Defining Senior Age in Dogs

Reviewed and updated for accuracy on May 13, 2019 by Dr. Hanie Elfenbein, DVM, PhD as seen in PetMD

 

Our pets are family no matter their age. We love senior dogs just as much as when they were puppies, but some of us might be in denial when it comes to admitting that they’ve entered their senior years.

And it can also be confusing knowing exactly when you should call your pup a senior, especially when that range is different for different breeds and sizes of dogs.

Here’s a guide for determining when your dog is truly considered to be a senior and recognizing signs of health issues so you can adapt her care to fit her needs.

Is There a Set Range for a Senior Dog’s Age?

According to the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the term “senior” can describe an aging pet, but the number of years a pet is considered to be “senior” varies.

Identifiers such as weight, breed and the state of their organs can also help determine if your pet has reached old age.

“Though many old guidelines talk about seven dog years being equal to one human year, the size of the dog really depends on the extent to which you can follow that rule,” says Dr. Heidi Lobprise, DVM, DAVDC, and spokesperson for the International Veterinary Senior Care Society.

For example, large dogs will typically age faster than smaller dogs. “For a dog between 20-40 pounds, these guidelines are more effective, but it’s not uncommon to see a geriatric Great Dane at age 7 or a Chihuahua in [his] 20s,” Dr. Lobprise says. 

In most cases, however, dogs can be considered senior between 5 and 10 years old.

“The terms ‘geriatric’ and ‘senior’ also differ,” Dr. Lobprise says. “While a dog may be considered senior, they’re likely still healthy or just beginning to experience signs of aging. Geriatric animals are at the older end of the aging spectrum and often experience more health-related issues.”

Signs of Aging for Senior Dogs

“There is a wide range of factors to help you recognize signs of aging in your pet—many of them similar to the signs of aging in people,” Dr. Lobprise says. Some of these factors may be more obvious, like an intolerance to exercise or limited mobility, while others are much more subtle.

Your pet’s behavior may also help indicate signs of aging. While cats don’t always show that something is wrong until their issues become more advanced, many dogs are more demonstrative and vocal with their discomfort.

Here are some things to keep an eye on:

Eating Patterns and Weight

You’ll want to monitor your dog’s eating patterns and body weight, as obesity can cause issues, including osteoarthritis and diabetes. A too-thin animal or dog that won’t eat could be having dental or stomach issues.

Sleeping Patterns and Cognitive Health

Sleeping patterns and cognitive behavior are also things to look out for. A dog that isn’t aware of his surroundings or has difficulty recognizing people may be experiencing early canine dementia.

Drinking Patterns and Urination

“A less obvious but just as important sign of aging is how much your pet is drinking and urinating,” Dr. Lobprise says. How much your pet is or isn’t drinking can be indicative of many problems, from endocrine issues to kidney disease.

Urinary incontinence in female dogs may also be a sign of trouble. It’s challenging to watch for, especially in multi-pet households, but should be monitored if possible.

Monitoring your dog’s urination and defecation on walks can be a useful tool. Even if both are normal, you may notice your senior dog being slower or more resistant to posturing.

Lumps and Bumps

Being aware of your pet’s overall body condition may also help you spot any abnormalities, like cancer.

“We’re keeping animals healthier and healthier now, and as our pet population is graying, an eventual cause of death is cancer, especially in specific breeds,” Dr. Lobprise says. “We need to be aware of lumps and bumps.”

Many dogs develop lumps and bumps while they age. Not every lump will need to be tested or removed, but keeping track of them can avoid problems. Lumps that are new, growing or are different from the other ones on your pet can indicate a problem.

Recognizing Common Diseases for Senior Dogs

“A very common and preventable disease that is prevalent in senior pets is dental disease,” Dr. Lobprise says. “While it’s not always a serious disease to have, it is one worth paying attention to and can change your dog’s demeanor if treated early and effectively.”

You can spot periodontal disease by smelling your dog’s breath and regularly checking their teeth and gums for signs of bacterial infection, such as inflammation, reddened gums and tartar.

Left untreated, dental issues can impact a dog’s heart, kidneys and the rest of the body. If dental disease is causing discomfort, it may make your dog not want to eat, which can lead to all sorts of other problems; that is why your veterinarian recommends regular dental cleanings.

Kidney and liver disease can be an issue for both cats and dogs, as can heart valve disease. Endocrine issues, including those impacting the adrenal glands and thyroid, can also affect aging dogs.

Hypothyroidism can make older dogs feel lethargic and potentially gain weight.

Unfortunately, Dr. Lobprise says, it’s more common for multiple problems to compound each other in senior pets than in younger animals.

Your pet’s cognitive function is also a common issue; are they aware of their surroundings? Do they recognize their people? There are minor, natural declines in cognition as a part of the aging process, but as it advances, it can disrupt a pet’s quality of life.

Working With Your Veterinarian

Dr. Lobprise recommends getting senior animals checked by their vets at least twice a year, complete with blood work, urine analysis and a full body examination, in addition to yearly dental cleaning, if needed.

Unfortunately, however, the AAHA reports that only 14 percent of senior animals have regular health screenings as recommended by their vets. Having just an annual exam may [allow an issue to] progress into something worse that can impact the life span of your dog,” Dr. Lobprise says.

“Whether it’s kidney disease, heart disease or cancer, the earlier something is caught, the better,” Dr. Lobprise adds.

Talk to your veterinarian about what and how much your pet is eating, as different conditions will require different dietary needs to maintain a healthy weight. Some senior pets benefit from prescription dog food diets aimed to help treat specific diseases.

You should also take into consideration their lean muscle mass and body score. Your pet could be the same weight as always, but they may be retaining fluids and losing muscle as a result of some illness. To help keep track and recognize changes in your dog’s weight, you can take photos or keep a body score chart at home.

Depression and anxiety can also be issues with older pets, so you’ll want to discuss this and any other behavior-related issues with your veterinarian. Your vet can provide you with prescription pet medication to help ease anxiety and behavior modification training tools, but you’ll also want to make sure their lives at home are as comfortable as possible.

“When looking at the senior or geriatric pet, there will be some rough days,” Dr. Lobprise says.  

As a pet parent, you can help your pets thrive in their senior years by first admitting that they are indeed seniors, taking them twice a year to the vet for a checkup, and looking out for any issues that require your vet’s immediate attention.

By: Jessica Remitz

 

Going to Foster a Dog?

By Dr. Karen Becker DVM

 

Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to bring a foster dog into your home — or you’re seriously considering it. This is an altruistic act that will change the animal’s life forever, and is key to helping the approximately 3.3 million dogs that enter U.S. animal shelters annually.1

Not only is there simply not enough room to keep every dog in need of a permanent home in a community animal shelter, but such shelters are notoriously stressful places to be. As a result, dogs don’t show their true personalities, making it harder for them to get adopted.

It’s also common for animals to become sick in shelters, and the typical animal shelter environment, with its concrete floors, kennels and chaotic environment, is so traumatic for many dogs that it brings out behavioral issues, like fearfulness or excessive barking, that may keep them from getting adopted.

Imagine, then, that a dog that would otherwise end up cowering in a corner in a shelter kennel is able to instead spend his days waiting for his forever family while cozying up on a couch, in a home, with a temporary family to show him love and get him used to the routines of a household environment. Fosterers like you make that possible.

Getting Prepared for Your Foster

Once you fill out an application to foster a dog, be aware that your new foster could arrive sooner than you expect, so it’s a good idea to get prepared right away. While the animal shelter or rescue group that you’re fostering for will typically pay for veterinary care for the animal, you’ll need to supply basics, like food, shelter and other supplies.

Not knowing the personality of the animal you’ll be fostering, it’s also smart to prepare your home for your new guest much like you would do for a human toddler coming to visit: put away all items on the floor you don’t want investigated, keep electrical cords out of reach, and close off rooms you don’t want the foster pup to have access to.

Items to have on hand include food and water bowls (preferably non-plastic), a leash and harness, a pet bed, toys, food and treats. You’ll also need poop bags and a crate or pen. If your foster has had a negative experience with the crate, time in your home is a perfect opportunity to help them reframe this experience.

Next, decide where in your home you plan to keep these items, particularly where your foster dog will sleep, eat, go to the bathroom and spend time in his crate.

The biggest part of being prepared for a foster animal is knowing that your time with your pup will vary, and you’ll be working together to develop a relationship during this time, as well as care for a dog that may come with physical and behavioral challenges that need to be positively and appropriately addressed.

According to Second Chance Rescue, based in New York, the average time a dog spends in foster care is two weeks, but some dogs get adopted in a couple of days, while others may spend a month or more in foster care.2 In addition to caring for the dog in your home, some rescue organizations will ask their foster volunteers to bring the animal to adoption events to increase their chances of being adopted.

Making Your Foster Feel at Home

As soon as you bring your foster pup home, show him where to use the potty and where he can find a safe place to rest. This will help the dog feel less anxious, as he’s just been through a number of sudden, unpleasant experiences. You’ll want to do your best to keep his first hours and days in your home as calm as possible to help him feel at ease.

According to Karen B. London, Ph.D., who co-authored the book, “Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home,” “For introductions, that means having him meet every person in your household one at a time in a calm way with no pressure and perhaps some treats or toys if he likes them. He should also meet other dogs, cats and any other species in your household one at a time, with a break between each introduction.”3

During this time of transition, London also advises keeping the dog on a leash when you take him outside, even if you have a fenced yard. A stressed-out dog may run away and be difficult to convince to come inside when you call him, and he may also appreciate having you nearby when he’s outside.

Helping your foster dog feel safe, secure and loved is the primary goal of foster care. While you may want to engage in some brief positive training sessions, the goal right now isn’t to teach him obedience but rather trust and acceptance.

“He may know a lot or he may not even know his name or how to sit when asked. Perhaps he is too overwhelmed to learn much right now. Keep training relaxed and low-key. Consider it a fun way to interact with him rather than a way for him to learn any particular skills,” London says, suggesting that you want your foster dog to associate you with love and attention more than anything else.4

Fostered Animals Are More Likely to Get Adopted

Fostering a dog is rewarding for those who want to make a difference in a dog’s life without making the full-time commitment to adopting. And it’s a proven fact that fostering makes an immense difference to animals, helping dogs to get adopted into permanent homes.

In a comparison of 30 dogs put into foster care and 30 dogs that stayed in a shelter for one week or more, those given foster care had significant improvements in behavior and wellbeing. Specifically, dogs in foster care were rated as being more playful, happier, friendlier and confident than the shelter dogs, as well as showing less signs of insecurity, anxiousness, barking and repetitive behaviors.5

Not only will your love help your foster find a home faster, but it will open up space in shelters and rescues so more animals can get the help they need. It’s a win-win scenario for everyone involved — and sometimes foster parents even end up falling for their foster and becoming their permanent home.

The possibility of “foster failure” is just one more part of the job to be aware of, but when it happens, it’s still a winning scenario for everyone.

 

 

3 Remedies for Upset Stomach in Dogs

Katherine Smith, DVM, CVA, CVSMT

 

 When you have an upset stomach, you probably reach for ginger ale or crackers to settle your tummy. But what should you do when your dog’s stomach is out of sorts?

Here’s some information about the causes and symptoms of upset stomach in dogs and tips for how to make your pup feel better with natural remedies. 

Common Causes of Upset Stomach in Dogs

There are many reasons your dog may have an upset stomach, though there’s one common cause: they ate something they shouldn’t have, says Kathy Backus, DVM, at Holistic Veterinary Services in Kaysville, Utah.

“Dogs are curious like kids; they’re always putting things in their mouth,” she says. “Vomiting and diarrhea are signs that a dog’s body is trying to expel something that shouldn’t be in their system. In a healthy dog, it’s a protective mechanism of the body that’s totally normal.”

These are a few (of many) things that can trigger an upset stomach in dogs:

  • Ingesting something that they shouldn’t
  • Bacterial imbalances within the digestive tract
  • Chronic conditions such as food sensitivities

Symptoms of Upset Stomach in Dogs

The most common signs of upset stomach in dogs are diarrhea and vomiting. If your dog is nauseous, you may also see him eat grass to soothe his stomach or try to induce vomiting, says Jody Bearman, DVM at Anshen Veterinary Acupuncture, Madison, Wisconsin.

Watch for other signs of upset stomach in dogs, such as:

  • Decreased appetite or loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Drinking less water
  • Seeming depressed
  • Looking uncomfortable and stretching more often (like they are attempting a downward dog)
  • Gulping to combat reflux
  • Licking their lips, the air, or objects

When to Call Your Vet

Monitor your pup’s symptoms. If your dog is consistently uncomfortable, or if the signs worsen at any point, call your veterinarian.

Watch for these signs:

  • Increasing discomfort
  • Vomiting or having an episode of diarrhea more than twice
  • Blood in their vomit or stool
  • Toy or other foreign object in their vomit or stool
  • Weakness or collapse

These can all be signs of something more serious, including pancreatitis, stomach bloating, a severe allergic reaction, or internal parasites.

If you realize that your dog has eaten something he shouldn’t have—a plant, food, toy, or chemical—you should seek immediate veterinary care.

If your primary veterinarian is unavailable, call your local emergency veterinary hospital. They will be able to advise whether your pet needs to be seen or whether you can continue to monitor him at home.

You can also call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control hotline at 888-426-4435 for a fee. They can also determine a poison’s level of toxicity and recommended care for your dog.

3 Remedies for Upset Stomach in Dogs

It is crucial to consult with your veterinarian before administering any home remedies to soothe your pup’s tummy troubles. If your veterinarian recommends at-home monitoring, these are a few ideas you can ask them about trying while you are at home with your dog.

Fasting

When your dog’s stomach is trying to get rid of something, it can be helpful to stop putting more things in their stomach for 12-24 hours, Dr. Backus says. “If the gastrointestinal (GI) system is having a tough time, you don’t want it to digest things.” 

Fasting may seem simple enough, but it’s important to speak with your veterinarian first because some dogs (particularly small breeds or those with prior health conditions) cannot tolerate fasting as well as others.

If your veterinarian does recommend fasting, ask whether they would like you to start a bland diet (and what they recommend) after the fasting period is complete.

Ice Cubes

When your dog is vomiting or has diarrhea, you want them to stay hydrated, but giving him too much water may make his stomach even more upset, Dr. Backus says.

Monitoring your dog’s water intake and discouraging gulping is important. Offer your dog ice chips to help encourage drinking.

If your dog can keep down small quantities of water or ice chips, you can gradually increase the amount and how often you are offering the water and ice.

Canned Pumpkin

When fighting indigestion and upset stomach in dogs, 100% canned pumpkin is a favorite of many holistic veterinarians.

“It has a low glycemic index, so it slowly absorbs, which helps with upset stomach and digestion,” Dr. Bearman says.

Make sure to get 100% canned pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix, as you don’t want to feed your dog spices and other ingredients, she says. Check that there are no ingredients listed other than pumpkin (such as sugar or sugar substitutes).

According to Dr. Bearman, smaller dogs (approximately 5 pounds) can be fed one-half teaspoon of canned pumpkin, while larger dogs (approximately 75 pounds) can be fed 1 tablespoon.

Is Upset Stomach in Dogs a Sign of Food Allergies?

An upset stomach every once in a while can be normal in a dog, but if it happens often, it could signal that something is wrong in their GI tract, says Randy Aronson, DVM, of P.A.W.S. Veterinary Center in Tucson, Arizona.

If digestive upset is a frequent occurrence for your dog, discuss the possibility of a food allergy with your veterinarian. When food allergies are diagnosed in dogs, it is often an allergy to a protein source, which is why a more “novel” protein (one that your dog has never eaten) may be recommended.

There are many options on the market, but examples may include beef, buffalo, venison, or lamb.

How to Help Prevent Upset Stomach in Dogs

To help your dog maintain a healthy gut, consider giving them a prebiotic and probiotic, Dr. Aronson says. There are both prebiotics and probiotics that are made specifically for dogs, some of which are available over the counter. Be sure to ask your veterinarian if they have a particular brand recommendation.

Always talk to your veterinarian first to find out the best course of action.

Got Dog? They go back to the Ice Age!!!!

Stunning Evidence Suggests Dogs Lived During the Ice Age

by Dr. Karen Becker

 

 

While it’s known that dogs descended from wolves to become humans’ best friends, when — and exactly how — this occurred remains a great mystery and highly debated topic. Genetic data confirms that dogs are descendants of Eurasion grey wolves, and early humans and wolves were known to share resources and territories dating back hundreds of thousands of years.

Skeletal changes suggestive of dog domestication have been discovered dating back to the Aurignacian period some 43,000 to 26,000 years ago, and by 16,000 to 12,000 BP (before present), domestic dogs were known to exist in Western Europe, Asia and North America, with purposeful burials of dogs also occurring at this time.

Still, researchers wrote in the Journal of Archaeological Science, “The beginning of this domestication process … remains a point of debate, with purported originations ranging from 15,000 to over 40,000 BP.”1

Understanding when this process occurred isn’t only a matter of satisfying curiosity — animal domestication signals a shift in humans’ relationship with nature and changes in human cognition and behavior. Uncovering when this first occurred will help researchers to also understand early Homo sapiens.

Researchers from the University of Arkansas may be one step closer to figuring out the mystery, after an analysis of Paleolithic-era teeth showed evidence of two groups of canids — “one dog-like and the other wolf-like”2 — existing at that time.

Dental Differences Suggest Dogs Emerged During Ice Age

The study involved fossils from a 28,500-year-old site known as Predmostí in the Czech Republic. A dental microwear texture analysis was performed on the ancient teeth, which identified distinctive microwear patterns on the differing canids. The dog-like canids, which the researchers called “protodogs,” had larger wear scars that suggest they ate more hard, brittle foods such as bones.

The wolf-like canids, on the other hand, had smaller scars, which could indicate they ate more flesh-based food, such as mammoth flesh. Peter Ungar, distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas, explained in a news release:

“Our primary goal was to test whether these two morphotypes expressed notable differences in behavior, based on wear patterns … Dental microwear is a behavioral signal that can appear generations before morphological changes are established in a population, and it shows great promise in using the archaeological record to distinguish protodogs from wolves.”3

While the fossil site is believed to contain fossils from wolf-like and dog-like canids, the dental differences provide supporting evidence that the animals had distinct diets. The wolf-like canids likely feasted on flesh caught by hunting while the dog-like canids may have eaten more bones and other food scraps that came from a human settlement.

“Dental microwear is a behavioral signal that may appear generations before morphological changes are established in a population. It shows promise for distinguishing protodogs from wolves in the Pleistocene and domesticated dogs from wolves elsewhere in the archaeological record,” researchers wrote in the Journal of Archaeological Science.4

Paleolithic Dog Skulls Revealed

In 2012, researchers analyzing skull material from the same fossil site in the Czech Republic came to the conclusion that both dog and wolf skulls exist there.5

Three complete skulls were identified as belonging to ancient dogs, which were characterized by short skulls and snouts and wide palates and braincases compared to wolves. The ancient dogs had skulls shaped similar to that of a modern-day Siberian husky, but larger in size and heavier.

Three other skulls could not be identified, with researchers suggesting they could be from hybrids or captive wolves. Further, they noted that the skull and canine remains were modified by humans, which suggests a relationship existed between humans and large canids at the time.

For instance, one of the dogs had a mammoth bone in his mouth, which was believed to have been placed there after death. “The mammoth bone in the dog’s mouth could signify “that the dog was ‘fed’ to accompany the soul of the dead (animal) on its journey,” according to lead study author Mietje Germonpré.

Their conclusions, however, particularly the supposed presence of two distinct canid populations at the fossil site, were met with debate. The featured study, with its detailed dental analysis, adds further support that ancient dogs may have existed alongside wolves during the Ice Age. The researchers even made suggestions as to their respective diets:

“Isotope analysis suggests wolves and humans focused on mammoth, while dogs and lions focused on reindeer and other prey. Protodogs fed scraps would have been better able to break and consume the bones of reindeer and smaller prey compared to mammoths, and this may help explain the signal.

Alternatively, protodogs may have opportunistically scavenged off felid kills, as felids typically leave more flesh as well as marrow containing bones than do canids or hyaenids.”6

Still, even with this combined evidence, it’s possible that the two canid groups were actually different wolf populations that had developed different dietary behaviors due to increased competition or environmental changes. Further research will be necessary before the ongoing debate will be ended revealing when dogs were first domesticated.

As for why domestication occurred, it’s believed that wolves may have become integrated into human society because canids fulfilled important functions in the daily life of Paleolithic people, helping them with hunting and other work, offering protection and, just as they do today, providing a source of faithful companionship.

 

Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatment

Reviewed and updated on April 14, 2020 by Rania Gollakner, DVM as seen in PetMD

Lyme disease in dogs is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the world, but it only causes symptoms in 5-10% of affected dogs. So some dogs may have it, but never show symptoms.

Transmission of Lyme disease has been reported in dogs throughout the United States and Europe, but it’s most prevalent in the upper Midwestern states, the Atlantic seaboard and the Pacific coastal states.

However, the disease is spreading and becoming more common throughout the United States. Here’s some info about the causes and prevention of Lyme disease, as well as the symptoms you should look for and treatment options.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs

Here are some common and less common symptoms and complications of Lyme disease in dogs.

Most Common Symptoms

When infection leads to Lyme disease in dogs, the dominant symptoms are:

  • Recurrent lameness due to inflammation of the joints
  • Fever1
  • General feeling of malaise

Many dogs who develop Lyme disease have periodic lameness because their joints are inflamed. Sometimes the lameness lasts for only 3-4 days but recurs days to weeks later, either in the same leg or other legs.

This is known as “shifting-leg lameness.” One or more joints may be swollen, warm, and painful.

Other Symptoms

In some cases, Lyme disease can also cause:  

  • Depression
  • Enlarged lymph nodes1
  • Lack of appetite
  • Stiff walk with an arched back
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Difficulty breathing

Kidney Damage Caused by Lyme Disease

More serious complications, although uncommon, include:

  • Damage to the kidneys
  • Rarely, heart or nervous system disease (although this is not well documented)1,2

Lyme disease sometimes leads to glomerulonephritis—the inflammation and accompanying dysfunction of the kidney’s glomeruli (a blood filter).

Eventually, kidney failure may set in as the dog begins to exhibit signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, weight loss, increased urination and thirst, and abnormal fluid buildups that can appear as swollen limbs.

How Lyme Disease Is Transmitted

Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete (bacteria) of the Borrelia burgdorferi species. 

Borrelia burgdorferi is transmitted by slow-feeding, hard-shelled deer ticks (Ixodes spp.).

Infection typically occurs after the Borrelia-carrying tick has been attached to the dog for approximately 241 – 48 hours.

Diagnosing Lyme Disease in Dogs

You will need to provide a thorough history of your dog’s health to give your veterinarian clues as to which organs are being affected.

Clinical diagnosis of Lyme disease is usually confirmed with a positive blood test for Lyme along with the clinical signs associated with Lyme disease.

It’s important to note that tests can take 4-6 weeks to show up as positive after exposure, which is why veterinarians will use a combination of diagnostics to diagnose your dog: 

  • Blood chemistry tests
  • Complete blood cell count
  • Urinalysis
  • Fecal examination
  • X-rays and tests specific to diagnosing Lyme disease (e.g., serology)
  • Fluid from the affected joints may also be drawn for analysis

Arthritis Caused by Lyme Disease

There are many causes for arthritis, and your veterinarian will focus on differentiating arthritis initiated by Lyme disease from other inflammatory arthritic disorders, such as trauma and degenerative joint disease.

Immune-mediated diseases will also be considered as a possible cause of the symptoms. X-rays of the painful joints will allow your doctor to examine the bones for abnormalities.

Treating Dog Lyme Disease

If the diagnosis is Lyme disease, your dog will be treated as an outpatient unless their condition is unstable (e.g., severe kidney disease). Doxycycline is the most common antibiotic that is prescribed for Lyme disease, but other antibiotics are also effective.  

Treatment usually takes at least 4 weeks, and longer courses may be necessary in some cases. Your veterinarian may also prescribe an anti-inflammatory if your dog is especially uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, antibiotic treatment does not always completely eliminate the infection from Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Symptoms may resolve but then return at a later date, and the development of kidney disease in the future is always a concern.

Administering the antibiotics properly to your dog reduces the likelihood of chronic consequences.

Improvement in sudden (acute) inflammation of the joints caused by Borrelia should be seen after 3-5 days of antibiotic treatment. If there is no improvement within 3-5 days, your veterinarian will want to reevaluate your dog.

Preventing Lyme Disease in Dogs

If possible, keep your dog away from tick-infested environments where Lyme disease is common.

Check your dog’s coat and skin daily to make sure you find any ticks hiding on your pet, and remove ticks by hand.

The most effective way to prevent Lyme disease and protect pets from other tick-borne diseases is to use flea and tick prevention.

Your veterinarian can prescribe a variety of prescription flea and tick options, including collars, topical solutions, and tablets and chews that kill and repel ticks. These products should be used under a veterinarian’s supervision and according to the label’s directions.

If you live in an area where ticks are abundant, Lyme vaccines are available. However, not all dogs are a good candidate for the vaccine. Talk to your veterinarian to see if the Lyme vaccination is right for your dog.

References:

1.        Lyme Disease. Companion Animal Parasite Council. https://capcvet.org/guidelines/lyme-disease/.

2.        Littman MP, Gerber B, Goldstein RE, Anna M, Michael L, George RL. ACVIM consensus update on Lyme borreliosis in dogs and cats. J Vet Intern Med. 2018;(January):887-903. doi:10.1111/jvim.15085

 

Estrogen’s Effect on Tumors You Really Can Help Control

 

 

By Dr. Karen Becker

It’s generally accepted as fact that female dogs spayed at a young age have a reduced risk of developing mammary tumors — the equivalent of breast cancer in humans.

However, it’s certainly worth noting that the results of a 2012 study — a systematic review conducted by veterinary researchers in the U.K. — did not validate the theory that early spaying protects female dogs from mammary neoplasia.1

Unfortunately, this study, and the questions it raises, has received very little attention, but does highlight what emerging research is now discovering: canine mammary tumors have hormone interplays potentially as complex as human mammary cancers.

New Study Raises Questions About Spaying and Mammary Cancer

Since spaying involves the removal of the ovaries, it also removes most of the body’s ability to produce estrogen. For this reason, estrogen is widely assumed to play a role in the development of canine mammary tumors. But a new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine suggests the effects of estrogen on cancer risk in dogs aren’t as clear-cut as originally thought.2

Interestingly, the study found that while spaying reduces dogs’ risk of developing mammary cancer, it may increase the risk of more aggressive cancers. In addition, the researchers discovered that in spayed dogs with mammary tumors, higher serum estrogen levels were actually protective in terms of delayed metastasis and improved survival times.

“Dogs that remain intact and have their ovaries develop many more mammary tumors than dogs that were spayed, so removing that source of estrogen does have a protective effect,” says Karin U. Sorenmo, a veterinary oncologist at Penn Vet and senior author on the study, in a Penn Today news release.

“Estrogen does seem to drive mammary cancer development. But what it does for progression to metastasis — that I think is more complicated.”3

Estrogen May Play Opposing Roles in Cancer

For the study, the Penn Vet research team evaluated 159 dogs with mammary cancer, 130 who were spayed for purposes of the study, and 29 who were left intact. The researchers removed the dogs’ tumors and gathered data on serum estrogen levels, tumor type, disease grade and stage, time to metastasis, and survival time.

They discovered that despite the link between estrogen and an elevated risk of developing mammary tumors, higher estrogen levels seemed to also help prevent some of the most dangerous aspects of the cancer. From the Penn Today news release:

“Unexpectedly, when dogs were spayed at the same time their tumors were removed, those with estrogen receptor-positive tumors that had higher serum estrogen took longer to develop metastatic disease and survived longer than dogs with lower estrogen levels, confirming that these tumors depended on estrogen for progression.”

Sorenmo’s theory is that in these instances, the effect of estrogen may be nuanced. “It drives the cancer, but it also seems to control or modulate it, reining it in,” she says, because most of the dogs with high estrogen levels had lower-grade and estrogen receptor-positive tumors, which made them susceptible to hormonal deprivation by spaying.

The researchers noted that the protective effect of estrogen was also pronounced in dogs with estrogen-receptor negative mammary tumors. These are higher risk cancers, and high estrogen levels were associated with delayed metastasis, or the absence of metastasis.

Additionally, after mammary tumor surgery, dogs with low estrogen levels had a significantly increased risk for other aggressive, fatal tumors that were not mammary related, such as hemangiosarcoma.

As Sorenmo notes, some of the findings in women with breast cancer are also contradictory. For example, while higher serum estrogen levels in survivors of breast cancer are linked to higher recurrence rates, many breast cancers develop immediately following menopause, when estrogen levels plummet. So, it’s possible estrogen plays a more complex role in human cancer risk as well.

“I think this study opens some really complicated questions,” Sorenmo says. “If we start dissecting exactly what estrogen is doing, what genes or immune cells it’s interacting with, maybe we could harness the power of estrogen to be more clever in our treatment strategies.”

 

Metabolization of Estrogen Is Key in Preventing Certain Cancers

In order to address why dogs develop mammary tumors, we must identify why their immune systems failed and allowed cancer cells to proliferate. It’s also critical to evaluate the estrogen-mimicking chemical load in their environment.

Even animals no longer producing their own estrogen after being spayed or neutered can be exposed to overwhelming amounts of xenoestrogens (estrogen mimicking chemicals) in the environment. I’ve seen many patients over the years with wildly unbalanced endocrine systems, including male dogs with estrogen levels higher than what is normal for intact females.

When I find mammary tumors in a dog, I immediately measure the sex hormone levels. If estrogen is elevated in desexed animals, after removing the tumors I institute a protocol including DIM (diindolymethane) and high-lignan flax hulls, which may help to naturally reduce estrogen levels.4

DIM and flax hulls (not flaxseeds or flaxseed oil) have been shown to promote beneficial estrogen metabolism in both males and females. The body’s ability to effectively metabolize estrogen is an important component in the prevention of certain cancers, in particular breast cancer.5

Dietary adjustments, including the elimination of all estrogenic foods (e.g., soy and yams) and highly processed foods created via the extrusion process (kibble) is important because the manufacture of kibble creates carcinogenic byproducts.

Feeding a fresh, ketogenic, high-fat, no-carb (starch-free), nutritionally balanced and species-appropriate diet is also part of the protocol, along with beneficial immune-support supplements.

Thankfully there are a growing number of integrative veterinary oncologists popping up around the globe who can work with veterinary surgeons and local integrative veterinarians to customize treatment plans to achieve maximum benefits with the fewest possible side effects.

Sources of Xenoestrogens

In my opinion, exposure to xenoestrogens — chemicals that mimic the hormone estrogen —plays a significant role in elevated estrogen levels in dogs. Examples of xenoestrogens include:

Atrazine (weed killer) Heptachlor (restricted insecticide)
4-Methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC) (found in sunscreen lotions) Lindane, hexachlorocyclohexane (restricted insecticide)
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) (food preservative) Methoxychlor (banned insecticide in U.S.)
Bisphenol A (used to make plastics) Nonylphenol and derivatives (laboratory detergents; pesticides)
Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDT) Pentachlorophenol (restricted biocide in U.S.; wood preservative)
Dieldrin (banned insecticide) Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
DDT (banned insecticide in the U.S. but not other countries) Parabens (lotions)
Endosulfan (banned insecticide in U.S.) Phthalates (used to make plastics)
Erythrosine (FD&C Red No. 3) DEHP (found in PVC)
Ethinylestradiol (oral contraceptive) Propyl gallate (used to preserve oils and fats)

The problem with this list is that these chemicals often aren’t plainly labeled as such in many products found around the house. For instance, plug-ins, car fresheners, scented candles, room sprays and gel air fresheners are loaded with chemicals on this list, but manufacturers aren’t required to list them on product labels.

Endocrine disrupters, which damage your dog’s hormonal axis, including estrogen balance, are also found on many fabrics treated with flame-retardant chemicals (dog beds, carpets, couches, draperies).

Another endocrine disruptor is BPA, which is found in the lining of canned dog food containers and plastic food and water bowls, not to mention cleaning supplies that instruct you to call poison control if ingested. Always remember that any product used in your house has the potential to end up inside your pet.

It’s also important to keep in mind that pesticides and chemicals banned in the U.S. still show up on and in products imported from other countries.

12 Ways to Reduce Your Pet’s Exposure to Xenoestrogens

To reduce your dog’s exposure to these estrogen-mimicking compounds, and thereby potentially lower the risk of mammary cancer:

  1. Use stainless steel, glass, or ceramic food and water bowls
  2. Avoid plastic storage containers for pet food or water
  3. Don’t microwave pet food in plastic containers
  4. Don’t use nonstick cookware if you cook food for your pet
  5. Avoid using cling wrap that contains DEHA
  6. Avoid pet foods containing soy, the preservatives BHA and BHT, and the food dye FD&C Red No. #3
  7. Use natural pest control around your home and yard
  8. Use alternatives to chemical flea/tick repellents
  9. Use all-natural, nontoxic cleaning supplies inside your home
  10. Buy organic dog beds
  11. Remove fluoride and chlorine from drinking water
  12. Don’t buy canned food unless it’s labeled BPA-free

 

 

Can your Dog smell Fear?

As seen in PetMD By: Dr. Sarah Wooten

Have you ever noticed that when you are feeling fearful, your dog becomes more attentive and clingy?

Have you also noticed that your dog may behave differently around people who like dogs versus people who are afraid of dogs?

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, but can they smell fear? And if so, how?

Is It True That Dogs Can Smell Fear?

The science is in, and the answer is a resounding YES—dogs can smell fear. Dogs have olfactory superpowers that can detect a human’s emotional state by the scent that a human emits. That’s right—you can’t hide fear from dogs. They’ve got your number!

Until recently, the idea that dogs can smell fear was only a theory, but a study called “Interspecies transmission of emotional information via chemosignals: from humans to dogs” actually proves that dogs (or at least Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers) can smell human emotions and respond accordingly.

When a person gets scared, their sweat glands will start secreting moisture, especially in the armpits. This sweat contains chemical signals that dogs can pick up on.

Can Dogs Smell the Difference Between Fear and Happiness?

Researchers correctly postulated that dogs would respond differently to human odors that were emitted under different emotional states—namely, fear and happiness.

In the study, dogs were exposed to three stimuli—their owner, a stranger (the control) and an odor dispenser. Dogs were assigned to different odor conditions randomly.

They collected odors from humans in three different emotional states: fearful, happy and neutral (no sweat). The odors were collected from the armpits of random male donors who were not otherwise involved in the experiment procedures.

The dogs were then observed for responses, including behaviors directed at the three targets, stress behaviors and heart rate. Researchers found that when the dogs were exposed to “happy odors,” they interacted more with the stranger and had lower heart rates.

In contrast, when the dogs were exposed to the “fear odor,” they displayed more stress behaviors and had higher heart rates associated with the fight, flight or freeze response—a  bodily response of the autonomic nervous system that is essential for adaptation and survival.

The dogs also sought more reassurance from their owners and interacted with the stranger less than the dogs that were exposed to the “happy odor.”

Researchers concluded that chemosignals—odors that we emit in response to our emotional state—communicate across species to dogs. So, if we are scared, they can smell it and get scared, too.

What Your Dog’s Senses Can Tell You About Your Own Emotions

Dogs can help us recognize our own emotional states. Many people who have chronic anxiety may not even be aware that they are walking around in fight, flight or freeze mode.

A dog that’s in tune with how you exhibit stress or fear can help signal the onset of these emotions and help you better work through feelings of anxiety.

It’s also important to acknowledge that dogs can feed off of your energy. So, try to temper your mindset throughout tense situations—say, like at your next vet visit—to help keep your pet more at ease.

Your mental health and that of your pet are both important. If you take note of how your dog is behaving, you might learn more about your own mood and mental state than expected.

 

Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Reviewed and updated for accuracy on February 13, 2020 by Dr. Hanie Elfenbein, DVM, PhD

 

Dog allergies are often caused by the allergens found in pollen, animal dander, plants, and insects, but dogs can also be allergic to food and medication as well.

 

These allergies can cause symptoms such as excessive itching, scratching, and grooming; rashes; sneezing; watery eyes; paw chewing; and skin inflammation.

 

When allergies cause skin disease, the condition is called atopic dermatitis (meaning itchy skin and inflammation).

 

Here’s everything you need to know about atopic dermatitis in dogs.

 

What Is Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs?

 

Atopic dermatitis is an inflammatory, chronic skin disease associated with allergies. In fact, this is the second most common allergic skin disease in dogs, after flea allergy dermatitis.

 

Causes of Dog Dermatitis

 

These allergic reactions can be brought on by normally harmless substances like grass, mold spores, house dust mites, and other environmental allergens.

 

At What Age Can Dogs Get Dermatitis?

 

Dogs normally show signs of the disease between 1-6 years of age, though atopic dermatitis can be so mild the first year that it doesn’t become noticeable or consistent for several years.

 

Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs

 

Symptoms associated with atopic dermatitis often get worse with time, though they may also be seasonal.

 

These are the most commonly affected areas in dogs:

 

·         Ears

·         Feet

·         Underbelly

·         Muzzle

·         Armpits

·         Groin

·         Base of the tail

·         Around the eyes

·         In between the toes

 

The symptoms associated with atopic dermatitis include:

 

·         Itching

·         Scratching

·         Rubbing

·         Licking

·         A yeasty smell

·         Greasy skin

·         Redness or tough skin

 

What Causes Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs?

 

Some breeds are more likely to develop allergies, including Golden Retrievers, Poodles (and hybrids), Shih Tzus, Cocker Spaniels, and Bulldogs. However, any dog can develop allergies.

 

While there’s no way to prevent your dog from developing allergies, there are several excellent treatment options available.

 

Can Dogs Get Tested for Allergies?

 

Prior to any treatment, your veterinarian will need a complete medical history to determine the pattern of your dog’s allergies. Some allergies are seasonal, such as mold, while others are year-round.

 

A complete physical examination is important in determining the best types of treatment. Your veterinarian will want to perform tests on skin samples from the affected areas.

 

Serologic allergy testing may be performed, which looks for antibodies in the blood, but the results are not always reliable. The quality of this kind of testing often depends on the laboratory that analyzes the results.

 

Intradermal testing may also be used to identify the cause of your pet’s allergic reaction. This is where small amounts of test allergens are injected into the skin and wheal (a red bump) response is measured.

 

Since these types of tests are very expensive, your veterinarian may recommend treatment instead of advanced allergy testing.

 

Treatment for Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs

 

The treatment will depend on what is causing your pet’s allergic reaction.

 

If the reaction is due to atopy, a genetic disposition to an allergic reaction, for example, hyposensitization therapy can be performed. Your veterinarian will give your pet injections of the allergens to which they are sensitive. This decreases itchiness in 60-80% of dogs, but may approximately take 6 months to a year to see an improvement.

 

Your veterinarian might recommend immunomodulatory medications. These are available either as a daily pill (Apoquel) or an injection given every 4-10 weeks (Cytopoint). Along with these, antibiotics or antifungal medicines are often required to treat the skin infections that result from allergies.

 

Additionally, regular bathing with medicated or prescription-strength shampoo can greatly improve your pet’s comfort and help skin infections resolve faster. Shampoo and other topical treatments can also be used as maintenance therapy to reduce the risk or severity of future skin infections.

 

Does Atopic Dermatitis Go Away?

 

Unfortunately, atopic dermatitis only rarely goes into remission or spontaneously resolves.

 

Once treatment has begun, your veterinarian must see your dog every 2-8 weeks to ascertain the effectiveness of the treatment and to check for drug interactions.

 

Then, as your pet’s itching becomes more controlled, they will need to be brought into the veterinarian’s office every 3-12 months for checkups. 

 

It’s very important to stay vigilant and make sure your dog gets treatment at the first sign of an itch.

 

If left untreated, allergies can change a dog’s personality—the constant itch and frustration can lead dogs to shy away from people or be aggressive when touched.

 

This is especially true for dogs with ear infections as part of their allergy symptoms. Chronic ear infections can also lead to deafness.

 

If your veterinarian should find the trigger for your pet’s allergies, he or she will advise you as to how to best avoid those type of allergens. 

The Truth About the ‘Special Food Needs’ of Small Breeds

The Truth About the ‘Special Food Needs’ of Small Breeds

By Dr. Karen Becker comments by Diane Weinmann

Those of you with small dogs may have noticed that the pet food marketplace is exploding with diets created for the so-called “special needs” of small breeds. Clearly, the processed pet food industry has found another cash cow: dog food formulas marketed to owners of small breeds.

According to the PetfoodIndustry.com, “… as smaller dogs appealing to both millennial and baby boomer lifestyles increase in popularity, the pet food industry is taking note.”1

According to the article, millennials (now the largest demographic of pet owners) aren’t moving as quickly toward home ownership as previous generations, instead choosing to remain in apartments or condos as city dwellers. Baby boomers are becoming empty nesters, downsizing to smaller living spaces, and doing more traveling.

Neither of these lifestyles is conducive to owning a large dog (or so the theory goes), but since both groups still want to be pet parents, small dogs are the solution.

“Small dogs, which are more portable, more likely to meet apartment weight limits,” writes the author of the article, “and can in some cases even be trained to be completely indoor animals, with litter or puppy pads ensuring they don’t need to go down an elevator or several flights of stairs to find relief in the nearest patch of grass.”

As an important point of clarification, no dog should be a “completely indoor animal.” Walks outdoors, visits with friends and family with yards, adventures to the dog park, and other pet-friendly outings are essential in keeping dogs of all sizes and ages exercised, socialized, mentally stimulated, and grounded to the earth.

Big Pet Food Wants Us to Believe Small Dogs Need Special Diets Simply Because They’re Small

The processed pet food manufacturers would like to convince you that small dogs have unique health issues and nutritional requirements that only they can meet. This is a red flag for me, because processed pet food isn’t the answer for the health issues faced by small dogs (or any size dog), and it’s certainly not the answer to small dogs’ (or any dog’s) nutritional needs.

Processed pet food producers want to position small dogs as so different from “real” dogs that they need specialized diets. In fact, one “global director — nutrition and technical communications” for a pet food company goes so far as to say, “They’re not carnivores.” Actually, yes, they are. All dogs are.

Canines are scavenging carnivores, and need to be, in order to maintain health. Making dogs omnivores or vegetarians creates metabolic disease; however, it’s the stance the pet food industry must take to sell the biologically inappropriate products they produce.

If Big Pet Food’s pitch is successful, it opens up limitless opportunities to expand their product lines and develop marketing plans to sell diets specifically for small breed dogs. Now, these diets will be, for all intents and purposes, identical to diets for every other size dog — it’s really only the marketing, packaging and kibble size that will be different.

And you can bet there won’t be any independent (or even company-sponsored) pet food research substantiating the claim that toy and small breeds have a totally different set of nutritional requirements than other sized dogs. There also won’t be any long-term studies determining the safety or efficacy of feeding these fast-food diets for the lifetime of a pet.

From what I’ve been able to tell comparing formulas for small dogs and regular formulas, the differences are primarily in package sizes, product names and the way they’re marketed, and in some cases, kibble size.

Obviously, repackaging standard formulas and giving them cute names like “Wee Bits” and “Mighty Minis” does nothing to address the supposed “unique health issues and nutritional needs” of small dogs as advertised by pet food companies, but they don’t expect dog owners to connect the dots.

So that’s Big Pet Food’s play for the hearts and minds of small dog parents. Hopefully all of you reading here today won’t be fooled.

Your Dog’s Size Shouldn’t Dictate His Diet

In an ideal world, processed pet food manufacturers would put their significant resources toward getting the basics of canine (and feline) nutrition right and focus less on finding ways to re-engineer existing poor-quality formulas to expand their product lines.

Dry pet food with little or no high-quality animal protein and minimal moisture, but plenty of grains, carbs, starches, allergenic ingredients, non-nutritional fillers, synthetic amino acids, vitamins and minerals, additives and preservatives, is not species-appropriate nutrition for any dog, regardless of size. The fact is, when comparing a Great Dane to a Yorkie, they are all canine, specifically Canis lupus familiaris.

What is becoming apparent, through new canine DNA studies, is that a dog’s evolutionary lineage can play into expressed behavior traits and may dictate dietary preferences. For instance, dogs that evolved from northern parts of the world (Akitas, Huskies, Malamutes, etc.) may crave a diet higher in fish (or omega 3 fatty acids), which was a part of their evolutionary nutrition many moons ago.  Diane’s husky, Neko, loves all fish in his food.

In theory, customizing macronutrients and ingredients to a dog’s genetic lineage may prove to quite beneficial, but this isn’t what Big Pet Food is doing with their “breed specific” diets.

Sadly, humans have chosen to breed certain types of dogs down to sizes so small their organs often don’t function normally. And the AKC and other kennel clubs still condone (and paper) inbred animals. Since nature doesn’t design dogs to be that small, health problems are to be expected, including congenital organ problems which may require owners to feed a lower protein diet.

But assuming all small breeds require low protein diets is misguided. Certainly size, energy output and health problems are a consideration when determining any animal’s nutritional requirements, but a dog is still a dog — a carnivorous canine.

Those of you who have been readers for years know how I feel about this topic: unless breeders complete every possible genetic test for both parents and intentionally breed for “reparative conformation” (so the next litter may carry fewer genetic predispositions), they shouldn’t be breeding, and smaller isn’t better.

That being said, there are some small dogs who are born with poorly functioning livers or kidneys and must be on customized diets their whole lives: this is a result of bad breeding, not an evolutionary adaptation from being small.

Tips for Feeding Small Dogs

It’s very easy to overfeed and under-exercise any dog, and especially a small one, so it’s important to start out on the right foot and stay there.

Currently, AAFCO doesn’t link feeding instructions on dog food packaging to a dog’s energy requirements, so according to the bag or can, a super active 10-pound dog and a super lazy 10-pound dog should eat the same amount. Common sense says this can’t be true.

  1. Ignore pet food advertisements that suggest healthy small dogs need special diets.
  2. Calculate how much food your dog needs each day, then scale that amount up or down, depending on activity level.
  3. Feed an optimally balanced, species-appropriate, fresh food diet to your little one. Regardless of her size, your dog needs the right nutrition for her species, which means real food that is made from healthful ingredients (not feed-grade, rendered, slaughter house waste), high in human-grade animal protein and moisture, with low or no grain content or starches/carbohydrates.
  4. Practice portion control — typically a morning and evening meal, carefully measured. A high protein, low carb diet with the right number of calories, controlled through the portions you feed, will help your small dog remain at a healthy weight. And don’t forget to factor in any calories from treats.
  5. Use small training treats — Tiny dogs need only tiny training treats. Otherwise, you’ll have a not-so-tiny dog in no time. Anything more than, say, a treat the size of a quarter of a pea, is too big. You can buy or make treats to break into very small pieces; you can also use your dog’s regular food as treats.
  6. Regularly exercise your dog — Daily exercise, including at least 20 minutes of consistent aerobic activity, will help your pet burn fat and increase muscle tone.
  7. Evaluate your dog monthly — If she is losing weight, adjust calories. If she is gaining weight, adjust calories.
  8. Small and toy breeds are prone to dental disease because 42 teeth in one tiny mouth leads to crowding, and crowded teeth get dirtier faster. A raw diet and recreational raw bones or nontoxic dental chews will help keep plaque and tartar under control, but small breeds also need to have their teeth brushed daily, as well as routine veterinary dental exams.

The key to keeping your small dog healthy has nothing to do with offering “wee” or “mini” sizes of biologically inappropriate pet food. Help your little one stay at a healthy weight and nutritionally fit with a high animal protein, moisture rich diet fed in controlled portions, and augmented with plenty of physical activity.

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5 Questions to Ask Before Saying ‘Yes’ to Expensive Surgery

5 Questions to Ask Before Saying ‘Yes’ to Expensive Surgery

By Dr. Karen Becker and comments by Diane Weinmann

Some of the most difficult decisions we make as pet parents involve the treatment and ongoing care of an animal companion who is seriously ill or incapacitated.

Veterinary medicine is evolving in terms of new treatments, but just because a treatment is available doesn’t mean it’s appropriate in every situation. In fact, sometimes, refusing treatment is actually the best decision a person can make for their pet’s quality of life.

Asking the Right Questions

Receiving the news that a dog or cat is seriously ill or injured is extremely upsetting for most pet parents, but it’s important to keep your wits about you so that you can formulate the right questions to ask your veterinarian.

At a minimum, you need to know what’s wrong with your pet, the extent of the illness or injury, what treatment options are available and associated costs, and the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each type of treatment.

Armed with this information, I recommend you take a day or two to think things over and write down any additional questions or concerns that arise. This is also a good time to consider a second opinion, perhaps with a specialist such as a veterinary cardiologist, oncologist, or surgeon, depending on what’s wrong with your pet. Questions to ask yourself as you contemplate your pet’s treatment options:

  • What is in the overall best interests of my pet? This is a gut check to ensure it’s your pet’s interests and not your own that remain your primary focus.
  • How difficult will treatment be for my pet? If, for example, your cat is stressed out by car rides and veterinary visits, a course of treatment that requires lots of both will add to her discomfort and anxiety.
  • Will the recommended tests and treatments change my pet’s outcome? Unfortunately, sometimes “doing everything possible” in terms of diagnostic tests and treatments delivers no benefit whatsoever beyond helping pet parents feel they “did everything possible.”
  • Will the treatment offer my pet an improved quality of life? This is arguably the most important consideration.
  • What can I realistically afford in terms of financial and time commitments?

Planning Ahead

Preparation is priceless. I recommend establishing treatment boundaries before you find yourself in a situation in which your emotions are running high and you’re more apt to make decisions you may later regret. Some of the situations below are extremely difficult to contemplate, but whenever possible, it’s best to do so with a clear head. Things to consider:

  1. How will I pay for my pet’s treatment? You can find information on pet health insurance, other options to pay for pet care, and preventive care tips in my article One of the Most Neglected Aspects of Pet Ownership.
  2. How far will I go with treatment for my pet? Generally speaking, it makes little sense to put an elderly pet through a course of treatment (e.g., an amputation, back surgery, or removal of a major organ) that probably won’t improve and may even detract from his quality of life.
  3. How many invasive procedures will I allow my pet to undergo? Set an “invasiveness tolerance level” for your animal based on your own feelings and beliefs — your wise inner voice. For example, an ultrasound is a three-dimensional image taken with an external device that is entirely non-invasive but could be stressful for your pet.

Exploratory surgery, on the other hand, is the definition of invasive. Your pet will be put under general anesthesia, opened up, and her internal organs explored. If you’re unwilling to put your pet under the knife but you’re okay with an ultrasound, write it down so you know in advance how you feel about invasive procedures.

  1. How far will I let my pet be pushed? This involves assessing your pet’s individual stress tolerance level. If you must pack your elderly housecat off to an emergency clinic with dozens of barking dogs, bright lights, odd smells and strange people, it can be overwhelmingly stressful for her.

In such a case, you may decide not to put her through certain procedures — even if they’re warranted and you’d prefer they be done — because you know she’ll very likely have an emotional meltdown simply from the stress of the situation. Identify your pet’s stress threshold and make a decision ahead of time not to go beyond it.

  1. How do I feel about resuscitation and other end-stage issues? If your beloved pet slips into a coma at an emergency animal hospital, do you want the staff to perform CPR, or are you prepared let him go? If you want your pet saved at all costs, will you be able to manage a critically ill animal, perhaps on life support?
  2. How do I feel about euthanasia? Sort out your thoughts and feelings about euthanasia. Think about whether you agree in principle with it. If you must euthanize your pet, would you want it done at home? Which family members would be involved? How about your children, if you have any, and other pets?
  3. How do you want your pet’s remains handled upon death? Do you want to take her home for burial? Would you like her cremated and the ashes returned to you? Or would you prefer to leave the remains at the clinic for disposal? Try to give the situation some thought before the time arrives. Only you know what’s best for your pet, and for you and your family.

Taking Care of Yourself While You Care for Your Pet

Sharing your life with a pet brings immeasurable amounts of joy and unconditional love, but when your pet becomes ill, caring for him can take a toll on your mental health. Researchers assessed what they called “caregiver burden” in 238 owners of a dog or a cat.

It’s well known that caregivers of human patients facing a chronic or terminal illness experience heightened levels of stress, depression and anxiety, so the researchers set out to determine if the same held true for pet caregivers.

As you might suspect, the answer is yes. Compared to owners of healthy animals, the results showed greater burden, stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as poorer quality of life, in owners of pets with chronic or terminal disease.1 In turn, the feeling of higher burden was linked to reduced psychosocial functioning.

It’s important to remember that you can’t care for your pet unless you care for yourself first. Practice positive self-care, from eating right to getting enough sleep, and reach out for support when you need it.

For many, the emotional toll is the hardest part of caring for a sick pet, which is why expressing your thoughts and feelings is crucial.

You needn’t keep your emotions bottled up; what you’re feeling — perhaps failure, frustration, inadequacy or guilt — is valid and by sharing your thoughts — in a journal, with a friend or in a support group — you can ultimately move past them and let them go. The International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (IAAHPC) states:2

“We encourage you to reach out to like-minded individuals in your community and online who have experienced similar situations, and ‘get it.’ Look to your local animal shelters, veterinary association, and pet funeral homes for pet loss support groups. Human hospice programs in your community offer grief and bereavement services to the public (interview them for their views on pet hospice first).”

In addition, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with decisions and information regarding your pet’s illness, ask for explanations from your veterinarian, and realize that you don’t have to shoulder the burden alone. If you need a moment to regroup, ask a close friend or family member to care for your pet so you can focus on stress relief.

“[T]he ability to think clearly will directly affect how effective you can be in your care for your animal companion,” IAAHPC notes. “Respite, or some time away from caregiving, can be important to your continued well-being.”

Despite the stress and, oftentimes, uncertainty, there can be great solace in being there for your pet when he needs you most. Sometimes, if you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed the best thing you can do is to simply sit and be with your pet in the present moment.

As an alternative, consulting with an animal communicator, like Diane Weinmann, to obtain the wishes of your pet, along with signs that they will display if they are ready to transition into spirit and if they want assistance with that journey can also take the uncertainty of the situation away.

Take some deep breaths, practice mindfulness or meditation, and your calmness will likely be felt by your pet as well.