By Langley Cornwell
We enrolled our new dog in a group training class and the experience has been eye-opening. The class is filled with all kinds of dogs and all kinds of people. Some dogs catch on to the commands immediately, while others take a long time to learn what’s expected of them. One gal is having a hard time with her dog. She told the trainer that her dog acts crazy at home too, and she’s sure her dog is mentally ill. The comment stimulated a class discussion about whether animals can actually be mentally ill.
According to the University of Melbourne’s research department, the answer is yes. Dr. Gabrielle Carter, a faculty member of the University’s Veterinary Science department, specializes in animal behavior. Not only is Dr. Carter an expert in her field but, because this is a relatively new area of study, she is an advocate and is working hard to increase awareness of mental illness in pets.
Dr. Carter explains that even though there are tremendous dissimilarities in different mammals, their biological systems, brains and nervous systems share similarities. She reasons that if humans are known to have mental illness based in altered brain function, then it is sensible to expect the same holds true for other animals.
Mental illness in different animals manifests in different ways. For example, dogs may suffer from noise phobias, separation anxiety and aggression. Cats may compulsively over-groom themselves and spray inappropriately.
Through behavioral therapies and in this case, medication, Dr. Carter recently helped a dog that had inexplicably developed a fear of her own backyard. The dog wouldn’t go into the yard she had once loved. If she was forced into the yard, she would desperately try to escape. The dog’s mental issues got worse; she became acutely fearful of anything unfamiliar, developed generalized anxiety issues and extreme noise phobias. It got to the point where the dog spent most of her time cowering in her owner’s bedroom.
By Linda Cole
No one looks forward to the flu. The chills, aches and pains can send even the hardiest person to bed for a few days. We try to do what we can to avoid the flu, but when symptoms appear, we know people around us are at risk of catching what we have. It was thought at one time that pets in the home couldn’t be infected, but new research is raising a red flag that says it is possible to pass the flu bug to our pets.
So how do you know if you’re dealing with a cold or the flu? After all, they have common symptoms. Colds enter the body via the nose and primarily affect us above the neck with runny nose, sneezing, congestion and sore throat. Some people might have an achy feeling, with a low grade temperature. You know you’re coming down with a cold because symptoms develop over a period of a couple of days. The flu hits you like a brick. One minute you’re fine and the next you’re wrestling with muscle aches, chills, fever, fatigue and tightness in your chest, all of which are likely to send you to bed. Other symptoms can include a running nose or cough, but not as severe as with a cold.
The common belief for years was that our pets couldn’t catch the flu from their owner, but new research has challenged this with studies that show it is possible. When an infectious disease moves from animals to humans, it’s called zoonosis. Reverse zoonosis happens when humans infect animals. In 2009, the H1N1 flu virus, also known as the swine flu, had the first ever recorded case of a human transmitting the flu to her two cats. The woman recovered, but her cats died. Since then, 11 cats, one dog and a handful of ferrets have been infected with the flu after having contact with a sick human.
By Langley Cornwell
Some time ago I had an active and rambunctious black Labrador retriever. Even though she was very food oriented, I was able to keep her at a healthy weight because of all the exercise she did. Then she had a small surgery and gained weight during recovery. It was my fault. Even though her energy expenditure was less than half of what it used to be, I continued to feed her the same amount of dog food. Not smart. So I reduced the quantity of her food and she got back down to a healthy weight range. Although that simple formula worked for us, I still see lots of overweight pets. Even so, I was surprised to read about animal obesity clinics.
It’s not only humans that are fighting obesity. More and more dogs and cats seem to be battling the bulge and, just like humans, the complications of obesity in pets can be serious. But does that mean you need to take your pet to an obesity clinic? Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University seems to think so. With their opening of the first animal obesity clinic in the country, the school hopes to help pet owners tackle obesity issues that may be plaguing their pets. Let’s take a closer look at the situation to help us determine whether or not an animal obesity clinic is really necessary.
The American Pet Obesity Problem
We’ve all seen the occasional cat or dog that’s so large he has to drag his oversized belly around, but other dogs and cats that don’t seem so big may also be classified as overweight. Recent studies actually show that over half of the dogs and cats in America are obese. Your pet may not look overweight to you, but even a small amount of extra weight can be dangerous for a pet.
Why Obesity in Pets is Dangerous
There are a number of risks that are associated with overweight pets. Just like humans, the risks of your pet being overweight are numerous. One of the most risky conditions associated with pet obesity is diabetes. However, there are also a number of other risks, which include heart problems, joint issues, a higher risk of death during surgery, decreased liver function, and even heat intolerance. In other words, obesity can shorten the lifespan of your dog or cat.
By Linda Cole
As pet owners, we try to ward off potential health problems before they become serious by knowing symptoms to watch out for and paying attention to how a pet acts. When a dog or cat isn’t acting like their normal self, we know something is wrong. We can’t prevent some diseases from happening, but there are five common pet ailments we can control that can affect our pets’ health and shorten their lives.
Dental Disease - Taking care of our pets teeth is just as important as our good dental hygiene. Bad teeth can affect the heart, kidney and liver, and has been linked to some types of cancer. Anytime infection is present in the body, there’s always a risk it can spread to other parts of the body via the bloodstream. Infection in the teeth and gums is painful, which makes it hard for a pet to eat. Mouth pain can also be a contributing factor in a pet’s bad behavior or aggression.
The best way to prevent dental disease is with regular brushing, vet exams and cleaning the teeth by a vet, when necessary. Brushing your pet’s teeth may be a bit of a hassle in the beginning, but with patience and practice, a few minutes of your time spent brushing a pet’s teeth can help prolong their life.
Trauma/injuries – Accidents happen, and you can’t always control a particular situation. However, you can take a look around your pet’s environment to make sure it’s dog or cat proofed to help eliminate preventable injuries. Electrical and window blind cords, loose fencing around an outside enclosure, or debris lying around in a yard can all injure a pet. A loose window screen that pops out while your cat is sitting in an opened window can pose a danger, especially if the window is high off the ground.
Dogs can get pulled muscles, sprain an ankle, and even break a leg racing around the yard playing and jumping. Most soft tissue injuries and trauma can be prevented by keeping a dog on leash when not in a secured enclosure and not letting your dog get overly excited during playtime. Bites from other animals or snakes, falls off steep banks or being hit by a car are dangers for both dogs and outside cats. Keeping your pet at a healthy weight can help reduce the risk of injuries.
By Linda Cole
When I was in high school, my family had a Siamese cat. She had a beautiful light colored coat with chocolate brown markings on her face, tail and legs. As she aged, however, her coat began to darken up. Three of my cats are black, but I’ve noticed one has a reddish tint starting to show up in his coat. If you have a cat with a darker coat, and have noticed a change in the color, there are reasons why the coat color may be changing.
My cats love to lie in the sun. Since they’re all inside cats, I find some stretched out in warm puddles of sunlight entering through a window. As a sun puddle ebbs across the floor, the cats move with it. I can usually find a cat lying in an opened window enjoying an afternoon sunbathing as they spy on the neighbors. Jabbers is my biggest cat and always makes sure he gets a window spot, but his black coat has gotten a red tint to it from lying in the sun. Cats with dark coat colors who spend too much time in the sun can start to get a bleached out look from too much exposure to the sun. The darker colored coats of outside cats who spend a lot of their time in the sun can also have their coats fade in time due to sun exposure.
The coat color of oriental breeds like the Himalayan and Siamese are determined by temperature. More precisely, the temperature of their skin. Himalayan kittens begin life with an almost creamy colored coat. Siamese kittens are born white. As they begin to grow, color changes begin to take place in their coats and the points begin to emerge. Because the neck and body of the cat is warmer, their coat stays a lighter color and the tail, legs, face and ears turn darker because those areas of the skin are cooler. Air temperature can also play a role in coat color and their points can darken or become lighter depending on the season. A change in coat color can also indicate that your Siamese or Himalayan cat is sick and has a higher than normal temperature.
The Aging Process
Just like us, our precious kitties can begin to get gray hairs mixed in with their coat as they age. It’s harder for us to see hairs losing their pigmentation on lighter colored cats, but you may notice a change in their coat color the older they get. One of my cats, Scooter, had just turned twenty a few months before she crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. She had a striking gray coat that faded into white on her chest and stomach. Bits of gray around her mouth began to whiten the older she got. It’s a reminder to never take for granted the unconditional love we get from our pets and to give them an extra hug at night, in the morning and any other chance you get.
By Langley Cornwell
My mother recently got a pacemaker. She was experiencing shortness of breath and unusual fatigue but chalked it up to the normal aging process. When she started fainting, though, we knew we needed to get serious about seeking a solution.
The doctors determined she was suffering from arrhythmia, which means her heart was not able to pump enough blood through her body. They admitted her to the hospital and the doctors tried to treat her heart condition with medications, but nothing seemed to work. After 12 days of trying, the docs finally believed they couldn’t get her issues sorted out with meds and decided to put in the pacemaker.
Until that time, I didn’t know much about pacemakers – but when your mom is getting one, you learn a lot. The hospital staff was helpful and patient. They explained that a pacemaker is a small electrical device that’s surgically inserted in the chest or abdomen to help regulate abnormal heart rhythms. Her pacemaker not only controls her heart rhythms but also transmits back to a monitoring system where my mom’s cardiologist can see how her heart is doing at any given time. It’s fascinating, and this little device has helped my mother resume a fairly normal lifestyle.
Cats receiving human pacemakers
So when I read an article in the Knoxville News Sentinel about how the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine is putting human pacemakers in animals, I was intrigued. Apparently, a cat named Junco was experiencing symptoms similar to my mother’s. The cat went through a series of fainting spells and her vets couldn’t figure out why. Junco’s human parent said it really scared her when Junco would meow in a weird, eerie way, her eyes would get a strange look and then she’d fall down in a cold faint. She’d stay unconscious for about 10 seconds.
As a cat parent, I can imagine how excruciating those 10 seconds would be. Once the vet suspected Junco was experiencing heart problems, the cat was referred to a board-certified veterinary cardiologist at the UT College of Veterinary Medicine. The cardiologist found Junco to be a perfect candidate to receive a pacemaker, and the surgery was performed.