Pet Talk: Protecting Your Dog’s Paws

As humans, we know the important role our hands and feet play in completing normal, daily activities. When any kind of injury affects the use of our hands and feet, we may find it very difficult to go about our regular routine. Just as humans depend on their limbs to complete daily activities, Fido’s paws are just as important to him. Running in the backyard, digging a hole for his bone and going for a walk in the park are all endeavors Fido would struggle with if he did not have healthy paws. To promote a healthy and active lifestyle, all dog owners should learn how to keep their pet’s paws free of injury.

One of the most common ways to injure your dog’s paws is by allowing them to step on an extremely hot or cold surface. In the Texas summer heat, concrete and wood pavements can become especially hot. If your dog is exposed to a hot surface for too long, it can potentially cause sores or blisters to develop on your dog’s paw pads. In extreme winter conditions, doggie booties might be necessary to avoid chapped pads or an infection from chemical ice melters.

Dr. James Barr, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explains the most common summer and winter paw injuries. “The worst problems are that the pavement or other hard surfaces are extremely hot or cold.  If the pet does not have a lot of protection on the feet or has a gait abnormality that causes it to walk strangely, then the unprotected areas can be hurt by the extreme temperatures,” he said. “Most of the damage is rubbing the surface off or actually burning the footpads. This can be very painful.”

Trimming the hair in between the paw pads can also reduce the risk of injury. Excess hair is more prone to painful matting and can also attract stickers or thorns. Sometimes foreign objects like pebbles can become lodged between a dog’s pads, so it is important to check and clean this area regularly with a pair of tweezers to avoid pain and infection. Owners should also keep their yard free of sharp or pointy objects to further reduce the risk of a paw injury. If the area doesn’t seem safe to walk in barefoot, then pets should be protected from the area until it is properly cleaned of debris. Should your dog’s paw become injured, Barr recommends obtaining a towel to wrap around the paw and to apply pressure until veterinary care arrives.

One of the most important parts of maintaining healthy paws is to regularly trim your dog’s nails. Nail trimmers are available at pet stores, but sometimes it may be easier and safer to have a professional grind down and round off the nail. If the nails are left to grow excessively, there can be serious consequences that can harm your dog. “The quick of the nail will grow as the nails get longer. This means that when the nails are cut, they can be damaged,” explained Barr. “The longer the nails are, the harder it is for your pet to walk on hard surfaces. Also, they are more likely to be caught on something and be torn off.”

While observing your dog’s nails you might also notice a dew claw, which grows higher up on the leg. A dew claw is similar to a thumb and can appear on both the front and back legs. Sometimes it is recommended to remove dew claws if they are deformed or get in the way of the dog’s daily activities. “Dew claws are analogous to our thumbs. They are a normal part of dogs’ feet, but they are not needed anymore in the normal walking of a dog,” explained Barr. “They are often recommended to be removed if they are misshapen or for cosmetic reasons. They can also be caught on things in the environment and can cause a painful injury.” If your veterinarian does not recommend removing Fido’s dew claws, it is still important to keep the nail properly trimmed to avoid the consequences of excessive nail growth.

Everybody loves a little extra TLC, including your pooch. Try going the extra mile and give Fido a relaxing paw massage by gently rubbing between the pads of his feet in a circular motion. You can even purchase a special pet-friendly moisturizer from your veterinarian to help relax your dog and prevent dry and chapped paw pads.

When you’re not pampering your pooch with special treatment, remember the essentials of maintaining healthy paws. Avoid surfaces that may expose your dog’s paws to extreme temperatures and keep your yard free of hazardous items. Trim Fido’s nails regularly as well as the hair between his paws. By keeping your dog’s paws healthy, your dog will be on the right track to living a happy and active lifestyle.

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Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed toeditor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Pet Talk: 4th of July Safety for Your Pets

Many of us celebrate our nation’s Independence Day barbequing and relaxing with loved ones. When the sun goes down, it is a tradition to gather together to admire and enjoy the bright-colored flashes of fireworks that light up our night sky. You might not think twice about taking the necessary precautions to have a safe and fun-filled holiday with your family and friends, but have you ever thought about the proper safety measures to ensure your pet has a safe holiday, too?

The 4th of July might be a day of celebration for people, but for pets it is a day of potentially hazardous situations. Dr. James Barr, clinical assistant professor for the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained that pets are at an increased risk for several dangerous scenarios during our holiday celebration.

“Most of the injuries or sicknesses that happen around the 4th of July in dogs have to do with an increased amount of outdoor activity,” Barr said. “There are more dogfights, car accidents involving dogs and heat- related illnesses than any other time of the year.”

Barr also discourages owners from feeding table scraps to their pets. “Because dogs and cats have exposure to a lot more food from barbecues and parties, they tend to get upset stomachs from eating things they shouldn’t,” he said. Sometimes it is seen as humorous for owners to share an alcoholic beverage with their pet, but Barr includes alcohol on his list of dangers for pets on Independence Day. “Pets have much smaller bodies than we do and it can be quite dangerous to have them drink alcohol. It can even be fatal in severe circumstances,” he said.

If you plan on bringing Fido to an outdoor party, be cautious of the dangers of mosquitos, fleas and ticks. Spraying your pet with insect repellant may seem like a reasonable solution to the bug problem, but some sprays are not safe for animals. Instead, Barr recommends using an effective flea and tick repellant prescribed by your veterinarian. Since heartworms are transmitted to pets through mosquitos, a common summer nuisance, Barr also reminds owners to make sure their pet is taking heartworm preventative before they enjoy the holiday outdoors.

One of the most exciting traditions of the 4th of July holiday is fireworks. Although we might fall into a trance of admiration at the loud popping noises and flashing of colors in the sky, our pets might not enjoy the show so much. If your dog typically becomes frightened during thunderstorms, chances are it will react the same way to fireworks. “If your dog is frightened by the fireworks, you need to minimize the exposure that they have to the loud noise of the fireworks,” Barr said. This can be done by finding a safe and quiet room in your home where your dog can stay relaxed. If Fido is in attendance at your outdoor firework show, keep him or her on a leash to prevent it from running away or jumping a fence in an attempt to find safety. Remember, it is always important to properly identify your pet just in case it becomes lost.

Although Independence Day is a fun-filled holiday for people, it might not be the same case for our pets. As a pet owner, it is important to consider all dangerous situations your pet may experience during the holiday. If you are concerned about the dangers your pet may face and want to fully protect them, the simple solution is for Fido to sit this party out in the safety of your home.

Pet Talk: How To Prepare For Your Pet’s Death

For many of us, the connection we share with companion animals extends beyond just friendly company; our pets are considered a part of the family. The truly unique love between an owner and their pet is something one has to experience to understand. Although a pet may be a very loved and important family member, it is important to be sensitive and aware of your pet’s needs as they age.

Sometimes owners are faced with difficult decisions when their pet reaches an age or health condition that no longer allows them to enjoy daily activities. Dr. Sarah Griffin, lecturer at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), explains that euthanization is never an easy choice, but in some cases, it may be the best option for your pet.

“One of my professors in veterinary school told us that she tells clients to pick the pet’s three favorite things,” Griffin said. “When two out of three of those things are gone, it’s time to let them go. Many pets will continue to eat and drink even when they are in pain. Keeping a daily record of good vs. bad days sometimes helps you see the quality of life they are living.”

Some of the emotional struggles owners face when dealing with their pet’s death may be guilt and loneliness. An owner may have made the mistake of letting their pet outdoors to play with other animals, resulting in a fight or attack. Getting hit by a car is another danger owners face when letting their pets play outside. Some owners may even feel guilt for their pet’s death because they did not take them to the veterinarian after discovering symptoms of a potential disease or sickness. Whatever the case may be, many owners also suffer from loneliness after the loss of their pet.

“Pets are a part of our families. Recognizing the way you handle grief is important,” Griffin explained. “The first step in working through a pet’s death is acknowledging the way you feel. Share your feelings with close friends and family so they can support and encourage you.”

Griffin reminds pet owners who are suffering from a loss to remember their pet in a positive light. Keeping pictures on the shelves and other memorabilia of the pet can also help owners manage their emotions.

Dr. Stacy Eckman, clinical assistant professor at the CVM, reveals other ways that people cope with the loss of a pet. “Many people will rush to fill the void with another pet, while some people need more time to open their heart to another pet,” she said. “Volunteering at shelters or animal organizations can help people cope as well.”

Children can be especially affected by the loss of a pet. Sometimes parents struggle with giving their children an explanation of why Fido is no longer around to play. After recently experiencing the loss of Scooter, the family dachshund, Griffin recommends being patient with young children and encouraging them to express their feelings.

“We had a memorial service, shared memories about Scooter, and placed flowers over his grave,” she said. “We bought a book called I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm to help our daughter cope with the loss of Scooter.”

Eckman adds that communication is very important in helping children understand the loss of a pet.

“Be honest with your children—they may understand more than you think,” she said. “Explain in very broad terms, ‘Fido was very sick and could not do the things he really loved with you any longer.’ Give them space to grieve and an ear/shoulder to grieve on.”

Companion animals have a special talent for capturing our hearts and allowing us to experience a truly unique and unconditional love. No matter the circumstances, losing a pet is never easy. As an owner it is important to keep the health and well-being of your pet in mind when making decisions for the future.

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Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed toeditor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Tips for Combined Pet Owners: Introducing Cat to Dog & Vice Versa

By Heidi Ganahl, CEO and Founder of Camp Bow Wow

  1. Pick the Right Personality – Always consider the personalities of the animals you are bringing into the home. For example, if you have a dog who likes to chase, you will want a cat that doesn’t run away in fear or to be playful.
  2. For the first week or so, keep the dog and cat separated. You can switch between confining one to a certain room or area for a couple of days and then switch which one is confined. This will give them each time to get to know each other’s smells and become familiar with them.
  3. Don’t leave the animals together by themselves until everyone has settled into having new friends in the house. You want to be able to keep an eye on them, so lock them in separate areas when you are out of the house.
  4. Keep the dog on a leash so it can’t chase the cat and allow them to be in the same room together. Allow the dog to see the cat moving around and watch the dog to make sure it doesn’t try to chase the cat and that it isn’t too fixated on what the cat is doing. You can also feed the dog some treats when the cat is around to have them build up a positive association with the kitty.
  5. Practice obedience with your dog. You can then use obedience commands to help keep your dog calm and focused when the cat is around.
  6. Make sure the cat has a place to jump up to if they need to. You always want to make sure that your kitty has a safe place to get away from the dog in case they dog does start to chase them.

Fight Back Against Internal Parasites Too: Easy Ways to Protect Your Dog This Summer

Dr. Melissa Beall, DVM and PhD

Most pet owners know to look out for fleas and ticks. But as warmer weather arrives, a less obvious yet equally-damaging pet health hazard lurks: intestinal parasites. About 34 percent of shelter dogs and 12 percent of pet dogs in the United States have some form of intestinal parasite, with hookworms, roundworms and whipworms being some of the most frequent offenders. Not only are these parasites harmful to pets, but some are also zoonotic, meaning they can be passed from pets to their owners.

How and Where Parasites Strike

Parasites like hookworms, whipworms and roundworms infect the dog’s intestinal tract. Pets and people can become infected by swallowing parasite eggs or spores, which are be left behind in soil, sand, feces, food or any other surfaces where an infected pet has been. Because infected hookworm larvae living on contaminated surfaces can penetrate human and animal skin simply by touching it, people and pets can place themselves at risk simply by walking barefoot where infected pets have been.

The summer months tend to be the most severe since pets (and their owners) spend more time outdoors in yards, at parks and at the beach. Although intestinal parasites are found in all 50 states, hookworm is especially prevalent in the south and southeastern United States while roundworm is most frequently found in the Northeast and Midwest. Whipworm is most common in the Midwest and West.

Get Vigilant about Preventive Care

Taking preventive action to protect pets against these parasites is key to their longevity. Below are a few steps every pet owner can take to keep their pets and families healthy and parasite-free this summer and beyond.

  • Get your pet screened for intestinal parasites at least annually.

Since pets that contract parasites may be asymptomatic, bringing a fecal sample to the vet at least annually is the single-most important action a pet owner can take to get ahead of and treat the problem. The CDC, Companion Animal Parasite Council and the American Animal Hospital Association recommend fecal screenings two to four times a year during the first year of a dog’s life and one to two times per year in adult dogs.

  • Keep your pets’ environment clear of pet waste.

Since parasites eggs are found in pet stool and can infect pets and humans who come into contact with it, frequent cleaning decreases the possibilities for disease transmission. It takes a few days before the eggs in the stool become infective larvae so cleaning up after pets right away avoids the danger of infective larvae being left behind.

  • Deworm your pets according to your veterinarians’ recommendations.

The CDC, Companion Animal Parasite Council and the American Animal Hospital Association recommend at least annual fecal screening for pets. However, your vet knows best what the unique threats are in your area. His or her recommendation–often given during the annual check up—is likely more relevant for your community and best for your pet.

  • Keep your pets on monthly year-round parasite preventatives.

Dogs begin their lives with worms, which is why puppies require more frequent parasite screening and deworming. Your veterinarian will likely recommend monthly preventative heartworm medication for your puppy, which provides additional intestinal parasite protection though it doesn’t replace the need for at least annual fecal screening.

  • Wash your hands after any exposure to soil, sand and raw meat.

Washing your hands—and encouraging small children to do the same—is a critical best practice for protecting your family from any risk of cross-transmission.

  • Don’t let children eat dirt or food that has fallen on the ground.

The “three-second rule” doesn’t apply when you your children or pets visit public areas. You can’t see internal parasites, and you have no dependable way of knowing what happened in a particular location before you arrived. No one, especially children, should eat food that has fallen on the ground.

Pet Talk: Pets and Allergies

Many of us look forward to the warm spring weather after enduring the harsh winter months. The spring season brings peaceful fields of blooming flowers and a warm, inviting sun. Unfortunately, spring is also a time when many people suffer from allergies that can make daily life almost intolerable. Just like people, pets can suffer from pesky allergies too. It is important to know the signs of pet allergies so you can alleviate any irritation your pet may be experiencing.

Dr. Adam Patterson, clinical assistant professor and chief of dermatology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), defines an allergic reaction as the body overreacting to allergens in the environment that are normally harmless. This hypersensitivity to allergens can exist seasonally or year-round in both people and animals.

While humans suffer through allergy season coughing and sneezing into a handful of tissues, pets deal with allergies differently. An animal’s common reaction to an allergy is itching and scratching in specific areas, which can result in skin irritations.

“An itch may be manifested as licking, chewing, biting, rubbing, scratching, head shaking, and/or scooting,” Patterson said. “Common itchy body areas include the face, ears, paws, armpits, groin, rump, and anal region. Horses may present with an itchy skin disease and/or hives.”

Patterson further explains that every animal has a different reaction to allergies, just like people do.

“Every pet has its own itch tolerance, which means the intensity and reason(s) for your pet’s itch may not be the same as another animal,” he said. “Regardless of the animal, allergic patients are prone to secondary infections that can cause skin discoloration, hair loss, pimples, or scabs.”

According to Patterson, all cats and horses can be affected by allergens. He says that any dog breed can be affected as well, but certain breeds—including terriers, retrievers, Dalmatians, Shar Peis, and bulldogs—are more susceptible.

If your pet shows any sign of an allergy, it is best to contact your veterinarian so they can properly diagnose what allergen is affecting your pet. Your veterinarian can also perform tests to determine the most effective treatment plan to alleviate your pet’s discomfort. Allergens that most commonly irritate pets include fleas, food, pollen, molds, mites, insects, and dander.

“Treatments are tailored to the individual based on the extent, severity, and seasonality of signs,” Patterson said. “The ‘absolutes’ of therapy include routine bathing to remove pollen accumulation, infection control (topical and/or systemic), and flea prevention.”

Patterson also emphasizes to pet owners that allergies can be managed but rarely cured. For pets that suffer from chronic allergies, a steroid may be used to alleviate the animal’s discomfort. However, Patterson reminds pet owners that long-term use of steroids can cause health issues.

However, if a pet’s allergies are left untreated, there can be other harmful effects. Dr. Alison Diesel, clinical assistant professor at the CVM, explains how your pet may suffer detrimental health problems without treatment.

“Allergies if left untreated/unmanaged can cause continued discomfort in your pets,” Diesel said. “Self-trauma to the skin can create wounds that can become secondarily infected. We occasionally see pets that have spent so much time itching and scratching that they are not sleeping well and may even lose weight…In more severe cases, a visit to a veterinary dermatologist may be quite helpful.”

Although many people suffer from allergies, many of us do not recognize that allergies are just as common in animals. If you think your pet may be suffering from an allergy, your veterinarian can begin the process of helping your pet enjoy the outdoors again.

Protect your pooch from new flu

In recent weeks, an outbreak of H3N2 has sickened dogs in the Midwest.  Two veterinarians with the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine who have first-hand knowledge of the virus share information about the virus, and also provide advice on protecting your dogs from H3N2 influenza virus.
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Colin Parrish, professor of virology and Director of the Baker Institute for Animal Health at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is part of a team studying the virus and trying to pinpoint the identity of the virus strain responsible. He gives some background on what H3N2 is, how it came to the U.S. and how to protect your dog.
Parrish says:
So far there are no commercial vaccines available against the H3N2 canine influenza virus, although experimental vaccines have been described. Vaccines against the H3N8 influenza virus – which has existed in this country for more than a decade – are available, but there are differences in the genetic sequences of the two strains that suggest that these vaccines would be poorly effective, or ineffective in protecting dogs against the H3N2 virus infecting dogs in the Midwest.”
“The H3N2 influenza virus emerged in Asia among dogs suffering from respiratory disease in 2006 and 2007. This canine virus likely arose through the direct transfer of an avian influenza virus  – possibly from among viruses circulating in live bird markets – to dogs. That virus spread widely among dogs in South Korea and in several regions of China and caused an outbreak of respiratory disease among dogs in Thailand in 2012.
“As for other species becoming infected, there have been no reports or evidence that H3N2 influenza can infect humans. We do know that H3N2 was able to infect cats under certain circumstances, and experiments with the strain circulating in Asia showed that under some circumstances cats living with H3N2-infected dogs could become infected. There’s also some evidence that guinea pigs and ferrets can become infected and shed the virus.
The H3N2 virus appears to generally cause a mild upper respiratory tract disease. Some more severe infections have been reported, possibly because the dogs were also infected with other respiratory pathogens. In these cases, it may be necessary to treat any bacterial infection the dog may have acquired.
“The virus can be inactivated or removed by cleaning with detergents or disinfectants. As with other influenza viruses, keeping infected dogs away from susceptible animals would be beneficial. Quarantining infected dogs for 5 to 7 days may help to slow the spread of the virus.”
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Brian Collins, a companion animal veterinarian at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, has experience in handling and treating dogs infected with canine influenza viruses and offers advice on protecting your dogs from H3N2.
Collins says:
“At this time no cats in the U.S. have been diagnosed with H3N2. For now, precautions for dogs should be followed.
“Dogs at most risk of contracting the H3N2 virus are those that have contact with other dogs, particularly those that are having symptoms of a respiratory infection. Situations that pose risk include boarding kennels, grooming salons, canine daycare, dog parks, animal shelters, and any other locations where dogs can interact. If you live in one of the outbreak zones, you should avoid these locations.
“As with other infectious diseases, extra precautions may be necessary with puppies, elderly dogs, and dogs that are immunocompromised for any reason.
“Symptoms usually consist of fever, runny nose, and persistent coughing. Most dogs are only mildy affected and some have no symptoms at all. A small number of dogs can become severely ill and develop life-threatening pneumonia. If your pet exhibits symptoms, consult with your veterinarian.”