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Animal Hospital of Sun Prairie
Question of the Month

These questions and answers are featured monthly in the "Ask the Expert" feature in The Star, Sun Prairie's weekly newspaper.

My older dog seems to have a hard time getting around lately.  Is there anything we can do for him?

As many as 30% of dogs over the age of 8 suffer from arthritis, even more in large breed dogs.  You may not notice at first, because most pets do a great job of hiding pain.  Some signs include; tiring easily, limping, lagging behind, stiffness after activity, reluctant to climb stairs or play, or getting up slowly.  There are many therapies that can help, such as medications that reduce pain and joint inflammation, supplements that support joint health, and weight loss in overweight pets. 

My dog is extremely itchy and chewing at his skin recently.  Can you tell me why?  

The common causes are external parasites and allergies.  External parasites that most commonly cause chronic itching dermatitis include fleas, mites and lice.  We always recommend stepped-up flea control this time of year and monitoring for fleas, as flea infestations can really make allergies worse.  While dogs can rarely have respiratory allergies, more commonly they experience the effects of environmental or food allergies as skin problems. Though there are a variety of presentations, this can often be seen as redness, flaking and itching, recurring skin or ear infections, and hair loss.  A complete physical exam will help determine the best diagnostic tests and treatments for your particular pets situation.

I'd like to get a new puppy or kitten.  What are some important things to consider?

First of all - do your homework!  Research the best type of pet for you, your family, your budget and your lifestyle.  Your veterinarian can help with this.  Then - ask questions!  Can you visit with the puppy or kittens parents and the rest of the litter?  Environment is critical to the social development of the young ones - how has the litter been raised?  Can you see the puppy or kitten's pedigree if it is a purebred?  Is the puppy or kitten's health guaranteed? Can you afford the time and money to properly care for your new pet?  Could you care for it if he or she became ill or had an emergency?  There are many more important things to consider and questions to ask - please contact us for more information or visit the AKC website at http://www.akc.org/puppybuyerinfo/!

My dog loves all the holiday food this time of year; are treats and holiday snacks OK?  

No! Foods too rich, too fatty or too spicy - or anything your pet's not accustomed to - can trigger a bout of intestinal upset.  For some animals, the treat can trigger serious inflammation of the pancreas or intestines, and that means a life-threatening illness, pancreatitis.  Bones may seem like the perfect gift for the pet that has everything, but do him a favor and save them for the soup.  Even the largest cooked turkey bones can splinter.  The Christmas tree is full of hazards for dogs and cats, too. Tinsel and ornaments can be an appealing target for play, but if ingested, can wreck havoc on the intestines. This is a particular danger to cats and kittens, who seem to find tinsel - along with yarn, ribbon and string - especially appealing to eat. In addition, keep all dangerous plants out of the reach of your pets, and make the candy dish available to people only.  Please contact us with any concerns you may have, and have a happy and safe holiday season!

Trick or Treat! Any tips to keep my pet safe this time of year?

 Like all holidays, Halloween is not without its hazards. The two biggest problems are injuries and poisoning.  Protect your pet on Halloween by keeping it indoors!  A pet that's out at night with trick-or-treaters might get spooked by their excited voices and costumes, which could cause it to run off and get lost or stolen.  Keep your pet confined and away from the door while you're greeting trick-or-treaters at your home to prevent it from darting outdoors or protecting its territory from the many visitors.  In addition, keep Halloween candy well out of your pet's reach because it can make your pet sick.  Large amounts of candy and wrappers, or the wrong type, can cause a medical emergency.  In fact, chocolate can be fatal to dogs in some cases.  If you have any concerns about your pet, contact your veterinarian.

I'd like to understand my cat's bad behavior, and try to correct it.  Can you help?  

Cats are among the easiest of animals to live with as pets, which in part accounts for their massive and ever-growing appeal.  The first step in solving any behavior problem is to make sure that it's not a medical problem. We can't stress this fact enough.  The signs of illness in cats can be very subtle and are often disguised as behavior problems. Your belongings aren't safe, nor are your houseplants, or hands, for some cats seem quite deranged at times, purring one minute and biting the next!  Urinary Tract Infections, Thyroid or Hormonal Disorders, and Liver or Kidney Problems are just a few of the things your Veterinarian can check for. Your veterinarian can guide you with your plans for changing a healthy cat's errant behavior - or refer you to a behavior specialist who can. One thing to always remember, physical punishment never works with cats!


My dog really hates being left alone - he becomes destructive, soils the house, destroys things and vocalizes loudly.  Is there anything we can do to help him?  

In all likelihood, your dog is experiencing Separation Anxiety.   With most behavior problems, treatment involves altering multiple factors including the dog's environment, how the people interact with the dog, and, at times, the use of anti-anxiety medications. Separation anxiety is no different.  Your veterinarian can help you through this process and may suggest consulting with a veterinary behavioralist or specialty dog trainer.   Looking at things from a dog's point of view is a great help in coping with separation anxiety. Sometimes it requires detective work to discover what is lacking in the dog's care. This effort always pays off in a better life for both people and dogs.

What should I think about when deciding to travel with my pet during our summer vacation?

Make sure your pet is comfortable with traveling, as some pets cannot handle travel because of illness, injury, age or temperament.  If your pet is not good with travel, you should consider a reliable pet-sitter or talk to your veterinarian about boarding your pet.  It is also important to make sure your pet has proper ID, such as a name tag, rabies tag and/or a microchip.  If you are taking your pet across state or international borders, a health certificate and up to date vaccinations are required.  You should also have your Veterinarian's contact information, and a list of Veterinarians and 24 hour Emergency Hospitals along the way and close to your destination.  Don't forget to pack for your pet also; food, toys, bedding/crate, dishes, medications, and a leash/collar!  With proper preparation, all should go well and everyone should enjoy the trip!

What is Heartworm disease and why do I need to give my dog a monthly preventative?

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition caused by parasitic worms that can grow up to 14 inches long, living in the arteries, lungs and the heart of dogs and other species of mammals.  Heartworm disease has been reported in all 50 states, and even one mosquito can infect your dog!  Each year there are thousands of heartworm infections reported in Wisconsin alone, even though it is an easily preventable disease!  It is important to test your dog yearly and give a Heartworm preventative every month as directed!

February is National Pet Dental Health Month!  What are some things I can do to help keep my pets teeth healthy?

Dental disease is the #1 health problem in pets!  Dental disease can affect every aspect of your pet's health, not just the teeth.  No dog or cat is too old to benefit from dental care. Through knowledge and early detection we can improve the quality of our pet's health and extend their life expectancy.  A complete oral exam by your Veterinarian will help diagnose any problems.  Digital Dental x-rays can help reveal problems in 30-40% of cases where there is no visible problem on the surface of the tooth!  A dental cleaning performed by your veterinarian and veterinary technician is very beneficial to prevent, detect and treat periodontal disease.  Brushing your pets teeth daily with pet toothpaste or feeding a tartar control diet, treat or chew will help to prevent problems, and bad breath, in dogs with healthy teeth.  It is never too early, or too late to start!  Contact your veterinarian today for more information!

When is it too cold to leave my dog outside for an extended period of time?

A general rule of thumb is if it is too cold for you, it's too cold for the dog. But make sure you looking at weather fairly. "Don't want to" and "too cold" can be two different things. It is important for your dog get some physical activity even in the winter.

Pets should stay indoors during extreme weather conditions. If the temperature falls below 10° F, it is too cold for most pets to be outside for extended periods. Others things to look at when deciding if it's too cold: the dog's breed and type of coat, age, or any health conditions.  Pets that are very young, thin, old or ill will have a harder time tolerating cold weather and should be kept indoors as much as possible.  Please contact us with any concerns you may have.  Have a Happy Holiday!

What are some things to watch out for this holiday season to keep my pet safe?

 Cold weather brings a lot of new items to the house and yard.  As always, avoid food or drink items that could cause problems in your pet.  High fat foods, rich, sugary treats, or chocolate should especially be avoided, to prevent illness.  Please be aware of things your pet may get into, like Christmas tree water, ribbons or tinsel, ornaments, and plants like lilies, Poinsettias, Holly and Mistletoe.  Please also be aware that ice melting products can irritate the feet and cause internal problems if ingested.  Call your us right away if you have any questions about something your pet may have ingested.

It's Halloween Time!  How can I keep my dog safe this time of the year?

Protect your pet on Halloween by keeping it indoors!  A pet that's out at night with trick-or-treaters might get spooked by their excited voiced and costumes, which could cause it to run off and get lost or stolen.  Keep your pet confined and away from the door while you're greeting trick-or-treaters at your home to prevent it from darting outdoors or protecting its territory from the many visitors.  In addition, keep Halloween candy well out of your pet's reach because it can make your pet sick.  Large amounts of candy and wrappers, or the wrong type, can cause a medical emergency.  In fact, chocolate can be fatal to dogs in some cases.  If you have any concerns about your pet, contact your veterinarian.

Why is it recommended to spay or neuter my pet when it turns 6 months old?

Spayed and neutered dogs and cats stay healthier are less likely to roam looking for a mate, don't produce unwanted offspring, enjoy a greatly reduced risk of mammary, ovarian, uterine, and prostatic cancers and tumors and generally live longer!  It's not beneficial to a female to have a little of puppies or kittens, as some people might think.  Spaying and neutering also helps prevent infections such as a pyometra (infected uterus) and prostate enlargement or infection.  A neutered male is less likely to roam, which keeps him out of fights and keeps him safe at home, and less likely to spray urine to mark his territory.  Keeping cats at home helps prevent diseases also, such as Feline Leukemia, and Feline Immunodefiency Virus to name a few.  In addition, a spayed female will not come into heat, which can be annoying and inconvenient. 

I'd like to take my dog with me over the holiday weekend.  What are some travel tips you can give me?

  If your dog's only exposure to riding in a car is an occasional trip to the veterinarian's, don't be surprised if he's not the easiest of riders.  Try to build up his enthusiasm by increasing his time in the car and praising him for his good behavior.  The first short trips should be to pleasant locations, such as parks.  There are also medications available to prevent car-sickness in dogs.  If this is a problem, talk to your veterinarians.  It may also help if your dog travels on an empty stomach (no food right before travel).  On the road, remember to stop at regular intervals, for your dog to relieve himself and get a drink of fresh water.  And always keep your dog on a leash for his own safely.  Depending on the size of you dog and the size and shape of your vehicle, a travel crate or doggy seat is recommended.  Never let your dog ride in your lap, for safely reasons.  Also remember to check with us about getting a Health Certificate if you are traveling out of state.  With a few short proactive trips and some training, you'll be on the road in no time!

Are there any special warm weather concerns for my pet?

Summer is a time for both you and your pet to enjoy the sunshine and outdoors, but along with the fun, the season also offers up situations that can endanger your pet.  Never leave your pet in the car alone:   In nice weather you may be tempted to take your pet with you in the car while you travel or do errands. But during warm weather, the inside of your car can reach 120 degrees or more in a matter of minutes, even if you're parked in the shade, or with the windows cracked.  Pets that are left in hot cars even briefly can suffer from heat exhaustion, heat stroke, brain damage, and can even die. Keep in mind also, that asphalt gets very hot and can burn your pet's paws. Pets can get sunburned and suffer from skin cancer, so be aware of sun exposure. 

My dog is terrified by fireworks and loud noises!  Is there anything I can do for her?

Keep pets indoors and away from crowds so that they feel more protected.  If you plan to travel during this time, boarding your animal might be a better option than leaving them at home alone, to avoid destructive behavior to your house.  Your veterinarian may also choose to prescribe a sedative, anti-anxiety medication or an herbal or holistic remedy if you pet is frightened by fireworks, summer storms or other loud noises.  You may also want to consider consulting with an animal behaviorist, to try to modify the behavior.  The 4th of July is also a good time to make sure your pet is wearing an ID tag and collar and/or is microchipped, as frightened animals may try to run away.  Please contact your veterinarian with any concerns you may have!

I found a tick on my dog.  Do I need to worry about Lyme disease?

Maybe!  If the tick is removed within 48 hours of attachment, tick-bourne diseases cannot be transmitted.  The first lesson about the Lyme disease infection is that it manifests completely differently in dogs compared with the humans.  In dogs, Lyme disease does not begin to manifest for weeks to months after infection.  Clinical signs of Lyme disease in pets include loss of appetite, lameness, lethargy, and fever.  There are several effective tick control products available, in addition to a vaccine!  Click here to go to VeterinaryPartner.com for more information.