How to Manage Your Dog’s Health Care

Has the recession affected your spending habits? A new survey reveals that the economic doldrums have impacted many dog owners. “Dogs and cats are feeling the bite of the recession as pet owners put a leash on pet care expenses,” says Susan Spaulding, executive vice president and principal at The Pert Group, which conducted the survey with Brakke Consulting. “The recession has not only decreased what consumers spend on their own health, but also what they spend at the veterinarian.”

Dogs haven’t been hurt as much as cats, but there is still cause for concern. John Volk, a senior consultant at Brakke, shares the reasons why -- as well as promising news for dogs and their owners.

Fewer Dogs Are Going to the Veterinarian
On the downside, the Pet Owner Channel Use Study found that dogs are visiting their veterinarian 20 percent less than they did five years ago. Since the overall population of both dogs and humans has increased over that same period of time, the drop-off is significant.

Volk believes additional research is needed to fully understand why people are going to the vet less often, but he thinks the economy is a key reason. “Factor in the recession and the cost of veterinary care and you can see why owners could be postponing trips to the veterinarian,” says Volk.

Longtime dog owners realize that preventative care can help stave off health issues, ultimately saving pet owners money. All dogs should at least have an annual exam. Older pets should see the vet semiannually. The visits will include the basics, such as a full physical, a dental evaluation and a parasite check. Routine blood work and a stool analysis should also be included, especially for older dogs.

Boarding and Dog Day Care Spending Is Decreasing
With boarding and dog day care spending decreasing over the past five years, owners may be taking on more of this work themselves. They could also be recruiting friends and relatives to help watch their dogs. With new facilities offering high-tech and novel services, however, even cash-strapped dog owners might find them to be irresistible in the not-too-distant future.

Pet Insurance Spending Is Increasing
One very good outcome from the study is the finding that dog owners are now spending more on pet insurance. Insurance is another tool for combating the recession, allowing for regular veterinary visits and safeguarding against the cost for required special care, such as hospital stays and treatment for serious illnesses.

Volk says there is growing interest in health insurance for pets, so expect this business sector to continue to grow in the years to come.

Food Spending Remains the Same
Compared to a similar study conducted in 2007, the findings of this latest pet owner study show that dog food expenditures are basically the same. “There are more purchases of cat food, but actual expenses are higher for dog owners just because dogs are often bigger than cats and eat more,” says Volk.

The Way We Buy Pet Health Care Products Is Changing
The study found that more dog owners are turning to the Internet for their shopping needs. The reasons? Variety, sometimes-lower costs and convenience. Still, the trend is worrisome to Volk, who supports one-on-one interaction and expertise rather than online ads and in-store displays.

He and his colleagues are also concerned about the Fairness to Pet Owners Act. This legislation was introduced last year and referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health. Among other things, it would require veterinarians to write a prescription, whether or not they will dispense the product. The majority of survey respondents have already indicated that they would fill those prescriptions outside of their veterinary office, at least some of the time. How veterinarians would react to the change remains unknown.

Signs of Improvement
In the few months since the new Pet Owner Channel Use Study was conducted, there are “anecdotal reports that veterinarians are seeing increased volume,” says Volk. He quickly adds, however, that it is too soon to tell whether or not the recession and other problems of recent years are finally on the way out.

Nevertheless, at least one major pet health insurance company has “reported a good uptick in revenue for the first quarter of 2012.” That, food sales and other indicators provide hope that dog owners have learned to cope with financial challenges and are looking ahead to an even brighter future for themselves and their pets.

Spring 2012 Flea and Tick Care for Dogs

Chances are your dog has had fleas and ticks, which have been bothering animals -- including humans -- since time immemorial. They are out in force this spring, which exterminator Alan Pendarvis of Texas credits to weather changes that are speeding up the parasites’ life cycles.

However, your dog doesn’t have to suffer this spring and summer. New products and a better understanding of how to combat flea and tick infestations can help your dog to steer clear of them.

Why Fleas and Ticks Are Bad News
Aside from the yuck factor, both fleas and ticks can spread diseases from dog to dog, and from dogs to humans. Nancy Hinkle, a University of Georgia entomologist, notes that fleas can transmit tapeworms. “An infected flea can pass on tapeworm if a dog happens to swallow a flea while using its teeth to scratch, but the tapeworm is not transmitted if the flea only bites the dog,” says Hinkle. “Some animals are also highly sensitive to flea saliva, which can lead to secondary infections and dermatitis from incessant itching.”

Ticks are equally awful, burying their heads into the skin of your dog and then sucking blood for survival. This too can spread infectious diseases.

Plan of Action: Flea and Tick Avoidance and Removal
New pest control products abound this spring, with many major manufacturers introducing new and improved versions of their already popular lines. Thanks to a clever plastic gizmo, topical liquids for some lines are easier to apply, helping to keep owners’ hands away from the skin-penetrating product.

A number of natural and/or organic alternatives are also on the market now. In addition to shampoos, you can find electric flea traps that attract fleas with heat and light and then zap them. Food-grade diatomaceous earth, a chalk-like powder that clings to the bodies of insects, works by cutting into their waxy coating and then gradually desiccating them. A drawback is that it can be a bit dusty and messy to use.

Buying Over-the-counter Meds Doesn’t Mean You Should Forget Your Vet
With so many products on the market, why did a recent pet health survey conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital find that flea infestation is one of the top 10 reasons owners bring their dogs to the vet? “I think this might result partly from pet owners buying preventive medications at retail outlets and not talking with their veterinarian about which product is best for their pet, how to apply it and how to avoid environmental contamination from fleas and flea eggs,” says Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, veterinarian, senior vice president and chief medical officer for Banfield.

He and other veterinarians can provide fast-acting medications that may provide quick relief. Nitenpyram, usually administered in pill form, starts working in 30 minutes and can eliminate fleas within three to four hours. Spinosad, a chewable tablet, works in about the same amount of time and prevents infestation for a whole month. These are just a few of the possible remedies.

No product is free from potential side effects, however, so follow user guidelines carefully. Kimberly Chambers of VetDepot offers this additional advice:

  • Consult your vet first. Even if you plan to purchase an over-the-counter remedy, talk to your vet beforehand.
  • Pay attention to age and weight guidelines. Failing to allow for these “could result in a dangerous overdose.”
  • Do not use a cat product on your dog, and vice versa.
  • Avoid getting topical flea-control products in your dog’s eyes and mouth.

“Flea protection is an important part of pet ownership,” says Chambers. “It not only saves pets from suffering from an itchy and uncomfortable infestation, but also protects pets from the dangers associated with fleas, including anemia.”

Finally, keep your home clean. Be sure to wash your pet’s bedding regularly and vacuum affected areas, including curtains, furniture and mattresses.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/magdasmith

What Snoring Says About Your Dog’s Health

Does your dog’s snoring keep you up at night? “We seem to put up with dog snoring more than spouse snoring,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a Laguna Hills, Calif., veterinarian and nationally recognized expert in companion animal health.

Your dog’s snoring, however, is more than an annoyance; it may be an indication of a wide range of health problems. “Any time a dog develops a new sign, such as snoring, it is a good idea to at least check in with your veterinarian,” notes Dr. Lauren Boyd, a veterinarian and an internal medicine specialist with Michigan Veterinary Specialists in Auburn Hills, Mich. “Any change could indicate a new problem. If it’s not a new problem but is progressing, your dog should also see a veterinarian.”

Why Dogs Snore
Any level of snoring indicates something is at last partially obstructing your dog’s airways. Veterinarians say common causes include:

  • Rhinitis Your dog might have a temporary inflammation in its nose. Dogs can catch upper respiratory infections or even suffer from allergies.
  • Fungal disease Aspergillosis is a type of fungal disease caused by a mold found in hay, grass clippings and similar environments. Left untreated, this fungal disease can cause discomfort, loss of appetite and serious health problems.
  • Foreign bodies or tumors Your dog could have inhaled something that is blocking its breathing. Snoring could also indicate a tumor, says Boyd.
  • Dental problems Bad teeth can cause your dog to snore, says Cruz. A bad tooth can lead to an abscess that penetrates the nasal sinus passages. Left untreated, dental problems can become a source of infection for the whole body, advises Cruz, which could lead to kidney failure down the road.
  • Obesity Like humans, our dogs are getting plumper. And just as obesity can lead to snoring in humans, it may cause breathing difficulties in dogs. “As your dog breathes in and out, obesity makes the trachea rings slam shut,” explains Cruz.
  • Breed-related anatomy Brachycephalic breeds -- the breeds with very short noses, such as English/French bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs -- have a natural tendency to snore. But it’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian to make sure the snoring is normal and not an indication of a health issue, says Cruz. For instance, a pug or Boston terrier might be born with nostrils that are squeezed almost shut. After surgical correction, “the dogs have so much energy. They’re running around and finally breathing,” says Cruz.

How to Help Your Dog
Because snoring can be related to so many different causes, Boyd and Cruz emphasize the importance of having your snoring dog evaluated. You can help your veterinarian by being an observant dog owner. Keep a pet diary to note changes in your dog’s behavior and health so a veterinarian can look for patterns. For example, if your dog was snoring and sneezing last May and again this May, it might have an allergy tied to spring blooms.

Use your smartphone to videotape your snoring dog instead of trying to describe the snores. The volume or pattern of snoring isn’t the only information that will help your veterinarian, says Boyd. “It is often helpful to know if the snoring is accompanied by sneezing, nasal discharge or nasal bleeding,” she says. “It is also helpful to know if the discharge or bleeding affects both sides of the nose or just one.” If the nasal discharge is watery, your dog is likely suffering from an allergy or something similar, says Cruz. A mucous-laden or bloody discharge is an indication that your dog needs to see a veterinarian immediately.

Don’t simply tolerate your dog’s snoring. “It can really decrease your dog’s quantity of life and your dog’s quality of life,” says Cruz. “If you’ve ever had that really bad cold and can’t breathe and can’t eat, then you know how hard it is to live with a breathing problem.”

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/tshortell

Could You Recognize Dog Flu?

“Flu” seems to be a catchall word used to describe many different illnesses, from human flu to avian flu. Now, dogs can catch dog flu. But do you really understand the symptoms, treatment and prevention of this potentially life-threatening illness?

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines about canine influenza (aka dog flu). Ruben Donis, chief of the Molecular Virology and Vaccines Branch of the CDC’s Influenza Division and other experts help answer key questions about this disease.

How did canine influenza first emerge?
The canine influenza virus was first identified in 2004, but scientists believe it was around for a while beforehand. “We have demonstrated that the virus was in the greyhound population as early as 1999, and we speculate it was likely introduced sometime before that,” says Tara Anderson, a researcher at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. She and others first became aware of it due to numerous outbreaks of respiratory disease among dogs at racing tracks.

Donis explains that the virus causing the flu, called H3N8, was known to exist in horses for more than 40 years. “Scientists believe that the virus jumped species, from horses to dogs, and has now adapted to cause illness in dogs and spread efficiently among dogs.”

Can it spread to humans?
There are no known cases of humans suffering from H3N8. “This is a disease of dogs, not of humans,” says Donis.

What are the symptoms?

  • Affected dogs may show the following symptoms: cough, runny nose, fever, pneumonia (but, as with humans, only a small percentage of dogs get pneumonia).

How does the illness spread from dog to dog?
Airborne transmission is the primary way canine influenza spreads, according to Annette Uda, founder of PetAirapy LLC, an Illinois-based company that specializes in air-purifying systems for the pet industry. “When an infected dog coughs or sneezes, it releases the virus into the air. The virus, which is in the form of droplet nuclei, is able to survive for hours -- and in some cases much longer -- on dust and dander until it is inhaled by another animal, causing infection.”

Can any dog get the disease?
“Nearly all dogs are susceptible to infection,” says Donis. About 80 percent will just get a mild form of the disease. A lower percentage can get pneumonia and suffer more severe cases. Among that group, the fatality rate is between 5 and 8 percent.

How is canine influenza treated?
It is important to first confirm the presence of H3N8 via tests -- either on blood or respiratory secretions or both. Once the disease is confirmed, treatment largely consists of supportive care, such as taking steps to ensure your pet is well-hydrated. “Broad-spectrum antibiotics may be prescribed by your veterinarian if a secondary bacterial infection is suspected,” says Donis.

How can you help prevent your dog from catching canine influenza?
Try to keep your dog away from other dogs that might be ill. Dogs in close quarters, such shelters and racing facilities, are more susceptible to this disease. “It’s very much a proximity issue,” says Ron Schultz, chair of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. “Open-air spaces like dog parks, however, carry a much lower risk.”

Schultz helped formulate a vaccine for dog flu, which is now widely available. He recommends it for dogs that are at high risk of infection, such as dogs that regularly go to doggy day care facilities or participate in dog shows. “Even if you have 20-30 percent of dogs vaccinated, that would make a difference. It’s a group thing,” explains Schultz. “It only takes one of those dog flu outbreaks, and then people really start to think. It’s not ‘mild’ for the dog that dies.”

What should you do if your dog has a cough?
Coughing in dogs is frequently associated with a contagious illness, just as it is in humans. Take your pet immediately to the vet for a checkup. This is for the sake of your furry pal, and also for that of other dogs that might catch the illness. Older canines and those with weakened immune systems are likely more susceptible to severe forms of the virus.

If your dog is diagnosed with canine influenza, keep it away from other animals. “Clothing, equipment, surfaces and hands should be cleaned and disinfected after exposure to dogs showing signs of respiratory disease,” advises Donis.

Are You Protecting Your Dog’s Health?

We all want our pets to live healthy lives, but are we as informed as we should be? Take this quiz and see how you measure up.

1. I schedule basic veterinary checkups for my adult dog:

a. Once a year

b. Twice a year

c. When needed

Optimal answer: b. Twice a year

Although annual visits are a good start, twice-yearly exams are your best insurance against hidden diseases. “I also recommend checking your pet’s blood test and urinalysis once a year in patients over 7 years old,” says Dr. Ernie Ward, a veterinarian based in North Carolina.

2. I give my dog a bath using:

a. Dog shampoo

b. My shampoo

c. Baby shampoo

Optimal answer: a. Dog shampoo

“Though we often treat our dogs as our kids, they aren’t,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian in California. “A dog’s skin is much more fragile than ours, with a very different pH. Using our shampoos -- even a baby’s shampoo -- can strip a dog’s skin of its protective oils.”

3. I check my dog’s ears:

a. Once a year

b. Every few months

c. Every few weeks

Optimal answer: c. Every few weeks

Ear infections are common but preventable. “If the earflap is red and inflamed; if the canal is narrow, has a heavy buildup of debris or is smelly; or if touching your dog’s ears is painful; you have a problem that needs to be addressed,” says Cruz.

4. My dog gets its teeth cleaned:

a. Once a year

b. Twice a year

c. Every five years

Optimal answer: a. Once a year

Annual cleanings are recommended, but Dr. Katy Johnson Nelson -- a Virginia-based veterinarian who is a member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council -- says some dogs need more. “Just like some people have more cavities, some dogs have more severe dental disease than others. Your veterinarian will be able to determine how often they need those teeth cleaned,” says Nelson. Between cleanings, brush your dog’s teeth at least weekly.

5. I bring my dog for vaccine renewal:

a. Yearly or sooner

b. Every three years

c. Every five years

Optimal answer: a. or b. Yearly or sooner, or every three years

Core vaccinations are given every three years, but many others last a year or less. Go over this with your veterinarian and know the schedule for each vaccine.

6. The best way to exercise my dog is:

a. Go for daily walks

b. Give him free reign of the backyard

c. Take occasional trips to the dog run

Optimal answer: a. Daily walks

Dogs left outside alone do not self-exercise. And while trips to the dog run are great, the most important thing is consistent exercise. Daily walks, as long as they’re substantial, are the basis of a good exercise routine.

7. I feed my dog:

a. Table scraps

b. Bones

c. Only dog food

Optimal answer: c. Only dog food

“An occasional bite of people food is OK, but a good-quality dog food is the foundation for a health-filled life,” says Cruz. Dogs love a big bone, but they’re dangerous to intestinal tracts -- especially cooked bones, which splinter easily.

8. My dog’s mealtime schedule is:

a. Once a day

b. Twice a day

c. I keep the bowl full all day

Optimal answer: b. Twice a day

A perpetually refilled bowl is a no-no that can lead to obesity, and Cruz says feeding only once daily can negatively alter metabolism. Three times a day is acceptable if portions are controlled. “The most important weapon against obesity is a measuring cup,” says Ward. “Find out from your veterinarian how many calories your dog needs each day and feed that amount to your pet.”

9. My dog’s food bowl is made of:

a. Plastic

b. Ceramic

c. Metal

Optimal answer: b. or c. Ceramic or metal

“Many dogs become sensitive to plastics and may develop skin issues if fed from plastic bowls,” says Ward. Plastic is also more likely to retain bacteria.

Score:

Eight to nine correct: Congratulations! You’re doing a great job safeguarding your dog against medical problems. But remember that as your dog ages, you’ll need to adapt too. Maintain a close relationship with your vet, and your dog will live a long and happy life.

Five to seven correct: Looks like you’ve got a decent foundation when it comes to safeguarding your dog against medical problems, but there’s room for improvement. Go back over your incorrect answers and take action on them!

Zero to four correct: Oh no! We’re sorry to say it, but at 50 percent or less, you scored an F. You’ve got some work to do with safeguarding your dog against medical problems.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/skynesher