On any given day, in veterinary clinics across the country, thousands of Senior pets are seen for their routine exams. Statements such as these are commonly heard from owners: “Rover isn’t chasing after his ball anymore. He’s slowing down on walks. He sleeps a lot. I guess old age is finally catching up with him.” or “Fluffy hasn’t been jumping up on the kitchen counter lately. I think in her old age she’s finally learned she shouldn’t do that!”
The reality is that “old age” isn’t the culprit in the behavior changes that pet owners are seeing. The more likely explanation is that their four legged friend is in pain, specifically osteoarthritis pain. Osteoarthritis is commonly overlooked by most people; however, it is quite prevalent in our Senior pets. According to Banfield’s 2019 State of Pet Health Report 1 osteoarthritis in Senior pets has seen a dramatic increase of 66% in dogs and 150% in cats in the past 10 years. This data was collected by looking at 2.5 million dogs and 500,000 cats in Banfield’s network of hospitals. They found that among their patients 4% of cats and 20% of dogs over the age of 10 are affected by osteoarthritis. It is staggering to think that these numbers are from just a small section of geriatric pets.
What exactly is osteoarthritis and why is it going unrecognized by so many pet owners? As defined by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, osteoarthritis is “A chronic joint disease characterized by loss of joint cartilage, thickening of the joint capsule and new bone formation around the joint (osteophytosis) and ultimately leading to pain and limb dysfunction.” This disease progression is generally slow and subtle, which can make it hard to recognize for many pet owners. What is most commonly associated with slowing down due to age can actually be a result of osteoarthritis pain.
Common signs of osteoarthritis that many pet owners just accept as a reality of aging include:
· Lameness in one or more legs, walking stiffly
· Difficulty rising from a sitting or lying position
· Difficulty going up/down stairs or avoiding them altogether
· No longer jumping on surfaces they once maneuvered with ease (couch/bed, counters, cat towers)
· Visibly hesitating before attempting to jump on something
· Noticeable irritability or aggression with other pets or people (due to pain)
· Slowing down on walks/unable to go as far as they once could
· Increase in panting, either during physical activity or periods of rest (due to pain)
· Sleeping/laying around more
· Loss of interest in playing with favorite toys or fetching things
· Slipping on surfaces as they walk
Many factors are involved in the development of osteoarthritis including: body conformation, abnormal joint development (hip/elbow dysplasia), previous injury, high levels of activity, and weight. It is interesting to note in the Banfield study that 52% of dogs and 41% of cats with osteoarthritis were also overweight or obese. It becomes especially important with our Senior pets to keep them at a healthy body weight.
If you are able to relate any of the above information to your own pet please know there is much you can do to help them. Scheduling a visit with their veterinarian to discuss their symptoms and treatment options is a great place to start. Diagnosis of osteoarthritis and treatment will be discussed in the following blog. It is our goal as veterinary professionals to improve quality of life for your furry best friend so they can enjoy their Golden Years to the fullest.
Carol Hudecek, LVT- Columbia Animal Clinic
Have you ever wondered how vaccines work and/or why our puppies and kittens require a series of shots? A puppy or kitten will have frequent vaccination visits during the first few months of their life and for some owners this process can seem tedious. Here is a breakdown of why these vaccine visits are so important for the health of your pet.
While nursing, puppies and kittens receive natural immunity from their mother in the form of maternal antibodies. These antibodies circulate in the blood and protect them from viral and bacterial attack while their own immune system is developing. However, these maternal antibodies also interfere with the vaccine’s ability to activate the immune system. As your puppy/kitten ages, these maternal antibody levels decline, making it possible for the vaccines to stimulate a protective response from their own immune system. By 6 weeks of age, 25% of puppies have a strong immune response to vaccinations, and by 14 to 16 weeks of age the maternal antibodies have fallen enough to allow a full immune response in 90% of puppies.1 For this reason it is vitally important to repeat vaccinations for puppies/kittens every 3-4 weeks through 16 weeks of age to ensure that their immune system is properly activated. The following chart is a helpful visual representation of this process. 2
Since vaccines are designed to offer your pet the best protection against environmental attack you may wonder why some pets receive vaccines that others don’t. Vaccines are generally divided into two categories: core and non-core. Core vaccines are intended to protect your pet against diseases that are widespread in the area in which you live and are easily transmitted. At Columbia Animal Clinic core vaccines for our canine patients include: Rabies, Parvovirus, Adenovirus, Leptospirosis, and Distemper while Rabies, Herpesvirus, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia virus make up core vaccines for our feline patients.
Non-core, or lifestyle vaccines, protect against disease(s) your pet may become exposed to as a result of their routine, such as boarding, grooming, or traveling. Lifestyle vaccines for our canine patients include Bordetella, Influenza, and Lymes and Leukemia for our feline patients. The best way to decide which lifestyle vaccines are right for your pet is to speak with your veterinarian. They will walk you through a lifestyle risk assessment designed to determine your pet’s exposure risk. An example of such a risk assessment can be found HERE.
Once your puppy or kitten is finished with their vaccine series please do not assume that they are protected for life. Vaccine boosters will be needed at regular intervals throughout their life to maintain optimum protection. Your veterinarian will inform you of the booster schedule and answer any questions you may have. The ultimate goal is to build off of the foundation provided by the initial vaccine series and ensure your pet is well protected throughout their life.
Carol Hudecek, LVT- Columbia Animal Clinic
At Columbia Animal Clinic we are all about providing your pet with the highest level of preventive care. We also realize that there is a price tag attached to that care. In an effort to make this level of care as accessible as possible we offer Preventive Care Plans for our feline and canine patients.
What Is Preventive Care?
Preventive Care includes your pet’s recommended yearly exam(s), core vaccinations, blood testing, and other health screenings that will aid your veterinarian in keeping your pet healthy. Regular exams and bloodwork give your veterinarian an accurate picture of organ function and overall health status of your pet while vaccinations help protect against a wide variety of diseases.
Does My Pet Need Preventive Care?
All pets, from the 8 week old puppy to the senior cat, benefit from Preventive Care. Regular preventive care is an essential component to your pet’s well-being and also gives your veterinarian the opportunity to catch health problems early.
What Do Preventive Care Plans Include?
Preventive Care Plans include your pet’s yearly exam(s), core vaccinations, parasite screening, and blood testing. These plans are customizable to fit any age and lifestyle and can include spay/neuter surgery for our young patients and full dental cleanings for our older patients. Optional lifestyle vaccines (such as Bordetella and Canine Influenza) may be added in as well as credits towards heartworm, flea, and tick prevention. Unlimited, no charge nail trims are part of all plans as well as $10 co-pays on exams outside of their recommended yearly exam(s). Some of the plans also include a 5% discount on anything not covered in the plan with the exception of food and treats. Click HERE for a complete listing of our available plans and included benefits.
What Is The Benefit of Having a Preventive Care Plan?
Preventive Care Plans offer the convenience of splitting up your pet’s yearly care into 12 monthly payments, making it a budget friendly alternative to owing a large amount once or twice a year at their visits. In addition, you have peace of mind knowing you are providing your pet with the necessary care to aid in their overall health and longevity.
Are Preventive Care Plans An Insurance Policy?
It is important to note that Preventive Care Plans are NOT a form of insurance. They do not provide coverage for unexpected medical emergencies. For more information on pet insurance policies please refer to our past blog entitled “The Nitty Gritty About Pet Insurance”.
If you feel a Preventive Care Plan would be beneficial for you and your pet or if you have questions regarding our plans please contact the clinic. We would be happy to go over your options and customize a plan to fit your pet’s needs.
Carol Hudecek, LVT- Columbia Animal Clinic
Your cat has just been diagnosed with diabetes and will require life-long insulin treatment. Your dog, who has a habit of eating things he shouldn’t, has a tennis ball lodged in his stomach and needs immediate surgery. For the majority of pet owners these scenarios provide a double dose of worry and anxiety - worry for your pet and anxiety over the cost of care. If funds are not readily available in these situations some pet owners are forced to choose between finding a way to treat their pet or euthanasia.
Pet insurance is designed to be a safety net that helps you absorb the costs of catastrophic, unexpected illnesses or accidents that can befall your pet. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, pet owners spent more than $1 billion on insurance policies for their furry companions in 2017 (up 23%) and now more than 1.8 million cats and dogs are covered. If you are asking yourself if pet insurance is right for you, click HERE for a self-assessment may aid in your decision.
There are a wide variety of companies offering pet insurance and the task of picking the right policy for your pet can seem daunting. Some things to consider when perusing policies:
Most companies only ensure cats and dogs, but there are a few that offer policies for exotic pets as well. While it is generally considered best to enroll a pet in an insurance policy while they are young, there are instances where owners are looking for first-time policies for their senior age pets. In these cases pay special attention to whether or not the policy you are considering has an enrollment age limit. Also keep in mind that most pet insurance companies require that you pay up-front for veterinary services and then submit the bill for reimbursement. Always read the fine print associated with any policy you are considering and give their customer service a test-drive by calling with your concerns/questions related to their policies.
We encourage you to explore your pet insurance options before you're faced with sudden, unexpected financial decisions. Having a suitable insurance plan in place can help alleviate the anxiety and financial stress that an emergency situation can cause. We never want you to feel that you have to choose between getting your pet the care they need and being financially stable. In an effort to make the selection process easier for you, we have provided a side-by-side comparison of some of the most popular companies on our website. Another helpful resource, offers a ranking of pet insurance companies based on customer reviews.
Carol Hudecek, LVT- Columbia Animal Clinic
“Fear is the most damaging emotion a social species can experience.” (Becker, Radosta, Sung, and Becker, 2018) These are very powerful words and we, as veterinary professionals, take it to heart that this is the experience some of our canine and feline patients have when coming to the vet. For some of them, the visit may be one of fear, anxiety, or stress, often starting at home before they have even set a paw in the clinic. Canines and felines can suffer from social anxiety in much the same way we humans do and what we perceive as a simple trip to the vet’s office can be a major undertaking for them. It is not the intention of any veterinary professional to cause fear, anxiety, or stress to the patients we are trying to help.
We believe that veterinary visits do not have to be scary ordeals for our patients and would like to introduce you and your pet to a better way. This new concept is called Fear Free and the ultimate goal is to take the “pet” out of petrified. This movement focuses on taking the emotional well-being as well as the physical well-being of our patients into consideration at every visit. We have been looking at the veterinary visit from their perspective in an effort to recognize the things that can cause stress for them. Doing this has allowed us to take a fresh look at how things such as physical exams, vaccinations, blood draws, nail trims, and hospitalized care affect our patients on an emotional level. As a result, and we are developing ways to alleviate their fear, anxiety, and stress in these situations.
If you have visited our clinic in the past year you have probably noticed some of the changes we are implementing to make the visit more pleasant for your pet. There is now calming music playing in our reception area, exam rooms, surgical prep area, and hospital ward. Believe it or not, studies have been done to discern what types of music are soothing to our furry companions and the two genres found to be most effective are classical and reggae. Since implementing the music, we have seen a noticeable difference in the level of anxiety of several of our hospitalized patients and those coming in for their yearly vaccine appointments.
Upon entering the clinic, you have probably been greeted at the door with a bandana for you dog or a blanket to put over your cat’s carrier. These items have been sprayed with species specific pheromones designed to help alleviate stress and calm your pet. Our doctors have shed their white lab coats for ones with muted color tones that are more soothing to our patients. (Studies have found that for dogs the color white actually fluoresces and can make the object appear to glow. Imagine how scary that must be having a glowing human moving towards you?)
We have treats in ready supply for every appointment! The idea behind all of the food is to have high value treats for our patients that help distract them during the visit and make things such as nail trims and vaccines not so scary. Peanut butter in a cup or ice cream cone, soft chews, cream cheese, liver paste, canned food, and shredded chicken are just a few of the menu options. Please bring your pet hungry whenever possible!
We are paying attention to your pet’s body language and learning to pick up the signals (some subtle and some not so subtle) that tell us they are uncomfortable with what is happening. We’ve incorporated different handling techniques to help reduce stress. In addition, we have done away with the old adage that exams and procedures must be performed on the exam table – we want your pet to be comfortable, and have successfully performed exams, vaccines, nail trims, and blood draws on the floor, a wall perch, their carrier, and even an owner’s lap.
In spite of our best efforts we have some patients that just need some extra help managing the anxiety and stress that a visit to the vet causes. For these patients we have medications that can be prescribed to be given prior to their appointment to help reduce their anxiety and make the visit easier for them. If you feel your pet would benefit from some pre-appointment calming medication please don’t hesitate to ask.
Every effort is made to do as many things as possible for your pet in the exam room in your presence. You are a source of comfort for your pet and it can be scary for them to be separated from you to have procedures done. With the exception of some diagnostics that cannot physically occur in the exam room, we try to contain the entire appointment to that one area.
Our commitment to offering Fear Free visits is part of our continued goal to provide you and your pet with a superior level of medical care. We currently have a handful of Fear Free Certified Professionals on our staff and are working towards becoming a Fear Free Certified Clinic. We encourage you to participate in this journey with us as we strive to reduce and, hopefully, eliminate fear, anxiety, and stress for your pet at every visit. For more information please visit www.fearfreehappyhomes.com or speak with a staff member. We would love to share Fear Free with you and your pet!
References Becker, Radosta, Sung, and Becker. (2018). From Fearful to Fear Free. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.
Carol Hudecek, LVT Columbia Animal Clinic