Fire is Your Pet’s Worst Friend

It’s still tailgating time, Thanksgiving is here, and in a few weeks it will be Christmas time. Outdoor grills, fireplaces, and electrical appliances pose a risk to our pets that shouldn’t be overlooked. So don’t spoil the happiness of the season and take into account these pieces of advice for your pet and fire safety.

“Animals have an instinctive fear of fire and smoke; they will tend to stay away,” says Dr. Mark Stickney, director of general surgery services at the Small Animal Clinical Sciences the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). “Problems come literally when curiosity kills the cat. This time of the year people set up space heaters and an animal doesn’t know and knocks it over, and the fire can start that way. Another thing is when the holiday lights are going up and animals chew the electrical cord and they can electrocute themselves”.

Specifically now, near Christmas time, “when you receive a new puppy or kitten and they don’t now any better. They start playing with the lights and they can get themselves electrocuted or they can possibly start an electrical fire,” Stickney says.

Other species that are infamous for chewing include rabbits, the newly popular Guinea pigs, ferrets, and any pocket pets that have easy access to items underneath furniture and close to the floor.

What about reptiles? “They are not as fast movers, so they are not going to knock over a space heater. The problem in this case is that they can burn themselves. It’s not so much a risk to the house but it’s a risk for them,” Stickney says.

It is especially important to be more careful this time of the year because of all the stir in the house with the incoming guests and all of the extra decorations in the house.  You need to make sure that you are always around and that you never leave pets unattended with electrical appliances. If you are not home, please unplug them.

Secondly, make sure that you know where your pets are all the time. If you have a new puppy or the children have been playing with the Guinea pig, make sure that they haven’t lost interest in the pet and that it is accounted for especially when there are guests in the house.

A helpful tip is to go to your local fire department and ask for a sticker that you can put on an outside window that will tell the fire department how many pets are in your house. “The sticker is a great way in case there’s an accident and your house is on fire for the firemen to know that there are animals in the house that need rescuing as well,” Stickney says.

According to Stickney, “the biggest thing to bear in mind if you have an outdoor pit, if you are setting up the grill or deep-frying your turkey over Thanksgiving, is you want to make sure there are no pets around where the deep-fryer is. If animals are not used to being around pits they can eventually run into them and burn themselves and potentially knock it over and start a fire in your yard,” says Stickney.”

“When it comes to fire safety, think of your pet as a 2 or 3 year old child who doesn’t know any better and who’s going to make the worst of any possible situation. Keep that in mind and that will keep you out of trouble,” states Stickney.



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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Mosquito Borne Illnesses

2010 has been the hottest year on record in the United States so far. The sweltering heat mixed with the wet summer days has increased mosquito activity. As mosquito season is still lurking, there are some important diseases associated with mosquitoes that can be transmitted to humans and pets that everyone needs to be aware of.

Heartworm disease most commonly affects dogs, however cats and humans are sometimes affected. Heartworm disease is caused by heartworms, which live in the blood vessel connecting the heart to the lungs. It is a life-threatening disease for dogs. Individuals are infected with the worm through the bite of a mosquito carrying the larvae of the worm. It can be prevented in dogs and cats with monthly pills or topical treatments. Once an individual is infected, treatment is very difficult and is risky.

“Treatment of heartworm disease is expensive and potentially dangerous,” explains Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “There are numerous side effects to treatments, for example the patient can develop blood clots. The best option is to take preventative measures and develop a monthly heartworm preventative schedule to give to your pets.”

The West Nile virus is another disease that is common among animals. It is spread when a mosquito bites a bird infected with the virus and then in turn bites another individual to spread the disease. It first appeared in the United States in New York City in 1999. Since then, it has spread throughout the United States. Horses are the most commonly affected animals. Humans and dogs are also affected but on much rarer occasions.

“The symptoms of the West Nile virus are similar in horses and humans,” notes Stickney. “Both victims develop neurologic symptoms that include stumbling, seizures, and inability to use limbs. When dogs are exposed to the virus their body normally does not show any outward reactions because their body usually fights it off. When they do develop the disease, dogs also show neurological signs.”

At this point there is no treatment for the West Nile virus. Scientists are currently working on a vaccine for humans.

One of the most dangerous mosquito borne viruses that affects horses and humans is Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). It affects the central nervous system and causes severe complications that may lead to death. This virus also originates from mosquitoes biting an infected bird and then passing that infection on to their victim.

EEE is also known as the “sleeping sickness” because its onset is very fast and is hard to diagnose. Symptoms of EEE in horses usually break through within five days of the infected mosquito bite. Initially, horses are depressed and quiet. They experience impaired vision, inability to swallow, and aimless wandering. As the virus strengthens the horse will start to exhibit paralysis, convulsions, and ultimately death. Death normally occurs after two to three days of the infected horse showing signs. Vaccines are available for horses and it is recommended that they get them yearly.

Most people who are exposed to EEE do not have any complications. The rare few who are affected incur severe symptoms. Initially they experience headaches, fever, chills, and vomiting. The symptoms may advance to disorientation, seizures, coma, or sometimes even death.

One can take preventive measures to avoid the occurrence of mosquitoes.

“Avoid being outside from dusk until dawn during mosquito season when mosquitoes are most active,” explains Stickney. “Get rid of standing water. If you have a pond, lake, or tank on your property put mosquito dunks in the water to prevent mosquito eggs and larvae from developing. Don’t depend on flea and tick labeled repellants to ward off mosquitoes because your pet can still get bitten.”

Prior to mosquito season it is important to do a check up and mosquito proof houses. Fix or install window and door screens so that there are no leaks into the house. Make sure to remove areas or cover containers with standing water where mosquitoes lay eggs.

“Don’t assume that just because your cat or dog has long hair that mosquitoes won’t bite them because they will,” notes Stickney.  “If your pet is an inside animal they are also affected by mosquitoes because mosquitoes can force themselves inside too. The best method is to take preventative measures because with all these mosquito transmitted diseases an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.”



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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Hydration Habits

Summer is here and most people seem to flock toward water whether it be the swimming pool out back or the beach. These activities go hand and hand with the importance to stay hydrated with clean and fresh water. Our dogs however, don’t know the difference between a Dasani and a toilet bowl.

Many people like to include their dogs when swimming in the pool and as long as you keep an eye on them, this can be a joy for both you and your K9 friend. But should you be worried about them drinking or ingesting the pool water?

“The concentration levels of the chlorine should not be high enough to cause any problems for your dog if he takes a few laps of pool water,” explains Dr. Mark Stickney clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.  “However, if you have a saline, or salt water, pool this would be very similar to ocean water which is bad for your dog’s kidneys.”

Make sure there is always fresh water available near your dog. Stickney recommends changing this water out twice a day and keeping it as cold as possible.

After the fun in the sun is over, most will want to clean up and cool off. If you have been at the beach or lake all day it would not be a bad idea to give Sparky a bath. Stickney advises not to give your dog a bath more than twice a week.  Because dogs have natural oils in their skin, you want to be careful not to over bathe them which could result in them having dry skin and dandruff. Rinsing them off with a hose is usually deemed efficient.

You are freshening up in the powder room when suddenly you realize that your humming has an undertone of sloshing noises only to turn around to find your fluffy friend who was drenching you in kisses just moments before drinking out of the family toilet! Sound familiar?

“This is definitely not a healthy habit for a dog to have due to the risk of them consuming the chemicals used to clean toilets, not to mention all of the bacteria in there,” said Stickney.

In a dog’s eyes water is water and this includes standing water that can collect in miscellaneous areas around a property or street. When taking your dog for walks or letting him run around a property try to avoid letting them drink this water.

“Other animals can urinate or defecate near standing water which can cause a common parasite called Giardia to give your dog severe diarrhea if he drinks this water. There is also a bacterial disease spread through animal urine called Leptospirosis that can cause dogs to have liver and kidney failure,” explains Stickney.

Many people are very aware of the importance of having clean water as a part of their dog’s diet.  Others might have a picky pooch that turns his or her nose up at the site of anything second rate. There are even vitamin water beverages now that can be purchased for Man’s best friend. This water can also contain an assortment of flavors such as beef, gutter water, liver, etc.

“As long as your dog is regularly on a well-balanced diet there will not be any vitamin deficiencies”, grinned Stickney in reference to this cute but unnecessary invention.

In most cases dogs will naturally regulate their water intake to meet their needs. However, if you suspect that your dog is dehydrated or you have a hyperactive dog that is running around a lot outside in the heat, you should encourage the dog to take a break and drink cool water.

“Dog owners can also try switching out dry dog food for canned wet food which contains more water, if they feel that the dog is having problems staying hydrated,” said Stickney.

On the opposite hand, very rarely will dogs binge drink, but if you observe this unusual behavior in your dog, hyponatremia can occur just as it would if humans consumed an excess of water.

“One medical cause for this behavior could be acute renal failure which can be detected in a blood test. One cause of this is a dog ingesting antifreeze that might have been on the floor in the owner’s garage. The antifreeze causes crystals to form in the dog’s kidney which disrupts proper fluid and electrolyte balance.”

Stickney continues, “Addison’s disease, caused by hypoadrenocorticisn in dogs, is also another possibility for binge drinking behavior. This disease is trickier to diagnose but it affects the dog’s ability to regulate electrolyte levels in their body.”

Most people do not think twice about how often we come into contact with water on a daily basis. Just remember that your dog does not always have the same common sense about what is healthy for them when it comes to water. Whether it is something they decide to drink or something they decide to jump into, help them make it a good clean splash!



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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Does Your Pet Need A Summer Shave?

The summer weather in Texas can become almost unbearable, especially here in the Brazos Valley. It’s the kind of weather that makes you realize how difficult it would be to survive without air conditioning. We Texans may complain about the intense summer heat, but probably won’t suffer near as much as animals that spend more time outdoors. The hot and humid weather can create miserable circumstances, especially for long haired pets.

“Dogs that are bred in cooler temperatures can develop problems because of this heat” said Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “For example, the heat makes it difficult for the dog to pant, which allows them to cool themselves down. Long hair also makes finding and removing ticks more difficult. With short hair, the ticks are much more easily recognizable.” Then there are the Texan’s all too familiar friends, the mosquitoes. “It is a myth that long-haired animals get bit by mosquitoes less than short haired animals” said Stickney.

If your animals are going to be outside this summer there are some things to take into consideration. Make sure that all animals have access to fresh water (cold if possible) and some form of shade. The shade is necessary to help prevent sunburns, hot spots, and blistering on the bottom of more sensitive doggie paws. If you have a dog that is not usually outside, or is going to be outside for an extended period of time, sunscreen is an option to consider. There are sunscreens that are made specifically for dogs and can be applied to areas with less hair such as the nose, ears, and belly.

Another important fact to note is that dogs can have heat exhaustion and heat strokes just like people. Owners should encourage high energy dogs to take breaks when playing out in the sun because of this. Also, people who exercise with their dogs either with a bike or by jogging should keep in mind that dogs (especially smaller breeds) need to be conditioned to work up their stamina. So be mindful of Sparky’s capabilities before dragging him along on that three mile bike ride. “Owners will sometimes make the mistake of grabbing a hose that has been lying out in the sun to spray down animals such as horses or dogs, but the hot water that has been sitting in the hose can scald them before the cooler water comes through.” said Stickney.

If you allow your cats to go outside, “the only problem would be mattes and/or hairballs in long-haired cats, but this can be managed by brushing them daily to help keep them clean” said Stickney. Some people prefer the look of their cat when shaved, which is perfectly fine. However, there is no medical need to shave your cat unless they are having problems with these things.

Veterinarians will most likely hold different opinions on when or if to shave your pets depending on the region that you live in. Some might argue that long hair on certain breeds will work as a cooling mechanism.

“This would not hold true in our climate because of the levels of humidity” explains Stickney. “If your dog seems exhausted and overheated ask your local veterinarian if shaving could be an option for you and your pet.”

By keeping an eye on your pet and exercising caution when exercising and cooling your pet off, the dog days of summer will be more enjoyable for everyone.



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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Are People Hazards to Pets?

Dogs, cats, and other pets are a special blessing to the lives of humans. Pets are sometimes provided to the sick and dying to provide comfort, and trained to assist the elderly and disabled in their daily activities. Pets clearly fill the role for companionship and positive emotions in humans. They also provide an opportunity to teach children about responsibility, and give people an excuse to exercise by walking their dog or playing with their cat. Scientific evidence shows that petting an animal will lower your blood pressure and calm your body. However, at least some people perceive pets as a potential household hazard. With that in mind, it is important to remember that less than one percent of emergency room injuries are associated with pets.

“We see a great number of cases where a cat, dog, or ferret has been accidentally injured by their owner. We see dogs all the time that have broken bones from the owners accidentally stepping or sitting on them, and injured paws from paws or legs being caught in doors.” said Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical assistant professor and director of general surgery services for the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Sometimes the pet has curled up in a recliner to sleep and been smashed when the chair decided to close, or a cat or ferret has gone to sleep in the laundry hamper and gets thrown into the washing machine or dryer, animals have eaten prescription medication, cats crawling up in the engine of the car; the list goes on and on.”

There are several things that pet owners need to know in order to ensure that the least amount of harm comes to their pet or themselves. Be aware of the pet’s environment by knowing where your pet likes to sleep, or linger. It may help to keep your pet out of harm’s way if they have a specific place designated for them to sleep. If you have a small dog, pick it up out of the way to avoid tripping or stepping on it. A dog’s desire to run and jump obnoxiously can be cured through obedience training.

“Every dog needs obedience training” said Stickney, “they need to know the basic commands; sit, stay, come, lie down. It helps the pet, and also saves the owners from embarrassing situations when hosting visitors in the home. If you are outside with your dog, always have a leash to keep them under control, even if they are well trained to go without one.”

Household items such as antifreeze, rat bait, and chocolate are fatal to dogs and cats if ingested. Obesity caused by accidentally overfeeding your pet, is also a hazard to their health and livelihood.

“A good way to make sure that your dog is not is not overweight, is to look at them from the top. Their body should look like an oblong hourglass, with a broader chest, a thinner waist, and broader hips. Two straight lines is too much weight! You should be able to feel, but not see, your dog’s ribs” added Stickney.

Dog parks are a great place to take your pet. They are away from traffic, and are made especially for the safety of dogs. At a dog park, your pet is safe to run and play as much as they want without running into furniture, falling down the stairs, or being stepped on by people.



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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Easter Pets

Baby animals are a symbol of spring and renewal. Every year, feed and pet stores sell chicks and bunnies to parents as Easter presents for their children. While these animals are adorable, they are pets and must be taken care of for the rest of their lives.

“An impulse pet is always a bad purchase,” warns Dr. Mark Stickney, Director of General Surgery Services at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “They 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 pretty 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.”

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 don’t 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 primary of coastal hay and vegetables and 1/3 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 rabbit’s teeth. If they don’t chew on hay constantly their teeth can overgrow.

“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 are ready to make the commitment and think your child is too then a rabbit can be a fun furry companion. Just remember, they do live seven to 11 years on average so you may have the rabbit even after your little one leaves the nest.



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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Dog Bites

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. While this is an alarming statistic, most of these bites are preventable.

“Human behavior is a major factor in dog bites,” explains Dr. Mark Stickney Director of General Surgery Services at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Children are commonly bit by dogs because of their fast, uncoordinated and unpredictable movements that can frighten dogs and make them feel threatened.”

Because of this, children under the age of five may unknowingly antagonize a dog into biting them. Boys between the ages of five and nine years old are actually the most likely to be bitten by a dog.

“These bites, which typically occur on the face, head and neck, are rarely fatal but they are obviously painful and can lead to infection if not properly cared for, and disfigurement in extreme cases” says Stickney.

In addition to fear, other common causes of dog bites include aggressive play, territoriality over food or a special toy or perceived territorial boundary, an aggression behavioral problem and pain.

“A wagging tail does NOT equal a friendly dog,” warns Stickney. “Never approach a dog you do not know and always ask an owner’s permission to pet their dog.”

When you do approach an unfamiliar dog with the owner’s permission, move slowly and let the dog sniff your hand before touching it. You also want to avoid petting the dog’s face, head and tail.

“Never bother an eating or sleeping dog or one that is caring puppies,” states Stickney. “If you wake a dog abruptly you may scare them, and their territoriality over food and babies may also cause them to bite.”

While children are most likely to be bit by a neighbor’s or a friend’s dog, adults are most likely to be bitten by their own dog. Although the best way to prevent a bite is to alter your own behavior around dogs, there some precautions you can take with your own dog.

“Dogs that have properly socialized and received obedience training are less likely to bite people or other animals,” notes Stickney. “Also, neutered and spayed dogs are less likely to bite.”

If a dog does threaten you by growling, remain calm and stand still or slowly back away till it leaves.

“If a dog knocks you down to attack you curl into a ball and protect your face with your arms and fists,” advises Stickney. “If the dog bites you get treatment at a hospital and make sure the dog is current on its rabies vaccinations.”

While dog bites can be harmful to people, they can actually be just as harmful if not more harmful to other pets.

“Carefully monitor interactions between new dogs and cats,” states Stickney. “It is best if animals meet each other on neutral ground, not in the area one considers its territory.”

If your pet is bitten by another dog, you will want to take the pet to your veterinarian immediately.

“Bite wounds in animals are usually worse under the skin then they appear on the surface and commonly become infected,” warns Stickney. “As when an animal bites a person you will want to ascertain the rabies vaccination status of the biting animal. You will also need to know if the bitten animal is current on their rabies vaccinations as well.”

Dogs play an integral role in many people’s families. They are cute and cuddly and for the most part very sweet. However, it is important to remember that dogs are animals and will react with animal instincts when threatened or frightened. Taking these precautions when interacting with a dog or when your animal interacts with a dog will help keep it a positive experience.



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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Pet Vaccinations 1

Even though they may be taken for granted, pet vaccinations are vital for your pet. Properly vaccinating your pet is a very 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,”; notes Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

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

“There are live, killed, modified live, and recombinant vaccinations,”; states 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 notes Stickney. However, he says that 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 rabies vaccine, can only be given by your veterinarian,”; states Stickney. “Your veterinarian is also the best person to determine which vaccines your pet needs and how frequently they should be administered.”;

Stickney says, “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.”;

Stickney stresses that puppies should be vaccinated for distemper virus, adenovirus, parvovirus and parainfluenza, and 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,”; explains Stickney. “Vaccines are ineffective in the face of maternal immunity and the puppy and kitten series of vaccines 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.”;

Stickney notes that 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,”; Stickney explains, “It is possible to overwhelm any vaccine and immune system with exposure to enough disease-causing organisms.”;

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

“There are two types of reactions commonly seen, anaphylactic and delayed hypersensitivity,”; explains 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, but serious and life-threatening,”; notes Stickney. “The animal rapidly collapses and goes into shock. Epinephrine and intravenous fluids are necessary to treat the animal.”;

Stickney notes that 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 and your veterinarian can best guide you in the use and scheduling of vaccinations for your pet.




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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Spaying and Neutering Your Pets

“If we let one dog and all their offspring breed uncontrolled for six years we would have 78,000 puppies and if we did the same with cats we would have 76,000 kittens born within the same period,” explains Dr. Mark Stickney, Director of General Surgery Services at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The above statistic emphasizes one important reason to spay and neuter your pets. Because some pets are not fixed or controlled, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that over three million cats and dogs are euthanized each year because there is nobody to take care of them.

While the tragedy of having unwanted pets is a compelling reason for spaying and neutering, many people would be surprised to know that the procedure can actually be beneficial for the health of their pet and the wellbeing of their family.

“If you are not planning to breed your female pet you should have her spayed prior to her first heat cycle,” notes Stickney. “This will almost completely eliminate the chance that a dog will get mammary cancer, which is the most common cancer in dogs, and there is evidence that it might be helpful to reduce incidents of cancer in cats as well.”

Neutering male dogs has a similar effect as it can eliminate the chance of testicular cancer and enlarged prostates.

“Neutering is an effective treatment of enlarged prostates in older dogs that were not neutered as puppies, and spaying an older dog will still eliminate the risk of a uterine infection, called a pyometra” adds Stickney.

Another reason to have your pet spayed and neutered early is that the procedure might be easier on a young pet.

“Before six months of age reproductive structures are less developed. This means that there is usually less bleeding after surgery and the animal recovers more quickly,” explains Stickney.

Along with the health of the animal, the behavior of the animal can also be affected by spaying and neutering.

“Spaying and neutering early tends to decrease aggression, especially in dogs,” states Stickney. “It can also make them easier to train because they are not distracted by hormones. With that said, neutering an older dog may not have the same effect, especially if they already have bad habits.”

Not only can neutering decrease aggression, but it also may save your home from some pretty foul odors.

“Neutering dogs and cats can drastically reduce marking behavior,” explains Stickney. “If you’ve ever had your animal lift their leg and urinate on your couch you know that that smell is quite unpleasant and almost impossible to get rid of.”

When you do decide to have your pet spayed or neutered there are few things you should know about how to care for them after the procedure.

“Most pets are going to quickly return to their usual behavior, especially with pain medication,” says Stickney. “This can actually be a problem because they need to be calm for seven to ten days after the surgery and it’s hard to keep a puppy that feels good calm. Because of this you are probably going to want to separate them from other pets they play with and make sure they are not running, jumping, swimming, etc.”

As with any medical procedure there is always a cost associated. The cost will depend on the city and the size of your pet, but generally ranges anywhere from $100-$300.

“I know there are people out there that don’t spay and neuter their pet because of the cost, but if you look at it rationally it is really an investment. Having your pet spayed or neutered not only helps to reduce the pet population but it can also help to keep your pet healthy,” states Stickney.

Plus, if your pet has babies you will have considerably more vet bills than what it would have cost to have your pet fixed and you may even end up with more pets that you didn’t want.

“Once your kids see the cute little puppies or kittens you may have a hard time convincing them that you can’t keep just one,” adds Stickney.

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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

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Potty Training for Pets

Bringing home a new pet is an exciting time for a family. Playing with a sweet little puppy or kitten and watching them explore their new home can be rewarding and fun. Unfortunately, cleaning up messes your pet makes in your home is a part of pet ownership that can quickly become tiresome. For this reason, it is important to have a potty training plan for your new pets and start them on it as soon as you bring them home.

“It’s important to start young with potty training, because what we don’t want to do is establish bad habits in our pets,” explains Dr. Mark Stickney, Director of General Surgery Services at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Once they learn one way to do something it’s hard for them to unlearn it, and any change can confuse them.”

Potty training is a significantly different process for cats than for dogs. While dogs require a good deal of attention and time to train, cats are quite a bit easier.

“Litter training is instinctive for cats,” notes Stickney. “All you really need to do is put your kitten in the room with the litter pan and keep it in there when you are not playing with it or paying attention to it.”

While there are a variety of litter boxes available, Stickney suggests that you make sure you get one, at least initially, that your kitten can easily get in and out of.

“You have to remember that when you bring home a kitten it is just a little baby and if you get a really high box it may have trouble getting into the box and therefore will not use it,” says Stickney. “It’s also good to remove anything in the room that may resemble litter such as potted plants or they may become your pet’s bathroom.”

When choosing your litter it is good to know that while there are many different kinds and varieties, they are mostly marketed for human preference. Find one that your cat will use and that works for you.

“Although all cat litter brands are ok to use, it may helpful if you know what kind of litter your kitten was using before it came to live with you and start with that if possible,” notes Stickney. “Cats can be texture and odor specific with their litter so if you can at least start with that you can gradually transition them to another litter later if you prefer.”

As previously mentioned, potty training puppies is a completely different process and quite a bit trickier than training kittens. The process is slow and can take up to a year for some dogs to get the hang of it.

“Begin training your dog as soon as you bring it home,” urges Stickney. “Take it straight outside and give it plenty of time to go potty. Stay out there with it, but ignore it until it goes. Then, as soon as it goes, give it a treat and ‘ooh and ahh’ all over it.”

While this process may be time consuming, it will be worthwhile in the end when you don’t have to pick up messes in your house.

When your pet is inside the house, Stickney advises that most effective way to train it is by crate training.

“When you are not at home you should keep your pet in a crate inside your house,” says Stickney. “This becomes their safe place (or their den) and thus crate training takes advantage of their natural instinct not to make a mess in their own den.”

As soon as you get home immediately take your pet out of its kennel and take it outside to go to the bathroom.

“It’s not realistic to leave a puppy in a carrier for eight hours straight and not have an accident,” explains Stickney. “If at all possible you should try to come home or arrange for someone to come by and give it a potty break in the middle of the day if you work full-time.”

Because the cage is your animal’s safe place it is important to never use it as a punishment. If you put them in it for punishment it will have a negative view of it and will no longer see it as their den.

“This also goes for punishment of accidents. Never negatively reinforce their behavior,” warns Stickney. “If you hit them when they have an accident they not only don’t connect their accident to the punishment, but it can cause anxiety and lead to slower potty training.”

If you have followed all these training guidelines and you are still unsuccessful there are professional dog trainers who can help with the process. You may also want to consult your veterinarian to make sure the animal doesn’t have an underlying problem.

“If your dog or cat is already housebroken and suddenly starts having accidents this is also a sign that it may have a health problem,” states Stickney. “In this case you should definitely take the pet to its veterinarian for a check-up.”

While our pets are a great addition to our families and a wonderful source of enjoyment, nobody wants to deal with pet messes in the home. If you have a potty-training plan in place and are diligent about sticking to it, you can have a healthy, happy and potty trained animal.

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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

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