Besides my work informing people about pet care through this column and my "Good Morning America" segments (among other media appearances), I'm a practicing veterinarian with more than 30 years of experience. Of course, I'm also a lifetime animal lover who is always looking for new, breakthrough products to help pets and the people who love them.
I read the veterinary journals, check out the convention floor at the veterinary conventions and see which lectures are crowded, and tap into a trusted network of many of the top veterinarians in North America. Every year I ask more than a 100 of these experts to help me come up with a list of the best new products launched over the last year.
What follows are some of the veterinary products that rose like cream to the top. (Next week: non-veterinary products.) We have a complete list on our PetConnection.com Web site, and I'll be talking about these products on "Good Morning America" this week (if you miss the segment, check ABCnews.go.com/GMA to watch it).
-- Making medication easier: There are few things more frustrating to a veterinarian than sending a sick pet home with medication you know the owner won't give because he finds administering it too difficult. That's why many veterinarians are enthusiastic about the introduction of Convenia, an injectable antibiotic that lasts for up to two weeks. For a more low-tech approach, how about Greenies Pill Pockets -- treats you can put pills into? Talk about putting the "treat" into treatment!
-- Testing for heart disease: The same test you might receive in an emergency room is now available for cats and dogs. The Cardiopet proBNP is a simple, minimally invasive blood test that detects heart disease even when clinical signs are absent or nondescript. This development is particularly important because the American Veterinary Medical Association says that approximately 3.2 million dogs have some form of acquired heart disease -- and unlike people, dogs don't have physical signs like heart attacks. Heart disease in cats can be even more difficult to diagnose and may not be known until the heart fails. And for those pets diagnosed with congestive heart failure, Vetmedin is now a choice for veterinarians working to manage the disease and improve the quality of life for these pets.
-- Treating skin disease: ZoonOx is a topical oxygen emulsion that carries a full atmosphere of oxygen, releasing it gradually over time. The benefits of treating patients with difficult skin injuries in hyperbaric oxygen chambers have been understood for years, and ZoonOx offers a similar treatment approach for animals without the cost and difficulty of getting the animal into such a facility. When applied to complex wounds, ZoonOx supplies additional oxygen to the collagen formation process, one of the first steps in the healing and reformation of the skin structure.
In the next column, I'll share the non-medical breakthroughs: Those products that make caring for a pet easier and more fun.
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Do shelter volunteers put own pets at risk?
Q: I plan to volunteer at the local animal shelter. I have five indoor-only cats at home, and I am very protective of their health. Their veterinarian and I have opted not to vaccinate them for feline leukemia, balancing vaccine risks and their protected indoor lifestyle.
Is there anything I need to do protect my cats from any viruses or other dangers that I could possibly bring home to them from the shelter? -- W.S., via e-mail
A: What an excellent question! These days, pet vaccinations are not a one-size-fits-all annual event. Different pets, their lifestyle, their age and their health determine which vaccines need to be given and at what intervals.
While you can and should take some general precautions, there should be no need to change what you and your veterinarian are doing to protect your own cats, according to Dr. Lila Miller of the ASPCA.
"No one needs to fear volunteering at a shelter. And with simple precautions, anyone whose heart leads them to help shelter cats needn't worry about putting their house cats at risk," she said, adding that prospective volunteers need to make sure their own pets are in good health, up to date on all preventive-care measures and free of infectious disease.
"Consult with the shelter veterinarian to find out if there are any specific disease concerns at the shelter that might affect any animals at home," she says. This information should be provided to your veterinarian to determine if any additional vaccinations or precautions may be recommended, or whether volunteer activities should be suspended temporarily until the shelter problem is resolved.
Because feline leukemia is generally spread through prolonged close contact between animals, because older animals are considered to be resistant to acquiring the infection and because the virus is not long-lived in the environment, Dr. Miller says that your veterinarian may determine that feline leukemia vaccination is still not warranted for your own cats.
General precautions to keep animals at home safe from disease transmission include: washing hands after handling shelter animals or contaminated objects, wearing separate clothing and shoes when visiting the shelter, and using separate equipment on shelter and home animals such as brushes, toys, collars, combs, etc.
Finally, if an animal at home does show any signs of disease, make certain your veterinarian is aware of your volunteer activities and any shelter issues to take into consideration when making a diagnosis.
During these tough economic times, many people cannot make the financial donations they might like to shelters and rescue groups. Donating time is an excellent way to help, and we want to encourage it! -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Fossils date dogs back 31,000 years
-- The dog's oldest relative, the Paleolithic dog, lived 31,000 years ago and resembled a large Siberian husky. The animals dined on large meals of reindeer, horse and musk ox. As noted in a paper accepted for publication by the Journal of Archaeological Science, scientists behind the find say the fossil evidence -- found in a cave in Belgium -- pushes the date of the earliest-known ancestor of the modern dog back nearly 18,000 years further than previously thought.
-- About half of pet deaths are caused by cancer, and it is the top leading cause for natural death in geriatric cats and dogs. The Morris Animal Foundation, which funds pet health research, offers advice to pet lovers on how to spot cancer early on its Web site (www.morrisanimalfoundation.org).
-- One calico cat has been deemed station master at a train station in Kishikawa, Japan, and is responsible for bringing in $10 million in revenue to the station. The 9-year-old kitty, Tama, who began visiting the station regularly, became a sensation when she was given a conductor's hat to wear and became the train company's mascot. The train station, which was once in jeopardy of bankruptcy, now draws in flocks of people riding the train to snap a picture of the famous cat and purchase Tama merchandise. And a train has been painted in the cat's honor.
-- Sperm whales prefer to sing duets. Recordings of whales show they match their sound to that of their partner. Songs may be sung to build stronger bonds between whales. Humpback whales have been heard singing love songs to their mates, and killer whales enjoy whistling to bond with their social group. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Cold-blooded pets to warm a child's heart
President-elect Barack Obama's daughters yearn for a puppy, but not every child dreams of a furry pet. Some kids want something scaly.
But which of these pets is best for a beginner? Iguanas are popular but are not suitable for any but the most dedicated of pet lovers -- if for no other reason than they grow to be 6 feet or more in length.
If you have a child who wants something more wild, consider one of these relatively easy-to-care-for reptiles.
-- Bearded dragon: Babies can be highly reactive, but if handled gently, these tough-looking lizards will settle down to be a calm and friendly pet that can grow to a reasonable foot or so in length.
-- Leopard gecko: A popular ad campaign for an insurance company has drawn attention to these lizards. Fortunately, they're good pets and can tolerate gentle handling well. They're smaller than beardies by about half and are fun to watch.
-- Corn snake: Captive breeding has produced wonderful colors and color variations of this generally calm little snake that will rarely try to bite.
-- Ball python: Another easygoing snake, albeit one that will grow to around 4 feet in length and wrap itself around your neck if given the chance. (Lesson No. 1: Undo a snake by starting at the tail and gently unwinding.)
As with all pets (even ones that don't wrap around necks), parental research, oversight and supervision are absolute requirements for safe and appropriate pet-child interactions. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Spending on pets has increased more than $20 billion annually in a decade. While certainly the most discretionary kinds of spending on pets will likely be among the sectors to take a hit in the weak economy, there's no sign that the love Americans have for their pets is fading. The 2008 spending on pets was predicted at $43.4 billion, breaking down accordingly:
Food $16.9 billion
Veterinary care $10.9 billion
Supplies/OTC medicine $10.3 billion
Live animal purchases $2.1 billion
Non-veterinary services $3.2 billion
Source: American Pet Products Association
New Year's check of collars, tags
Just as you should check the batteries in your smoke detector when the clocks change twice a year, you should make the New Year's neck check part of your pet-care routine. It's easy and will take only a couple of minutes.
First, make sure collars fit properly and aren't worn to the point of irritation or breaking. Take an especially close look at snaps or buckles. ID tags should have current information, including a current cell phone number if you travel with your pet.
Instead of putting your pet's name and your address on the tag, put "Reward!" along with as many different phone numbers as will fit.
If your pet isn't microchipped, make that a New Year's resolution. It's a permanent form of ID that can be a lost pet's ticket home if a collar slips off or is removed by pet thieves. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.