Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Your cat’s upcoming appointment: Tips for the fairly fearless veterinary visit

When it comes to visits to an animal hospital, the latest buzzword in the veterinary world is “fear-free.” For dogs, a non-stressful experience is quite attainable. But where cats are concerned, I find that jargon amusing. The occasional easygoing critter aside, it’s disingenuous to claim that a veterinary visit with the typical feline is fear-free. More often, a realistic goal is simply to get your kitty to and from the animal hospital with the least amount of angst for both of you. And I can help with that!

According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, 38% of cat owners say they get stressed just thinking about taking their little buddy to the veterinarian, and 58% report that their cat hates going to the animal hospital. Sadly, that explains the grim statistics that show that dogs are far more likely than cats to get needed veterinary care. To ensure your special feline gets the best preventive care possible for a long, comfortable life, read on.

We need to start at the beginning, long before you leave home, and address the two things that scare most cats far more than the exam room and the doctor: the cat carrier and the car ride.

If you don’t have a carrier1 or crate, choose one with a hard plastic shell that includes a door on top, or one with an easily removable top (preferably with latches instead of screws). If you buy a soft carrier, pick one that provides easy access to the cat.  It’s much less stressful for your kitty to be lifted out of the top or side of a carrier than to be pulled or dumped out the front. The carrier should be large enough for him to stand, sit, lie down, and turn around in.

It’s not difficult to get a cat to like his carrier, but it can take patience. Place it in the room where he spends the most time, but not in a confined space if he’s afraid of the carrier. He needs to be able to approach it at his own comfort level. Open all the carrier doors; place some soft, familiar-smelling bedding in it; and put a treat inside. Don’t give him any treats except the ones you put in the carrier. If he doesn’t eat treats, put a favorite toy inside. Then ignore the carrier. Don’t try to entice your cat to go in it. Once you notice that the treats you put there are missing, see if he’ll go into the carrier as you toss treats or a toy inside it. If he doesn’t, try the next technique.

You can acclimate your cat to the carrier by placing it a comfortable distance from his food bowl. If he shows fear of the carrier, the bowl is too close. Slowly move the food bowl closer to the carrier, day by day. Again, if he balks at being near it, you’ve moved it too fast. Eventually, you’ll be able to feed him inside the carrier. Once you can do that, close the doors and keep him inside for brief periods of time. When he accepts that, get him used to being carried around the house in it.

Now you can place him in the car for short sessions. Eventually you can progress to starting the car, and finally to taking a few mini car trips around the block. On your preliminary excursions, try to figure out where your cat prefers to ride. Some like having their carrier on a seat where they can see you, but some prefer the floor. Others prefer having the carrier covered. Don’t blast loud music on the radio! Try playing some soft, calming music instead.

Once you reach the animal hospital, you may want to cover the carrier with a towel or small blanket when you walk in the reception area. That is important if your cat is afraid of strangers and dogs. We have a basket of towels in the waiting area for that purpose. You can also give us a call when you arrive, and we’ll alert you when we’re ready for you. That way, you can walk straight into the exam room and avoid the waiting area altogether.

Despite your best efforts, your cat might still be nervous at our office. It’s helpful to spray or wipe his carrier with a calming pheromone, such as Feliway, at least 15 minutes before you put him in it. And feel free to ask us for a sedative. We have a powder, which we provide at no charge, that can be mixed into food a couple of hours before your appointment. There’s no reason why a healthy kitty should have to suffer with fear when we can safely use calming agents to take the edge off his anxiety.

Remember: You might be able to outwit your cat and stuff him unwillingly into his carrier, claws slashing, but we can’t examine a fractious, resistant cat very well. So get the most bang for your veterinary buck, and take the time to prepare your cat for his next visit.

1.      1 This isn’t an article about carrier safety, but if you’re interested in that, click here. Sadly, almost all pet crates failed accident simulations done by the Center for Pet Safety. It seems that placing the crate or carrier on the floor behind the front seats was actually safer than securing it with a seatbelt. Hard-shelled plastic crates are safer than soft carriers in the event of a car accident.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Beyond the cone of shame

I had just finished suturing the incision on the Shih Tzu’s right hip. Now came the tactical planning:  How could I keep Snookie from tearing out her stitches and mutilating the surgical site?

By far the most common post-op solution to prevent dogs or cats from destroying sutures is the Elizabethan collar, or E-collar. I’ve heard many names for this much-hated apparatus: cone of shame, lampshade, satellite dish, and #@*&! torture device!

I don’t blame our cone-phobic clients. When my last dog needed an E-collar after a surgery, he banged against woodwork, tripped going up the stairs, scooped up mulch from the garden, and delivered countless sharp assaults to my poor, bruised shins (even after I finally resorted to wearing blue jeans in the hot summer weather). 

I’ve heard many a tale of E-collar disasters. There are dogs who make it their mission to knock every knick-knack off shelves and tables, spend countless hours rolling and pawing at the cone, or dramatically howl in mental agony until their spent owners relent and take it off. But the alternatives are worse:  torn-out sutures that need to be redone, self-induced painful hot spots from itching or licking, or bandages that get shredded and eaten, possibly causing an intestinal obstruction.

I can’t say the dreaded E-collar is a thing of the past, but alternative products that prevent self-mutilation in pets have become a cottage industry. Go to any veterinary convention hall, and you’ll find vendors hawking innovative items that often originated at the founder’s home sewing machine.

Sometimes surgery is a last-minute affair, or an angry, infected hot spot must be protected immediately; you won’t have time to surf the Internet for the perfect protective cover-up or contraption. That’s why we have a respectable inventory of E-collars and E-collar alternatives. But if your pet has upcoming elective surgery and you want to forgo the cone, with a little forethought you can choose the perfect substitute from our animal hospital, a pet store, or online. Here are my picks of the best ones, including the ones we have on hand. Prices may vary widely, so do your due diligence.

Medical Pet Shirts   
(Available at Vernon Hills Animal Hospital)

Dogs (11 sizes), cats (5 sizes), rabbits (6 sizes) 

They’re made of a breathable, stretchy cotton/lycra fabric, which provides good freedom of movement. They come in two styles, full-body or front-only coverage, with optional add-on front and hind leg sleeves.

For dogs, you’ll need to unsnap and fold up the bottom half when they go outside. The shirts can remain fastened for the majority of cats when they use the litter box.

The availability of many sizes makes these our go-to post-surgical garment. 

Dogs (10 sizes) and cats (4 sizes) 

These are similar to Medical Pet Shirts, although they don’t offer a hind leg sleeve or a front-only option. Both companies have very similar front leg sleeves. Most cats can use the litter box without having to remove the cover-up, an essential feature. As with Medical Pet Shirts, the rear side of the suit should be rolled up when you walk your dog.

Quick Covers 
Not pictured
(Available at Vernon Hills Animal Hospital)

Dogs (12 sizes)  

These are compression garments made for veterinary use. They come in a variety of front and rear sizes, as well as male and female versions. Despite all the options, we find that some of our patients fall between sizes, or that the large openings for the legs sometimes don’t cover the incision. But with a top Velcro closure, they’re fairly easy to take on and off. Very nice for when compression of an incision or wound is desirable.

Bite Not Collar® 

(Available at Vernon Hills Animal Hospital and online)

Dogs (7 sizes) and cats (2 sizes) 

This is similar to a neck brace and may not appeal to some pet owners, but it allows unimpeded peripheral vision and seems to be fairly comfortable. It’s made of flexible plastic and foam, and it’s machine washable. The harness strap helps keep it on. We find that pets can still reach their lower legs and tail with these, and it seems that more than a few dogs fall in between the available sizes. Although Bite Not Collars are also made to fit cats, there are better alternatives out there.

StopBite Collar 

(Available at Vernon Hills Animal Hospital, pet stores, and online)
Dogs, (4 sizes) and cats (2 sizes) 

Think of the Bite Not Collar – on steroids! It uses the same principle, but these are made of tougher plastic and have adjustable snap buckles, which we prefer to the Velcro on the Bite Nots. The limited number of sizes can make a perfect fit difficult.

ZenCollar (Formerly Pro-Collar inflatable collar) 
(Available at Vernon Hills Animal Hospital, at pet stores, and online)

Dogs and cats (6 sizes)

This inflatable doughnut has a sturdy canvas outer layer and an inflatable inner tube. There are Velcro straps on the outside, and fabric loops on the inside that attach to your pet’s collar. Most clients like this product. My only beef is that it can occasionally deflate due to faulty seams, especially with destructive dogs.

Dogs (Novaguard: 5 sizes; Optivisor: 6 sizes)

Our clients who have tried these products really like them. They allow dogs to move without getting stuck (great for crates and doggy doors), and the Velcro fastener allows them to fit in a snug manner so they don’t wiggle. They even come tinted for UV ray protection. They can be shortened along stamped grooves at the rim to better fit your dog’s snout length, a very nice feature. Best of all, they don’t cover the ears, which is convenient when ear medications are necessary and which also allows your dog to hear better. And they stay on greyhounds, a breed whose tapering neck and head make keeping E-collars from slipping off a challenge.  

The Optivizor is a smaller version of the Novaguard and is appropriate for use after eye or facial surgery, or for protecting the eyes of blind dogs. It conveniently has a version for dogs with short snouts, such as pugs and bulldogs, and one for long-nosed breeds, such as greyhounds.  

Power Paws by Woodrow Wear 

(Available at Vernon Hills Animal Hospital and online)Dogs (8 sizes plus a greyhound edition for long toes)  
$18-$25 (set of 2)

We originally stocked these to help dogs attain good footing on hard floors, but they’re also useful after foot surgery. They have reinforced toes and are very durable. Some dogs won’t accept having anything on their feet, but most of our canine patients seem to find them comfortable. They can be worn outdoors on dry ground.

Cover Me by Tui  By Tulane’s Closet 

(Available online)

Dogs and cats (7 sizes) 

These soft cotton cover-ups come in a variety of patterns, and in step-in and pullover versions. They are also available in long and short sleeves. There’s a built-in “potty cover” for quick and convenient trips outside. Nicely done!

Anti-Lick Strips 
(Available at Vernon Hills Animal Hospital and online)

Dogs (2 varieties: one for using over bandages, and one for using directly on skin)

We usually use these on leg bandages. They’re coated with all-natural ingredients (cayenne pepper, oregano, lemon powder, and clove oil) that taste and smell nasty. They work pretty well, but they don’t always stick as well as we would like them to.

Although the above-mentioned products are commercially available, our creative clients have come up with many of their own post-surgical garments. Thundershirts and doggie shirts can be repurposed to protect healing skin. Human T-shirts and infant onesies can be altered with strategically placed openings to suit your pet.

As for Snookie, the Shih Tzu I mentioned with the incision on her hip? Her owner bought her a pair of sparkly infant tights; a couple of quick snips with scissors to accommodate her tail and allow her to urinate was all it took to make a chic custom garment!