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Euthanasia :   Greek translation “eu” =goodly or well 

                                                                          “thanatos”=death          

   THE GOOD DEATH

     Dr. Leslie Ross, D.V.M. B.Sc.

 

 

             While I was in the process of planning the format and content of this article I soon realized that I would need to change my plan of a detached academic approach to a more personal discussion because the process of euthanasia is a personal and unique experience for all parties involved including the grieving family members, the participating veterinarian and in many cases associated animal care assistants. Therefore, I wish to acknowledge that I will be expressing my own views regarding this very emotional experience and presenting my own opinions, which I am comfortable to admit, may not match with some other pet owner’s views.  

     The procedure of pet euthanasia applies specifically to a veterinarian inducing the death of a pet with a lethal injection to a patient who is suffering unrelievably. The personal experience of pet euthanasia is almost invariably a difficult issue for people to confront and often involves a flood of emotions including fear, guilt, and grief yet, it is a necessary experience we must all be ready to face whenever we make a lifetime commitment to a companion animal.

 

     Although it can never be an uncomplicated experience to undergo, if one is as informed and prepared as possible it can make it a little easier to deal with the experience when the time finally arrives.  This can be accomplished by talking to all involved family members and your veterinarian about the process long before the time actually is upon you. These discussions should involve the making of key decisions ahead of time regarding final proceedings such as when, where, and how they will proceed.   Even if these decisions are changed at the time of action, it allows for a calmer, often more rational choice while your pet is still with you rather than having to make them in the middle of a crisis where snap decisions may be regretted later. 

 Of all the decisions that need to be taken into consideration regarding euthanasia, most frequently the hardest one to make is when to accept that it is time. Of course, there is no one correct answer to this very difficult question since it is so much an individual and personal decision to make.  However common signs of prolonged, severe unrelenting suffering and pain can alert caregivers wrestling with this problem to consider euthanasia as the final act of kindness. Some questions caregivers can ask themselves are:  has he or she stopped eating, drinking or is he panting almost continuously, pacing endlessly, whining anxiously or crying especially at night? How about his overall daily existence? Is he or she enjoying any part of his day-to-day experience or are his good days rare or even absent?

 

   Of course for any signs of serious health concerns such as the above and also such as falling, seizures, urinary or fecal incontinence, obsessive foreleg licking or licking of open non-healing sores, it is best to consult with your veterinarian to benefit from his or her professional guidance. Your veterinarian is an informed source of medical knowledge about disease and organ failure and is best able to assess and assist you from a wider perspective. In a considerable number of cases, the signs of illness mentioned above may be treatable and if treatments are implemented may significantly improve a suffering pet’s quality of life. The assumption that these signs are common and expected as signs of “getting old” can in fact miss the opportunity to alleviate some health problems resulting in a sustained improvement of a pet’s quality of life.   A good example of a common problem in older dogs is anxiety. It is important to note that prolonged anxiety is a form of emotional pain that can be worse than any physical pain in animals. A common cause in older animals is arthritic pain.  Currently there are many safe and effective medications available to treat pets suffering from degenerative joint disease allowing for a much more comfortable and active lifestyle for them in their twilight years.

      For many people, some additional preparatory steps prior to decision day and to make the day a little less stressful include:

Understanding how the procedure of euthanasia is actually performed. Your veterinarian can explain this to you in simple or more complex terms depending on your needs.                                                                    

 Deciding ahead of time whether your family members wish to be present in the room with your pet as your veterinarian performs this procedure, in the waiting room to view your pet later, or perhaps not present at all.    

 3) Another consideration may be directed towards the thought of arranging for a   housecall visit so that your pet can pass away in his familiar surroundings that he has come to know so well.

 

      Still other questions to ask yourself and other involved parties include the discussion of aftercare of your pet’s remains.  Options include burial, cremation, home burial (of course municipal restrictions must be adhered to with this option) and even orchestrated elaborate funerals, which may include a eulogy, ceremony and hymns. Additionally, many people may wish to acquire treasured keepsakes from their pet such as paw prints, nose prints or snippets of a beloved pet’s hair.

    

 

 

In general, unfortunately, a pet does not “let you know” when you need to let him or her go because an animal’s nature is to accept pain and suffering as it comes. Of course, if Mother Nature has her way, suffering animals detach themselves from their world by retreating to a “safe “resting place and suspend themselves from the daily activities necessary to maintain their life but unfortunately, this process of dying is generally protracted and at times, dreadfully painful.  Animals very rarely die peacefully in their sleep during their shutdown of body systems. Of course, for wild creatures, Mother Nature often mercifully provides the release of suffering much faster for these animals, generally by predators or the elements.

 

    On occasion, for religious, cultural or personal reasons some people prefer to not end their pet’s life but rather to allow for a peaceful passing at home.  It is very important that these animals be provided with pain management and veterinary supervision as well as intensive nursing and hygiene care until the final active stage of dying occurs.

 

   When a pet’s life declines to a very low point, a gift of rest by euthanasia may be the last act of compassion that can be offered by a loving caregiver, as difficult as it will be to say goodbye. In my experience I have found it useful to suggest as a visual aid, a diary of sorts, using colored marbles in a jar. A certain color can represent a good day and an opposing color a poor-quality day (or night).  When the number of bad- day marbles out numbers the good- day marbles, it is time.

     As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the process of euthanasia is one that is a personal and unique experience for all involved parties, which includes as a group the grieving family members, all involved animal care assistants, and the participating veterinarian. Every situation is different, involving in many cases intense emotions.

 

     Veterinarians, as a group, along with the intensity of the euthanasia experience itself, must form and be guided by personal decisions regarding certain aspects of euthanasia. These personal decisions are based on past experiences, upbringing and personality factors as well as individual circumstances. Convenience euthanasia’s and euthanasia of aggressive animals are two examples of difficult circumstances requiring individual decisions. Further, even opinions such as, for example, whether young children should observe euthanasia’s are open to debate even within the veterinary profession.  Although there can be a few exceptions to my own customary views, I am in general opposed to convenience euthanasia’s but in support of euthanasia of aggressive animals that for no apparent health or other reason cause physical harm to humans or other animals. I also, for the most part do not encourage the attendance of young children in the euthanasia room or, of them seeing the deceased pet afterwards. The main reason I have for this is that if the euthanasia is not extremely smooth the child might be more upset the next time when another pet is declining in health and experience additional emotional stress due to this previously negative experience.

      I am in favor of being very honest with children of all ages.  I have found that kids are often capable of accepting death quite well, especially when they are led to understand that they don’t want their friend to be forever sick and in unrelenting pain. I also believe it is important to not describe euthanasia to children as “putting him to sleep” since this can invoke in sensitive young children a parallel fear of their own sleeping behavior.

     From a strictly emotional standpoint, and one that is essentially universal amongst veterinarians, some euthanasia experiences are much more stressful than others, especially over festive holiday times.  In my own experience, I find that euthanizing old pets owned by very old, single caregivers to be quite difficult. (I tend to watch them driving away with tear-streaked faces and imagine them heading back to an very quiet home with no tail wagging welcome to be experienced.) Also stressful for veterinarians and involved staff-members is euthanasia of long-time patients or pets that they may have formed a strong bond with over the years, to the extent that they themselves need to grieve, talk out their feelings, and on some occasions, get additional professional support.  

     The euthanasia process for all involved parties is one of intense emotions for all. I find without exception my own sub-conscious coping mechanism is to take a big breath entering a euthanasia room and to release a big sigh after the act is completed.  I sincerely hope it will never get any easier for me as more years pass by. 

 

 

 

Note:  an excellent website that I would like to reference for interested readers wishing to know more about this subject is:

http://www.specialneedspets.org/euthanasia.htm


 

 

        FOOD ALLERGIES IN DOGS AND CATS…MORE COMMON THAN YOU  MIGHT THINK!          

                      By Dr. Leslie Ross   D.V.M, B.Sc.

     Food allergies in pets are more common than most people think. In fact, about one in ten of all allergies seen in cats and dogs can be attributed to food allergies.  

 Signs of food allergies can occur at any age in a pet’ s life, with the first signs often starting before the pet is one year of age. In most cases the offending food substance was fed for quite a substantial period prior to when symptoms begin.

      It has been my experience that the owners of pets that have been receiving a single type of food for long periods of time are often the hardest to convince that a food allergy may be involved when their cat or dog is experiencing skin or digestive problems.  Quite understandably, the commonest two responses that I receive from clients when I bring up this subject during my examination of their dog or cat are either incredulous statements along the lines of: What! But I have been feeding Sheba (insert pet food type here) for years!  How can it be possible that she has only now become allergic to beef?  The second most common reaction is for clients to attempt to dispel my suggestion of a potential food allergy by earnestly describing their choice of pet food, which generally does seem to be a very good quality food. In general, both of these reactions are very understandable.  In fact, I have come expect these responses and am always prepared to explain that food allergies in general are associated with a priming (sensitizing) process of the pet’s immune system and as such, take time to develop.  In response to the second reaction, I try to make it clear that a food allergy is not to be correlated with a poor quality diet, but a diet with ingredients that may not sit well with an individual pet.  

    In people, the most common foods that cause allergic reactions are shellfish, nuts, eggs, milk, tomatoes and strawberries. In dogs the most common foods causing hypersensitivity reactions are beef, dairy, wheat, egg and chicken. In cats the most common food allergens are to beef, dairy, and fish.  About 50% of food allergic animals are allergic to more than one food item.
 

      There is definitely a genetic aspect associated with food allergies. Although any breed or cross-breed can be affected, certain breeds such as Boxers, Cocker spaniels, German shepherds, Shar peis, Westies and Wheaten terriers are over-represented from the general dog population for the development of food allergies. Current studies seems to indicate that inherited abnormalities in normal digestive system defense mechanisms predispose certain pets to food allergies.

 

      At this point in my discussion, I would like to clarify the difference between food allergies and food intolerances. Although similar in some ways, food intolerances are caused by different mechanisms and, unlike food allergies, do not involve the immune system. Milk sugar intolerance in some cats and wheat gluten sensitivities in people are two good examples of food intolerances.  Food intolerances are typically associated with an inherited enzyme deficiency that is usually apparent at birth.

 

      Flea-free cats and dogs that are often itchy, no matter what the season, often have underlying food allergies.  In fact, up to 57% of cases of itching and scratching in cats can be attributed to food allergies. More often than not, the itching and subsequent self- scratching involves the face and ears of cats. In dogs, their itching is often more non-specific in location and can involve their faces, ears, paws and rears. Keeping this in mind, behaviors such as head-shaking, ear-rubbing along carpets, foot-licking, and scooting all suggest some variety of allergy, including a food allergy, and warrant pursuit of this possibility as the underlying cause. In both cats and dogs, secondary skin and ear infections can often result from their constant scratching and these will worsen their miserable state of itchiness.  In other cases, digestive disturbances such as persistent diarrhea, vomiting, frequent bowel movements or excessive gas production are sometimes the most noticeable clinical signs associated with food allergies.       

  

 
 Diagnosis of food allergies in pets, unlike the case with people, cannot be accomplished by any kind of blood test that is currently available. So, for pets suspected of having a food allergy to a currently fed food, it makes much more sense and costs much less in the long run for owners to spend their money on a specially formulated trial diet that can be both diagnostic and potentially therapeutic rather than on rather valueless blood tests.

     

     A noticeable response to a dietary trial followed by the return of clinical signs when the offending food source is reintroduced remains the most effective method for diagnosis and management of pets with suspected food allergies or intolerances.  In simpler terms, if the itch goes away during the hypoallergenic food feeding trial, and if systematically single foods are re-introduced one by one, then a list of foods to avoid can be compiled. Eventually, one can usually get the pet back on a commercial diet that fills the necessary requirements. The commonest duration of the food trial recommended by most skin specialists is a minimum of two months.  I like to emphasize this point to pet-owners since sufficient time is necessary to properly interpret the benefit of the trial, especially for those pets with a well-established ear or skin disease. I also like to have owners remember to start counting this time interval past the duration of time when any medications are being administered to avoid benefit being attributed to the food when in fact it is due to the medication.  Also of great importance is to be sure that all other snack foods, treats, table scraps, rawhides, milk bones, pill pockets, flavor enhancers, joint supplements and fish oils are avoided during this treatment period.  Rawhide bones, nylon toys and pig’s ears also must be avoided.   Dogs that live with cats must also be denied access to kitty litter boxes and the cat’s food.   For variety, since most owners tend to feel badly about so much restriction of rewards, it is quite acceptable to offer the pet fresh or frozen green beans, carrots, slices of baked potato, baked tater tots, baked slices of the hypoallergenic canned food, or specially formulated hypoallergenic treats


     Now, let’s discuss the trial diet itself.

 

     The ideal trial diet should contain a limited number of novel, highly digestible proteins or specially processed proteins, and at the same time be nutritionally adequate for the pet.   Most veterinary clinics have in stock, or can order in a variety of specially formulated hypoallergenic diets. Making the choice of a novel protein food can be a little tricky. Your veterinarian can help you with this. It is important to obtain a thorough history on the main protein source of previously fed foods to select an appropriate exclusion diet. A variety of rather unusual protein sources are available to choose from, including duck, venison, and rabbit to mention a few. (A rabbit and pea formulation is a good choice for cats in my experience, although not all cats enjoy its taste.)

 

 
  If a suspected food allergic pet doesn’t enjoy any of the flavors from these specially formulated diets then home made diets can be acceptable as initial test diets.  However, if this option is chosen, it is important to consult with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure that the diet is complete and balanced, even more so if this is planned as a long-term maintenance diet. An online website, (http://www. balanceit.com,) is a good source of information regarding homemade diet analysis for those folks wishing to pursue this approach.  Even vegetarian diets can be considered for food allergy trials for dogs, but only if the dog is not allergic to vegetable proteins!  

 

   The selection of novel protein sources commercially is becoming more narrowed all the time because what used to be a rare protein source such as fish, duck or venison is now much more commonly available, either as single sources or sometimes even in various combinations. 

 

     It is important to be aware that, unfortunately, not all commercially available limited or novel protein diets are created equal. In fact, it was presented at a fairly recent North American Dermatology Forum that a study showed a large amount of cross contamination of proteins in many of the available over-the counter novel protein diets. This is believed to be because multiple diets are produced on the same line in most of these plants. Pet food companies are also allowed to change ingredients without changing the label under the six-month substitution rule. So, if an ingredient is temporarily unavailable they can use something else without mentioning it on the label. Of course, even if an ingredient isn't listed on the label, a company with lax standards or quality control may end up including trace amounts of foreign protein into their “novel protein” or hypoallergenic diet. 


    So, what is one has to do when trying to decide on an over-the-counter diet for food- allergic animals really amounts to trial-and-error.
 
 
    As I approach the conclusion of this subject, I feel it is worth mentioning that
 
ongoing validity studies are being conducted on a saliva test developed by Dr Jean Dodds at Hemopet to identify food sensitivity and food intolerance in dogs.  Unfortunately, so far at least, the general consensus by researchers is that continued investigation and refinement of the test is necessary prior to practical use.  Probiotics are also being studied to determine if alteration of the gut-flora of these pet-allergic pets may help with their gastrointestinal defense capabilities.

 

     Ultimately, it sure would be a huge stride forward if we could find some way to more accurately identify the foods to be avoided in these food-sensitive pets rather than focus on those food substances less likely to be reactive to them.

LILY PLANT ALERT ! by Dr. Leslie Ross

 

 

                               Colorful, fragrant and showy lilies brighten our world and help most people feel a sense of comfort and well being the whole year around.    The Easter lily or the trumpet lily is a particularly popular plant at Easter. Its beautiful trumpet-shaped blossoms symbolize purity, hope, and life, the spiritual essence of Easter and all the promises of spring. Very unfortunately, when parts of these plants are consumed by cats,  these popular plants can shorten the life of the hapless kitty to days. Similarily, as  daylilies and Tiger lilies pop up in many gardens in the ensuing summer months. these too, can  be exceedingly toxic to cats.

 

 

     Statistically speaking, most lily toxicity cases occur indoors. It is a sad fact that very young cats are often the victims of lily poisoning even despite conscientious efforts by many owners to keep their  inquisitive creatures away from the  house lilies. These kittens are often attracted to floral arrangements or newly acquired plants, because they are a fresh feature in an otherwise very familiar environment.  In the course of investigating of  the flower arrangement or lily,  the cat may play with and sometimes chew parts of the plant.

 

     It is unsafe to assume that only younger cats are at risk. For yet-to-be-explained reasons, cats in general are strongly attracted to the taste of lilies; to such an extent that they may ignore all the non-toxic plants in a bouquet and only eat the lily! Cats of almost any age can push doors open or jump up to areas owners thought were inaccessible to get to these plants. This activity can easily go unnoticed by owners, or may occur while the cat is alone at home. If outdoors, even for a short period of time. Cats who may have access to gardens are at risk of poisoning as well.  Poisoning can occur even  if plant pieces are not actually eaten but also possibly from the kitty just  rubbing up against the plant and then later  ingesting lily pollen during a self-cleaning session. Even a cat with a minor exposure, such as would occur with the biting of  a leaf or with getting lily pollen on his or her whiskers or hair coat can suffer some very serious consequences!

 

The substance in poisonous lilies that injures the kidneys has not been identified, but all parts of the lily are poisonous – flowers, stamen, stem, leaves and roots. The toxic dose is also unknown, but ingestion or even in some cases; just mouthing of very small amounts of plant material can result in a tragic outcome.

 

Cats seem to be unique amongst domestic pets in their susceptibility to this intoxication, possibly due to differences in their metabolism. (For the same sort of reason, cats also can be easily poisoned by human medications such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, Tylenol and aspirin, and these too are lethal for cats in doses that would be safe for humans). Interestingly, dogs that consume large amounts of the lily plant toxin develop only mild gastrointestinal signs, while rabbits show no signs of toxicity at all.

 

The two main plant species of concern causing poisoning in cats belong to the Liilium and Hemerocallis groups. Included in these species are Stargazers, tiger lilies and daylilies. Lily of the valley is not a true lily, but it is  still a toxic plant for a different reason. This plant contains digitalis, a heart stimulant chemical similar to a chemical found in foxglove. Peace lilies are also not true lilies and although they contain calcium oxalate crystals that can cause mouth lesions, they are not likely to cause more serious problems then this.

 

    Even if exposure is not certain, a cat that seems suddenly not well that is suspected to have had recent access to a toxic plant should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. The first signs of toxicity are vomiting, depression and loss of appetite. These signs usually occur within 2 hours, and may settle down after another 12 hours. Although an affected cat is likely to remain depressed, the poor victim may appear to improve briefly as the vomiting episodes diminish, with or without  treatment . It is likely, however, that painful kidney failure will develop soon after resulting in the cat becoming critically ill within one to three days . At this time the stricken cat may drink much more than usual. If left untreated, cats usually die in 3 to 7 days.

 

     Cats treated within 18 hours of exposure to lilies frequently can be saved. Treatments generally include aggressive intravenous fluid therapy (sometimes for days), and  medically inducing vomiting if the actual time of ingestion of the toxin is known to be recent and if the stricken kitty hasn’t already vomited.  Additionally at times, these patients ae given activated charcoal orally, and sometimes  enemas to purge their bodies  of the toxin. More severe cases may require abdominal organ washes and treatments of up to 14 days to allow the cat’s damaged kidney tissue to regenerate. Quick decisions by cat owners to seek veterinary care result in a much more positive outcome in most cases of lily plant poisoning.

 

 

     Common scenariios that  can lead to a death sentence for an innocent cat can occur when  live lilies or fresh cut lily bouquets are received as a gift, purchased for the home, purchased as a gift for another person, or even if one is plant-sitting for a friend/neighbor at the cat’s home.  Since the vast majority of decorative lily plants and bouquets are purchased at Easter from non-florists such as grocery and department stores it is important for the word to get out to the general population that lilies have to be kept away from cats!

 

     As briefly described above, the treatment for lily intoxication is intensive and expensive, typically involving aggressive treatments and hospitalization for several days. Generally, the financial burden is high and even with the most diligent therapy; a successful outcome is not assured. Very unfortunately, sometimes the only option left is euthanasia as a final act of compassion.

 

     Summing up, it is in the interests of cat owners and cat lovers worldwide to make the danger of lily ingestion WELL KNOWN in their communities. If someone you know is sending flowers to relatives and friends for the spring holidays (or any time of year), make sure that they specifically request "no lilies" in the bouquets or arrangements that are going to homes with cats. Most on-line floral delivery services have the option of making special requests to allow exclusion of lilies from a delivery of flowers to a cat owner’s home. It is easy to see that prevention is much better than attempted cure.

 

 

   On occasion, every one of us has experienced lazy or bored days.  Similarly, many animals and pet birds can experience days when  they lack motivation and drive. Generally, these sessions of time are short-lived and of no particular health concern.  Often they are associated with the weather, season, or lack of environmental stimulation.    However, it is important to not equate these quiet times with true depression, which is a natural emotion shared by a surprising range of living creatures, including dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, mice and rats.  Typical signs of depression in dogs, cats as well as with companion birds include extended periods of sluggishness, excessive sleepiness, changes of personality, a dulling of appetite, and, on occasion, weight loss.

 

          Two common causes of emotional depression in cats and dogs are associated with either the loss of an attentive owner or the loss of a companion animal that the depressed pet was closely bonded to.   Other causes of “the blues” include the experience of a severe trauma such as an injury or attack by another dog or, the influence of extended periods of bad weather interfering with the need of fit, active animals to “let off steam ” outdoors.   

 

      “ A lot of what passes for depression these days is nothing more than a body saying that it needs work.”  Geoffrey Norman

 

    Of course, it is very important to not overlook the possibility that a seemingly emotionally depressed animal with changed behavior actually has developed a medical condition that needs to be addressed.  For example, arthritis in dogs can cause inactivity and apparent lethargy; especially in the winter months, and hyperthyroidism in cats can cause night restlessness and vocalization.  Therefore, it is very wise for an owner to have a pet that appears to be quiet or “in a funk” for more that a day or two to be examined by his or her veterinarian.

 

      Even if one’s pet is healthy, it may be experiencing cyclic influences that are causing the changed behavior. This especially applies to unsprayed female pets.   For example, hormonal influences such as those that occur during heat seasons, pregnancy and the birthing process can cause an increased tendency towards anxiety and appetite changes or in some cases, extreme behaviors such as cannibalism of kittens by queens or savaging of pups by mother dogs. Again, your veterinarian will be able to explain to you these hormonal influences and prepare you to assist your companion pet during these periods of ups and downs.

 

       Medication effects can mimic signs of emotional depression, either from direct side effects, or indirectly due to their effect on the metabolism of other drugs.  Generally, these effects are mild and resolve over time or with appropriate dosage adjustments.

 

           Owners unfamiliar with a breed of pet may assume erroneously that their pet is experiencing emotional depression when actually, it is just displaying a normal behavior for the breed, for example, Italian Grey Hounds and Whippets often like to “dive under the covers” and hide, particularly during cold weather and often for longer periods of time as the get older. 

 

               Whenever pets, especially dogs and cats, experience a sudden change, it can be a large emotional hurdle for the pet.  Some examples of stressful changes could come in the form of an addition to the family such as a new dog cat, baby or human room-mate, by an outside event such as if the neighbor moves away with their dog, or if there is a cancellation of a care-giver’s previous walk routine.   Emotional depression occurring after the loss of a caregiver or the loss of a companion animal or bird is a real experience for many pets.  This kind of emotional depression is backed up by numerous research studies. Sometimes this mourning period is short-lived, other times it can go on for months depending on how sensitive the pet is and also how capable it is at adjusting to a new routine.

 

      To best understand and assist an emotionally depressed pet it is important to not allow one’s interpretation of the animal’s emotional state to be influenced by a natural tendency to attribute human thinking patterns to those of animals In general, the consensus by animal behaviorists is that pets think in the present and leave their past in the past.  Also, they do not tend to dwell on negative thoughts. However, whenever pets experience a sudden change, they certainly can be influenced to varying degrees, especially if it involves the loss of an owner or companion.  Of course, because animals can’t speak about their feelings, we can only surmise that they actually do mourn the loss of their cherished companion. Most animal behaviorists and veterinarians, including myself, do believe that animals actually mourn.  (It is worth noting, as an aside, that a study by the University of Portsmouth has shown that emotions like pride, embarrassment, shame and jealousy have all been observed in dogs and other domesticated animals such as cats, horses, rabbits and hamsters). Other explanations for the depression include the fact that whenever pets experience a sudden change, it upsets the balance in their lives influencing their behavior until they re-adjust. For example, some forms of apparent behavioral change after loss of a companion pet may actually be associated with the loss of a younger animal that was the “eyes and ears” for the older one, or that was the usual  instigator of playful activities.

 

         To assist an emotionally depressed pet it is beneficial to try to establish as soon as possible a regular routine of exercise and mealtimes.  Increased consistent interaction with the pet is often of value, such as sitting on a cushion on the floor with a dog or cat as one watches TV to be at his or her level, and regular more frequent brushing.  Often it can help to start a new game with lots of positive food rewards as an incentive.  Even cats will appreciate this kind of interaction, which may involve laser lights and clicker training, again with tasty treats as a reward at the end of the game. For dogs experiencing the loss of a companion pet, acquiring a new dog or signing him up for doggie daycare may be the best approach. Of course, if one is considering acquiring a new dog, it is important to ensure compatibility with the new companion at the outset to avoid double trouble!

 

    As mentioned above, like cats and dogs, pet birds and rabbits can experience feelings of depression too.  Feather picking and other forms of self-trauma behavior are common signs of a stressed bird. Most commonly these actions are associated with a lack of environmental stimulation and exercise. Three simple measures that often can help a stressed bird to regain its normally more alert and (hopefully) naturally cheerful nature include: rearranging of the “interior decorations” of the bird’s cage, provision of new, interesting toys, and increased playful interactions of the owner with the bird. Again, it is very important to ensure at the outset that there is not an underlying medical condition causing these signs since birds can easily fall ill without much warning.  Depressed rabbits often respond well to increased interactions with their owners and also to provision of more exercise. Access to good-quality local hay on a 24-7 basis also helps them stay healthy as well as busy.  In my practice, I make it a standard policy to emphasize to rabbit owners the importance of decreasing pelleted rations and increasing hay rations to their rabbits to benefit their dental and digestive health as well as their pet’s mental state.

 

       For prolonged depression, sometimes mood-altering medications are the most effective approach. Dogs, cats and even pet birds often respond quite dramatically to prescription medications such as Valium and Prozac.  Although much less potent, but still often effective in milder cases of depression are botanical extracts such as St. Johns Wort, lavender and Harmonease and nutritional supplements such as tryptophan and Anxitene. It is important to consult with your veterinarian before any of these herbal extract products mentioned above are considered since some of them can cause adverse interactions when used in inappropriate combinations with each other.

 

 

       It is commonly known that pets provide comfort and even health benefits to seniors and in fact, to people of all ages. They are loyal and offer us unconditional love and acceptance.   It seems the least that we can do, along with caring for their physical health, that we care about their emotional health as well. Although there is no “ cookie-cutter” approach to treating depression in animals due to the variety of causes, once medical causes are ruled out, direct and rewarding positive interactions of the owner with the pet along with a quickly re-established routine of care will often be just what the doctor ordered!

 

 

   By Dr. Leslie Ross D.V.M. BSc.

 

 

      The practice of declawing of cats is a controversial surgical procedure that many people consider to be inhumane and cruel.  In fact this procedure is ruled to be illegal in many European countries except if it is performed for obviously justifiable medical reasons. By far the commonest reason why cat-owners feel the need to request this procedure is because of furniture damage caused by their cat’s sharp claws. Less commonly, they may request it as a safety measure to protect their children from being scratched or as an occupancy requirement of a shared residence. Surgical declawing is not a medically necessary procedure in most cases although there are exceptions such as with cats that have experienced nail injuries resulting in deformed claws that 

  Snag   or painfully penetrate into their pads. 

   

      Although it is normal for cats to scratch things to establish their  “property rights” as well as to condition their claws, this activity can destroy the bond between an owner and pet cat. Also, many cats, especially young ones, have a tendency to play rough, scratching their owners or other pets in play, sometimes causing significant injury. A declaw surgery can provide a permanent answer to these problems.    In this discussion I will discuss the basic pros and cons associated with this procedure and also offer some practical alternatives and then conclude with my own opinion concerning this practice.

 

      To understand the implications of this surgical procedure it is important to be aware of what is involved.  Declawing surgery involves the removal of a cat’s nails by amputation at the lost knuckle joint of each of the digits of the cat’s paws.  It is also important to understand that this procedure involves the amputation of not just the cat’s claws, but the whole first bone of his or her digit up to the first joint including bones, ligaments, nerves and tendons. A rather graphic comparison in human terms would be the cutting off of a person’s finger at the last joint of each finger. Generally surgeons declaw only the front paws of cats although there are some cases where a surgeon will declaw all four feet.      Different vets use different cutting tools to perform this procedure based on their personal preference.  The three commonest surgical instruments used are a guillotine-type sterile nail-trimmer, a scalpel or a laser. Laser surgery is the most recent technology used to perform declaws. In experienced hands this technique has some advantages however, burning of tissue and delayed healing are more likely with a less experienced user. The extra expense of laser declaws can also be a deterrent.   No particular technique is superior to the other as far as anyone has been able to conclusively demonstrate.  However, No matter what technique is employed, this procedure always causes pain and the rate of complication is relatively high compared with other so-called routine procedures.  Some of the more common complications include excessive bleeding of the paws, infection and variable periods of lameness. In general, all declawed cats are lame for a while. Some cats show varying degrees of lameness after this operation that can last for weeks or even months, depending on how much they careen around the house.

 

     Occasionally, as an alternative surgery to declawing, a procedure called a tendonectomy is offered by some vets.  Since the incisions needed for this procedure are small, the recovery is minimal, which can be a real asset for older cats.  The downside of this less-invasive procedure is that the tendonectomy patient will require life-long regular nail clipping because his claws will continue to grow despite the surgery. If very regular nail trimming is not accomplished, and because the cat can no longer make grasping motions after this surgery, his claws will naturally grow in a circular manner into the footpads causing pain and infection.  Also, it is important to be aware that a few surgical tendonectomies can fail and the patient may regain his ability to extend his claws.

 

     Quite understandably, despite the complication rate of surgical intervention, many owners resign themselves to a surgical solution rather than having to rely on alternatives such as stacked mousetraps set up upside down against their living room furniture, upholstering with aluminum foil, or decorating sofas and chairs with balloons, motion detector booby traps and the like to deter their cats away. However, there are practical alternatives that can be a very effective means to deal with this very normal feline behavior. 

 

     Cats scratch for three main reasons:  to mark their territory visually and by leaving their scent, to remove any frayed nail husks that they may have acquired that day and thirdly, to allow for plain-old pleasurable body stretching.  Fortunately, scratching posts, elaborate indoors “trees” and scratching boards are widely available at a host of pet supply retail outlets that can provide a great solution to this very common problem. These alternatives can create a harmonious existence between family members and cats that need their daily scratch-stretch fix.  However, it is important to be aware that almost without exception owners must spend some time training their cat to use the alternative scratch object.  The kitty needs to understand that it is allowed to scratch only certain things. Two simple ways to encourage attraction to this preferred object is by rubbing catnip on it or spritzing it with a little Feliway pheromone spray.  In most cases, verbal praise and brushing of the cat by the object when he or she shows interest can also be quite reinforcing.

 

    Often less expensive scratching objects can be used with equal effectiveness to store bought items. Most of the time the best policy is to simply observe your cat to see what he likes to scratch and climb and then give him something of his own that is very similar to these items in terms of height, type of surface, and location.   For example, small logs with the bark still attached, flattened cardboard, outdoor twined rope mud mats or carpet strips firmly attached to stationary objects can often suit a cat’s scratching requirements to a “T”. All of these objects need to be long enough to allow full body stretching, and be firmly anchored to provide necessary counter-force to sometimes quite vigorous scratching activities.  It is also very important fthat  these objects be easily accessible and fairly centrally located in a house since, as mentioned above, cats like to visually communicate to housemates by “showing-off ”their territorial rights.

    

It should be mentioned at this point that the simple act of trimming of your cats nails regularly can also help decrease furniture damage as well.

 

     Another affordable solution to destructive clawing is achieved by gluing blunt acrylic nail caps onto the front feet of a cat’s claws. These nail caps are produced under the trademark name of SOFT PAWS. ™ The principle is that the blunt nail cap will not be sharp enough to cause damage.  In most cases these work quite well although they do need to be replaced every 4 to 6 weeks as the cat’s nails grow out.  The most affordable approach when considering this option is for the owner to learn how to apply these at home after some coaching at a veterinary clinic.  One further point worth mentioning is that there are a few cats that despite being fitted with these caps are not in the least deterred from scratching and are able to scratch even larger holes in upholstery.

 

     There are a number of humane ways to effectively deter cats from scratching upholstery. One very obvious method is to close off areas or block off access to these areas. If this is not a viable option there are other methods as outlined below ranging from very basic to quite creative!

  

       Slip covers over top of furniture, although generally not esthetically as appealing as the underling furniture fabric, may help reduce the urge of a cat to scratch.  Similarly, double stick tape can be attached onto furniture to create an undesirable scratching area. Another trick that often works well is to spritz onto the preferred scratching areas citronella or citrus spays or even spray-on antiperspirants.

 

    Negative reinforcement sometimes is a necessary option but it is important that the cat not connect the punishment with the person administering it to avoid the cat learning to not scratch while that person is watching. Yelling, or shaking a can with pennies in it is not going to be as effective as a water squirt bottle but only if the cat does not see where the squirt comes from. It is also important to not continue spraying a cat caught in the act of scratching once it has stopped or it will not understand the punishment.  Stacked mousetraps set upside down and safely out of harm’s way can also be a creative solution to this problem. The added advantage is that this method is effective even when the owner’s are away.  Of course, it is very important that they be set in such a way that the kitty’s foot won’t be accidentally caught in the trap. 

 

     

      Even as an experienced veterinarian, I continue to find myself feeling conflicted about performing surgical declaws on cats.  I certainly am opposed to altering a cat, thereby causing the animal pain, just to fit an owner's lifestyle, sense of esthetics or to accommodate their convenience.  On the other hand, I am quite comfortable performing this procedure on a cat patient that has a medical problem such as an inherited digital defect or a digit deformity from an injury. Where I am most conflicted is with cases where it appears to be a last resort before euthanization or abandonment. In these cases I always endeavor to carefully explain the full procedure and provide to clients other options that they can try first before resorting to this painful, irreversible practice. I also like to inform clients that declawing does not stop chase, bite and hind leg clawing behaviors of the majority of cats and also that a declawed cat can still harm children if feeling provoked or threatened.  This especially applies to kittens, which are more claw -aggressive than older cats. Further, I always like to emphasize that a responsible person always should supervise cats and children together.

         

      As I approach the end of this article I would like to point out that for people interested in adopting a new kitten but already concerned about the risk of furniture damage it would be worthwhile to research cat breeds because some breeds are definitely less claw-aggressive than others.

    

     Finally, on a lighter note, a good client of mine, who owns three malti-poos and one very personable tabby cat called Max, informed me recently that one of his dogs has cheerfully and with due diligence assumed as his personal responsibility the task of controlling Max’s occasional attempts to scratch his owner's wicker furniture. Apparently, this little dog’s shrill bark- and-mock charge tacticS inevitably result in a discontented Max abandoning his plan and scrambling for the cat door!

 

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