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All Posts in Category: Charlottesville

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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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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Red Eye in Pets

Red, irritated eyes are common presenting complaints in emergency veterinary medicine. To help narrow down the cause of the redness, at Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital we typically ask pet owners a series of questions, since eye problems can occur for many different reasons. For instance: Did your pet recently run through a field or play with a cat? Has your pet been around other pets? Is your pet having any other problems? Did this redness just start to appear, or has it been around and getting worse over time?

Some causes are more obvious than others. Playing with a cat, playing rough with a dog or running through heavy brush normally indicates trauma (a scratch) and potentially an ulcer on the cornea, the clear covering of the eye. When the cornea is injured, it can cause a large amount of pain and lead to serious complications, and such an event might also result in having a foreign object lodged in the eye.

But there are other causes of eye redness as well. Infections (bacterial, viral and fungal); inflammation of the tissues around or in the eye; increased or decreased pressure of the eye (known as glaucoma, and uveitis, respectively); systemic diseases; autoimmune diseases; decreased tear production; allergies; problems with intraocular structures (such as the iris and the lens); and even cancer can also lead to red eye.

So if your pet has red, irritated, teary eyes, or is squinting, give your primary care veterinarian or Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital a call as soon as possible. We can perform a variety of tests to determine the cause of the irritation and prescribe medications to help your pet feel more comfortable and treat the problem. One important note: Do not allow your pet to scratch at his or her eyes if he/she is suffering from red eye — scratching will only make it worse. You can use an e-collar, otherwise known as “the cone that goes around your pet’s head,” to deter them from scratching. And don’t wait to bring your pet in! Some eye problems can become very serious if left unattended.

© 2011 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Addison’s Disease in Dogs and Cats

Does your pet have good days and bad, or “waxing and waning of clinical signs,” as we like to call it in the vet world? Does your pet have some lethargic days and some days where he or she just won’t eat? Has your pet experienced any weight loss? Is your pet having gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting or diarrhea, or is your pet urinating more and drinking more water? If these symptoms sound familiar, your pet may have Addison’s Disease, or hypoadrenocorticism, a medical condition in which an animal’s body fails to produce an adequate level of steroids. Addison’s Disease is most often seen in middle-aged female dogs, but can be seen in any dog or cat. With this condition, occasionally your pet’s electrolytes will show up abnormal on in-house blood work — sometimes so abnormal that he or she will require immediate emergency medical attention. Your veterinarian can perform a specific test to evaluate for this disease.

Treatment for Addison’s Disease often includes oral steroids, and sometimes injections. Most patients will need to remain on medication for life, but most pets do very well with proper care and can still enjoy long, happy lives. If you suspect your pet may suffer from this disease, visit your veterinarian as soon as possible for testing.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If your pet is on steroids (including prednisone), it’s important to avoid taking a pet off the medication suddenly and instead to taper the dose down gradually. If your pet has been on steroids over a long period and you suddenly stop the medication, you can actually induce Addison’s disease, and your pet may require emergency medical attention as a result.

© 2011 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Giardia…cha cha cha…

Diarrhea has a number of causes, but one that we saw quite a bit in our patients this summer is Giardia, a parasite that is transmitted in stool (Giardia can be transmitted to humans in this way, but people most often get this parasite from contaminated water). Once a pet is infected, it will typically take 5-12 days in dogs and 5-16 days in cats for the parasite to be found in the stool — however, diarrhea can occur before the parasite actually shows up in the stool.

To diagnose Giardia, your veterinarian will need a fresh stool sample from your pet. As this parasite cannot be detected by the naked eye, the doctor will examine the sample under a microscope. Sometimes the test may need to be repeated, as this parasite can shed intermittently — so while an initial test may come up negative, further tests may come up positive. A newer variety of test is the “snap test,” which tests for Giardia proteins in the stool. The snap test does help improve diagnosis; however, while almost all veterinarians have the capability to look at a stool sample under the microscope, the snap test is less readily available, and not all veterinarians will be able to offer it.

Treatment for Giardia involves multiple aspects of your pet’s life. Oral dewormers are given, as with many intestinal parasites. But with Giardia, bathing and hygiene are just as important as medication. This parasite can stick to your pet’s fur, and when the animal licks itself, he or she can be reinfected. You will also need to dispose of all stool immediately, and clean bedding and flooring regularly. Diluted bleach will kill this parasite on floors and in the laundry — however, killing Giardia on surfaces like grass is far more difficult, since it would require killing the plant life as well.

Other preventative measures include wearing gloves when handling stool and always washing your hands after handling stool or playing with your pet. There is a Giardia vaccine available, but this particular vaccine does not prevent infection. Instead it reduces the amount of the parasite shed in the stool, thereby reducing the amount of environmental contamination. This treatment doesn’t usually help animals that have already contracted the parasite, but it may be helpful in kennel situations and with pets that keep getting reinfected.

If your pet has diarrhea, please give your primary care veterinarian or Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital a call as soon as possible. We can help diagnose the cause and get your pet the treatment that he or she needs.

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Ticks: a pesky little problem

Since the weather warmed up this spring, you have probably noticed more and more of these awful little creatures. You might find them attached to your pet, on your pant leg or even attached to your skin. You probably know that they look like: a small head with a large body. We are, of course, talking about ticks, pesky little bloodsuckers that can bring diseases not only to your pets, but also to you. Ticks, even in Virginia, often carry tick-borne diseases that can make your pet very sick. They can cause weakness, fever, joint pain, weight loss, anemia and decreased platelets — which increases your pet’s chances for spontaneous bleeding! For some of the tick-borne diseases, your veterinarian can use an in-house “snap” test to evaluate for infection. Sometimes, blood work needs to be sent out to test for “titers,” or your pet’s level of response to the infection. For most of the tick-borne disease processes, if given early, antibiotics can take care of the infection, and your pet can make a full recovery. However, pets that are severely infected may require a stay in the hospital as well as significant medications, and may not respond as well to treatment. So if your pet is starting to become lethargic, is losing weight or is limping, please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible!

With tick-borne disease, prevention is key. Multiple preventative tick and flea medications can be prescribed by your veterinarian. Most are monthly treatments that are easily administered to your pet. Please call your veterinarian today for recommendations. And remember, although some of the tick-borne diseases can be transmitted to humans (e.g., Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever), you cannot get the disease from your pet. Ticks have to attach directly to your skin in order for you to get the disease.

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Xylitol: Not So Sweet for Pets

Xylitol, an increasingly ubiquitous sugar substitute, is found in sugarless gum (e.g., Orbit, Trident, Dentyne), sugarless candy, a granulated form for baking, and even in toothpaste. Xylitol has antibacterial properties in the mouth, thereby reducing bacterial load and periodontal disease. Preliminary studies have shown that xylitol may have other far-reaching benefits to humans as well, such as reducing osteoporosis, helping with endometriosis and fibroids, and helping to prevent ear and throat infections.

In dogs, the effects of xylitol are very different. A dog’s pancreas will recognize xylitol as sugar, causing the pancreas to secrete insulin, which in turn causes a profound drop in blood sugar — a dangerous condition that can eventually turn deadly. And it only takes a small amount of xylitol to cause clinical signs — for a 20-pound dog, ingesting just two pieces of gum containing xylitol can be toxic.

Initial clinical signs of xylitol toxicity are related to low blood sugar: lethargy, weakness, disorientation and collapse. Clinical signs of liver failure usually occur 12-24 hours after xylitol ingestion and can include diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, uncontrolled bleeding and death.

So what should you do if you suspect your dog has ingested xylitol? Although there is no specific antidote to xylitol, seek veterinary care immediately. Your veterinarian will likely induce vomiting and place your dog on IV fluids to increase its blood sugar. Blood work will also likely be performed to monitor liver enzymes, blood sugar and blood clotting times. The best chance for your dog’s survival after ingesting xylitol is to begin supportive care as quickly as possible. So if you suspect xylitol toxicity, don’t hestitate! Get your dog to your veterinarian or emergency animal hospital as quickly as possible.

As a side note, it remains unknown whether xylitol is toxic to cats. There have been some anecdotal reports of xylitol toxicity in ferrets, however.

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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The Dangers of Summertime Heat Stroke in Dogs

As the heat and humidity of the summer months are approaching quickly here in Central Virginia, pet owners should be aware of the dangers of heat stroke, one of the more common summer pet emergencies in dogs. Heat stroke is a situation in which a pet’s body temperature has risen way above normal and needs immediate veterinary attention. Unfortunately, our domestic pets don’t sweat the way we do to dissipate excess heat, so they aren’t as efficient at cooling their bodies as we are — and heat stroke can result. The condition can become fatal rapidly if left untreated, but is easily preventable with some common-sense measures.

Most dogs love to go for rides in the car. While this is fine in cooler months, the most common cause of heat stroke for dogs is being left in cars during the summertime. Even with the windows cracked or partially down, a car parked in the sun can get up to 140° within minutes — so leaving your pup in the car for even a quick errand is very risky and and can potentially have tragic consequences. Pets riding in the bed of a truck can also develop heat stroke.

Heat stroke can also result from overexertion, and when dogs are confined to concrete runs or chained up without shade or water. Dogs should never be left outdoors without access to shade. And even if a water bowl is left out for them, the bowl can easily be overturned — leaving the dog without water for the rest of the day. Also, plan to make trips to the dog park or exercise with your dog in the morning or evening, rather than during the heat of the day.

Heat stroke is more common in dogs that have a decreased ability to cool themselves. Since a dog’s primary method of cooling itself is panting, overweight dogs; geriatric dogs; dogs with short faces (e.g., Old English bulldogs and pugs); and dogs that have compromised airways or medical conditions like heart disease, laryngeal paralysis or seizure disorders are also at increased risk of developing heat stroke. So it’s very important to keep these dogs in a cool environment.

What are the signs of heat stroke?
Heavy, excessive panting is the first sign, followed by salivation and listlessness. Other signs include vomiting, diarrhea and muscle tremors. And in severe cases, dogs may collapse, lose consciousness, experience seizures or die. The sequence of events can be very rapid, and death can occur within 24 hours, so pets displaying these signs need to be brought in to a veterinary hospital immediately.

What should you do if you suspect heat stroke in your dog?
Call a veterinarian right away, begin cooling your pet, and get them to a veterinary hospital immediately. Before leaving for the hospital, spray your dog down with cool water and place a fan in front of them. You can also place damp cloths on their stomachs or paws. You may also offer them cool water to drink, but some pets will not be able to drink appropriately and may breathe in some of the water. Do not place them in ice or an ice bath, as cooling them too quickly can result in a dangerous condition. Another important thing you can do as an owner is to keep your pet calm — the more stressed he/she gets, the higher his/her temperature may get.

What will happen at the veterinary hospital?
Once the patient is admitted, your dog may need to be cooled and given intravenous fluid therapy and other medications. They will likely need to be hospitalized for several days, as many serious conditions can develop from heat stroke, including bloody diarrhea; heart, liver, kidney and neurologic abnormalities; and bleeding disorders. The most critical time period is the first 24-48 hours after incident. Although pets may still be sick and require treatment after this time period, most that live through this first initial phase will survive.

So this summer, have fun with your pets! But be safe, make sure they have plenty of cool water to drink and plenty of shade and rest, and do not leave them in your car unattended. If you notice any signs of heat stroke in your pet, call your veterinarian or veterinary hospital ASAP!

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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