Archive for the ‘Ask A Veterinarian’ Category

Ask A Vet (Jan 14)

Q: My cat is 15. My veterinarian says that he is a geriatric now and that I should keep a close eye on him. On what am I to keep a close eye?

A: (Part 1) Generally this means monitoring their level of socializing, activity, vocalizing or changes in their routine, pattern of vomiting, litter box habits, appetite, thirst, breath and weight. Noticing a slight change in one of these parameters does not necessitate an immediate trip to your veterinarian; however, if the change persists for two weeks, you notice other changes or the change is dramatic, then an exam is warranted. 

Your observations can provide your veterinarian with important clues. Granted, history gathered on our pets is minimal compared to what we can describe of ourselves to our own MDs, it can still be of great help in narrowing down the list of possible diagnoses thereby reducing the time and tests needed to reach a diagnosis.

There are 313 diseases that cause weight loss, 119 diseases cause increased thirst, 97 disease cause increased urination, 23 diseases cause increased appetite, and 12 diseases that can cause very stinky, soft, large stool. 

So for example, if you present your teenage cat to me because you notice weight loss, and I find no abnormalities on examination, I have a very long list of 313 possible diagnoses to work through to find the cause of your cat’s weight loss. However, if you tell me that not only is he losing weight but he seems to have an increased appetite, the list of possible diagnoses of diseases that can cause both weight loss and increase their appetite, the list shrinks to 19. 

And if you also tell me in addition to his healthy appetite and weight loss that you notice when scooping the litter box that his stools have increased in volume and smell a lot worse than they used to, the list of possible diagnoses just shrank to a mere three.

With a only a few observations, you have the potential to make my job 100 times easier and move us a lot closer to the diagnosis. In the next article, I will explain the sorts of changes in these parameters that you should consider noteworthy.

Dr. Jeffrey Person practices at the Delton Veterinary Hospital and co-hosts the listener call-in show Pet Talk, heard every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on AM630 CHED.


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Ask A Vet (Sept 24)

Q: What causes my pet to reverse sneeze?

 A: Like a sneeze, reverse sneezing is an uncontrollable and spastic reflex.  But instead of the stimulus being felt in the nose which causes a sneeze, the stimulus is felt at the back of the nasal passages in the region of the soft palate and throat.  

Humans have no equivalent reflex, though horking produces a similar sound and the characteristic rapid chest expansion.

 Brachycephalic dogs (those with flat faces, such as pugs and boxers) with elongated soft palates occasionally suck the elongated palate into the throat while inhaling, setting off a fit of reverse sneezing.  Small dogs also tend to be particularly prone to reverse sneezing thought we don’t know why.

 Reverse sneezing itself is not a severe problem and does not require immediate treatment. If the sneezing stops, the spasm is over. For those of you that feel compelled to try to do something, you can massage your dog’s throat which may cause them to swallow, effectively removing, whatever stimulant incited the reflex sneezing in the first place.

 Remember that anything that irritates the throat can incite a reverse sneezing reflex. Causes include post-nasal drip, eating or drinking, exercise intolerance, pulling on a leash, nasal mites, pollen, foreign bodies caught in the throat, perfumes, viruses, aerosolized household chemicals, and allergens. 

These these conditions cause infrequent sneezing and most do not require any treatment.  As long as the sneezing is not becoming more frequent, I recommend to simply monitor.

 I have never seen nor heard of a dog dying or passing out from a reverse sneezing spasm.  The spasm/episode is temporary (albeit unpleasant sounding) that goes away on its own, leaving the dog with no after-effects.  

Therefore do not worry about leaving your dog home alone; if it occurs when you’re not there, the episode will end on its own.

 If reverse sneezing becomes a frequent occurrence rather than very occasional, your veterinarian may want to rule out a potential nasal mite infestation by treatment with a parasiticide. 

If allergies are the root of the problem, your veterinarian may prescribe something like antihistamines.  Or they may need to look up the nasal passages (rhinoscopy) and even take a biopsy. 

Sometimes, however, no cause can be identified.

Dr. Jeffrey Person practices at the Delton Veterinary Hospital and co-hosts the listener call-in show Pet Talk, heard every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on AM630 CHED.

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Q: I was told that tuna may contain heavy metals and could be harmful to my cat. Is canned tuna safe to feed my kitty? 

A: Not as the sole source of nutrition, but it is certainly safe if fed in moderation. There are heavy metals such as mercury in many of the fish that we eat. Mercury causes irreversible damage to the nervous system if given at high doses over a long period of time. The first signs generally observed in the cat are loss of balance and lack of co-ordination. These signs are not reversible.  

 One study revealed that cats receiving 20 micrograms of mercury per kilogram per day did not show any signs after receiving it every day for two years. For a 10-pound cat and based on the concentration of mercury in your average can of chunky light tuna, this is equivalent to eating about 225 grams (half a pound) of canned tuna per day. Be aware that not all tuna products have the same concentrations of mercury. 

Based on an unpublished study from a researcher at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Environmental Design, light tuna had less mercury than white tuna. Also, chunky tuna (as opposed to solid tuna) typically comes from smaller fish and therefore not as much mercury has had a chance to bio-accumulated in their tissues.

 A few other important notes on canned tuna:

it’s nutritionally deficient, especially of nutrients like calcium & taurine.

it contains thiaminases (highest in red tuna), which can cause vitamin B12 deficiency. Also, the canning process destroys natural B vitamins, which cats require in high amounts.  

the ratio of polyunsaturated fatty acids to vitamin E is insufficient and this can lead to pansteatitis (inflammation of fatty tissues), a painful and debilitating condition which can be fatal.

some compounds within tuna antagonize vitamin K, which can lead to bleeding disorders in those cats eating almost exclusively canned tuna.

 A good rule of thumb is that it’s safe to feed tuna provided it constitutes less than 10 per cent of your cat’s total daily intake.

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Ask a veterinarian

Q: I had to bring my dog to the emergency clinic. The attending veterinarian diagnosed an acute allergic reaction. Should I carry an epi-pen in case this happens again?

A: Possibly. Allergic rea ctions range in severity from mild itchiness to complete cardiovascular collapse.

The majority of acute reactions present to me because owners noticed that their dogs’ faces started to get puffy and swollen.  These can often be treated with pills such as diphenydramine (Benadryl®).

I have seen only two cases of circulatory collapse. And unless there is a history of collapse, I haven’t prescribed epi-pens (preloaded syringes of epinephrine that deliver a very specific dose via a hypodermic needle).

Though there are no contra-indications to epinephrine in a truly life-threatening situation (i.e. death is immediately eminent), the trick is determining whether or not the situation is truly life-threatening.

There are, however, significant side-effects if epinephrine is given to a dog whose life is not under threat, such as a life-threatening increases in heart rate and blood pressure.

Giving an injection can also present a challenge. A struggling dog presents an even greater challenge. Therefore, I instruct clients that if you must wrestle with your dog, their condition is not yet life-threatening so they don’t need the injection yet. Note that in order to be effective the epinephrine should be injected into muscle.

There are no dog specific epi-pens, but there are other options. The most common option is to carry the human Epi-pen for use in dogs weighing more than 44 pounds and the epi-pen junior for anything weighing less. There are conflicting opinions about using the junior in anything that weighs less than about four pounds. Whichever epi-pen you are prescribed, expect to invest about $100 annually since they usually expire within 12 to 18 months.

If you are very concerned that your dog is at high risk of developing a life-threatening allergic reaction, discuss your concern with your veterinarian who can prescribe an appropriate emergency response which may or may not include an epi-pen.

Dr. Jeffrey Person practices at the Delton Veterinary Hospital & co-hosts the

listener call-in show Pet Talk, every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on AM630 CHED.

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I feed my pet dry food. How come his teeth are covered in yellowish brown calculus and my veterinarian has informed me that he has gingivitis?


It has been scientifically proven as true that dogs – and by the principles of comparative medicine we think it is the same for cats – who eat dry kibble accumulate less plaque on their teeth compared to those that eat wet canned food. In fact, there are even some kibbles that have been specially formed to further reduce this accumulation such as Science Diet’s Oral Care or Hill’s t/d. However, the reduced plaque accumulation doesn’t make an exponential difference. 

Let’s compare your pet to your neighbour’s pet to see why.
In order for this comparison to work, we’ll assume that you adopted pets from the same litter and that the two are nearly genetic twins. They have the same health status, the same dental arcade conformation, the same microbes growing in their mouths, the same toys on which to chew, the same treats, the same pet food, and neither of you brush their teeth. You feed your pet the specially formulated kibble. Your neighbour feeds the canned equivalent. 

Applying the truths learned from scientific studies, your pet will accumulate one unit of plaque on their teeth after one day. Your neighbour’s pet will have accumulated about two units. After two or three days when that plaque mineralizes and becomes tartar, your pet will have half as much.  

After a year, you may even notice that your neighbour’s pet has more yellowish brown calculus on its teeth compared to your pet. You can see that you are really doing a great thing for your pet’s oral health by feeding them this special kibble and are even thinking about recommending it to your neighbour. Hold on though, your pet still has calculus on its teeth and it takes very little of it under the gum line to incite gingivitis (infection of the gums). Infection is infection and once it’s in the gums it no longer matters how fast plaque accumulates – it doesn’t change the fact that your pet has gingivitis.

Though it’s true that feeding specially formulated or even just plain kibble will reduce plaque accumulation when compared to feeding the canned equivalent, it’s unrealistic to rely on kibble to maintain your pet’s oral health.

Dr. Jeffrey Person practices at the Delton Veterinary Hospital and co-hosts the listener call-in show Pet Talk, heard every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on AM630 CHED.

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Q: Why does my pet keep getting ear canal infections?

A: Because spontaneous bacteria or yeast infections rarely occur in a dog or cat’s ear canal. 

In my practice the only pet with an ear problem that does NOT return for an ear problem is the one with a foreign body (such as a grass seed) or ear mites (which tends to be more common in the cat). 

If both ears have been affected I can guarantee you that the infection is coming back. 

The good news is that provided you can get the prescribed medications into your pet, curing a bacterial or yeast infection is fairly easy. And nowadays it’s even easier since some veterinary dermatologists have started to advocate the use of larger volumes of ear ointment administered only once a day. Preventing the next infection is the challenge. 

Ear infections generally recur and become more difficult to treat until the underlying cause is addressed. The most common underlying causes are allergies (either due to fine particulate matter in the environment such as pollens, or food, or both), defects in the skin cycle, hormonal imbalances, or immune mediated disease.

Addressing the underlying cause greatly reduces the recurrence of ear infections; however, in most cases the underlying problem cannot be fully addressed (take allergies for example). 

Therefore I always inform my clients that there are two stages of therapy for their pet’s ear: the treatment phase and the maintenance program. The intensity of the maintenance program depends on the frequency of your pet’s flare-ups.

Note that a flare-up does not always equal an infection. Sometimes a dog can be scratching like crazy, shaking their head, their ears are red and sore, but there are no bacteria or yeast. 

This is one reason why its so important for your veterinarian to look at samples of the ear under a microscope. 

Not only that, but it can guide the selection of the appropriate medication, help determine the underlying cause, and it certainly aids in the design of an appropriate maintenance program.

Also of importance in managing recurring ear infections is follow up. If complete clearance of the infection and total cleanliness of the ear is not achieved, problems can recur due to incomplete cure as opposed to relapsing infection. 

Knowing the reason for recurrence affects both treatment and maintenance, so make sure you show up for that follow-up appointment no matter what you think is going on in the depths of your pet’s ears.


Dr. Jeffrey Person practices at the Delton Veterinary Hospital and co-hosts the listener call-in show Pet Talk, heard every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on AM630 CHED.

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Q: Why does my dog eat grass?

A: Speculations abound as to why dogs eat grass. 

One common theory is my pet must be sick and needs to vomit. In a study of 1,500 dogs that had eaten grass at least 10 times in the past year, only nine per cent were reported as being ill before grass consumption.

The truth is that we have no idea why dogs eat grass. It would appear that grass-eating is a normal behaviour for some dogs. According to a survey of over 1,000 dogs, 68 per cent were reported to consume plants on a weekly basis – grass being the most common at 79 per cent of plant material consumed. 

This survey found no relationship between sex, breed, diet, fiber content in the diet, nor the frequency or type of plant eaten. However, the survey did reveal that younger dogs more often consume plants than older dogs.

Q: Is it normal for my dog to vomit after eating grass?

A: Yes. This survey found that one in every four dogs vomited after eating plant material. If your dog doesn’t vomit, then depending on the amount consumed, the grass may irritate the colon causing a soft, mucous- and grass-filled stool. Their stool will return to normal once all grass has been passed.

Dr. Jeffrey Person practices at the Delton Veterinary Hospital and co-hosts the listener call-in show Pet Talk, heard every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on AM630 CHED.

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