Why Do Veterinarians Require Blood Work?

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There are many reasons why your veterinarian may need to do blood work on your pet.

During the course of veterinary practice it is often necessary for veterinarians to do blood work.  Sometimes this will be a part of a workup for a sick animal, and in other cases veterinarians will often check blood work as a part of a preventative maintenance wellness program, particularly in adult and senior pets.   Blood work is often done prior to elective or required surgery, including surgical sterilization procedures.

Blood work is important prior to general anesthesia to make sure that kidney, liver and other organ function is adequate.  The CBC blood work done will look at parameters including whether a pet is anemic, has an infection, as well as whether clotting is adequate prior to the surgical procedure.    Blood work also may determine glandular function of the thyroid and adrenal glands, as well as for heartworm status (prior to starting preventatives), and even whether a pet is protected against certain viral infectious diseases such as parvo virus or canine distemper (known as vaccination titers).

Exposure to tick born diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Ehrlichia may also be determined by blood work.   Although many pets may be managed symptomatically for their illnesses, it is always preferable to have a diagnosis first, which is why performing blood work is so important.

Physical Therapy for Pets

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More veterinarians are becoming trained in physical therapy for pets.

In recent years, more and more veterinarians are becoming trained in pet physical therapy.  This type of therapy usually involves some sort of swim and water therapy, in addition to physical manipulations and massage of affected body parts. In addition, electrical stimulation is also sometimes done to reduce inflammation and/or enhance circulation.

Physical therapy has especially been useful in orthopedic and neurologic cases and injuries to complement medical and surgical therapy, and has certainly helped reduce pain and enhance healing.  In older pets with degenerative joint disease and/or spinal disease, physical therapy has become an increasingly important part of a comprehensive and integrative approach to patient care.

When choosing a veterinarian to perform physical therapy on your pet, it is important to make sure that the veterinarian has taken adequate coursework and ongoing continuing education to make sure that they are proficient in offering this new and exciting modality.

Umbilical Hernias in Pets

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Umbilical hernias are common in young puppies.

Like people, pets may develop defects in the abdominal muscles which may lead to the presence of out-pouchings known as hernias.  One of the most common hernias seen in small animal veterinary practice is a weakness in the area known as the umbilicus located on the midline of the abdomen, leading to what is known as an umbilical hernia.

This will appear to the animal guardian and veterinarian as a puffy swelling over this area, which most commonly can be reduced up into the abdomen with gentle manual pressure.  This hernia is quite common in young puppies, and usually is not a risk to the health of the animal.  In very rare instances, the hernias may become strangulated, but this is extremely uncommon.  In most cases, it is best to have the umbilical hernia repaired surgically at the time of neuter or spay over 6 months of age.  The hernia is cured with this surgical correction.

What is AAHA Certification?

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AAHA certified animal hospitals may have higher standards than other facilities.

Approximately 15% of animal hospitals in the United States are certified by the American Animal Hospital Association, known as AAHA.   These hospitals are typically higher standard hospitals in many areas.  The AAHA standards typically cover surgery, pharmacy, laboratory, exam facilities, pet health records, cleanliness, emergency standards, as well as dental and nursing care, diagnostic imaging and anesthesiology.

Often these hospitals need to be inspected frequently to make sure these higher standards are upheld.  While non-AAHA certified hospitals are not necessarily lower quality practices, it is often a good idea to find a practice that is AAHA certified, as these hospitals tend to provide the highest quality of medicine, surgery and customer service.

Suture Site Healing in Pets

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Most suture sites in pets heal within 10-14 days.

After most surgical procedures, veterinarians will typically use several layers of sutures in closing a wound.  Many times skin sutures and staples are also used.  The typical healing time of most surgical sites is 10-14 days. At that time the wound is usually adequately healed to remove the sutures.

In a small proportion of pets, suture reactions may sometimes occur. Symptoms of suture reactions typically occur 3 to5 days post surgery.

These signs may include swelling around the incision, as well as varying amounts of discharge, including pus if secondary infection occurs. Occasionally wound dehiscence, where the sutures come apart, may occur.

Treatment of suture reactions may include systemic antibiotics to prevent secondary infection, as well as warm compresses to the area several times daily.  With severe swelling, placement of surgical drains and/or re-suturing of the area may be needed. Elizabethan collars are also often necessary to prevent self trauma by the pet, and to allow healing of the suture site to occur.

How Often Should My Pet Visit the Vet?

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The frequency your pet should visit the vet depends upon your pet's age and clinical condition. A common question asked by many animal guardians is how often they should visit their veterinarian.  The answer to this question will depend upon the age and clinical condition of their animal companion.  During puppy- or kittenhood, pets are often seen every 3-4 weeks up until age 4 to 5 months when most vaccinations are completed.  After this age, pets are typically seen for spaying or neutering after 6 months of age, and typically after that every year through middle adult years.

After midlife, I typically recommend twice-yearly physical exams.  At the time of these exams, vaccination status is reviewed, and blood work is taken for heartworm testing, and metabolic function testing.  The results of these lab tests will determine how often a pet will need follow-up exams and laboratory testing.  For example, if a pet is diagnosed with early kidney or liver disease, rechecks may be done as often as every few months in order to monitor for disease progression.

Diabetic pets may need even more frequent monitoring and laboratory testing.  For large and giant breed dogs, middle age will start at age 4 to 5, while in most other breeds middle age starts at age 7 to 8.  Between yearly health exams, animal guardians should watch for clinical signs of illness which may include increased thirst and urination, changes in appetite, weight or behavior, as well as increased vomiting, diarrhea or changes in respiratory patterns.

With careful client observation and early diagnostic testing and treatment plans, most veterinarians will be better able to properly manage most chronic diseases in our companion animals.

Should You Seek a Second Veterinary Opinion?

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A second opinion may be sought if your pet has repeat vet visits for the same complaint.

With increasing numbers of veterinarians, and the development of specialization, the opportunity for second opinions has greatly increased.  As a veterinarian who has answered people’s questions for 1-800-PetMeds over several years, I am often recommending second opinions, especially when there are repeat veterinary visits for the same clinical complaints.

By far the greatest number of questions I get is with respect to chronic skin and/or ear infection complaints.  While medications such as topical antibiotic/steroid creams and systemic cortisone and antibiotics are frequently prescribed, I find that many veterinarians fail to educate animal guardians and address underlying causes of these problems, which subsequently leads to increased patient suffering and client expense.

Flea bite allergies, inhalant/contact allergies and food allergies are potential underlying factors, and need to be addressed in order to control patient scratching and secondary infections.  If dietary trials and symptomatic medications don’t help, I will frequently offer referrals for blood or skin allergy testing with a veterinary dermatologist. With early diagnosis and treatment, long term expense and frustrating patient relapse can be avoided.

Second opinions should also be used with other relapsing or persistent clinical signs, including non-resolving lameness, chronic digestive symptoms, and respiratory symptoms.  Referrals to orthopedic specialists, internists, veterinary gastroenterologists and cardiologists may help with proper diagnosis and treatment.   With increasing incidence of cancer in pets, there are also more veterinary oncologists now available to help with long term management of these difficult cases as well.

If in doubt about your pet, there is never a wrong time for a second opinion.  Your animal companion’s health is certainly worth it.

Finding the Right Veterinarian

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There are many factors to consider when choosing the right veterinarian for your pet.

Finding the right veterinarian can indeed be a difficult task.  It is often best to start with word of mouth referrals from friends or relatives who have had positive experiences with a particular veterinarian.  I would then recommend visiting the veterinary facility to find out as much as is possible about the practice, both in terms of cleanliness and organization, as well as to interview the veterinary staff to find out about practice philosophy and patient care.

Some of the important issues to discuss include vaccination protocols, hospital services in terms of diagnostics, therapies and surgery, as well as if frequent referrals are needed for specialists.

Office hours, and after-hour emergency care is also important, should your animal companion get sick late at night, or on weekends or holidays.

It is preferable that there be separate waiting rooms for dogs and cats, and that the staff is friendly and that technicians and veterinarians are available to answer questions.  Location is important as well; if the veterinarian is too far away, that could present trouble during inclement weather and rush hour traffic.

The internet is an excellent source of information on veterinary doctors.  Many veterinarians now have websites that offer much detail regarding veterinary staff and practice philosophy.  It is even possible to read client reviews regarding the practice directly on the internet.  Probably the least important factor in finding the right veterinarian should be cost.  However, during this tough economic time, many animal guardians are balancing tight budgets with financial allocation toward pet health care.

Signs and Symptoms Pet Owners Should Not Ignore

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There are several diseases or conditions that owners should never second guess on their severity and always seek the advice and/or care of a veterinarian.  These include:

  • Conditions concerning the Digestive Tract
    Such conditions should not simply be managed by guardian home care a lone at least initially when they present. Concerning the digestive tract, if there is any possibility of foreign body or toxin ingestion by your pet, he or she should always be evaluated with an exam, possible lab work, and likely X-rays of the abdomen to make sure there has been no obstruction or metabolic compromise of the animal.
  • Paying close attention to your pet's normal behavior can help you determine whether or not any recent changes your pet may be experiencing could be related to an illness or disease
  • Bloat
    bloat of the stomach, is most common in large breed dogs. Any large breed dog with a history of nonproductive retching and/or frequent vomiting, severe restlessness and distention of the abdomen should always be evaluated by a veterinarian. Pets with frequent vomiting, abdominal pain, and/or a history of diagnosis of pancreatitis also need to be under the care or advice of a veterinarian.

  •   Signs of Incontinence or Blood in Urine
    For pets with a history of frequent attempts with little urination and/or drops of blood your pet should be evaluated immediately. For male cats, this is much more common and should be addressed to reduce the risk of infection and/or blockage.

  • Respiratory Issues
    Any pet with frequent coughing, and or respiratory distress also need to be evaluated by a veterinarian for conditions such as laryngeal paralysis, collapsing trachea, asthma, obstructive airway disease and/or heart disease.

  • Seizures
    While many pets may have only one seizure in their life and never have another one, other pets can develop chronic and/or serious seizure disorders or epilepsy that need medical assessment for proper diagnosis and treatment and to avoid complications.

  • Allergies
    Acute allergic reactions such as facial swelling or difficulty breathing also should be immediately evaluated by a veterinarian.

    Finally, while not an emergency, any pet who develops any new or hard skin lumps or tumors should have these lumps evaluated and/or aspirated by a veterinarian to make sure these  lumps are not malignant.   Other severe symptoms such as bleeding, severe skin bruising,  weakness/collapse, loss of appetite for many days, and pale cool gums should always be assessed by veterinary exam and evaluation.

  • PetMeds® Your Puppy’s or Kitten’s First Visit to the Vet

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    One of the most important veterinary visits for new puppy or kitten owners is the first exam given after adopting a new pet. Typically this exam is done approximately 6 to 8 weeks of age. Given how common intestinal parasites are in newborn puppies and kittens, it’s important to bring with you a stool sample for microscopic check of intestinal worms. Even if this stool sample is negative, many veterinarians will often prophylactically worm kittens or puppies with a broad acting wormer such as Strongid. Vaccination, pet food, and protection against fleas and heartworms are all common topics to discuss during your pet's first veterinarian visit

    A very important topic to discuss at this first veterinary visit is how often puppies and kittens should be vaccinated.  It is my opinion that most veterinarians over vaccinate puppies and kittens.  For dog owners,  parvo and distemper are the main viruses to vaccinate for, and these should be given at age 8, 12 and 16 weeks.  For cat owners, feline panleukopenia, feline calici and rhinotracheitis virus are the main viruses to vaccinate for with a similar schedule.  Rabies should be given at a separate veterinary visit at age 4 to 6 months. Many other vaccinations are either not needed or are not safe in my opinion.

    Other issues to discuss with your veterinarian should include what and how often to feed your puppy or kitten.  I stress all natural or minimally processed puppy and kitten foods such as those made by Halo, and Wellness brands. Puppies and kittens will also often be started on a parasite prevention control program, including topical flea and tick medication such as Frontline Plus and Advantage II, as well as oral monthly heartworm preventative medication (Sentinel or Heartgard).

    I usually recommend appropriate neutering and spaying, but this is best done at later ages.  Recent research has shown that waiting until puppies and kittens are sexually mature at age 10-12 months may have preventative health benefits later on in life.  Given that puppies or kittens sometimes don’t choose what time to get ill, it is important for animal guardians to discuss the availability of emergency veterinary services for their pets.

    Are you a new pet owner to a kitten or puppy? Do you have any tips to share with our readers on how to best transition your pet into his or her new home?