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Assisted Living For Animals: Senior Pet Tips From Kingsbrook Animal Hospital

At Kingsbrook Animal Hospital, we know our furry companions are more than just pets—they’re family members! Our animals live, sleep, eat, and play right alongside us, and they age with us as well. Just as aging can pose obstacles for humans, becoming a “senior” pet comes with some challenges too. Below, we’ll look at some of the common changes we see in our senior patients, and discuss what we can do at home (and at KAH!) to help make them more comfortable.

KAH technician Nora with her dog, Sam.

KAH technician Nora with her dog, Sam. Sam is almost 9 years old, and eats Hill’s j/d to help with her bones and joints!

One of the biggest changes we notice in senior pets is in their skeletal systems. Older bones and joints just don’t move like they used to, and patients may suffer from arthritis, hip dysplasia, or even a narrowing of the space between the bones of the spine. This can make getting up or lying down uncomfortable. Dogs may not want to jump up on the bed anymore or may have difficulty getting into the car; cats may spend less time on the top of the couch or in the window sills, preferring to nap in a sunbeam on the floor instead. To help with these problems, a joint supplement like Dasuquin® can help the pet’s body repair cartilage to reduce arthritis pain. Hills Prescription Diets offers j/d, a diet with glucosamine, chondriotin, and omega-3 fatty acids added in to help support aging joints.  Orthopedic foam beds are comfortable and provide good cushioning for achy pets. Stairs and ramps are available to make transitions in height easier on elderly pets. It’s also important to provide regular low-intensity exercise to keep pets mobile and active. Being sedentary increases stiffness in joints, and becoming overweight puts more stress on any patient’s bones.

KAH technician Lainey gently reassures Fuji as he wakes up from anesthesia.

KAH technician Lainey gently reassures Fuji   as he wakes up from anesthesia.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or pain medications can be prescribed by a veterinarian for long-term use in uncomfortable patients.

Another issue is hearing and vision loss. Aging pets often lose some of their hearing–which means it is harder to get their attention, but easier to startle them. Most pets will still respond to loud hand-claps or vibrations in the floor, but it’s best to approach deaf or partially-deaf pets slowly and gently to avoid a fear response. Dogs, especially, seem to lose some low-light vision and some depth perception as they get older. For these pets, steps and stairs become harder to navigate. Leaving lights on at night or teaching an older dog to begin sleeping downstairs can help to minimize falls and anxiety.

Even cats can go for walks! Make sure any pet that goes outdoors is receiving preventative medications for fleas, ticks, and heartworms.

Even cats can go for walks! Make sure any pet that goes outdoors is receiving preventative medications for fleas, ticks, and heartworms.

Some pets will experience cognitive dysfunction or dementia as they age, which can manifest with symptoms much like Alzheimer’s disease in humans. These pets can become anxious, may stare into space or wander in circles, and sometimes will vocalize randomly and repeatedly. Occasionally, there may even be a break in house- or litterbox-training. Purina ProPlan (Bright Minds) and Hills Prescription Diets (B/D) both offer diets that can help with these symptoms, and there are many medications available with a veterinary prescription that will make pets with cognitive dysfunction more comfortable. Keeping pets engaged and stimulated with walks, playtime, and new activities will reduce some stress and anxiety. Providing extra potty breaks for dogs or extra litterboxes for cats can also help to mitigate some of these changes.

Badger the Whippet and his Fight for Life

We all know blood donation saves lives. Three of my dogs have been donors for the Blue Ridge Veterinary Blood Bank for several years. Even though they love it for the peanut butter and snuggles, I have seen blood donation first hand and what it can do.

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Badger, too sick to stand, at the hospital waiting for his blood transfusion.

His name is Badger. A cute 2 year old whippet who one day was not acting like his normal bubbly self. He became more and more lethargic and we noticed his gums were pale. After a visit with his veterinarian, we soon learned that Badger had Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia or IMHA. IMHA is a disease where the immune system attacks the red blood cells causing anemia. One way to assess the amount of red blood cells in the body is to run a blood test called a PCV or packed cell volume. A healthy dog will have a PCV between 35-55%. Although, he was immediately put on medications, Badger’s PCV fell to 13%. His only chance to survive was a blood transfusion. I remember the day we took him to the hospital to receive his transfusion. He was barely able to walk and his gums were white. He was so depressed. It was difficult to see him so sick.

Two days later, we were able to pick him up from the veterinary hospital. What a difference the blood transfusion had made! He was brighter and even able to trot out of the veterinary office much more like his usual self. Like most dogs with IMHA, we do not know why he developed the disease. With oral medications he is now able to live a normal life.

Badger on the day he went to his forever home!

Badger on the day he went to his forever home!

A few months after his blood transfusion, Badger found his forever home. He currently lives with 2 other whippets and is a normal healthy happy dog… all thanks to a canine blood donor.

When my dogs donate blood every 6-8 weeks, I think of Badger- a sweet little whippet who was given a second chance at life.

-Julie Fulghum, RVT at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital

Click HERE for more information on how your dog can be a life saver to dogs like Badger.

 

 

 

Badger today!-

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Badger relaxing with his family.

 

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Cuddling with his new brother.

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Merry Christmas Badger!

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Badger the whippet.

 

Fireworks, Thunder and Lightning. Oh My!

Every summer we have many people asking “What can I do for my dog who gets really upset during thunderstorms or when there are fireworks? ”   Sometimes pets are only mildly upset, perhaps simply more clingy to their owners.  In more extreme cases, dogs can become so anxious that they panic and can even injure themselves or damage the home if they try to escape from a crate or  break through a door or window.
For most dogs, and owners, there aren’t any perfect solutions.  Our experience with short acting drugs to fight anxiety aren’t helpful.  Sedatives only make the pet drowsy, they don’t prevent the pet from being anxious, they just keep 
them from being able to react to their fear. Having said that, there a few situations where sedatives may be a reasonable option.  
The anxiety medications which we find to be most helpful need to be given daily & take several weeks  before they start working.  This usually means starting them in spring and giving them throughout the summer.  There are definitely some dogs that are good candidates for these medications, but please check with us to find out it that’s the best answer for you. 
The ideal treatment is de-sensitization.  This technique is time and labor intensive, and is best done under the guidance of a certified pet dog trainer, veterinarian or even a veterinary behaviorist.  This treatment is based on exposing your dog to the stimulus that causes them to become anxious (thunder, fireworks, etc) at a low intensity while at the same time using training techniques to keep the pet relaxed.  Once they become relaxed with the stimulus at a low volume, you can increase the intensity of the stimulus over time.  Audio recordings of thunderstorms & fireworks can be found or purchased on CD, MP3 files and likely even smartphone apps.   Although this is considered the best way to handle thunderstorm and firework phobias in the long term, it does take a lot of time and work, and is usually best started months before summer.
For some dogs, a compression jacket, such as a thundershirt, can make a big difference.  They put gentle pressure over the dog’s body which has a calming effect.  They are certainly worth a try if your dog gets anxious during storms & 
fireworks shows.  
Another tool that can help with anxiety is a product called Adaptil (formerly DAP.)  This is a synthetic form of a pheromone that female dogs produce to comfort their pups.  It is available as a spray, a collar and even a plug-in 
dispenser and is intended to help reduce stress for dogs in many situations. 
Taking pets to a quieter, darker environment may also help.  Close windows to muffle noise and use light blocking window shades.   Providing background noise, such as a loud fan or even music may help decrease the stimulation from thunder & fireworks. 
One other thing that could be considered is lavender.   A study was done that showed decreased anxiety in dogs that had travel-induced excitement when they were exposed to the scent of lavender.  Although thunderstorm or firework phobias weren’t addressed in the study, they did suspect that the lavender had a calming effect on the dogs studied.  

Have a happy & safe Fourth of July!

-Kingsbrook Animal Hospital

The Generosity of our Doctors


Promise Animal League is a non-profit rescue organization that provides low cost spay and neuter for feral cats in and around Washington County. Our doctors were kind enough to donate $200 worth of supplies for their mobile spay-neuter clinic. The surgeries are performed just dollars above the cost of the supplies and all the support staff time is donated, so any little bit helps provide services for more kitties in need.

To donate to Promise Animal League or for more info visit:
http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/WV114.html

Adoptable cats and kittens under Promise’s care can also be seen in the
Adoption Condo’s in Hagerstown PetsMart Store.

Local Talent



Zippy Burke’s mom has sent us another another cool card. Can you believe she can use watercolors like this? For great gift ideas, visit her website at HeartfeltImpressions.com

Do Dogs Look Like Their Owners?


Check out the Health section of this week’s New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/11/health/11really.html. This article evaluates studies which have looked at whether dogs resemble their owners. There’s even a place to submit pictures of you and your dog for a future slide show at http://submit.nytimes.com/dogs-and-owners.

Poisonious Plant Alert


A plant called the “Sago Plam” or “Cycad” is a houseplant that is showing up in many home improvement stores. It is used in outdoor landscaping in the southern states but can only survive as a houseplant in the north. All parts of the plant, including the seeds and root ball are toxic to pets. Signs of illness first appear about 12 hours after ingestion and include gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. The toxins in the plant lead to severe liver failure with progressive weakness, jaundice, bruising and bleeding and other signs of liver failure that lead to death.

It is estimated that 75-80% of animals ingesting this plant will die in spite of aggressive medical treatment. If you have one of these palnts in your home you will want to be sure to keep it away from pets and children, preferably by dispoosing of it safely in a covered trash can or “rehome” it with someone who does not have pets or young children in the household.