Study Finds Dog Ownership Significantly Improves the Health of Seniors

The correlation between pet ownership and our mental and physical well-being has been well-documented.  Sharing our lives with dogs, cats, and other companion animals makes us happy, and has health benefits like lowering stress and blood pressure.  But owning a dog and taking your best friend outside for regular walks and play sessions can be particularly beneficial for sedentary older adults.

A study published in the journal BMC Public Health examined the physical activity of seniors living in a retirement community, and compared the activity levels of dog owners versus non-dog owners.  43 pairs of dog owners and non-dog owners were studied, using both activity monitoring devices and detailed questionnaires.

The results?  The dog owners demonstrated a significantly greater amount of time engaging in physical activity than those seniors who did not have dogs.  They spent an average of 22 additional minutes per day walking.  Measured in steps, they walked around 2760 more steps per day than the non-dog owners.  The walking was of a moderate intensity.  The dog owners also had fewer “sitting events” than the more sedentary non-dog owners.

The happy conclusion?  In addition to the many mental health benefits of dog ownership, it can be an important way to incorporate regular, healthy activity into the lives of seniors.

 

First Aid Tips to Keep Your Pets Safe this Summer

Check out these great summer-themed first aid tips from the website PetMD.  Your pets can face all sorts of warm weather hazards like hot pavements on soft paws, an unexpected dip in the pool, insect bites and stings, and heatstroke.  Help keep your dogs, cats, and other companion animals safe this summer with these tips.

Know the signs of heatstroke and how to treat it.

Your pet can get overheated in the hot summer months.  Symptoms of heatstroke include vomiting, diarrhea, panting, fast pulse, red gums, and collapse.  If your pet’s temperature is over 104 degrees Fahrenheit, take her to a cool place immediately and begin treating with cool water (not ice water).  Bring your pet to the vet for a thorough exam, as heatstroke can cause organ damage.

Protect your pet from insect pests.

If you live in a place with a high incidence of Lyme Disease, consider having your pet vaccinated for it.  Use flea and tick prevention for dogs and cats but never administer dog treatments to your cat.  Cats are sensitive to these treatments and ones intended for dogs can be toxic to them.  You can give antihistamines for insect bites, just talk to your vet about dosage.

Be aware of the dangers of snake bites.

Bites from rattlesnakes and other venomous critters can be a hazard to your pet in the warm weather months.  Take your pet to the vet ASAP if she has been bitten by a snake or other animal.  Vets recommend not putting any topical medicines on the bite until it has been examined by an expert.

Open windows can be hazardous to your pet.

If you open your windows during the warm weather, make sure your screens are undamaged and securely in place before you let your pet sit on the windowsill.  Cats are especially likely to suffer trauma injuries from falling out of a window.   Your pet can get internal injuries as well as broken bones from a fall, so be sure to get to the vet as soon as possible.

Keep pets safe around the water.

Don’t assume your dog is an expert swimmer when you allow him to romp around the pool or take her for a boat ride.  Make sure your pet can swim and knows his way out of the pool in an emergency.  Get a pet life jacket for boat rides.  Be aware of the hazards of parasites and bacterial infections if your dog swims in a pond or river.  Pool chemicals can also irritate your pet’s eyes…and stomach, if swallowed.

Protect paw pads from hot surfaces.

Your pet can get burns on her paw pads if she walks on a hot surface like cement, or even beach sand.  Put booties on your dog’s feet for a long walk in the summer heat.  Soak your pet’s paws in cool water and talk to your vet about topical medicines to apply to the feet.  Also, pets with light colored fur can get sunburn, so keep them out of the midday sun or get them sun protection products made just for pets.

Summer foods can pose a risk to your pets.

Your pets may love the idea of hanging around your backyard barbecue, but be sure to keep an eye on them when the food is served.  Summertime favorites like corn on the cob (dogs may swallow cobs whole) and barbecue sauce (contains onion, garlic, and salt) can pose a real danger to your pet, as can alcoholic beverages.

Beware of pesticides and poisonous plants.

Keep pets off lawns that have been freshly treated with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.  Certain pesticides like rodent and snail bait can be very harmful, or even fatal, to your pet if ingested.  Remove mushrooms from your yard as many can be toxic to pets.

 

Top 10 Pet Health Issues Seen by FACE and our Veterinary Partners

We are often asked about the kinds of pet health emergencies that are seen by our veterinary partners and referred to FACE, so that we may help qualified pet owners pay for life-saving veterinary treatments for their companion animals.  There are many common pet injuries and illnesses that we and our partners see on a monthly or even weekly basis.  Here’s a list of the top pet health issues helped by FACE grants.  Be sure to check out our website for more detailed information on each medical condition!

  1. Fractures

Broken bones are a very common pet injury that we see on an almost weekly basis.  Fractures of a dog or cat’s long bones are like human arm or leg fractures.  Some young or small pets can even sustain fractures from a jump off a couch or bed.  The most common signs of fractures are lameness, as well as pain and swelling at the injury site.  Be sure to get your pet to the vet as soon as possible.  Falls from high places (or being hit by a car) can cause serious, life-threatening internal injuries besides broken bones, like internal bleeding and ruptured organs, so quick diagnosis and treatment are critical.

  1. Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

Most commonly seen in dogs, especially Dachshunds and other breeds with similar body types, IVDD occurs when the cushions between your dog’s spinal bones swell or rupture.  This can damage the spinal cord and lead to lameness, loss of sensation, incontinence, and even paralysis.  Mild IVDD can be treated with non-invasive measures, but a serious case requires surgery to decompress the spine.  Sadly, vets may often recommend euthanasia if a ruptured disc is left untreated.

  1. Foreign Body Obstructions

Dogs, cats, and other pets will often get into mischief and eat things they shouldn’t.  A gastrointestinal obstruction occurs when the object is not vomited up or passed through the intestinal tract.  Many common household items can cause an obstruction:  toy pieces, strings, rubber bands, coins, pieces of bone, etc.  An object stuck in the upper GI tract can be removed via endoscopy, but many stomach and intestinal obstructions require surgery.  Untreated obstructions can be fatal.

  1. Urinary Obstructions

A very common veterinary emergency, often seen in male cats, urinary obstructions occur when crystals or mucus form in the kidneys and enter the bladder and urethra.  Mild obstructions can cause your cat discomfort and distress, but complete obstructions (and the inability to pass any urine) cause deadly toxins to build up in your cat’s body, leading to death if left untreated.  Your cat’s urinary system will need to be flushed.  Chronic obstructions often require surgery.  Your vet will talk to you about dietary changes to prevent the formation of crystals in the future.

  1. Pyometra

Besides leading to unwanted litters of puppies and kittens, leaving your female dog or cat unspayed can also lead to a life-threatening medical condition called pyometra.  It is a bacterial infection of the uterus, occurring in one quarter of unspayed female pets.  Signs include lethargy, vaginal discharge, and anorexia.  A seriously infected uterus can be fatal, and the recommended treatment for pyometra is removal of the uterus and ovaries.

  1. Rattlesnake Bites

Here in San Diego, rattlesnake bites are a fairly common pet emergency that can happen year-round because of the warm climate.  Dogs are 20 times more likely to be bitten by a snake than us humans, mostly due to their inquisitive nature when they are exploring the great outdoors.  A bite from a venomous snake can be fatal to your pet, and immediate treatment with antivenom is crucial.  Your pet will also require additional treatment for pain, infection, and inflammation.

  1. Emergency C-Sections

Emergency Caesarian sections are sometimes required if your pet is experiencing distress during the birthing process.  Certain dog breeds with large head/small body size (like some bulldogs and terriers) can be especially vulnerable to problems.  It is critical to bring your dog to the vet as soon as possible if she is experiencing intense contractions with no sign of puppies.

  1. Enucleations

Enucleation is the removal of an eye due to an injury or illness that causes your dog or cat discomfort.  In pets, enucleation is often the best solution to relieve pain.  Conditions that may require removal of the eye include glaucoma, cancer, severe infection, and trauma.   Your vet will perform the operation to remove the eye under anesthesia, stitching the skin closed when done.

  1. Laceration Repairs

A laceration is a cut or tear in the skin, with severe lacerations often involving blood loss and damage to underlying structures like muscles, tendons, blood vessels, and nerves.  Surgery under general anesthesia is often required to repair significant lacerations.  Lacerations should be treated as soon as possible to avoid infection of the wound.

  1. Severe Dental Work

Rounding out the list of the most common pet health issues we assist with is a relatively new addition…severe dental work.  Serious periodontal disease in dogs, cats, and other pets can lead to life-threatening health conditions.  Left untreated, diseased teeth and gums can lead to loss of tissue and bone in the mouth and the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body, leading to bone infection and organ damage.  Talk to your vet about prevention strategies like home tooth brushing.

 

How to Tell if Your Pet’s Behavior Issue is a Sign of a Health Problem

Behavioral problems can be very common in dogs, cats, and other companion animals.  When pet owners look up behavioral issues, such as cats going outside of the litter box, or obsessive grooming in dogs, many websites will tell you to see your veterinarian to rule out any medical problems.  How can you tell if your pet’s problem behavior is the result of a medical issue, and if so, what kind of medical issue?

The website VetVine is a great resource for both veterinarians and pet owners.  They have created a helpful checklist which outlines common categories of pet behavior problems, and the medical and behavioral causes that could be behind each problem.

Problem behavior categories are: house soiling, excessive grooming, aggression, and excessive vocalization.  Possible medical and behavioral causes are listed for each problem.  For example, did you know that a cat that goes outside of the litter box could have diabetes?  Or a dog that shows signs of aggression could have thyroid disease or epilepsy?  Does your pet meow or bark a lot?  It could be an indicator of hearing loss.

Check out the VetVine website for the complete list of conditions and causes, and be sure to see your veterinarian for additional help.  Interested in exploring more pet wellness topics?  The VetVine Hub on YouTube contains dozens of videos for pet owners on all sorts of pet health and behavior issues.  You can watch informative videos on everything from pet cancer and obesity to flea and tick control to dealing with pet anxiety, fear, and stress.

 

Scientists Investigate Autism Spectrum Disorder in Dogs

A recent article posted on the Slate website asks an intriguing question:  Do dogs get autism?  Is it possible that dogs and other animals could have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) just like people?  Scientists say that an analysis of certain canine behaviors could point to a diagnosis of autism in dogs.

While there is no simple test to definitively diagnose autism, researchers study two important factors when looking at autism in humans:  sociability and repetitive, intense behaviors called “stereotypies.”  Stereotypies in dogs can include things like tail-chasing, chewing, and flank-licking.

The article points to a study of the behavior of Bull Terriers, which found that roughly half of 300 dogs studied exhibited autistic-type behaviors.  Spinning/tail chasing was the most predominant behavior, but other compulsive behaviors were also observed.  A majority of the tail chasers were male and tended to exhibit other types of fixations.  The researchers realized that both the dogs’ gender and behaviors had strong parallels to autism in humans.

Seeking more scientific evidence to back up their observations, the researchers also tested a group of Bull Terriers for two types of blood chemicals, which are found at elevated levels in humans with autism.  The dogs also had high levels of these same chemicals.  The findings were published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

What’s the next step to definitively determine the existence of autism in dogs?  Work is currently underway to find specific areas of the canine genome that would point to a genetic basis for canine autism.  The article notes that famed animal behaviorist Temple Grandin, who is herself autistic, says that there are parallels between “animal genius” and “autistic genius”—interesting food for thought for owners of exceptional pets!