10 Halloween Safety Tips

Halloween can be a festive and fun time for children and families. But for pets? Let’s face it, it can be a nightmare. Skip the stress and keep your pets safe this year by following these 10 easy tips.

1. Trick-or-treat candies are not for pets.
All forms of chocolate—especially baking or dark chocolate—can be dangerous, even lethal, for dogs and cats. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning may include vomiting, diarrhea, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and seizures. Halloween candies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can also be poisonous to dogs. Even small amounts of xylitol can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar and subsequent loss of coordination and seizures. “Xylitol ingestion can also cause liver failure in dogs, even if they don’t develop symptoms associated with low blood sugar,” adds Dr. Jennifer Coates, veterinary advisor with petMD. And while xylitol toxicity in cats has yet to be established, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

2. Don’t leave pets out in the yard on Halloween.
Vicious pranksters have been known to tease, injure, steal, and even kill pets on Halloween night. Inexcusable? Yes! But preventable nonetheless. Black cats are especially at risk from pranks or other cruelty-related incidents. In fact, many shelters do not adopt out black cats during the month of October as a safety precaution. Make sure your black cats are safely housed indoors around Halloween.

3. Keep pets confined and away from the door.
Indoors is certainly better than outdoors on Halloween, but your door will be constantly opening and closing, and strangers will be on your doorstep dressed in unusual costumes. This, of course, can be scary for our furry friends, which can result in escape attempts or unexpected aggression. Putting your dog or cat in a secure crate or room away from the front door will reduce stress and prevent them from darting outside into the night…a night when no one wants to be searching for a lost loved one.

4. Keep glow sticks away from pets.
While glow sticks can help keep people safe on Halloween night, they can add some unwanted drama to the holiday if a pet chews one open. “Thankfully, the liquid inside glow sticks is non-toxic, so it won’t actually make pets sick,” Coates says, “but it does taste awful.” Pets who get into a glow stick may drool, paw at their mouth, become agitated, and sometimes even vomit. Coates recommends that if your pet does chew on a glow stick, “offer some fresh water or a small meal to help clear the material out of the mouth.”

5. Keep Halloween plants such as pumpkins and corn out of reach.
While small amounts of corn and pumpkin can be fed safely to many pets, ingesting uncooked, potentially moldy Halloween pumpkins or corn displays can cause big problems. Gastrointestinal upset is a possibility whenever pets eat something they aren’t used to, and intestinal blockage can occur if large pieces are swallowed. Coates adds that “some types of mold produce mycotoxins that can cause neurologic problems in dogs and cats.” So, keep the pumpkins and corn stalks away from your pets. And speaking of pumpkins…

6. Don’t keep lit pumpkins around pets.
If you are using candles to light your jack-o-lanterns or other Halloween decorations, make sure to place them well out of reach of your pets. Should they get too close, they run the risk of burning themselves or causing a fire.

7. Keep electric and battery-powered Halloween decorations out of reach.
Electric and battery-powered Halloween decorations are certainly safer than open candles, but they still can present a risk to pets. Pets who chew on electrical cords can receive a possibly life-threatening electrical shock or burn. Batteries may cause chemical burns when chewed open or gastrointestinal blockage if swallowed. Shards of glass or plastic can cause lacerations anywhere on the body or, if swallowed, within the gastrointestinal tract.

8. Don’t dress your pet in a costume unless you know they’ll love it.
If you do decide that Fido or Kitty needs a costume, make sure it isn’t dangerous or simply annoying to your pet. Costumes should not restrict movement, hearing, eyesight, or the ability to breathe. Coates warns that pets who are wearing a costume should always be supervised by a responsible adult so that if something goes wrong, it can be addressed right away.

9. Try on pet costumes before the big night.
Don’t wait until Halloween night to put your pet in a costume for the first time. “Any time you want to introduce your pet to something new, it’s best to go slowly,” Coates says. Get your pet costumes early, and put them on for short periods of time (and piece by piece, if possible). “Make it a positive experience by offering lots of praise and treats,” Coates adds. If at any time, your pet seems distressed or develops skin problems from contact with a costume, consider letting him go in his “birthday suit.” A festive bandana may be a good compromise.

10. IDs, please!
If your dog or cat should escape and become lost, having the proper identification will increase the chances that he or she will be returned. Collars and tags are ideal if a Good Samaritan is able to collect your wayward pet, but microchips offer permanent identification should the collar or tag fall off. Just make sure the information is up-to-date. Use Halloween as a yearly reminder to double check your address and phone number on tags and with the company who supports pet microchips.

Medicating Your Pet: How To Get Pills And Liquids Down The Hatch

You can expect that at some time during your pet’s life, you will need to give her some medications. It may be antibiotics for an infection, daily thyroid medication, or a supplement to help keep her healthy. Some pets will end up on daily treatments for life. To ensure that medication does its job, you want delivery of it to be as easy and free of stress as possible for your pet.

Pills
Many medications come in pill form. Your veterinarian may be able to get drugs compounded into a tasty chewable treat. Compounding may add to the cost but can be worth it for a pet who happily devours the drugs that way. That is not possible for all medications, and some pets don’t fall for the tasty treat idea anyway.

There are other ways to get a pill into your pet. One tried and true method is “disguising” the pill. Hide the pill in a food item your pet loves. For dogs, peanut butter, liverwurst or cheese often works. Ideal treat foods are a bit sticky and carry a fairly heavy scent to hide any trace of the pill.

Make up at least three balls of the treat, even though only one will have medication hidden in it. Offer your pet one of the “clean” balls, follow it with the medicated one, then end with another clean one. You can rotate when you give the medication treat. This way, even if your pet is suspicious, she gets plenty of unmedicated treats to balance it out.

This method works for many pets, both short term and long term. Always check with your veterinarian that it is okay to give the medication with a treat and that the type of treat you want to use is suitable. For example, tetracycline should not be given with any dairy products as calcium binds the drug and renders it less efficacious.

Some pets refuse to be fooled. In that case, you need to help them learn to take a pill. Start by getting your pet used to an oral exam. To deliver a pill, place your hand over the top of the muzzle and gently squeeze in right behind the canine teeth. The mouth automatically opens – at least a bit. With your other hand, gently pull down on the lower jaw for a wider opening. Place the pill as far back as you can safely reach. Then close the mouth. At this point, a gentle puff of air in your pet’s face will often cause her to swallow. Always try to follow the pill with a treat or a drink. That helps to prevent the pill from getting hung up in the esophagus and causing irritation.

Liquids
Liquid medications can also be compounded in many cases into flavored versions. Tuna is popular with the feline crowd, but many dogs like that flavor too. Flavored liquid medications can often simply be added to your pet’s food.

For the dog who “knows” you are trying to put one over on her and for liquid drugs that can’t be compounded, you need to deliver the medication orally. Your veterinarian will dispense a plastic syringe to give the drug. This will be clearly marked so you can adjust and give the exact amount needed. Since the syringe is plastic you don’t need to worry about your dog chewing on it a little.

Start by trying to simply slip the syringe into the corner of the mouth, under the lips. Dispense the liquid slowly. A fast squirt may deliver some into the trachea and cause coughing and irritation. Most pets lick and swallow. A dog with loose lips (known as flews), may get liquid hung up in the folds and not into the mouth. Make sure it goes in the mouth.

With practice, you will become quite skilled at medicating your pet!

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT

Helping Your Dog or Cat Chill May Add Years to their Lives

Can fear, anxiety, and stress be stealing precious heartbeats from your beloved pet at home?

That’s the theory being studied by Dr. Robert Hamlin, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVIM. His work is examining the idea that stress, especially when it triggers the body’s fight or flee “sympathetic storm” mechanism, not only affects the quality of your pet’s life but may even reduce the length of your pet’s life.

Hamlin’s research is focusing primarily on stress and anxiety experienced by pets in veterinary clinics, but environmental factors experienced during your pets’ day to day lives are a source of stress as well. When veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker first encountered Dr. Hamlin’s words, he was shocked. He had worked for almost a decade on the concepts of the Fear Free practice and the Fear Free home. He sensed the damage fear and stress can do to the quality of the pet’s life, “but never, in my wildest imagination,” he says, “did I think that our work could actually cause pets to live longer.”

Living longer is part of Dr. Hamlin’s theory. He invites his Ohio State University veterinary students to consider the age of the oldest living person — 126 years. Assuming that’s as old as the molecular structure of humans can go, he asks them to consider what genetic and environmental factors prevent others from reaching that limit. Many of those factors can’t be controlled, but some can — and stress, he thinks science will show, is one of them.

If you, or your pet, are endowed at birth with a finite number of heartbeats, it makes sense not to burn them on undue stress or in the cascade of heart racing effects of a fight or flee response. So, does it follow that you and your cat or dog should just take up residence on the couch to preserve as many heartbeats as possible?

No. A healthy heart, Dr. Hamlin says, will actually need fewer beats when the heart is at rest — which is most of the time — so with exercise you will likely experience a net saving despite the beats you burn during exercise. To that end, the 84-year-old rides his bicycle one hour every day.

So, exercise is recommended, but unnecessary stress is not. For example, people who prevent their dogs from smelling the butts of other dogs are creating ongoing stress. ”We change a dog’s behavior for our comfort, not the dog’s,” he says. Any difficulties we create on defecation or urination, beyond what’s necessary to keep the animal as a pet, also create ongoing stress.

Triggering the sympathetic storm is exponentially worse, he thinks. Thunderstorms and fireworks are two common examples of such triggers. The only use for this hard-wired systemic reaction, he says, should actually be to fight or to flee. Otherwise, both the quality of life and the length of life are likely being challenged when the pet experiences it.

If you want to reduce environmental stress on your pets and conserve their heartbeats, Dr. Becker offers these suggestions:

For Dogs:

  • Give dogs a comfortable place to rest free from competition with other pets. A kennel or crate is a great choice.
  • Don’t use heavy scents or fragrances in the house. This includes burning scented candles and sprays.
  • Don’t use harsh cleaning products, such as products with bleach, that can not only burn a dog’s sensitive nose but temporarily destroy olfactory neurons and cause pets to become “nose-blind.”
  • Severely limit the playing of loud music or other loud noises (lawn mowers, tools, video games etc.) around pets.
  • Give your canine kids lots of physical touch.
  • Don’t ignore their fear, anxiety, and stress from things such as thunderstorms, fireworks, and separation anxiety. Instead work with your local veterinarian to take steps to prevent or reduce experiences that trigger fear, anxiety, and stress in your pet, and treat it when it arises.
  • Make liberal use of veterinary-approved pheromone sprays and other products.

For Cats:

  • Cats don’t need to live in Colorado or Oregon to get high. Nothing pleases a cat more than taking a cat nap up high on a perch, or climbing a tree where they can see the world but feel safe.
  • Put their toilets — aka litter boxes — in a bright location with escape routes, and with enough choices in different spots (at least one more litter box than number of cats) so they can’t be bullied just for answering nature’s call.
  • Greatly reduce or eliminate the use of heavy fragrances.
  • Use gentle cleaning products that don’t cause chemical pollution.
  • Use pheromone products, such as Feliway Multicat, that are clinically proven to give the clowder (formal name for a group of cats) the feeling of Kumbaya.
  • Touch your cats in places they like to have contact — lips, hairless areas above eyes, base of the ears, where the head and neck meet, base of the tail. Avoid the belly unless you want to film a YouTube slasher flick.
  • If adopting another pet, make sure introductions are carefully planned and designed to maximize security and minimize anxiety and stress.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT

Acupuncture: Can It Help Reduce Pet Stress At The Vet?

“Daeli receives regular acupuncture sessions. She was once very afraid of the needles and she still gets a little worried right before, but she relaxes as you can see here,” says KristyAnn Brock, DVM, CCRP, CVA, Fear Free associate veterinarian at Viking Veterinary Care in Portland, Oregon.

The idea of sticking needles in your dog or cat to help reduce fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) associated with a veterinary visit may sound contradictory, but Dr. Brock says acupuncture helps with relaxation in a clinical setting. A pet who is relaxed makes it easier for a veterinary team to provide high quality medical care, including a more thorough exam and any diagnostic tests needed.

“Because acupuncture releases feel-good endorphins, many patients displaying fear, anxiety, and stress actually start to relax. Acupuncture helps with future visits since pets may start to associate the veterinary hospital with endorphin release and relaxation that occurs during the acupuncture treatment. These future veterinary visits may then be calmer and more productive as a result,” says Dr. Brock.

In 2015 the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and American Association of Feline Practitioners issued joint guidelines for pain management in dogs and cats, including endorsing the use of acupuncture as a treatment modality for pain in animals. An increasing number of veterinarians offer acupuncture as a treatment modality integrated with traditional Western treatment options for pets.

Conditions Acupuncture Can Manage
Pain, whether acute or chronic, can be all encompassing, making it difficult to focus on anything else. Some pets may be so stressed from pain that their overall quality of life is greatly diminished. Pets in pain may be irritable, lose their appetite, and not want to be touched or picked up. Their interactions with family members and other pets may change. A pet stressed from pain may display a repertoire of FAS behavioral signs including trembling, crouching, and laying their ears back. Often they are resistant to grooming, a veterinary exam, or even petting.

Acupuncture can be effectively used to help manage a variety of ailments, especially conditions that involve pain and inflammation such as osteoarthritis and intervertebral disk disease. Other conditions that may respond favorably to acupuncture include gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, and decreased appetite; respiratory conditions such as feline asthma; metabolic disorders such as chronic kidney disease, liver disease, and diabetes mellitus; and pain associated with trauma from surgery, accidents, or fights. Cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and radiation may experience improved quality of life.

What Acupuncture Is
“Veterinary acupuncture is the insertion of sterile fine metal needles into specific anatomical points on the patient’s body with the intention to produce a healing response, to prevent disease or to treat pain,” says Dr. Brock. “There are 361 acupuncture points located on the dog and cat, many of which are similar to points placed on people. Each acupuncture point is associated with specific areas where a nerve enters a muscle and has specific corresponding actions when stimulated. The desired response to the placement of the needles depends on the stimulation of the specific point itself,” she says.

Explaining how acupuncture works is a bit difficult since it isn’t fully understood and depends on which perspective you take, Eastern or Western. Dr. Brock says, “Eastern medicine focuses on the qi [pronounced “chee”] that moves constantly and unhindered throughout the body. When the body experiences injury or illness, it’s believed that qi is slowed or blocked completely. Acupuncture removes these “road blocks” and restores the flow of energy through the body. Western medicine focuses on the endorphin release in the nervous system from the placement of the needles. Endorphins are feel-good chemicals naturally produced by the body that have been shown to decrease pain and nausea.”

The Acupuncture Session
Because acupuncture needles are so fine, most animals do not experience pain from the stick, and many often fall asleep during the session. The acupuncture session may last between 30 and 60 minutes and typically includes a discussion about the pet’s lifestyle. Generally the needles stay in place from 10 to 40 minutes.

“The amount of time depends on which disease process the veterinarian is addressing as well as the number of needles that are being placed. The longer a disease process has been present, the longer the acupuncturist will attempt to leave the needles in,” says Dr. Brock.

She says the effects of acupuncture are cumulative and some conditions require four to six sessions, while others have an immediate benefit. The number and frequency of treatments depends on the pet, the condition, and the type of treatment used, such as dry needle, aquapuncture, or electroacupuncture. Some chronic conditions may need lifelong treatment.

During the first 24 hours following treatment, pets may appear lethargic, but it’s actually a relaxed state due to physiological changes that include the release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters that have an effect on the brain. After the first 24 to 48 hours, most clients see improved conditions in their pets.

For pets displaying extreme signs of FAS, Dr. Brock recommends at-home sessions. There, pets are more likely to allow needle placement with significantly reduced levels of stress.

Our Veterinary Acupuncturist at New Hartford Animal Hospital
Dr. Abbey Regner is our Certified Veterinary Accupunturist. Veterinary acupuncture is considered a medical procedure and may legally be performed only by a licensed veterinarian certified by an accredited acupuncture program.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

How Dogs “Yap” By Using Their Tails and Ears

Want to better understand your dog? You may be surprised to learn that he says a lot by how his positions and moves his tail and ears.

Although a dog’s tail is situated far from the ears, these key body parts work in harmony in clearly communicate a wide range of moods from anger to fear and curiosity to elation.

In other words, your dog is doing a lot of “yapping” without making a single sound simply by how he wags his tail or pivots his ears when greeting people or other dogs.

“Tails can be confusing to read because dogs come in so many shapes and sizes,” says Julie Reck, DVM, veterinarian and owner of Veterinary Medical Center of Fort Mill in South Carolina. “An Australian Shepherd has a docked tail and a Husky has a natural curl to the tail. By the time, the Husky puffs his tail, we have missed a lot of what the Husky was trying to tell us.”

Her advice: look at the total dog to determine whether it is safe to approach or not.

“When it comes to reading a dog’s behavior, the tails and ears are huge markers, but you can never overlook their eyes,” says Dr. Reck, a Fear Free certified professional. “A dog delivering a set and fixed gaze is cause for concern, and you definitely do not want to reach to pet that dog. And a wagging tail could be a friendly sign, or it could be a way for a stressed dog to express energy out of his body. That’s why it is key to step back and read all the telltale signs a dog is giving out.”

In general, here are some tail-ear posture pairings and how they work together to convey a dog’s emotional state:

Circular tail wag with soft ears: This usually signals a happy, friendly dog who is eager to greet you. Breeds with long, bushy tails, such as Keeshonds and Belgian Tervuren, lazily wag in a circular motion to show affection to their favorite people. But breeds with stubby tails, such as Boxers and Rottweilers, show their excitement upon seeing their favorite people by causing their tails to appear to vibrate and wiggle their whole bodies. This friendly posture is often matched with an open grin, squinty eyes and a relaxed or swaying body.

Stiff tail wagging slowly side to side with ears up: This combination can convey an alert, cautious dog who is assessing the situation before deciding how to respond. The face joins the tail and ears in this “I-mean-business” posture with tight muscles and a steady, unblinking stare. The back legs are often wide apart and rigid with the dog leaning forward. He is declaring to others to keep their distance.

Stiff, non-moving tail with ears pinned back: Dogs who are ready to attack tend to keep their tails stiff and parallel to the ground or raised. They will pull their ears back to prevent them from getting injured in a possible fight.

Tail tucked and ears pivoted to the side or flattened: This tail-ear combo is often demonstrated by a dog who is afraid or anxious and is doing his best to alert you or other dogs that he is not a threat. A dog displaying fear will also tend to sport a smooth forehead and will often cower.

Raised tail with ears loose and body relaxed: Confident, friendly dogs will often raise their tails to expose their anal area, allowing other dogs to more easily sniff during greetings. However, the raised tail can be a yellow caution light if the body is not relaxed.

Relaxed tail with cupped ears: When the head is also learning forward or to one side and the eyes are alert and focused, this often indicates a dog who is curious about something they see of great interest, such as a person picking up a tennis ball or a squirrel who has managed to leap from the branch of one tree to another in the backyard.

Parting advice: Working with a certified dog trainer or a veterinary behaviorist can help you decode canine postures and vocalizations so you can enjoy better two-way communication with your dog and other dogs you meet.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Nameowste: Cats Reap Yoga Benefits, Too

As soon as I sit down, my cat Natasha becomes my yoga partner. She helps me stay focused when she swishes her tail under my nose while I’m in Half Moon pose or swats my ponytail while in Downward Facing Dog. She’s a master at shavasana, the relaxation pose at the end of practice.

Cat-loving yogis have always admired their pets’ abilities in the practice of yoga, and now more people have the opportunity to experience the benefits of yoga cat-style, thanks to cat yoga classes. The fun, furry, and physical phenomenon is popping up in shelters, cat cafés, and other places from coast to coast.

From philanthropic to physiological, everyone benefits from cat yoga events. Participants get a good workout, with the bonus of interacting with cats. Shelters and rescue groups raise needed funds to care for cats. Cats get to brush up on their socialization skills with people, making them more adoptable. Win-win-win!

Symbiotic Health Benefits

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health identifies yoga as one of the most commonly used complementary health approaches to maintain health and wellbeing, relieve stress and anxiety, and enhance quality of life. Health benefits include lower blood pressure and heart rate, relief of depression and insomnia, reduced symptoms of low back pain, and improved strength, flexibility, and overall fitness.

A wealth of research points to health benefits of yoga for humans, but do shared yoga classes benefit cats as well? Science says yes.

During the session, some cats actively engage with people, seeking to touch or be touched, and people respond accordingly. Touch receptors beneath the skin of humans and animals activate the flow of oxytocin and a cascade of “feel-good” brain chemicals, creating a calming effect. Physiological effects of this type of beneficial touch include lower blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate, and drops in levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Heads up if you’re new to cats: studies find cats prefer to be petted in the temporal region, between the eyes and ears, followed by the chin area, and do not like their tails touched.

Cue Music

Music is like a second heartbeat and can have a profound effect on living beings. In yoga, music helps to prepare the body, mind, and breath for the practice ahead. In Wales, recent veterinary school graduate Sian Barr studied the effects of yoga meditation music on cats in the veterinary clinic. In the yearlong test she observed body postures, ear and eye placements, and measured respiration levels. In an interview she said, “I found that the music had a dramatic effect on respiration rates, with those exposed to the music decreasing to a relaxed rate much quicker than those not exposed.”

Other research has found that cats prefer species-specific music based on pitch, tempo, and timbre. One sample was based on the tempo of purring. The research shows such music can reduce stress and bring about calm behavior. Purringtons Cat Lounge, in Portland, Oregon, has weekly cat yoga classes, and co-owner Kristen Castillo said she noticed cats responded favorably when an instructor started the class with a loud purring sound that lasted for several minutes. Perhaps Om Shanti yoga meditation music strikes the right chord for cats.

Yoga At Home

If you don’t live near a facility that offers cat yoga, you can practice at home with your own cat. Not only will you both enjoy the health benefits, the interaction will help strengthen your bond. Even if you’re not a yoga enthusiast, just sitting on floor doing gentle stretches will get your cat’s attention.

Cat yoga provides health benefits to both people and cats and, bonus, you get to train with feline masters of flexibility, mindful meditation, and the art of living in the moment.Nameowste.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Pet Pain: What You Don’t Know May Surprise You

I hope you aren’t in pain as you read this. But if you are, you probably know that pain is one of the most common reasons we go to our doctors. Pain in humans is such a major problem that in the U.S. alone, billions of dollars are spent treating pain and compensating for lost productivity from workers in pain. Pain also leads to social isolation and health problems,  not only from the painful condition itself but also from the effects of pain-induced stress.

To cope with the magnitude of this problem, a number of medical doctors choose to specialize solely in the treatment of pain, and some work in pain-specific treatment centers. But in spite of the vast problem of pain, many people still don’t recognize just how pervasive pain is and how debilitating it can be. To help spread the message, many pain organizations have deemed September to be Pain Awareness Month.

Pain Awareness Month is also an important campaign for pets since many people, including some veterinarians, still hold to the myth that animals don’t feel pain. Animals, however, have the same anatomical and physiological processes that produce pain in people. So if something would hurt us, we can say scientifically that it would hurt an animal. The reason pain in pets often goes unrecognized is because animals are very good at hiding pain, so we don’t always recognize that they’re suffering and need treatment for pain.

Why should you care about pain in your pet? If a pet can hide pain, it can’t be that bad, right? Unfortunately for our pets, that actually isn’t right. Pain causes tremendous stress on the body’s normal physiologic processes. Negative health effects of pain occur whether the pet is hiding pain or not. These negative effects can include fast and irregular heart beats, high blood pressure, impaired healing from surgery or wounds, decreased sleep, decreased appetite, behavior changes that can include aggression, and many other negative effects. These can compound the negative effects of the original pain-inducing disease or condition.

How can you tell if your pet might be in pain? If the pet has undergone any surgery or suffered trauma, pain will occur, and you should discuss pain management with your veterinarian. When your pet leaves the hospital, pain medication should be dispensed for administration at home.

Of course, there are many causes of pain other than surgery or injury, and you might not know that your pet has a painful condition. Changes in behavior are often a major clue. Of course, changes in behavior can occur for many reasons, and you need to consult your veterinarian, but pain should be one of the diagnoses to consider. For example, we often find that pain is a problem in dogs who don’t want to play with their favorite ball anymore and in cats who won’t jump up to their favorite sunny windowsill. There is more information on recognizing pain in pets at the IVAPM website (ivapm.org), particularly in the pet owner blog section.

If you have a pet who might be in pain, the good news is that the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM) has declared that September is Animal Pain Awareness Month. The IVAPM campaign is designed to help owners and veterinarians recognize pain in pets so it can be treated. Since identification and treatment of pain is also a primary mission of the Fear Free movement, pet owners can rest assured that the recognition and treatment of pain in their pets will be part of everyday, standardized care as these two organizations work to decrease pain in animals.

Just as in human medicine, doctors can be certified to treat pain. The IVAPM offers training to veterinarians and veterinary nurses for a special pain certification, or Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner (CVPP). Veterinarians and veterinary nurses can also be certified in Fear Free, which includes pain management as a major component of certification So, for “pet’s” sake, take advantage of the Pain Awareness Month campaign and take your pet to a Fear Free certified CVPP for a discussion on pain and analgesia.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT

Hospice Care: What to Know About Quality of Life

The goal of hospice is to ensure your dog’s health, comfort, and happiness. Those three elements comprise quality of life: your dog’s physical, mental and social wellbeing.

“The philosophy of maintaining quality of life at the end of life honors the human-animal bond,” says Alice Villalobos, DVM, a veterinary oncologist who is considered the godmother of hospice for pets, which she refers to as “paw-spice.”

Assessing quality of life is an essential aspect of providing hospice care, and it’s important for preventing fear, anxiety, and stress. Here’s how to measure and monitor your dog’s quality of life.

Ask yourself the following questions, scoring the answers from 0 to 10. If your dog has a score of 35 or higher, he likely has good quality of life. A lower score is a signal that you may need to make some changes to improve his wellbeing.

  • Can my dog’s pain be managed by medication or oxygen therapy?
  • Is my dog having difficulty breathing?
  • Does my dog have a good appetite?
  • Does my dog drink enough water?
  • Is my dog clean and well groomed?
  • Does my dog still greet me and enjoy petting and other interactions?
  • Can my dog get around easily?
  • Does my dog have more good days than bad?

For each question, your veterinarian can help you recognize potential problems and make adjustments as needed. For instance, rapid respirations or labored breathing can signal that your dog is in pain. Depending on his condition, medication or at-home oxygen therapy may help.

Appetite stimulants or hand feeding can improve a dog’s willingness to eat. Sometimes all it takes to encourage him to eat is warming his food or giving him a nice scratch on the head or neck.

If your dog isn’t drinking enough water, he may become dehydrated, which can make him feel sick. The running water provided by a fountain may entice him to drink more water. You can also get liquid in him by freezing some chicken broth and giving him the cubes to lick.

We all feel better when we are clean and neat, and that includes our dogs. Your dog may enjoy being gently brushed or combed. Give him a butt bath if necessary for his sanitation and comfort.

An unhappy dog may seem depressed, anxious or isolated. Consider changing his environment if possible. He may do better in a quieter area if the noise of kids playing bothers him. More social dogs may want to spend time in the area where the family is gathered, such as the kitchen or den.

Your hospice dog may have trouble negotiating steps or getting on and off the furniture the way he used to. Try adding a ramp or pet steps to make his life easier. Be sure he has a soft but supportive bed, such as one with an egg-crate mattress or a warming or cooling element.

Finally, pay attention to the ratio of good days and bad days. If your dog starts to have several bad days in a row, it may be time to consider giving him the gift of a peaceful death.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT

Manage Your Own Vibes To Give Your Cat A Fear Free Experience

If we share a home with a beloved cat, we’ll likely have the opportunity to engage in cat-care interactions that may be a challenge, a perceived challenge, or unfamiliar. If we are giving our cat a pill for the first time, we may have preconceptions about how the pill-giving event is going to transpire. We may assume the worst. We could be riding in the car with our cat for the first time, clipping claws, or giving subcutaneous fluids. And if we’re not mindful and we assume the worst outcome, our body and our actions will betray us, and our cat will pick up on our own vibe, potentially creating more stress for the cat and for us.

We humans can create an entire good or bad story about an action before we carry out that action. We have busy and untrained minds and imaginations that can spin into many directions.  Guess what? We tighten our bodies, stop breathing, picture bad outcomes, and approach the needed action with aggression, clumsiness, nervousness, or fear. Our cats pick up on this. If we assume that something we need to do to our cat (giving a pill, for example, or clipping claws) is going to go badly, then we’ll proceed with ingrained tension, and chances are that our cats will pick up on this. How can we make sure that we make cat care, and our cat interactions in general, a fear free experience for both human and cat?

Mind Control

Put those expectations out of your mind.

Remind yourself that you can never really know the outcome of something you want to carry out. Try to enter into each experience without assuming the worst. If your cat had a bad experience taking a pill, that doesn’t mean that the cat will always have the same experience. Believe that you can swing the outcome in a different (better) direction by modifying your thoughts and your actions. If it’s too much of a stretch to picture a positive outcome, try not picturing any outcome. Instead, keep your mind in the present moment.

Take A Deep Breath

Breathe through the nose, and repeat.

Deep breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing through the nose on the inhale and the exhale) will instantly induce relaxation in your body. This is counter to the way that most of us breathe much of the time. Try it, and keep repeating, breath after breath. This will help you to interact with your cat calmly. Do this all the time, and you’ll move through life a lot more calmly – with your cats and with anyone else.

Approach Calmly

Now that your mind is a blank slate (right?), physically enter into the interaction slowly. Don’t surprise or rush your cat. Make your presence known and let your cat see you, rather than surprising the cat from behind. Show the cat the claw clippers or the brush. Take it slow. Move slowly and without stress.

Know Your Cat

All cats are different. Know your cat, and know what works for your cat. If your cat does better in a quiet environment, clip his claws in the absence of jarring noise. If your cat hates to be held with his belly exposed, see if you can clip his claws without exposing his underside.

We worked slowly with my black cat to get him to enjoy being brushed. We knew that he loved the feeling of the brush against his jaw, so we let him lean into the brush. We mostly brush his head (which he loves), and we occasionally brush the rest of his body. He’s not as crazy about that, but we’ve learned to read his moods and know when he’s more accepting of a full-body brushing experience.

Our own demeanor, and the thought that we bring to carrying out cat care, can make all the difference between a miserable or a fear free experience for our cats.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Catherine Holm is the award-winning author of cat fantasy fiction and cat-themed memoir. She lives in Vermont with her husband and five well-loved cats. Learn about her work at www.catherineholm.com.

Home Alone? Ways To Ease Your Family Dog Into School Year Schedules

With the fall season, the family dog may suddenly be reduced from full-time companionship with his favorite person or people to being home alone for at least part of the day. Our family went through this with my kids’ personal dogs both for regular school and then when they went off to college. This may be a traumatic shift for your pet, but there are ways to ease him into the new routine.

You can start in “everyday” life. It is tempting for kids to give their dog an emotional farewell in the morning and a huge greeting when they return in the afternoon. Instead, concentrate on making those comings and goings regular parts of his day. When the school year gets back in session, your dog figures it is just a quick trip out when your son or daughter leaves.

Obviously it helps if there are other people or pets in the home. Even a canary can provide some company to your dog, who is a social being. Our dogs were lucky in that I was working from home, and we had other pets, including other dogs. If you don’t have other pets and can’t be around, you need ways to get your dog over the initial disappointment of being left alone.

Many dogs have special toys, treats, or chew items. Give your dog one of his favorites as the kids head out the door in the morning. That will help ease his disappointment at being left behind. If you, the parent, will be at home, plan some extra exercise for the lonely dog. A long walk is good for him both mentally and physically. In fact, if you are feeling “empty nest syndrome” with kids off to college and away from home, it is good for both of you!

For daily separations, try some of the standard “amusement for a lonely dog” tricks. You can record your child reading his favorite book (or his dog’s favorite book) and play it for the dog. Leave yesterday’s t-shirt by the dog’s bed so he has your child’s scent for comfort. If you will all be gone, consider calling home and leaving a message for the dog on your answering machine. (Try this trick on a day you don’t actually plan to leave so you can gauge his reaction to this. Some dogs get very excited hearing the voice of their person. You want calm, not crazy.)

If your dog just won’t settle, ask your veterinarian about using a calming supplement, pheromone sprays or bandanas, or some melatonin. A few unusual cases may benefit from an actual sedative or behavior-modifying medication.

A boy and his dog become inseparable over the summer. (Photo by Mike Weir)

When your child heads off to college, the adjustment can be more difficult for the dog, but we discovered a few tricks that helped. My son’s Australian Shepherd enjoyed Skyping with “his boy.” Some dogs get hyper, and others don’t react at all to phone calls or Skyping visits. You have to experiment.

Keeping an old, unwashed sheet or shirt with your child’s scent on it is comforting to a dog who is feeling lonesome. Just be aware that an old shoes and clothing may get chewed as a “comfort” item. If possible, keep these items in your dog’s crate or near his favorite resting spot.

My daughter solved this problem by taking a dog to college with her after her freshman year. That did still leave me with her other two dogs (plus my own!), but I think both Kate and her dog were much happier that way. She rotated which dog got apartment privileges with her.

Dogs going off to college life must be extremely stable and not inclined to bark or be destructive. Apartments that allow dogs are often few and far between. You don’t want to change a landlord’s mind about allowing pets!

Finally, college students need to be realistic about their schedules. Baloo, my son’s Aussie, would have been a great college dog, but Tom’s schedule as an engineering student was not at all compatible with having a dog. Kate’s English major schedule, on the other hand, was perfect.

With experience, your dog will learn the school-year routine and adjust his habits accordingly. And who knows? You and the family dog may develop your own special relationship while the kids are off at school.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT