“Bee” Aware Of Insect Stings This Summer

The summer season offers many opportunities for pets and their owners to get outside and enjoy nature. These adventures can provide wonderful opportunities for enrichment, but blooming flowers, gardening, and spending more time outdoors can increase a pet’s exposure to stinging insects.

A fluffy puppy sits in a field of white daisies, sniffing a flowerDr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor and emergency and critical care specialist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says pet owners may not always know when their animal has been stung by an insect, as bees are the only insect that actually leave stingers behind.

“A common sign that an owner can use to identify a sting is that a pet may have an acute lameness/pain or cry out for an unknown reason while outside,” Rutter said. “Sometimes pets will have pain on their face, paws, or areas that may appear swollen. These signs can occur immediately after or within a few hours of a sting.”

If an owner suspects that their animal has been stung, they should immediately seek emergency veterinary care. Most topical medications and home remedies aren’t a good idea for pets, and a veterinarian should be consulted before administering any medications to your pet. With prompt treatment, the majority of stings can be managed, even if a pet is allergic.

“Pets that have facial swelling, severe itching, hives, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or collapse after a sting could be allergic to stings,” Rutter said. “It is uncommon for pets to have repeat episodes of life-threatening reactions after stings, but it does happen.”

Rutter says pets are usually stung on their face or a paw, but that stings may occur anywhere.

“Most stings are isolated and the result of an overcurious pet annoying a stinging insect that was previously minding its own business,” she said. “Keeping control of your pet and supervising them when outside is key—but it’s easier said than done. Many stings (even for supervised pets) aren’t witnessed.”

Owners outside with their pets should keep an eye out for foraging bees on flowers, swarms of bees, and beehives, especially if Africanized bees, a more aggressive version of the European honeybee, are present in their area. They should also be wary of wasp nests and yellow jacket burrows, which can be a source of multiple stings if a pet gets too close.

“A single sting is usually not a big deal, but multiple stings can be life threatening and potentially have long-term complications,” she said. “Keep pets from investigating under porches/houses, in shrubbery, outbuildings, or known locations of nests/hives.”

For pets with a known severe allergy to stings, Rutter says that there are therapies available to desensitize them to insect venom. If your pet has more than one severe reaction to an insect sting, she recommends addressing the issue with your veterinarian to see what options are best to protect your furry friend.

Though insect stings are never pleasant—for pets or humans—prompt veterinary care can minimize the risks of insect stings and ensure your pet has a safe and pleasant experience with the great outdoors.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Hot Topic: Keeping Your Pet Safe As Temperatures Rise

Texas is known for hot summers that leave many residents ready for air conditioning and a cool drink. Because their bodies expel heat less efficiently and generate more heat pound-for-pound than humans, our furry friends can be even more impacted by rising temperatures.

Pug playing in a kiddie poolDr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor and emergency and critical care specialist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses the dangers that summer heat may present to animals, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

“Heat exhaustion is the feeling of lethargy, discomfort, or weakness that is experienced when the body gets too hot,” Rutter said. “Heat stroke is an actual illness that occurs from increased body temperature. It can be life-threatening and cause permanent damage.”

Heat-related issues are prevented through a process called evaporative cooling, which is one of the most efficient ways for an animal to expel heat, Rutter explains. Humans accomplish this largely by sweating, but dogs and cats can only sweat through the bottoms of their feet, so they must expel heat by panting.

“Very young, geriatric, brachycephalic (short-nosed breeds), and pets with heart, respiratory, or endocrine disease are at higher risk for heat injury,” Rutter said. “Obesity and respiratory noises can also identify at-risk groups. While it’s harder to pin down, pets that aren’t acclimated to hot environments will heatstroke more easily.”

Humidity plays an important role in how efficiently an animal can expel heat. As humidity increases, water evaporation and the resulting heat exchange decreases. Once the humidity in the air reaches about 85 percent, evaporative cooling is almost totally inhibited. For pets, this can have serious consequences.

Pet owners should keep a keen eye on their animal when the weather is hot and when the humidity is high; even if you feel OK, your pet might be affected.

“Any dog that wants to take a break or is panting heavily should be given fresh, cool water and a shady spot to rest until their breathing normalizes and they want to return to activity,” Rutter said. “Motivated dogs will return to activity as soon as it is physically possible, which may not be the best plan. Owners have to make some dogs stop and cool off fully.

“As heat stress worsens, pets may have GI signs (vomiting and/or diarrhea), lethargy, weakness, red gums, and coagulation (blood clotting) changes that can cause small, red bruises to form (most commonly in the mouth, whites of the eyes, and the skin of the abdomen).”

Rutter says that cats tend to limit their activity and seek shade when heat becomes an issue, but they still should also always have access to fresh water and be in a familiar environment.

“To cool an animal, I recommend wetting the pet down with cool (not cold) water, turning a fan on high over them, and putting them in a shaded, air-conditioned environment,” she said. “If your pet is displaying signs of heat stress, you should wet them down, crank up the AC, and head directly to your veterinarian’s office. It is most definitely an emergency.”

When walking a pet in the heat, owners should also consider whether the pavement temperature is appropriate for their pet’s paws. Rutter recommends feeling the pavement with your hand; if the pavement is too hot for you to touch it, it’s too hot for your pet.

Vehicles parked with no air conditioning also can be a serious threat during warmer months.

The temperature in parked cars rises quickly even with the windows “cracked.” Rutter says that cars can become lethally hot in as little as 15 minutes, but that time is shorter for animals prone to heat injury.

“Always have your pet inside the vehicle with the air conditioning on if the temperature is 85 degrees or greater,” she said. “Even at temperatures below 85 degrees, never put your pet in the bed of a truck and never, ever leave your pet in a parked car.”

Rutter recommends that pet owners see their veterinarian with any concern for heat stress or heat stroke.

Heat injury becomes a serious condition very quickly; luckily, however, these precautions are usually effective at preventing heat stress, and a mindful pet owner should have few worries as they enjoy their summer with a furry friend by their side.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Hobby Hazards: Maintaining a Pet-Safe Environment

After spending part of March and all of April at home, many people are finding that their television queues are watched, their video games are won, and their chores are done (or avoided!). As they search for more creative ways to pass the time, hobbies like painting, embroidery, and jogging are making a resurgence.

dog running with ball in mouthThough finding fun and productive ways to pass time is important for wellbeing, Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor and emergency and critical care specialist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that pet owners should be cognizant of any hazards these new hobbies might introduce into their pet’s environment.

“I’m seeing a very different variety of injuries at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital,” Rutter said. “I’m seeing a lot of pets eating a sewing needle because their mom is home and sewing, something that she wouldn’t normally do, or ‘I took the puppy fishing and now there’s a fishhook in his paw.’”

If pet owners are learning a hobby like sewing, knitting, crocheting, fishing, or another activity that relies on sharp tools and supplies, it is important that they keep potentially dangerous equipment stored out-of-reach from their pet. Other craft supplies, like some paints, modeling clays, and glues, can also be dangerous if ingested.

“Decrease opportunities for environmental injury,” Rutter said, “If you’re trying out new hobbies or activities, make sure that you’re keeping the things (tools, etc.) associated with those hobbies safely away from your pets.”

Pet owners exploring more physical hobbies, such as jogging, should also be mindful of how a change in routine affects their animal.

“Whenever you’re starting a new exercise routine with your pet, you want to do the same thing that we would recommend for any human starting a new exercise program,” Rutter said. “Talk to your veterinarian; if your dog has co-morbidities—things like underlying chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, respiratory disease, chronic coughing, if they’ve had any changes in their bark or difficulty breathing, or if your pet has an orthopedic disease, a history of limping, history of joint issues or replacement—you really want to make sure that you start off slow.”

As the weather warms up, it is also important that owners consider how the heat may affect their pet, especially during exercise.

“In Texas, heat and humidity are a big deal,” she said. “You probably should not go out and exercise your dog a lot when it’s very humid; with humidity over about 60 percent or temperatures over about 80 or 85, we start worrying about heatstroke. Also, keep exercise sessions short when you can’t stay underneath those environmental restrictions.”

Heatstroke is a very serious condition that requires emergency veterinary care.

“If you suspect your pet has heat stress at any time, that is not a time to wait and see what happens. If your pet seems exhausted on a walk, has trouble breathing, is panting and can’t stop, vomits, or seems dazed or can’t stand up, those would be emergencies,” Rutter said. “You should not feel at all bad about going to your veterinarian’s office immediately.

“It can also be helpful to cool your pet down by wetting them,” she said. “However, you should not put them in ice water—just lukewarm water, wet their fur, and head to the closest veterinary hospital because heatstroke is a huge emergency, and dogs die of it every day.”

Though it is important that pet owners are mindful of how changes in activity might affect their furry running partner, Rutter says that most dogs would benefit from being included in this new hobby.

“I wouldn’t want to dissuade people from exercising their pets or having a good walk, because they need ways to get out their frustration and their anxiety,” she said. “They need a way to get that out, and a walk is a really great way to provide them not just the physical exercise, but also that social structure.”

A new hobby can be a healthy outlet and productive way to pass the time at home. There are plenty of activities owners might wish to pursue while sheltering in place, and many can be done with a cat in your lap or a dog by your side, provided owners make the correct adjustments to keep their furry friend safe.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Close Quarters: Avoiding Inter-Pet Aggression During Quarantine

Dogs in tunnelWith much of the nation under stay-at-home orders, cabin fever is at an all-time high. Cohabitating with our loved ones and furry friends provides many benefits, but being in close quarters for extended periods of time can be difficult—for humans and their animals.

Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, is an emergency and critical care specialist who has plenty of experience with dogs, both at work and at home. She talks about the challenges pets may face in the COVID-19 era and how owners can help by providing structure to their pets through routine.

“(In the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital) I’m seeing a different subset of emergencies because people are home,” Rutter said. “I’m seeing a lot of inter-pet aggression, such as big dog-little dog injuries or big dog-cat injuries; those kinds of things. Pets take their anxiety out the same way we do, which is on the people around us or on the pets around us.”

Just as humans have found the disruption of daily life to be stressful and upsetting, pets have also picked up on the change. Rutter says it is important to provide pets with a strong routine to minimize their stress and reduce the risk of inter-pet aggression.

One excellent outlet that can benefit both pet and owner is exercise.

“A walk provides a really important behavioral structure between an owner and a dog,” Rutter said. “It tells them, ‘I’m the leader; I’m taking care of you. You don’t have to be anxious about all of this, because I’m in control.’”

Walking two dogs together also can be beneficial in fostering a peaceful household because it teaches them to work together. Rutter compares this dynamic to working with a coworker you may not like—the encounter creates a shared cooperative experience.

Owners may also use their extra time at home to touch-up on their pet’s training, which can provide structure and enrichment.

“It’s a great time to start teaching your dog tricks. It may seem superfluous to teach your pet to sit, to heel, to stay, or to roll over, but it actually provides a really good way of communication,” Rutter said. “That’s a really solid way for your pet to know that they’re making you happy, which is kind of what a lot of them live for, right?”

If pets do begin to behave aggressively toward each other, Rutter recommends watching for raised hackles (the hair along the dog’s backbone standing up), mounting behavior, having their ears perked straight up, and other dominant-type behaviors. Confrontation can be prevented by separating the animals, by using a basket muzzle, or by removing factors that spark conflict.

“Feed your pets separately, have toys enjoyed separately, and remove those items from the environment whenever animals are together that have had conflict,” Rutter said. “If the pets have ever had conflict in the past, they are going to continue to do so, and so, no food items, no possessions, toys or anything like that; all those things need to be separate.”

Pet owners can also help by reducing stress within their household.

“As a general rule, things that would be stressful for a child are also going to be stressful for an animal,” Rutter said. “For example, raised voices, lots of chaos in the environment, changing routines, and having kids at home who wouldn’t normally be at home all the time.”

In extreme situations, aggressive pets may become dangerous to their humans and especially to small children who are unable to pick up on signs of aggression. Rutter recommends that pet owners review the American Veterinary Medical Association website on dog bite prevention to learn more about safe practices.

“Animal bites can be very serious, regardless of how they look on the surface, and always require urgent care by a physician,” Rutter said. “Identifying and avoiding opportunities for injuries to adults, children, and other pets is key.”

If pet owners have any concerns about their animal’s behavior, they should strongly consider reaching out to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. These specialists have a unique set of skills that help them identify problem triggers and develop solutions for the whole household.

“Repeated, worsening, or dangerous situations are best handled through professional care,” Rutter said.

Though the current situation is stressful for everyone—person and pet—monitoring your animal for signs of conflict while providing enrichment and routine to their daily lives can help your furry family stay happy until more normal circumstances return.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

 

Texas A&M VMTH Earns High-Ranking Emergency Hospital Designation

Front entrance of the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital
The Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital

Story by Megan Myers

The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) has been recertified as a level II emergency and critical care facility by the Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Society (VECCS) for its dedication to providing the best care possible for emergency patients.

By recognizing hospitals that meet and exceed the minimum standards and guidelines published, the VECCS hopes to raise the standard of care while also increasing public and professional awareness in the area of veterinary emergency and critical patient care.

The VMTH’s Emergency & Critical Care (ECC) Service was designated as level II for exceeding the minimum requirements for certification under VECCS and being open to patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

“This is a nice way to display the dedication and level of training that we provide through the emergency service here at TAMU,” said Dr. Christine Rutter, a CVM clinical assistant professor and head of the Small Animal Hospital (SAH) Intensive Care Unit (ICU). “It acknowledges that our team is in a category with some of the best hospitals in the country.”

Level II facilities are required to have a dedicated surgical preparation area and keep in stock items such as canine and feline packed red blood cells, central venous catheters, and several medications used in emergency situations.

In addition, the facility must be able to provide nutritional support, both directly to the gut and through the blood stream, and consult with a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Radiology for the review of diagnostic images when necessary.

By meeting all these requirements, the VMTH ensures that the Emergency Service and ICU have all supplies and staff necessary to give patients every chance at recovery. The certification also represents the VMTH’s commitment to a positive environment and team approach.

“I think the best part about bringing your pet to the Texas A&M Emergency & Critical Care Service is that we use a team approach to health care,” Rutter said. “You aren’t just getting the experience and care of the doctor you see; you are getting the care and expertise of a huge technician team and access to a wide variety of specialists who provide the most complete care possible for your pet.”

The VECCS certified facility logo
The VECCS certified facility logo

The VMTH will display the VECCS certified facility logo for the next two years, after which recertification will be necessary to remain a level II facility.

“I think it’s great that VECCS has found a way to identify practices based on the service and care they are able to provide,” Rutter said. “Our ECC team worked very hard to get the application and certification materials together. It’s a huge effort, but it’s worth it to be able to show people who we are.”

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

CVM Student Organization Hosts Unique CPR Training for Students, Faculty

A group of students and faculty hold a Texas A&M flag
Students and faculty who attended the RECOVER CPR training in January

Story by Megan Myers

The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) has become one of the first colleges in the country to provide students and faculty with both basic and advanced CPR training under the Reassessment Campaign on Veterinary Resuscitation (RECOVER) initiative.

The RECOVER initiative, the first standardized CPR training to offer certification through the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (ACVECC), was created in 2010 with the goal of developing and disseminating the first true evidence-based veterinary cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) guidelines.

The CVM chapter of the Student Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (SVECCS) hosted a RECOVER CPR certification training on Jan. 18 to provide an opportunity for veterinarians and veterinary students to further their training on CPR techniques.

“Here at A&M, we offer both CPR certification levels, which is a really unique opportunity,” said Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor and SVECCS faculty adviser. “We’re one of only a few places in the country that are able to use interactive simulators for the advanced class.”

The RECOVER CPR training consists of online modules, videos, and quizzes, followed by a six-hour day of hands-on practice with CPR simulators known as “Jerry” dogs.

“You really learn the physiology behind CPR, as well as how you can use that physiology to better adapt your technique or your strategies (for resuscitating an animal),” said Katie Freeman, a second-year veterinary student and SVECCS treasurer. “It was very one-on-one. The instructors were always there giving critiques or feedback.”

Besides the physical motions of CPR, the training also focused on the communication skills that are necessary to help maintain order in emergency situations.

“As a student, being able to lead a team and learn how to actually walk through the steps and come across as appropriate and professional, but also get done what needs to get done, was one of the coolest things that I learned and why I think this course was so vital,” Freeman said.

Students and faculty pose with CPR simulators known as "Jerry" dogs
Students and faculty pose with CPR simulators known as “Jerry” dogs

Two veterinarians from the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) and 22 veterinary students attended the training, which will be offered again at multiple conferences at the CVM this year.

While the RECOVER CPR training is not yet offered to the general public, Rutter hopes that it will become an option in the future.

“The hospital members who learn can teach everybody at the Small Animal Hospital, and then when we go off as veterinarians, we can teach our technicians,” said Alyssa Gentry, a third-year veterinary student and SVECCS president. “It really spreads all the knowledge and raises the standard of care, as far as CPR goes.”

Though CPR is often portrayed in movies and TV shows as being successful nearly every time, it is typically only effective 50 percent of the time for animal patients under anesthesia and 5 percent or less for patients not under anesthesia.

“With these techniques we’ve been learning, our hope is to raise those numbers,” Freeman said. “Across the board, everybody is going to experience an emergency case and should be equipped to perform CPR. Emergencies can happen at any time of the day, at any point in your career. It’s better to be prepared.”

“There’s so much of veterinary medicine that’s hard for practitioners, for owners, and for the animals,” said Lauren Minner, a second-year veterinary student and SVECCS education coordinator. “CPR really is a thing where you can perform a miracle if you have your stuff together.”

The RECOVER training also gives veterinary students the opportunity to build upon and practice the CPR training they receive as part of the CVM’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) curriculum before they enter the VMTH for their fourth-year clinical rotations.

“The training these students have had is going to really help them when they come to clinics because the biggest thing I see whenever students see their first code (when a patient enters cardiac arrest) is that it’s a traumatic place to be,” Rutter said. “Rather than having a group of students who kind of stand against the wall and watch, these students have already been in these simulated environments.

“If you do a good job in the right situation, there’s a chance you can get that pet home, which is a miracle for that pet and that owner,” Rutter said. “That’s really what we’re all looking for. For the ones you can save, it means everything to that pet and that family.”

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Resolutions for a Paw-some New Year

The new year is an exciting milestone during which we often check in on our wellbeing and set goals for self-improvement. This year, consider using the holiday as an opportunity to evaluate and improve the health of your furry friend, as well, by including them in your new year’s resolutions.

Black dog looking up at falling confettiDr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, offers some resolutions owners can set to improve their pet’s wellness in 2020.

Just as owners may reflect on their physical health every January, the start of the new year is a wonderful time to take stock of your pet’s health. For example, how are their activity levels and weight? If you are unsure, Rutter advises that owners ask their veterinarian those questions.

“I think a resolution to spend more time with your pet is a great one.  If your dog can tolerate walking, this is a great way to improve your own mental and physical health, as well as strengthen the bond between pet and owner,” Rutter said. “For cats, enrichment such as a laser pointer, feather wands, and crinkle toys can really get them moving—and they are delightful to watch!”

On a similar note, Rutter recommends that pet owners establish a dental care routine for their pet in the new year. A great way to begin this is to bring your pet in for an evaluation and cleaning. Because February is Pet Dental Health Month, Rutter advises that pet owners schedule an appointment early to take advantage of discounts that many veterinarians may offer on their dentistry services.

This can also be a time to check up on your pet’s check-ups.

Make sure your pet has an annual wellness visit scheduled for routine vaccinations. Knowing which immunizations will be expiring allows owners time to schedule appointments for them to be renewed. Owners should also consider updating their pet’s heartworm testing and medication, as well as parasite prevention plans with your veterinarian.

“There are a lot of new parasite and heartworm prevention products out there, and it’s a great time to check and see what is right for your pet(s),” Rutter said.

Owners may also want to take a second look at the snacks they feed their pets. Many dog treats and rawhides are high in calories, sodium, and fat. Dogs, especially smaller breeds, require far fewer calories than humans do and are easy to overfeed.

Because the little snacks owners feed their pets really add up, Rutter suggests owners consider healthier options.

“Dogs typically love baby carrots, apples, green beans, cauliflower, and melon. Just stay away from onions, peppers, grapes, raisins, and garlic,” Rutter said. “Each dog is different, and if you’ve been giving them delicious stinky dog treats (or even worse, table food), they may turn their nose at these offerings initially. They will come around once the table food and tasty treats decrease in frequency.”

The new year marks the beginning of many commitments to health and personal improvement. In 2020, why not extend your goals to improve the lives of the furry friends who love you the most? 

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Tricky Treats: Protecting Your Pet from a Halloween Scare

Halloween is an exciting holiday marked by costumes, decorations, and treats that set the spooky scene. While these festivities may ensure a fun evening, they can also pose additional threats to your household pet.

Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), speaks to the dangers of pet poisoning on this holiday and how to react if intoxication does occur.

“The clinical signs for intoxication are extremely varied,” Rutter said. “Most intoxications will cause a sudden onset of signs, but these signs can range from subtle to severe. Altered behavior, clumsiness, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and seizure are the most common signs that I see in relation to pet poisonings.”

Halloween celebrations may introduce toxic foods and objects into your home that your pet would not be exposed to normally.

“Most of the things we worry about at Halloween are things like candy (including chocolate), sugar-free gum, glow sticks, and items they get into at Halloween parties, like party foods, recreational drugs, and alcohol,” Rutter said. “Glow sticks aren’t actually toxic, but the fluid within them is irritating and pets (especially cats) will drool and be very upset if they open one.”

Rutter advises that pet owners who suspect their animal has ingested a toxic substance seek medical advice as soon as possible.

“I recommend that owners contact their veterinarian or the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center hotline for advice about how to handle a potentially poisoned pet,” Rutter said. “An additional benefit is that the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center hotline provides owners with a case number that their veterinarian or a veterinary emergency doctor can use to call and speak directly to a toxicologist about the pet’s specific case, should the pet need to go to a hospital.”

Even if the potentially poisoned pet is not exhibiting symptoms, Rutter recommends seeking medical help. If you are unsure of whether your pet has ingested enough of a toxic substance for harm to be done, an expert should still be contacted as soon as possible.

“I wouldn’t recommend the ‘wait and see’ plan. With toxins, limiting the animal’s absorption of the toxin before the pet is symptomatic is very important,” Rutter said. “If we can prevent problems before they happen, that’s going to be a lot more effective than trying to reverse clinical signs that are already present. Part of toxin management is minimizing the impact of the toxin.”

It is imperative that pet owners remember that foods that are harmless to them—chocolate, sugar-free gum, party foods, and alcohol—pose a serious threat to the well-being of their furry friend.

“Families have to be very careful to limit exposure to hazards during the Halloween season. All candy and food items have to be kept out of an animal’s environment. Sometimes that means keeping candy in a refrigerator, microwave, or other closed space,” Rutter said.

“It’s also a good idea to keep pets confined during Halloween parties and trick-or-treating events.  All of the new people, strangers in costume at the door, and access to tempting treats can be a recipe for anxiety, increased scavenging behavior, and exposure to toxins.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Recognizing a Pet Emergency

Many pet owners have found themselves in difficult situations in which they know something is wrong with a pet, but the veterinary clinic is closed. How do you know when it’s a true emergency and how do you know when it can wait until the clinic opens the next day?

To answer this question, Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses some common situations that often cause pet owners concern.

If an animal is showing lameness, such as abnormal movements or the inability to use a limb, the severity will determine the degree of urgency. If lameness is severe, suddenly worse, associated with bleeding, or persists for more than 24 hours, it should be considered an emergency situation.

“Weight-bearing lameness, or limping, can typically be evaluated within one to two days by a primary care veterinarian, rather than on an emergency basis,” Rutter said.

Sources online may recommend giving non-steroidal, over-the-counter medications to pets for pain relief, but this can cause serious toxicity or drug interaction issues.

“If an owner feels that a pet needs pain medication, they should always contact their veterinarian prior to administering medications,” Rutter said. “I don’t recommend any over-the-counter human pain medications for use in animals. We have veterinary medications that are much safer, more effective, and interfere less with our ability to diagnose and treat more complicated causes of lameness.”

Bleeding cuts and injuries are also considered emergencies when severe, especially if accompanied by lethargy or weakness. In addition, pale pink or white mucous membranes, including the gums and tissues inside of eyelids, can indicate severe or rapid blood loss.

“Any bleeding that is excessive or doesn’t stop within 10 to 15 minutes should be evaluated by a veterinarian,” Rutter said. “Any wound that is ‘full-thickness,’ which means it goes all the way through the skin so that you can see underlying muscles and tissues, should be evaluated. This especially applies to bite wounds; all bite wounds are an emergency.”

Bite wounds not only cause physical damage, but can also lead to infection and spread diseases between animals, so they should be treated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

If a dog or cat swallows a foreign object or plant, the best option is to immediately call the ASPCA poison control hotline (888-426-4435) to determine if the ingested substance is toxic.

“The ASPCA hotline does cost money, but it could either save you a trip to the ER if the intoxication isn’t serious, or it can provide your ER veterinarian with important initial and follow-up information through the case number you receive during the consultation,” Rutter said.

Another common cause of concern for pet owners is when a dog or cat becomes lethargic or refuses to eat or drink.

The urgency in this situation often depends on the pet’s normal behavior. For example, if a dog that normally eats all its food in a minute suddenly refuses to eat, it should probably be seen by a veterinarian sooner rather than later.

“In general, a dog or cat that doesn’t eat or is lethargic for more than 24 hours should be evaluated,” Rutter said. “Cats are especially sensitive to prolonged anorexia, and they can have secondary illness solely from not eating. Vomiting or diarrhea that does not resolve within 12 to 24 hours should also be evaluated.”

When it comes to seizures, the pet’s medical history will determine whether a trip to the emergency room is necessary.

“A single, short seizure that is ‘typical’ for a known epileptic pet is probably not an emergency,” Rutter said. “Seizures than last more than three to four minutes, violent seizures, new seizures, more than one seizure in 24 hours, or severe after-effects of a seizure are emergencies.”

Overall, if you think a situation may be an emergency, take the animal to a veterinarian as soon as possible. It is better to over-react and have to pay for an emergency room visit than to do nothing and lose a pet.

“I don’t recommend scouring the internet for information about how to treat your pet,” Rutter said. “Also, veterinarians and veterinary technicians cannot evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients over the phone—it’s illegal and can cost us our license.”

By knowing how to recognize a true emergency, pet owners can quickly make the best decisions for their animals and increase the likelihood of positive outcomes. Being prepared for emergencies can save money, time, and possibly even a pet’s life.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.