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.

 

Bathing Our Furry Friends Can Reduce COVID-19 Transmission

The rapid and dynamic spread of COVID-19 necessitates that we all make changes to our lifestyles, including important measures such as social distancing, increased hygiene, and maintaining a sanitized environment.

Pet owners may need to take additional precautions, because, while there is currently no evidence that pets can contract COVID-19, a pet’s body, like any other frequently touched surface, may carry particles of the virus if touched by infected individuals.

Kitty wrapped in towelDr. Deb Zoran, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), informs pet owners of what steps they should be taking to protect themselves and their homes from the virus.

Just as healthy members of a household should avoid contact with anyone who may be infected, pets should also be kept away from sick or quarantined individuals.

“Everyone with pets should plan ahead and be prepared to separate from your pets when you separate from your family if you have someone become ill,” she said.

A sick person who lives with or pets an animal may “shed” the virus onto their pet, who could then infect a healthy individual who pets them; this includes all animals with fur, from dogs and cats to “pocket pets” like ferrets, hamsters, and guinea pigs.

“If a pet is living in close quarters with, sleeping with, or frequently touched by a sick person and that sick person has to go to the hospital, that pet is going to need to have a decontamination bath or have its coat wiped down with a moist towel or paper towel before that pet can stay with somebody else,” Zoran said.

Zoran also emphasizes that the risk of contracting the disease from a pet by any other means is almost non-existent based on all of the scientific evidence and the testing of pets that has occurred to date.

“If we just separate the animal as soon as the person feels unwell, has a fever, or is diagnosed with COVID-19, then these bathing precautions or concerns for being a carrier would not be needed,” she said.

It also is important to remember that any animal that comes in contact with an infected person can be cleaned to ensure that the animal is not carrying COVID-19 in their fur, according to Zoran.

“The bath process for pets should be gentle and without spraying them aggressively so as to prevent the material spraying into your face,” Zoran said. “When bathing your dog, simply get their coat wet all over and use enough soap to lather.  The soap will breakup and loosen the oils on the skin and haircoat, which is where the virus sits, and then, with gentle water, washing to remove all of the soap lather will remove anything that is attached on the coat, including the virus.”

Zoran recommends that owners use dish soap but pet shampoo or even baby shampoo, if you don’t have a specific shampoo for dogs, will work when cleaning animals for this purpose.

Dog being bathedIn addition, to avoid the splash back of soap or water onto the person bathing the pet, owners should take care to use low water pressure and wear protective clothing.

“Cover up your face with a bandana, for example. Wear goggles, glasses, or other shielding for your face. Bathe the animal slowly to prevent them from struggling, use low pressure or low volumes of water to prevent splashing,” Zoran said. “Once the bath is completed, dry the pet and remove it from the area into a kennel or other clean area.

“Then, remove the clothes you are wearing, launder these, and if you got any wash water on you during the process, take a shower or wash hands/arms or other exposed areas with soap and water,” she said.

If you have access to waterproof clothing, such as a rain suit, poncho, or even a homemade trash bag rain jacket, Zoran recommends wearing that as a barrier against the bath water.

Animals should be bathed in areas that are easily cleaned (bathtub or deep sink)—and following the bath the area should be sanitized with standard cleaning products.

If picking up a pet from a sick relative, Zoran recommends bathing the animal before traveling with the pet, if possible, or keeping the animal in a pet carrier until the pet can be bathed at the new location.  Once the pet arrives, the pet carrier can be sanitized with standard cleaning products.

Owners of pets that are resistant to baths—such as cats, hamsters, or ferrets—may want to take their animal to a veterinarian so they can be sedated before being bathed. This avoids putting unnecessary stress on the animal and reduces the risk of dirty water splashing the owner or bites/scratches that can occur during the process.

“The other alternative, when a veterinarian or a bath is not an option, is to use a wetted towel to wipe down the cat from head to tail and then top to bottom,” Zoran said. “Soap can be added to the wipe, but it must completely removed, as the cat will groom themselves and consume the soap.

“With COVID-19 and pets, it’s important to plan ahead if at all possible. But if a pet is living with a sick person, the pet can be safely cleaned will not be dangerous to other family members,” Zoran said. “People do not need to be fearful of their pets getting the virus or making other people sick, but their pets could carry it around on their fur, which means their fur is just like the surfaces in a house (doorknobs, keyboards, phones, etc.) that can be a source of virus exposure.  The biggest difference is we can’t use sanitizing wipes or hand sanitizer on fur.”

Though pet owners should be cognizant of with whom their pet has recently interacted, there is no reason to believe it is unsafe to keep their pet in their homes or to take them for walks or other activities that you can do while maintaining social distancing.

During this difficult time, pets will continue to serve as hopeful companions that see us through to healthier times.

“Pets are so important to family, and they’re so much a part of people’s peace of mind,” Zoran said. “Have a plan in case somebody gets sick, so you know that you can take care of that pet, and you don’t have to worry about it.”

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.

Handling A Hairball Hassle

As every cat owner knows, hairballs are not very pleasant for the cat or the person who cleans them up. They can also be an indication of other health issues, especially if they are happening frequently.cat

In honor of National Hairball Awareness Day on April 26, Dr. Carly Patterson, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses the causes of hairballs and how to reduce their occurrence.

She said that while any cat can get hairballs, they tend to be most common in long-haired cats.

“There are two basic mechanisms by which hairballs are generated,” Patterson said. “Hairballs form when too much hair accumulates in the cat’s gastrointestinal tract or when there is a change in overall gastrointestinal tract motility.”

Frequent hairballs can be a sign of an underlying disease or health issue, so if a cat is having hairballs regularly, it should see a veterinarian.

“Cats may have itchy skin and groom excessively, which causes them to ingest more hair than usual,” Patterson said. “Cats may also over-groom when they are in pain.”

Once the cause of the hairballs is known, a veterinarian can recommend a personalized treatment plan, often involving diet changes, daily grooming, and sometimes even medications.

“If a cat frequently vomits hairballs and it is not due to gastrointestinal disease, then it is possible that increasing overall dietary fiber may help minimize hairball formation by moving material through the gastrointestinal tract,” Patterson said.

Feeding multiple small meals throughout the day rather than one or two big meals can also reduce hair buildup in the gastrointestinal tract, she said. In addition, daily brushing can reduce the amount of excess hair, especially for long-haired cats.

If the problem persists, the cat’s veterinarian may recommend medications such as lubricant laxative drugs to promote hair movement through the gastrointestinal tract and to reduce hairballs.

“It is important that an owner work with their veterinarian to address any underlying medical problems first,” Patterson advised. “Long-term medical management with drugs should not be the first choice.”

Hairballs may be a common problem, but they can usually be greatly reduced with simple changes in diet and grooming. Life without regular hairballs will be much happier, both for you and your cat.

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.

The Truth About Feline AIDS

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is commonly known as Feline AIDS because of its similarities to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). FIV is relatively uncommon, but it can have serious impacts on a cat’s health and well-being.two cats napping

With proper care, cats with FIV can live many years and usually can share a household with other, FIV-negative cats. Medications and good nutrition can help greatly increase the lifespan of a cat with this disease.

Dr. Debra Zoran, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses the stages and prognosis for cats that become infected with FIV.

“FIV is not a virus that is easily contracted by contact in normal household settings, such as from grooming, eating from the same food bowl, or contact with other secretions from the nose, mouth, or urine of infected cats,” Zoran said.

FIV does not survive well outside the body; it is mostly transmitted through bite wounds and blood transfusions, or is passed to kittens during birth. It is also spread through breeding, so cats that are spayed or neutered have a much lower chance of contracting the disease.

“A cat with FIV that is neutered and not prone to fighting can live with another cat in a household and the virus will not affect the other cat,” Zoran said.

Zoran highly recommends that cats with FIV become indoor-only cats, both for their own safety and to reduce the risk of transmission to other cats.

She said that if a cat becomes infected with FIV, the disease will go through three stages, the first of which is characterized by a lack of symptoms.

“After the virus gets into the body, it enters the body’s T lymphocytes and lives in them without causing problems—often for years,” Zoran said. “Some infected cats that have poor immune function can get signs of illness in months, but most cats carry the virus for months to years before the virus transitions into the active stage.”

During the active stage, which can also last for years, cats are more prone to illnesses because the virus interferes with the immune system. They may have frequent respiratory, skin, or urinary tract infections, but veterinary care can allow these cats to recover completely.

“Cats with this stage of the disease do best if they live inside because they are exposed to fewer things to cause illness,” Zoran said.

During the third stage of FIV, called the AIDS stage, cats typically develop chronic illnesses or cancers.

As of now, there is no cure, but cats with FIV can have a good quality of life if they live indoors and have good veterinary care.

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.

Managing Feline Acne

Acne may be most common with teenagers, but many cats also develop this skin condition on the chin and lips. Fortunately, feline acne is usually minor and easy to treat.

Cat SleepingBrandi Miller, a veterinary student at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has advice for managing cat acne and avoiding infections.

Cat acne can occur for many reasons, though the specific cause is usually unknown. Typically, the hair follicles on the chin produce too much oil, causing lesions and other bumps.

“The severity and painfulness of the lesions vary,” Miller said. “Most commonly, owners will see comedones, or ‘blackheads,’ on the chin and lips, and the cat may be itchy and want to rub its chin on furniture.”

Though this condition sounds rather unpleasant, it really is no worse than an average case of human acne. Miller said feline acne tends to need lifelong management but is usually treatable with over-the-counter medications.

“This condition is often cosmetic and does not affect the quality of life of the animal, as long as there is no infection,” Miller said. “Daily topical wipes, gels, and shampoos may help manage the lesions, but it is important to avoid alcohol and peroxide-based products, as these may be irritating to the skin and make matters worse.”

Miller said that human acne medicines should also be avoided, as they can be very harmful to animals. Sometimes one of the best treatment options is simply cleaning the cat’s chin on a regular basis.

“Popping zits is the absolute worst thing you can do—it causes a lot of pain and irritation, disrupts the structure of the hair follicle, and can spread the infection to other parts of the chin,” she said.

Miller recommends being careful when treating cats, as some may try to bite and scratch if they are in pain.

Consulting with your veterinarian is always recommended, because while feline acne is usually minor, it can become a larger issue if infections occur. Infected lesions can develop into painful bruises if left untreated.

“We don’t always know why this occurs,” Miller said. “However, plastic food dishes tend to harbor microbes, so we recommend that owners switch to metallic dishes and clean them daily.”

If a cat is prone to infections, its veterinarian may want to test for other skin conditions or parasites that could be causing the acne.

Treatment for feline acne can easily be incorporated into a daily routine, and usually takes only a minute or two. If properly cared for, cats with acne should be able to live the same pain-free life as any other cat.

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/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

The Joys and Challenges of Adopting an Animal

person holding a black and white puppy in their arms, close upAdopting a pet from a shelter is a great way to find a new best friend. But it’s also a great way to make a huge difference for an animal, and potentially even save its life.

Sadly, many of the animals that end up in shelters come from bad situations. Adopting a mistreated animal can have extra challenges, but can be a great lesson in love, patience, and trust.

Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explains the benefits of adopting an animal that has been mistreated and discusses the best ways to earn its trust.

Adopting an animal can greatly improve its quality of life; an animal that has known nothing but loneliness and fear can be given the chance to feel love and safety, Darling said.

In return, these pets can provide unconditional love and support for their owners. The benefits of pet ownership may take longer, but can be just as strong in the end.

“It takes patience and consistency to gain the trust of an animal that has been mistreated,” Darling said. “It may take a while for the animal to trust and accept your love. Go slow, take baby steps, and do not expect too much.”

At first, these animals may show signs of fear or aggression, such as cowering, growling, or shying away from touch. Some may even have an injury if they did not have time to heal at a shelter.

“Animals that have been mistreated may show significant emotional reactions to certain situations or objects,” Darling said.

She explained that fear may cause these animals to be withdrawn, unwilling to play, or have the inclination to hide. Some may also show separation anxiety when away from their new owner.

Darling recommends giving the animal a secluded, quiet place to retreat to so that the animal feels safe and secure and is not rushed into frightening situations.

She said that trust building begins by spending quiet time together on a daily basis. Speak clearly in low tones, give the animal treats, and do a quiet activity nearby to help the animal learn to trust you.

“Allow the animal to meet his new family one by one and at a pace that is not overwhelming,” she said. “If he is fearful of people or other animals, do not force interactions with them.”

Once the animal has begun to adjust to you and your household, basic training can be used to decrease any remaining fear.

“Consulting with a veterinary behaviorist or certified animal behaviorist can be helpful when dealing with mistreated animals,” Darling advised.

It can take a short or long period of time before the animal is fully comfortable with its new family. Some animals will always retain a bit of fear, but many others will fully recover and go on to live a normal life.

“It is important to be patient, consistent, and persistent in the rehabilitation process,” Darling said. “It can be rewarding to see an animal overcome their fears and enjoy life again. If you are willing to take the time and open your heart and home to helping a neglected animal, it can give you a joyous and rewarding experience.”

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