Pets’ Microchips Are Useless If You Can’t Be Located

August 15 is Check the Chip Day.  Is your pet microchipped?  When was the last time you updated your contact information with the microchip registry?  If your information isn’t accurate, your pets’ microchips won’t help you recover your pets.

Pet microchips work

It’s a heart-breaking scenario that unfolds far too often: a shelter recovers a lost pet, but they have no way to locate the owners.  Unless they happen to make it to the right shelter at the right time, the family may never see their pet again.

Microchips that contain the owner’s contact information can successfully reunite families with lost pets. Dogs with microchips are twice as likely to be returned to their families as those without microchips.  Cats with chips are about 20 times more likely to be returned to their families.  But pet parents must register the chips with the manufacturer and keep their information up to date.  Unfortunately, only about 6 in 10 families register pet microchips.

Register your pets’ microchips

When your veterinarian implants a chip into your pet, you need to register the chip with the manufacturer.  Some veterinarians may do this step for you, using your current contact information.  If not, you must use the chip number provided to you by the veterinarian to complete all information on the website.  Always ask your veterinarian what additional steps you need to take to ensure that your microchip is fully registered and up to date.

Shelters, rescue organizations, and veterinarians can search the registries from most microchip companies.  The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) maintains a database of microchip registries, called the Universal Microchip Lookup Tool.  As long as your contact information is correct, anyone with access to a chip reader can find you to return your pet.

Keep your pets’ microchips up to date

Check the Chip Day reminds us to keep contact information up to date with microchip manufacturers. Most of us don’t think about our pets’ microchips very often.  When we move house, updating that microchip information is probably the last thing on our minds.  Log in today and update your contact information.  It’s a simple step that could make all the difference if your pet is ever lost.

If you aren’t sure your pet is microchipped, or if you have lost the manufacturer’s information, make an appointment with your veterinarian today.

Infographic: Microchip Your Pet

 

 

 

 

 

Is Your Dog Done with Summer? Spice Things Up at a Dog Swim Party

At the end of a long, hot summer, a dog swim party may be just the thing to bring back the joy of life to your dog.  We have had a brief break from dangerous summer heat in Kansas City this week, but hot summer weather is sure to return.  Our dogs are bored with early morning and late evening walks, and they’re ready for some serious day time play time.  Lucky for them, dog swim party season is just around the corner.

Dog swim parties are a growing trend

A growing number of municipalities across the US are opening public pools to canine guests after the last human swimmers have toweled off and flip-flopped out of the park.  And why not?  Thousands of gallons of water will go straight down the drain at the end of the season.  This water can be used one final time for family fun when the pool is opened to dogs.  Cities use the proceeds  to fund dog park improvements, rescue organizations, and more.

dog swim party, dog pool, kiddie pool, water slides, frisbee
Friends with a frisbee.

Dog swim party basics

  1. Bring a friend.  There’s something about water that brings dog joy bubbling to the surface.  You will want to share the experience.  If you don’t have a dog, you may want to go just to watch.  Dog swim parties are that good.
  2. Stay out of the water.  Most public pools that host a dog party ask humans to stay out of the pool.  The hosts permit wading up to the knees but discourage swimming with the dogs.  These parties are popular and the pool will be quite crowded with rowdy dogs.   Parks host these parties after the regular season.  Park staff do not test and re-treat the water to appropriate levels for human swimmers.  For this reason, disease-causing agents may not be eliminated from the water.
  3. Pay careful attention on the pool decks. Dogs don’t know that the pool area isn’t a dog park.  They will run wild on the pool decks.  Slippery surfaces plus running dogs make a dangerous situation.  Always watch out for the dogs, because they won’t always watch out for you.  Consider leaving small children at home.
  4. Keep your belongings on tables.  At one pool party last year, we saw dogs urinate on at least three different backpacks.
  5. Practice good swim safety with your dog. Watch your dog at all times. In a large pool filled with dogs, you may find it difficult to keep track of your dog’s location.  Dogs may not be able to exit the pool in deeper areas.  Be especially vigilant if your dog is swimming in water over her head.  Like small children, dogs can panic in the water, and they may not alert you to their distress.  Use a life vest if your dog is not a strong swimmer.
dog swim party, dipping dogs, life vest, life jacket, labrador retriever, dog swim, pool
Use a life vest if your dog is not a strong swimmer.

Where to find a dog swim party

Contact your local parks and recreation to find a dog swim party near you.  These events are upcoming in the Kansas City Metro area:

Tails on the Trails Pet Festival and Dog Swim, Lenexa

Dippin Dog Swim Party at the Springs

Dippin Dog Swim Party at the Bay

This Smart Litter Box Monitors Your Cat’s Health

Imagine a litter box that monitors your cat’s health and reports issues directly to your cell phone.  A new smart litter box in Japan will do just that.

The Smart Litter Box Technology

Cats are prone to many health issues as they age. Many common feline health conditions can be detected through evaluation of changes in weight and urination.  Unfortunately, cat owners often miss subtle changes in weight and the amount of urine their cat produces over time.  Cats often do not get regular veterinary examinations that could detect problems in the early stages.

A new smart litter box from the Sharp company in Japan will help pet parents monitor their cat’s health.  This box includes detectors and software that will monitor a cat’s weight, the amount she urinates, and the length of time she spends in the litter box.  When the system detects an abnormal change, it notifies the owner’s smart phone directly.

Multiple cats?  No problem.  The box comes with optional sensors that will detect individual cats in a multi-at household.

Why are we excited about this technology?

  1. Cat obesity: Weight gain in cats, just like in people, usually occurs slowly.  Pet parents are notoriously unreliable at recognizing weight gain and obesity in their pets.  This technology will provide consistent and objective evaluation of a cat’s weight over time.  An owner who receives an alert is more likely to take action and have their cat examined by a veterinarian. If the company has thought this through, the box will monitor improvement over time, too. Owners could use this to help evaluate the effectiveness of a diet plan for their cat.
  2. Diabetes: Changes in weight and increased urine volume are indicators of diabetes mellitus.  Cat parents may not recognize increased amounts of urine in the box, unless they are paying careful attention to the litter balls.  A tool to alert owners when their cat is urinating more frequently and with a higher volume could revolutionize the early diagnosis of diabetes in cats.   If diabetes is diagnosed early, cats have a higher chance to go into remission when treated.
  3. Kidney disease:  Kidney disease is common in aging cats.  Increases or decreases in frequency or volume of urination may signal the onset of kidney problems.  Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial to managing the progression of kidney disease.
  4. Urinary blockages: Spending a lot of time in the litter box can signal that a cat is having difficulty urinating.  Bladder infections or blockages due to bladder stones can cause this problem.  Cat parents can easily miss this sign, unless they are carefully monitoring the litter box.
  5. Hyperthyroidism: This common problem in middle-aged to older cats can cause them to drink and urinate more.

These are just the most common problems that this smart litter box could help detect.  Alerts to changes in urination and weight will encourage owners to take their cat to a veterinarian for diagnosis.

How much does the box cost?

The box is rolling out at a cost of about $224 US.  The monitoring app will cost an additional $3.00 US each month.

Will the box be available in the US?

Before you get excited, this smart litter box will be rolled out only in Japan at first.  Hopefully the Sharp company will bring this technology to the US market in the near future.  We hope this box will eventually be used with smart litter to detect things like sugar in the urine (glucosuria), an indicator of diabetes.

Help or Hype? Does Your Dog Need Paw Balm?

Does your dog need paw balm?

I see a lot of people pushing paw balm (butter) in all seasons.  My own philosophy of dog skin care is that less is more.  That is, I need to know that a product is truly beneficial before I use it.  Does your dog need paw balm?  Does paw balm help or is it so much hype?

Paw protection in the winter

The most convincing use of paw balm is as a protectant for your dog’s paws in the winter during freezing weather.  In this case, using a wax of some type in the formulation truly seems to provide protection against paw cracking.  The wax also forms a barrier that minimizes contact with de-icers.  These salts can injure your dog’s paw pads.  Anecdotally, mushers and those with working dogs use paw protectants religiously during the winter.

Paw protection in the summer

There is little evidence that paw balm provides useful protection to your dog’s feet during hot summer months.  Keeping your dog off the concrete and asphalt during the hottest parts of the day is a much more effective way to prevent pad burns.  And for those time when you simply must get out during very hot weather, boots may be a better option.

Function over form

Using paw butter to soften your dog’s paw pads may be counterproductive, winter or summer.  Your dog’s pads need to be tough enough to withstand normal wear and tear. That means walking on gravel and occasional sharp objects, as well as hot and cold surfaces.  And to stand up to all that, your dog’s pads need to be tougher than the bottoms of your own feet. It is natural for your dog’s paw pads to feel a little rough.

Think about the last time you went swimming and had to walk across gravel.  Unless you go barefoot frequently, it probably felt excruciating.  People generally work hard to keep the protective callouses off the bottom of their feet.  We get away with this because we wear shoes that protect our feet.  Dogs do not wear shoes consistently (and they shouldn’t except when weather conditions are extreme).

If your dog develops deeper cracks, it may be appropriate to use a healing lotion and a protectant to prevent further damage.  If your dog develops cracked pads, you should also consider making a visit to your veterinarian.  Changes in your dog’s skin may indicate underlying health problems.  Unless your dog has unhealthy cracking in the pads, do not apply moisturizing lotions.  Avoid any lotion that leads to skin softening.  It is a mistake to apply human cosmetic standards to dogs.

A word about safety

Did you know that pet cosmetic products are not regulated by the FDA?  These types of products are considered to be grooming aids.  As such, unless they claim to treat a disease or condition, they are not subject to rigorous testing for either efficacy or safety.  Most companies that make and sell these products are ethical and believe in their products.  But belief is not evidence.  Until a controlled study is published demonstrating that routine use of paw moisturizers leads to better paw health, I will remain skeptical about the hype.

 

Your Cat Keeps Secrets: Subtle Signs of Illness in Cats

Cats are notoriously enigmatic creatures.  Like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland , your cat keeps secrets.  She may not show pain or other signs that she is sick. That’s why subtle signs of illness in cats require prompt veterinary attention.

Your cat keeps secrets

Cats retain many of their species’ undomesticated behavioral characteristics.  In the wild, all but the largest cats are both predator and prey.   It’s important for animals that are being hunted as prey to hide their weaknesses.  Consequently, cats have become masters of misdirection.

Veterinary professionals struggle to define the signs of pain in cats consistenly.  A validated method to score pain, for instance, is useful in assessing recovery from painful procedures or illness.  Cats’ tendency to mask their pain and demonstrate only very subtle behavioral changes makes reliable detection and grading of pain difficult at best.

A large survey of feline medical specialists evaluated 91 signs of pain.  Participants answered questions about the reliability of these indicators of pain to accurately detect real pain in cats.  The participants narrowed these signs down to only 22.  You can find the full list in the article, which is available as a free full text in PubMed. 1

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Signs of illness in cats require prompt attention

Because cats hide pain and other evidence of ill health, any unusual signs you observe are probably just the tip of the iceberg.  As a cat owner, you should take any and all behavioral changes in your cat seriously.  Here are some easily overlooked clinical signs along with their potential significance.  This is not meant to be an inclusive list, so be sure to ask your veterinarian about any unusual signs in your cat.

  1. Eating less/not eating:  Cats need to eat regular meals.  Cats that stop eating, especially if they’re fat, can develop liver disease.  If you haven’t been able to get your cat to eat for 24 hours, talk to your veterinarian.  Decreased appetite in cats may be a sign of gastrointestinal disease, but may also be a sign of generalized disease and poor health.
  2. Eating more: If your cat suddenly develops a voracious appetite, he may have an endocrine disease such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism.  You should be especially concerned if your cat eats more but does not gain, or even loses, weight.
  3. Increased urination:  Although you might not directly observe your cat using the litterbox more frequently, chances are you will notice increased litter clumping or odor in the box.  You may find yourself changing the litter more frequently.  This can be a sign of diabetes, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, or other problem.
  4. Decreased urination: Especially with a male cat, decreased urination could be a sign of developing urinary blockage.  If your cat stops urinating, this is a medical emergency.  Your cat may exhibit signs of pain or distress when attempting to urinate.
  5. Urination outside the litter box:  Urinary pain may cause your cat to avoid the litterbox.  The joint pain of arthritis may also be associated with inappropriate urination outside the box.  If it’s painful to enter the box, your cat will be reluctant to use it.  If your cat has consistently used the litter box but begins to have accidents in the house, consult your veterinarian.
  6. Increased activity level:  If your laid-back and lazy cat turns into a dynamo in constant motion, you should be suspicious of an underlying problem.  Hyperthyroidism is common in cats and can cause increased activity.
  7. Decreased activity level:  A noticeable decrease in your cat’s activity may also be a sign that your cat needs a check-up.  Arthritis can lead to decreased activity as can systemic disease.
  8. Change in vocalization:  If you notice that your cat is calling out more, or less, or has a change in her voice, it’s time for a check-up.  Changes in the frequency and intensity of vocalization may be a sign of pain or underlying disease.  Changes in tone can be due to respiratory problems, polyps, hyperthryoidism, or other illness.
  9. Ear scratching or head shaking may be a sign of infection or ear mites.
  10. Changes in coat quality: If your cat is not grooming herself, it may be because of pain or illness.  Arthritis may make grooming more difficult for cats.  Disease can sap energy and lead to decreased grooming.  Any time you notice a change in your cat’s coat, you should suspect a problem.
  11. Weight loss or loss of muscle:  If you cat is getting thinner or if you notice that the muscles feel smaller, this may be a sign of a number of systemic diseases including diabetes, hyperthyroidism, renal disease, gastrointestinal disease, and others.  These signs may develop so gradually that you may not notice the change over time.

A case study

My favorite cat, Boogey, was not doing well.  His parents hadn’t noticed anything specific, but he wasn’t as energetic as usual and just looked a little scruffy to them. He was free fed, but his owners didn’t note an increase or decrease in the amount he was eating.  He may or may not have been using his litterbox more.

Although his signs were mild and non-specific, his parents decided to have him checked out.  Sure enough, bloodwork showed that he had developed diabetes.  Once he was treated with insulin, his parents observed marked improvement in his coat condition, but also in his body condition.  They hadn’t noticed that he was gradually losing muscle tone.  Even though his diet was restricted, he was able to put on weight once his disease was treated.

Boogey’s story demonstrates that a cat can be seriously ill but show only mild signs.  He had a good outcome, but if his parents hadn’t taken him in to see the veterinarian, the story might have ended in tragedy.  Subtle signs of illness in cats require prompt medical attention.

1 Merola, I. and Mills, D., Behavioural Signs of Pain in Cats, an Expert Consensus, PLoS One, 2016, 11(2).

Photo credit: Unsplash