Pet Care
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NJ Veterinary Medical Association
390 Amwell Road, Suite 402
Hillsborough, NJ 08844
Phone:  908-281-0918
Fax:  908-450-1286

Pet Care
Pets require a lot of maintenance to keep them healthy and happy. Learn the importance of preventative medicine and some simple grooming tips.

Dear Veterinarian:
Is it necessary for me to know how to take my dog's temperature? What is the normal body temperature for a dog and cat?

Dear Pet Owner:
It is useful but not usually necessary for a pet owner to take his pet's temperature. The most common way is with a rectal thermometer. Shake the thermometer well, gently place inside the rectum 2 inches, and hold the instrument there for about 1 minute. It may help to use a small amount of lubricant on the thermometer, such as K-Y jelly. The normal temperature for a dog or cat should read 100-102.5 degrees. Above 103.5 is a fever. Below 98 degrees can indicate a serious illness and the beginning of hypothermia. Some new instruments can probe the inner ear and find a temperature much more quickly. However there are some reports of inaccurate readings depending on the make and model of the machine. A consistent increase or decrease in the normal body's temperature is not normal, and you may then also notice a change in behavior in your pet. Be aware that extreme excitement and vigorous exercise may temporarily raise your pet's temperature. If your pet is not acting like his normal self and his temperature is abnormal, contact your veterinarian and arrange for an exam.


Dear Veterinarian:
We are moving to Florida with our dog and four cats. They are all healthy. We are renting a Winnebago to travel and the trip should take 2-3 days. Should we get sedatives for them?

Dear Pet Owner:
Traveling with pets can present challenges – where should we put the kitty litter before and after use, what radio station most successfully drowns out the barks and meows, and who should sit in the front seat – the spouse or the beagle. A mobile home is the ideal way to go. Your pets will all quickly adjust to the noise and motion and there is room for them each to find their secure and comfort spot to pass the time. Be sure they can't bolt out of open doors or windows and deep them from distracting the driver by riding on the lap or under the brake pedal. A preliminary spin around the neighborhood will help you determine if a pet is too active for the ride and should be confined to a traveling crate for everyone's safety. Also be sure that each pet wears an identification tag with a contact phone number, such as a cell phone number, in the event that your pet does escape.

If you were traveling in the tighter confines of a car, a portable kennel crate would be useful. It should have space for a foot-square litter box next to your cat's resting spot. Don't forget extra litter and plastic trash bags so you won't have to drive the distance with the windows down. Your dog will need to make rest stops with the rest of the family. Bring water, bowls, and some pet food, but don't be upset if your dog or cat is too excited to eat on the journey.

Occasionally, dogs and cats do not travel well. They may pant, howl, pace, or be nauseous. Take your pets for a ride before the trip to look for these problems. If these problems do arise, you may need some tranquilizer pills from your veterinarian to smooth the journey. Your pet's veterinarian will advise you if this is a safe solution and encourage you to test the medication before your travel date as some animals get too groggy and other are not affected by the same dose.

Good luck with your move. Your trip will probably be smoother than expected, but it always pays to be prepared.


Dear Veterinarian:
When I take my dog Hannah to the vet, I'm never sure if I'm supposed to bring anything with me. Should I prepare for the visit?

Dear Pet Owner:
This is a very good question. Being prepared is important because it helps ensure that your pet benefits from a complete health examination by making important information available to your veterinarian. When making an appointment with your pet's veterinarian, consider these tips:

What to Bring. If you recently moved, bring a copy of your pet's medical records with you. Write down any medications your pet may be taking and the doseage. When making an appointment, ask if you should bring a sample of your pet's stool or urine.

Make a List. Write down all the things that concern you about your pet: hair coat, diet, exercise program, toilet habits, etc. This will help you communicate better.

Write it Down. Don't be afraid to write down the information your veterinarian provides to you. Ask if there is a handout or a brochure containing more details.

Don't Be Embarrassed. Your pet's veterinarian is the other family doctor. There's no need to feel awkward about asking anything or mentioning something that you've noticed. Your veterinarian wants to help keep your pet healthy and happy. Without your observations, important information may be missed.

Ask About Emergency Coverage. Find out the process for after hours emergencies. If the veterinary hospital refers its patients to an emergency facility, be sure you know the address, phone number, and hours.


Dear Veterinarian:
I recently adopted an adult dog and would like to start bringing him with me when I visit friends and family to help socialize him. Any suggestions?

Dear Pet Owner:
First and foremost, always ask the homeowner whether your pet is welcome. Nothing is worse than an unwelcomed guest. Review your pet's manners and assess whether he is well-behaved and obedient. Is your pet normally friendly and people-oriented? Does your pet know not to steal food and jump on guests?

While it's great that you want your pet to be with you, be considerate of your pet's needs as well. Is he used to gatherings of people and the accompanying noise? Don't include a pet that is skittish and prefers to be alone or in quiet settings. Remember that pets may not find social gatherings enjoyable. Don't let your eagerness to include him be the deciding factor. Forcing a pet into an unpleasant situation may result in undesirable behavior, resulting in unhappy people and pets.

Consider the other guests that will be at your destination. Will there be a friend or family member present who is allergic to cats or afraid of dogs? Will your pet get along with other pets that may be there?

Remember to create a safe place for your pet while at your destination. Bring your pet's crate so he has a safe place to retreat if the festivities get a bit too loud. Also remember his favorite blanket, toys, food, treats, and any medications he may take.

Make sure your pet's feeding, walking and sleeping routine stays the same. Keep your pet safe and away from trash cans, chemicals, open doors, and other hazards which may be present in a home not normally accustomed to having pets around.

Lastly, be sure your pet is up-to-date on vaccinations and that his pet identification tag has current contact information should he escape while you are away.

Be sure to talk to your veterinarian before traveling with your pet for additional suggestions.


Dear Veterinarian:
I'd like to trim my dog's nail myself but I'm afraid to hurt him. Can you give me some tips?

Dear Pet Owner:
The main thing to remember when cutting a dog's nails is to just take off the tips. The dog's inner part of the nail contains a blood supply that can bleed if the nail is cut too short. When trimming the nails it is important to restrain your pet's entire body firmly to make sure that he/she does not jump when you cut the nail. Gently hold the paw and squeeze the toe so that the nail is extended away from the pad. Take the clippers and cut the tip of the nail so that it is even with the extended pad. This provides an even walking surface of pad and nail. Most times it is necessary to only trim off 1-3 mm of nail tip A common mistake is to trim too much nail. Not much cutting is needed. If you do cut the nail shorter and it starts to bleed, don't panic. Simply take Kwik Stop powder or Silver Nitrate sticks to chemically cauterize the bleeding area. (These can be purchased in pet supply stores.) If you don't have these items on hand, try dipping the bleeding nail in a bar of soap, use flour as a powder to apply to the bleeding area, or simple press on the nail with direct pressure. It will eventually stop bleeding. Also, it is a wise practice to massage the dog's toe frequently to get the dog used to being handled for a nail clipping. If any or all of these measures are too difficult for you or your dog, simply make an appointment with your veterinarian. Walking your dog on cement regularly may also help “file” the nails and keep them at a reasonable length.


Dear Veterinarian:
I hear a lot about microchipping and would like to know if I should microchip my dog and outdoor cat. My pets always wear identification tags. What are the advantages of microchipping and tatooing?

Dear Pet Owner:
Microchipping is a permanent means of identifying your pet in case it is ever lost or stolen. Identification tags are appropriate also, but they can be lost or removed by someone.

A small micochip (about the size of a grain of rice) is injected under the skin in the shoulder area of a dog or cat. This is a simple procedure that can be done during a veterinary office visit. The microchip carries a numerical code, which can be identified by passing a scanner over the area where the microchip was inserted. This code number can be called in to a national database where you have registered your name, address, and contact phone number. Therefore a hospital or a shelter that has this scanner can check all lost animals for a microchip and, hopefully, find the owner. The microchip companies have donated scanners to animal shelters to be used for this purpose.

Hopefully, you will never have to be in a situation of identifying a lost or stolen pet. This technique, along with simple collar tags can be invaluable if this situation arises.


Dear Veterinarian:
My puppy “Jaws” likes to play in my garden when we're outside and inevitably everything ends up in his mouth. What common plants might cause harm if ingested?

Dear Pet Owner:
Ingestion of plants by dogs and cats occurs fairly frequently. Although there is some potential for serious poisoning, most cases result in gastrointestinal irritation, vomiting and diarrhea and are treated symptomatically. Signs and symptoms include excessive salivation and swelling or ulcerations of the tongue, throat or face. It is difficult to make the diagnosis in most cases unless the animal vomits some of the plant material. “Jaws” would be safest and better behaved if you kept him on his leash while outdoors. That being said, a list of common plants that are toxic are as follows. Rhubarb, beet tops, Sorrel and Dock, Philodendron, Diffenbachia, Caladium, Jack-on-the-Pulpit and Elephant Ears contain oxolates that can lead to kidney failure. Pointsettia, Mistletoe, Aloe Vera, Azalea, flower bulbs, English Ivy, Holly and Privet are gastrointestinal irritants. Evergreens and yew contain taxine alkaloids that cause cardiac problems. Oleander, Lily of the Valley and Foxglove contain cardiac glycosides that can alter heart rate and cause arrhythmia. Lilies and Daylilies are harmful to the kidneys. Asparagus fern, Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac, and Nettles can cause skin irritation. Bleeding Heart, Morning Glory and many mushrooms affect the central nervous system and can cause mental confusion and disorientation.


Dear Veterinarian:
I just received a puppy and a kitten for my birthday. I love them both but they smell and I want to bathe them. Can I use the same shampoo on them that I use for myself?

Dear Pet Owner:
Puppies and kittens rarely arrive at their new homes smelling “factory fresh.” A bath in the tub or kitchen sink is often required, but certain steps should be taken to protect your young pet's mental and physical health. Young animals have probably never experienced the shock of an unexpected shower. Teach your new family member to enjoy a wash by gently pouring water from a pitcher onto its small body and comfort him or her with soft words and tasty treats throughout the bath. Puppies and kittens can easily suffer hypothermia, or low body temperature, so use warm water and towel dry thoroughly to help avoid a dangerous chill. Blow drying is fine as long as the pet is not terrified by the noise. The choice of shampoo is also important. Human products can be too harsh on a pet's delicate skin. Some pet shampoos are not safe for animals less than twelve weeks old or cats of any age. Suds I the eyes can cause sudden corneal abrasions creating squinting and pain. Use a human baby shampoo or a pet product labeled for all ages.

Once you've completed that first bath, when should you attempt it again? Many cats are such fastidious cleaners that they never need to be washed. Long-hair dogs and cats can often be kept fresh-smelling and neat with periodic brushing and combing. Coat care, ear cleaning, teeth bushing and nail trimming should all be started at a young age to train your pet that these chores are a part of household life. Pups with a fondness for mud puddles may require weekly baths. Other pooches never leave the couch and seem to stay naturally clean. Some pets have excessively oily or dry skin and may need frequent baths with special medicated shampoos as directed by your veterinarian.


Dear Veterinarian:
My family wants to adopt a puppy. We've never had a dog before and while I have an idea of what is involved, could you go over what we should anticipate in terms of health and general care.

Dear Pet Owner:
Schedule a visit to your veterinarian soon after you acquire your new puppy. Your veterinarian will examine your pet to make sure it's healthy. It's not unusual for a young animal to have some diarrhea, a mild runny nose, or worms. Nutrition is important. Young animals have special needs, just like babies and sometimes it takes time to find the right food that your puppy will digest well and that is nutritionally complete and balanced. In New Jersey, heartworm prevention is important, and your veterinarian will help you to decide what means of prevention is best. Pediatric pets need a series of vaccinations in order for their immune systems to be stimulated at the right time for the vaccines to be effective. The most common diseases that we try to prevent through vaccination are distemper (a virus that affects the GI tract, and sometimes the respiratory tract and nervous system), respiratory diseases, and rabies. Other vaccines will be discussed based on your pet's needs. You need to follow the timing guidelines set by your veterinarian so the puppy's own immune system can take over as the effects of his mother's antibodies wears off. Your veterinarian will also discuss spaying or neutering your pet. These procedures not only prevent unwanted puppies and kittens but contribute to the health of your pet. Housetraining your dog will be addressed. Appropriate play and socialization of your pet will be explained as well as bathing, grooming and exercise pointers. Now is the time to establish the foundation of a lifetime of good health care for your pet.


Dear Veterinarian:
Can you provide some basic first aid tips to help my pet at home? I don't know what I can treat myself and what is serious enough for me to contact my veterinarian.

Dear Pet Owner:
Here are some very basic first aid tips It is better to be safe than sorry, so always contact your veterinarian in a medical emergency, so you can receive appropriate follow-up care.

Lacerations and Puncture Wounds Control bleeding first, either by direct pressure or application of cold packs. If there is dirt in the wound, flush with water. Remove the object that caused the puncture wound if possible, but avoid force. When a limb is involved and bleeding cannot be easily controlled, a tourniquet can be used but only as a last resort. Any material can be used, as long as it can be twisted just tight enough to control bleeding. Every 15-20 minutes, the pressure should be loosened for about 5 minutes. Many wounds will also require oral antibiotic therapy.

Shock Any severe injury, blood loss, infection or allergic reaction may cause shock. Symptoms of shock are depression, rapid-panting, pale gums and coma. Wrap the animal in a blanket and keep it warm and quiet. Always approach an injured animal from behind, with caution. Toss the blanket over the animal and then finish bundling. By following this procedure, you lessen the chances of a reflexive bite that is an instinctual response to fear and pain.

Heat stroke Signs of heat stroke can be rapid, heavy panting, raspy breathing and collapse. To reduce the animal's body temperature, lower the extremeties and underbelly in cool, not cold water. If the animal can drink give small amounts of water at frequent intervals to avoid vomiting. Remember, a dog or cat's normal body temperature is 101.5 F. Extreme congestion of circulation to the brain can occur at higher temperatures. This emergency always requires a veterinary visit.

Burns Apply cool water for 5-10 minutes for a localized or superficial burn. Never apply butter, ointment or creams to a burn without consulting a veterinarian. Large area burns cause an animal's body to lose large amounts of fluid and require animals to be hospitalized.

Poisoning Signs of ingestion of a toxic substance may include red or burned lips, vomiting or diarrhea, a chemical odor to the breath, difficulty breathing, weakness, nervousness, seizures or convulsions. If you think you know the cause of the poisoning, bring the container or label to the veterinarian. Not all poisons should be treated with vomiting as more damage can occur.

Choking If your animal is choking and you suspect something is lodged in the jaws or airway, the animal may paw frantically at the mouth or extend its head and neck forward. The tongue may appear blue-tinged. Carefully open the mouth and pull the tongue out as far as possible. This may aid breathing - if not, pick the animal up by the hind legs and, with the head down, give a sharp slap across the shoulder or chest area. If the animal is managing to breathe, never stick your fingers down the throat - the animal may bite you or you may lodge the object even deeper.

Insect Stings Make a baking soda paste and apply it 1/2inch thick to affected areas. Insect bites can induce facial swelling, or hives - small swellings or bumps that can cover the trunk. Call your veterinarian for the appropriate dosage of antihistamine.


Dear Veterinarian:
My veterinarian recently prescribed medication for my cat. What is the best way to administer it?

Dear Pet Owner:
There are few things as upsetting as having one of our pets come down with an illness. However, giving our feline friends their medication can be the hardest part of the recovery process. Try to keep this as simple and stress-free as possible.

If your pet is not on a restricted diet, the easiest way to give a pill is to hide it in a little bit of food. It is important to ask your veterinarian if the medicine can be given with food. Take a teaspoon of your cat's favorite canned food, and hide the pill in it. If possible, crush the pill in the food. Do not put the pill in a large amount of food as this makes it impossible to tell whether or not he actually got the medication. Sometimes hiding the pill in a little bit of cheese, liverwurst or tuna works as well.

Liquid medicine can be easier to give. Follow the directions below for holding your cat. You do not have to open the mouth as wide. Place the dropper tip into the cat's mouth, squirt quickly, then hold the mouth closed and rub his throat.

If none of the above is possible, here is the best way to give a pill

1. Bring your cat to a quiet, comfortable place and have the pill ready

2. It is nice to have your cat's nails clipped before attempting this, and this can be done at the veterinary hospital before your cat goes home. It may help to wrap your cat firmly in a blanket before attempting to medicate him, especially if he has a tendency to scratch!

3. Hold the pill between your thumb and index finger of your right hand if you are a righty and grasp your cat's head from above with your left hand. Gently squeeze your cat's cheeks with your left hand. This allows you to open the cat's jaw by pushing the cheek in slightly with your thumb and middle finger, pushing between the upper and lower back teeth. Your cat will be less likely to bite down because he will be biting his own cheek.

4. Tilt your cat's head back, and place the pill in the back of the throat behind the tongue.

5. Close the mouth and hold it closed, gently rubbing the throat or blow in your cats nose to make him swallow.

6. You may also want to ask your veterinarian about using a “pill gun”. This is a modified plastic syringe-type tool about the size of a pencil. . The pill is held by a soft rubber tip. You press the plunger to release the pill. The pill gun is longer than your fingers and may be easier to get into the back of your cat's mouth.

7. After you have successfully medicated your cat, give rewards and plenty of love and attention!

Some cats with chronic conditions need to be on daily medication for a very long time. It can be a serious problem if you can't successfully give your cat oral medication. There are some medicines that can be formulated into a transdermal cream. This is applied in a very small measured amount by rubbing it into the hairless skin on the inner flat part of your cat's ear. (You should wear a glove so you don't absorb the medicine) The drug is then absorbed through the cat's skin, similar to the way drug patches work for people. Not all drugs can be effectively formulated this way, and it is a little more expensive. However, for some critical medications, this option can literally be a lifesaver.

Your veterinarian is dispensing medicine for your cat because it is truly necessary. If you can't administer it, always contact your veterinarian. He can help find a way to make sure your pet gets the medicine she needs.


Dear Veterinarian:
My poodle, Missy, prefers to be indoors. She goes outside only for a few minutes several times a day. Is heartworm prevention still necessary? I don't like idea of giving her medication if she doesn't need it.

Dear Pet Owner:
Yes, Missy should be on heartworm prevention! It's not worth taking a chance of Missy becoming a victim of this deadly disease.

Each year, female mosquitoes transmit heartworm disease from one animal to another through a single bite. No dog or cat or specific breed is immune. Even inside dogs and cats could be at risk. All it takes is one mosquito to get into your house through a screen door or an open window to jeopardize the health of your pet.

Transmission occurs when female mosquitoes carry heartworm larvae, called microfilariae, from an infected animal and deposit it through a bite into the bloodstream of an uninfected animal. These larvae grow and migrate to the heart of the animal where they live, causing damage to the heart and the large blood vessels. By this time, heartworms resemble spaghetti. Symptoms in your dog can include coughing, weakness, listlessness, tiring easily, and weight loss. Your pet will also have difficulty breathing as the disease worsens, and may die from heart failure if left untreated. Unfortunately, it can take many months for your pet to show signs of the disease, and by then there is significant damage. Early detection by blood testing can save your pet's life.

Treatment for heartworm disease is serious and expensive. Dogs are hospitalized for a few days, and injections of medication to kill the adult worms. Dogs must be kept calm for a few weeks so that the dead worms have time to be absorbed by the body rather than move to the lungs where they can cause blocked arteries. Weeks later, oral medicine is given to kill the microfilariae. Preventive medicine can then be started.

Heartworm prevention is as simple as using a medicine prescribed by your veterinarian. It can be a monthly flavored tablet or topical medicine applied to your pet's skin. There is also an injectable heartworm preventive that lasts 6 months. Blood testing may be required first. In New Jersey, most veterinarians recommend that pets be placed on preventive treatment year round.


Dear Veterinarian:
My veterinarian said it is helpful to know three things when I call to say my pet isn't acting right – temperature, pulse and gum color. How do I do these things and why are they helpful?

Dear Pet Owner:
Temperature, pulse and gum color provide useful information about your pet's health. However, don't wait for an illness to first attempt these maneuvers. Your under-the-weather animal may react by launching claws or teeth into your probing fingers. It's best to practice these procedures on a relaxed healthy kitten or puppy. This will also train you as to what the normal results should be.

Temperature is assessed by inserting a rectal thermometer, lubricated with Vaseline or K-Y Jelly, 1-2 inches into the anus beneath your pet's tail. If you are not up to this task, ear thermometers are available for animals, but they are very expensive. Normal readings are 101-102 degrees Fahrenheit. A high temperature may mean your pet has an infection. However, heavy exercise, excitement or laying in the sun on a hot day can cause false elevations. Subnormal readings can indicate weakness and lethargy, but don't be fooled by cold weather and after-nap chills.

You measure the pulse by softly pressing your fingertips against the upper inner thigh of your pet. This is not as embarrassing a position as it may seem but it takes practice to assess this measure of heart rate and blood pressure. You can also place your hand against the chest behind the left front leg. The normal resting dog or cat heart beats between 80 and 150 times per minute. Rapid heartbeats can indicate pain, heart disease or shock, especially if the pulse is weak. If your pet faints or has seizures, slow beats can also point to disease. As with temperature, levels are lower with rest and higher with exercise and excitement.

Gum color is evaluated by lifting your pet's lip and looking at the tongue and the gum above the upper teeth. It should be pink to red. The gum should blanch to white and then return to pink when pushed, released, and observed. Poor blood circulation is indicated by taking more than two seconds to return to pink. Pale or white gums can mean anemia or shock. Yellow gums are a sign of liver disease or anemia caused by red blood cell destruction. Very red painful gums point to gingivitis. This test is easy to perform unless your pet has naturally black gums or dislikes having its mouth manipulated.

If your pet is acting listless, these measurements can help your veterinarian determine the severity of your pet's illness. However, the most information is always obtained by a thorough professional examination.


Dear Veterinarian:
How do I know when to call my veterinarian? I don't want to bother him if there really isn't anything wrong or I'm over-reacting to a minor problem.

Dear Pet Owner:
Perhaps the most important signal to phone your veterinarian is if your pet is suddenly extremely lethargic. If your dog or cat is not responsive to calls for play or favorite treats and seems weak or unable to stand, you should not delay. Pain, indicated by screaming, panting and restless pacing, should also not be ignored. Paralysis, usually indicated by your pet unable to stand and dragging the hind legs with or without pain, needs emergency care. Bleeding from the mouth, nose or rectum demands immediate attention, as does a painful eye held closed. Male cats seen straining in the litter box may have a dangerous urinary tract blockage. Steady labored breathing, seizures, hourly vomiting or diarrhea and unconsciousness are also urgent problems.

Sometimes your pet does not act very ill but problems persist for more than a day or two. Coughing frequently, vomiting or diarrhea more than twice or limping and walking gingerly all merit a call to the family pet doctor. Straining or having urinary or bowel movement frequency more often than usual should be reported. Your pet should not go more than a day without drinking. Persistent itching or foul body odors should also be examined. If your dog or cat won't eat their usual meal but will hungrily scarf down treats or table food, this may mean a problem exists. Call your veterinarian if the food is vomited for more than a day or the normal appetite does not return in two to three days. Also contact them if your pet acts well but refuses to eat for more than 24 hours.

The bottom line is this: If you are worried about your animal's health, call your veterinarian. They are there to help you with your pet care and can identify potential problems specific to your dog or cat. It is better to report a minor problem and not let it escalate to an emergency.

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