Reptile Husbandry Series

 

As much as we love our four legged, furry friends, sometimes it’s fun to go off the beaten path in our pet ownership journey. You’re heading to the pet store to pick up some food for Fido when you run into the Herps/Reptiles section and see this adorable pile of bearded dragons or the cutest little snake in the corner (yes…snakes can be cute).  You think to yourself, “How freakin’ awesome would it be to have a little dinosaur of my own? How hard can it be…they just hang out in their cage and bask on rocks!” While I’m in full agreement with the dinosaur love, it’s also important to know what you’re getting yourself into! As a new reptile owner (proud new owner of an adorable ball python named Kreacher), I began to delve into the depths of reptile husbandry and realized that information isn’t as easy to find as one may think. I decided for the next few blog entries to give some us scale lovin’ folks some direction. 

Let’s start out with one of my favorite, docile, legless friends, the ball python.

Natural history: Ball pythons (Python regius) can be found in the forests of Central and Western Africa, on the ground or in the trees. Typically they are active at dawn and dusk (Crepuscular). They earned their name from their tendency to curl themselves up into a tight coil when they’re nervous, hiding their heads in the center of the coil. There are several different morphs or color patterns, but you may need to find a reputable breeder if you’re looking for a very specific type!

The facts and stats:

  • Body length: 36-48 inches
  • Body weight: Variable with length, age
  • Maximum life span: 50 years
  • Average captive life span: 20-30 years
  • Daytime temperature: 80-85 F
  • Nighttime temperature: 75 F minimum
  • Humidity: 60-80%
  • Hot spot (basking area): 90 F

Unique features:  Pythons (and boas) are equipped with anal spurs near the cloaca. These are said to be remnants of hind limbs that snakes lost during their evolution from lizards. The cloaca is a common exit of the urinary, digestive, and reproductive tract. In the wild, ball pythons consume a variety of prey including amphibians, lizards, other snakes, birds, and small mammals. Young ball pythons will typically grow a foot during the first there years. Snakes only have 3 chambers in their heart (us humans have 4) and one main functional lung (the other lung is present, but doesn’t work as hard as its partner!).

Husbandry: What do I need and why?

  • Smaller, young snakes tend to do well house in 10 or 20 gallon aquariums. As your snake grows, he/she may need an upgrade to a larger enclosure. Many owners custom build enclosures as their snake gets larger. Pet stores tend to have example set ups for you to see, or you can come in and visit our corn snake, Checkers, to check out her enclosure!
  • Bedding material should be easy to clean and nontoxic to your snake. Newspaper, butcher paper, paper towels, or Astroturf are recommended. When using Astroturf, buy 2 pieces and cut to fit in the bottom of the cage, this way you’ll always have a clean piece to change out.  Clean soiled areas with soap and water or other mild cleaners (ask your veterinarian for cleaning advice!).   AVOID SAND, GRAVEL, WOOD SHAVINGS (CEDAR, ASPEN, PINE).  These can be ingested when your snake is going to feed and CEDAR shavings are toxic to reptiles!
  • Young ball pythons enjoy climbing and exploring, so natural branches can be a great addition to the cage. Ideally, the branch should slope from the bottom of the enclosure to the top and allow the snake an area to bask if it chooses.
  • Hiding places are necessary for many reptiles and should be readily available. There are many logs, rocks, or even plastic pet bowls that work well for hiding spots in the cage.
  • A heat source is necessary for the majority of reptiles, which are ectothermic (cold blooded) and need a range of environmental temperatures to regulate their internal body temperature. Ideally, you want to create a gradient in the cage with one end being warmer than the other, this way your snake has a choice for their personal temperature regulation. It is important to place your heat source outside the cage so the snake doesn’t burn itself. Hot rocks should be avoided for this reason. At night, heat isn’t necessary as long as temperatures remain 65-70 F. You can use lamps or heating pads for your heat source. There are a wide variety of heat sources available and you can consult with your veterinarian about which may work best for you.
  • UV light is constant topic of debate for snake owners since they consume whole prey for their diet, making it more nutritionally balanced. It won’t hurt to add this lighting to your enclosure, but it may not be necessary
  • Some of these little guys are stronger than you think, so securing your top screen with cage clips is a must, especially if your husband is worried the snake is going to get out and eat the dog like my husband is! (My ball python is 73 grams and my dogs are 80 pounds PLUS just for some perspective…)

Wait….you said WHOLE PREY!??!?

That’s right. You now own a predator! Snakes eat whole prey items including mice, rats, gerbils, and hamsters. Larger snakes are capable of eating whole rabbits! Since snakes eat entire prey items, this makes things much simpler for the owner and can help decrease the likelyhood of dietary related diseases that we can commonly see in other reptiles. Ideally, your snake should be provided a thawed (previously frozen) prey item or a freshly killed one. It isn’t recommended to feed live prey to snakes for several reasons. Prey knows it’s prey unless killed and eaten immediately, so you’ll be stressing out your feeder animal in the process if not previously killed! Amazingly, even a small mouse can cause major injury to the snake itself if the snake isn’t hungry! For humane reasons, strongly consider feeding previously killed prey.

How often you feed your snake totally depends on the age and size of the pet. Smaller snakes usually eat twice a week and larger snakes eat once every week to every few weeks. Ask your veterinarian for guidelines and feeding advice! Although snakes can go a long time without feeding, too long can be a sign of serious disease and you may want to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.

WATER!

Fresh water in a crock or bowl that won’t easily tip over should be available at all times. Snakes will not only drink from the water bowl but will often bathe in it as well. Make sure the water stays clean since many snakes feel this is their personal toilet!

Coming up next…

I think I’ve given you all a great place to start if you’re interested in our legless friends!  Next blog we’ll be discussing common diseases of pet snakes so get your learning eyes and ears in gear!  And don’t forget, if you have any questions or would like some one-on-one advice before you go snake hunting, feel free to stop in and visit Dr. Kathy or Dr. Lauren!

How to Keep Your Pet Safe in the Heat

 

  • H2O:        Provide plenty of water.
    • Make sure there is lots of water to drink
    • Set up a kiddie pool in a shady area
    • Spray water on your dog’s belly ( in the hot sun, water on the back isn’t a good idea)
    • Even cats will tolerate a spritz from a water bottle and birds LOVE it.
    • Freeze your water in pop bottles that be placed in pools or wrapped in towels for a cool place to lay.
    • Water sprayed on cool, shady cement  can be refreshing provided your pet doesn’t have arthritis.
    • Take Fido swimming at the local watering hole but be sure to use a life vest.
  • Shade:   Any time your pet is outdoors make sure there is ready access to shade.
    • Shade can be a tree, canopy of the shady side of the house.  Just remember that the sun’s position changes throughout the day so shady in the morning may not be shady in the afternoon.
    • Doghouses are not shade.  There is not enough air movement to keep them cool.
    • Don’t forget your basement.  It’s the coolest, safest place for your pet in the heat.
  • Limit exercise: 
    • Dogs can’t sweat like we do.
    • Short coated breeds can and do sunburn.
    • Asphalt can burn tender paw pads.
    • Brachycephalic (short faced) breeds are especially intolerant of heat and too much activity
    • If you keep going, your dog will too, right into heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
  • Keep air circulating with a fan:
    • It won’t make things perfect but circulating air stays cooler.
  • Go high tech:
    • There are cooling gel dog beds available.
    • You may also want to try cooling vests and collars.
  • Keep your pet in the air conditioning:
    • When it’s really hot sometimes the best move is to keep your pet inside until things cool down in the evening.

How safe is Your Backyard?

 

We all try to keep our pets as safe as possible.  We keep them leashed anytime we are away from home. We feed them the best food we can provide. We keep their shots and worming current, we train them, and we love them.   When we’re home they play safely in our fenced backyards.

How about that yard? Is it safe?  When was the last time you took a good look around your back yard with the safety of your pet in mind?  We recommend that you do it every spring and fall. What should you be checking for?  Listed below are some of the hazards that could harm your pet.

The Mulch Pile:       

The backyard mulch pile can be a very attractive and very dangerous place for your pet. Going green is great as long as you do it safely. We recommend that your mulch pile be securely fenced and pet proof.

  1. Mycotoxins   which are found in moldy items like breads, cheese and dog food can make your dog seriously ill.  Signs can range from vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal tenderness to seizures and permanent liver damage.   
  2. Hops used in home brewing can kill your pet if ingested in even small amounts.  The danger is present both before and after brewing.  Signs are panting, rapid heart rate and a rapid increase in body temperature to the point of death.
  3. Macadamia nuts can cause ataxia (lack of coordination), anxiety, increased heart rate, tremors and temporary paralysis. 
  4. Grapes, mushrooms, onions, garlic, tomato plants, black locust tree pods and seeds, any sugar free products containing Xylitol and coffee grounds are all dangerous for your pets as well.  If your pet ingests any of these items call poison control and your veterinarian.

The Backyard Pool:

We all know how attractive and dangerous a pool is to small children but it can be just as deadly to your pets.

 1.   Drowning is an obvious risk to both pets and children. Both may fall in and be unable to get out. 

2.   Pool Chemicals can make your pet very sick. Animals are curious and will often taste whatever happens to be lying around.  Ingesting pool chemicals can cause vomiting, breathing difficulty, seizures and loss of consciousness. 

Poisonous Plants:

Be cognizant of what you plant.  ASPCA poison Control has a complete list of plants that are toxic to animals.  Please visit www.aspca.org/petcare/poisoncontrol/plants for the complete list.  Plants can cause everything from local irritation and drooling to seizures and death. 

Other Animals:

Your first thought may be other aggressive animals.   However, skunks, raccoons and possums can carry infectious diseases that can make you and your pet sick. This is why we preach vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate!  It’s also a good idea not to feed your pets outdoors which is a sure way attract local wildlife.

  1. Rabies is carried by skunks, raccoons and bats and they all frequent back yards. 
  2. Leptospirosis is transmitted through the urine of infected animals and can be transmitted to people and pets.
  3. Baylisascaris is a parasite that is harmless to Raccoons but deadly to humans due to its propensity to travel to our brains and wreak havoc.
  4. Bites and wounds and infections can occur if your dog or cat tries to defend their home turf from raccoons and other wildlife.
  5. Predation is an unpleasant prospect whether is happens to your pet or your unwelcome visitors. 

Fertilizers, Herbicides and Pesticides:

  1. Read your labels and use chemicals accordingly.  Wait until chemicals are dry or as long as the directions indicate before allowing your pet back in the yard.
  2. Cover any food or water dishes before spraying.  Don’t forget the bird bath.
  3. Store all chemicals safely and out of reach.  Keep the original containers just in case you have an accidental exposure.
  4. Keep slug bait, rat poison and gopher bait well away from any place your pet can reach. Call your veterinarian and/or poison control if you even think your pet may ingested any of these products.
  5. Try to find a natural, poison free alternative whenever possible.

Children:

Dare we say it?  Children are immature, impulsive and often lacking in judgment. 

  1. Kids may think teasing your pet through the fence is fun but the end result may be an over stimulated, aggressive dog and bitten children.  Nobody wants a barking, fence running dog for a neighbor no matter how the behavior was started.
  2. Children may throw food or other objects over the fence that can harm your pet.  It’s a good idea to run a fence check frequently in warm months.
  3. Jumping dogs can catch a collar on the fence top and choke to death.  Yes it happens.
  4. Small pets can be injured and even killed by over enthusiastic and unsupervised children.  Again, yes it happens.
  5. Finally, no matter how safe you keep your yard, it doesn’t matter if your kids forget to close and latch the gate.

This isn’t a complete list of the potential dangers in the backyard jungle but hopefully we’ve got you thinking about pet proofing your property.   Feel free to call us or contact through our web site or face book with any questions.

10 Questions for Dr. Lauren Hughes

 

 

1. How old were you when you decided to become a veterinarian?

Like a lot of my colleagues, I wanted to become a veterinarian ever since I was a little kid, around 5 years old. It was the idea of what a veterinarian actually was that changed for me over the years. When I was in high school, I got to job shadow through the Interact program and Key Club and got a much better idea of what the job entailed and I fell in love with the career. My work as a zoo keeper at Niabi Zoo solidified my want to work with wildlife and exotic species.

2. What is the best part of your job?

As much as I love the work with the variety of species I see on a daily basis, what I love most about the job is giving back to the community and working with the owners of all these pets. Establishing a relationship with my clients and their family and getting to know them is a lot of fun.

3. What’s the most interesting case you’ve ever had?

During my last year of vet school, a large male Rottweiler came into the clinic with a swollen abdomen and we took x-rays, thinking the dog had a twisted stomach. When we began surgery, there was nothing wrong with the stomach at all and everything appear normal within the abdomen. During surgery, the dog’s right hind leg began to swell and he did not recover well from surgery. We ended up having to keep him in the ICU and do several more surgeries and through diagnostic testing and bacterial culture, we discovered that he had flesh eating bacteria, necrotizing fasciitis, and was unfortunately unable to recover. I will probably never see a case like that again in my lifetime.

4. What’s the most difficult part of your job?

Humane euthanasia is always the most difficult part for me. It is such an emotional time for the owners and I’m a crier anyway, so it doesn’t help the situation. The blessing of working with animals is that we have the ability to alleviate their suffering in cases of severe, incurable disease or when it’s time for them to cross that rainbow bridge, but it’s never a happy experience and doesn’t get any easier.     

 

5. Why become a vet when you could have gone into human medicine and made more money?

Because of the variety of species I work with, every day brings something new and challenging. With the exotic animals that I see, as well as the animals from Niabi Zoo, the database of knowledge in some of these critters is extremely limited and brings about my “MacGyver” skills, trying to find new ways to treat patients that have never been done before as well as diagnose their diseases. More money would be nice, but I think I would get bored. I love what I do, so the money really isn’t a factor to me.

6. We know you have to like animals for this job but what are the other unique requirements?

Communication skills, creative thinking, and flexibility. Not every patient presents the same way, even if they have the same disease and not every owner has the same budget so approach do disease treatment and animal management is always different.

7. How has veterinary medicine changed since your parent’s time?

The view of animals in the home has changed significantly over the years. Pets are now much more part of the family than ever before, so the care for them has definitely changed and improved.

8. Even though both jobs require the same amount of education; how does veterinary medicine differ from human medicine beyond the obvious question of species?

Many veterinarians “do everything” still, even though we have specialists. There are so many general practitioners in the veterinary world that act as surgeon, dentist, nutritionist, physical therapist, Chiropractor (wink, wink Dr. Meredith), radiologist, and many more. Your role changes so frequently based on your patient and it’s needs. This is much different than practitioners in the human world.

9. What do you think the new horizons for veterinary medicine will be?

Holistic medicine is becoming more prominent, as well as animal nutrition. Owners are becoming much more aware of the nutritional needs of their pets and asking a lot more information about appropriate diets.

10. If someone gave you a magic wand and you could go back and do it over again, would you still become a vet?

Yes, but I’d never want to do vet school again!

Pet Obesity-Are We Loving Our Pets to Death?

 

Has the U.S. become the nation of too much?  When it comes to weight, yes we have!   Pet obesity has become a huge, no pun intended, health issue for both dogs and cats in this country.

How to Tell if Your Pet is Over Weight

1)    Run your hands down the side of your pet with medium pressure.  You should be able to feel ribs under a thin layer of subcutaneous fat.  If you can’t your pet is probably too heavy.

2)    If you feel your pet is too heavy bring them in for a more precise body measurement.  This set of measurements can determine exactly how over weight your pet is and what a good target weight is.

Causes of Obesity

1)    Sometimes obesity is just a matter of too much food and too little activity. 

2)    However, obesity can also be rooted in other issues. 

  •      Hypothyroidism
  •      Cushing’s Disease
  •      Diabetes:  Diabetes can be caused by too much weight but can also be the                 cause of weight gain if an animal develops non-insulin dependent diabetes.  Confusing but ultimately weight loss will help both.
  •     Any disease process that affects the hypothalamus or pituitary gland:  The hypothalamus regulates appetite and the pituitary gland regulates most hormone production in the body.
  •   Breed:  Beagles, Labs, Bassets, Cattle dogs, Cockers, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Golden Retrievers and most cats to name a few.
  •   Age: Just like us as pets age their metabolic rate slows and the tendency to become over weight increases.
  • Neutering and Spaying: When they are not hormone driven animals will put on weight more easily.  That said the benefits of altering your pet far outweigh the negatives.
  •  Activity level:  Too many pets spend all their time inside with too little activity.  This is a particular challenge for cat owners.
  • Food quality:  The quality of food we feed has improved.  Pets need less to stay fit and healthy.  Conversely if you have a finicky pet who has trained you to only feed them high caloric “junk food” they will quickly become overweight.
  •     Medications:  Glucocorticoids, Anti-seizure drugs and  tranquilizers can all contribute to weight gain.

 Health risks associated with obesity

1)    Diabetes:   When food intake and body mass out strip the body’s ability to make insulin, Diabetes Mellitus develops.

2)     Heart and blood pressure disease:  The heart has to work much harder in overweight pets.  That leads directly to high blood pressure and heart disease.

3)    Bone/Joint damage:  Extra weight leads to increased stress on bones and ligaments. Almost all of our cruciate repairs could use a little weight loss.

4)    Respiratory problems:  Too much fat makes for a greater work load and puts extra pressure on the lungs and trachea. If you own a dog or cat with a shortened, also known as brachycephalic, facial structure this can cause serious health problems.  Likewise, many of our collapsing trachea dogs show improvement with weight loss.

5)    Increased anesthetic risk:  What happens if you have a lot of fat and your anesthetic is fat soluble?  You wake up more slowly.  How much harder is it to perform surgery in an abdomen that is full of fat?  A lot harder.  Has obesity been shown to decrease resistance to bacteria?  Yes.

6)    Decreased lifespan and quality of life:  Everything mentioned above will shorten your pets’ life.  It will also seriously impinge on their ability to enjoy the life they have.

On the next blog we will talk about strategies for weight loss.

The Importance of Pain Management

 

No one likes to feel pain.  Pain can be good when it keeps us from doing things that will harm our bodies but untreated pain is never good.  There was a time when people believed that animals did not feel pain on the same level as humans.  Fortunately we now understand that this is not the case at all.  Animals feel pain in much the same way as we do. If you think something would be painful for you, it is most likely painful to your pet as well.

What animals do is mask pain.  In the wild the organism that shows pain becomes lunch.  Unfortunately, that very stoicism, if unrecognized, can lead to increased suffering for our pets.  As veterinarians and owners, it becomes our job then to ensure that our pets receive adequate pain management. Good pain control is good medicine.  It is an integral part of patient management at Animal Family.

Why is pain control so important? Uncontrolled, pain affects not only the well being but the behavior, health and longevity of our pets.  How so?

  • Pain prolongs recovery time from surgery, injury or illness.
  • It may cause arthritic cats to urinate or defecate outside the box. Sadly, this may be mislabeled as a behavior problem resulting in euthanasia.
  • It can lead to maladaptive pain.  That is pain which is caused by things that are not normally painful.  An example would be the older dog or cat which bites when a child attempts to pet them.It can cause self mutilation. An animal may lick or chew at a body part unrelentingly creating even further damage.
  • It may cause weight loss due to oral or body pain.
  • Pets may be unwilling to groom and take care of their coat due to pain.
  • A previously active animal may become listless.  It may simply be too painful to move.
  • A pet can become constipated due to an inability to posture and defecate normally.
  • Pain may precipitate pacing and restlessness. A behavior that may be misinterpreted as nervousness.
  • Pain can cause aggression towards other animals.  An animal which anticipates pain may strike preemptively at a housemate

As owners and veterinarians we must make recognition of pain a priority. It is important to watch your pet carefully for the subtle signs of discomfort or distress. Our new golden rule must be to never allow our pet to remain in pain because we have simply become used to seeing them that way seeing them that way. Watch for changes in behavior and talk it over with your veterinarian. Then as a team you can work to make your pet’s life not only longer but happier.

12 Holiday Hazards

 

1)   Potpourri:    Liquid potpourri can make your home smell festive for the holidays but remember to keep it away from your pets.  If the worst happens and your pet swallows liquid potpourri or spills any of it on themselves, you may see some of the following: drooling in case of ingestion, burning of the skin or mouth, weakness and vomiting. If you think any potpourri may be left on your pet’s skin, bathe them ASAP and call your veterinarian.

2)   Oh Christmas Tree:  As beautiful as Christmas trees are, they can pose considerable danger to your pets.  Don’t make this the Christmas you remember because of the trip to the emergency room. Be sure to secure your tree properly so playful pets don’t topple it and injure themselves. 

3)   Ornaments:  Cats love to play with tinsel but it can be a deadly game.  If ingested tinsel can cause a linear foreign body capable of cutting through intestines. Signs may include loss of appetite, lethargy and vomiting. Notify your veterinarian immediately if you think your cat has eaten any tinsel.  Ornament hooks can also be a hazard.  They are easily swallowed by pets and can lodge in the stomach or intestines.  Even broken ornaments knocked from the tree can cut sensitive paw pads. In general, it is best not place ornaments low on the tree where pets can dislodge them.

 4)   Electrical Cords:  All kinds of pets are susceptible to allure of chewing electrical cords. Once they come into contact with bare wire, they can die suddenly or receive severe burns to the mouth.  Signs of electrical burns include drooling, blisters and swelling around the mouth and an unwillingness or inability to eat or drink.  This type of injury requires immediate veterinary care.

5)   Poinsettias/Mistletoe:     Both these plants are commonly used as decorative accents during the Holiday season.  Poinsettia can cause local irritation to the mouth, gums and GI tract if ingested.  Treat your pet by washing the sap off immediately to stop further irritation. If your pet is vomiting or if their eyes appear inflamed, call your veterinarian. It is the berries of the Mistletoe that pose a danger to pets.  Depending on the amount ingested, symptoms can range from GI upset and vomiting to drooling, diarrhea, increased urination, and rapid heart rate and respiration.  All of these symptoms require immediate veterinary care. 

6)   Alcohol:   Are there still people who think it is funny to feed pets alcohol?  Sadly the answer is yes.  It really doesn’t matter whether toxicity occurs by accident or intent; it is important to understand that pets can die from alcohol ingestion.  Alcohol poisoning is dependent on the amount of alcohol ingested as compared to an animal’s weight. That means when a small pet gets into an alcoholic beverage, it can cause a significant toxicity problem. According to Becky Lundgren, DVM, “Within 15 to 30 minutes after the pet has drunk the alcohol on an empty stomach (or within 1 to 2 hours on a full stomach); central nervous system signs (such as staggering, excitement, or decreased reflexes) can begin. Behavioral changes can be seen, as can an increased need to urinate. As the problem gets worse, the pet may become depressed, have a slow respiratory rate, or go into cardiac arrest. Puppies and kittens are at particular risk because of their small size and immature organ systems.”

7)   Chocolate:  Most people are aware that chocolate is bad for pets.  We just need to be extra careful to keep it away from them during the holidays.  As with most toxicities, problems with chocolate vary depending on the amount of cocoa, the size of the animal and the total amount ingested.  Again, a small pet that eats dark chocolate can be expected to have a much more severe problem.  Signs of toxicity include increased excitability, increased irritability, increased heart rate, restlessness, increased urination, muscle tremors, vomiting and diarrhea.  Be sure to call your veterinarian immediately if you think your pet may have ingested chocolate.

8)   Grapes/Raisins:   Lots of Holiday breads and treats contain raisins or grapes. We love them but accidental ingestion by our pets can cause kidney problems.  If you suspect your pet may have ingested either call your veterinarian ASAP.

9)   Burning Candles:  This hazard doesn’t need a lot of explanation.  We all just need to remember to take extra care that candles are safely out of the way of rambunctious pets and children. 

10)     Overindulgence:   As tempting as it may be, please don’t share your holiday bounty with your petsToo much fatty food can cause a bout of pancreatitis (an inflammation of the pancreas caused by over secretion of the enzymes used to digest food) and land your pet in the emergency room.  Signs of pancreatitis include: vomiting, no or decreased appetite, an abdomen that is painful to the touch and/or a hunched appearance, fever, diarrhea, lethargy /depression, and dehydration.  Pancreatitis can be life threatening and requires immediate veterinary care.

11)    Marijuana:  Like alcohol, marijuana may be enjoyable for humans but can be toxic to your pet.  Animals exposed to marijuana demonstrate neurological signs including depression or alternating depression and excitement, lack of coordination, hallucinations with barking or agitation, seizures or coma and death. About a third of exposed animals will demonstrate gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, dry mouth, or drooling. Their body temperature may be too high or too low, respiration and heart rate may increase or conversely, heart rate become too slow pupils can become dilated, and some animals may leak urine. These clinical signs can develop within minutes up to 3 hours after exposure. The drug may be eliminated quickly (over several hours), but can be absorbed into fat making signs last for up to 3-4 days.

12)   Christmas Globes: That pretty Christmas globe can become a life threatening hazard if it breaks.  Ethylene Glycol is used in many globes to suspend the pretty snowflakes we love to watch fall.  If ingested by your pet it can cause life threatening kidney damage.   Call your veterinarian immediately if you think your pet has been exposed.  Antidotes are available and work well if administered in time.

  So, please enjoy the holidays but remember keep a watchful eye on your pet as well.   ASPCA Poison Control:   888-426-4435     https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/

The Un-Medicines

 

Do you ever wonder why we prescribe one medication over another?  What is the difference between Carprofen and Cosequin anyhow?  They both help arthritis but one is a drug and another is a nutraceutical.  Would an over the counter product be as good?  How do you know what is best for your pet?

The word drug is defined as a chemical compound used in diagnosis, treatment or prevention of disease and is recognized and defined as such by the Food and Drug Administration of the United States (FDA).  That means drugs are controlled and monitored by the government.  That’s a good thing for consumers.  A nutraceutical, on the other hand, is defined as a product isolated or purified from food, generally sold in medicinal forms not associated with foods and demonstrated to have physiological benefit or provide protection against disease.  Nutraceuticals are not governed by the FDA. Products that contain enzymes, good bacteria and vitamins can be beneficial to health as well but generally fall outside the jurisdiction of the FDA. That puts a whole lot more responsibility on us, the consumer, to choose wisely.

There are thousands of “un-medicines” to choose from. However, what may be the most important thing for us to keep in mind is that they are not all equally beneficial. Purity levels, molecular weights and other heady details can and do vary from product to product and remember, most are not regulated by any outside agency.  So, the onus is on us, the consumer, to educate and protect ourselves. As a way to make things a little easier for you, Animal Family has compiled a short list of some of our favorite un-medicines.

L-Lysine:      L-Lysine is an essential amino acid.  That means animals need it but cannot manufacture it on their own.  It is sold as a vitamin or supplement. Good natural sources are foods that are rich in protein.  We use lysine in animals for its antiviral properties, especially for the treatment of feline herpes infections in cats. It works by blocking replication of the virus. One more added benefit of lysine is its ability to aid the body in absorption of calcium.

Denamarin:  Denamarin contains two main ingredients, S-Adenosylmethioine (SAME), a very big word which describes a molecule that is synthesized by cells throughout the body. It’s important because it is an essential part of 3 major biochemical pathways needed for the health of liver cells.  Silybin, the other component in Denamarin comes from Milk Thistle which is also known to have beneficial effects on liver function. We use Denamarin in animals with liver disease because of these properties.

Cosequin/Dasuquin:  We use these products a lot and research backs up how helpful they are to pets with arthritis and joint damage.  The key ingredients are: 1) chondroitin sulfate, a nutrient needed to keep cartilage cells healthy 2) glucosamine hydrochloride, which blocks enzymes that break down cartilage 3) manganese ascorbate which helps optimize production of cartilage components and in some products 4) ASU a substance derived from avocados and soybeans that has been shown to inhibit agents involved in the breakdown of cartilage.

Beware! There are hundreds of different brands and variations of joint products on the market but they are not all equally effective. Go with the products that have been researched and shown to work.

Melatonin:    Melatonin is a hormone which helps regulate sleep.  It also acts on other hormones in the body.  Melatonin has several different uses in animals. In dogs, it is used to treat alopecia or baldness and as an adjunct to other therapies in Cushing’s disease (Hyperadrenocorticism).  Because it has a sedative effect it is also used as a behavioral aid in anxious dogs. In ferrets, melatonin is used to treat symptoms of adrenal tumors. Affected ferrets lose weight and hair coat.  Melatonin helps to reverse some of these effects and improve quality of life.

Probiotics:   Probiotics come from foods such as yogurt that are made with fermented bacteria. These bacteria are considered “good guys” and have long been used to treat diarrhea in both humans and animals. Probiotics optimize healthy bacteria in the gut, act as a source of digestive enzymes and stimulate the immune system.

Omega Fatty Acids:  Like lysine, omega fatty acids are necessary for optimal health but cannot be manufactured by the body.  Natural sources are fish, algae and some plant and nut oils.  They are important because they have been found to reduce inflammation and lower the risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Fatty acids may also aid in preserving cognitive function and are beneficial to animals with dry, itchy skin.

Sunshine: Sunshine helps mammals, reptiles and birds synthesize vitamin D which is essential to health. Many reptile owners assume that basking is used mainly to regulate body temperature but it is, in fact, extremely important to maintaining a proper level of vitamin D.  Most important, insufficient Vitamin D can slow growth, decrease reproductive success and even cause death. Birds need sunshine for the same reasons as reptiles but in birds sunshine has the added benefit of promoting a healthy plumage as well.

Guinea Pigs

 

Cavia porcellus, better known as the Guinea Pig is a South American Rodent that has been domesticated for around 3,000 years.  They are used primarily for food in South America but are beloved as pets here in North America.  Guinea pigs are generally easy to handle, non-aggressive, come in a variety of coat types and colors and are a favorite small companion for children of all ages.

Guinea pigs live an average of 5 – 8 years.  Thick bodied with short limbs they can weigh anywhere from 700 to 1200 grams. Pigs are a social animal and prefer to have a housemate.  Females become sexually mature at the tender age of 6 weeks of age so if you have a mixed group, neuter your male. Gestation is about 4 weeks. Guinea pigs produce “precocious” young who are eating solid foods within 5 days of birth.  One important thing to know is that if females do not give birth before 6 months of age their pubic symphysis will mineralize rendering them unable to deliver a baby.

Guinea pigs can be kept in a wire cage with a solid bottom and shredded paper bedding.  Avoid wire bottom cages since they can cause injuries and other foot problems. The same goes for aromatic shavings which cause skin irritation and respiratory problems. Guinea pigs prefer to have a hiding place or hutch for privacy and an exercise area. Do not use an exercise ball. They are not climbers and do not need a cage top.  Just make certain that the sides are high enough to keep them in.  As their name suggests, Guinea pigs can be quite messy and should have their enclosure and feed dishes cleaned frequently. One final point to remember is that these mountain dwellers do not tolerate high temperatures or humidity.  Try to keep temperatures between 61 to 75 degrees.  Anything above 80 degrees can cause heat stroke.

Guinea pigs are vegetarians and need a diet comprised primarily of timothy hay, a commercial pelleted feed with added vitamin C and fresh vegetables such as dandelions, parsley and kale.  A small amount of fresh fruit is OK but only as a treat. Guinea pigs cannot synthesize vitamin C so great care must be taken to ensure that they receive an adequate (10mg/kg/day) amount in their feed.  Vitamin C tablets are also available.

The most common problem we see in Guinea pigs at the Animal Family is dental disease caused by malocclusion of the molars.  If your pig is not eating well or simply looks poor it is important to have the teeth checked. 

Guinea pigs are very sensitive to changes in diet and environment.  Because of this, they are prone to GI problems due to an over growth of “bad bacteria”.  Use of the wrong type of antibiotic can also cause GI problems in pigs.  Signs may include bloating, diarrhea and loss of condition.

We see urinary calculi and bladder infections more than we would like too.  It is more common in pigs on a high calcium diet like alfalfa, but some may simply be genetically predisposed to developing urinary tract problems. Signs may include, frequent urination, straining to urinate, blood in the urine and vocalizing while urinating.

Their small lungs and sensitivity to Bordatella bacteria make pneumonia a particular problem for Guinea pigs.  Stress, exposure to dogs and other Bordatella carriers and poor ventilation can all cause disease.  Signs include nasal discharge, sneezing, rapid respiration and lethargy.  Severe cases can cause death.

Bumble foot or Pododermatitis is seen in animals kept on wire flooring.  This problem can be quite severe if it goes untreated.  Swelling, ulceration and secondary infection can render your pig unable to bear weight.  If your pet develops this problem even though you have proper flooring, you may need to check your source of Vitamin C. 

Mites and ringworm are another common problem of Guinea pigs. You may see intense itching and hair loss.  The good news is both are also easily treated. Your pig will love for helping him with these nasty critters.

Our blog is only meant to be an introduction to Guinea pigs. More information is available through your veterinarian, the library or on-line.

Beware the Perils of Fall

Wow!  We are already well into August.  As hard as it is to believe, fall is on the way. The cooler temperatures and beautiful foliage remind us that we need to start preparing for the coming winter.  But beware; fall can also bring new hazards for our pets. Check our list below to make certain your faithful friend doesn’t fall prey to one of the many hazards of autumn.

  • Rodenticides: Cooler weather usually sends mice looking for a warm place to spend the winter.  If you battle infestation of these pests with rodenticides make sure they are placed where your pet can’t reach them.  If you even suspect accidental ingestion, call your vet right away.  These products are deadly to more than just mice.
  • Antifreeze: We are all familiar with the fall ritual of adding antifreeze to the car radiator.  This sweet and tasty product is deadly to pets and children.  Keep it far away from both.  While you’re at it, call or write the manufacturer and ask for noxious flavoring to be added to antifreeze.
  • Black Widow and Brown Recluse Spiders: Be careful not to bring these poisonous spiders in with your fall fire wood.  They both like to hide away in wood piles and other undisturbed places.  Neither is aggressive but could bite if frightened.
  • Fall Berries: Make sure to find out which berry producing plants in your yard are pet and child safe.  Just because birds eat them doesn’t make them OK for your pet.  Check out Poisonous Plants of the Midwest for more information.
  • Lawn Chemicals: If you like to fertilize your lawn in the fall please make sure to follow directions on how long to keep your pet off the grass after application. Many lawn chemicals can be a hazard to both pets and their people.
  • Halloween: Halloween is a dangerous time for pets.  All the strange goblins roaming your neighborhood can be scary.  This is also a time when pranks can get out of hand and loose pets injured.  Keep them safely locked indoors.  This goes double if you own a black cat.  Finally, keep your pet safe from the treats your little ghoulies bring home.  Chocolate and Xylitol sweetened treats are toxic to pets.
  • Thanksgiving: Ah, the fatty treats and turkey bones of Thanksgiving keep veterinary offices humming through the holiday. Don’t let a bad case of pancreatitis be your memory of this year’s Thanksgiving holiday.
  • Fleas: YES!  This is the worst time of year for these nasty critters!  Don’t stop using protection just because the nights are cooler.
  • Arthritis: Cooler weather is hard on old bones and joints.  Keep an eye on your pet.  They may require medication changes or chiropractic care as the temperatures drop.