Thursday, September 23, 2010

How to: Vet a Vet

When looking for a veterinarian, your pet's care is of utmost importance. So don't leave your prized pooch to just anyone. We have compiled what we feel are the most important considerations when seeking a new vet, and hope that you will consult this guide whenever you are on the hunt for great veterinary care.

Before starting your search, make a list of your pet's particular needs. What species and breed is s/he? Does your pet have any special health concerns which require specialization? Does your pet respond better to female vets? These questions and others will help you to determine the right type of veterinarian for your pet and will simplify  the next phase of your search.

Unless your pet requires a specialist, it's wise to choose a veterinarian who lives close to your home. Consider distance and road conditions during bad weather or emergencies. You want to be able to get your pet to his or her veterinarian as quickly and safely as possible.

As a pet owner, you have several resources for finding the perfect vet for your furry friend. The first is The American Animal Hospital Association. This organization evaluates veterinary practices on the quality of their facilities, staff, equipment and patient care. You can search their website for a list of accredited vets in your area. An equally good method of finding a veterinarian is to ask for recommendations from friends, family or neighbors whose pet care opinions you trust. Finally, if you are new to the area, you can also search the Yellowpages for a complete list of local veterinarians that match your pet's needs and your personal preferences.

Once you have narrowed your list down to a handful of veterinarians or practices, arrange to tour the facility. You should look for:
  • A clean, modern and well-organized space
  • Dog and cat cages kept in separate areas
  • Caring, calm, competent and courteous vets/staff who communicate effectively
  • Convenient parking
You should ask:
  • Is the practice AAHA-accredited?
  • How many veterinarians are there in the practice?
  • Are there technicians or other professional staff members?
  • Do the veterinarians have special areas of expertise?
  • Will vet(s) refer patients to specialists?
  • What sort of equipment is used?
  • Are X-rays, ultrasounds, blood work, EKGs, endoscopy and other diagnostic procedures performed in-house or referred to a specialist?
  • What are the pre and post-procedures for surgery?
  • What is the protocol for pain management?
  • How are overnight patients monitored?
  • What are the fees, and are there discounts for multi-pet households or senior citizens?
And trust your instinct. If it feels wrong, it probably is (and visa versa). Make your decision knowing that you can always find a new veterinarian if you or your pet is unhappy. 

If things start out on the right foot with your newly "adopted" veterinarian, great! Keep up the good work. If not, remember to first give your new veterinarian a chance by being a good pet owner...
  • See your vet regularly for preventative visits (and be on time!), not just because he or she is ill. Diagnoses shouldn't (and usually can't) be made over the phone.
  • Know what is normal health and behavior for your pet so that you will accurately recognize when they are ill. 
  • Take your pet to the vet at the first sign of illness. 
  • Bring dogs to the vet on-leash and cats in a carrier.
  • Only call your vet during off-hours if it is an emergency.
  • Call ahead in an emergency to let the vet and staff know you will be arriving, and accept that you may need to be referred to an emergency vet. 
By communicating with your vet clearly and often, you can establish a loyal and trusting relationship that will last your pet's whole life.

*Sources for portions of this post include The American Animal Hospital Association, ASPCA and Humane Society.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Top 10 Poisons for Your Dog

You don't have to wait 'til Pet Safety Night to beef up on your pet safety knowledge! In this post, learn about the most common poisons for your dogs...things you probably have right in your home. The severity of your pet's symptoms from a poisonous substance depend on how the substance affects your dog’s body and how much was ingested or inhaled. But with some foresight and awareness, you can significantly decrease your dog's chances of becoming ill.

Count 'Em Down: The Top 10 Poisons for Dogs

#10: Fertilizer. Products for your lawn and garden may be poisonous to pets that ingest them, so make sure to allow ample time after application before letting your dog loose in the yard. 

#9: Heavy metals. If eaten by your dog, lead, which may be in paint, linoleum, and batteries, can cause gastrointestinal and neurological problems. Zinc poisoning may occur in dogs that swallow pennies.

#8: Household cleaners. Common substances like bleach, floor cleaners and Windex are a leading cause of pet poisoning, resulting in stomach and respiratory tract problems. Again, keep them locked away and make sure you wipe up as much as possible when cleaning your home.

#7: Chemical hazards. Antifreeze, paint thinner, and pool chemicals can be extremely harmful to your dog if ingested. Keep these things locked away when not in use, and make sure dogs are not allowed in any areas where work is being done. 

#6: Household plants. Some of the more toxic plants to dogs include azaleas, rhododendrons, tulips, daffodils and sago palms.

# 5: Pet medications. Allergies and overdoses of pet medications like pain killers and de-wormers can be avoided by careful administration, storage and veterinary consultation.

# 4: Rat and mouse poison. These chemicals are meant to kill rodents, but they can be deadly to our canine friends as well. 

#3: People food. Animals have different metabolisms than people, so just a bite of guacamole or a couple of stray raisins could mean bad news. Among the worst foods for your dog are chocolate, alcohol, avocado, macadamia nuts, grapes and raisins, and Xylitol. 

#2: Flea and tick products. Problems can occur if dogs accidentally ingest these products or if small dogs receive excessive amounts.

#1: Human medications. Some of the most common and harmful medications that poison dogs include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen, antidepressants, and the prescription tuberculosis medication, Isoniazid.

If you think your dog has been poisoned, try to stay calm. It's important to act quickly, but rationally. First, gather up any of the remaining poison; this may be helpful to your vet and any other experts who assist with the case. If your dog vomited, collect the sample in case your veterinarian needs to see it. Next, try to keep your pet calm and call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) at (888) 426-4435. Experts at the APCC are available 24 hours a day for a $60 consultation fee.

Come visit us at Pet Safety Night on September 24 for more useful and potentially lifesaving information for your family and your dog. We hope to see you there!

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Golden Years

After giving you many years of loyalty, support and companionship, doesn’t your dog deserve the best care you can give him? With the right routines and some loving care, watching your canine companion grow older can be a rewarding experience.

Most veterinarians believe a dog is in his senior years when he reaches the last third of his normal life expectancy. For instance, a large breed dog, such as a Great Dane that lives to be an average of nine years old, would be considered "senior" when he reached the age of six. A poodle that normally lives to be 15 years old would be considered "senior" at 10 years old.

As your pet ages, you may first notice outward signs: white around the muzzle, less exuberance, hesitation trying to stand up after a nap or difficulty climbing into your vehicle. Then there are the internal signs we can't see, like a slowing metabolism, and changing nutritional requirements. Just as we give special attention to the needs of puppies, dogs heading into their senior years require unique attention to help comfort them and extend their precious time with us.

If you're lucky enough to share your home with an older pet, here are some tips we recommend for their care:

Exercise is still important. Although they can still have a grand old time romping and playing, you may need to adjust the frequency and intensity of the exercise your older pet engages in. Using those muscles regularly will help his mobility and possibly even stave off certain diseases. Shorter, more frequent walks or swims can help keep your dog in shape and his weight under control, and the continuation of current activities, whether it be games of fetch or agility, should be continued until your dog exhibits any sign of discomfort.

If your canine friend has arthritis or is stiff and sore, a ramp will help him to get up and down from higher areas like vehicles or furniture, will make it much easier on his joints, and will allow him to maintain some of the adventure he enjoyed as a youngster.

Be gentle on those joints. To protect older elbows and haunches, provide your mature dog with a firm, orthopedic foam bed. There are beds out there specifically designed by veterinarians to "medical-grade", distributing weight evenly and reducing pressure on joints. They are also much easier to get out of in the morning!

Elevated food and water bowls can make eating and drinking more comfortable for arthritic pets, particularly if there is stiffness in the neck or back.

Take your vitamins. Dogs that have arthritis often benefit from drug-free nutritional supplements that contain ingredients such as Glucosamine HCl, Chondroitin Sulfate, and Vitamin C. Just be sure to consult your veterinarian, who can recommend the best supplements for your dog.

Give lots of loving attention. As your pet ages, keep a closer eye on his movements, behavior, and habits. Look for the signs, such as loss of appetite, excessive sleeping, irritability, changes in his gait, weakness, and incontinence. If your pet shows these signs, have him checked by your veterinarian. Be prepared to treat him with a little more love and care than ever before.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Biting Truth

According to Colleen Pelar, Pet Safety speaker for our upcoming Family Pet Safety Night,  nearly 2.8 million children are bitten by a dog each year. And half of these bites come from the family’s own dog!

Colleen tells us that parents can greatly decrease the chances of a bite by keeping the following in mind:

1. When choosing a dog for your family, look for one that adores children. A dog that enjoys children will give them the benefit of the doubt when they pull a tail or step on a foot. Some dogs can be great family members with the support and supervision of the parents, and some dogs are simply not compatible with children. 

2. Know what dogs don't like. For example, dogs DO NOT like to be hugged! Likewise, dogs need personal space, and this is a concept young children simply don't understand. 

3. Learn some basic canine body language. When a dog is unhappy, he or she will exhibit the following behaviors:
  • Lip licking
  • Yawning
  • Shaking off (like when wet)
  • Freezing 

With some careful planning and supervision, we as parents can do a lot to ensure a happy home where both children and dogs live happily ever after.

For plenty more tips and information on dog safety, please join us for Family Pet Safety Night, Sept. 24th! In addition to Colleen, Todd Kramer, Executive Director for Noah's Ark Animal Welfare Association, will be there to assist families with finding the right dog for them!