Dr. Kovar in St. Vincent and the Grenadines with World Vets

As many of you know, I have been volunteering with World Vets for the past several years. The organization operates in over 45 countries on 6 continents. Their mission is to “improve the health and well-being of animals by providing veterinary aid and training in developing countries and by providing disaster relief worldwide.”

islandIn October I travelled to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a nation in the southern Caribbean that is made up of the large island of St. Vincent and a chain of smaller islands. The Grenadines are a popular destination for tourists, owing to their beautiful beaches and coral reefs. St. Vincent, however, is less visited- the beaches are mostly rocky and volcanic, and the terrain mountainous.

The Vincentian SPCA, a local animal welfare group, asked World Vets for assistance in managing the pet and stray overpopulation problem there. As can be imagined, there are limited resources on the island and uncontrolled reproduction is a serious concern. Our trip was a pilot program, meaning that this is the first time World Vets visited the area. We had no idea what to expect, but were optimistic that our campaign would be successful.

Our team was comprised of seven veterinarians, two veterinary technicians, and four assistants. We even had one vet from Italy and one from Venezuela. It is truly amazing how so many people, from different backgrounds, can come together and work so efficiently and adeptly.

team

The SPCA was out in full force as well—handling registrations/paperwork, cleaning instruments, keeping us well-hydrated and fed. For me, one of the wonderful aspects of these trips is working alongside the residentsI learn so much about the local culture. We provided three clinic days, in two different locations. The second place was 1 ½ hours from our guest house, in an area with no veterinary care available.

Over the course of these days, we performed almost 200 spays and neuters. With five doctors operating throughout each day, we were busy! Our “surgery suites” were fairly primitive (headlamps for lighting, plastic tables elevated on cinder blocks).

lesley-surgery

The procedures were often complicated by excessive bleeding, as tick-borne disease is common (which can cause a decrease in blood platelets). Once complete, the dog or cat was passed on to “recovery,” where it received pain medication, deworming, and flea/tick treatment. Then after the pet was able to walk, back into the arms of the waiting owner.
Insert Recovery

The SPCA volunteers also rounded up as many stray dogs that they manage. They would bring them in crates, and once the procedures were done, they would go back to their territory. Obviously, neutering the stray population is crucial to the overpopulation issue.

lesley-burroAside from surgeries, we also provided medical consultations. These could be anything, ranging from treatment of parasites and infections, to evaluating tumors and orthopedic injuries. All, including medications, is provided at no charge to the owners. I even got to do a house call to examine a limping baby donkey!

The locals were all so appreciative, and it was very clear how much they love their pets.

I do confess that the trip was not all hard work. I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful St. Vincent Botanical Gardens, scuba dive, and snorkel. And yes, relax and listen to island music, sipping a tropical drink. Life is good!🙂

little-girl-and-dog

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The Fat Cat – Overweight Felines and What You Can Do

fat-grey-cat-pixabay

Current studies estimate that over 50% of cats in the US are overweight or obese. In fact, obesity is the most common nutritional disorder in our pet population.

Unfortunately, the problem often goes unrecognized by their caretakers. So is your cat overweight?

  • Can you feel his ribs easily?
  • Does he have a waistline when you look from above?
  • When you look from the side, does he have an abdominal tuck (as opposed to sagging)?
  • Does he have a loose scruff, with a clear distinction between the head and shoulders?

fat-cat-3

These are the features your veterinarian considers when evaluating your pet’s body condition. If the answer to one or more of these questions is no, then unfortunately your pet needs to lose weight.

Weight Problems Can Cause Other Health Problems

There are multiple health issues to consider when you are caring for an overweight cat. As body fat increases, so does the risk for diabetes, hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease), lower urinary tract disease, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and arthritis. The immune system can become compromised, and there can be anesthetic and surgical complications. Statistically, there is an overall shortened life expectancy.

fat-cat-4

Why is Feline Obesity Increasing in Prevalence?

Decreased physical activity is a major factor, especially with more cats living entirely indoors. Neutering plays a role, as there is consequently less roaming and increased food intake. Most often, though, the overweight cat is a result of overfeeding and/or high caloric diets and treats.

cat-empty-bowlHow to Help Your Cat Lose Weight

Okay, now that you sadly admit that your cat has a weight issue, what can you do about it? Most important: reduce the calories you feed.

The average 10 pound cat has a daily requirement of 180 to 220 calories to maintain its weight. For safe and effective weight loss, reduce the calories by 25%.

Dry cat foods have an average of 400 calories per cup (this information will be listed on the label of your product). Be sure to precisely measure out portions – “taking a rough guess” tends to lead to overfeeding.

It is really important that you feed appropriate amounts when doing a weight loss regimen – too many calories won’t yield any results, whereas too few can lead to serious health consequences.

cat-canned-food

One of the newer approaches to weight loss in cats is to feed a “Catkins Diet” – a high protein, low carbohydrate food. Since dry foods sold in pet stores tend to have high levels of carbohydrates (leading to overproduction of insulin, increased hunger, and weight gain), the “Catkins” solution is to feed a high quality canned food. For cats that are accustomed to dry food, changing to canned may be challenging. Do the transition gradually, and be patient.

cat-feather-toyTreats are unfortunately are a major contributor to weight gain, and should never constitute more than 10% of the daily total caloric intake. Considering that 1 slice of lunch meat has 30 calories, 2 ounces of tuna has 80 calories, and 1 ounce of cheese has 120 calories… it adds up!

Another aspect to a successful weight loss plan is exercise. Most indoor cats are not particularly active, so we need to be creative. Luckily they are natural hunters, so use toys and objects that they may chase, i.e. feather toys, flashlights, ping pong balls. Move the food dish to different locations so they need to find their next meal.

fat-catSlow But Sure is Best

Keep in mind that weight loss in your cat should be a gradual process. Most will reach their target weight in six to eight months, with healthy loss at about one pound per month.

For additional information, check out these great resources. They will help you determine an appropriate diet, how much to feed your cat, and how to transition from dry to wet food. We are here to help you as well!

www.petobesityprevention.org
www.catinfo.org

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Tips for Hiking with Your Dog

Fall is a great time for hiking in our beautiful Northwest wilderness, and many dogs enjoy hiking and backpacking along with their owners. Below are the ASPCA’s expert tips to ensure your dog’s safety as you explore the great outdoors:

Pack a Leash

With so many nooks and crannies to explore on the trail, it’s best to opt for a non-extending leash to avoid potential tangles with branches and brambles.

fangfang-and-hunter-hikingBring IDs, Please!

Always make sure that your current contact information, including your cell phone number, is attached to your dog’s collar or harness.
Photo of Fang Fang & Hunter at Lake Twenty Two by Ting L.

Check Your Records

You never know what you might encounter on a hike through the woods. Before you set out on your journey, make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date.

Give Pests the Boot

Tick prevention is essential when tromping through the great outdoors. Ask your vet about appropriate parasite prevention.

Leave No Trace

Scoop up after your dog when she goes to the bathroom as you would on a stroll through your neighborhood.

Stay Hydrated

Don’t forget to bring enough water for yourself and your dog. It’s best to avoid letting your dog drink from nature’s water fountains, as puddles, lakes and streams can be home to nasty parasites and toxins that could be harmful to your furry friends.

For more tips about keeping your pet safe in the wilderness, feel free to download the ASPCA’s printable Hiking Safety Tips Guide [PDF] to carry with you on the trail.

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Adjusting to Life with a Senior Dog or Cat

hug-old-dog

We like to say around here at Bothell Pet Hospital that, “Old age is not a disease!” While we would never treat an animal based on its age alone, the reality is that the health of dogs and cats can change as they get older.

Just like in people, there are certain acquired conditions and diseases that more commonly develop in older animals:

  • Older dogs and cats may sleep more than they used to when they were younger.
  • They may not be as active, nor be able to jump up as they used to.
  • Some eating and elimination patterns may change, as can their weight.
  • Many owners notice that their senior pet’s breath is not as “fresh” as it used to be.

Although common, all of these signs could be attributed to treatable medical conditions that should not be mistakenly assumed to be due to old age.

old-cat-med

Changes in Mobility in Senior Dogs and Cats

Arthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is very common in our senior canine and feline patients. “Slowing down” could actually indicate pain from chronically inflamed joints. Radiographs (xrays) of these joints will provide evidence to confirm this diagnosis, but may not be required for treatment.

Achieving or maintaining an ideal body weight is essential for the treatment of arthritis. Additionally, joint supplements (we recommend Dasuquin Advanced) and essential fatty acid supplements can be beneficial, and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) may be prescribed.

Complementary treatments such as acupuncture, physical and aquatic therapy often improve mobility and increase muscle strength.

Steps or ramps may be helpful for pets that need assistance getting on and off a bed, into a car, or going up and down stairs.

 

old-dog-senior-dog-eat-hungry-medChanges in Appetite and Eating in Elderly Dogs and Cats

Many pets start to exhibit changes in eating habits as they get older. Some pets can become more finicky and fussy about their food. The food that they have eaten for years may seem unappetizing.

Periodontal disease progresses with time if untreated and causes pain that may result in anorexia. Often, a comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment plan can identify and address specific issues.

Inappetence can also indicate diseases involving the gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, kidneys, liver or other systems.

Senior screening bloodwork and urinalysis can help identify infectious or metabolic diseases and guide our recommendations for medications and supplements that target specific organ systems.

On the flip side, some older pets start to eat more and seem to not be satiated with their typical feeding. In cats specifically, this is a common sign of hyperthyroidism, a treatable disease of excessive thyroid function resulting in increased metabolism.

old-mastiff-dog-med

Changes in Behavior in Older Dogs and Cats

Behavior changes are commonly observed in older pets. Diminished hearing or vision that comes with age may contribute to these changes, although in general, pets tolerate altered senses very well.

Some pets become more anxious and anti-anxiety supplements (discussed in a previous newsletter article) can help. Other pets may mellow with age, preferring to sleep and lounge more.

Some may start to show signs of dementia or senility, called cognitive dysfunction in veterinary medicine.

Most often, however, behavior changes are related to health issues. A normally sweet dog that suddenly becomes irritable could indicate that something is wrong. A cranky cat that no longer seems able to muster a feisty response should also be a red flag.

Again, a comprehensive physical exam and senior lab screening can help identify specific issues to direct our treatment plan.

hug-cat

Help Your Senior Pet Live Life to its Fullest

Ultimately, you may find that your senior pet requires added attention and more frequent veterinary visits as he or she ages. Preventative medicine and recognizing problems early are often beneficial, as many conditions are easier to treat when identified in the early stages.

Pets today are living healthier, longer lives in large part due to medical advances and technology, but owners should also be credited with being proactive about their pets health and well-being.

Together, let’s make sure your senior pet lives its longest, happiest life possible!

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All About Fleas – Part 2 of 2

In our last blog post, we discussed fleas with a focus on identification, transmission, and associated illnesses. If you missed it, please refer to “Fleas 101” for July 2016. This month we will focus more closely on prevention and treatment.

Thankfully flea treatments have come a long way from the days of stinky flea collars that leave a bald spot around your cat’s neck, or those unpleasant flea dips for cats and dogs, both of which were not very effective.

You can still find some of these older chemicals on the market. They are typically the cheaper over-the-counter medications, however, the increased potential for side effects and the lack of effectiveness make them a poor treatment option.

Caution also needs to be exercised that products are used specifically for the intended species. Cats, for example, are extremely sensitive to products containing pyrethrins/pyrethroids and can develop signs including lethargy, vomiting, and muscle tremors when exposed to toxic doses.

How to Choose the Right Flea Treatment for your Dog or Cat

You may have noticed there are a mind-boggling number of newer flea treatments on the market for pets. Periodically, the doctors at Bothell Pet Hospital review all of the available flea treatment options and choose a few that we recommend based of safety, efficacy, administration and mode of action.

Based on our reviews, we have a couple great options currently available in the hospital along with several other options available through our online portal/store.

Two of our current favorites are Bravecto and Activyl:

Bravecto

Bravecto is a newer generation oral, chewable, flavored tablet that will kill fleas for 12 weeks. Administration every 3 months has been wonderful for all of us with busy schedules! Besides, who can get rid of fleas in just one month of treatment? Another great attribute of Bravecto is that it is also effective against ticks, mites and lice. Many people also like the oral option because there is no oily residue left on the skin/fur of the pet. This has been especially popular for our clients with children. Bravecto currently is only available for dogs.

activyl

Activyl is a newer version of the traditional “spot-on” monthly flea preventative/treatment. It is applied to the skin by parting the fur. It is available in a flea formula or a flea and tick formula. Activyl is also available for both dogs and cats. Another option that we have available for cats is Revolution. It is also a topical flea treatment that treats fleas, and other parasites including ear mites and roundworms in cats. Although a canine version of Revolution is available, we prefer Bravecto and Activyl in dogs.

How to Combat Fleas in Your Home and Yard

Environmental decontamination is also an important step in battling fleas. Fleas can lay up to 45 eggs per day, most of which fall off the dog or cat into the environment, such as carpet or bedding.

Larvae live for days to weeks in carpet, bedding, etc. after hatching. The larval stage is most susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity. Larvae that are exposed to a relative humidity of 33% or less, at any temperature, will die. Therefore environmental treatment involving decreasing the humidity, can be very helpful in flea control.

Borax is an inexpensive product that can be used to dehumidify carpeting and prevent larvae from developing into adults. Diatomaceous earth is a natural product that may help eliminate fleas.

Both of these products are sprinkled over the carpet and worked in with a broom, then vacuumed hours later. As with any aerosolized powder, care should be taken so that is not inhaled, by using a dust mask or other protection.

After vacuuming all of the house, the vacuum should be emptied or bag changed so that any captured eggs, larvae, pupae or fleas are eliminated from the house.

All washable pet bedding, or areas where the dogs/cats sleep, should be also be washed and dried.

When considering any outdoor environmental flea control, always remember that you are not only killing fleas with pesticides, but will also kill our beneficial insects, such as pollinators.

Hopefully the information in these last two newsletters will help you recognize a flea issue early so that treatment can be initiated immediately. For those that prefer to be proactive about prevention, or for our higher-risk pets, such as dogs that go to day-care or dog parks, or cats that go outdoors, continued use of flea control, as discussed above, may be chosen. If any questions arise, please give us a call! Best wishes for a happy, fun and flea-free summer!

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All About Fleas – Part 1 of 2

Ahhh, summer!  What’s better than a Western Washington summer, with our warm days and still enough moisture to keep our beautiful, lush greenery?  We all love it, and so do our pets, but unfortunately, we have some unwelcome guests that love it too… Fleas!

Cat_FleaFleas thrive in warm, moist weather.  Since we have such a perfect environment for fleas, it’s hard to completely avoid them, but in this two-part series, for our July and August blog posts, we’ll give you a little background information to aid in recognition, prevention and treatment:

If you are lucky enough to have never had a pet with fleas before, let’s start with a description of what to look for…

Identifying a Flea Problem

Flea combFleas are a brown to reddish-brown parasite that can easily be seen without magnification.  Since they are about 3 mm long, you would think the diagnosis should be easy, but frequently, finding fleas is not as simple as it sounds.

We all know that scratching can be a sign of fleas, but what else should we be looking for?  One of our most common ways of diagnosing fleas is to do a flea combing. We use a very fine tooth comb, especially designed to trap “flea dirt” and sometimes even adult fleas.  The most likely place to find “flea dirt” or fleas is the dorsolumbar area: on top of the back of the dog or cat, near their rump, basically from the mid-back to the tail.

flea dirtThe term “flea dirt” is a euphemism for flea feces. It is a dark reddish-brown to black material that looks like specks of dirt, but can often be seen to have a long, slightly curved shape, like a comma.

To distinguish flea dirt from garden dirt, just place it on a white tissue with a drop of water and gently rub it.  If a faint rust color appears on the tissue, you’ll know it is the digested blood of flea dirt.

Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of seeing fleas or “flea dirt.”  Other signs of fleas may include:

  • Dorsolumbar alopecia (hair loss on the rump)
  • Scratching or biting at the skin with the front teeth
  • Red or crusting skin
  • Greasy fur
  • “Hot spots”
  • Twitching or chewing when being pet or scratched

Because our feline friends are such fastidious groomers, they can make it even tougher to find fleas. Sometimes we don’t have obvious signs of fleas, but need to rule it out.  If your pet has signs of skin disease or pruritis (itching), but we don’t find any fleas or “flea dirt,” you may still be asked to do a trial of flea control to see if it alleviates signs.

Given that fleas are so ubiquitous in our area and fairly easy to treat, compared to some of the other skin issues, a flea control trial is usually wise.

Sometimes we see clients that are concerned that we will think they don’t take good care of their pet because they have fleas. Obviously, since you brought your pet in for a visit, you’re a conscientious pet owner!

Never feel bad that your dog or cat has fleas.  We’re here to help you fix it. 

flea dermatitis

Secondary Problems Due to Fleas

Sometimes a dog or cat can have fleas for just a short time, but develop dramatic skin lesions due to a hypersensitivity called flea allergy dermatitis. This is an allergy to the flea saliva that is injected into the skin at the time of the bite. Animals with this type of hypersensitivity can induce enough self-trauma by scratching, biting and chewing that hair loss and red, bleeding skin can develop in a matter of weeks.

Besides an annoying itch and skin allergies, the stress of chronically itching can also play a role in your pet’s mental well-being.

Another very common problem secondary to fleas, is tapeworms. Dogs and cats will naturally groom fleas off of themselves and become infected with tapeworms from ingesting the fleas.

How can you identify tapeworms? The photo at right shows sesame seeds on the left, tapeworm eggs on the right. You may see these rice-sized, pale yellow or white tapeworm segments at your pet’s back end or in fresh stool, They may also be seen on the fecal intestinal parasite screen.

A less common secondary problem is anemia. Anemia can either be due to blood loss from heavy or chronic flea infestations, or from a bacteria that is spread by fleas, which attacks the red blood cells.

Also, although rare, the bacteria (Yersinea pestis) that caused the Bubonic Plague is still transmitted by fleas!

Winter Weather Doesn’t Always Kill Fleas

Surprisingly, one of our trickiest times of years for fleas is winter. As the warm weather wanes, we tend to let down our guard. Fleas, however, are hardy little buggers and they can survive some fairly extreme conditions.

In fact, adult fleas aren’t killed by temperature fluctuations unless held below 20°F for 48 hours or in 120°F of dry heat for several days! 

Plus, many of our pets get fleas from other animals rather than from our outdoor surroundings, resulting in a “flea reservoir” even when the fleas cannot survive outdoors.  For these reasons, we should consider our flea “season” as year-round.

Now that you know what to look for, and a little about some of the secondary conditions associated with fleas, you’ve just about graduated from Fleas 101!  Stay tuned for more in our August blog post, where we will prepare you for battle by discussing treatment.

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That Doggone Itch!

By Naomi Keiper DVM

One of the more common reasons for dogs to visit the veterinarian is itchy skin. Pruritus (itch) can be a frustrating condition for both owners and veterinarians due its many complex underlying causes and the challenges in achieving adequate control in some dogs.

Dog scratching lgEvery patient presenting for itch is unique and there is not one correct solution that will work for every dog. It may take time to find a treatment combination that best addresses your dog’s specific issues.

When presented with an itchy dog a veterinarian will take a systematic approach to diagnosing the disease. Two of the most important steps in this approach are obtaining a detailed history from an owner and performing a thorough, full-body physical exam.

Next steps may include skin scraping and cytology (examination of cells under a microscope) to look for external parasites, the presence of bacteria and the presence of fungal organisms. At the same time fecal testing, blood work and urinalysis may be recommended on a case-by-case basis.

fleas-on-cat-furIf no infectious organisms are apparent from the above testing your veterinarian may still treat for fleas, even if they were not directly observed. Fleas can be a major trigger for itch in dogs and their removal/prevention will facilitate a more comfortable dog. Many dogs with strong reactions to fleas have a condition called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). In dogs with this condition the animal is allergic to the saliva of the flea, which elicits a full-body immune response that can last for weeks after an initial bite, causing long lasting itch.

If a secondary bacterial or fungal skin infection is present, your veterinarian will treat for this before instituting other treatments. Secondary infections often arise due to a poorly functioning or abnormal skin barrier. A dog’s skin provides a wall to the outside world, defending internal systems from a variety of insults including bacteria, fungal organisms, external parasites, pollen, chemicals and other irritants. Dogs with itchy skin often have an underlying disruption to their skin barrier, which makes them more susceptible to secondary infections. Treatment with an oral and/or topical antibiotic until infection has cleared will be used as necessary.

shutterstock_109136528 smallOnce external parasites and secondary bacterial or fungal infections are controlled, one of the next steps in diagnosing the itchy dog is a diet trial to assess for food allergy. Strict diet trials can identify components of food that should be avoided for an individual dog.

The majority of dogs are allergic to the protein source (ex. chicken or beef) rather than the grains within a food. Diet trials can be accomplished by feeding a novel protein diet (ex. Kangaroo or bison) or by feeding a prescription hypoallergenic diet. Diet trials can be challenging because even a single bite of what the dog may be allergic to, either in a treat or dropped morsel of food, will necessitate starting the trial from the beginning.

If a dog remains itchy despite trying the therapies/approaches listed above then a diagnosis of atopic dermatitis may be made. Atopic dermatitis is a chronic hypersensitivity condition that causes itchy inflammation of the skin and ears. Atopic dermatitis cannot be cured however it can often be controlled for the life of the patient.

Atopic Dermatitis

Animals with atopic dermatitis have an abnormal skin barrier (leading to sensitive skin and a higher likelihood of developing secondary infections) and an overactive immune system that will overreact to certain triggers. Triggers may include: dry skin, food allergy, fleas, infection and environmental allergens. Allergen specific immunotherapy is currently the only available method for improving a dog’s immune health. This therapy involves exposing an animal to very small quantities of environmental allergens to which the individual is specifically sensitive (ex. dust mites or birch pollen) though the use of subcutaneous injections or sublingual drops.

When further treatment is deemed necessary to address atopic dermatitis, a multi-modal approach is often used that may include the use of antibiotic/antifungal shampoo, grooming, antihistamines, omega 3/6 fatty acids and immune modulatory drugs.

Immune-suppressive drugs like steroids are often the least expensive option but should be avoided if possible due to their unpleasant side effects and potential harm to organs with long-term use. However, other immune-modulatory drugs may be great options for your pet. These drugs, in contrast to steroids, more specifically target parts of the immune system directly involved in itch and thus have fewer side effects.

In conclusion, itch in dogs can be simple to treat but can also be a sign of a complicated disease that will require extensive long-term treatment. Every itchy dog is assessed as an individual to create a patient specific treatment plan. It is important to remember that working closely with a veterinarian over months or years and being open to treatment changes will be the best approach to making an itchy dog as comfortable as possible.

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