Sunday, August 9, 2015

Are Wildlife Preying on Your Pets?

As a veterinarian I used to think a dog fight was one of the worst things that could happen to a pet while out walking. But wildlife attacks on pets are a real and present danger. Remember the scene from the Sandra Bullock movie, The Proposal, in which Kevin, the American Eskimo puppy, is carried off by an eagle? Recently Boss, my 16 pound mixed breed dog, became a target of a flying predator not in remote Alaska, but smack dab in the heart of Las Vegas' suburbia.

During a walk at our community park before sunrise, I heard a loud beating of wings as a Great Horned Owl swooped down over Boss, my 16 pound terrier mix. My other dog Nikki, a Bouvier des Flanders, ran up to Boss and the owl flew off , retreated to a light pole and sat studying Boss’ movements. Fearing the owl appeared ready for a second try, I snatched Boss in my arms and hightailed it out of there.

Boss was lucky to have the deterrent of an eighty pound doggie sister nearby. But not all pets get off so lucky when wildlife predators are concerned. Outdoor cats and dogs may disappear during the night falling victim to a suspected coyote attack. Small pets under 20 pounds can be whisked off by birds of prey. Stories of wildlife attacks such as these occur all the time and the internet reads of horrific stories by owners who lose their small pets to wildlife.

What animals to watch for?

Coyotes are found not only in rural areas, but also thrive in metropolitan areas. Mountain lion and bobcats are other predators that are a concern for homeowners in more remote areas or along the outskirts of towns. Birds of prey such as owls, hawks, and eagles are very capable hunters, are protective of nesting sites, and can easily carry off small animals two to three times their body weight.

What can you do?

Be especially watchful near parks, golf courses or near natural paths that wildlife use as travel corridors, such as flood channels or washes. Remember that an abundance of prey animals like wild bunnies in your community means prime hunting grounds for urban predators.

Don’t leave your pets out at night unattended and preferably escort them using a leash. Wildlife rarely will approach a small pet if it is near a human or other larger animals.

Install motion activated lights on property.

Ensure all dog runs have a roof or fencing above to prevent predators from jumping over enclosure walls.

Building high fences and walls may seem like a solution, but predators can easily jump over these. Consider coyote fencing- a style of fencing that may help deter a predator from entering your backyard. Check out the Coyote Roller - an ingenious and humane method to prevent a coyotes and other dogs from being able to get over the top of fence with rolling metal bars installed along fence line.

Avoid attracting prey animals

Take steps to make your yard less attractive to nuisance animals like possums and raccoons as well as potential prey animals. Remove wildlife feeding stations like bird feeders. Secure garbage cans. Keep brush trimmed and landscape maintained to avoid hiding sites for animals. Avoid fruit producing trees that serve as food sources. Feed pets indoors to avoid leaving a food source outside for mice, rats or other critters.

Any other tools to protect pets?

Check out the Raptor Shield, a lightweight protective cape made of polycarbonate plastic- the same compound used in bulletproof shields. This dog vest product was developed to stop a bird of prey’s sharp talons from penetrating into small pets.


What to do if your pet is targeted by wildlife?

Make noise, wave arms and throw rocks to drive away animals. Carry a whistle, air horn or pepper spray for defense. Remember that some species of raptors are protected species and harassing or injuring them can result in fines.

Preventative efforts are far more useful than any steps you can take to spook away a predator after an attack occurs. Speak to your neighbors and share information if you spot coyotes or birds of prey in your neighborhood.

Don’t get me wrong- I wish no ill will on nature’s most efficient predators. I still find those soaring raptors breathtaking and I am awed by the coyote’s adaptability, but from now on I’ll prefer to watch nature’s animal wonders with my little terrier guy safely seated on my lap.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Make a Splash With Pet Pool Safety

Is your dog a capable swimmer, or dreadfully afraid of water? As the weather heats up and pools are opening for the summer season, pet owner should be mindful of pool safety for pets regardless if your dog loves to swim or avoids the pool like the veterinary office.

The first thing to realize is that many recommendations for dog pool safety parallel those recommended for safety of small children. Supervision, swim instruction and backup safety monitors are advised for both children and pets.

Swim School

The first step should be teaching your dog how to swim. Don’t just throw your pup in the pool and expect him to figure it out. Dogs are not born automatically knowing how to swim, rather they learn the skill after exposure and practice. Some heavy bodied dogs like Pugs or English Bulldogs have difficulty floating and swimming easily. And even breeds like the water-friendly Labrador retriever can develop fear of water if not properly exposed to swimming as a puppy.

Expose your dog to swimming in a controlled, non-excitable manner.  The gradual slope of a lake is ideal for first swim lessons and allows the dog to adjust to gradual changes in water depth. Be calm, remain positive and praise your dog with first placing him in ankle deep water. Provide toys to play with, chase or retrieve.

Only when your dog is comfortable with shallow water, should you introduce him to greater depths. Don’t expect your dog to go into the water alone- teach by example. Get out there with him and show him how much fun you can have splashing about. Reward calm, brave behavior and resist the temptation to coddle the nervous new swimmer.

The Exit

Getting out of a lake is easy. But those with pools now you have to teach your dog how to exit an artificial body of water. Swim alongside your dog and show him how to exit the pool via the steps. In pools that have steep steps or ladders, install a dog ladder or floating doggy dock to give your pooch easier exit.

Restricted access

Don’t leave your pets unattended around the pool. Supervise your dog’s swim time just as you would with toddlers. Install a barrier fence around the pool that limits your dog’s access to the pool when not directly supervised.

Safety alert devices

Set your pool up with a safety device that alerts you to inadvertent pool entry. Some devices are available through pool supply companies and alert via a receiver inside the home when the water surface has been disturbed. Other devices that fit on the pet include the Safety Turtle- a device that attaches to your dog’s collar and alerts you when the device is submerged in water.

Other pool safety devices

Floatation devices are advised for any dog around large bodies of water or for the less-confident swimmers. The backyard pool is of known depth and visibility, but lakes and oceans prove more dangerous. Although I know my dogs can swim in the backyard pool, when out on Lake Mead they wear their life vests reliably.

Know your dog

Be aware of your dog’s special needs. Elderly dogs, puppies or those with hearing or visual impairment may be at added risk for pool accidents or drowning. And if you are entertaining guests, be sure to look out for your pet’s safety. If unable to monitor your pet directly, keep him safe inside the home.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Is it Time to Worry About Dog Flu?

Dog owners are calling veterinary offices concerned with the news of the recent dog flu outbreak in the Midwest. Over 1000 dogs have become sick with the highly contagious Canine Influenza virus and 6 dogs have died to date.

Two strains of canine influenza, also known as The Dog Flu, have now been identified in the U.S. The original influenza virus identified in 2004 in racing greyhounds and was typed as H3N8. Dogs in the current Chicago outbreak were originally thought to have H3N8, but testing identified a different subtype H3N2. This strain of canine influenza hasn't yet been seen in the U.S., but was identified in Asia before.

What are dog flu symptoms?
Both canine influenza strains cause coughing, nasal discharge, lethargy, loss of appetite and can cause a high fever. About 50-80% of infected dogs have mild kennel cough symptoms others may develop a severe illness. Some dogs exposed to the virus never go on to develop any symptoms.

Dogs with a mild form may recover within 10 to 30 days after typical kennel cough signs. Dogs with the severe form rapidly fall ill within 4- 6 hours and have very high fevers up to 104 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Infected dogs may also develop secondary bacterial pneumonia. The death rate for severe cases is reported to be 5-8% but is typically <1%.  

Can dogs pass the infection to humans?
No, there isn’t any evidence that canine influenza is contagious to humans. The H3N2 form could potentially make cats sick.

How is canine influenza treated?
Any infected dog should be removed from dog activities and isolated. Mild cases are treated with cough suppressants, rest and supportive care. Antibiotics are reserved only for cases in which a secondary bacterial infection are suspected. Severe cases may require hospitalization, oxygen support, antibiotics, and IV fluids.

Should we worry in Las Vegas?
Fortunately Las Vegas has not yet seen dog flu cases impact our community. But we know that Canine Influenza has been diagnosed in 40 states so far, so the disease is around.

Too often Las Vegas pet owners have the “it doesn’t happen here” mentality when it comes to infectious disease. Perhaps we think we live in a bubble in Las Vegas, far away from high parasite burdened areas or heavy heartworm endemic areas of the country.  But all it takes is movement of influenza infected dogs from another state to bring Canine Influenza to an area.

What can dog owners do to prevent illness?
Vaccination for canine influenza should be considered for at risk dogs-those living or traveling in an area experiencing an outbreak, or those that participate in group dog activities, visiting dog shows, grooming salons, boarding facilities, or doggie day care.

Outbreaks of dog flu take hold when the virus infects naïve dogs. Naïve dogs are those that haven’t ever been exposed to the virus, or that haven’t been vaccinated for this virus. By vaccinating more dogs in our area for canine influenza, we can in essence “protect the herd” better.

Preventative recommendations vary depending upon whether the virus is actively being diagnosed in your community. Dogs in areas affected by an outbreak should be kept away from group dog locations like dog parks, day care, and boarding facilities while infected dogs recover and facilities can disinfect their premises.

Other common sense tips to prevent your dog from acquiring dog flu include avoiding contact with unknown dogs, washing your hands after petting or contacting other dogs, and avoiding shared water bowls or items in public areas.

But in areas not experiencing an outbreak, there is little basis for limiting your dog’s activities by keeping Fido in lockdown.  While there is always some inherent risk of infectious disease in any group dog activity, participating in these activities offers benefits of physical exercise, provides mental stimulation, builds confidence, and decreases boredom and destructive behaviors.

Until canine influenza is diagnosed in our area, I am continuing to let Boss run his agility class and Nikki play with her canine pals at doggie daycare.

Should we vaccinate?
Dog owners with at-risk dogs should consider vaccination. Vaccination for canine influenza doesn’t prevent dogs from becoming infected, but rather decreases the severity and duration of illness. The vaccine also causes an infected dog to shed less virus that could infect other dogs.

The current canine influenza vaccine protects against the H3N8 strain, and is unknown if this vaccine offers any cross-protection against the H3N2 form, although research is looking at this now. In any case, it’s reasonable to expect the H3N8 form will still be out there so vaccination is reasonable for at risk dogs.

For more information about Canine Influenza visit Dog Flu Info for Pet Owners | Canine Influenza News and Information or AVMA info on Canine Influenza

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Deadly Spill- Pet Antifreeze Toxicity

Chilly winter weather means pet owner must be on the lookout for special health risks. An unfortunately common cold weather emergency is antifreeze poisoning. Just a small spill of this essential car fluid can be fatal for pets. So whether you have a dog, cat or are currently pet-less but own a car- this toxicity is a one you need to be aware of to keep animals safe.

Antifreeze Toxicity in Pets

Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, a compound that is used in automobiles to cool engines, and is resistant to freezing temperatures. Ethylene glycol is highly toxic to household pets- just a small quantity causes illness and death. Additionally, antifreeze has a sweet taste that animals find appealing and are apt to drink. Pets that ingest antifreeze rapidly develop neurologic symptoms and kidney failure. Small amounts of antifreeze can prove fatal for pets…just a teaspoon can prove toxic for a cat or small dog, while a several tablespoons for a larger dog.
Ethylene glycol is also found in some lesser known places but still poses the same toxic risk. It is used in winterizing fluids for toilets in vacation homes and RV’s. Ethylene glycol is also found in home solar units, break fluids, and within portable basketball goalpost bases.

What are the symptoms of antifreeze toxicity?

Initial symptoms occur within 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion include increased thirst, increased urination, depression, uncoordination, and seizures. Some pet owners describe their pet acting “drunk”.
Later symptoms occur 12-72 hours after ingestion and may include severe lethargy, difficulty breathing, mouth ulcers, vomiting, and coma.

How is antifreeze poisoning diagnosed and treated?

Your veterinarian will perform blood work, urine tests and may perform a specific test for the presence of ethylene glycol.
Suspect cases, even if unproven, are aggressively treated with intravenous fluids. Intravenous antidotes are given to bind the toxin, and anti-seizure medication is administered if needed.
Once kidney failure has set in, the prognosis is unfortunately grim for survival.

How to prevent accidental antifreeze poisoning?

  • Pet owners should recognize what an antifreeze spill looks like. Look for puddles of this fluid in parking lots, driveways and streets and keep your pets far away. The color of antifreeze may be green, pink, yellow, red, blue or orange. Report antifreeze spills to neighbors and businesses. One time I made a fuss at a pet-friendly coffee bar when I noted an antifreeze puddle smack dab in the path of dogs. Speak up – the life you save could be your own pet.
  • Don’t allow your pets to roam. Outdoor cats and dog that are permitted to wander are at risk for encountering antifreeze spills. How can you prevent a toxicity when you can’t monitor your pet’s behavior or whereabouts?
  • Keep your car and garage safe. Immediately clean up any antifreeze spills and safely secure bottles of antifreeze away from pets and children. Keep up regular automotive maintenance to ensure no antifreeze leaks.
  • Switch to less toxic antifreeze. While no antifreeze is completely safe, look for antifreeze that contains propylene glycol in place of ethylene glycol. This compound is a safer choice, but still can pose a toxic risk if ingested in larger quantities. Some antifreeze products have a bittering agent included to deter animals and children from ingesting it. But according to the ASPCA there isn’t any published data proving that adding a bittering agent helps to prevent ingestion. Any antifreeze should be considered potentially toxic and handled with appropriate caution.

What to do if your pet ingests antifreeze?

Time is of the essence- seek prompt treatment at your veterinarian or emergency hospital for the best chance of survival. Don’t wait till serious symptoms arise, because once advanced kidney failure develops the prognosis is poor.

For more information about pet toxicities visit the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website at ASPCA Animal Poison Control