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Pets, Snowstorms and Winter Emergencies

Nearly half of the U.S. has been buried under snow this year. In Charlottesville alone, we have had multiple school closures and heavy snowstorms. And during such storms, we constantly field calls about what to look for in terms of pet safety and what constitutes an emergency when driving conditions aren’t optimal (making the trip to the animal hospital more than a little challenging). Hopefully this post will clear up some of these types of questions.

TRAUMA
Trauma is one of the last things people consider to be a potential problem for pets this time of year, but it actually seems to be very common. Hidden ice can be just as treacherous for pets as for humans, often resulting in broken bones and/or soft-tissue trauma. Making sure your pet is always on a leash when walking on potentially icy areas — and avoiding icy areas altogether — is very important. Foot pad trauma and serious lacerations from sharp ice are also common problems. We also see a number of toenail traumas (pulled out toenails) due to getting caught in ice cracks or thick snow areas. The easiest solution to many of these problems is to outfit your pet with winter pet boots this time of year. Most dogs do just fine with tolerating the boots, which provide padding, grip and pad protection.

HIDDEN CAT TRAUMA
If you live in a neighborhood with outdoor cats, it’s very important to check under your car hood, near your fan belt and along the base of your car tires for a cat who may be using your vehicle to stay warm. Cats will seek warm spots in which to brave the cold, but they’re often unlucky in the timing of their naps. The severe trauma that comes from engine damage, once the car is started, unfortunately is something many veterinarians see far too often.

HYPOTHERMIA
Trust the old adage that if it’s too cold for you outside, it’s too cold for your pet to stay outside. If you can’t bring your pet into your house, consider a garage, basement, barn or heavily sheltered area with a heat source like an overhead heat lamp or heating pad. Many people assume that pets have thick fur coats and can adapt to frigid temps, but a domestic animal can get wet and hypothermic outside in a matter of minutes. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia, please SLOWLY start warming them up until you can seek veterinary help. One of the worst things you can do is warm an animal too quickly after being very cold for a long time — gradual warming might make the difference between life and death.

OUTSIDE TOXINS
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might be aware that antifreeze is toxic to pets and can lead to acute kidney failure and death (see our previous blog post here). There are some pet-friendly — and kid-friendly — antifreeze products made from propylene glycol, and we highly support using these. It’s important to check your car regularly to make sure you don’t have any unwanted leaks. These kinds of toxins are another good reason to walk your dog on a leash this time of year, to prevent them from ingesting fluids from underneath other people’s cars.

There are also many sidewalk deicers that are toxic to dogs. The majority are calcium based, which can cause local irritation to the skin and, in large enough doses, vomiting and diarrhea. Some magnesium-based deicers can, in large enough doses, cause hypotension, heart arrhythmias and unsafe changes in phosphate blood levels — conditions that would all require immediate veterinary care. If you think your pet may have walked through a deicer, you can wash the product off with water and a mild dish soap such as Dawn. In the vast majority of cases, doing so will be sufficient to prevent any problems. There are pet-safe, urea-based deicers on the market that cause less skin irritation, but these products are harder to find. Rock salt on roads and sidewalks can also be very locally irritating to skin and, if large enough amounts are consumed, can cause vomiting, excess drinking or urinating, muscle tremors and seizures. If you have put down rock salt, make sure you wipe down your pet’s feet after coming inside — and again, consider placing boots on your pet’s feet. As a good rule of thumb, all outside pets should have their feet rinsed after walking on treated sidewalks.

INSIDE TOXINS
This time of year, people are more likely to put down rat and mouse poisons, because — just like us — rodents want to be indoors where it’s warm. Make sure any such poisons are placed in areas where your pet would have absolutely no access to them, and in places where a rat wouldn’t be able to drag the poison out in the open (see our post on rat poison here).

Another common seasonal toxin is liquid potpourri. Make sure your potpourri is in an area where pets can’t knock it over and get it on their skin, in their mouth or in their eyes; the liquid can cause ulceration to all these areas.

Finally, when people are “trapped” inside during the wintertime, they are more prone to consume alcohol, coffee and chocolate. Make sure these are all kept out of reach of your pets (see our previous post on common toxic kitchen items here). Snack foods and other human treats are never good for your pets.

PET FOOD SUBSTITUTES
If you happen to run out of dog food because you’re snowed in, there are many online recipes for bland, human-based pet food alternatives. Boiled chicken and rice is one of our favorites, but you can substitute pasta for rice, and hamburger or lean beef for chicken. Try to avoid raw meat and fatty or heavy foods like pork and fatty beef. You would need to transition your pet from bland dog food to human food (hopefully only for a day or two) and then transition back with very gentle meals. In these cases, multiple, smaller feedings will be much better for your pet than larger, heavier meals.

Remember, most cities and areas have an emergency vet office that will be open or at least available for calls during snowstorms. The Greenbrier Emergency office has beds for our on-duty staff, just in case, and we encourage you to give us a call if your regular vet is closed. Be safe, stay warm, and stay off the roads if at all possible — and think of the coming warm springtime weather!

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Marijuana Toxicity in Pets Becoming More and More Common

Marijuana. It has many nicknames — pot, weed, grass, reefer, honey oil, Mary Jane — but if it is consumed by your pets, it can be harmful.

As more states and districts legalize marijuana, we anticipate seeing more marijuana toxicity in pets. Although people use pot recreationally or medically, it’s toxic to pets. Dogs (and very, very rarely cats) usually present with in-coordination and stupor and act like they want to fall asleep while standing, then quickly right themselves. The dog will likely have dilated pupils, deep-injected bloodshot eyes and rapid breathing, and they are often incontinent. The culprit ingredient is delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC.

The most common ingestion we see in the ER is marijuana-infused baked goods, especially brownies. Pot brownies have the double effect of chocolate toxicity to go along with marijuana toxicity. We get dogs that have eaten the owner’s entire “stash” (along with the plastic bag), as well as marijuana-infused butter products, which are even more toxic due to higher THC concentration.

Most signs of toxicity usually start 30-180 minutes after ingestion, and because THC is stored in fat, the signs can persist for up to 96 hours. While the mild-to-moderate symptoms listed above are more common, we have seen dogs present with more serious conditions from active seizing to total unconsciousness. We also have to treat plastic bag ingestion or chocolate toxicity in certain cases (see other blogs on these topics.)

If you suspect your pet has ingested marijuana, it’s important to be honest during the history-taking part of your visit! This is very important and can save your dog from unnecessary tests, as well as prevent you from spending money on tests your dog does not need. Understand that in the U.S., veterinarians are not obligated to report marijuana intoxications to the police, and having your vet know what he/she is treating is extremely helpful to the management of your pet’s problem. This can be especially important because other toxins can present themselves in similar ways, but can be fatal or far more serious.

If the ingestion has occurred within 30 minutes we usually try to induce vomiting in your pet. However if your pet is already showing clinical signs, the antinausea effects of THC can make it very difficult to induce vomiting. We will usually also give a product called activated charcoal to help bind up any remaining marijuana in the gastrointenstinal tract. Marijuana can undergo something called “enterohepatic recirculation,” where it goes from the GI tract to the liver and back to the GI tract, causing the effects to last longer. Multiple doses of charcoal, spaced apart by several hours, are often used to help prevent this situation. Intravenous fluids are also used to help stabilize your pet and assist him/her in eliminating the drug. If your pet is seizing or has lost consciousness, more intense treatment may be given as well over a longer duration in the hospital.

With good supportive care, the majority of pets with marijuana toxicity do well. Unfortunately, depending on the amount your pet has ingested and the severity of signs, marijuana toxicity could also be fatal. Like any toxin, early diagnosis and treatment of the problem are always crucial. Do not be shy when telling the vet what your pet got into — it might save his/her life!

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Skunks: P.U. — Stinky!

The skunk: an easily identifiable, cute, black-and-white animal (also known as polecats by some) with a nasty spray. Here at Greenbrier we receive numerous calls from clients about what to do when they find a skunk on their property, or when their pet (usually a dog) has been sprayed in the face.

Luckily the majority of skunk-sprayed animals will be fine, except for having a potent smell for days or even more than a week. After being sprayed, most pets will act as if they have been blinded and will have increased tear production and often a generalized red color to the eyes. Often a pet in this condition will paw at its face and nose. The best first step to treatment is rinsing the pet’s eyes with saline solution — the same solution used for contact lenses.

The next thing to do is attempt “de-skunk” the smell of your pet. Despite many rumors, tomato juice DOES NOT do the trick, and using this method will merely leave you with an animal that smells like both skunk and tomato juice. The best thing to use is a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and liquid soap or dish detergent, with the following recipe:

  • 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid soap or dish detergent

Mix the three ingredients and apply liberally while washing your dog, then rinse with fresh water. You can repeat the washing several times and let the solution sit on the dog for 5-10 minutes each time. Unfortunately, the mixture is not stable once it is combined, so you will need to make a new solution each day you apply it. Be very careful to avoid getting the solution in your pet’s eyes, and try to keep your pet from drinking it (although drinking it will only upset his/her stomach, but likely will not do any real harm).

If you think there is any chance the skunk could have bitten your pet (especially if your pet killed the skunk), we recommend a rabies booster vaccine. Rabies is not spread through the spray, but generally only through saliva and blood. Your daytime vet can boost your pet’s rabies vaccine if you are concerned, as this is not generally an emergency.

Skunks are most active at night and move slowly. They are attracted to outside pet food bowls (just like raccoons and opossums), open garbage containers, and unsealed compost piles — so try to get rid of these kinds of attractions or protect/cover them, if possible. If you let your pet outside at night, use a leash if you suspect a skunk is on your property. Skunks usually try to give plenty of warning prior to spraying, so if you see one outside or startle one during a walk, you may have time to get away prior to being sprayed. Even baby skunks as young as 8 days can spray, so avoid the impulse to get too close, regardless of how cute they may seem. Skunks are active most of the year, but usually more so in the warmer months. While not true hibernators, they can go through a dormant stage for several weeks during cold weather.

A condition known as skunk toxic shock syndrome, which is VERY rare, occurs when some of the compounds in a skunk’s spray (thioacetates) destroy a pet’s healthy red blood cells. An animal experiencing this syndrome initially presents with weakness and pale gums and progresses to vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and anemia. While very rare, keep this syndrome in mind if your pet develops these symptoms hours or days after being sprayed, and have him/her examined by your regular veterinarian.

Hopefully this information will prove helpful if your animal is sprayed by a skunk, and it might even save you an unnecessary trip to the emergency room.

© 2013 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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PODCAST: Urinary Incontinence in Older Female Dogs

Urinary incontinence in older female dogs is a very common — and sometimes annoying — problem. Why does it happen and how is it treated? This question is frequently submitted to us on the Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital Facebook page.

© 2012 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Tremorgenic Mycotoxin Toxicity: The Moldy Shakes

The compost pile, a seemingly innocuous feature of your outside garden, can seem like a great idea, for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, this kind of eco-friendly heap of decomposing organic matter can also look like a free meal to your dog. As food in a compost pile starts to decay, a variety of molds can grow on it — molds that won’t always deter a dog from wanting to enjoy an outside feast. Many of these molds (at least 20 varieties are known to inhabit compost piles) produce mycotoxins that can have negative health effects. Ingesting even a small amount of mold can cause small muscle tremors and ataxia (which will cause your pet to look like he/she is drunk or having trouble walking) for a period of hours or days. A large amount of mold exposure can cause severe tremors, seizures and even death.

Spoiled food and fats in the compost pile can also cause gastrointestinal problems, including vomiting and diarrhea (sometimes bloody). Moldy dairy products such as cheese, moldy nuts such as walnuts or peanuts, moldy grains, and pastas are often the culprits behind these kinds of issues.

Apart from food found in compost piles, moldy refrigerator food thrown outside or in the trash can also potentially expose your dog to toxic molds. If you suspect that your pet has gotten into a compost pile or moldy trash, please take him/her to a vet immediately. Depending on whether the pet is showing signs of toxicity, your dog may be made to vomit. We never recommend the inducing of vomiting at home, due to possible complications. For instance, if your pet isn’t stable, he/she could inhale their own vomit or bloat. At the vet, a dose of activated charcoal is also often given to help absorb toxins from the GI tract.

Most dogs with this kind of mold toxicity likely will be kept in the hospital on IV fluids and given muscle relaxants to address any tremors, until the tremors cease. Antibiotics are also sometimes used to treat any diarrhea. A hospital stay can range from one day to several days, depending on how much mold your pet consumed and how quickly they were treated by a veterinarian.

Just like anything else, with mold toxicity, prevention is key. Keep compost piles in areas out of reach of your pet, or keep the material in a secure composting container. Also, don’t throw food away in inside trash cans. Most outside trash cans are much sturdier, and some are made to be difficult for a dog to open — even if the can is overturned. Finally, avoid throwing moldy food from your refrigerator in your backyard.

© 2012 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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PODCAST: “Lar Par” in Dogs

The larynx, which is the opening through which outside air flows into a dog’s lungs, allows for vocalization and prevents food inhalation (aspiration) — both of which are important functions. Paralysis of the larynx, otherwise known as laryngeal paralysis or “lar par” for short, means that one or both of the vocal folds do not open fully during breathing. The condition can occur in cats but is more common in dogs, and specifically in large-breed dogs. It can be hereditary in Bouviers, Huskies, Bull Terriers, Dalmatians and Rotweillers and is also commonly seen (but not necessarily hereditary) in Labs, Goldens, St. Bernards and Newfoundlands.

© 2012 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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