I think Benjamin Franklin put it best when he said, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ He was saying that it’s better to try and avoid problems in the first place, rather than trying to fix them once they arise. What exactly does this have to do with veterinary medicine? Everything! Preventative medicine is the foundation of staying healthy for you and your furry friends. Pet immunization is just the tip of the iceberg.
Pet immunization is an important aspect of preventative medicine. All puppies and kittens should have three series of vaccines typically at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age. The mother’s milk provides antibodies to protect puppies and kittens from contagious disease. These antibodies start to decrease between 8 to 12 weeks of age, and that’s why we start to vaccinate during this time frame. We are trying to stimulate the animal’s immune system to develop protection on their own before the mother’s protection is completely gone and most importantly, before they get exposed to the real disease. After this initial series of pet immunization, adult animals need yearly vaccinations.
But it’s not just all about the “shots.” The physical exam is the most important aspect of the visit. A comprehensive physical exam involves checking every aspect of the animal from head to tail. During puppy/kitten exams, your veterinarian is primarily looking for congenital birth defects and parasites. Animals age faster than we do, so an annual exam to them is like you going to the doctor every seven years. Annual examinations help us to detect and treat diseases early before your pet starts showing symptoms.
In animals, parasite prevention is as important as vaccinations. 34% of dogs in the United States are infected with intestinal parasites. 1-3 million people are infected with hookworms from their pets each year. The CDC recommends at least once a year deworming for intestinal parasites. It’s also important to keep the environment free from all fecal material to prevent infection from you and your pet. Heartworms, a blood parasite, are easily prevented with monthly medication that is only available through a veterinarian. There are 244,000 dogs diagnosed with heartworms every year in the United States. Heartworm prevention cost an average of $6.00/month. Heartworm treatment can cost $500-$1000 and left untreated heartworms can be fatal.
The jingling of tags on a collar. The low whistling whines. The inevitable sound of “lick, lick, lick” that brings you out of a dead sleep and is the pet owner equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. “STOP!” Silence. You lay back down, settle into your pillow, and then- “lick, lick, lick.” This is the song of an itchy pet.
Just reading that probably raised your anxiety level by a good four notches. Your dog is not doing that to drive you crazy, nor does he likely have a severe neurosis or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Odds are your dog is dealing with the same thing a considerable part of the human population is currently, which is seasonal allergies. Like humans, dogs and cats can have allergic reactions to pollens, mold, chemicals, and food.
Where we humans tend to go for the more dramatic reaction like sneezing and puffy red eyes, dogs and cats often present with skin issues and even gastrointestinal issues, which are not the first thing you generally associate with allergies. Pollens can settle on the pet’s skin and cause irritation, which creates an itchy pet, which can result in hair loss or skin scrapes or cuts. Open wounds can become infected, causing even more discomfort and irritation, which leads to increased scratching, and soon, you have a miserable dog or cat that needs serious medical attention.
Fleas are often blamed for itching and scratching, and rightfully so, but sometimes the pet has an allergic reaction to the flea saliva. In these cases, it is imperative that you stay ahead of the flea infestation.
How to relieve your itchy pet:
So, what can you do to make your dog or cat more comfortable so you both can get a good night’s sleep? First, make sure you don’t have a flea issue, and if you do, treat all the pets in the home and the environment. Your veterinarian can advise you on the best flea treatment for your pet, but you will also need to maintain efforts at home to keep them in check. Inside you will want to vacuum frequently around your pet’s bedding and areas they lay or sleep. Wash their bedding and blankets often. Treat outside areas with safe pet products to control fleas and ticks and keep the grass trimmed.
In the early spring and fall when pollen seems to hang in the air, try putting a light fabric shirt on your dog to keep the pollens off his skin. Bathing your itchy pet weekly in a cool bath with an oatmeal shampoo will remove the pollens and soothe the skin. Regular brushing will disperse natural oils throughout the coat to create a barrier for pollens and irritants. You might also consider paw socks or boots for extended outdoor time to keep allergens off their feet.
Letting your dog hang his head out of a car window is never a good idea, and doubly so when the air is full of things just waiting to make him sneeze. Roll those windows UP!
If despite your best efforts your pet is still scratching or chewing or sneezing or bumpy, don’t throw in the towel just yet. There are many pharmaceutical solutions your vet can prescribe, starting with simple antihistamines and progressing up to prescription medication in severe cases. Your itchy pet doesn’t have to suffer, and neither do you. The next time you are awakened by the “lick, lick, lick” take a moment to check your pet over. If you don’t see signs of fleas, it is probably time for a quick trip to the vet for a bit of allergy relief. You will both sleep better for it!
The last few weeks, I’ve seen several cases of inappropriate elimination in cats. Spraying or avoiding the litter box is the number one sited reason cats are surrendered to animal shelters. Hopefully, the knowledge you gain from this article can reduce the chance of litter box problems.
The most common reason a cat will use the bathroom outside of its litter box is that it’s not clean. Let’s face it- when we go to a public restroom and find a dirty toilet, we go to the next stall; if it stinks, we will find another bathroom somewhere else. Why do you think it’s any different for your cat?
How to prevent inappropriate elimination in cats:
- Use unscented litter.
- Scoop the litter box every day
- Clean the litter box once a week with mild soap and water
- Don’t use ammonia or citrus scents
- If the box begins to smell like urine, use an odor neutralizer or replace the box with a new one.
The number of litter boxes needed depends on the number of cats in your household. The general rule of thumb to follow is the number of cats you have in your household plus one (example: 2 cats = 3 litter boxes). I would also recommend providing different types of litter box and varying the size of each of the boxes. We have similar choices: home vs. public restroom, inside vs. outside, and handicap vs. regular stall. It’s nice to have a choice.
If you have inappropriate elimination in cats and you have tried the above suggestions, your cat may have a medical or behavioral condition. Contact your veterinarian for an exam and diagnostics in order to resolve the issue early. Never punish your cat for going outside the litter box, as this may cause other behavioral problems. Some individuals think the cat is trying to be vindictive, when in fact, there is a legitimate reason why the cat is not using the litter box. Try thinking about the problem from your cat’s point of view. Ask yourself if you were presented with the same problem, what would you do?