Tony’s Top 3 Things Vets Wish Pet Owners Knew

Communication in all areas of life is important — you have to let your spouse or loved one know what you’re thinking (how many times have you heard “I’m not a mind reader!”), you have to communicate with your kids (even if they seem to speak a foreign language), and you have to communicate with people at work to get things done. One vital area that we would like to focus on today is communication between pet owners and veterinarians. Dr. Rod and I, Dr. Tony, would each like to share our top-three important topics that we as veterinarians wish pet owners knew. They are commonly held misconceptions that we’d like to put to rest — so we can focus on what we can do to best help your pet.

What’s the common theme between all of them? If you communicate with your vet about these topics, you’ll be better educated, more knowledgeable and better able to keep your pet healthy.

Read on to find out more!

  1. “He’s just slowing down:” It’s true that as we age and as our pets age, we tend to mellow a bit and may not be as active. But there’s a tendency to overlook some real problems with pets and chalk it up to the passage of time. I’ve seen many cases of illness in dogs and cats that could’ve been treated earlier, or cured if only the problems had been rightly identified and not shrugged off.

Some normal things that can happen as dogs and cats age:

  • Greying of the fur coat, especially around the muzzle
  • Mild cloudiness in the lens of the eye (not the clear front part — the cornea)
  • Some degree of loss of hearing
  • Some difficulty in getting up, jumping or navigating stairs

Some things commonly attributed to aging that could be a medical problem:

  • Increase/decrease in weight
  • Changes in water intake or appetite
  • Inability to go for a long walk, or walk as long as they once did
  • Brown discoloration of the cornea
  • The lens inside the eye turning white

So, what to do if you suspect a problem but don’t know if it is related to aging? Communicate with your veterinarian! Make an appointment for an exam and some tests and let them know what has changed.  Often with a few simple tests they may be able to either set your mind at ease or figure out what’s going on and let you know how to fix it. It’s always OK to ask and you just might find something that would have gotten worse through waiting.

  1. Finishing antibiotic prescriptions: If your veterinarian prescribes an antibiotic for 10 days and the signs go away after three days, it’s OK to stop the antibiotic, right? WRONG! This is one of the most common misconceptions that we have to deal with and it can have disastrous results. What if you stopped fighting a war after winning the first battle? The enemy would only grow stronger and make a bigger effort in the second battle! With antibiotics, the same principle applies — when your pet is feeling better, you’ve only completed half of the war. You’ve killed the weakest and most susceptible bacteria, but you’ve left the strongest bugs behind — the ones that need more days of antibiotics to succumb. This is the basic principle behind the growing threat of antibiotic resistance. The first step is to make sure that antibiotics are used appropriately. Here are some examples of conditions that rarely, if ever, need antibiotics:
  • Most upper respiratory infections in cats: They are usually caused by a virus and antibiotics are not needed unless the discharge turns thick and green (antibiotics have no effect on viruses).
  • Urinary problems in male cats: More than 95 percent are sterile and using antibiotics only increases the risk of a resistant infection.
  • Trauma (for example, being hit by a car) with no wounds or shock: This happens all the time, and there’s absolutely no need for it.

If your vet does decide that an antibiotic is right for your pet, make sure to finish the whole prescription and recheck as recommended.

  1. Completing a vaccine course: Vaccines have protected untold numbers of humans and animals from infectious diseases over the past hundred years, but there’s a lot of misinformation and fear about them lately. I won’t get into the details of the anti-vaccine movement; I’ll just stick to the facts:
  • Puppies should be vaccinated against Parvo virus every 2-4 weeks from 4-8 weeks of age until 16 weeks of age. (Until 6 months old, in at-risk breeds like Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers and Pit Bulls, who have a higher susceptibility to Parvo.)
  • Kittens should receive the whole series of vaccines until 4-6 months of age as well.
  • Dogs should receive two to three years of yearly boosters after the puppy series — for dogs over 3 years of age, discuss the risks and benefits of vaccinating with your veterinarian.
  • “Yearly vaccines” for older dogs and cats is no longer a thing. Many vets are recommending every three years instead of every year for most dog and cat vaccines. Talk over the pros and cons with your veterinarian and discuss checking antibody levels (called titers) to see if they are protected against diseases, rather than giving more vaccines.

In most cases, (flu shots for people are an exception) vaccines take at least two shots to be effective. This is one of the reasons why puppies need a series of shots rather than just one when young. The first vaccine sets the stage and alerts the immune system that there’s a threat to be countered, while the second convinces that immune system that the threat is real it should start producing antibodies — the body’s natural defense against bacterial and viral invaders. Make sure your cat or dog gets the full series for full protection!

Check back next week for Dr. Rod’s top-three topics about communicating with your veterinarian.

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