Knowing the difference between 'urgent' and 'life-threatening' saves money -- and lives
One Christmas Eve many years ago, I decided to kill some time before heading over to a family gathering by cutting the nails on all my dogs. (Yes, I know it's odd, but I'll say in my own defense that the presents were already wrapped and I had nothing else to do.)
Somehow I managed to cut so deeply into one nail that the blood just gushed. And of course, I hadn't checked to make sure I had styptic powder (or even corn starch, a great backup) on hand before I started. So instead of opening presents, I found myself opening my checkbook at the emergency clinic, along with a handful of other pet lovers with timing or luck just as bad as my own. Among them, I remember a puppy with parvo, an ancient cat with breathing problems and a dog with ... tapeworms.
The last was hardly an emergency, but the pet's owner didn't know that. She'd seen something come out of her dog that she was convinced was a part of his intestine. The veterinary technician was kind enough to set her straight without charge and with instructions to visit her regular veterinarian after the holidays.
While it might be tempting to snicker at a person who didn't recognize a tapeworm, she was truly doing her pet a service. She thought something was wrong and didn't wait to find out what it was. That's much better than those people who wait to get sick animals treated, even when their pets are clearly in pain.
But how do you know when a situation is critical enough to find a veterinarian immediately? Anything is worth at least a call if you're not sure what's wrong, but some things require urgent attention. The holidays are always hectic enough, which makes this a great time to remind people of what's an emergency:
-- Seizure, fainting or collapse.
-- Eye injury, no matter how mild.
-- Vomiting or diarrhea -- anything more than two or three times within an hour or so.
-- Allergic reactions, such as swelling around the face, or hives, most easily seen on the belly.
-- Any suspected poisoning, including antifreeze, rodent or snail bait, and human medication. Cats are especially sensitive to insecticides (such as flea-control medication for dogs) or any petroleum-based product.
-- Snake or venomous spider bites.
-- Thermal stress -- from being either too cold or too hot -- even if the pet seems to have recovered. The internal story could be quite different.
-- Any wound or laceration that's open and bleeding, or any animal bite.
-- Trauma, such as being hit by a car, even if the pet seems fine. Again, the situation could be quite different on the inside.
-- Any respiratory problem: chronic coughing, trouble breathing or near drowning.
-- Straining to urinate or defecate.
-- Although some other problems aren't life threatening, they may be causing your pet pain and should be taken care of without delay. Signs of pain include panting, labored breathing, increased body temperature, lethargy, restlessness, crying out, aggression and loss of appetite. Some pets seek company when suffering, while others will withdraw.
When in doubt, err on the side of caution, always. Better to be dead wrong about a minor medical problem than to have a pet who's dead because you guessed wrong about a major one. Call your veterinary clinic or hospital before you need help and ask what arrangements the staff suggests for emergency or after-hours care. If your veterinarian refers clients to an emergency clinic after regular business hours, be sure you know which clinic, what the phone number is and how to get there.
I got lucky that Christmas Eve with a fast and relatively inexpensive resolution to my pet's emergency, but I'm always aware that next time I might not be so fortunate. This is why I now know whom to call and where to go whenever I need help for my pets, why I keep first-aid supplies on hand -- and why I have resolved never to clip nails on a holiday again.
Few felines crave
the sweet treats
Q: Is chocolate poisoning a problem for cats, or just dogs? Our cat occasionally sniffs the candy bowl, but doesn't seem interested. -- via Facebook
A: Yes, chocolate as well as goodies sweetened with xylitol are toxic to cats, but veterinarians don't see as many cases of these substances poisoning cats as we do with dogs. And that's because dogs are far more likely to eat sweets than cats are.
People crave sweetness -- cakes, candies, cookies and sodas galore. But cats couldn't care less. That's because the taste buds of a cat are incapable of detecting, appreciating or triggering a craving for foods we recognize as "sweet."
As obligate carnivores -- meaning they need meat protein to survive -- cats don't need to have much to do with sweets. It's unclear whether the ancestors of cats had the ability to detect sweetness and lost it or if cats never developed a "sweet tooth" because they didn't need it.
People eat a much more varied diet, and our taste buds reflect that -- we have nearly 10,000 on our tongue. No such variety for cats, who'd be happy to stick with small prey animals and need fewer than 500 taste buds to figure what's good on the menu.
No doubt their limited abilities in this regard factor into well-known finickiness of cats. While having a cat who turns up his nose at what you offer can sometimes be frustrating, in the case of chocolate and other household hazards, the discriminating palate of the cat is good thing indeed.
But just in case your cat is a more adventurous eater, be sure to keep the sweets out of reach. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Cats built to go
where others can't
-- Cats are able to squeeze through spaces that seem narrower than they are because they don't have a rigid collarbone to block their way through nooks and crannies. Once they can get their head and shoulders through, their sleek bodies present no further obstacle. That's if those bodies are sleek, that is. The world is full of fat cats, after all, and for them fitting through tiny holes is not a given. For one thing, they may think they're capable of fitting even if their paunch says otherwise. That's because a cat's whiskers -- super-sensitive specialized hairs -- spread roughly as wide as a cat does. But they don't grow longer as a cat gets wider, which can lead some corpulent cats into sticky situations.
-- Studies have consistently shown that animals are good for our mental well-being and our physical health. Not surprisingly, 92 percent of people polled by the American Animal Hospital Association said they believed their pet provided them with some personal health benefits, everything from lower blood pressure to higher levels of physical activity. More than eight in 10 respondents said having a pet reduced their stress level.
-- While it's a great idea to use a safer antifreeze made from a different formulation than the more popular variety, it's not a foolproof way to keep your cat from lapping up the poison. That's because you cannot control what your neighbors will do when it comes to using or storing deadly chemicals. If you even suspect that your pet has gotten into some antifreeze, get him to the veterinary clinic immediately. There's no "wait-and-see" period with this stuff. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.