your veterinarian for specifics and to figure out the best course of action for your dog.

Your vet may recommend surgery first off, regardless of your dog’s severity. Unfortunately, there remains every possibility that, despite your best efforts, your dog may require surgery anyway. Be aware that your dog doesn’t necessarily need surgery (provided you’re not ignoring his symptoms without any kind of intervention) until he is at least stage 3. Surgical intervention will focus on deepening the trochlear wedge (if your dog has flat joints, the surgeon will cut a deeper V to hold the kneecap in place) or tightening down the joint capsule. Feel free to explore all non-surgical options before you opt for surgery. Surgery carries a risk due to anesthesia and/or infection, plus the surgery itself is aimed at a dog’s moving part that is weight-bearing. Therefore, if surgery goes wrong, your dog may have an even worse quality of life. If your surgeon puts a pin in your dog’s joint, the pin may still be able to move, requiring more surgeries or an abscess (seroma) can form at the site of the pin and can require draining or surgical removal. After surgery, your dog should not run or jump for about two months to allow the repair to stabilize. This can cause your dog a tremendous amount of stress because he’s a dog and he wants to be outside playing. Sometimes repair of the kneecap can set off other problems in other bones or joints. Even worse, about 10% of dogs do not show any improvement after surgery. They continue to be in pain.

It’s a tough decision, but only you and your veterinarian together can determine the best course of action for your dog and your family. Just know that there are a multitude of less invasive actions to try first. If these actions are successful, there may not even be a need for surgery! If the surgery is successful, it can give your dog a new lease on life but this type of surgery is by no means a guarantee and carries a lot of risks.  I wish your dog a lifetime of healthy knees!