One of the most intelligent birds ever studied, the African grey parrot has an amazing ability to imitate human speech and precisely mimic sounds within the environment (for example, ringtones and doorbells). African grey parrots can be affectionate, entertaining, and rewarding companion animals; however, owners must be knowledgeable and conscientious to fully enjoy the qualities of African grey parrots. These birds prefer a routine schedule and a stable environment within their enclosure, and they require a substantial amount of interactive time with their owners to develop a trusting, enjoyable relationship. Therefore, African greys may not be appropriate for people who work odd hours, travel frequently, or spend a substantial amount of time away from home.
Common Medical Disorders
What Is a Cardiac Exam?
A cardiac examination is an evaluation of the cardiovascular system, which includes the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Many elements of a cardiac exam are usually performed (to some extent) during a routine physical examination in pets of all ages. However, for older animals, pets with a history of heart problems, or pets that are at risk for developing heart disease, more extensive testing is sometimes recommended.
What Happens During a Cardiac Exam?
During your visit, your veterinarian will ask you specific questions about your pet's heart health and overall health. Signs of heart disease can be vague and may include coughing, breathing problems, weakness, fainting episodes, and exercise intolerance (getting tired easily or refusing to exercise). A thorough physical exam is usually performed in combination with a cardiac exam.
Your pet’s vital signs, including blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate, are checked to determine heart health. These signs may be checked by a veterinary technician, who reports the findings to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will also check your pet’s capillary refill time by gently pressing on the gums with a fingertip and then removing the finger while counting the number of seconds it takes for the color of the gums to return to normal. This test can help determine how well your pet’s blood is circulating and whether your pet is dehydrated. Pale gums may indicate a heart problem, circulation problem, or anemia (low number of red blood cells). Dark or blue gums can also signal a problem.
Your pet’s pulse rate and quality are generally checked during a cardiac exam. If pulses are weak, irregular, or otherwise abnormal, your veterinarian will try to determine the cause.
What Tests Are Performed During a Cardiac Exam?
Auscultation: Your veterinarian will listen to your pet's heart and lungs using a stethoscope, which magnifies the sounds of the heart and lungs. The scientific term for this process is auscultation. As your veterinarian listens, he or she may detect irregular heartbeats or sounds, an abnormal rhythm, or a heart murmur, all of which can be associated with heart disease. Your veterinarian will use the stethoscope to listen to the lungs for abnormal sounds, such as sounds produced by fluid buildup, which can occur in certain types of heart disease.
Blood testing: Results of blood tests can provide your veterinarian with a large amount of information about your pet’s heart. For example, heart-worm disease can damage your pet’s heart and lungs, so your veterinarian may recommend blood testing to check for this infection. Other useful blood tests may include a chemistry profile and a complete blood count (or CBC). Many irregularities, such as dehydration, abnormal sodium or potassium levels in the blood, or anemia (a low number of red blood cells), can make it more difficult for your pet’s heart to perform efficiently.
Electrocardiography: Electrocardiography (also called an ECG or EKG) is used to check for abnormalities in the heart’s rhythm. An ECG can determine whether the heart is beating too slow or too fast or whether there are irregular beats. An ECG detects electrical changes associated with the beating of the heart. The electrical changes are recorded by the ECG machine and then interpreted by a veterinarian.
X-rays: Chest x-rays are used to determine the size, shape, and position of the heart. Because heart disease causes the heart to work too hard, the heart muscle can become thickened, and the heart can become enlarged. X-rays also show your veterinarian your pet’s lungs. Certain types of heart disease cause fluid to accumulate in the lungs. Other lung problems, such as asthma, can also be evaluated when your veterinarian looks at x-rays. The large vessels associated with your pet’s heart and lungs can also be examined using x-rays.
Blood pressure: Your veterinarian may have equipment that can measure your pet’s blood pressure during a cardiac exam. Blood pressure that is too low or too high may need to be treated with medication.
Cardiac ultrasound: Your veterinarian may have equipment that can perform a cardiac ultrasound examination (or echocardiogram). The ultrasound machine is connected to a small handheld probe that is held against your pet’s chest. The probe sends out painless sound waves that bounce off of structures in your pet’s chest (such as the heart and blood vessels) and return to a sensor inside the ultrasound machine. This creates an image on a screen that can tell your veterinarian a great deal of information about your pet’s heart.
What Are the Benefits of a Cardiac Exam?
A cardiac exam is important to assess the overall health of the heart and circulatory system. Your pet may have underlying heart issues that may not be obvious, and catching them early is important. Many heart conditions can be managed successfully, if caught early.
When Is a Dog “Senior”?
With many dogs living well into their teens, many owners wonder: When is a dog truly senior? The answer is that there is no specific age at which a dog becomes senior. Individual pets age at different rates. However, most dogs become senior at 7 to 10 years of age, and most large- and giant-breed dogs become seniors earlier than small-breed dogs.
Knowing the general age of your dog can help you monitor him or her for early signs of any problems.
Health Issues in Senior Dogs
As dogs grow older, their bodies become less able to cope with physical or environmental stress. Their immune systems become weaker, and they are more prone to developing certain diseases or conditions, including:
This is why regular senior wellness visits with your veterinarian are important for the long-term health of your dog.
The Senior Dog Wellness Exam
Just as with people, it’s important for dogs to see their doctors more often as they age. Most experts agree that healthy senior dogs should see their veterinarians every 6 months. A thorough senior wellness exam is designed to:
During a senior wellness exam, your veterinarian will ask you questions to obtain a complete medical history for your dog and to determine if there have been any changes in health or behavior since the last visit. During the physical examination, your veterinarian will assess your dog’s overall appearance and body condition by listening to his or her heart and lungs; feeling for signs of pain, tumors, or other unusual changes in the neck and abdomen; checking joints for signs of arthritis or muscle weakness; and examining the ears, eyes, and mouth for any signs of disease.
A routine senior wellness exam should also include the following tests to check your dog for signs of disease and to assess your dog’s kidney and liver function:
Most veterinarians recommend that this baseline laboratory testing be conducted at least once a year in adult dogs aged 2 to 7 years, and more frequently in senior dogs. Dogs that have an existing medical problem may need testing more often.
Additional tests may be required depending on the results of routine screening tests. Which tests are necessary and how often they are performed are different for each dog, but, in general, the ones listed above will provide your veterinarian with a good “snapshot” of your senior dog’s health. Over time, these test results can be tracked and compared to help your veterinarian detect any developing health trends.
Monitoring Your Senior Dog
Dogs age much more rapidly than people do. Therefore, they may appear healthy for a long time and then seem to become suddenly ill. You can help your veterinarian by keeping a close eye on your dog between exams. If you notice any unusual signs of trouble, don’t wait for your regularly scheduled checkup to see your veterinarian: call right away. Signs to watch for and quickly report include the following:
Unexplained weight loss or weight gain can be an early sign of underlying disease. Weight management itself can also be an issue: Many senior dogs are obese, and obesity can contribute to the development of diabetes, arthritis, and other conditions.
Keeping Up With Basic Care
Along with paying more attention to your dog’s health as he or she ages, you should continue routine wellness care such as parasite prevention, dental care, nutritional management, and appropriate vaccination. Maintaining proper routine care becomes even more important as your dog’s immune system ages.
Take steps to ensure your dog’s comfort, such as making sure that food and water bowls are still easily accessible to your old friend and that you give him or her plenty of attention and affection.
Foods for senior dogs should be lower in fat but not lower in protein. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. Size is used to determine when it’s time to feed your dog a senior diet:
Smaller, more frequent feedings are easier on a senior dog’s digestive system.
You might need to give your senior dog more opportunities to urinate and defecate.
Because senior dogs can’t regulate their body temperature as well as young dogs, senior dogs should be kept warm, dry, and indoors when not outside for exercise. Senior dogs are also more sensitive to heat and humidity, so they should be protected from conditions that could cause heatstroke.
Arthritic dogs may appreciate ramps instead of stairs, extra blankets on their beds, and an orthopedic bed.
If your dog is losing his or her sight or hearing, remove obstacles and reduce your dog’s anxiety by keeping floors free of clutter.
Regular toothbrushing (only with dog toothpaste) will help reduce plaque that can cause problems, but many senior dogs require professional cleanings under general anesthesia.
How Do I Choose a Dog Food?
A high-quality, complete and balanced diet is important for the health and longevity of your dog. Among other benefits, a proper diet helps build strong bones, promotes healthy gums and teeth, protects immune function, and results in a lustrous haircoat. Unlike cats, which are carnivores (meaning that they must eat meat), dogs are omnivores, meaning that they can eat meat and plants as their primary food sources.
A large number of dog foods are available at pet supply stores, so selecting a dog food can be daunting. How do you find a food that’s right for your dog? Start by asking your veterinarian the following: “Which food will meet the particular needs of my pet?” and “Which brand(s) do you recommend?”
Most pet foods are created for different life stages, including puppy, maintenance, or senior diets. Within these life stages are even more specific categories. For example, if you own a Saint Bernard puppy, you’ll need to feed a puppy food for large-breed dogs. Large-breed puppy foods are specially formulated to meet the special requirements of large-breed puppies (for example, these foods have higher amounts of calcium and phosphorus because large-breed puppies grow faster than small-breed puppies). As another example, an adult dog that is used for hunting or breeding will most likely require a maintenance diet with higher energy content.
Before purchasing a dog food, look for a statement on the label that verifies that the food underwent AAFCO feeding trials. This means that the food was tested on animals according to guidelines from the Association of American Feed Control Officials. A label that says the food meets AAFCO standards simply means that a chemical analysis of the food appears to be complete and balanced, but the food has not been tested on animals. Because some nutrients may not be digestible when fed to animals, the feeding trial statement is a better indication of the nutritional adequacy of the food.
With a complete and balanced commercial diet, vitamin supplements are usually not necessary; in fact, supplying too many nutrients can be dangerous. Consult your veterinarian before giving your pet any supplements.
Do Certain Diseases Require Special Foods?
Nutrition can help slow the progression, or manage the signs, of many diseases. For dogs with kidney disease, for example, diets lower in protein have been shown to help slow disease progression. Foods with limited or hydrolyzed proteins can help reduce the itching and scratching in many allergic dogs. For dogs with osteoarthritis, many diets now contain higher levels of glucosamine and antioxidants to help reduce pain and inflammation.
Most diets that are designed for a specific disease are prescription diets and are only available through veterinarians. If your pet has a disease or condition, consult your veterinarian for nutritional advice.
Is a Homemade or Raw Diet Okay to Feed?
The advantage of homemade diets is that they can be tailored to the specific needs of your dog. However, most homemade diets found in books or on the Internet can be too vague or too complex, and ingredient substitutions or alterations may result in a diet that is nutritionally deficient or unbalanced or is even toxic. If you really want to provide your dog with a homemade diet, it’s best to work under the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist to ensure that the diet you prepare is complete and balanced for your dog.
While the proponents of raw diets claim that meat and bones more closely resemble the diet that dogs would eat in the wild, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support this idea. Raw diets have the same potential drawbacks of homemade diets: raw diets can also be nutritionally deficient and unbalanced. What’s more, raw diets carry the risk of contamination with bacteria such as Salmonella, and bits of bone can break teeth and perforate the digestive tract. If you want to feed your dog a raw diet, consult your veterinarian for advice, and make sure to handle all the food and your dog’s feces with care to avoid transmitting bacteria to people in your household.
What Do I Need to Know About Table Scraps and Treats?
The biggest problem with table scraps and treats is that they add unnecessary calories that can make your pet overweight. Pet obesity often leads to diabetes, increased blood pressure, and orthopedic problems, all of which can reduce your dog’s life span. If your dog is overweight, consult your veterinarian about a diet and exercise plan to get your dog back to a healthy weight. In addition, many dogs are allergic to common foods, such as wheat and chicken, resulting in problems such as itchy, infected ears and skin infections.
Table scraps and treats can also upset the bacterial balance in the digestive tract, resulting in vomiting and diarrhea. Fatty treats, especially, can lead to pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), which can require hospitalization. Even if your dog is fed a balanced diet, additional treats can result in unbalanced nutrition. If you can’t refuse your dog’s begging, consider giving your dog healthy treats such as raw carrots and green beans.
In cold weather, some dogs may be more comfortable in outerwear (sweaters or coats). Some dog breeds (like malamutes, huskies, Newfoundlands, and other breeds with thick coats) thrive in cold temperatures, so these dogs don’t need outerwear. However, outerwear can help short-haired dogs (like boxers, greyhounds, and vizslas) stay comfortable longer in the cold, allowing them to conserve body heat as well as energy for walking and running. When it’s cold, outerwear is recommended for dogs recovering from surgery (anesthesia can disrupt a dog’s ability to regulate his or her body temperature). If your dog seems to be reacting poorly to cold temperatures (such as prolonged shivering), contact your veterinarian right away.
Dog boots are recommended if your dog will be outdoors for a long time or will be walking on ice, which can injure paws.
Dogs of any breed can benefit from canine raincoats, which can help keep your dog and house dry. Many canine raincoats have the added benefit of reflective material for safety.
Tips for Dressing Your Dog
Periodontal Disease—Why Brush?
Periodontal (gum) disease can lead to tooth loss and affects most cats before they are 3 years old. Bacteria from periodontal disease can spread to affect other organs and cause illness. One of the best ways to help prevent periodontal disease is to brush your cat’s teeth on a regular basis—daily, if he or she will allow it. Cats are never too young to start having their teeth brushed at home; in fact, the younger they are, the better.
Before you start brushing your cat’s teeth, have them checked by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may recommend a dental cleaning to remove any existing plaque and tartar, which contribute to periodontal disease. If your cat has severe dental disease, extraction of the affected teeth may be recommended. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendation on how long to wait after dental cleaning or extraction before brushing your cat’s teeth.
What You Need
Note: Do not use toothpaste for people or baking soda because these can upset your cat’s stomach. Cat toothpaste comes in different flavors (e.g., poultry, beef). You may need to try a couple flavors to find the one your cat likes the best. The more your cat likes the toothpaste, the easier it will be to train him or her to accept brushing.
Other Ways to Control Plaque
Although there’s no substitute for regular toothbrushing, some cats just won’t allow it. If you can’t brush your cat’s teeth, ask your veterinarian about plaque-preventive products. Feeding dry food may also help keep your cat’s teeth and gums in good condition. The Seal of Acceptance from the Veterinary Oral Health Council appears on products that meet defined standards for plaque and tartar control in dogs and cats.
Signs of Dental Problems
Bringing a new kitten home is exciting. The following guidelines will help you and your kitten adjust to this big change in your lives.
Kittens can leave their mother and littermates after they have been weaned, usually at 8 to 10 weeks of age. Like human babies, kittens require special care, including veterinary care, feeding, and socialization. The best time to bring a kitten home is when you have at least 1 or 2 days to focus on helping him or her adjust to new surroundings.
To safely transport your new kitten home, you’ll need a carrier. Leaving mom is a big deal for your kitten; a carrier will help him or her feel more secure. Don’t use another pet’s carrier because its smell could be stressful to your kitten. Place a towel in the carrier for warmth and to absorb urine in case of an accident. Carry an extra towel.
Before your kitten has contact with other cats, he or she must be tested for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus, given a physical examination, tested and treated for parasites, and vaccinated. This will prevent the spread of a disease or parasites to other pets. If you have other pets, talk to your veterinarian about how to introduce your kitten to them.
Before you bring your kitten home, prepare a small room or space that will be his or her own for the first few days or weeks. Having a smaller area to explore at first will help your kitten get comfortable with his or her new home. Cats don’t like to eat next to the litterbox, so place the litterbox on one side of the room and the food and water dishes on the other. Make sure that your kitten can get in and out of the litterbox without help; it might be necessary to provide a litterbox with low sides. To help your kitten feel secure, make sure that the room has hiding places. If there isn’t furniture to hide beneath, place cardboard boxes on their sides or cut doorways into them. Providing a warm, comfortable bed is essential. You can purchase a pet bed or line a box with something soft; using a sweatshirt that you’ve worn will help your kitten get used to your scent.
When you bring your kitten home, put the carrier in the room you’ve prepared. Open the carrier door, but let your kitten come out when he or she is ready. After your kitten comes out, leave the carrier in the corner as another hiding place. Every day, scoop out the litterbox and provide fresh food and water.
Your kitten may hide at first, but he or she will explore when no one is watching, becoming more comfortable with his or her new home. Your kitten will likely want plenty of attention from you—you’re his or her new mother/littermate!
After your kitten has been to your veterinarian, becomes comfortable in his or her room, and develops a regular routine of eating, drinking, and using the litterbox, you can let him or her venture into the rest of your house. At this point, you need to make sure that your kitten stays safe and has enough privacy to eat, sleep, and use the litterbox. Keep your kitten’s bed, litterbox, and food/water dishes in the same place so that he or she knows where to find them.
Kittens receive some immunity (protection against disease) from their mothers at birth and through nursing. Because this immunity slowly wears off, kittens should be vaccinated against various diseases on a schedule, beginning at 2 to 3 months of age. Ask your veterinarian for details.
Intestinal parasites are common in kittens. Fecal examinations and treatments (dewormings) are usually repeated until two consecutive fecal examinations have negative results. External parasites (fleas, ticks, and mites) are treated with products approved for use on kittens.
Kittens should be spayed or neutered by 6 months of age. This helps to control pet overpopulation and reduces the chance of behavior problems and some medical conditions.
Proper nutrition is especially important for kittens, which need two to three times as many calories and nutrients as adult cats. A mother cat’s milk provides everything a kitten needs during the first 4 weeks of life. Cow’s milk should never be given to kittens or cats because it can give them diarrhea. Most kittens are completely weaned between 8 and 10 weeks of age. At 6 to 7 weeks of age, kittens should be able to chew dry food. Feed a name-brand kitten food with the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the bag or labeluntil your kitten is approximately 9 to 12 months old. When your kitten is 3 to 6 months old, feed him or her three times per day. When your kitten is 6 months old, start feeding twice daily.
Cats learn how to socialize with each other from their mother and littermates; therefore, if possible, kittens should remain with their mother and/or littermates until they are about 10 weeks old. Kittens that have human contact before they are 10 to 12 weeks old are more likely to interact well with people throughout their lives. Handling and playing with your kitten can help you bond with him or her. Feral (wild) cats haven’t been socialized with people as kittens and may fear and avoid people throughout their lives. Your kitten should be gradually introduced to other pets with care and supervision. Ask your veterinarian for advice on the best way to do this.
Enjoy your new kitten, and let your veterinarian know if you have any questions.
What Is It?
Bordetella bronchiseptica (B. bronchiseptica) is a bacterium that is commonly associated with respiratory disease in dogs. It can also infect cats, rabbits, and, in rare cases, humans. It is one of the most common bacterial causes of canine infectious tracheobronchitis, which is also sometimes called kennel cough. B. bronchiseptica is highly contagious, easily transmitted through direct contact or the air, and resistant to destruction in the environment.
Signs of Illness
Signs of canine infectious tracheobronchitis typically develop 2 to 14 days after exposure to B. bronchiseptica. In mild cases, signs typically resolve within 10 to 14 days. More severe cases, particularly when a subsequent infection has occurred, can require a much longer recovery. Infected animals can continue to shed (spread) the bacterium for months after recovery.
In healthy adult dogs, B. bronchiseptica typically causes no more than a mild illness. In puppies or in dogs with other underlying health issues, however, it can cause severe illness or even death in rare cases.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Although sophisticated testing is available, diagnosis is generally based on a history of exposure to infected dogs or a recent visit to a kennel, combined with the presence of signs of illness.
In mild cases, treatment is generally supportive, as the disease typically resolves on its own unless a subsequent infection occurs. Precautionary antibiotics to prevent subsequent infection may be prescribed. In severe cases, treatment may consist of administration of antibiotics as well as medications to help your pet breathe more easily. Cough medication may also be prescribed if appropriate.
A harness, rather than a collar, is recommended for leash walking of ill dogs. A traditional collar puts pressure on already sensitive and irritated tracheal tissues and can induce coughing episodes.
The term kennel cough is a misnomer, as dogs don’t necessarily contract the disease as a result of being kenneled. Rather, they become ill because kennels can be stressful environments for some dogs, and stress can suppress the immune system, increasing susceptibility to disease. Also, kennel conditions (such as group housing) can make it easier to spread infectious organisms, such as B. bronchiseptica. Any place where large numbers of dogs gather together increases the risk of disease transmission.
Vaccination is the best way to protect your dog from illness associated with canine infectious tracheobronchitis, particularly if your dog frequents kennels, groomers, dog shows, or dog sporting events. Although the B. bronchiseptica vaccination is not mandatory for every dog, it may be recommended in dogs whose lifestyle increases their risk of exposure to this organism. An intranasal B. bronchiseptica vaccine is available in addition to the traditional injectable vaccine. Ask your veterinarian whether vaccination is recommended for your pet and, if so, which type is best for your pet.
To reduce the risk of disease transmission, many boarding facilities require dogs to be vaccinated for kennel cough before entry.
What Is a Blood Pressure Test?
A blood pressure test measures the pressure of blood against arterial walls as the blood is pumped through the body. As a general rule of thumb, blood pressure should not exceed about 160/100 mm Hg in dogs and cats. The first number is the systolic blood pressure, or the pressure when the heart contracts. The second reading is the diastolic blood pressure, which is lower because it is the pressure when the heart relaxes between contractions. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
Which Pets Should Have a Blood Pressure Test?
In most cases, a blood pressure test is performed to determine if your pet’s blood pressure is too high. When blood pressure is too high, bleeding may occur, which can damage internal organs. The organs that are most vulnerable to damage are the eyes, kidneys, heart, and brain. The most common sign of high blood pressure is sudden or gradual blindness. Blindness caused by high blood pressure may be reversible, if caught early. Other signs of high blood pressure include dilated pupils, disorientation, and, less commonly, seizures.
In dogs and cats, high blood pressure is typically caused by another disease or condition, such as:
Your veterinarian may recommend a blood pressure test if your pet shows signs of high blood pressure or has been diagnosed with a disease associated with high blood pressure. Because cats older than 10 years are at high risk for kidney disease and hyperthyroidism, veterinarians often recommend screening them for high blood pressure.
Pets that are critically ill or under general anesthesia are often monitored to ensure that their blood pressure doesn’t become too low. Maintaining normal blood pressure is important so that organs receive the oxygen necessary to maintain proper function.
How Is Blood Pressure Measured?
In most cases, a blood pressure test is noninvasive and painless for your pet and can be performed during a regular office visit. Anxiety and stress can raise your pet’s blood pressure, so the test should be done in a quiet, relaxed environment and should be performed several times to ensure the results are not influenced by stress.
With the most common technique, a blood pressure cuff is placed around one of the pet’s limbs or around the base of the tail. The cuff is inflated to a pressure above the systolic pressure, so it momentarily presses against the artery and stops the blood flow. The cuff is then slowly deflated, and a machine determines the systolic and diastolic blood pressures. This method is called the indirect method and is fairly accurate. The most accurate blood pressure measurement is accomplished by placing a catheter directly into an artery. This type of monitoring is more painful and typically only done for patients that are critically ill and/or under general anesthesia and need constant blood pressure monitoring.
How Is High Blood Pressure Treated?
Because high blood pressure is usually caused by another disease, identifying and treating that disease can help return blood pressure closer to normal.
Occasionally, additional medications that dilate the blood vessels are required to help reduce blood pressure. If your pet has been diagnosed with high blood pressure, a blood pressure test should be done every few months to make sure the condition is properly controlled.
A biopsy allows your veterinarian to determine the types of cells in a tissue sample.
What Is a Biopsy?
A biopsy is a surgical procedure in which a tissue sample is removed from the body and examined under a microscope. In some cases, only a small sample is removed for analysis. In other cases, several samples may be removed, or an entire growth may be removed and examined.
What Is a Biopsy Used For?
Dogs and cats commonly develop lumps and growths on their skin. Sometimes these lumps are cancerous, but in other cases, they are simply warts or other noncancerous (benign) growths. Examining a lump does not always give your veterinarian enough information to tell whether it is cancerous or not. A biopsy may be recommended to obtain more information about a suspicious lump.
A biopsy can also be used to diagnose a condition or determine the severity of a disease. For example, if an animal has liver disease, a sample of the liver can be removed (during a biopsy) and examined under a microscope to help determine the cause and extent of the liver damage.
How Is a Biopsy Performed?
Some form of anesthesia is generally required to perform a biopsy. Depending on several factors, including where the tissue sample(s) is/are located and how many areas need to be sampled, your veterinarian will decide whether to use local anesthesia, sedation, or general anesthesia. Local anesthesia usually involves injecting a medication in and around an area of the body to make it numb.
If local anesthesia is used, your pet will likely be awake during the biopsy. In contrast, if sedation or general anesthesia is used, the patient is heavily sedated or completely asleep during the procedure. Sometimes, if a growth is on the surface of the skin and is very small, your veterinarian may be able to perform a biopsy using local anesthesia. However, if the area to be biopsied is within the abdomen, for example, or if multiple areas will be biopsied, general anesthesia is usually recommended.
Your veterinarian has a few options when deciding how to perform a biopsy and how much tissue to remove. In an incisional biopsy, a small sample of tissue is removed from a larger mass. In an excisional biopsy, the entire growth is removed and submitted for biopsy.
Once the tissue is removed, your veterinarian will submit it to a diagnostic laboratory. There, a veterinary pathologist (a specialist at examining cells and tissue samples) will examine the tissue under a microscope to make a diagnosis. Results are generally available within several days.
What Are the Benefits and Risks of a Biopsy?
Biopsies are very important for helping to confirm a diagnosis. With many types of cancers, early diagnosis is helpful for determining the course of treatment and can help increase the chance of survival. Biopsies can also help to confirm causes of other conditions, including skin lesions as well as diseases of the kidneys, liver, or bone marrow.
Your veterinarian will take many precautions to help ensure that your pet is safe during the biopsy and fully recovers afterward. To help reduce the risk of complications associated with surgery or anesthesia, your veterinarian may give your pet a full physical examination and check your pet’s blood work before the biopsy.
Biopsies are very safe, routine procedures. The risks associated with a biopsy depend on several factors, including the overall health of the patient, the location of the area to be biopsied, and how many samples are taken. Be sure to discuss any questions or concerns with your veterinarian.
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