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All Posts in Category: Cats

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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Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) Rupture in Pets

One of the most common problems we see at Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital is lameness, and one of the most common causes is a cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) rupture.

The cranial cruciate ligament is found in the knee and prevents abnormal rotation of the joint, much like the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in humans. When the CCL ruptures, pets experience different degrees of lameness in the hind end. The injury typically isn’t acute, but rather stems from chronic degeneration that ultimately leads to lameness from a seemingly minor event (e.g., running in the yard or engaging in normal activity). Overweight pets; pets with abnormal conformation of the knee joint; and certain dog breeds, including Labradors and Rottweilers, are more predisposed to experiencing these kinds of injuries.

So what should you do if your pet is lame? Take him/her to your primary care veterinarian or Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia, to have the problem evaluated. On physical examination, the veterinarian may find “cranial drawer,” a term used to describe abnormal movement in the knee after a ligament rupture. Some pets have such strong musculature surrounding their knee that they may need to be sedated for the vet to be able to feel the abnormal movement. Next, the vet will likely recommend radiographs (x-rays) of the knee.

So what happens if your pet has been diagnosed with a CCL rupture? Most pets do best with surgery. Some smaller pets can recover with conservative therapy, which includes pain medication and strict exercise restriction for several months. Larger pets most often need surgery, and there are several different surgical options, depending on the pet’s size. Even with surgery, your pet will have to be exercise-restricted, but the recovery period is often shorter — and overall improvement often better — with surgery.

Now, when we talk about strict exercise restriction, we mean STRICT. No running, jumping, playing, chasing, being off-leash, jumping on the bed or roughhousing. As the rupture begins to heal and pets start to feel better, they will likely want to run and jump, and that type of exertion too early in the recovery process is one of the main reasons for surgical failure. What’s more, pets diagnosed with cruciate ruptures are more likely to rupture the cruciate in the other knee as well, and such a likelihood is increased if they are not exercise-restricted appropriately. So following a CCL rupture, keep your pet as calm as possible; sometimes it can be hard and seem like forever, but it will pay off in the end!

Another tip that will help with the recovery process is keeping your pet from licking at the surgical site — you may need an e-collar (a cone that goes around your pet’s head) to make that happen. Another cause of surgical failure is infection, so make sure your pet is taking all medications prescribed by your veterinarian.

One more important step in recovery for many of our patients is weight loss. Losing even just a few pounds will improve the recovery period and decrease the chance of having problems in the other knee. Weight-reduction plans as a preventive measure can reduce the risk of tearing the cruciate in the first place.

If your pet has been diagnosed with a cranial cruciate rupture and you have any questions, please call your primary care veterinarian, or give us a call here at Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital.

© 2011 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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