Many pain relievers that help dogs and people are poisonous to cats.
At-Home Aids for Arthritic Dogs
What You Need to Know
As the temperatures outside start to get lower and you prepare for colder weather, it is important to also prepare your dog for the winter. Whether your dog lives indoors or outdoors, there are dangers in colder conditions. Your dog’s health, food, and environment all need to be taken into consideration when “Old Man Winter” approaches.
Indoor Winter Hazards
During the winter, people and their pets tend to spend more time indoors, so it is important to keep the home environment safe for your dog. The following are some common issues to be aware of:
Outdoor Winter Hazards
Being outdoors in the winter can be a lot of fun, but it is important to keep in mind that dogs are susceptible to frostbite, hypothermia (low body temperature), and other cold-weather hazards. Dogs that live outdoors in the winter need special attention to protect them from the wind, rain, and cold. Hypothermia can affect normal body functioning and produce injury or, eventually, death. Fresh, unfrozen water must be available at all times. If your dog has a dog house or igloo, make sure the interior is insulated. Safe heated mats, along with a good layer of straw, are an option that can help keep your dog warm and comfortable.
Dogs that live outside should be able to come inside when they want to. Old or sick dogs should be kept indoors when possible and monitored closely for signs of illness. Even a dog that is used to being outside can suffer hypothermia and frostbite. If severe winter storm warnings or extreme cold weather alerts recommending that humans stay indoors are issued in your area, it is a good idea to bring your dog indoors, too. If your dog cannot be brought indoors, a garage or mud room can provide enough shelter in some cases.
Chemicals like ice melts and salts, antifreeze, and windshield wiper fluids can all be toxic and cause serious complications if dogs eat or drink them. Ice melts and salts can stick to the bottom of dogs’ paws, so it is best to wash your dog’s feet after he or she has been outdoors. Methanol and ethylene glycol, the toxic ingredients in windshield wiper fluid and antifreeze, can cause permanent kidney damage and even death. Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur if dogs are left in cars with the motor running or in a garage with a running car.
Going for walks in the winter can be invigorating, but it is best to keep dogs away from frozen water. Dogs can fall through thin ice into freezing water and may suffer hypothermia or drown.
Holiday Season Hazards
We all look forward to the winter holiday season each year, so it is particularly tragic when a family pet is harmed during this time. Paying special attention to safety as you celebrate is very important.
We all want our pets to enjoy the winter and holidays with us. By taking a few precautions and preventive measures, dogs can be protected from many common winter hazards.
More Cold-Weather Tips
The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has more cold-weather tips at its website: www.aspca.org. Additional information about toxic houseplants, antifreeze, and other winter toxins is available at the Animal Poison Control Center: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/.
How Can I Make the Travel Experience Better for My Cat?
Our pets share so much of our lives that many of us don’t want to consider traveling without them. Whether you are flying, driving a car, or RVing, sharing a trip with a pet can add richness to the experience. Proper planning can make the travel experience better and less stressful for you and for your pet.
What Food and Medications Should I Bring When Traveling With My Cat?
There are many factors you can’t control when you are on the road, but changing your cat’s food can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or other problems that can be difficult to deal with while traveling. Some cats may even refuse to eat a different food; if this refusal goes on for a few days, it can quickly turn into a problem. You can help avoid this problem by bringing enough of your cat’s regular food for the duration of the trip. If your cat receives medication, bring enough for the trip and try to maintain your regular schedule.
If you are traveling by car or RV, set up a large cage or crate with your cat’s litterbox, food, and water; bringing your cat’s favorite bed, blanket, or toys can also help make the trip more relaxing and pleasant. If you are flying, you will need an airline-approved carrier for your cat; you should also request that your cat fly in a temperature-controlled cargo area.
Many people escape the snow by traveling with their pet to warmer climates. Although fleas and ticks may not be a problem during the winter where you live, your cat may be exposed to these parasites at your destination. Make sure you’re prepared by asking your veterinarian for appropriate flea and tick control products.
How Should I Plan for Travel With My Cat?
Spontaneity and family emergencies aside, most of us wouldn’t take a trip without planning some things ahead of time. The same thing applies when traveling with your cat:
Where to stay: Many hotels and rental properties allow pets. Locating proper accommodations ahead of time and being clear about fees (some places charge an extra fee for pets) can help minimize anxiety when you arrive.
Travel requirements: Most airlines require a health certificate for pets that will be flying. The health certificate generally states that the pet is in good health and free from any infectious or contagious diseases. Don’t assume this document can be obtained from your veterinarian on the way to the airport! Your cat may need a physical examination, fecal exam, or other procedures before your veterinarian can sign a health certificate. Also, the certificate must be obtained within a certain window of time before you travel. Find out from your airline what their requirements are and plan to get the health certificate ahead of time.
Some destinations (particularly island locations like England and Hawaii) may have quarantine regulations or rabies certification procedures. Clarify any of these requirements well in advance of your trip.
Medical care: Do you have a plan in case your cat gets sick while you are traveling? If possible, find a veterinarian at your destination; your own veterinarian may be able to make some recommendations. This is particularly important if your cat has an existing medical problem or is on medication.
Should I Sedate My Cat for Travel?
Giving a tranquilizer to a cat before traveling has pros and cons. Some would argue that if your cat is tranquilized, then he or she is not sharing the travel experience with you—so what is the point of bringing your pet along? Sedation can also have side effects, including lowering body temperature (which could be an issue if your pet is flying in the cargo area of a plane), and causing hypotension (low blood pressure). Others may argue that a little light sedation can calm a cat that is overly stressed or excited while traveling and can therefore make the trip more pleasant for everyone involved. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Some cats do very well with a light sedative, but remember that sedation does not address all travel issues. If your cat has severe motion sickness or gets extremely stressed while traveling, it may be better to arrange for a pet sitter or board him or her. Also, not every cat is a good candidate for a tranquilizer, so ask your veterinarian if sedation is a good idea for your cat.
If you have never given your cat a tranquilizer before, give a test dose ahead of your trip. Pick a day when you will be home with your pet for most of the day. That way, if the medication causes excessive sedation or other negative side effects, you will be there to intervene and call your veterinarian for help.
What Else Should I Know About Travelling With My Cat?
If you plan to travel with your pet, let your veterinarian know ahead of time. He or she may be able to advise you about parasite protection and other health considerations that may be different at your destination. If you decide to leave your cat at home, your veterinarian can likely recommend a good boarding facility or pet sitting service. Addressing any questions or concerns with your veterinarian ahead of time can save worry and stress while you are away.
It is recommended that you identify your pet even if you don’t plan to let him or her go outside. Even “indoor” pets can get out by accident, and many lost pets are never returned to their owners because they have no identification. Collars and tags are popular, effective methods of identification, but they can come off. Microchips, which are implanted just under the pet’s skin, are one way to permanently identify pets.
What Is a Microchip?
A microchip is a tiny electronic device—about the size of a grain of rice—that uses radio waves to transmit stored information when it is read by the right kind of scanner. Microchips for pets generally store a unique identification number. They do not need a power source, and they have no moving parts, so they do not wear out. Microchips are made of a material that is compatible with body tissues, so rejection and infection at the site are rare.
After injection, the microchip becomes encased in the tissue at the injection site. It may move slightly, but it usually stays at or near the place it was injected. To read the chip, a compatible scanner must be passed over it. Different microchip companies use different chips; however, there are scanners that can read all kinds of chips.
The Microchipping Procedure
Many veterinary offices have the equipment to implant and scan for microchips. Each microchip comes preloaded in a sterile syringe. To implant the chip, the veterinarian inserts the needle just under the pet’s skin between the shoulder blades and pushes the syringe plunger. The entire procedure, like a regular injection, is very quick and does not require pain medication or anesthesia.
How the System Works
When a lost or injured pet is taken to an emergency room or shelter, he or she can be scanned for the presence of a microchip. If the pet has a chip, the scanner reads the pet’s identification number. If the chip has been properly registered, the shelter or hospital can provide the number to the microchip company, which maintains the owner's contact information. The microchip company then contacts the owner, and the pet can go home.
Microchip Registration and Maintenance
Do Dogs and Cats Really Grieve?
Whether animals feel emotions in the same way people do is a mystery. However, their behaviors are commonly interpreted as reliable expressions of mood—for example, relaxed, fearful, or aggressive. Based on observed changes in behavior, it is thought that some dogs and cats grieve after losing a close human or animal companion. In 1996, the ASPCA conducted a study of mourning in companion animals and found that more than half of dogs and cats had at least four behavioral changes after losing an animal companion. Many of these changes, such as eating less and changes in sleep patterns, were similar to behaviors exhibited by grieving people.
If you have recently lost a pet and other pets in the household are acting differently, it is possible that they miss the deceased pet and are experiencing grief.
Signs of Grief
Like people, dogs and cats seem to show a wide variety of responses to losing a companion. Behavior changes observed in the 1996 ASPCA study included:
Again, as in people, signs of grief in pets usually improve with time. However, there are things you can do to help your pet through this difficult period. If your pet is eating less or is not eating, encourage him or her to eat by making food more appealing. For example, slightly warming canned food can make it smell better to pets. However, be very careful to not overheat food, which can burn your pet’s mouth. If your pet refuses to eat at all, call your veterinarian.
#1 Asparagus Fern
Asparagus fern (also called emerald feather, emerald fern, sprengeri fern, plumosa fern, and lace fern) is toxic to dogs and cats. The toxic agent in this plant is sapogenin—a steroid found in a variety of plants. If a dog or cat ingests the berries of this plant, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or abdominal pain can occur. Allergic dermatitis (skin inflammation) can occur if an animal is repeatedly exposed to this plant.
#2 Corn Plant
Corn plant (also known as cornstalk plant, dracaena, dragon tree, and ribbon plant) is toxic to dogs and cats. Saponin is the toxic chemical compound in this plant. If this plant is ingested, vomiting (with or without blood), appetite loss, depression, and/or increased salivation can occur. Affected cats may also have dilated pupils.
Dieffenbachia (commonly known as dumb cane, tropic snow, and exotica) is toxic to dogs and cats. Dieffenbachia contains a chemical that is a poisonous deterrent to animals. If this plant is ingested, oral irritation can occur, especially on the tongue and lips. This irritation can lead to increased salivation, difficulty swallowing, and vomiting.
#4 Elephant Ear
Elephant ear (also known as caladium, taro, pai, ape, cape, via, via sori, and malanga) contains a chemical similar to the one in dieffenbachia, so an animal’s toxic reaction to elephant ear is similar: oral irritation, increased salivation, difficulty swallowing, and vomiting.
Many plants of the lily family are considered toxic to cats, and some are considered toxic to dogs. Cats are the only animals in which the Easter and stargazer lilies are known to be toxic. Generally, a cat’s first toxic reaction to this plant includes vomiting, lethargy, and a lack of appetite, but severe kidney failure, and even death, can quickly follow if a cat is untreated. The peace lily (also known as Mauna Loa) is toxic to dogs and cats. Ingestion of the peace lily or calla lily can cause irritation of the tongue and lips, increased salivation, difficulty swallowing, and vomiting.
Cyclamen (also known as sowbread) is a pretty, flowering plant that is toxic to dogs and cats. If ingested, this plant can cause increased salivation, vomiting and diarrhea. If an animal ingests a large amount of the plant’s tubers—which are found at the root, generally below the soil—heart rhythm abnormalities, seizures, and even death can occur.
#7 Heartleaf Philodendron
Heartleaf philodendron (also known as horsehead philodendron, cordatum, fiddle-leaf, panda plant, split-leaf philodendron, fruit salad plant, red emerald, red princess, and saddle leaf) is a common, easy-to-grow houseplant that is toxic to dogs and cats. This philodendron contains a chemical that can irritate the mouth, tongue, and lips of animals. An affected pet may also experience increased salivation, vomiting, and difficulty swallowing.
#8 Jade Plant
Jade plant (also known as baby jade, dwarf rubber plant, jade tree, Chinese rubber plant, Japanese rubber plant, and friendship tree) is toxic to cats and dogs. The toxic property in this plant is unknown, but ingestion of it can cause vomiting, depression, ataxia (incoordination), and bradycardia (slow heart rate; this is rare).
#9 Aloe Plant
Aloe plant (also known as medicine plant and Barbados aloe) is a common, succulent plant that is toxic to dogs and cats. Aloin is considered the toxic agent in this plant. This bitter, yellow substance is found in most aloe species and may cause vomiting and/or the urine to become reddish.
#10 Satin Pothos
Satin pothos (also known as silk pothos) is toxic to dogs and cats. If ingested by a cat or dog, this plant may irritate the mouth, lips, and tongue. The pet may also experience an increase in salivation, vomiting, and/or difficulty swallowing.
For a full list of toxic and non-toxic indoor and outdoor plants, visit the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) website at www.aspca.org or The Humane Society of the United States website at www.humanesociety.org.
Why Does My Cat Need Injectable Medication?
Certain medications, such as insulin, can only be administered by injection. Depending on the formulation and the type of medication, injectable medications can be given by several routes. They can be given through direct injection into a vein (known as intravenous, or IV injection), injection into a muscle (known as intramuscular, or IM injection), or injection directly under the skin – a procedure known as subcutaneous (SC orSQ) injection. It is very important that you understand how your pet’s injectable medication needs to be given; for example, if you accidentally give a medication intravenously instead of subcutaneously, complications can result. Most injectable medications given at home are intended to be given subcutaneously.
Before you start, ask your veterinary health care team for training and advice so you know how to give injectable medication without injuring yourself or your cat. If you aren’t comfortable or need additional training sessions, don’t be afraid to ask!
Here are a few things to consider:
The “syringe” is the clear (usually plastic) cylinder that holds the medication to be injected. The “needle” is the sharp, metal tip that is injected into the skin. The “plunger” is a stem that moves inside the syringe. Pull the plunger backward to fill the syringe and push it forward to empty the syringe. A new needle/plunger and syringe are sterile until they are opened. The bottle of injectable medication is also sterile. It is important to handle these items properly to avoid contaminating them. Your veterinary care team will show you how to properly open a syringe and draw up injectable medication without breaking sterility. Be sure to use a new syringe, plunger, and needle for each injection. Reusing syringes and needles can cause infection. Additionally, a used needle is dull and therefore more painful than a new needle.
Some cats are happy lying or sitting on your lap while you administer the medication injection. However, you should place a towel or blanket across your lap (to avoid getting scratched) in case your cat tries to jump down. Some cats do better on a smooth surface, such as a table; the surface of a washing machine can simulate the smooth metal table at your veterinarian’s office and encourage your cat to remain still during the procedure. Additionally, some cats do better with two people administering the injection – one person to hold the cat and the other one to give the injection.
Giving a Subcutaneous Injection
Your veterinary care team will show you how to administer an injection before you have to try it alone at home:
Giving an Intramuscular Injection
There are a few precise areas on the body that are commonly used for giving intramuscular injections. You will need to find “landmarks” on your cat so that you know where to give the injection. Your veterinary care team will show you how to find an appropriate injection site and administer an intramuscular injection before you have to try it alone at home:
Ask your veterinary team to teach you how to administer medication injections safely. If you aren’t comfortable giving injections, ask about scheduling outpatient visits for the injections to be given.
Understanding the Medication Instructions
The first part of successfully administering medication to your cat is to ensure that you understand the instructions for giving the medication. These instructions include route of administration (for example, by mouth, into the ears, or into the eyes), dosing frequency (for example, once daily, every 12 hours, or every 8 hours), duration of treatment (for example, 7 days, until gone), and other special considerations (for example, give with food, follow with water).
Sometimes there is flexibility with medication instructions; for example, some medications can be given “as needed,” or a twice-daily dosing schedule may be adaptable to once-daily dosing. However, for other medications, the recommended dosing instructions need to be followed closely. Before you leave your veterinarian’s office with a new medication, be sure to address any concerns or questions regarding the medication with your veterinary team. For example, if your work schedule does not permit dosing every 8 hours, your veterinarian may be able to recommend a different medication that can be given less frequently. Ask about your pet’s expected response to the treatment.
It is very helpful to write a medication schedule for your pet on a calendar, including the date and time that the medication needs to be administered. This will help you to (1) avoid forgetting to give a dose and (2) remember when the course of treatment is completed. It is also very important to follow all label directions carefully. Improper storage (for example, keeping a refrigerated medication at room temperature) can affect the safety and effectiveness of medication. Additionally, it is important to give the medication for the correct length of time. Complications can occur if antibiotics are not given for the full duration of recommended treatment; in addition, some medications (such as corticosteroids) cannot be discontinued without causing illness, so it is very important to give medications as directed. If your pet experiences any medication-related side effects, contact your veterinarian promptly for advice before adjusting a dosage or discontinuing the medication.
If you’ve never given a cat medication before, it can be difficult to know what method will work best. Some cats take pills very readily if the pill is hidden inside a treat or given with a small amount of canned cat food. Another option is canned tuna or salmon for people. Pills can also be crushed (or capsules broken and emptied) and mixed with a small amount of canned food. However, your cat must eat all of the food right away to ensure receiving the full medication dose. Also, some coated pills and capsules have a bitter taste if the capsule or coating is removed. If the medication makes the food taste badly, your cat may refuse to eat it. Before choosing one of these options, ask your veterinarian if the medication can be given with food. You will probably know after the first or second dosing if this method will work.
If you must give your cat a pill directly by mouth, here’s a method that usually works. This technique takes practice and may require more than one attempt to get your cat to swallow the pill. If your cat is not used to having your hands around his or her mouth (as with toothbrushing, for example), gradually introduce your cat to this by stroking your cat’s face and neck for a few moments. This should calm your cat. If you think that your cat may try to bite or scratch, do not attempt this technique; ask your veterinarian for alternative medication options:
Administering Liquid Medication
Some pet owners prefer liquid medication because administration does not require placing your fingers inside of your cat’s mouth. However, if your cat refuses to swallow the liquid, this method may not be ideal. Here are some tips for administering liquid medication:
If you are unable to administer medications to your cat, here are some suggestions that may help:
What Are Subcutaneous Fluids?
Fluid administration is a regular part of veterinary medical care. Any time that a patient is dehydrated or needs fluids, your veterinarian determines the best way to provide them. Fluids can be given by mouth, injection into a vein (known as intravenous fluids or IV fluids), or injection directly under the skin – a procedure known as subcutaneous fluid administration.
If a pet is able to eat and drink, giving fluids by mouth may be an option. However, if the pet is vomiting, unwilling to drink, or unable to obtain enough fluids through drinking, other methods of fluid administration must be considered. To receive intravenous fluids, pets generally need to be hospitalized because only a small amount can be given at a time and the IV catheter (through which the fluids are given) requires special care and maintenance. However, subcutaneous fluids can be given in larger amounts over a relatively short period of time, so hospitalization is frequently not required. The injection of sterile fluid is given under the skin and absorbed slowly over the next several hours. Advantages of the subcutaneous route include a lower cost (no catheter is required, and hospitalization is often not necessary) and ease of administration.
When Are Subcutaneous Fluids Necessary?
Cats being treated for chronic kidney disease are the most likely to receive subcutaneous fluids on a regular basis. Your veterinarian may also recommend subcutaneous fluids for pets that are vomiting or unable (or unwilling) to drink adequate amounts of water. Examples may include cats receiving chemotherapy, cats with liver disease, or cats with a high fever.
Depending on the medical condition being treated, your veterinarian may recommend fluid injections daily, every other day, or a few times a week. The frequency of injections and the amount of fluids given at each injection may change over time, so be sure to keep a notebook detailing when fluids are given and how much.
Before you get started, your veterinary health team will work with you to make sure you know how to give the subcutaneous fluid injections without injuring yourself or your cat. If you aren’t comfortable or need additional training sessions, don’t be afraid to ask!
Here are a few things to consider:
The new fluid bag, fluid line, and needles are sterile until they are opened. It is important to handle these items properly to avoid contaminating them. Your veterinary care team will show you how to assemble the fluid line and bag and to attach a fresh needle without breaking sterility. Be sure to change the needle after each injection; the fluid line can be changed when each bag of fluids is completed.
For the fluids to flow from the bag and into your pet, the fluid bag must be suspended over the area where your pet is sitting. Many pet owners use a bent wire coat hanger to hang the fluid bag over the top of a door; you can then sit in a nearby chair and hold the cat while fluids are being given.
Your cat may be happy lying or sitting on your lap while you administer the fluid injection. However, you should place a towel or blanket across your lap (to avoid getting scratched) in case your cat tries to jump down. Some cats do better on a smooth surface, such as a table; the top surface of a washing machine can simulate the smooth metal table at your veterinarian’s office, which might encourage your cat to remain still during the procedure. Additionally, some cats do better with two people administering the injection – one person to hold the cat, and the other one to give the injection.
Giving the Fluid Injection
Your veterinary care team will show you how to administer fluids before you have to try it alone at home:
Ask your veterinary team to teach you how to administer fluid injections safely. If you aren’t comfortable giving injections, ask about scheduling outpatient visits for the fluid injections to be given.
You'll Save Lives
While the estimates vary, approximately three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized (“put to sleep”) each year in the United States because too few people spay or neuter the pets they have, too few adopt their new pets, and too many give up their pets. Because space at shelters is limited, staff members must make the difficult decision to euthanize healthy animals that aren’t adopted within a certain amount of time.
The number of euthanized animals could be reduced greatly if more people adopted pets instead of buying them. By adopting from an animal shelter or rescue group, you'll help save the lives of two animals—the pet you adopt and a homeless animal that can be rescued because of space you make available.
You'll Get a Great Pet
Animal shelters and rescue groups have plenty of healthy, well-behaved animals waiting for a home. Most shelters examine and vaccinate animals when they arrive, and many shelters spay or neuter them before adoption. In addition to providing medical care, more and more shelters and rescue groups screen animals for specific temperaments (“personality” characteristics) and behaviors to match pets with prospective owners.
It is a common belief that animals end up in shelters because they were abused or behaved badly. In truth, most animals in shelters are there because of “people reasons”: divorce, moving, lack of time, and financial constraints are among the most common reasons why pets lose their homes. Adopted pets are just as loving, intelligent, and loyal as purchased pets.
You'll Save Money
Adopting a pet from an animal shelter is much less expensive than buying a pet at a pet store or through other sources. Buying a pet can easily cost $500 to $1000 or more; adoption costs range from $50 to $200. In addition, animals from many shelters are already spayed or neutered and vaccinated, which makes the shelter’s fee a bargain.
Although many shelters and rescue groups have purebred animals, an adopted mixed-breed pet may be healthier than a purebred pet (purebred pets are more likely to have genetic problems) and, therefore, cost less overall.
You Won’t Support Puppy or Kitten Mills
Puppy and kitten mills are factory-style breeding facilities that put profit above the welfare of animals. Most animals raised in these mills are housed in poor conditions with improper medical care. They are often in poor health and have ongoing behavior and health problems due to lack of human companionship and inbreeding. Mill animals are sold to unsuspecting consumers in pet stores, over the Internet, and through newspaper classified advertisements.
By adopting instead of buying a pet, you can be certain that you aren't supporting puppy or kitten mills.
You Can Choose a Pet of Any Age
Although puppies and kittens are cute, they can require a lot of work to train. An adult or older pet that is already trained may be a better fit for your lifestyle. For example, adopting an adult dog that is already housetrained and knows basic commands is often much easier than adopting a puppy.
You’re Likely to Have a Support System
Most pet stores don’t provide any support if you have questions or problems with your new pet. However, rescue groups do provide support for new owners because keeping pets in good homes is in the best interest of these groups.
Search for adoptable pets on Web sites like Petfinder.com and theshelterpetproject.org or contact your local shelter for adoptable pets in your area.
Dr. Carlson is an avid contributor to her blog, make sure you check out her articles!