I see so many sad, disturbing and infuriating posts come across my social media feed that I have, on more than one occasion, sworn to close all of my accounts and become an internet hermit. The things people share these days are incredible, and all for what? A like, a wow, a sad face or angry face emoji? Is this what our culture is becoming? Infuriating or saddening people to get attention? Without even the most meager attempt to try and discern if what we are redistributing is even remotely true? I hope not. Fear tactics and extreme radicalization were used by media outlets long before facebook. I know it won’t change. In fact, it has only gotten worse with the advent of the world-wide web. I personally find this marketing of propaganda so disgusting that I roll my eyes every time I see an ad for the next “Channel 2 investigative report.”
I usually don’t let it bother me much. I just accept that it is a part of culture and shake my head and move on. I tend to see the good in the world and the good in people. Are there exceptions to this, sure, as with anything. However, when the propaganda concerns my profession, and potentially the health of my patients, I find it a lot more difficult to just accept this.
It seems that with each new, helpful product released in the veterinary industry there is a news story that follows about how that product kills pets. These stories often have some jaw-dropping title attached like, “your vet may be prescribing your pet poison!” Then we get to hear a million horror stories about how the same thing happened when someone else’s pet took the same medication. The story builds on itself and everyone who reads it and has lost a pet, now considers the idea that this product could be the cause.
I personally experienced this recently. A pet died and the owners were very upset, and understandably so. I offered to perform a necropsy and the owners initially declined, as they were just too distraught by the loss, again, understandably so. Fortunately, the owner had a change of heart and the necropsy was performed. The pet had been given a product that was linked to a “report” of animal deaths a couple of years ago. This report has since been invalidated multiple times, but once something is on the internet it is forever. Like a bad Christmas gift, it keeps popping back up until it has been re-gifted so many times, it ends up back in the hands of the original gifter. The only problem is that the gifter in this case wants the story to continue being circulated.
In this particular case, the necropsy revealed that the pet had unfortunately passed from a twisted stomach. The same condition that ultimately led to the passing of the beloved pet in the movie “Marley and Me.” Although, I find them deeply disturbing, I wanted to perform that necropsy for two reasons. One, if that product had killed the pet, and as a veterinarian I promoted its use, I would have been heart-broken. Second, I wanted to know if that product didn’t harm the dog, what had. And could that finding provide some closure for the distraught owner.
Initially I was undeniably a little relieved to find that the product had nothing to do with the pet’s death. I was relieved that I had not unintentionally been poisoning dogs. It was only after the dust cleared that I became somewhat frustrated and even saddened. What if the necropsy had never been performed? If you’ll recall, it almost wasn’t. Both the owner and myself would have been even more distraught. I would still have been skeptical, as is my nature, however, I certainly would have had at least a small amount of wonder and concern. I may also have been, and this poor owner certainly would have been, sensitized to the claims surrounding these types of stories.
This is where the harm in all of this lies. Maybe I would have stopped prescribing this medication for my clients. Maybe this owner would share the fact that this product killed their pet. Maybe more people would share the story and convince people to stop using a product that has saved many lives. Maybe an owner, trying to do the best thing for their pet, stops using this product and the dog ultimately dies from the disease it was designed to prevent. Maybe people would stop trusting their vets. Many already have.
In many of these reports, someone with experience in that field can find a million faults in the article or story. However, someone without an advanced degree just has to ponder and we often let our hearts decide what we believe. For example, if I see a post that says typing some statement on my wall will keep all of my facebook posts from being made public, I don’t know. My heart says ohhh, type that. But by the time I’m halfway through (slow typer), my brain says, it’s facebook, they own the world, and you can’t stop them. By the way it doesn’t work. That’s a pretty benign example, but the same logic applies.
By no means do I expect everyone to become as skeptical as I am. That would be a pretty big challenge. And, I certainly wouldn’t want people to just ignore what could be potentially helpful information. But, I would like to think people could take a step back when this type of article or story comes across their feed. I’d like to see people give the heart a second to heal, and then ask the brain to consider what it had just consumed. Then ask the brain some questions. How likely is it that what I’ve just read or seen true? Could there be another side to this story? And by far, the biggest one, does correlation equal causation. Every time I see a deer on the side of the road, I see buzzards. And I just have to think, how did those buzzards kill that deer.
My name is Thomas Griner. I am an associate veterinarian at an animal hospital in a small town in Georgia. I do not have any contracts with, nor do I receive any financial compensation for any opinions or recommendations. This varies greatly from a majority of the people who discuss diets online. These bloggers, who are almost never veterinary experts or nutrition experts, admit to receiving compensation for products mentioned and promoted on their websites, or from the websites that sell them. Instead, I am typing on my computer after an already long day at the office, because I care. I’m also writing because I am tired of compassionate pet owners being scared out of their money because they think the food they are feeding is not good enough or somehow harmful.
A terribly exaggerated video came across my news feed yesterday, and since then, I have been shocked and a little disappointed at the channels that have been redistributing it. This video was produced by a website that admittedly receives monetary compensation from the companies of the products it promotes.
This article is intended to reduce the panic caused by the video, point out some pretty idiotic and misleading scare tactics, and finally offer my “opinion” on the commercial dog food industry based on my veterinary education, personal experience with my EIGHT animals, and experience with patients.
Myths about pet food:
What I recommend and what I look for in a dog food:
Finally, because these bloggers, who prey on well-intending pet owners, always include a sob story to help sell you, so they can profit, I will include mine. Even though, I won’t benefit financially, and I am not trying to sell you anything. I considered not including this story because I didn’t intend to promote one brand over another, and I do not.
Nevertheless, I am a 6’ tall 220-pound man who lived under the constant shame of having a 4-pound Chihuahua as a best friend. Her name was Taylor, and she had me wrapped from the first time I zipped her up in my jacket, on a freezing 70-degree night in South Georgia, to keep her warm. Taylor was my first veterinary emergency as a new associate. I took her in because she was having trouble breathing. Taylor had a heart disorder that she was born with, but until now it had not caused her any significant problems.
Taylor was entering heart failure, as was expected at some point. She was started on heart medication, but her already finicky appetite had all but ceased. As a vet I know that this happens, but as a dad it broke my heart to think she was starving to death. We directly associate our pet’s appetite with love and well-being. This is why we are such easy targets for food companies and the bloggers who profit from recommending them. I tried anything to get Taylor to eat. I offered canned, dry, semi-moist. I added shredded cheese and peanut butter. I literally tried anything I could think of to get Taylor to eat and tried any brand. I really didn’t care if she ate a balanced diet at this point if she would JUST EAT! I finally offered her Hill’s Small and Toy Breed. The kibble is smaller than anything else I had found and she actually ate it. I didn’t hold my breath, because she would occasionally eat a little only to decide later, she didn’t like the food anymore. To my excitement, Taylor continued to eat the food and because she could now take her medicine, she started to feel better. Taylor actually gained weight on the food. She was always underweight and this was the first time she had ever been an ideal weight. This is incredible considering she was entering the end stages of heart failure. Taylor passed away a few months ago, an incredible four years after she entered congestive heart failure. For anyone who has experienced this with their own pet, they know that this is an amazing feat. Taylor didn’t live four more years because she ate Hill’s, and she also didn’t die because she did. But because Taylor ate, she had four more quality years, and I had four more (not nearly enough) quality years.
Warmer weather is finally here! For us near the coast, this means day trips to the beach, hanging out in and around the pool, and FLEAS. You may not be as excited about that last one, but it is an inevitable part of summer. They pose an even bigger problem in areas with sandy soil, just like we have, well, everywhere. Unless you own 10 acres and it is all paved, you will likely notice the eruption of these pesky little critters.
Fleas are a nuisance for many reasons.
Brushing your pet’s teeth may seem like a daunting and unnecessary task. However, it may also be one of the most important steps you are skipping in their preventative care. Just like humans, cats and dogs develop plaque on their teeth that hardens into tartar if not brushed away. This tartar causes gingivitis and traps bacteria into the gums. That bacteria can then enter the bloodstream where it can cause heart disease, kidney disease and other serious complications.
If introduced early in life, many pets will allow you to brush their teeth. It is recommended that you brush your pet’s teeth daily, but even 2-3 times a week can make a big difference! Be sure to use a veterinary approved toothpaste, as many human products can be unsafe for your pet. In addition to brushing, chews and water additives can aide in your pet’s dental and overall health. A complete list of VOHC (like ADA for pets) accepted products can be found here. The VOHC seal helps ensure that you are using quality products proven to reduce plaque and tartar.
Using dental products will greatly improve your pet’s breath and oral health. However, regular dental cleanings are still recommended to remove tartar that can not be removed by brushing alone. This is no different than with us! Dental cleanings require anesthesia and can only be carried out by veterinary professionals. Groomers may offer oral cleaning, but this should not be confused with dental scaling and polishing. Most experts recommend annual veterinary dental cleanings, but this may vary based on your pet’s home oral health program, breed and genetics. Be sure your veterinarian evaluates your pet’s teeth at each exam and follow their recommendations for dental cleanings.
I watch dogs walk their owners and even drag them down the hallway at the clinic on a daily basis. So, I thought I would take the time and write a short article about the subject. There are many types of collars, and some actually are better than others.
Flat collars are the most popular and common collars you see on dogs. These collars are called this as they sit flt around the pet's neck. A flat collar is great for pets who already have good leash manners. They are also appropriate when a pet does not walk on a leash but needs identification, such as a nameplate or Rabies tag. These are not the best collars for training a dog to a leash.
Head collars (like a Gentle Leader) are by far the best type of collar for leash training or even controlling a large dog. These collars fit over the muzzle and clip behind the head. The leash is then clipped to a ring below the dog's mouth. These collars control the head and make training and controlling a dog much easier. The dog will have to become used to the collar (like any collar and leash) before just throwing it on and going for a walk. The best way to do this is by holding it over your hand and coaxing the pet to slip it's nose through by holding a treat on the other side. Another benefit of these collars is that they do not apply pressure to the dogs throat. For this very reason choker chains and "pinch" collars are not recommended. The trachea or "wind pipe" is actually a fairly delicate organ and too much pressure can cause damage. Choker chains also rarely help control the pet and now you have a pet who still pulls but can't breathe.
Harnesses are not technically a collar but are becoming more and more popular. I especially love the use of harnesses in smaller dogs. Many smaller dogs have even more delicate tracheae and the pressured applied by a human to a leash around the neck of a 5 pound dog can be crushing. Many types of harness exist but the best have padding, and do not cut into the armpits.
The best way to fit a flat collar is to lie your first two fingers flat against the dogs neck and secure it snugly. If you can not fit two fingers flat under the dog's collar it is too tight. If you have much more space than two fingers it is too lose and could slip off if the dog pulls. This is especially important when applying a flea and tick collar such as Seresto. These collars will not be effective if not properly fitted. To assure proper fit (and especially in growing dogs), the two finger test should be performed at least once per week.
Finally, leashes. Flat leashes of 6-8 ft are by far superior to longer leashes and especially to retractable leashes. Retractable leashes make controlling a pet very difficult. The small cords are prone to breakage and the catches often fail. Either of these can lead to fatal accidents. The key is to be able to keep your pet close at all times and retractable leashes fail to do this effectively. I once had a neighbor who walked her dogs with retractable leashes. It was always nerve-racking to watch her frantically attempt to reel her dogs in as they narrowly avoided being hit by a car.
If you have any questions, comments or need help finding and fitting the right collar and leash please contact us or come see us. We are more than happy to help you keep your four-legged friend safe and stylish.
During this time of year, we almost always have at least one hospitalized case of parvovirus. Parvovirus is a very serious disease of the intestines. For all intents and purposes, the virus strips the lining from the intestines and makes it impossible for the dog to absorb any nutrients. This leads to dehydration, and starvation. Without intensive treatment the prognosis is very poor.
Fortunately, the disease is usually very easy to prevent with vaccination. Currently parvovirus is the most important vaccine given to puppies. The vaccine should be given as early as 6 weeks old and then at regular intervals, until the puppy is 18-20 weeks old. At Satilla Animal Hospital we vaccinate every 2 weeks from 6 weeks until 18 or 20 weeks of age.
ONE VACCINE DOES NOT PROTECT YOUR PUPPY!
When a puppy is born it receives some protection from its mother. This protection only lasts for a certain amount of time, and this time is different for every puppy. The protection from a mother is essential for the puppy's survival early on. However, this same protection makes any vaccine given during this time unsuccessful. Keep in mind this time is different for all puppies. This is why the series is so important. If a puppy only receives one vaccine and it is given while maternal antibodies are high, that puppy could still get parvo, once those maternal antibodies decrease. The puppy needs to receive vaccines after it develops its own immunity. Since we can not guess exactly when the maternal protection will go away, and the puppy develops its own, we have to vaccinate regularly until we KNOW the puppy should have an adequate immune system (usually 18-20 weeks).
Anyone who has ever owned, cared for, or treated a parvo puppy, knows how sad the disease process can be. Even if the puppy is lucky enough to survive, the suffering is immense.
Please vaccinate your puppies and remember that "booster" shots are as important and sometimes more important than the initial vaccine. If you have any questions about parvovirus, maternal antibodies or vaccination please ask your veterinarian. As always you can contact us with any questions or concerns.
I remember going to the feed store around Easter as a child. Every year, I'd beg for one of the brightly dyed chicks and hoped my parents would finally let me take one home. They never did. I thought they were cruel and didn't want me to be happy. In hindsight it seems that they were much wiser than I realized.
Now as an adult, I would like to encourage you to be a cruel parent. The Center for Disease Control states that chicks can expose children to salmonella. This bacteria can be very harmful to children and each spring children are infected from handling baby chicks.
This year we have also had another run-in with the dreaded bird-flu. Many surrounding states have confirmed cases and Georgia has had confirmed cases of the less severe version. Bird flu is spread from flocks by wild birds that come and go. So, bringing new birds in could potentially invite more disease.
Another reason to avoid the purchase of a chick is simply humanity. Most of those cute little colorful birds die shortly after the holiday. Children often lose interest just about as quickly as the dye fades. Do you have time, or know how to raise a chick?
Finally, Peeps are delicious. Who doesn't like sugar-coated, air-fluffed sugar? Not to mention the seemingly sinister, yet innocent gratification one gets from biting off the marshmallow head or tail (no judgement). Peeps are only around for the season which adds to the nostalgia and makes them magically guilt-free. So go ahead and eat the entire package (no judgement). Just leave the live chicks at the feed store.
Canine and feline obesity is becoming as "large" a problem as the current epidemic with people. Studies have shown that more than 50% of our pets are overweight or obese. Most of us know that obesity can lead to an abundance of health issues and can also shorten our pet's life. In some cases, weight gain can be a sign of disease itself. So what can we do to end this and help our pets live healthier and happier lives?
The first step is acceptance:
I don't enjoy having to discuss obesity with owners. We love our pets and no one wants to be told that their child is fat. For this reason, many people take it very personally. The last thing we, as veterinarians, want to do is upset our clients. As a profession we pride ourselves on developing a good relationship with our clients. Some veterinarians will avoid the topic for this reason. So why would I tell you your dog is fat? Because I care. Because I want you to have as many years with your pet as possible and because I know the consequences of not taking action.
Next, we need to find out why we are overweight. Usually, the cause is as simple as too many calories in and not enough exercise. Sometimes however, the cause can be due to disease, such as Cushing's or hypothyroidism. For this reason I recommend starting with a complete exam with bloodwork, including thyroid testing.
Once we have determined the cause we can take action. In most cases your pet can get to a healthy weight just by paying attention to how much you feed, adding exercise and weighing them regularly. In many cases we grossly over-feed our pets. We think our pets will love us more if we give them tasty treats. In reality it is proven that pets respond much more favorably and bond better with owners who spend time with and praise them (like taking them for a walk).
Limit the number of treats your pet gets. Treats can be deceptively high in calories. These calories have to be accounted for when trying to restrict an overweight pet's intake. It does me no good to eat 3 balanced meals a day if I have a piece of cake after each meal. In cases where significant weight needs to be lost, I recommend removing treats altogether. If you still feel the need to reward your pet, green beans can be a good, low calorie alternative to commercially prepared treats.
Finally, if pets refuse to lose weight with reducing feeding amount alone, prescription diets for weight lose are available. While these diets can be costly, the added years and savings on treating disease is priceless. As mentioned before, excess weight can be linked to numerous diseases from diabetes to orthopedic disease.
Weight management is one of the most important aspects of animal health, yet we spend very little time addressing the issue. Sometimes it is uncomfortable to talk about and not well received but the pet's health and longevity depends on it. Because all dogs are different, weight alone may not always be the best indicator of obesity. For that reason I am attaching a Body Condition Score chart that can be referenced to help you along your pet's weight loss journey. Also feel free to stop in anytime and check your pet's progress on our scales. For more information on diets or for help with your pet's weight loss, visit us at Satilla Animal Hospital in Waycross, GA.
Three ways to keep your dog's mouth healthy and spend less money on dental cleanings.
We all know that we should brush our teeth at least twice a day and many of us have been scolded by our dentist when we forget to floss. It is also recommended that we have a professional cleaning performed at least once a year. Why then are we so surprised when the veterinarian lifts our pet's lips to reveal a foul-smelling mouth full of tartar-packed teeth and red, angry gums?
Dental disease causes more problems than most of us realize. When tartar builds up on the teeth it traps bacteria in the gums. This bacteria eventually finds its way into the blood where it has been linked to heart disease, kidney disease and other illness. In addition to the spread of bacteria through the blood, dental disease causes pain, bleeding and abscesses in the mouth.
Dental cleanings by a veterinarian are the only way to remove the damage that exists, but fortunately they can be limited and sometimes avoided completely with at-home dental care.
The following are industry guidelines for keeping your pets mouth healthy before and between dental cleanings:
The Veterinary Oral Health Council is for dental products what the NASC is for supplements. Basically, a team of veterinary dental professionals came together and decided too many products were being marketed toward dental health that didn't actually do anything for the teeth and gums. The VOHC is now a governing body that guarantees any product carrying their "seal of approval" meets its claims for tartar and plaque reduction. As with supplements not all products without the seal are necessarily garbage, but you should always ask your vet or look for the seal when in doubt. More information on VOHC can be found here. Also, this is a link to a list all of the VOHC approved products.
Since we are in South Georgia, I thought this would be a great blog topic. I would guess 70% (or more) of the cases we see are itchy pets. The clinical signs can be mild to severe and range from licking paws to scratching until hair falls out. These pets can be absolutely miserable and often make the owners miserable as well.
So why is my pet itchy? The one single reason most pets are itchy is something called Atopic Dermatitis. Simply put it means itchy skin and is usually due to environmental allergies. It is important to understand that environmental allergies are different than food allergies. Food allergies are much less often the culprit so I will discuss them briefly later on. Environmental allergens can be anything that the pet is exposed to, from pollen to fleas.
Flea allergies are one of the most common and severe presentations of itchy dogs and cats. Pets with flea allergies become itchy when they are bitten. Just like in people some animals are more allergic than others and as little as one bite can cause a reaction. Some pets have such a severe allergy that the owner and vet may not see fleas, but due to the presentation, flea allergy is still determined to be the cause. These pets can even be on a flea preventative and still have a break-out if bitten.
Other environmental allergens can be much more difficult to pinpoint because they can literally be anything in the pets environment. Some dogs may have an itchy belly and feet after being exposed to grass. Others may suffer from pollen. I have even seen cases where certain carpet cleaners and laundry detergents have caused reactions.
Food allergies, while much less common, do also exist. Food allergies are almost impossible to test for with a standard allergy test in an animal hospital. The most common way of diagnosing food allergies is by trial and error. The pet is usually treated for an environmental allergy and if traditional treatments fail, food allergies start to be suspected. Another sign may be loose stool or nausea, however, this is not always the case and not reliable alone to make a diagnosis.
So what can I do?
For environmental allergies or atopic dermatitis, there are several options for treating this disease. Since fleas are commonly associated with allergies and itchy pets in this region, flea prevention is the most important part of management. A monthly flea preventative is the most effective way to control fleas.
Next, these pets have a weakened skin barrier, which makes them more susceptible to allergies. Normal dogs have healthy skin which protects them form this disease. In allergic dogs the skin barrier is defective and allows the allergen to penetrate and cause itch.
This is why my first step in treating this disease is to start a prescription diet like Hill's Derm Defense. This food, and others like it, have been proven to improve the skin barrier and make it less susceptible to the allergens in the environment. Sometimes this diet alone can control allergies.
If diet alone is not enough, the actual itch can be addressed. There are a range of products from steroids to pills (Apoquel) and injections (Cytopoint) that can help control the itch.
Finally, in severe cases of chronic itch, the pet will often have a skin infection. This is a part of the itch cycle that i will describe in just a second. The pet essentially scratches so much that the skin is completely broken and bacteria creates an infection. These pets will need antibiotics as a part of their treatment.
Finally, managing food allergies. If the above treatments were unsuccessful, or food allergies have been diagnosed due to other history and clinical signs, your pet may need a food trial. This means your pet will have to eat a specific food for a period of time and can not be exposed to any other treats or food during this time. It is very important to realize that protein is almost always the source of a food allergy. Although it is a popular trend right now, grains are almost never the source of an allergy. If the pet remains free of clinical signs during the food trial, different proteins can be reintroduced to determine the source, or the pet remains on the special diet to avoid reactions.
The itch cycle and where each treatment fits
I briefly mentioned the itch cycle earlier. This will be a layman's explanation and a more scientific definition can be found here.
As mentioned earlier, most of these pets have a defective skin barrier (this is why the food, Derm Defense, helps). Allergens are able to enter the skin and cause the body to have a reaction. Remember these can be anything from fleas to pollen. Once the skin has been breached and the reaction occurs, cells see the allergen and release components that tell the pet, "you are itchy". Apoquel and Cytopoint help limit these symptoms. Once the pet receives that message, it begins to scratch. As the pet scratches the skin barrier becomes even weaker and more allergens can breach it. Now more signals are sent to tell the pet, "you are itchy". Now the pet scratches, licks or chews more. This leads to more broken skin, more allergen, more itch and eventually infection. This is why we often call atopic dermatitis a vicious cycle. This is also why once started, it can be so hard to gain control.
Every veterinarian may differ in their means of approaching these cases and every pet's needs will vary. As a simple rule, my goal for control in an itchy dog is to try to stop the itch at each step of the cycle. This means fix the weak skin barrier with food, control the itch with medication as needed, and finally treat any skin infections that may be present.
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Waycross, GA 31501
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