February is National Pet Dental Health Month

February is here, and that means it’s National Pet Dental Health Month. It can be easy to overlook your dog’s oral health on a day-to-day basis. This campaign is a great reminder to take care of your dog’s teeth now and all year round.

Oral hygiene is an essential part of caring for your dog. Many people think “doggie breath” is inevitable. In reality, halitosis is a sign of an oral problem. Dental disease causes discomfort and can lead to loss of appetite, weight loss, and systemic diseases. Prevention is the cornerstone of canine dental health. Daily home care is essential, but dogs also need a professional cleaning about once a year (give or take depending on the dog). February is a great time to visit your vet for an oral exam and cleaning, as many offer discounts in honor of National Pet Dental Health Month. Regardless of the month, remember to keep those pearly whites sparkling.

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Dogs are pack animals and social creatures. They form strong attachments to other dogs and people. With an increase in those who are gone for long hours and have a busy schedule, it’s important to help your dog stay alone. It is critical that your dog understand that your absences are tolerable and temporary.

Separation anxiety occurs in the first hour of your dog being left alone. Keep in mind that your dog’s dependence on you is significant, and it is likely to cause anxiety when you leave. Although this might be flattering, it’s not fair to your dog to be so stressed by your absence. Signs of separation anxiety occur when your dog is prevented from being close to you. Like people, dogs cannot stay in an uncomfortable state of anxiety for too long, and will resort to doing anything to reduce the tension.

Here are some circumstances in which separation anxiety can occur:

  • Too strong of an attachment to one person.
  • Separation from his mother and littermates.
  • Owners who let their dog follow them wherever they go and who bring their dog everywhere they go.
  • A very exciting departure and welcome.

Here are some signs of dogs trying to reduce their separation anxiety:

  • Destruction, digging, chewing, or excessive vocalization.
  • Hyperactivity, depression, or aggression.
  • Diarrhea/vomiting, urination/defecation.

How to help you and your dog cope:

  • If all else fails, ask your veterinarian about drug therapy. A good anti-anxiety medication shouldn’t sedate your dog, but simply reduce his overall anxiety.
  • Take your dog to a doggie day care facility or kennel when you have to be away.
  • Leave your dog with a friend, family member, or neighbor when you’re away, or use a pet sitter.
  • Take your dog to work with you, if possible.
  • Use a pet door in conjunction with an invisible fence so your dog can get out of the house and run around. This will help him burn off some energy and anxiety..

How to treat separation anxiety:

  • Ignore your dog when leaving.
  • Mix the leaving routes (the back door, garage, and so on).
  • Practice false departures.
  • When you return, be as calm as possible. Do not display any excited behavior or rewards.

What won’t help:

  • Punishment. Punishment isn’t effective for treating separation anxiety and can make the situation worse.
  • Another dog. Getting your dog a companion usually doesn’t help an anxious dog because his anxiety is the result of his separation from you, and not just the result of being alone.
  • Crating. Your dog will still engage in anxiety responses inside a crate, and he may urinate, defecate, howl, or even injure himself in an attempt to escape. Instead, create other kinds of “safe places” for your dog.
  • Obedience training. While formal training is always a good idea, separation anxiety isn’t the result of disobedience or lack of training.

Here are some other tips:

  • Leave clothes with your scent on them around the house.
  • If your dog is left outside, hang an old bike tire, a bunch of dish rags knotted together, or a shoe from a tree so that your dog can play with them. Do not use a leash or tie-out, this can injure your pet when you are gone. It is better to use an underground dog fence or wireless dog fence to contain your dog safely.
  • Put the radio on a talk station and leave it on while you’re gone. The noise muffles any other kinds of sounds your dog might worry about and it’s comforting. He hears the same sounds as when you are home.

It’s not fully understood why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and others don’t. But it’s essential that you be as understanding as possible of your dog’s behavior. He needs your help with finding the best solution to alleviate the tension of your being gone and of him being alone.

Ways To Make Vet Visits Affordable

Cutting down on your pet’s health expenses without compromising its health is possible, veterinarians say. Pet owners can forgo some procedures and even discard inoculations from their pet’s protocol without risking their animal’s lives. But the process of choosing which ones to keep, and which ones to drop, depends a lot on the pet’s habits. Here are some factors to consider in seeking more affordable care options.

Pet Care by the Numbers

American pet owners spent an estimated $12.2 billion on veterinary bills in 2009, according to the American Pet Products Association. Nevertheless, some veterinarians have seen a severe downturn in income from non-medical procedures and services, such as boarding. To cut expenses, many are cutting their employees’ hours. But, unfortunately, most are not cutting their fees.

Tips for Lowering Costs

Cost cutting can begin with evaluating your pet’s annual inoculations. Not all inoculations need to be administered yearly, as many vaccines stay in the bloodstream longer than was previously thought.

“People who have been getting vaccines for their pets every year, probably could slide on some of them,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian at the Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in Laguna Hills, CA.

If there is any doubt how much of last year’s inoculation is still potent in the pet’s bloodstream, the vet can conduct what’s called a titer. Talk to your vet about whether the fee for a specific titer is less than the potential savings from skipping the inoculation.

In evaluating which vaccines to drop and which to keep, a pet’s location and lifestyle are also important factors to consider.

“An out-and-about pet needs more vaccines more than a couch-potato kitty or dog who takes it easy,” Dr. Cruz said. An indoor cat may simply not require a leukemia vaccine booster. A pooch romping through a deer-tick ridden field in Connecticut needs a vaccine for Lyme Disease; but a city dog strolling a Southern California sidewalk may not.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners issues protocols of what vaccines are needed at each life stage. Though the AAFP “highly recommends” the FeLV vaccination for all kittens, booster inoculation is recommended only in cats considered to be at risk of exposure.

There are just some procedures pet owners can’t stint on, however.

“Hard times are not an excuse to skip your pet’s annual shots,” said Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, ASPCA’s Executive Vice President, National Programs and Science Advisor, “but it does make sense to talk to your vet about personalizing your pet’s vaccine protocol. Some vaccines are optional, while others are essential in preventing serious diseases.”

But skipping on the pet’s annual exam altogether is not an option. “It’s much more expensive—and risky—to treat illnesses than to protect against them,” Zawistowski said.

Evaluating Other Types of Pet Care

Owners can also cut economic corners in other modes of preventative care, such as for periodontal disease. Dental care—vital for keeping bacteria in the gums from leaching into the bloodstream and ultimately into an animal’s kidneys, liver, or joints—does not have to be conducted under anesthesia in every case, not even for cats.

Although not all veterinarians conduct dental work on conscious animals, the difference in price could well be worth seeking out a veterinarian with that expertise. Gas anesthesia can cost from $94 to $112 for a 60-pound dog, plus $27 for anesthesia monitoring, according to a 2009 study by EC Veterinary Economics & Wutchiett Tumblin and Associates. Though tooth cleaning can be less effective when not done under anesthesia, this option is preferable to not cleaning the teeth at all.

As with all types of care, because every individual pet is different, be sure to talk your veterinarian about the best protocol that will work for your pet.

Ten Most Common Pet Poisons

Is your pooch mad for people food? Does your kitty like to self-medicate? Sadly, not everything we love is good for us. In fact, many common household goods that we take for granted as harmless can poison our furry friends. In 2009, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, IL, handled more than 140,000 cases of pets exposed to toxic household substances, including insecticides, cleaning supplies and prescription medications.

Human Medications

For several years, human medications have been number one on the ASPCA’s list of common hazards, and 2009 was no exception. Last year, the ASPCA managed 45,816 calls involving prescription and over-the-counter drugs such as painkillers, cold medications, antidepressants and dietary supplements. Pets often snatch pill vials from counters and nightstands or gobble up medications accidentally dropped on the floor, so it’s essential to keep meds tucked away in hard-to-reach cabinets.

Insecticides

In our effort to battle home invasions by unwelcome pests, we often unwittingly put our furry friends at risk. In 2009, our toxicologists fielded 29,020 calls related to insecticides. One of the most common incidents involved the misuse of flea and tick products—such as applying the wrong topical treatment to the wrong species. Thus, it’s always important to talk to your pet’s veterinarian before beginning any flea and tick control program.

People Food

People food like grapes, raisins, avocado and products containing xylitol, like gum, can seriously disable our furry friends, and accounted for more than 17,453 cases in 2009. One of the worst offenders—chocolate—contains large amounts of methylxanthines, which, if ingested in significant amounts, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst, urination, hyperactivity, and in severe cases, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors and seizures.

Plants

Common houseplants were the subject of 7,858 calls to APCC in 2009. Varieties such as azalea, rhododendron, sago palm, lilies, kalanchoe and schefflera are often found in homes and can be harmful to pets. Lilies are especially toxic to cats, and can cause life-threatening kidney failure even in small amounts.

Veterinary Medications

Even though veterinary medications are intended for pets, they’re often misapplied or improperly dispensed by well-meaning pet parents. In 2009, the ASPCA managed 7,680 cases involving animal-related preparations such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, heartworm preventatives, de-wormers, antibiotics, vaccines and nutritional supplements.

Rodenticides

Last year, the ASPCA received 6,639 calls about pets who had accidentally ingested rat and mouse poisons. Many baits used to attract rodents contain inactive ingredients that are attractive to pets as well. Depending on the type of rodenticide, ingestions can lead to potentially life-threatening problems for pets including bleeding, seizures or kidney damage.

Household Cleaners

Everybody knows that household cleaning supplies can be toxic to adults and children, but few take precautions to protect their pets from common agents such as bleaches, detergents and disinfectants. Last year, the ASPCA received 4,143 calls related to household cleaners. These products, when inhaled by our furry friends, can cause serious gastrointestinal distress and irritation to the respiratory tract.

Heavy Metals

It’s not too much loud music that constitutes our next pet poison offender. Instead, it’s heavy metals such as lead, zinc and mercury, which accounted for 3,304 cases of pet poisonings in 2009. Lead is especially pernicious, and pets are exposed to it through many sources, including consumer products, paint chips, linoleum, and lead dust produced when surfaces in older homes are scraped or sanded.

Garden Products

It may keep your grass green, but certain types of fertilizer and garden products can cause problems for outdoor cats and dogs. Last year, the ASPCA fielded 2,329 calls related to fertilizer exposure, which can cause severe gastric upset and possibly gastrointestinal obstruction.

Chemical Hazards

In 2009, the ASPCA handled approximately 2,175 cases of pet exposure to chemical hazards. A category on the rise, chemical hazards—found in ethylene glycol antifreeze, paint thinner, drain cleaners and pool/spa chemicals—form a substantial danger to pets. Substances in this group can cause gastrointestinal upset, depression, respiratory difficulties and chemical burns.

Prevention is really key to avoiding accidental exposure, but if you suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, please contact your veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center’s 24-hour hotline at (888) 426-4435.

FDA Health Alert: Do Not Use Certain Beef Dog Treats Distributed by Merrick Pet Care

The FDA Thursday warned consumers not to use Merrick Beef Filet Squares with a package date of “Best By 11/19/11,” because they may be contaminated with Salmonella.

The treats for dogs were distributed nationwide through retail stores and the Internet.

No illnesses associated with the treats have as yet been reported, but the FDA is advising people not to handle the or feed them to pets. Routine testing in December detected Salmonella. Another inspection found deficiencies in the packaging and manufacturing of the product.

The affected Merrick Beef Filet Squares were packaged in a 10-ounce green, red and tan resealable plastic bag. The “best by” date is imprinted on the top portion of the bag, which is torn off when the bag is opened. The FDA recommends that consumers who are unable to determine the “best by” date discontinue use of the product.

Consumers can report complaints about FDA-regulated pet food and pet treat products by calling the consumer complaint coordinator in their area. For consumer inquiries, phone 888-INFO-FDA. Please see this page for additional information on the warning and Salmonella.