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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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PODCAST: Oh No! My Pet Had a Seizure!

Seizures can have a number of causes, including toxins, low blood sugar, low calcium, kidney or liver problems, blood clots to the brain or “strokes,” infectious diseases, inflammation of or around the brain, cancer, epilepsy, and trauma. In pets that are predisposed to having seizures, stress and different medications can also cause seizures. As well, seizures can also result from stopping certain medications.

© 2012 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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PODCAST: Canine Distemper — Make Sure Your Dog is Vaccinated!

Canine distemper is a very serious, contagious virus found in dogs that attacks the immune system, making them more susceptible to other infections, including bacterial and parasitic infections. Sneezing, coughing, pneumonia, anorexia, fever, vomiting and diarrhea are all potential signs of this disease.

© 2012 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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PODCAST: 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.

© 2011 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Pet First Aid: Responding to Pet Emergencies at Home

Working in emergency medicine, we get numerous calls from people wondering what they can do with their pet in an emergency prior to coming in to the office. While the majority of treatments on your pet should be done by a veterinarian or a member of a veterinary staff, there are some things you can do to help your pet prior to transport.

Preparing to Transport Your Pet
The most important thing to remember is that you should never do anything to assist your pet that will cause harm to yourself. Even the most gentle pet, when in pain, may try to bite and/or scratch you. The most frequent occurrence of this situation is after a pet is hit by a car — we often see clients who have been bitten by their pets while trying to tend to them and transport them. For dogs, placing a large blanket or towel over the head, with room for them to breathe, can help prevent injury to yourself. You can also use a towel with cats, and it’s a great idea to put on sturdy work gloves and a long-sleeved shirt prior to picking them up.

With an animal that has been hit by a car, it’s also helpful to slide the animal gently onto a board, blanket or sturdy piece of cardboard — this will help protect against possible trauma to their spinal cord or neck. It’s also important, especially in patients that are having trouble breathing, to keep your pet sitting up on their sternum (chest) — that will help them aerate both sides of their lungs and breathe more easily. You can place thick towels on either side of them to help keep them propped up in this position.

Getting Bleeding Under Control
When it comes to pet injuries, a bleeding pet typically leads to a frantic owner, so it’s important to stay calm and focus on helping your pet. To be prepared for such an event, having a first aid kit on hand for your pet — including gauze and materials needed to make a bandage — is a very good idea. One important initial word of advice is that if there is foreign material sticking out of the wound, do not try to remove it yourself. The foreign object could be pressing up against a blood vessel or penetrating an organ, and removing it could cause more harm than good. This includes foreign material sticking out of the eye.

For penetrating wounds (such as bites) and wounds that are bleeding heavily, apply firm pressure and place a firm pressure bandage over the wound. If the bleeding is on a limb, you can also try to raise that limb above the level of your pet’s heart to help slow the bleeding. For nose bleeding, apply ice to the bridge of the nose to slow it down, and try to keep your pet laying on their sternum (chest), as we discussed above.

One of the most common bleeding problems we see on an emergency basis is a bleeding toenail, which includes a toenail that has broken or has pulled out. This kind of injury can bleed profusely and run all over a floor or rug (I refer to this as “crime scene bleeding”). To help bring the bleeding under control at home, you can place the bleeding toe in some corn starch, a bar of soap or a stick of underarm deodorant containing zinc.

Dealing with Toxicities
Toxicities are also a common emergency we deal with here at Greenbrier Emergency. With so many different substances toxic to pets — and many substances you might otherwise not think of as toxic — always call a veterinarian if you suspect that your pet has gotten into something. In this kind of situation, many people consider trying to make their pet vomit to remove the toxic substance. But with some household products and medications, inducing vomiting in a pet can cause more harm than good. Your pet, if poisoned, may not be able to swallow correctly and end up inhaling some of its vomit, creating a whole new problem known as aspiration pneumonia. Also, some products can cause more irritation to the esophagus and mouth on the way back up than on the way down.

Because so many common plants are toxic to pets, I usually recommend that people keep a list of the types of plants they have in and around their house. Telling your vet, “they got into a big green one,” doesn’t help us pinpoint the exact toxic agent and resolve the problem.

For other common toxic household substances like rat poison, try to keep them stored in a place that is inaccessible to your pet. And if you smoke, don’t throw your used filters outside — nicotine is a toxic agent to pets, and any remaining tobacco, eaten by your pet in large enough quantities, can cause serious problems.

Call Ahead!
If you ever do have an emergency situation with your pet, if possible, please call a veterinarian or Greenbrier Emergency to let them know you’re on your way. That will help them get set up and be prepared to handle your pet’s specific problem and treat them as quickly and effectively as possible.

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Oh no!! My pet had a seizure!!

Seizures can have a number of causes, including toxins, low blood sugar, low calcium, kidney or liver problems, blood clots to the brain or “strokes,” infectious diseases, inflammation of or around the brain, cancer, epilepsy, and trauma. In pets that are predisposed to having seizures, stress and different medications can also cause seizures. In addition, stopping certain medications can cause seizures.

Both cats and dogs, along with our exotics, can have seizures. Seizures can be focal (isolated) or generalized. Although cats can experience either type of seizure, they more often have focal seizures, which may include symptoms such as facial twitching, dilated pupils and running into objects abnormally. Sometimes cats’ seizures can be so focal that they go unnoticed for periods of time.

Dogs can also have both generalized and focal seizures. Generalized seizures often involve severe muscle contractions, loss of consciousness and repeated jaw clamping. They may salivate, urinate and defecate as well. After the seizure subsides, your pet may be disoriented, start pacing, seem confused, be blind, or display other abnormal behaviors (e.g., aggression, fear, etc.). This period can last for anywhere from minutes to hours.

Seizure frequency is widely varied. Some pets have one seizure and never have another. Some have seizures more frequently (e.g., once every 6 months), but their seizures don’t significantly impact their quality of life. Others have more frequent episodes that do affect quality of life and therefore require medication. And still others have such severe seizures that medical management is ineffective.

So what should you do if your pet has a seizure? Bring him/her in to a veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian can administer medications to help stop the seizures and will also likely recommend blood work to rule out potential causes of the seizure. Your veterinarian may also prescribe medications to help prevent further seizures, depending on their severity. Not all pets require long-term medical therapy, however.

Seizures that repeat more than once during a 24-hour period, seizures that happen one after another, and seizures that last more than 4 minutes are medical emergencies that need to be seen immediately. If your pet is having a seizure, do not place anything — especially your fingers — in his/her mouth! During a seizure, a pet does not know what is going on and can bite without intending to. They will not swallow their tongue. Keep them away from stairs and other places where they can injure themselves. If your pet has had seizures previously, keep a seizure log of what time the seizure started, how long it lasted, whether there was anything different about the environment (stress and thunderstorms can actually precipitate seizures), whether it was a focal or generalized seizure, and any medications given.

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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What did my dog get into … ivermectin?

Here at Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital, we’ve had two very interesting cases lately. This first one was a middle-aged dog who was disoriented. On examination, he was suddenly and completely blind! The second case was a 7-week-old puppy who was normal when the owner went to bed — but In the morning, when the owner woke up, the puppy couldn’t walk and was barely responsive. On examination, this puppy was also suddenly blind! What did these two cases have in common? They were both either on or near a horse farm. Ivermectin toxicity was suspected in both cases, and within a few hours (for the puppy) and a few days (for the older dog), they were completely back to normal.

Ivermectin is a drug commonly and safely used in many dogs to treat a variety of parasitic infections. This drug is also commonly used in cattle and horses at much higher doses — which can be toxic to dogs, if they are exposed to the medication. Certain types of dogs, including but not limited to collies and Australian shepherds, are also far more susceptible to the toxic effects of the drug.

Toxicity signs include depression, disorientation, nonresponsiveness, blindness, drooling, tremors, and walking like he/she is “drunk.” More severe signs, especially in the susceptible breeds, include low heart rate, low breathing rate, coma and death.

Treatment often is centered around supportive care, which may include intravenous fluid therapy, nutritional support and appropriate nursing care. Although ivermectin toxicity can be fatal in rare cases, many dogs do well and make full recoveries. Sometimes it just takes time. If your pet is displaying any abnormal neurologic behavior, or you suspect your pet has ingested anything toxic, bring him/her to your local veterinarian (or to Greenbrier after hours) immediately.

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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What’s in the pond water? Water-borne parasites

Ever worry about what your pet could be contracting when he/she stops and drinks out of a pond or other stagnant body of water? Many water-borne parasites can cause clinical signs that are anywhere from mild to severe. The most common parasites include, but are not limited to:

Giardia: Giardia is a protozoan that can live for a long time in stagnant water. It causes diarrhea, which is often watery but not bloody. It can be hard to detect on a regular fecal float at your vet, and often further testing is required. It is shed intermittently in the feces, making detection that much harder. The most common treatments are fenbendazole and metronidazole. There is a vaccine for giardia that does not prevent the infection, but does prevent shedding of the protozoan — making it useful in kennel-type situations. Is it transmittable to humans? Yes, humans can be affected by drinking contaminated water.

Coccidia: Coccidia is a single-celled organism that is transmitted by the fecal-oral route, meaning that it is passed in the stool of the host and ingested by another host. The most common form of Coccidia Isospora is species-specific and therefore is not cross-transmitted. Coccidia causes watery, voluminous diarrhea, with or without blood. It is easily passed to young animals with weaker immune systems but rarely affects adults. It is usually detected on a fecal flotation, but a very small amount of Coccidia can cause an infection, so it can be missed on a fecal flotation. Coccidia is commonly treated with Albon or sulfa drugs. Can it be passed to humans? The most common form is species-specific, but humans can contract the Coccidia toxoplasma from cats, which can be a risk for pregnant women.

Leptospira: Leptospira is a spirochete bacteria that affects dogs and rarely cats. It thrives in warm, stagnant water such as a marsh or muddy area and is usually shed in the urine of wildlife or rodents. It initially causes a fever; then the fever subsides, and the clinical signs progress to liver damage and kidney failure. Leptospira can be detected by a blood test. Many dogs are vaccinated for Lepto as part of their annual checkup. The vaccine is specific for certain serovars or strains of Lepto, so it is still possible to contract Lepto after being vaccinated. The treatment for Leptospira is supportive care and antibiotics, but the prognosis is poor.

Campylobacter: Campylobacter is a bacteria often found in water contaminated with feces. It mostly affects puppies less than 6 months of age, and rarely affects cats. It is often isolated from the GI tract of normal adult dogs, but can overwhelm the system in puppies, causing a high fever and watery, mucoid or bloody diarrhea. The diagnosis is made on a fecal wet mount. Animals that are positive for campylobacter and have an associated high fever are treated with antibiotics.

Cryptosporidia: Cryptosporidia is a protozoa affecting both cats and puppies usually less than 6 months old. It is usually found in water contaminated with feces. It causes watery diarrhea, weight loss, bloating, gas and nausea. It is hard to detect on routine fecal flotation, and usually is detected by sending a fecal out to a lab that uses special flotation solution. The clinical signs are usually self-limiting and rarely require treatment other than a bland diet for three days. If the diarrhea is severe, occasionally IV fluids and supportive care are required.

The majority of the water-borne parasites cause diarrhea, which is treatable in a healthy animals. An immuno-compromised or otherwise debilitated animal might have more severe clinical signs. Among water-borne parasites, Leptosporidia carries the poorest prognosis if it advances to liver and or kidney failure. The best prevention is to make sure your dog is vaccinated, to carry fresh water for your dog, and to try to discourage them from drinking from stagnant water.

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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