First Aid for Pets

When a friend or significant other gets hurt we generally have a good idea of how to take care of them, but what do you do when your pet is in an accident?  Unfortunately, most pet owners do not prepare themselves for these tragic incidents until it is too late.

“It is absolutely necessary to know if your veterinarian has an after hour emergency service and if not, who they recommend calling in case of an emergency,” said Dr. Mark Stickney, Clinical Associate Professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “It is also imperative that you can call your veterinarian for advice on what to do to help your pet until you can get it to a clinic.”

Two common emergency situations that pet owners should be equipped for are poisoning and trauma.

“If you suspect that your pet has eaten something toxic, contact your veterinarian. They may tell you to make it vomit by feeding it hydrogen peroxide,” states Stickney. “While hydrogen peroxide is generally harmless, there are some poisons that will actually make things worse if the pet vomits so it is important that you contact your veterinarian first. Having a bottle of hydrogen peroxide in the medicine cabinet before you need it is a good idea.”

As temperatures begin to rise, snake bites become more and more common with pets. If you think your pet has been bitten by a snake, stay calm and take it to the vet right away. Do not use a tourniquet on the animal, as this will limit the blood flow to the area causing more harm than good.

“The area where the pet was bitten will swell up very quickly,” said Stickney. “Just because there is no visible puncture wound does not mean that your pet did not get bitten. If you are able to kill the snake, then take it to the veterinarian with you. If they can identify it they will have a better idea of how harmful the bite is.”

Traumatic events such as getting hit by a car, bike, or other vehicle, are sadly not uncommon for pet dogs and cats. While the animal might look okay, it is a good idea to have it checked out by a veterinarian anyway.

“Trauma can be very deceiving. What appears to be a minor injury on the outside may hide a lot of damaged tissue on the inside,” said Stickney.

The first thing to do if your pet has been injured and is bleeding is to put pressure on the area to slow blood flow. Wounded pets may bite from pain, fear, or confusion so it is good to have a muzzle to use in this type of situation.

“Your pet might be your best friend, but when dogs are hurt they may not remember that,” said Stickney. “If you have a big dog, I would also recommend that you have a dog stretcher. They make it much easier to move large injured animals.”

Less severe accidents such as minor cuts and scrapes are common and can be handled much like you would treat yourself.

“Make sure that the cut is as clean as possible,” said Stickney. “I would not recommend putting antibiotic cream anywhere your pet can lick it off as this just causes more germs to get in the wound. If the cut is on an area they can’t lick than something like Neosporin will be fine. Elizabethan collars are useful for preventing a pet from gaining access to an injury.”

About Pet Talk

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.

Vaccinating Your Pet

Even though they may be taken for granted, pet vaccinations are vital for your pet’s health. Properly vaccinating your pet is an important part of pet care because vaccines can potentially help protect your pet against some serious health conditions and diseases.

“Vaccines are a suspension of altered microorganisms which will prevent, lessen, or treat disease without causing the disease,” said Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Vaccines are considered the cornerstone of preventive medicine. Knowing the different types of vaccinations and how they work can help pet owners provide the best care for their animals.

“There are live, killed, modified live, and recombinant vaccinations,” said Stickney. “By exposing the immune system to bacteria or viruses that are genetically similar to the ones that will cause disease, the immune system will develop antibodies that protect the body when it encounters the actual disease-causing organism.”

“Some pet vaccines can be purchased over-the-counter and given by non-veterinarians,” said Stickney. However, there may be quality control issues with vaccines if you are not familiar with the correct way to store and use them.

“By law, certain vaccines, like the rabies vaccine, can only be given by your veterinarian,” said Stickney. “Your veterinarian is also the best person to determine which vaccines your pet needs and how frequently they should be administered.”

“All puppies and kittens should receive the rabies vaccine at three months of age and again at one year of age. Vaccination schedules vary depending on the area of the country you are in and the prevalence of different diseases in that area,” said Stickney.

Puppies should be vaccinated for distemper virus, adenovirus, parvovirus, and parainfluenza, while kittens should be vaccinated for viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia. Other vaccinations may also be recommended depending on the lifestyle of your pet.

“Booster shots are necessary in puppies and kittens to overcome ‘maternal immunity’, where the antibodies that the puppies and kittens acquired from their mother provide some protection but eventually break down,” said Stickney. “Vaccines are ineffective in the face of maternal immunity; therefore the puppy and kitten vaccine series is necessary to protect the pet during the time when the maternal immunity disappears. Booster shots remind the immune system of diseases it is supposed to protect against.”

The frequency at which adult animals should receive booster vaccines has been a topic of debate among veterinarians for years. Increasingly, we have evidence that most vaccines do not need to be boosted every year and that the risk of an animal catching certain diseases decreases with age. Your veterinarian will be able to tailor a vaccine protocol to the specific lifestyle of your pet.

“No vaccine is 100% effective,” said Stickney, “It is possible to overwhelm any vaccine and immune system with exposure to enough disease-causing organisms.”

Additionally, adverse reactions can occur from vaccinations. These reactions are most likely to occur the second time an animal receives a vaccine. They usually occur within a few minutes to six hours of vaccination.

“There are two types of reactions commonly seen, anaphylactic and delayed hypersensitivity,” said Stickney. “Delayed hypersensitivity reactions are more common and less serious. The pet becomes itchy and the face and ears swell. These reactions can usually be treated with antihistamines.”

“Anaphylactic reactions are less common, and are serious and life-threatening,” said Stickney. “The animal collapses and goes into shock. Epinephrine and intravenous fluids are necessary to treat the animal.”

If your pet ever had an allergic reaction to a vaccine, it is important to let your veterinarian know. Even pets that are allergic to a specific vaccine typically have no problems if they are treated with antihistamines before vaccinations.

Remember, vaccines are health products that signal protective immune responses in your pet. Your veterinarian can best guide you in the use and scheduling of vaccinations for your pet.

 

ABOUT PET TALK

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.

Tips for Buying Dog Toys

Tennis balls, Frisbees, rawhides, and Kongs.  Dog toys line the shelves of multiple aisles at pet stores.  With all of the choices, which toys should or shouldn’t you buy for man’s best friend?

Dr. Mark Stickney, Clinical Associate Professor and Director of General Surgery Services at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said that when first giving your dog toys, buy a variety of toys to see what the animal prefers.

“They are going to have a toy preference the same way that children have toy preferences,” he said. “Once you determine their favorites, you can adjust your selection and your budget accordingly for the toys that entertain your pet.”

To help guide your purchases, Stickney said it’s important to make sure the toy is made of nontoxic material and the appropriate size toy for the animal.  A five-pound Yorkie, for example, will not be able to use an extra-large Kong toy made for a Rotweiller.  Kong toys, he added, are one of his favorite brands because it keeps the pets busy by challenging them to get a treat out of the small hole of the toy.

“Kong toys are fantastic because the animal has to work, but they are also rewarded for their hard effort,” Stickney said.  He explained that they are virtually indestructible because they are made of a durable rubber.

For most Kongs, an edible treat is placed inside the toy.  For treats, Stickney said, it is important to consider the amount of calories in the snack.  He advised that treats should encompass no more than five percent of the animal’s total diet.  It is important to limit the number of treats given so the animal does not put on extra weight.

Another edible toy for dogs is rawhides.  Stickney said rawhides are great for the animal to chew on because it will not damage their teeth.  He advises buying rawhides the animal can chew on for a few hours instead of a few days.

“When rawhides sit around for too long, they grow bacteria and can potentially make your pet sick,” Stickney said.

Ropes are a common toy that pet owners should avoid.  String can get caught in the animal’s intestinal track and cause a “linear foreign body.”  Stickney explained that when the animal continues to pass it, the string can end up “sawing” a hole through their intestines.

“This is similar to them getting a rope burn on the inside of their intestines,” he said. “It can kill them.  Nothing with string of any sort is good for them.”

After giving the toys to the animal, Stickney said it is important to monitor the pet for a few hours.

“You need to watch them to make sure they are not going to end up hurting themselves on it by tearing it into pieces, swallowing it, or cutting themselves on it,” Stickney said.

Once you know your pets can’t get into trouble with their new toys, it is fine to leave them alone with the toys.

“That is the beauty of having things that enrich their lives,” Stickney said. “This way, they have something to do when the fun people are out of the house for a while. It keeps them busy.”

 

ABOUT PET TALK

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.

Dangers of Pet Halloween Costumes

With Halloween less than a week away, many pet owners have already purchased their animal’s costume.  While these outfits can be fun and festive, the wrong outfit can be harmful to your animal.

Although costumes are a fun way to interact with your pet, Dr. Mark Stickney, Clinical Associate Professor and Director of General Surgery Services at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, stressed the importance of monitoring your pet in the clothing.

“Cute little costumes are fun to put on your animals while trick-or-treating, but when you are not watching your animals, make sure to take them off,” Stickney said.

He also explained that this also goes for sweaters, jackets or any other pet clothing. While it may seem like pets need clothes to stay warm, they can do more harm than good if the animal is not monitored.

“More than likely your animal does not need to keep clothing on to stay warm, even in the winter,” Stickney said. “If you have a house pet that only goes outside for 15-20 minutes to go to the bathroom, they will be more than fine without the clothing.”

Another thing Stickney recommended avoiding in pet costumes are dangly pieces of fabric, bells, or other small objects that the animal can chew off and swallow. These things can cause the pet to choke and possibly cause blockages in their intestinal track.

“Ribbons and bows are especially dangerous for cats,” Stickney added. “These are things cats love to play with and chew on, but if they swallow them it causes what is called a ‘linear foreign body.’ This requires emergency surgery to remove or it can ‘saw’ a hole in the intestines.”

Stickney also warned of a pet being allergic to the clothing material or the laundry detergent used to wash the costume. If an animal is allergic to a costume or clothing, Stickney said it may develop an itchy, red rash.

“The best thing to do is to take the outfit off of the pet and retire it,” Stickney said. “There is no reason to cause your pet pain and discomfort.”

Finally, Stickney stressed that it is important to make sure the outfits fit correctly. Anything that can wrap around the pets’ neck, paws, or legs can cause them to panic or injure themselves.

“This is especially common in small or young dogs as many costumes may not fit them correctly because of their size,” Stickney said. “The best way to select pet costumes or clothing is to buy them at a pet store where you can take your pet with you and try the outfit on them. That way you will know for sure that it not only fits correctly but that it also looks as adorable as you hoped.”

 

About Pet Talk

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 Pain in Pets

Imagine feeling ill and not being able to properly express it. The language barrier causes many pets to feel this way toward their owners. It is important to know the signs indicative of pain in your pet so that you can help them with their treatment, even if they can’t help identify their pain.

According to Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, knowing if pets are in pain can be tricky.

“All pets show pain differently,” says Stickney. “Cats are prone to hide when they are uncomfortable while dogs tend to show pain more outwardly than their feline friends.”

There is a lot of variation when it comes to pets and showing pain, and the signs of pain are not always obvious.

“Some common signs of pain are less energetic greetings and refusing to eat or drink,” Stickney says. “Some animals may pace or pant if they are in pain or they may growl or snap if the sore spot is touched.”

Your pets may show you all of these signs while some may show you almost none, Stickney adds. “Cats are the classic example. They can be in large amounts of discomfort and still hide their pain.”

“What it boils down to is owners know their pets best,” Stickney says.  “If you think your animal is uncomfortable and not behaving normally, you should call your veterinarian for an evaluation.”

Stickney notes that the causes of pain can come from various sources.

“We see several types of injuries like those caused by cars or other animals,” says Stickney.  “Pain can also occur as pets get older from diseases such as arthritis.”

The most common treatment for pain in dogs is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, says Stickney.  “These products will reduce inflammation and make the animals feel better.  They usually come in flavored preparations disguised as treats.”

If you suspect your pet is in pain and a veterinarian cannot be reached, human pain medication should never be an option.

“Animals metabolize drugs differently than we do,” Stickney says. “Human medication will usually cause more harm than good and could damage organs like the kidneys or liver.”

But there are things you can do at home to make your pet feel more comfortable.

“Try to make arrangements so your pet does not have to move as much,” says Stickney.  “Keep him or her confined in a small room or crate.”

Stickney also suggests moving food and water bowls closer to the animal.

It is up to you, as the owner, to recognize behavioral changes that might indicate pain.

“The veterinary profession has come a long way in recognizing pain in animals,” says Stickney.  “If you think your pet is in pain, contact your veterinarian because there are numerous options to make your pet feel more comfortable.”

 

ABOUT PET TALK

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.

You Received a Pet as a Gift… What Now?

It’s the week after the holidays. You received everything you wanted this year… and then some. A well-meaning relative decided that you needed a new pet in your life and gifted accordingly. What are you going to do now?

Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that whether or not you decide to keep the pet, you have a few options.

“It is never a good idea to give a pet as a surprise gift,” notes Stickney. “There is no such thing as a ‘free’ animal. Proper care of a pet requires a lot of time and resources, which the receiver of the pet may not be able to spare.”

If you find yourself the surprise recipient of an unwanted pet, do not panic or do anything drastic, such as turning the animal loose. This can cause problems for not only the animal, but also for any people who find the animal.

“Never turn the pet loose,” states Stickney. “The weather can be very unfriendly to abandoned animals, especially during the winter. In addition to freezing or becoming ill, they may be hit by a car, starve, or be attacked by other animals. Pets are not accustomed to finding their own food or shelter, so turning them loose is usually a death sentence.”

Rather than turning your predicament into somebody else’s problem, try giving the pet back to the giver. If he or she can return the pet, then the situation is out of your hands. If that fails, however, another option is to take the pet to an animal shelter. Adoptions tend to be higher during the holidays, especially for puppies.

If, however, you are too worried about the fate of the animal to leave it at a shelter, you can still find it a suitable home if you have the time and patience. Fostering is a big responsibility, but it can be very rewarding once you place your pet in the perfect home.

If you decide to foster the pet until a home is found, there are several different avenues you can go through to locate that home.

“You can post an ad online,” says Stickney. “Petfinder.com is one site that allows the public to post animals that need homes. If the animal is a purebred, you can also ask breed-specific groups if they will post the animal for you on their site as a courtesy listing. Additionally, there is the Craigslist pet section, but be careful when meeting people or when giving your pet over to them. You never know who is on Craigslist.”

Keep in mind if fostering a young pet that it will need vaccinations and socialization. You may potentially keep the animal for a month or more while a home is located, and you will need to make sure that you stay up to date on its puppy or kitten shots. It will need at least three series of vaccines and deworming; these usually take place at six weeks, nine weeks and twelve weeks. If it is to be spayed or neutered, this should be done before six months.

“The first three months are very important for socialization,” explains Stickney. “Puppies need to be safely exposed to new stimuli, such as people and other friendly animals, so that they will be better adjusted and less fearful adults. A well-trained dog is a happier and more relaxed individual.”

If you decide that you would like to keep the pet, there are several things that you will need to do. Keep in mind when deciding to keep the “free” puppy or kitten that the first five months can cost up to $500 in expenses. Flea and heartworm preventative, the latter of which is especially necessary in the south, are additional costs.

“Before you bring a puppy home,” says Dr. Stickney, “there are a few things you will need to purchase. These include food and water bowls, puppy food, appropriate chew items such as a small rawhide or squeak toy, and a crate for house breaking and for providing the dog its own area. A kitten will also need food and water bowls, kitten food, and a litter box, particularly one with low sides for a smaller kitten.”

If you have existing pets, you will need to slowly introduce the new pet to them. You will also need to take the new pet to a veterinarian within a week for a physical examination and to get it dewormed and vaccinated.

“Puppies and kittens come with their own unique warnings,” adds Stickney, “especially around the holidays. Be prepared for some destruction and messiness. If you have guests visiting, be sure to alert them to the presence of the puppy or kitten so that they do not accidently step on or sit on your new friend. Also watch that your pet does not climb underneath furniture, like recliners, where it can be squished.”

Additionally, kittens may try to climb Christmas trees or swat ornaments. They, and puppies, may chew on tinsel. If tinsel is accidently swallowed, it could require an emergency surgery. Puppies may gnaw on electrical cords, causing a severe shock. They may also try to get into treats such as dark chocolate, which will make them very sick.

Providing a new home for a pet can be a big commitment, so pet ownership should never be an unexpected gift. An unwelcome pet needs to be cared for until a suitable solution is reached and should never be dumped to fend for itself. Do your research, and if you decide that you have the resources to take in a lucky kitten or puppy this holiday season, make sure to provide for all of its needs so that it can grow into a healthy adult companion.

ABOUT PET TALK

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.

Dealing With Pet Fears

Your cute puppy is usually a wonderful little bundle of joy. However, when lightning flashes and thunder strikes, she transforms into a terrified bundle of fear and bolts straight to your lap knocking down your grandmother’s favorite china along the way.  Before wondering if your pet is unusual, wait a minute; you are not alone.

“Pets can be fearful of all types of things,” says Dr. Mark Stickney, Clinical Associate Professor, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). He gives a variety of examples: thunderstorms, fireworks, cars, hats, and even children. Separation anxiety when you leave home can be destructive and potentially cost thousands of dollars, he remarks.

So why do pets get scared? All animals have evolved to recognize threats, Stickney says. The fear physiology in animals is similar to that in humans with the heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature rising when frightened, he explains.

Dogs, which are bred as pack animals, want to be with their owners when afraid. Cats, being more solitary, hide when scared and may be less destructive because they are smaller. Thus each animal responds differently. But the greatest available body of information on pet fears is on dogs.

An important factor in such animal behavior is the critical socialization period – a time between 8 to 12 weeks (2 to 3 months) of age for both kittens and puppies. During this period, a young animal should get its first series of vaccinations… and then be taken everywhere and be exposed to all kinds of people, things, and sounds, Stickney advises.

“If you plan to have the animal accompany you while horseback riding, take it to a place where it can see and smell horses. If you plan to take the animal along during hunting, take it to the field where it can see and hear gunshots.”

Another important practice is crate training – a place for the pet to feel safe when you leave the house – right from the first day the puppy comes home.

“It’s sort of like your favorite chair in the house,” Stickney says, “The crate should always be a safe place, always a happy place.” The pet should never be put in these crates to be punished or for any negative experience.

Stickney also recommends puppy daycare – a place where puppies spend an hour playing together. It includes obedience training, helps them socialize, and makes them more observant to social cues. In this way, they learn to notice things they may not otherwise pay attention to.

One way to overcome fear is to expose pets to the feared objects and reward them when they are brave. For example, you can expose your puppy to a small scary noise but keep it close by, pet it and give it a treat as a positive reinforcement. Slowly, you can keep increasing the threshold of the noise. Thus, even if we do not change the fear, we can at least desensitize the pet to such cues.

Some dogs experience separation anxiety and freak out when they hear keys being picked up.  One way to desensitize them is to frequently pick up keys and then sit back at home or leave the house for a minute and then come back. Animals will slowly recognize to ignore these cues, Stickney advises.

A recent market trend is tight-fitting pet jackets. These help with modifying behavior in mild problems.

“The idea is that animals feel safe and secure when they are compressed, just like babies when they are swaddled,” Stickney says.

For more severe fears, specialized veterinary behaviorists prescribe a combination of behavioral modification and pharmacological treatments. For example, veterinarians sometimes prescribe sedatives for animals that tend to be terrified during long travel periods.

Stickney emphasizes that the pharmacologic therapy only serves to help the behavior modification. “There is no such thing as a single solution to fix the problem,” he remarks.

So while leaving the pet alone first for a long time, you can leave the puppy in its crate (maybe with a jacket) with its favorite toys and some old T-shirts, Stickney advises. “The puppy will feel a whole lot better and will probably sleep through most of it,” he says.

The take-home message: If you have a brand new puppy, make sure that it is exposed to different types of people and places during the critical socialization period. If you already have a dog with fears, consult a veterinarian. This is important because these fears are learned and do not disappear after a phase.

“The sooner you address these issues, the better it is because these fears do not go away on their own,” Stickney says. “Nothing is easy about rearing a puppy. It’s a responsibility. There are incredible benefits if you put in the time and efforts early on.”

ABOUT PET TALK

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.

Chill Out Responsibly With Your Pets This Summer

Summer generally is a time for relaxation and fun in the sun. Short vacations can mean that you have more time to spend enjoying the company of your pet. Many people take advantage of the warm weather by making resolutions to get themselves and their animals into shape. However, when participating in activities like walking or running during the summer, extra precautions need to be taken.

Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, asserts that humans are not the only ones having to deal with the higher than average temperatures outside.

“The animals know it is hot out,” states Stickney. “They are doing things they normally wouldn’t do to stay cool. And that’s an important thing to remember when we’re outside. When they are riled up and having a good time, they may forget how hot it is. You need to monitor them and make sure they are not too hot.”

Taking frequent breaks, like you would if you were out working in the heat, is important for pets as well. It is necessary to remember that although you may be used to handling the heat with no problem, your pet, especially if it has longer, thicker hair or is overweight, may not be faring as well.

“If you’re thirsty,” says Stickney, “they are thirstier. Animals need plenty of access to fresh water. You can even put ice cubes into it to make it colder.”

Summer does not have to mean a halt to normal activities you participate in with your dog. If, rather than walking a circuit that takes you straight back to your house, you enjoy walking your dog to a park and then resting there for a while, just make sure to bring an extra bottle of water for your dog. Do not forget a bowl for it to drink out of as well.

“Also remember that the pavement is incredibly hot,” affirms Stickney. “If they are not used to being outside, they do not have thick foot pads, and they could develop burns on their feet. Letting them walk on the grass instead of the concrete can help keep their foot pads from blistering.”

A great summertime activity to participate in with your dog is anything that allows it to get into water, where it can cool off. It will still need to have clean drinking water available, however, along with a shady place that it can rest in when it gets out of the water. Swimming for a long time can be draining on a person; it can also have the same affect on a dog that is not used to the physical exertion.

“If your pet does overdo it in the sun, there are signs you can watch out for,” states Stickney. “Panting, unresponsiveness, very red whites of their eyes, and bright pink, reddish gums mean that your dog is very hot and needs a break.”

If you notice your dog exhibiting any of these symptoms, stop any activity immediately and allow the dog to get a drink and to cool off.

Overall, it is important to be smart and safe when going on outings with your pets during the summer. Monitor them closely, and be prepared to step in at the first sign of heat stress. Take care of them like you would yourself in the heat, and together you can have an enjoyable season.

 

ABOUT PET TALK

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.

Here Comes Peter Cottontail

Chicks and bunnies are very cute, especially when associated with Easter baskets and bows. However, their baby-like appearance can sometimes lead to an impulsive californian rabbitdecision to bring one home as a pet without considering that they will need to be cared for during their entire lives.

“An impulse pet is always a bad purchase,” warns Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “It may look cute in the store, but Easter is gone in a day and then you have an animal to take care of long term.”

Stickney also explains that while baby chicks are very cute, full-grown chickens might not be the best pets, especially not for children.

“It’s hard to interact with a chicken and roosters can be very aggressive. They also get barbs on their feet that can cause a lot of damage,” notes Stickney.

If you have put some time and consideration into buying a pet for your child, a rabbit can be a good “first pet” as they are docile and are fairly easy to take care of in general.

“The good news is that you do not have to walk or train a rabbit,” states Stickney. “They will need to get some exercise, so you have to let them hop around each day.”

When selecting a rabbit as a pet, there are a few basic guidelines to making sure you get a pet that is healthy and that will work well with your family.

“When the rabbit is moving around in its pen, make sure that it is able to move without limping and that it can keep its balance,” suggests Stickney. “It needs to look proportional in its muscling. Check that there is no nasal or ocular discharge, which could be signs of “snuffles”, a respiratory disease. Also, check and make sure its hind end is not wet or soiled, which could indicate diarrhea or poor grooming. The rabbit should have a nice hair coat, with no missing fur.”

Be sure to keep in mind that if the rabbit is for a small child, you will want to handle it first and see how it behaves. Pick the docile one that is willing to happily sit in your hands without biting or scratching. If the rabbit is unhappy, you will know; they have sharp claws, and they will scratch or kick if they feel threatened. A rabbit always needs to have its back legs supported when being held to prevent injury.

lop rabbit

The down side to pet rabbits is that they are pretty messy. While it is possible to litter train some rabbits, for the most part they go to the bathroom wherever they are. Because of this they will need to be in a hutch of some sort most of the time.

“Make sure that if you do have a rabbit as a pet that you do not keep it in a wire cage. It sounds gross, but at night they secrete vitamins in their feces and they have to be able to eat these secretions to stay healthy,” says Stickney.

Although rabbits are easy to care for, there are still things you have to do to keep them healthy and comfortable. Be sure to keep their hutch in a place with a comfortable temperature at all times and keep their dietary and veterinary requirements in mind.

“A rabbit’s diet consists primarily of coastal hay and vegetables, and a third of their diet should include rabbit feed,” explains Stickney. “The hay is very important because it prevents digestive problems that rabbits get as a result of cleaning themselves like cats do.”

Hay is also important for a rabbit’s teeth. A rabbit that is constantly nibbling on hay has a good appetite. If it does not chew on hay constantly, its teeth can overgrow. Teeth should line up nicely and not be uneven or tusk-like, which could signify an improper diet.

“If your rabbit’s teeth do overgrow, it will have to be sedated and its teeth will have to be filed down by a veterinarian,” warns Stickney. “It’s also important to remember that rabbits will chew on just about anything, so watch out for things like power cords because they can electrocute themselves.”

Rabbits also have routine veterinary needs just like any other pet. They will need to be spayed or neutered and can also get fleas.

“You really need to get your rabbit spayed or neutered before sexual maturity or they can become aggressive,” advises Stickney. “Check with your veterinarian, because not all of them spay and neuter rabbits. You should also ask them for any flea preventative or treatment as over-the-counter products for dogs and cats can be toxic for rabbits.”

While any pet can be a wonderful addition to a family, it is never a good idea to buy a pet on a whim. If you have researched your pet, committed to its life-long care, and believe your child is ready for the responsibility, then a rabbit can be a fun furry companion. Just remember, they do live 7 to 11 years on average, so you could potentially have the rabbit even after your little one leaves the nest.

 

ABOUT PET TALK

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.

Dog Parks 2

The concept behind public dog parks is an exciting one for dogs and owners alike, where fresh air and playfulness are plentiful. Because public dog parks are accessible by anyone, each trip proves to be a different experience, hosting a range of different interactions for a pet.

Visiting a park is a social activity, and unlike their owners, dogs do not always know how to behave accordingly. While this should be a fun and exciting experience for the dog, owners should try to enforce proper behavior skills in their furry friend, while maintaining proper park etiquette themselves.

Always remember to pick up after your dog when they use the restroom; most parks supply dog waste bags and designate trash cans for this purpose. One health risk that comes along with visiting a dog park, is the amount waste from different dogs that your pet is exposed to.

“One disease that animals can catch from drinking standing water that has been exposed to animal waste is leptospirosis,” said Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Stickney explains that dogs can be vaccinated for this disease, and recommends that any dogs visiting a dog park on a regular basis to stay current with this vaccination. Gastrointestinal parasites such as hook worms, round worms, and whip worms also pose a threat to any dog that is exposed to another dog’s feces.

“Dogs like to sniff each others’ noses and rear-ends, so if a dog has any type of respiratory disease, signs of coughing, eye discharge, or nasal discharge then that is not the time to bring them to the park,” said Stickney.

Another common problem that is transmitted from dog-to-dog is fleas, which here in Texas is prevalent year-round. So having a dog on a flea and heart worm preventative is another good step to take.

Socializing dogs with other dogs and other people is one perk that dog parks have. However, if a dog is not accustomed to being around other dogs and people, it might be a good idea to try socializing them with another dog that the owner is familiar with. It is possible for a dog to do well around a couple of other dogs but then feel very overwhelmed in a dog park setting with 20 other dogs.

“The most critical period for socializing a dog occurs within the first 8 to 12 weeks of their life, this is a good time to expose them to different people and types of animals in order to help avoid any anxiety or behavior problems in the future,” said Stickney.

Stickney explains that this is almost a double-edged sword because it is good to socialize a dog at a young age; however, this is also when their immune systems are not the strongest and owners want to be careful to whom they expose them.

“I like to take my puppy everywhere with me, and to go visit my neighbors friendly dog often, but I am not going to turn him loose at a park with many different dogs that I do not know,” said Stickney.

Also, some dogs simply are not social creatures and are not comfortable around a lot of attention. If a dog appears skittish or afraid in unfamiliar settings or frequently rolls over in a submissive position when other dogs approach it, then chances are it will not enjoy a trip to the dog park.

When dogs interact with each other for the first time in a park, it can be a stressful moment if one is unsure of the response that will occur. It is important not to bring a female dog that is in heat to a dog park, this will result in having to deal with the constant bother of male dogs, and even worse an unexpected litter of puppies!

When fights break out in public areas between dogs, usually it involves male dogs that like to display their dominance.  Even if a dog is well-trained and able to run off of the leash, it is always good to have a leash handy. Getting exercise is key to a dog’s health, so running around with them on a leash or playing fetch with them off of a leash are both rewarding forms of play.

Visiting a dog park can be an exciting and interactive practice for a dog as well as the owner. As long as owners are courteous and aware of their surroundings and the potential problems that can arise, more time spent with a pet is always a positive thing!

 

 

ABOUT PET TALK

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 here.

Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu