Caring for Your Gerbil

Supplies
-Aquariums are better than cages because cages might have bars that gerbil feet can get caught in and break. A well-ventilated aquarium with a top that seals so your gerbil can’t push up on it and escape is best.
-Line the aquarium/cage with shredded paper (newspaper or paper towels) or recycled paper bedding (no shavings of any kind), with a mound in a corner – gerbils love to burrow!
-Gerbil/rodent pellets
-A wheel that is smooth-sided to prevent its feet or tail from getting caught and broken
-A water bottle that attaches to the side of the aquarium
-A tip-proof (weighted) bowl for food
-A safe wooden chew toy made specifically for gerbils
-Exercise ball

 

Finding the right veterinarian
-A veterinarian that treats “exotic pets” will be more comfortable with gerbils
-When you first get your pet, have your parent or guardian take it to a veterinarian for a check-up
-Your pet should see a veterinarian at least once a year and when you think it might be sick

 

Dangerous foods
-Salt
-High-sodium food
-High-sugar food
-High-carbohydrate food
-Nicotine
-Soil
-House plants
-Leaves or grass from your yard
-Food off your plate
-Do not add vitamins to their water
-Avoid too much dried fruit (it can lead to intestinal issues)
-Too much fruit or vegetables can lead to diarrhea in gerbils (water in, water out…)
-Yogurt drops and other advertised “treats” actually aren’t appropriate

 

Habitat
Gerbils thrive at room temperature, normally whatever is comfortable to humans. Gerbils are prone to overheating, so in a home without air conditioning, at least have fans blowing to circulate the air. If it’s extremely hot, surround the aquarium/cage with ice packs (or purchase a temperature-controlled one).

 

Handling your gerbil
It is very important that you never hold your gerbil by its tail, as it will break off. Gerbils can bite, so be careful to not surprise them – approach slowly and let them hear you coming. Cup them in the palm of your hand. The more you hold them, the more comfortable they will be with being held.

Gerbils are fast and small – you don’t want to lose them in your house! Be sure if you remove them from their aquarium/cage that it is in a secure room or an exercise ball and never leave him/her alone.

*Gerbils aren’t appropriate for small children because they can carry diseases like ringworm and will bite if handled roughly. Be sure to wash your hands after handling.

 

Multiple gerbils?
Gerbils are social in the wild. Since it can be dangerous to spay or neuter them because of their small size, select same sex gerbils and purchase them at the same time – introducing a new gerbil to one who has already become accustomed to their home will create problems. Females tend to be less aggressive than males. Note: the more animals that share an aquarium/cage, the more frequently it will need to be cleaned.

 

Routine care
-Daily
-Feed your gerbil a pellet diet as directed by the label. Note: a seed and nut diet is not a complete diet; only a pellet diet is complete.
-Supplement the diet with fresh vegetables such as leafy greens, lettuce, spinach or carrots (avoid high sugar fruit)
-Clean up leftovers before they spoil
-Be sure their water bottle is filled with fresh water
-Scoop up soiled bedding each day
-IMPORTANT NOTE: Gerbils have high metabolisms and can become hypoglycemic if they do not eat every day. If your gerbil appears lethargic or isn’t eating well, go to your veterinarian immediately.

 

Weekly
-Completely clean the aquarium/cage once a week with hot, soapy water.
-Yearly
-Take your gerbil to your veterinarian at least once a year, though twice a year is preferable because their life spans aren’t very long. Your veterinarian can also cut their nails at that time for you if you aren’t comfortable doing it.

 

Tip: Let your child know that gerbils may only live for a few years so that they aren’t overly shocked when their pet dies.

 

Information on caring for your pet gerbil provided by Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian), owner of Veterinary Center for Birds and Exotics in Bedford Hills, N.Y.

Zoonotic Diseases

In 64 million American households pets are a source of joy and perhaps even the key to longer, healthier lives. However, pet-owning households with young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems need to be aware that their animals can play host to disease-causing microorganisms.

Humans are not likely to catch a disease through their pets, but in very rare cases it can happen. Fortunately, most of these diseases rarely occur in healthy individuals, are mild and can be easily treated. Others, like toxoplasmosis, can be far more serious. Diseases transmitted from animals to humans are called zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic diseases usually live out their complex life cycles in animals, but sometimes cross into human bodies. Usually contracting a pet-borne disease requires very close contact with animals or their excretions, so zoonotic diseases can be avoided with common sense, cleanliness and regular pet examinations and vaccinations.

Children often put their hands in their mouths, providing an easy route for bacteria to travel into their bodies. For example, children who eat dirt are more susceptible to contracting zoonotic diseases. Children also are more susceptible to pet-borne illness because they carry fewer antibodies than adults do. The same holds true for puppies and kittens, making them more likely to carry disease than older dogs and cats.

Although the chances of getting a zoonotic disease from your pet are slim, these are some common pet-borne illnesses that can make people sick:

 

Salmonellosis
This bacteria generally makes its way into human bodies through contaminated food. The bacteria can be passed through animal feces and may cause symptoms like fever, vomiting, diarrhea and exhaustion.

 

Roundworms
Roundworm eggs and microscopic adult worms can be excreted in the feces of dogs and cats infected by the worms. Children may be at a higher risk for contracting roundworms because they play near pets or touch infected feces and put their hands into their mouths. Because of the risk to children, all cats and dogs should be taken to their veterinarians for regular fecal examinations. Also remember to cover all sandboxes when not in use to prevent children from contacting contaminated feces. Symptoms can include fever, cough, loss of appetite, weakness and lung congestion.

 

Cat Scratch Fever

This bacteria is usually transmitted from cats to humans through scratches. The bacteria is found on nails or claws and can cause high fever, loss of appetite, weakness and swollen lymph nodes. In otherwise healthy people, Cat Scratch Fever is usually mild and resolves itself. However, the bacteria caused by Cat Scratch Fever can be extremely dangerous or even fatal if left untreated in immune-compromised individuals. It’s important for these pet owners to tell their doctors they own a cat. Young children should be sure to wash scratches thoroughly with soap and water.

 

Strep Throat
Though your pet is probably not the culprit bringing strep into your household each year, the possibility does exist. Recently, researchers have found that it’s more likely that people are infecting their pets. In any case, keep your children from kissing, licking or exchanging food by mouth with their pets.

 

Ringworm
A fungal infection of the skin, hair or nails, ringworm starts as a rapidly spreading hairless, circular lesion. Humans can be infected through use of contaminated objects like hair brushes, towels or clothing or by contact with infected animals like cats, dogs, mice, rats and guinea pigs.

 

Scabies
Also called sarcoptic mange, scabies is a skin disease caused by itch mites which burrow under the skin. Scabies cause intense itching and scratching that can result in severe eczema. Humans can be infected through contact with infected animals.

The most effective way to prevent zoonotic diseases and ensure your good health is to ensure good health for your pets. This means taking your pet to the veterinarian for regular exams and vaccinations. Most pet owners find that by following their veterinarian’s nutritional and health recommendations, their pets will lead happy, healthy lives with little risk of zoonotic infections.

 

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When is it an emergency?

Most pet owners have been in a situation like this: Buster slipped on the way down the stairs and now he’s walking with a limp. It’s 11:00 at night – should you call your veterinarian, or are you just being a worrywart?

 

You’re never wrong to call
If you’re concerned about your pet, you should never feel embarrassed about calling a veterinarian. Veterinarians are used to emergencies and they prepare for them. Most veterinary hospitals have doctors on-call or provide referrals to emergency pet hospitals, so don’t worry about waking your veterinarian out of a sound sleep. In fact, all AAHA-accredited hospitals are required to provide 24-hour access to emergency care, either in their own facility or through referral to another hospital. (To find an AAHA-accredited animal hospital near you, visit the Hospital Locator)

Remember, you know your pet better than anyone else. If you notice your pet behaving in a way that’s unusual for her, or if something just doesn’t seem right, you may have picked up on a subtle sign of a real problem. To find out, you can call your veterinary hospital, or an emergency animal hospital near you. By asking a few questions over the phone, an emergency veterinarian should be able to tell you whether you should bring your pet in right away, or whether she can wait for an examination during your hospital’s normal office hours. Even if you find out nothing’s wrong, you’ll be glad to have your mind at ease.

 

Definite emergencies
There are some times, however, when you won’t need to call first. If you notice any of the following problems, bring your pet in immediately for emergency care.

-Your pet has been experienced some kind of trauma, such as being hit by a car or a blunt object or falling more than a few feet.Your pet isn’t breathing or you can’t feel a heartbeat.
-Your pet is unconscious and won’t wake up.
-Your pet has been vomiting or has had diarrhea for more than 24 hours, or she is vomiting blood.
-You suspect any broken bones.
-Your pet is having trouble breathing or has something stuck in her throat.
-Your pet has had or is having a seizure.
-Your pet is bleeding from the eyes, nose, or mouth, or there is blood in her urine or feces.
-You think your pet might have ingested something toxic, such as antifreeze, rat poison, any kind of medication that wasn’t prescribed to her, or household cleansers.
-Your pet, particularly your male cat, is straining to urinate, or is unable to.
-Your pet shows signs of extreme pain, such as whining, shaking, and refusing to socialize.
-Your pet collapses or suddenly can’t stand up.
-Your pet begins bumping into things or suddenly becomes disoriented.
-You can see irritation or injury to your pet’s eyes, or she suddenly seems to become blind.
-Your pet’s abdomen is swollen and hard to the touch, and/or she’s gagging and trying to vomit.
-You see symptoms of heatstroke.
-Your pregnant dog or cat has gone more than three to four hours between delivering puppies or kittens.

 

What to do if it’s an emergency
If you notice any of the symptoms above or you suspect a serious problem, try to get directly in touch with a veterinary professional. Don’t leave a voicemail or use the Internet or email.

Your first step is to call your veterinarian. AAHA-accredited hospitals will either have someone answering the phone 24-hours a day or will have a recorded message referring you to another hospital in case of an emergency. If you’re in an unfamiliar city, use the AAHA hospital locator tool to locate an accredited hospital near you. TheAmerican Red Cross also has a pet first aid app available to help you locate a veterinarian in case of emergencies.

Once you decide to bring your pet in for emergency treatment, make sure you know where you’re going and how to get your pet there safely. If you have any questions about directions or how to move your ill or injured pet, call the hospital and ask

 

Be prepared
The best way to deal with pet emergencies is to prepare for them, just in case. The next time you bring your pet in for a checkup, ask your veterinarian what you should do in case of emergency. Find out whether your animal hospital is open 24 hours, or whether they refer emergency cases on evenings and weekends. If they refer, get the name, address, and phone number of the emergency facility they refer to.

Keep your veterinarian’s name and number on an emergency sheet near the phone, right next to the numbers for your doctor, fire department, and poison-control hotline. If your veterinarian refers evening and weekend emergencies to another hospital, write down that hospital’s name and number too, as well as what hours your doctor refers cases there. This way, if an emergency catches you off guard, you won’t have to file through drawers or folders looking for business cards. You may also want to have a list of pet first aid tips easily accessible, along with guidelines for human first aid.

If you’re taking your pet along on a trip, you can find AAHA-accredited hospitals in the area you’ll be visiting by using the hospital locator.

Most important, remember to trust your instincts. You know and love your pet, and you have the right to be worried if something seems wrong. Emergency veterinary professionals are there for you, never hesitate to call.

 

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What’s in your pet’s food?

When you are choosing a can or bag of pet food, you have dozens of choices. In addition to the normal “tuna delights” and “beef dinners,” there are many specialty foods on the shelves that are designed to control weight, combat renal (kidney) disease, and control allergies—plus there are foods for all-around nutrition.

Have you ever wondered how these specialty diets are formulated and what goes into their development?

 

         Tip! Your veterinarian may recommend or stock foods that are proven to help maintain your pet’s wellness through special diets or all-around   good nutrition. Be sure to follow recommendations to keep your pet healthy.

 

First, it is important to understand some of the rules about labeling pet foods. Pet food labeling is regulated at the state and federal levels. On the federal level, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has standards for all types of animal feed. These standards require proper identification of the product, net quantity statement, the manufacturer’s address, and proper listing of ingredients.

On the state level, the Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) has its own set of regulations, which many states use. AAFCO labeling guidelines cover aspects such as product naming standards (for example, “beef food,” “beef dinner,” and “dog food with beef” will all contain different percentages of actual beef—95%, 25%, and 3%, respectively); guaranteed analysis (minimum percentages of protein and fat and maximum percentages of fiber and moisture); and nutritional adequacy.

The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) states that “an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement is one of the most important aspects of a dog or cat food label.”

In order for a pet food to be considered “complete and balanced,” or “100% nutritional,” it should carry an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement. There are two main ways that AAFCO substantiates claims of nutritional adequacy in a food.

[Pet Food] Chemical analysis. The food contains ingredients that AAFCO has determined provide the proper amount of nutrients for a particular animal. The statement will say: “ABC Dog/Cat Food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog/Cat Food Nutrient Profiles.”

Feeding test. The food has been tested on animals under AAFCO’s strict feeding protocols and was found to provide proper nutrition. The statement on this type of food will say: “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that ABC Dog/Cat Food provides complete and balanced nutrition.”

The statement will also say for what stage of life the food is appropriate; for example, “for maintenance,” for growth,” or “for all life stages.”

If there is no AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement and the food claims to be “complete,” then the food may not have been tested and could be unsafe. The exception to this rule is a “therapeutic” food.

Several companies, such as Hill’s. Iams, Purina  and Royal Canin, produce therapeutic pet foods. These foods have specific ingredients designed to treat certain conditions such as obesity or kidney problems.

“Most therapeutic diets do not have AAFCO nutritional adequacy statements and carry language to the effect of ‘use under direct supervision of a veterinarian,’” says Joe Bartges, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN], professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “This allows companies to continually ’tweak’ the formulas based on newer research.”

Bartges explains that therapeutic foods do not have actual drugs in them, but rather are comprised of ingredients that have been developed and tested by researchers employed by the pet food companies.

“Some of the research is cell culture and some is whole animal,” Bartges says.  “Most therapeutic diets are not based on clinical trials. Much of the research now is done by evaluating individual ingredients in animals with spontaneous disease.”

Amy Thompson, a spokesperson for Hill’s Pet Nutrition, says Hill’s food formulas are developed using specific ingredients based on key nutritional factors (KNFs). KNFs are the nutrients that are important for each life stage or special need of an animal.

“Examples might include: addition of fish oil as source of DHA to enhance healthy development of puppies and kittens; addition of vitamin E at levels that enhance the immune system; developing formulas that allow the pet to have a urine pH that helps prevent formation of certain urinary crystals and stones; providing a natural fiber source in the food to help control formation of hairballs; providing high levels of specific fatty acids (EPA) that are clinically proven to reduce pain in dogs with arthritis,” Thompson says.

Mark Roos, PhD,  director of product development at Nestle Purina PetCare, explains that once a specific therapeutic need is identified in a dog or cat, Nestle Purina scientists try to come up with nutritional solutions.

“Appropriate studies in human and other species are reviewed and assessed to evaluate if that work may be considered for transfer into a dog or cat,” Roos states. “With these prospective solutions, initial dog or cat testing is conducted to determine if the particular nutrient is efficacious or not. If efficacious, then the nutrient in a respective ingredient and the particular formula undergoes a 30-point checklist to take it from an idea to a final product that can be marketed.”

Roos says that a recent example of ingredients identified as having beneficial properties were soy germ meal and colostrum.

According to Nestle Purina, colostrum (milk from a mammal immediately after it gives birth) boosts immunity and has intestinal health benefits. It also serves to stabilize intestinal microflora and reduces the risk of stress-related diarrhea.

Soy germ meal is a source of soy isoflavones, Roos says, which are beneficial in weight management and have been shown to increase metabolism and reduce weight gain.

Thompson, of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, said another example of a food additive is L-Carnitine.

“Carnitine is a water soluble, vitamin-like nutrient that plays a key role in burning fat and maintaining muscle by helping convert fatty acids into energy,” Thompson says. “It supports healthy liver function, a strong heart and lean muscles.”

With the vast number of options available in the pet food aisle, it is important to make the best choice for your particular pet. Pet food labels can give you a good idea of how the product you are buying was tested and formulated, and what it can do for your best friend. And, of course, if you have concerns about a particular type of food, always ask your veterinarian.

This article originally appeared in PetsMatter May/June 09 – Volume 4 Issue 3, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.

Ticks

 

There are few people who claim they have a favorite tick, but Susan Little, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM from the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University knows hers.

“The lone star tick is beautiful, ecologically successful, aggressive, and an extraordinary transmitter of diseases,” shares Little.

Although only Ixodes, a genus of ticks, transmit the agent of Lyme disease (LD), lone star ticks can transmit other disease-causing organisms to pets and people.

“Ticks can transmit an amazing array of life-threatening disease agents to dogs, cats and humans,” notes Little.

Just because you don’t have a favorite tick doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn what a tick looks like, where they live, and how to avoid tick-borne illnesses like LD.

 

Where the wild ticks are

Active dogs and owners who enjoy hiking are at a higher risk of LD. Before traveling, camping, or hiking, research your travel destination. “Tick maps” are readily available, including one created by the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC).

“These maps show which states’ dogs are most likely to be infected with the agent of LD and other tick-borne diseases, and the website provides a calculator to help owners determine what their dog’s risk of contracting LD is,” says Little.

But don’t completely rely on the maps, because ticks are on the move.

Little explains, “We are seeing locally acquired cases of LD in dogs and people in places like the mid-Atlantic coast and around the Great Lakes. Just because LD hasn’t been in your area historically doesn’t mean it won’t be there in the future.”

 

How to Remove a Tick From Your Pet

Stay calm. Don’t rush. Moving too fast could cause even more problems when it comes to the removal of a tick from your pet, according to the ASPCA. The humane organization offers step-by-step tick removal instructions:

 

Paranoia pays

“Ticks really pose a remarkable risk to our patients,” Little warns. To minimize the chances of LD, conduct periodic “tick hunts.” Wearing gloves (humans are also susceptible to tick-borne illnesses), scour the groin, armpits, around the ears, and between the toes where ticks like to hide. Although ticks’ appearances vary markedly, they typically have eight legs, a flat body with an oval shape (unless they have recently had a blood meal), and a small head.

The CAPC recommends protecting pets year-round against ticks with monthly spot-on medications. Some dogs may also benefit from vaccination. The LD vaccine is “non-core,” meaning it is given (following consultation with your veterinarian) on a case-by-case basis based on risk of exposure.

 

Identifying and Treating LD

If you find a tick on your dog, discuss testing and treatment options with your veterinarian. Without a history of a tick bite, diagnosing LD can be challenging because of the variety of signs that infected dogs can have. The most common signs of LD include lameness, fever, anorexia and lethargy. The bacterial infection can also damage the kidneys, heart and nervous system.

 

Fast Facts About Lyme Disease (LD)
-LD, caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, is transferred to mammals when a tick bites.
-The tick needs to be attached for around 36 hours before the bacterium can be transmitted.
-LD is most common in the Northeastern and North Central United States and the Pacific coast.
-Ticks most likely to transmit LD are the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and the Western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus)—both often called  deer ticks.

 

For additional information on LD, identifying ticks, and other tick-borne illnesses, please visit the CAPC, the American Lyme Disease Association, and tickinfo.com.

 

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Nutrients and nutraceuticals: What does your pet need?

Nutritional supplements make up one of the fastest growing segments of the pet product industry. It’s estimated that almost one in five pet owners give some kind of nonprescription supplement to their dog or cat.

Are they right for your pet?

“That really depends on your pet’s base diet and medical history,” says Jennifer Bones Larsen, DVM, MS, assistant professor of clinical nutrition for the University of California Davis. “Most commercial pet foods are formulated to be complete and balanced, meaning they provide all the essential nutrients the animal needs.

“So if you’re feeding your dog or cat a commercial pet food, additional vitamins and minerals probably aren’t necessary and, in some cases, could be harmful.”

For example, too much calcium can cause problems with skeletal development in puppies, or zinc deficiencies, according to research cited in a paper published by Larsen.

But if you feed your pet a homemade diet, Larsen says extra nutrients are a must.

“The challenge is to determine what essential vitamins and minerals are missing from the diet and to use a supplement to fill the gap. And for the average consumer, this is hard to figure out just by looking at the label.”

That’s why she suggests you consult with your veterinarian before providing any supplements to your pet.

“Most over-the-counter multivitamins or multinutrients are designed to be safe when added onto a complete and balanced pet food. But we’ve seen some cases of toxicity, so you may be giving your pet ‘too much of a good thing.”

Unlike nutrient supplements, nutraceuticals are extracts from foods, which some claim provide health benefits.

“The most common nutraceuticals are glucosamine and chondroitin which are given for joint health,” Larsen says. “And omega-3 fatty acids are becoming incredibly popular because there’s been so much discussion about them on the human nutrition side.”

Nutraceuticals are not considered drugs, so they don’t have to be proven effective or safe by the FDA. Neither nutraceuticals nor nutrient supplements are regulated by any official agency.

“Glucosamine and chondroitin are pretty safe and there’s some data to suggest they can be helpful. Any adverse side effects are pretty mild, such as diarrhea. This can be remedied by simply backing off the dosage. And omega threes have a wide range of proposed benefits,” Dr. Bones Larsen said.

When buying supplement products that include nutraceuticals, Larsen suggests checking the label to see if the manufacturer is a member of theNational Animal Supplement Council or NASC.

“The NASC has set up guidelines to assure quality control and contaminant control,” she says. “Their focus is on safety, which is good. But whether these products do what they say they’ll do is a whole other question.”

What exactly is a nutraceutical?

Occupying a space somewhere between essential nutrients (those nutrients critical to normal health, such as vitamins) and drugs with defined impacts on specific diseases, nutraceuticals are bioactive chemicals derived from foods but taken as supplements at much higher concentrations than diet alone could provide. Thomas Hayden, “Getting to Know Nutraceuticals,” Scientific American (January 2008).

This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 3 Issue 4, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.

Microchipping

A microchip for your pet can mean the difference between lost and found. Although tags and collars are important, they can tear or slip off. With microchipping, a veterinarian injects a tiny computer chip—about the size of a grain of rice—just under your pet’s skin, between the shoulder blades. The microchip number is entered into an international database, which can be read by a microchip scanner if your pet is lost and picked up by a veterinary hospital or humane society. If your contact information is up-to-date, the hospital or humane society that found your pet can contact you and reunite you with your pet.

A microchip is your pet’s ticket home. Does your pet have his?

 

Microchipping myth #1:
It’s going to hurt my pet to get the chip implanted.

The truth:
The procedure is simple, routine, and painless, and does not require anesthesia. Your pet simply gets an injection just under the loose skin between the shoulder blades, much like getting vaccinated. Most animals don’t react at all.

 

Microchipping myth #2:
My cat never goes outside. He doesn’t need to have a microchip.

The truth:
It’s wonderful that you’re keeping your pet safe inside, but a guest or a repair person could easily leave the door hanging open, or a screen could come loose from an open window. No matter how closely you watch your pet, there’s always a chance he could get out, and if he doesn’t have a microchip, chances for recovery are slim.

 

Microchipping myth #3:
Eventually, the microchip will wear out and I’ll have to have it replaced.

The truth:
Since there’s no battery and no moving parts, there’s nothing to wear out or replace. The microchip will last throughout your pet’s lifetime. However, you need to update the chip every time your contact information changes so that whoever finds your pet has your updated contact information.

 

Microchipping myth #4:
The implantation procedure is too expensive.

The truth:
While the price can vary, it is generally a one-time fee of $25 – $40. There may be a fee, generally under $20, to enter your pet’s ID number in a database, and there may be a small fee for changing your address, phone number, or other contact information in the database. Ask your veterinarian for more information.

 

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Halloween Pet Safety

Halloween can be a frightening time for pet owners across the country. It can be scary for our furry friends too. The American Animal Hospital Association encourages pet owners to protect their four-legged family members this October by being mindful of their F.E.A.R. – food, environment, attire, and recovery.

Food

Halloween means candy and tasty treats are plentiful and easily accessible to young children and pets. Candy, especially chocolate, is toxic to animals and can cause vomiting, restlessness, heart disturbances, and even death. Although grapes and raisins are a healthy alternative snack for humans, they can be potentially deadly for dogs. These fruits contain an unknown toxin that can damage dogs’ kidneys and cause kidney failure.

Candy wrappers can also cause health problems. Animals may eat the wrapper, causing obstruction or irritation to the pet’s digestive system. Candy and wrappers should be kept out of pets’ reach and young children should be taught not to share Halloween goodies with their pet. Seasonal foods such as pumpkins and corn may cause minor stomach irritation; however, they are relatively safe for Fluffy and Fido. Pumpkin seeds may cause digestive system obstruction if consumed by smaller animals.

Environment

Due to the increased foot traffic and commotion in your neighborhood, outdoor pets should be kept indoors during the days surrounding Halloween. Unsupervised outdoor animals are susceptible to stress, inhumane practical jokes or theft. Providing a safe, stress free environment reduces the probability of your beloved friend injuring himself or others. Loud and excessive noise created by trick-or-treaters can frighten your cat or dog. Animals should be kept away from the door and out of hearing range of a constantly ringing doorbell and excited children. Fluffy or Fido should be put in a room where they will not be disturbed by noise and activity. A frightened or upset pet may run out the door at the first opportunity and could harm the children in its way.

Be sure decorations are safe from the paws and teeth of curious pets. Crepe paper streamers, fake cobwebs, glow sticks, plastic spiders and cardboard wall hangings can easily be chewed and swallowed, damaging your pet’s digestive tract. Animals can also tip over the candle in a jack-o-lantern and burn themselves or start a fire. Keep decorations out of animals’ reach, and maintain supervision if they play nearby.

Attire

Transforming your pet into a superhero, witch, ghost, or goblin can be a stressful and unpleasant experience. Some animals love to dress up, but others dread it. If your furry friend doesn’t mind dressing up, make sure that you select a costume that doesn’t restrict his normal movements, breathing or vision. Costumes that interfere with these things can cause ligament or joint injuries, and animals are more likely to bite if their vision is impaired. Pets are better off left at home during trick-or-treating excursions. However, if they do tag along, it is best to keep them on a very short leash and harness to keep them from fighting with other animals, eating the treats, becoming victims of practical jokes – as black cats often do – or biting strangers they encounter.

Recovery

It is important to have a plan if your pet becomes sick, injured or lost this Halloween season. Since time is critical during any unfortunate incident, pet parents should always have contact information for their veterinarian and local animal shelters easily accessible. Also, pet owners need to be aware that not all veterinarians are available 24 hours. However, all AAHA-accredited hospitals have access or referral to 24 hour emergency care. It is also important to update your pet’s identification tags and micro chip information each time you move or change phone numbers so that current contact information is always available on your pet. The American Animal Hospital Association wishes all two and four-legged critters a happy and safe Halloween.

Established in 1933, the American Animal Hospital Association is the only organization that accredits veterinary practices throughout the U.S. and Canada for dedication to high standards of veterinary care. More than 3,000 AAHA-accredited practices pass regular reviews of AAHA’s stringent accreditation standards that cover patient care, client service and medical protocols.

 

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Diet do’s and don’ts for your pets

A healthful, balanced diet is as important to pets as it is to people, but with hundreds of different food brands to choose from, how do you decide what — and how much — to feed your pet?

“Because each animal is an individual, I always recommend beginning with a consultation with your veterinarian,” says Laura Eirmann, DVM, from AAHA-accredited Oradell Animal Hospital in New Jersey.

Your veterinarian will explain your pet’s nutritional needs based on age, breed, medical condition, and activity level. Although many dog and cat food manufacturers market products based on life stages, such as senior or lactating dogs, broad categories are not always appropriate for every pet.

For example, “some pets are physiologically older than their peers (because of disease) even though chronologically they’re the same age. That physiological difference is why it’s important to consult with your veterinarian (before you select a food),” Eirmann explains.

What brand should you buy?

Deciding which brand of pet food to buy can be confusing, especially since hundreds of dog and cat food products are introduced annually.

As you sort through various brands, look for a nutritional statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

The AAFCO determines appropriate levels of proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals in growth and maintenance cat and dog foods and it “helps set the standards for the pet food industry,” says Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACCN, who works at AAHA-accredited Foster Hospital for Small Animals in Massachusetts.

Manufacturers frequently use terms like natural, organic, premium or gourmet to appeal to pet owners, but Freeman and Eirmann say “complete and balanced” are the terms pet owners should be most concerned about.

Before a food can be marketed as “complete and balanced,” it must undergo a strict feeding trial under AAFCO guidelines or meet AAFCO nutrition levels.

Cautions about raw food diets

Although raw food diets are popular with some pet owners, professionals from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say, “feeding raw meat products carries a risk to human and animal health that is significant” because of food-borne pathogenic bacteria.

The FDA cites published reports of pets becoming sick or dying after eating contaminated raw meat and warns that pet owners may be susceptible to “infection by pathogenic organisms from direct contact with the diet itself” or from contact with diet-related bacteria that passes from meat to pets. Bacteria may also be present in feces.

In addition, the FDA warns that raw meat diets may not provide proper nutrition for your pet. There may too little calcium and phosphorus, too much vitamin A (which may be toxic over time) or inappropriate amounts of other nutrients to ensure a complete and balanced diet.

In 2011, the American Animal Hospital Association passed a position statementopposing the feeding of raw protein diets to pets.

How much food should you give?

“If there’s one thing we know in nutrition, it’s that caloric restriction — keeping pets lean their entire life — helps them live longer,” Eirmann says.

Unfortunately, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) estimates that 25 percents of dogs and cats entering veterinary clinics are overweight and warns that “obesity can shorten a pet’s life by contributing to heart and liver problems, diabetes, arthritis, bladder cancer and skin disorders, and put a pet at higher risk while undergoing anesthesia and surgery.”

Gertie, shown to the right, is classified as obese by Pfizer Animal Health professionals, who provided the photograph. Check with your veterinary professionals to see whether your pet is overweight.

So does all of this mean you have to eliminate treats or the occasional table scraps from your pet’s diet? “There a little bit of leeway,” Eirmann says. “The general guideline is to look at the calories required to maintain ideal body weight. If you don’t exceed that number by about 10 percent of the calories, you’re unlikely to unbalance a complete and balanced diet.”

“My advice is to ask your veterinarian to assess your pet’s individual needs,” Eirmann says. “The amounts of those ingredients may vary by brand. Your veterinarian can determine if the amount (in a particular food) is appropriate for your pet.”

This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 2 Issue 1, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.

Caring for pets during emergencies

Nothing says it better than the horror story from Hurricane Floyd: A man was leaving his flooded home when he noticed a neighbor’s dogs swimming in circles around the yard. Wondering why the dogs didn’t simply swim to safety, the man swam over to investigate. To his horror, he found that the dogs had been left chained to a stake in the yard and were swimming frantically just to stay alive. He was able to rescue the dogs, but stories such as this pointedly demonstrate the need for to you to have a good action plan in place in case a natural disaster strikes your home. In this case, the dogs’ owner most likely had been told to leave everything behind and flee as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, his dogs nearly lost their lives as a result.

In the event of an emergency, your life and your family’s lives are the first you should be concerned with. You should only look to save your animals once you are sure you and your family will be safe. But once you are safe, you most likely will want to ensure the safety of your pets. Are you prepared?

LittleRock-Veterinarian-Pet-Clinic-Maumelle-Belleview-Treasure-Hil-6Consider your location

First things first. You can only be prepared with a plan of action if you know what you’re planning for, so take some time to think about the area you live in. Some areas are naturally prone to certain disasters California’s earthquakes, for example. Find out what types of disasters have previously struck your area hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, blizzards, etc. Contacting your local emergency management office or Red Cross will help you to identify what could affect your particular neighborhood. You should also plan for non-natural disasters fires, gas leaks, chemical spills, etc. If, for example, there’s a big chemical processing plant in your area, then you need to be aware of the possible dangers so that you can react if need be. No matter where you live, you’ve got your own special brand of disaster just around the corner, and it may strike at any time.

If You Leave, They Leave

In the event that you have to leave your home, take your pets with you. If it isn’t safe for you to be there, it isn’t safe for them either. Too often people rationalize that their pets’ instincts will kick in, and they’ll be okay. Even if your cat, who has spent the last six years of his life hunting only the fake mice you pull around on a string for him, does have the instincts to survive, it doesn’t mean that the conditions are survivable. No drinkable water for you means no drinkable water for him too. Of course, you have to have somewhere to take your four-legged friends–Red Cross disaster shelters cannot accept pets. Make a list of all the places with in a 100-mile radius of your home where you might be able to take your pet if the need arises, include boarding facilities, veterinarians with boarding capabilities, hotels that will accept pets (ask if they’ll allow pets during a disaster situation), and animal shelters. (Use animal shelters only as a last resort, as they will be overburdened with other animals whose owners did not plan for them). Also, you need to gather your critters inside the house as soon as you are aware that you may have to leave, so that you can easily get them when it’s time to go. Then, when you do leave, make sure you have your little friends under firm control–even the best behaved dog can become scared during an emergency, making his behavior less than predictable.

Be prepared

Like a Boy Scout, you should always be prepared. This means having a disaster kit in your home as well as a smaller version in the trunk of your car if your pet routinely rides with you. Make sure that your pet’s kit is contained in something that is easy to pick up quickly and take out the door with you. You should replace this food and water every six months and rethink your pet’s needs for the kit once a year to make sure that the supplies meet your current needs the same collar that fits your new kitten is not likely to fit him a year later.

The kit should include a week’s supply of food and water in nonbreakable, airtight containers to ensure safety and freshness. If you pack canned food you’ll want to make sure you have a hand-held can opener too. And don’t forget a plastic dish that can double as a food and water dish. An extra collar and leash are also important things to have in your kit. You should also have a portable kennel for each of your critters handy. The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says that the official Red Cross policy is that there are no animals allowed in emergency shelters, but they have been known to make exceptions if the animal is securely confined. Pets such as birds will obviously have to have a carrier of some sort as they cannot be leashed. You will want to make certain that you have a well-stocked first-aid kit for your pet that includes tweezers, gauze bandages, first aid cream, antiseptic spray, and hydrogen peroxide. Ask your veterinarian about storing any medications that your pet may need to take regularly.

All the right papers

Many people have their home telephone numbers on their pets’ ID tags. You may want to have an extra set of tags made that list the number of a friend or family member outside the area so that if your phone lines are down, or you’ve been evacuated, your pets can still make it back to you. Another option is to simply include an out-of-area number on your pets’ everyday tag, which can be useful if you’re away on vacation too. And many people don’t have tags for their cats at all, even though they should. According to the 1996 National Council on Pet Population Study, out of one million dogs and 580,000 cats that were taken in as strays, only 17 percent of the dogs and two percent of the cats made it back to their owners. The American Humane Association strongly believes that tags are your pets’ ticket home. You may also want to consider having your pet microchipped or tattooed. And finally, don’t forget the paperwork. Have a copy of your pet’s recent vaccination records in your kit–some boarding facilities may require them before they will take your pet in. A recent picture of your pet may also come in handy if you should become separated and need to make “Lost” posters. Hopefully you won’t ever have to put them up, and hopefully you’ll never have to use your disaster plan. But if you do ever need it, you’ll be very thankful that you were prepared; it could make a trying time a bit easier for you and your faithful companion.

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