Authors Posts by Matthew Kearns

Matthew Kearns

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Not sure how many families received a puppy as a gift this holiday season but I love to see appointments that say “New Puppy” on them. One of the most common topics discussed is how to potty train the newest member of the family.  Crate training is a wonderful way to give the puppy the guidance it needs.

The idea of using a crate to train a puppy comes from a “den theory” in dogs.  Although wild dogs are nomadic by nature, they do settle down for part of the season to mate and raise pups. The males will hunt and the females will search out a den. This den is a safe haven away from other predators and the elements, and  residents instinctively go to the bathroom outside the den. 

If the crate is treated the same way, it can be a nice, safe area for the puppy. They will usually sleep and allow you to sleep. You can go out to run errands knowing that the puppy will not go to the bathroom, destroy things, or get into anything dangerous. The primary goal of the crate is to always, ALWAYS, make it a “safe area” for the puppy. Do not isolate the crate away from the rest of the family and never use the crate as a form of punishment.

When you (or other family members) are home, the door to the crate should be left open to allow your puppy to go in and out as they please. Give your puppy a favorite toy or a treat when you put her in the crate before you leave the house.  Although a crate is most effective, a crate does not always have to be a crate. You can baby gate off a portion of the kitchen, give a room, etc.

Be careful how long you leave your puppy in the crate so that they do not become used to soiling in the crate (they will if left no choice).  Most pet owners purchase or adopt a puppy between 8 and 12 weeks of age. This is good because it is a very impressionable age and allows you (as the puppy’s “parents”) to help them make good choices.

Remember that puppies can only physically “hold it” for so long at that age. A good rule of thumb is count the number of months old the puppy is and add one to come up with the number of hours the puppy can hold it. So an 8- week (2-month) old puppy can hold it for 2 + 1 = 3 hours. Some puppies can hold it longer at night. However, when you first get a puppy, it would be a good idea to get out of bed to let them out (or even set an alarm clock) to take them outside, SUPERVISED, to go to the bathroom and praise them when they do.

Also remember that eating and drinking will stimulate the puppy to go to the bathroom. Therefore, allow extra time to bring them back outside after they eat and drink to give them the opportunity to go again. If for some reason you get there too late or an unexpected accident occurred, just clean it up. Remember, the crate must be a safe area away from punishment if it is to be effective. 

Some puppies that have been in a pet store or shelter situation for too long can be negatively conditioned as well. If a puppy is left in a crate from five or six at night (when the shop or shelter closes) to eight or nine the next morning, they will get used to eliminating in the crate (cage) and come to believe that is normal. Those are exceptional cases and will require the guidance of a veterinarian that specializes in behavior or a Certified Animal Behaviorist to re-train.

Do not try to automatically force older dogs into a crate. I can’t tell you how many broken teeth and nails I’ve seen in my career because a dog owner decides they are going to put a young adult dog in a crate at 8 months to a year old because the dog has become destructive when the owner is not home. That is going to be like jail, and if it were me I would freak out also. That is not to say that you cannot crate train an adult dog, but it takes time, patience and the guidance of a behaviorist (that means extra moolah as well). It is much easier (and less expensive) to start at a younger age, remain patient and consistent.

Congratulations on your new puppy and good luck!!!!!

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 17 years and is pictured with his son Matthew and their dog Jasmine.

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By Dr. Matthew Kearns

Nothing makes a better gift for the family than a little bundle of barking fur. The expectation is that this is not only the perfect surprise, but also a relationship and responsibility builder for your children. How do we choose a puppy that is friendly and safe?

As with human development, a puppy’s temperament (personality) is determined by both genetics and environment. Purebred dogs will generally have different temperaments: retrieving, herding, hunting/guarding, etc, and come in different sizes. The type of dog chosen should match with your family’s activity levels, number and age of children, etc.

If you have younger children it is good to choose a breed that is big enough to not be injured by your child, but not too big as to knock your child into next Tuesday as the puppy develops into an adult dog. Also take into account that certain breeds may be very good with you and your children but may see your children’s friends as unwanted intruders. This not only becomes dangerous to guests, but also a potential financial liability for you.

Good breeders will match their dogs to appropriate families but poor breeding (puppy mills) can be dangerous. When purchasing a puppy from a breeder, the puppy is usually somewhere between 8-10 weeks old. This is a key time for the puppy to bond with your family (including younger family members) and quickly consider everyone part of their new “pack.”

Adopting from a shelter or rescue group is a noble but uncertain endeavor. The actual genetics is somewhat of a guessing game, and many of these puppies have traveled great distances with other dogs under stressful circumstances. When first introduced these puppies may appear calm (even timid) but it can take many days to weeks for their true personality to emerge. That does not mean that every dog from a shelter has a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality. However, make sure that the shelter or rescue has a clear (and timely) return policy if things aren’t working out.

Your own family dynamic plays a role. Children younger than school age can pose a problem. Toddlers are curious, but also are grabby and impulsive. What seems harmless (pulling at hair, stealing toys/food) could become a potentially dangerous point of conflict. This is very true as the puppy matures into a young adult dog.

What was once tolerable a few months ago as a puppy is now taken as an act of aggression or challenge. Therefore, many experts that recommend only adopting adult dogs with a proven temperament from a shelter if you have children or children under school age (6-7 years). An added benefit of an adult dog is that many times they are already housebroken (especially if spayed or neutered) and far less destructive than a puppy.

I hope this information is helpful in choosing the right dog for your home this holiday season. I want to wish all of the readers of this column both a safe and joyous holiday season and happy 2016. I also want to thank both Heidi Sutton, editor of the Arts and Lifestyles section, as well as all the staff of the Times Beacon Record and affiliates for another great year.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Flea allergic dermatitis was something that I used to only warn pet owners about in the summertime. However, with warm spells in the fall and winter, as well as the flea’s ability to set up shop in our homes, we really have a year-round problem.

Before we can address the problems fleas cause and how to treat/prevent them, we must understand the life cycle of the flea. The flea has four stages in its lifecycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

An adult female flea can lay up to 2,000 eggs in a lifetime and eggs will usually hatch in one to six days. Once the eggs hatch, a slender, white, segmented flea larva forms; it looks similar to a maggot but, luckily, is too small to see with the naked eye. These larvae are not blood suckers, but rather feed on organic debris in the environment. The organic debris can be outside — leaves, dirt, etc. — or inside — carpet fibers and fibers from furniture or bedding.

After five to 11 days, the larvae will spin a whitish, loosely spun, silk-like cocoon, where they develop into pupae. The pupal stage, because of the outer cocoon, are very resistant to the environment and insecticides. The pupa is usually fully developed at seven to 14 days. However, the pupa can develop into an adult flea as quickly as a few days, or slowly, for many weeks, up to 180 days, depending on environmental conditions.

Once the adult flea emerges from the cocoon, it immediately starts looking for a host — our dogs and cats — for a blood meal. Fleas find hosts via various stimuli: body heat, movement, and exhaled carbon dioxide. Once a host is found, the flea feeds through a long, slender mouthpart called a proboscis. Before feeding, the flea pumps anticoagulant-containing saliva into the wound to prevent the blood from clotting. It is suspected that the anti-coagulant proteins in the saliva may be responsible for what is called Flea Allergic Dermatitis.

Luckily, fleas do not carry many parasites or organisms that cause significant disease in our pets. The most common parasite associated with fleas, in my experience, is tapeworm. This parasite is significant in younger pets but I will usually take tapeworms, seen on the fur, or in the stool, as a clue that there is an undiagnosed flea infestation in adult dogs and cats. More commonly, fleas lead to FAD.

Now, I understand that any dog or cat that has a flea infestation is going to be itchy. However, dogs or cats with FAD will break out with a rash that is much more severe from very few, or even a single, flea bites. More specifically, cut your pet in half — just kidding!

Actually, make an imaginary line dividing your pet into two halves: toward the head, and toward the tail. If the rash is primarily in the half of your pet towards his or her head, it is probably not FAD. If it is toward the tail, which would include the ventral (lower) abdomen, inguinal (groin), base of tail, and back legs, then one should put FAD at the top of the list.

Previously, we had to not only treat our pets with foul smelling, and even dangerous, shampoos, powders and dips, but also many times expose ourselves to noxious chemicals to treat the environment, like “flea bombs.” More recently, we found that although fleas need a host and will bite humans, they cannot live on us. More specifically, by treating our pets, we can treat the entire environment.

Nowadays, there is a large selection of flea preventatives that are much safer and treat the pet specifically. Some of the older products, and still best advertised, are now available over-the-counter. This is a double edged sword — the products are much safer and readily available without a prescription, but these products are ones in which I personally see significant failure and suspect resistance.

If you are seeing a specific rash that resembles FAD, even if you are using flea preventatives, see your veterinarian to not only get relief for your pet, but also to discuss alternative flea preventatives.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Whew!! Hurricane Joaquin has drifted out to sea! Unfortunately, we have become all too familiar with natural disasters — think Superstorm Sandy. If another disaster were to occur, would I be prepared not only for myself, but also for my pet? What about for everyday emergencies?

Believe it or not, many of the same precautions and treatments we would use on ourselves we can also extend to our more “furry” family members: a basic first aid kit specifically for our pets, an emergency plan available in advance, etc. A basic first aid kit for your pet should include a blanket, thermometer, pen light, sterile 4×4 gauze pads, sterile dressing (small, medium, large), roll gauze, 1 and 2 inch white tape, Telfa non stick bandages, triangular bandages and safety pins, cloth strips, betadine or triple antibiotics, scissors, tweezers, instant cold pack, hydrogen peroxide, splint, veterinarian’s phone number, local animal emergency clinic’s phone number, Poison Control’s phone number, Glucose concentrate (e.g., Karo Syrup or other syrup), canned dog or cat food and bottled water.

Once you have your first aid kit prepared, you will be ready for most emergencies at home. Here are some tips on handling most general emergencies:

*If an animal is frightened or in pain, it may bite, even friendly dogs or cats. Consider using something like a small piece of rope or a tie to muzzle your pet, or throw a large thick blanket over the pet to pick it up. Please do not get yourself hurt trying to help a scared, injured, potentially dangerous animal.

*Anything makes a good stretcher — a flat board, an old door, etc.

*If an animal is vomiting for whatever reason, do not offer any food or water for at least three hours. We know there is a concern of dehydration, but many times that is the time an animal needs to rest the stomach, if it is a less serious cause of vomiting, and giving any food or water too quickly may make things worse. If you are very concerned, it is better to check with or visit your regular veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital before considering food or water.

*For bite wounds or penetrating wounds, try to keep the wound clean and moist until the animal can be transported to your regular veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital. Moistened clean cloths, gauze, etc can be used. If there is excessive bleeding, direct pressure should be applied; consider an ACE bandage. Do not try to remove anything that is impaled into the pet.

*Bone fractures can be immobilized with a splint. A splint can be made of rolled up magazines or newspapers, cardboard, a metal hanger, or wood. If it is an open compound fracture, cover it with a clean moistened dressing. If the animal cannot or will not allow a splint, just try to keep them confined until you can transport them to either your regular veterinarian’s office or an emergency veterinary hospital.

*If you suspect your dog has ingested poison, call a veterinary emergency poison hotline. If possible, have both the trade name and the generic name of the poison.  Do not try to get the animal to vomit before speaking to a veterinary emergency poison control representative or licensed veterinarian. Certain poisons, particularly those that are caustic, may cause more damage on the way back up, and if your pet is disoriented from the poison, you risk aspiration and aspiration pneumonia.

The emergency clinic I work for recommends the National Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 299-2973. They are staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with veterinary toxicologists. There is a $45 consult fee, but it is well worth it. I hope this information helps to make us all better prepared for emergencies.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years and is pictured with his son, Matthew, and his dog, Jasmine.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

In the Aug. 13 article we focused on the causes of chronic otitis externa (external ear infections). This article will focus on treatment. First, relieve yourself of the guilt that you did not treat the “infection” correctly. If your pet has chronic ear infections, that usually indicates some predisposing factor (usually genetic in origin). Second, get over the frustration of assuming that because we veterinarians use the term “ear infection” that if treated once, it will never return. 

Chronic otitis externa is a problem that can be managed, not cured.  Therefore, general maintenance of the ear is much better than waiting for things to get out of control. Talk to your veterinarian about ear cleaners, or if you look for an ear cleaner at the pet store make sure it states that it is a cleaner and a drying agent. This means it will have some isopropyl alcohol and usually propylene glycol to not only break up the wax but also to dry the lining of the ear canal.

Those dogs (or cats) that produce excessive wax should have their ears cleaned regularly (once to twice weekly).  If your pet’s ears are really inflamed/infected, you will need medication from your veterinarian to get things under control. However, once the infection clears up, maintenance cleaning is imperative. I have many a pet owner tell me how guilty they feel about cleaning their pet’s ears because they know it hurts and the pet runs away.

However, these same owners usually wait until there is a full-blown infection. Therefore, it is much easier to clean the ears when there is no infection, as compared to waiting until the lining of the ear canal is inflamed and sensitive.  Remember, “an ounce of prevention…”

There are some cases that get so out of hand that your veterinarian may suggest sedating your pet to obtain samples for testing (ear cultures, etc.), as well as a deep ear flush to evaluate the ear drum and the middle ear behind it. Although the problem may originate in the external ear canal, it can progress to a middle ear infection (otitis media) and systemic medication may be indicated. 

Talk to your veterinarian about exploring the underlying causes of the ear infection. As we discussed in the previous article, it is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of recurrent ear infections are secondary to allergies. Newer, more accurate blood tests can diagnose food allergies, seasonal allergies or both. Avoiding certain foods (including treats), as well as managing seasonal allergies can decrease (or sometimes eliminate altogether) the need for cleaning the ears at all. 

As a last resort, there are two surgical procedures that can be performed in severe cases. The first is called a lateral ear canal ablation. This procedure reconstructs a portion of the external ear canal so it more resembles a human ear canal. This allows better airflow and makes cleaning and treatment easier.

The second procedure is called a total ear canal ablation and bulla osteotomy, or TECA-BO (pronounced, “teeka-boo”) for short. This is reserved for end-stage ear canals where over the years so much scar tissue has developed, no medication can be introduced into the canal. This procedure involves removing the entire external ear canal and part of the middle ear as well.

A percentage of patients lose their hearing, but it will eliminate a significant source of chronic pain. The good news is that in almost every case, the patient is deaf before the surgery secondary to chronic disease. 

I hope this sheds a little light on a confusing (and sometimes frustrating) disease in pets. 

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years and is pictured with his son, Matthew, his dog, Jasmine.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

“Ooooooh … those itchy ears. My dog or cat is constantly scratching or shaking its head. I feel terrible for them and it sometimes keeps me up at night. My vet calls it an ear infection. It clears up on the medication but once finished it keeps coming back. Why does this happen?”

That is the million dollar question (actually, I’m sure millions of dollars are spent on ear infections every year).  To call every dog or cat that comes in with itchy ears an ear infection is misleading. 

These pets have otitis externa, and “otitis externa” literally means inflammation (not infection) of the external ear canal. Although we veterinarians commonly dispense medications with antibiotics and antifungals in them, the bacteria and yeast we are treating are considered natural flora (in the ear canal at all times in lower numbers).

So why do we get “flora gone wild”?  Usually some other primary trigger is involved and the infection is secondary overgrowth. Examples are parasitic infections (ear mites), pets that swim or get baths and get water (and shampoo) in their ears, ear tumors (both benign polyps and cancerous tumors) etc.  However, the most common cause of recurrent otitis externa is allergies. I consulted with a veterinary dermatologist, and she estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of all recurrent otitis externa in dogs is related to allergies. 

To understand why an allergy would cause such problems in the canine and feline ear canal we first have to describe the anatomy. Unlike a human ear canal, which has a shorter external component in a horizontal direction only, the canine and feline external ear canal is much longer and has both a vertical and horizontal component. Therefore, there is a much greater distance from the opening of the ear canal to the ear drum. This shape and extra distance plays a critical role in otitis externa.

Also, the healthy ear canal is lined with three types of cells: epithelial cells (those similar to skin), ceruminous cells and apocrine cells (cells that produce earwax).  Just like the epithelial cells of the skin, these cells will be replaced every few days. The new cells push the old (dead) cells out to the entrance of the canal, and the small amount of earwax produced in the healthy ear migrates out with the dead epithelial cells.

However, if the lining of the ear canal becomes inflamed, it narrows due to swelling and excessive earwax is produced. This not only overwhelms the ability to clear the wax, it also leads to a warm, dark and moist environment and allows the normal bacteria and yeast to overgrow and a true ear infection is produced.

This will clear up with medication but, if your pet is exposed to the same trigger, it will come back again. Certain breeds such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, cocker spaniels, shar-peis and many others may have complicating factors such as hair in the ear canal, floppy ears, narrow ear canals or a combination of these things. Now, this does not mean that every member of these breeds is guaranteed to have chronic ear infections, rather it means that if you have a member of these breeds and they have even low-grade allergies the ears can spiral out of control quickly.

In my next article I will describe how to manage chronic or recurrent otitis externa.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years and is pictured with his son, Matthew, and his dog, Jasmine.

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By Gerard Frank Schafhautle

Wild dogs, such as wolves, are carnivorous by nature, whereas domesticated dogs have adapted to more omnivorous diets. Therefore, there are plenty of plants that, in moderation, may be consumed by our canine comrades. Some examples include carrots, blueberries, white rice and yes, peanuts. Whether butter in a jar or nuts in a bag, peanuts are generally a safe choice (in moderation) compared to many other plants that we call nuts.

Ironically, peanuts are not actually nuts, but rather legumes, like peas and beans. The true nuts are those from trees, such as walnuts, pecans, hickory, hazelnuts, macadamia, cashew, Brazilian nuts, Cocoa (Chocolate), and acorns. Before venturing into the harmful effects of tree nuts, allow me to explain an oddity in the nut family that was not mentioned — almonds.

Almonds come in two varieties: sweet and bitter. Bitter almonds are more related to the fruit tree family of peaches and apricots. If you were to crack open the pit of an apricot or peach, you will see one or two seeds that look suspiciously like almonds. Bitter almonds and the center of a fruit pit all contain a cyanide-related chemical called benzaldehyde as well as other harmful chemicals, which are capable of symptoms ranging from lethargy to fatality. So be careful of bitter almonds and pets, as well as letting them chew on a fruit pit.

Nuts from trees can be contaminated with a mold type fungus called Aspergillus. This type of mold fungus secretes a type of poison called aflatoxins. Aflatoxins can cause damage to the liver and potentially lead to cirrhosis (scarring), or carcinoma (cancer). Best not let your fluffy family members eat any fallen tree nuts.

Although chocolate tastes great, cocoa products contain theobromine, which is deadly to your pets in even small amounts. Theobromine is found in all forms of chocolate and cocoa butters, in increasing concentrations from white chocolate (the least) to dark chocolate (the greatest). Theobromine is a stimulant that could lead to irregular heart rhythms and seizures. Both could be fatal.

Nuts of the arboreal nature may contain one other toxic substance harmful to your pets. Walnuts, American black and English, amongst other species, are formed under a thick leather skinned exterior. The space between the nut’s shell and this protective barrier is filled with a soft black resin full of tannins. Tannins are substances that act as astringents which bind proteins and amino acids in the body. The effect is rapid onset vomiting and diarrhea, followed by life threatening and sometimes fatal kidney and liver damage.

Peanuts. Finally we come around to the safe “nut” — well , almost. Peanuts are high in fats, which can clog up the liver and pancreas, which can lead to pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas and/or hepatitis, inflammation of the liver. These issues are easily treated by your veterinarian by switching your dog to a bland, low-fat diet and halting the “treating” of peanut butter in a hollow bone toy. Chemicals originating from tree nut consumption are much more difficult to treat, and may require special attention by the animal poison control hotline or an emergency veterinary clinic or hospital.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Do not allow your dog access to any human-edible tree nuts. Keep your veterinarian’s office phone number, as well as the closest after-hours veterinary emergency clinic and animal poison control hotline, in a spot that is accessible to all family members. Finally, if you feel the need to treat your pet with a few peanuts or some peanut butter, do so in careful moderation. Be safe, be wise, and be informed.

Gerard Frank Schafhautle has worked for Dr. Matthew Kearns at Countryside Animal Hospital in Port Jefferson for 6 years. He has a certification in Animal Science and will be attending Stony Brook University this fall, working toward an undergraduate degree in Biology.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I recently authored a two-part series entitled “A Long (and Fat) Winter’s Night,” with ideas on the management of the obese patient. However, if your pet is not obese but the long winter has affected them, what do we do? Stiff, creaky joints may make it difficult for him or her to rise. Just doesn’t seem to be able to finish those long walks (or even have the willingness to take them).  These are difficult to see in our aging babies but are also something that can be addressed. Physical therapy along with low-impact exercise can be helpful in not only improving our pet’s mobility and stamina but also has a positive effect on their sense of well-being.

Before I discuss physical therapy and low-impact exercise specifically, I would recommend that all pet owners visit their veterinarian’s office to rule out possible underlying or concurrent disease. This may be something that you already do during an annual wellness exam. However, if you’ve missed a few years, please do make an appointment to have your four-legged family member examined and consider some basic diagnostics (if warranted) such as blood work, X-rays, etc. If all is well, then let’s get started.

The one good thing about physical therapy (unlike missing a dose of medication) is every little bit helps. If you can perform certain exercises and therapies only once daily instead or more often, remember every little bit helps.

Heat Therapy and Massage: It has been shown that heat therapy causes vasodilation and improves circulation to tissues. This increases tissue oxygenation and transportation of metabolites. It has been proven that five to 10 minutes of heat before physical therapy and exercise can reduce joint stiffness and increase range of motion. Make sure to use a blanket or towel as an insulating layer between your pet’s skin to prevent burns. After heat therapy, gentle massage therapy manipulates muscles and tissues around joints to reduce pain, stiffness, muscle knots/spasms, increase blood flow and promote relaxation.

Range of Motion and Stretching Exercises: This type of exercise helps improve joint motion and flexibility in patients. Simple flexion and extension exercises are excellent. Find a part of the house where your pet will feel most relaxed and least likely to try to get up and move around. Manipulate each affected joint only as far as your pet will tolerate initially but hold for 15 to 30 seconds at full flexion and again at full extension. Repeat the process for three to five repetitions.

Low-Impact Exercise: The most accessible (and most commonly used) low-impact exercise is controlled leash walks.Controlled leash walks (slowly at first) will help to achieve the most normal gait possible. Slow walks increase flexibility, strength and weight bearing. After slow walks have been mastered, then we can increase the pace, incorporate gentle inclines or different surfaces (e.g., sand) to further develop endurance, strength, balance and coordination.

Swimming: Swimming is somewhat controversial in veterinary medicine. Some believe swimming (because of the non-weight-bearing component) is the ideal at-home exercise for older patients. Others believe the movements are too “herky-jerkey” and could lead to hyperextension of already arthritic joints. First, access to a pool that has stairs that the pet can walk in and out of is important (this eliminates swimming in the ocean or above-ground pools). Make sure active swimming only continues for five minutes before taking a break. It would also be a good idea to purchase a pet-specific life jacket to ensure that if your pet does tire there is no risk of drowning.

There are other physical therapy modalities such as therapeutic ultrasound, therapeutic laser, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), underwater treadmills, etc. Unfortunately, these modalities are neither readily available nor inexpensive so I thought I would concentrate on therapies one could do at home. If interested in more advanced therapies, make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss them.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 19 years.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I recently read an article in Time magazine entitled, “The Mystery of Animal Grief” and found it fascinating. The author, Jeffrey Kluger, referenced evidence that crows and elephants hold “wakes” for their fallen mates, and female chimpanzees have been known to carry their dead young sometimes as long as two months. This forced me to ponder the fact that as much as I know how people feel about their pets dying, how do pets in the household feel? And how can we get them through the grief?

Yes, it is proven that dogs and cats grieve after the loss of both another pet and a human owner. However, dogs and cats see this loss as more of a change in the dynamic of the pack or pride. If we can understand that concept, it will make it not only easier to tolerate their behavior but help them through this difficult time as well. Remember, we are grieving also; behaviors that do not make sense to us might make us less patient during these stressful times, as well as create lifelong behavioral issues for our pets.

The biggest mistake made in interpreting (or misinterpreting) any animal behavior is anthropomorphizing. Anthropomorphizing refers to giving human characteristics to things not human. Dogs and cats are not furry little humans, and we should not expect them to act as such. When dogs and cats grieve, it is usually for a much shorter period of time (sometimes as little as 3 to 5 days), and, in some cases, they do not grieve at all. If the pet that has passed was the dominant partner, the surviving pet may have been repressed (and now suddenly thrives). Do not resent this lack of remorse but rather realize what stress this pet was going through up until this time. Also, the more dominant pet may show no grief and this is normal also.

What to do? In the immediate aftermath, let the pet grieve. If your dog or cat is still eating/drinking normally and somewhat active, give him or her 3 to 5 days to adjust to the change in the “family” dynamic. In cases of severe grief, positive training may be the release he or she needs.

Positive training is really just setting aside some time for activity or interaction at the same time every day either with the guidance of a certified trainer or just the two of you. Positive training could be long walks, trips to the park for off-leash exercise, playing with toys (if your pet is more active),  short walks to the mailbox or grooming/massage (if your pet is less active). In rare cases, medications like anti-depressants are necessary.

What about adding a new pet? It is recommended to not replace a deceased pet immediately. Many dogs and cats are just as happy to live out the rest of their lives with just humans, so it may not be necessary to get a new pet. If you do decide to get a new dog or cat, make sure that you know the new pet will get along with the existing one. Consider getting a new pet of opposite gender even if the previous one was of the same. This will help to reduce the risk of fighting.

It is never easy to lose a member of the family, but I hope this article gives some general information on both the way that pets grieve as well as how to help them through this difficult process. Remember, each case is different, so consult your veterinarian for specific questions or concerns.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 17 years.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

In our previous article we discussed predisposing factors to obesity such as breed, spay/neuter status, age and underlying disease. This article will focus on a brief overview of tackling the obesity problem. The short answer here is there is no magic bullet for weight loss, but rather the same answer there is for humans: diet and exercise. With that said let’s take a closer look at that and give some more specific recommendations.
Diet:    In a veterinary article I recently read, management of obesity in dogs and cats is as easy as following the three A’s: awareness, accurate accounting and assessment.

Awareness refers not only to coming to terms with obesity in your pet but also certain risks as well (breed, spay/neuter status, etc.). How does one identify obesity in a pet? Usually it’s a vet (the bad guy) that hints at the fact that Spike has gotten a little husky or Fifi a little fluffy. However, you can actually assess your own pet at home. Just go online and look up “Body Conditioning Score,” or “BCS” for short. If, after reviewing information online you are still unsure, I would recommend scheduling an appointment to consult with your veterinarian.

Accurate accounting may be the hardest thing (for us as pet owners) to face.  Food can be an act of bonding not only with other people but also with our pets.  We had one pet owner at our clinic with an obese dog she swore was only getting its food and no extra snacks or table food. After a bit of investigation I found out that the owner loved to cook and the dog was the “official taster” for every meal.  No table food meant no food directly from the table. This was a smart woman, but she felt that the dog would no longer love her if she took this bonding moment away. Unfortunately, this also meant the dog would soon have to be rolled into the clinic and not walk in under its own power.

To make life a little easier, there is a way to actually calculate calorie requirements by using a calculation called the Resting Energy Requirements, or RER for short. The RER is a starting point, and then in conjunction with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist you can calculate how much food to give at each meal. After accurately calculating how much food your dog needs for the whole day, you can break that up into as many meals as you’d like. It has been found that it is more effective to feed at least two and up to four smaller meals a day to lose weight than to free feed (fill up the bowl).

Treats also have calories and should not exceed 10 percent of the diet. There are now low-calorie treats available both commercially and as prescription low-calorie treats through your veterinarian.

Lastly, in terms of assessment, it is important to either weigh your pet at home or bring your pet to your veterinarian’s office for a weight (this helps with consistency especially for larger pets). We encourage pet owners with obese pets trying to lose weight to bring their pets in (at no charge) to be weighed.

Exercise: Exercise is key to good health for many reasons: It helps to maintain and strengthen muscle, it promotes cardiovascular health, it provides mental stimulation, and it increases energy expenditure and fat oxidation.

Obese dogs should be given low-impact cardiovascular exercise (a longer walk or swimming rather than chasing a ball) to avoid heat stroke or injury.

Obese indoor-only cats should have their play geared toward outdoor hunting and playing behaviors (climbing, balancing, scratching). Toys work well for some cats, while others prefer cat trees or play stations.  Interactive toys with the owner are best (especially for single-cat households) to lose weight, as well as promote bonding with the owner.

I hope that this series of articles will help to make our pets the healthiest and happiest pets ever this summer.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years.