Monday, September 26, 2016

Hello Autumn!

Autumn is finally here!

Many of us welcome the changing leaf colors, cooler temperatures, and pumpkin-flavored, well, everything. It is a sign that the fall season is finally here! However, there are a few hazards pet owners should keep in mind:

Ticks: Although tick populations tend to dwindle over the summer months, they will often crop up again during the fall. Ticks like to live in long grass and wooded areas. Use a comb to check your animal for ticks every time he goes outside, and don't skimp on the preventative just because the weather is getting cooler. Deer ticks are still out there and can spread Lyme disease, which can be just as much of a danger to you as it is for your pet. We recommend continuing to use flea/tick preventative throughout the fall and, ideally, year-round.

Temperature: Fall is an interesting time for pet care. Depending on where you live, you may have to worry about everything from heatstroke to frostbite (although hopefully not back-to-back!). In general, make sure that your pet has plenty of access to water both outside and inside throughout the fall season so he can regulate his intake as needed. Just because the weather might have gotten cooler, it does not mean that your pet has a decreased need for proper hydration.

Halloween: Everyone loves a pet in costume! But be sure to keep your pet's fun and safety in mind. Some costumes can impair your pet's motion or hearing, and others have small pieces that could be choking hazards. After trick-or-treating, make sure that candy is stored out of your pet's reach, perhaps into a cabinet. Candy smells and tastes delicious! But it can be very dangerous for pets.

Grooming: Many pets will shed their summer coats at the beginning of fall. Regular brushing for those with long hair will prevent serious matting, and pets with shorter hair will appreciate a good brushing to help remove remaining summer hair. If you cannot commit to regular coat care, talk to your veterinarian or groomer about clipping or shaving options that are appropriate for the weather.

Mushrooms and seasonal plants: Fall is mushroom and mum season, both of which can be toxic! Luckily, most mushrooms have little or no toxicity. However, some mushrooms can present life threatening problems, and it is often difficult for an untrained eye to pick out which is which. Mums also may appear benign, but they can cause stumbling, skin inflammation, increased salivation, vomiting, and diarrhea if ingested. The best way to prevent ingestion of potentially dangerous plants is to keep pets well away from any mushrooms or mums. If you think that your pet has eaten a mushroom or a mum plant, call your veterinarian or animal poison control for advice. 

Watch out for Wildlife: Autumn is the season when snakes and other animals prepare for hibernation. This can increase the possibility of bites to your pets. Although there are no native venomous snakes in Rhode Island, timber rattlers and copperheads can still be found in nearby Connecticut and Massachusetts. And it’s not only snakes that you need to be aware of. Mice, rats, and other creatures may startle more easily as they are trying to bed down for the winter. As always, it never hurts to call your veterinarian if you have any concerns about a potential bite.

School Supplies: Remind your children to be careful with their supplies! Items like glue sticks, pencils, and magic markers are generally considered to have low toxicity, but pets may mistake them for chew tows and they can cause gastrointestinal upset and blockages if ingested.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Fire Safety

Home fires happen more often than we'd like to admit. Do you know what do to with your pet if there was a fire in your home? Here are some great tips to keep your entire family - including your beloved four-legged members - safe from fires:

1. Always make sure you have a “pet alert window cling” in your window. This should be located in a window in the front of your house. The “pet alert window cling” will help rescuers know what kind of animal they are looking for and will make it easier to locate your pet. Ask your local fire department for a window cling, or get a free one by filling out this form on the ASPCA website.

2. Consider using monitored smoke detectors in your home. These smoke alarms connect to a monitoring center and allow emergency responders to be contacted even when you are not home, providing an added protection to your pets than a battery operated smoke alarm.

3. Make sure your pets are away from potential fire starting hazards when you are away from home. For example you can use crates or even a baby gate and keep them in secure areas. You should also place your pets near a door so if anything were to happen they can be easily reached.

4. Ideally, you should remove stove knobs because pets can accidentally turn them on while jumping up. Also, remember to blow out any candles before you leave your home. Pets don’t mean to, but they can easily knock over a candle and start a fire.

5. If you are trying to escape a house fire, remember to leave your door open. That way, your animals can find their way out of the house if you are unable to get to them during an emergency.

6. Never use glass water or food bowls on a wooden deck. The glass will magnify the sun's rays and can cause a fire on wooden surfaces.

7. If you have a puppy or a pet that likes to chew on wires, make sure when you leave either block off the pet from that area or fix the wires so they cannot reach them.

8. Try to put your pet’s collar on or near the door knob so if emergency services come in, they will know that an animal is living in the house.

9. Always place a metal or tempered glass screen in front of any fireplace to keep pets away from open flames.

10. Know your animals' favorite hideaways when they panic or when they are scared. Your pets may go to these spots if there is ever a fire.

11. Try to keep a go-bag near the door for emergencies containing items like leashes, food, and other emergency supplies. This bag should be hung up right beside your door so it could be grabbed easily.

With an estimated 500,000 pets affected in home fires each year, it’s very important that pet owners and family members keep these tips in mind and have an emergency plan in place...just in case. Fires are very scary, but you can make a difference starting in your home :)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Feline House Soiling Behaviors

72% of cats surrendered to animal shelters are euthanized.
Many of are surrendered because of house-soiling issues. 
Feline house-soiling and marking behaviors are some of the most common complaints of modern cat owners. In fact, 66% of owners feel their cats are soiling out of spite. The reasons why a cat may choose to not use the litter box are numerous, which makes tackling the issue seem daunting, but the solution is out there! 

Here are the steps your vet will take to help pinpoint and solve the issue:
AAFP and ISFM Guidelines for Diagnosing and Solving House-Soiling Behavior in Cats
  1. Take a Patient history. By getting the full history and a timeline of when the issue started we can begin to determine whether there is a medical or behavioral basis for the behavior. We will ask you questions like when the soiling started, where the accidents are occurring, how often it happens, if your cat is using the litter box at all, and if anything changed in your household dynamics or habits.  Noting the ratio between cats and litterboxes, where litterboxes are kept, and where the house-soiling occurs is also helpful. 
  2. Thorough physical exam to look for medical causes.
  3.  Additional testing or procedures based on history and exam findings.  Your vet will likely run tests to rule out common medical causes for these behaviors, such as kidney disease, urinary tract infections, and arthritis.
  4. Make a Diagnosis. If any abnormalities show up in the labwork, those will be considered first as potential causes. If everything medically checks out, however, a diagnosis of marking behavior can be made.  Cats may mark for various reasons including anxiety, stress, or simply feeling the need to make a “calling card” for other cats.  At this point we consider household interactions and other cats along with any changes in litter boxes or litter, which can cause problems.
  5. Treatment - Treatment involves addressing the underlying medical issues as well as tackling the behavioral component. One major consideration is determining your cat's optimal litter box scenario (number, location, size, covered/open, litter, how often the box is cleaned).  According to the AAFP there are five pillars of a healthy feline environment: (1) a safe hideaway place; (2) separate environments for resources (i.e. food,water, play, rest); (3) opportunity for play and predatory behavior; (4) positive and consistent human-cat social interaction; and (5) an environment that respects the importance of the cat’s sense of smell.  Your veterinarian may suggest some of the following: synthetic pheromones, removing negative triggers, using positive reinforcement, or adding medications/nutraceuticals.  It is important to make sure the number of litter boxes is appropriate as well, and that access to the litter box is safe (providing both visual security and separation from other cats).  It is also important to clean any marked areas frequently and thoroughly to discourage remarking.
  6. Follow-up - Make sure that the treatment plan is appropriate with regular followup and reevaluation for progress. 
  7. Monitor treatment plan and adjust as needed. Sometimes plans have to be altered several times to find the best solution for everyone involved. If all of the above options fail, direct rehoming may be considered (rather than a shelter).

By working with your vet and going through a process of elimination (no pun intended!), it is possible to discover why your cat is acting inappropriately and fix the issue before rehoming becomes a serious consideration. 

For more information visit PetsMatter blog

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Lumps and Bumps

Dogs and cats can develop lumps and bumps any time during their lives. Sometimes they are noticed by a groomer, a veterinarian during an exam, or by you when you are petting them. If you notice any new lump on your pet, it is important to have them examined by your veterinarian.

Your veterinarian will examine your entire pet and then evaluate the mass as best as they can.  They take into account things like location, shape, size, duration and color, and these can help provide clues as to the type of mass it may be.

The next step is to examine the mass further using a fine needle aspirate. This is an easy and minimally invasive way to get more information about the mass.  Cells are placed on a slide and stained so they can be examined under a microscope by a pathologist.  Aspirates generally do not require anesthesia or sedation. Since some masses do not release their cells as well, however, a sedated biopsy may be required so your vet can obtain a better sample.

Many masses turn out to be benign, but even benign masses can cause sores or interfere with motion if they get too large. In these cases, surgical removal is often recommended so your pet becomes more comfortable. There are also masses that are malignant. These are much more concerning and require surgical removal or, in some cases, chemotherapy and radiation. Malignant tumors often grow fast and can occur in any pet, regardless of age or overall health, so it is best to get all lumps checked as soon as you find them.

Veterinary medicine has come a long way when it comes to dealing with masses. Both benign and malignant masses can be surgically removed. Both NorthPaws and WestPaws are capable of removing nearly all masses. If a mass is in a particularly difficult or delicate position, we have a surgical specialist who travels to our hospital for these special cases. For cancerous masses, a veterinary oncologist can help you determine whether surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of these is best for your furry family member.

Sometimes your veterinarian will recommend that you monitor a mass at home. By keeping a log of the location, relative size, and appearance of any masses, and alerting your vet to any changes, you and your vet can keep tabs on any masses and more easily develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Top Poisons of 2015

Top 10 Poisons Affecting Dogs and Cats

As reported by Dr. Justine Lee (Animal Safety, Blog, Pet Health) and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center

Some of the most common pet poisons may surprise you! Here's a quick list of the top ten culprits of 2015 according to the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). You can find more information on all of these, as well as over 275 additional toxins, by visiting the APCC website at
    1. Over-the-counter medications
    For the first time ever, over-the-counter medication topped the APCC list with more than 28,500 cases! That's nearly 16% of all APCC calls. There are over 7,000 different products in this category, including many herbal and other natural supplements. 
     2. Human prescription medications
    Previously the number one pet poison, prescription human medications fell to the second spot on the list last year. Not surprisingly, the prescriptions that were most commonly ingested by pets correlates strongly with the most popular medications prescribed to humans.
    3. Insecticides
    Insect poisons accounted for nearly 9 percent of the calls to APCC (more than 15,000 cases) and come in at 3rd on the list. Although generally these products have relatively low toxicity to pets when used correctly, they can be very dangerous if label directions are not carefully followed.

    4. Human foods
    There are a number of seemingly harmless human foods that can be quite toxic to pets. Some of the biggest culprits include onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, alcohol, and xylitol, a sugar substitute that can be life-threatening for animals. Since dogs tend to ingest human foods much more often than cats, they are often the most commonly afflicted with human food toxicity.

    5. Household items
    Products found around the home made up more than 14,000 APCC cases in 2015. The most common items for this category include cleaning products, fire logs, and paint.
    6. Veterinary medications 
    Overdoses of veterinary medications - especially the chewable kind, which taste especially good - made up nearly 7 percent of all APCC cases in 2015.
    7. Chocolate
    Chocolate continues be very dangerous for pets, averaging over 30 cases a day according to calls made to the APCC. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it can be, especially for smaller dogs and cats.
    8. Plants
    Indoor and outdoor plants represented nearly 5 percent of the calls to the APCC in 2015. Most of these calls involve cats and houseplants, such as lilies or philodendron. Be sure to understand the toxicity of plants before putting them in or around your house.
    9. Rodenticides
    Rodent poisons can be just as toxic to pets as they are to the mice and rats these products are designed to kill. Last year, the APCC handled more than 8,100 cases involving rodenticides.
    10. Lawn and garden products.
    These products, which include herbicides and fungicides, round out the top ten with about 3 percent of all APCC calls. It’s incredibly important to store lawn and garden products out of the reach of pets.

    If you think your pet may have ingested something toxic, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA 24-hr poison control hotline (1-888-426-4435) right away.

    Monday, November 30, 2015


    Diabetes in dogs is caused by either a lack of the hormone insulin or an inadequate response to insulin.  When a dog does not produce insulin or cannot utilize it normally,  the blood sugar levels elevate. This results in an elevated blood glucose level - hyperglycemia - which can then produce many problems with the body.  It is important to know that diabetes is a manageable condition and that many diabetics live a long and happy life.  

    Most dogs get Type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreas is no longer able to produce enough insulin.  These dogs require insulin therapy. Some breeds of dogs are more prone to diabetes or are at greater risk of developing it.  These breeds include Australian Terriers, Standard and Miniature Schnauzers, Dachshunds, Poodles, Keeshonds, and Samoyeds.

    Diabetic dog
    Most common symptoms of diabetes in dogs:
    • Change in appetite
    • Excessive thirst/increase in water consumption
    • Weight loss
    • Increased urination
    • Unusually sweet-smelling or fruity breath
    • Lethargy
    • Dehydration
    • Urinary tract infections
    • Vomiting
    • Cataract formation, blindness
    To diagnose diabetes, usually a history, physical exam, bloodwork and urinalysis will be performed by your veterinarian.
    Diabetes is treated by addressing any complicating symptoms along with adding insulin therapy.  Some dogs are very ill when first diagnosed and can require hospitalization to start regulating their blood sugar.  Dogs that are more stable will be started on insulin therapy and a proper diet to help prevent glucose spikes.  

    Although insulin injections seem very scary at first to some owners, once you have had a diabetic consult and you see how easy it can be to administer insulin, most owners are quite comfortable giving the injections.  Your veterinarian will also go over ways you can monitor glucose and ketone levels in the urine.  Sometimes you can be shown how to perform blood glucose testing at home.  

    During treatment it is important to try to keep your dog's blood sugar at a constant level throughout the day. The means making sure your dog will get insulin at the same time each day along with regular meals, maintaining a regular exercise program, and keeping the amount of food and treats very consistent in order to avoid spikes or dips in blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels are directly related to the food that is consumed.  

    At some point after initial diagnosis, you will need to set up a time to have your dog reexamined by your veterinarian and have a blood glucose curve performed to monitor how therapy is going.  This test will help your veterinarian determine if any adjustments need to be made to the amount of insulin your dog receives.  

    If your dog is showing any of the signs discussed above or if you have questions about diabetes, you should consult your veterinarian. Diabetes that is left untreated can lead to cataracts, urinary tract problem, or other serious issues including death.  When caught and treated early, however, diabetic dogs can lead healthy and full lives!

    Monday, November 9, 2015

    Separation Anxiety

    One of the most common behavioral complaints we receive is a dog that barks incessantly when the owners are away or is destructive when left alone. These dogs may urinate, defected, bark, howl, chew, dig, or even try to go through glass to escape and get to their owners! This can cause not only destruction to the house but sometimes injury to the pet as well.  

    Many times, the reason behind this behavior is separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is triggered when a dog recognizes cues that an owner is getting ready to leave for a period of time, and the dog subsequently becomes increasingly more upset about being left alone. Resolving the anxiety involves teaching the dog to tolerate being left home alone as well as slowly reconditioning him to the idea that fear and anxiety does not need to be present and that being alone can be ok.

    Common symptoms of separation anxiety:
    • urinating or defecating while you are away, especially in a dog that has been completely housebroken
    • persistent barking or howling
    • destructive behavior to furniture, door frames, window sills, or dog crates 
    • constant pacing and drooling along a specific path
    While this is not a compete list, these are the most common signs, and they can occur in any combination. These behaviors may result in self injury, including broken teeth, cut pads, or other abrasions as a dog attempts to escape his perceived confinement and get back to his owners.  

    Why does a dog have separation anxiety?
    No one has yet identified exactly why certain dogs develop this condition and others do not. Separation anxiety is most common in situations where a dog has been shifted between several homes, there is a loss of someone very important to the dog, there are changes to the family schedule (especially when the dog is used to having people home and then they are gone for long hours), the family moves to a new house or neighborhood, or there are changes in the number of people living in the household.  

    What to do if you think your dog has separation anxiety
    First have your dog examined by a veterinarian to rule out any potential medical causes for the behaviors. Urinary tract infections, diabetes, kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, and neurologic problems, among others, can cause similar signs and symptoms. Often bloodwork will be done to rule out some of the medical conditions as well as access whether the body is well enough to handle anti-anxiety medications if they are needed.  

    Treatment for separation anxiety always involves desensitization and counter-conditioning.

    Desensitizing involves teaching your dog to get used to certain "leaving" cues, such as jingling your keys or putting on your shoes, without you actually leaving the house. Once the dog learns that these cues aren't tied to anything negative, the cues are reset to a neutral status that doesn't elicit an anxious response.

    Counter-conditioning takes retraining to the next level by teaching your dog to associate your departure with a positive experience.  In more mild cases, you can counter-condition your dog to associate your leaving with the receipt of a favorite toy or a treat-stuffed KONG.  This can provide distraction as well as a pleasurable experience for your dog while you are away.

    With any reconditioning, it is important to gradually expose your dog to the initial cues that you will be leaving (i.e. putting on your shoes) without actually leaving the house. Then, over time, you can progress through the cycle of your departure, perhaps picking up your keys or coat, to the point where you can walk out the door and back in again without your dog reacting in a negative manner.  Finally, start increasing the amount of time that you are gone from the house.

    Consulting your veterinarian or a board-certified behaviorist (a veterinarian who specializes in behavior) can be extremely helpful in initially establishing a successful program for desensitization and counter-conditioning. Any program requires a large amount of time and commitment. The key is going slow to reteach your dog that being left alone is not upsetting.

    Additional Tactics
    Some dogs have difficulties responding to just counter-conditioning alone. They may require adjustments to your schedule, such as getting a pet sitter to come visit or taking your dog to doggie daycare, to help in the process. Additionally, you want to make sure these dogs are getting plenty of exercise and are given jobs or enriching toys to help keep their mind active. 

    At some point, medications may be of benefit. While they are not always required life long, medications can help aid in desensitization and positive reconditioning. It may take several tries to find the right medication or dose, as each dog is unique. Sometimes, you can wean your dog off medication once he become more comfortable.

    Sticking with it
    Separation anxiety is not only difficult on your dog, it is also difficult on you! Don’t give up! Just keep trying, and be patient. It can take a great deal of repetition to convince your dog that their fear can go away.  Sometimes it takes some extra creativity. At the end of the day, remember that the separation anxiety stems from how much your dog loves you and how upset they are when you leave. Your dog means no harm, and they only want to be with you.

    In conclusion:
    Dogs are some of our most loyal and loving companions. My first Labrador, before Shelby, developed separation anxiety after our Yorkie was let out of our yard and ran away. Even a year later, after he was returned, my Lab was never the same.  I went through everything with him, from behavior clinics to medications and counter-conditioning. Although it helped a bit, I had to accept that leaving him alone would no longer be an option. He could not be crated or alone without hurting himself, so instead he went to daycare everyday.

    All I can tell you is that he was the best friend I could have ever asked for.  Despite this extreme disability to both our lives, he has left Shelby some pretty big shoes to fill. These dogs are full of love, but they sometimes need extreme understanding. Be patient and love them…..they are worth it!!!