Taking your cat to the vet doesn’t have to be a stress-filled rodeo event. Really.

Recently we dedicated a staff meeting to the discussion of low stress handling of feline patients. Our goal is to deliver medical care to our furry friends with the least amount of stress as possible…in a fashion that promotes safety for cats and for people.

It is well known in veterinary medicine, that in comparison to dogs, cats are not given the medical care that they deserve.  There are many reasons that cats are not presented to veterinarians for care, but one of the biggest reasons is the stress involved for the cats (which, of course, translates into stress for the people who love them).  Whether it is trying to “catch the cat”, the meowing in the car during transit, or the cat’s reaction to being handled at the animal hospital, we know that feline check-ups are no fun for anyone!

It really is important for cats to get an exam once a year.  Cats are masters of disguising illness and pain.  Regular exams can help us to prevent problems before they become difficult to treat or manage.

There are ways to make veterinary visits easier for cats.  Here are some ideas:

  • At home. Cats are very leery of changes to their environment. All cat owners know that getting out the cat carrier usually results in the cats running away and hiding under furniture.  Imagine being a cat and associating the carrier with being caught, pushed inside, driven in a car, and brought to the vet.  Often when not feeling well…  This scenario can change to be more feline-friendly by just getting the carrier out of storage several days or weeks prior to a veterinary visit.  The carrier can be left out with the door open and an inviting blanket or bed inside.  Treats and food can be placed into the carrier and the cat can go in and out at-will.  With this method, the carrier becomes associated with normalcy and good things, so it isn’t the scary trap that most cats think it is.
  • The car ride. It is true that many cats vocalize in the car. They often don’t travel much and when they do, it is likely for stress-inducing reasons.  You can help to make the car ride a little less frightening for your cat by placing a light sheet or blanket over the carrier and securing the carrier on the car seat so that it does not slide around.  Sprays like Feliway or Pet Remedy applied to the sheet can be helpful in producing calming sensations for the cats.
  • Visiting us. Walking into a veterinary hospital can be a sensory overloading event for cats. They are out of their safe and normal environment, there are smells of other cats and dogs and people, and there are often barking dogs to be heard somewhere.  You can help your cat to feel safer at the hospital by putting his or her carrier down in the kitty waiting area (away from dogs) and keeping the light sheet over the carrier.  If your carrier isn’t too big, placing it on a chair can be helpful for your cat because cats feel more in control when they are at a height.

Once in the exam room, remove the cover from the carrier and open the door with the carrier on the floor.   Your cat can walk out on his or her own while you discuss your concerns with a technician.

We love taking care of cats.  They are hilarious and fierce and loving creatures.   Being “indoors only” doesn’t mean that they do not need medical care.  Having a healthy cat is so much more than just getting “shots”.  If you have anxiety about bringing your cat in for care, feel free to give us a call and one of our staff members can talk with you about the best way to help your kitty get the healthcare that she deserves.

Hospice

We can choose a good end of life for our veterinary patients…

Frank: 13 years old, 10 months after cancer diagnosis. Enjoying warm rocks at cold New Hampshire river.

I have always been interested in end-of-life care for my patients. A good death and a good end to life is the greatest gift that we can give our canine and feline family. Veterinary medicine has the unique ability to provide relief from pain and suffering when there is no hope that meaningful life can continue. And in that space between diagnosis of a terminal condition and the end of life, we can provide our pets with medical and comfort care that will allow them to feel like themselves for as long as possible.
None of this became so real to me as when my dog Frank was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I have helped my other dogs to a dignified and comfortable end over the years, but none of them had the opportunity to live a significant amount of time with their terminal health conditions.
With Frank, it is different. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer, a diagnosis I don’t frequently see in my patients and a diagnosis that has minimal to no chance of cure. We can only hope to provide patients with a good quality of life for as long as possible. Given that he was diagnosed with a terminal condition at 12 years old, I decided to provide palliative and hospice care to Frank for as long as he was feeling good and living his life the way he had before his diagnosis. The things that make him the dog I have known for the past 12 years are the things that I needed to protect and assess each day and each week to make sure that he is still living a comfortable and meaningful life.
With daily medication to help slow the cancer down and alleviate pain, as well as anti-nausea and gastrointestinal protectant medications, hospice has been an excellent experience for Frank and for our family. There are occasional days when he doesn’t feel well, but the vast majority of his days are similar to the way they were before he was diagnosed with cancer.
By paying close attention to pain management, nausea control, nutrition, anxiety relief, and day-to-day routine, our veterinary patients can have a good life with a terminal condition. Death is inevitable and one of the most important times in any patient’s life, and we, as the human guardians of our pets, have the unique ability to help them to have happy and comfortable final days, weeks, and months. We also have the unique ability to decide that it is time for our furry family to pass. One of the most wonderful things about animals is that they live in the moment and do not think about their tomorrows. Because of this, saying good-bye before our pets begin to suffer does not mean we have cheated them of time or of more living. It means that we are giving them the gift of living every moment they can up until their health condition causes them to suffer.
We don’t know how much time we have left with Frank…in fact, he has lived far longer than I would ever have thought. I am so thankful for the time we have with him, and I am so thankful that he has taught me how good hospice can be for our veterinary patients. Please enjoy this short video of Frank living his life with cancer and a good hospice plan.

Kennel Cough

We’ve recently been experiencing a little uptick in the number of canine patients with kennel cough. This is a relatively benign cough, but it’s a major nuisance for the dog and its people.

“Kennel cough” is actually a catch-all term for any infectious cough that dogs get. Many organisms are known to cause it, ranging from viruses to bacteria. The affected dog has a cough that typically sounds like something is caught in his throat, and this cough usually ends with the dog gagging.  The dog usually feels fine and has good energy levels and appetite, but just suffers from this highly annoying cough. And the owners may be kept up at night listening to this cough!

Since this is spread from one dog to another when an infected dog coughs or sneezes on a susceptible dog, kennels are ideal environments for transmission. Of course, wherever dogs meet up with each other, kennel cough can be spread. While we see cases all year round from dogs that have boarded at kennels or spent time in daycare centers, many of our recent cases have come from dogs that play in the area’s dog parks. Less frequently, dogs can pick up kennel cough at the groomer’s.

It’s not easy to prevent kennel cough. It’s just like the common cold: you can eat right, exercise, and seem like the healthiest person around…until someone coughs or sneezes on you and you get sick. There are vaccines for kennel cough, but these are not always effective. At least ten or more organisms are known to cause kennel cough, and most vaccines only contain two to three of these agents.

The vaccine is most commonly given in the nose (“intranasally”) where it creates a low-grade infection that the immune system should, in theory, respond to. It can take at least a few days if not longer for the immune system to build up adequate resistance to these few germs. The most common problem we see is that owners get this vaccine last-minute- the same day the dog is due to enter a boarding kennel- and the dog has not had time to develop immunity before being exposed. In addition, this dog, when placed in a kennel without the rest of its pack (of humans), is stressed. Stress causes release of the hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system, which can make the dog get kennel cough from the vaccine! It’s not surprising that kennels that require this vaccine still experience many cases of kennel cough.

What can you do to try to prevent or treat kennel cough? Probiotics may help. These healthy bacteria can stimulate the production of the type of antibody that guards the respiratory tract. Studies in humans have shown that people who take probiotics at the onset of the common cold get over the cold much faster than those who do not take probiotics. It’s not a bad idea to put your dog on probiotics if you are going to board her, take her to daycare, or just socialize her frequently.

Homeopathic remedies can help sometimes. When the correct remedy is given, the coughing dog may return to normal within hours to a day.

Cough suppressants help in many cases. The over-the-counter versions tend to not be as effective as the prescription ones. Drowsiness is the major side effect, but sleep is restorative! We rarely prescribe antibiotics as these may actually prolong the course of the illness. We reserve antibiotics for dogs that are not in good health or have other problems that put them at higher risk for pneumonia.

Can I still board my dog if she has kennel cough? Sorry, no. The goal of every kennel is to prevent the appearance of this nuisance illness. If you know that your dog has kennel cough, you should not board your dog or take her to daycare or parks until she has been better for at least a week. Normal otherwise-healthy dogs who contract kennel cough typically get over it in 7-10 days. New dogs in the house may take up to a month to stop coughing. You will have to rearrange your plans, enlisting friends and family or hiring a professional pet sitter.

Kennel cough is an annoyance but rarely becomes serious in the healthy dog. If your dog shows signs of kennel cough, keep him away from other dogs and give him lots of TLC to speed the recovery.