Tips for Pet Owners
Offering safety and solace to our furry friends, Midlands veterinarians share their best ideas to keep our little pals happy and healthy.
By CECILE S. HOLMES
They are our favorite sidekicks, our buddies and often our co-pilots. Yet way too frequently they play second fiddle to our jobs, our spouses, our kids and our car troubles. We may even forget the very basic steps needed to keep our furry friends safe.
Veterinarians in the Midlands say the best pet parents know the intrinsic needs and desires of their playful pals. They plan their lives – and the activities of their pets – accordingly. But they sometimes forget the essential steps of pet safety.
To keep Noreen the cat and Petey the dog safe, follow the tips below, courtesy of several animal-loving vets in the Midlands.
1. Keep all candy and human food out of reach, advises Dr. Charla Draper, medical director at Elam Animal Hospital on Forest Drive. Vets note many human foods are toxic to pets. Those include chocolate, macadamia nuts, sugar-free products, grapes and raisins.
In fact, feeding your pets such food can be life-threatening, even prompting a trip to the emergency room. Feeding a pet other human foods, especially foods high in fat, may cause hemorrhagic gastroenteritis or even pancreatitis, Draper says.
2. Keep a close watch on your pet’s environment, says Dr. Robert L. Cabe, one of the veterinarians at Midlands Veterinary Practice on Stonemark Lane in Columbia. Pet lovers must know where there animals are – inside and outdoors – and be aware of potential hazards.
“I worry about unsupervised explorations of backyards,” Cabe says. “It’s not that different from having a child. There are lots of potential toxins there.
“I think dogs tend to be a little bit easier to maintain control over. They’re used to leashes and collars. The thing with cats is they’re just cats. They’re going to do their own thing. If you’ve got one of those outdoor cats, there’s very little you can do to control it. “
3. Give a monthly heartworm preventative, says Dr. Chris Hardin of Palmetto Regional Emergency Hospital for Animals. Treatment for heartworms now runs about $1,500, not to mention the permanent damage such worms can do, he says.
“Heartworm pills also help prevent intestinal worms,” Hardin says. “By protecting your dog and cat, you're also protecting your family, as roundworms and hookworms are potentially contagious to humans.”
4. Recognize what your pet needs early in its life, veterinarians recommend, and you’ll avoid behavioral issues later. Too often the owner of a puppy or kitten overlooks inappropriate behaviors – such as jumping, barking, scratching and yowling – when the animal is small.
But that is exactly when behavioral problems should be corrected. “We see a tremendous number of behavioral issues in pets. We’re seeing a lot more of them as pets are becoming part of our lifestyles,” Cabe says. “I think a lot of it is people not knowing how to appropriately provide expectations to these pets.
“For example, cats need a different set of environmental stimuli than dogs. And cats need a lot more vertical space. I also worry about things such as having an energetic and bouncy Jack Russell in an apartment. And you wouldn’t want an elderly human to get a border collie that needs to run. Or you wouldn’t want an owner on cumidin (which thins the blood) to get a cat.”
5. In the first year of a puppy or kitten’s life, following proper feeding procedures with high quality food and getting the requisite vaccination series is essential.
Feed the kitten or puppy, at least, twice daily, but do not overfeed, Draper says, to avoid pet obesity. “Any table food should be avoided, as well as excessive and unhealthy treats.
“Until the pet has received their complete four step puppy/kitten vaccine series, they should be kept indoors and only taken outside for elimination purposes only. They should not be walked outside of their yard, taken to dog parks, pet superstores, groomers or places other pets have been present --in order to prevent infections.”
6. With older pets, owners should keep a watchful eye on potential issues. Such problems as appetite loss, vomiting, increased thirst and urination and weight loss are often the first symptoms of serious disease, Hardin notes. “In dogs, weight gain can be a symptom of hypothyroidism. Let your doctor know of any gradual trends you've noticed at the annual or semi-annual exam.
“Usually some simple in-house test can help determine if kidney compromise, diabetes (mellitus or insipidus), hyperthyroidism (cats) or hypothyroidism (dogs) is occurring.”
7. Most of the things I see can be prevented and owners don't realize they are or are not doing them,” says Draper.
A close relationship with a veterinarian really can help educate owners are important issues. For example, identification with a microchip is one step that owners can take to help locate a lost pet. “Many pets get out of their enclosures this time of year when family parties occur. Fencing should be adequate as well,” Draper says.
8. Protect your pet against unwanted litters. “Owners should be educated on the reasons to spay/neuter their pets, as many conditions results from not spaying and neutering,” Draper says.
9. That’s really important in that first year,” Cabe says. “Teach that animal, help that animal learn how to be an independent and well adjusted pet. The biggest behavioral issue is separation anxiety. It could be handled and dealt with early on. Don’t reward or foster inappropriate activities.”
10. Heat stroke in dogs is a life-threatening illness that still occurs commonly in Columbia, despite being preventable. “It is extremely dangerous to leave your pet inside a car for even a brief time, even with the windows partly open. Even with the outside temperature only in the high 70s. Inside a car the temperature can rise to over 100 degrees in less than 20 minutes,” explains Brett M. Feder, DVM Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (SAIM).
Feder says other causes include activity during hot temperatures as dogs cool themselves by panting and not sweating. Jogging with a dog (even in the evening or early morning) during hot times in Columbia can cause heat stroke. Always make sure your pet has access to shade and large amounts of fresh water. Symptoms of heatstroke include increased panting, lethargy, weakness, progressive mental dullness, as well as vomiting and/or diarrhea.
“In the event of a heat stroke you should seek immediate veterinary care,” he shared, adding, “There recently has been an article circulating around the internet warning that giving your pet ice water and/or ice cubes can cause bloat (gastric dilation volvulus, GDV). There is no scientific-based evidence to support this false claim.”
11. “Don't take your pet to the vet for shots,” says Dr. Tim Loonam of Grace Animal Hospital. “Take your pet for an annual comprehensive physical exam and let your veterinarian help you determine which vaccines your pet needs based on their age, lifestyle and risk!”
12. Microchip your pet to give him/her the best chance of getting returned to you as it is a permanent ID system,” says Dr. Walter Gregg, Gregg Animal Hospital.