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Ask the Vet

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Ask the Vet

Chris Simmons and his dog Griff.

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By Chris Simmons, veterinarian

Hi, y’all! I’m a veterinarian and owner of Simmons Veterinary Clinic, a recent business school graduate, and a fellow Decaturite. Given the emerging and escalating Great Veterinary Shortage, some pet parents are finding it harder than ever to ask questions, let alone get answers from their veterinarian. While I certainly can’t replace that relationship, I can do my best to address some of your questions, ranging from the silly to the most pressing. And hopefully, have some fun along the way 🙂  

Alrighty then. On to the Questions! 

“My pets always manage to have health issues after closing time or on holidays and weekends. How do I decide whether it’s an ER visit?” — Nancy W. 

This is an excellent question, as this specific situation is such a common and frustrating problem! As Nancy can tell you, these moments can be very stressful. If your pet truly needs urgent care, then you will obviously be glad you trekked to the ER. However, if your pet is stable, and you end up in the ER, well then you have paid for a very costly visit, likely after anxiously waiting for hours to be seen. Further, these visits create unnecessary burden, creating longer wait times for other worried pet parents and overextending the already burnt-out ER staff. 

Fortunately, I believe there is a simple solution for this problem: teletriage. What is teletriage? It is the immediate access to a veterinarian, through a videoconference or phone call, who can help you determine if you need to get to the ER urgently or not. So, next time you are worried about your pet, you can pay a nominal fee to speak with a veterinarian to help you get some peace of mind. 

At Simmons Veterinary Clinic, we are partnering with VetTriage who offers 24/7 teletriage for a $50 fee. But there are numerous alternative veterinary teletriage and telemedicine companies out there too.

“As temps warm, and it becomes flea and tick season, what recommendations do you have for reducing the likelihood of this being a problem and what to do if/when it happens?” – Baron C.

Baron, this is a classic question for a primary care veterinarian. It’s also a fairly simple one to answer: give your pet(s) year-round flea and tick prevention. But I suspect y’all have heard this recommendation before. So, I’ll try to add some nuance, while focusing on fleas as they are far more common. 

First, the key word here is prevention. We live in the South, where it can technically warm up at any time of year. You can try to guess when the fleas will come out, but I recommend removing the guesswork entirely and just sticking with a monthly regimen. It’s easy and highly effective. The side benefit of this approach is that certain oral flea and tick products now also prevent heartworm disease, which is a silent and serious disease spread by mosquitoes. 

Second, not all prevention products are equally effective. For example, over-the-counter topical flea preventatives do not tend to work well. I’m not sure if it’s because fleas have evolved and become “immune” to them over time, but I have seen countless instances of fleas on pets with these products. On the other hand, the newer products (Simparica, Bravecto, and Nexgard for dogs; or Revolution Plus for cats), are very effective and safe to use.

Third, fleas are gross, but that’s not the main reason I recommend regular flea prevention. Flea allergies are incredibly common in dogs and cats. And frustratingly for pet parents, you don’t have to see fleas for flea allergies to be a problem! All it takes is the occasional flea bite to cause a whole cascade of itching that can lead to secondary skin infections and a generally poor quality of life for your pet. Regular dosing of an effective flea prevention is the absolute best way to avoid this situation. 

Fourth, I recommend taking your pet to the vet if A) you see evidence of live fleas or flea debris; or B) your pet is itching, scratching, “corn-cobbing”, or licking excessively, especially if noted right above the base of the tail. The treatment is fairly simple: Start on a good flea prevention product and, if needed, add in an anti-itch medication and/or a topical cleansing shampoo to break the itch cycle. 

“What can pet parents do to make appointments easier for vet and animal?” – Robin Valentine M.

Great question Robin! There are definitely a couple of things you can do to make the trip to the vet easier for you, your pet, and the veterinary staff. 

The easiest things to do? A) Have your pet come in hungry (skip a meal or give a small meal beforehand) and B) bring some high-value delicious treats. And then just fling those treats at your pet throughout the duration of the visit, even if they’re “misbehaving”! It may seem counterintuitive or that you’re “rewarding” bad behavior, but this distraction technique is very effective at disrupting the fear and stress ramp-up. And it offers your pet the chance at a positive association with visiting the vet!

On the other hand, there are so many things that we can do on the veterinary side. We can create safe spaces to wait for your appointment, such as a cat-specific waiting area or an outdoor space to hang out. We can employ Fear Free principles like gentle animal restraint and treat distraction that create pleasant and playful interactions with pets. And we can recommend and prescribe various medications that you can give prior to your appointment to preemptively reduce fear and stress for pets, laying the groundwork for an easier vet visit. 

Shameless plug: Simmons Veterinary Clinic will do all those things 😉

Rapid Fire Questions!

“What’s the best way to comfort pets during stressful times like thunderstorms, fireworks, etc.?” – Baron C.

Thundershirts and TLC can help a bit, but anxiolytic medications such as Xanax (as dosed and prescribed by a veterinarian) or the veterinary-specific Sileo work best. These medications are most effective if given before thunderstorms and fireworks begin. 

“What options are available to help older pets with osteoarthritis?” – Bruce W. 

Weight loss, regular non-strenuous exercise, and veterinary-specific non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Get your pet nice and lean through diet modification (aka less food!). Keep them from being too sedentary with regular short bouts of exercise (5-minute walks). And ask your vet about getting them on a daily or as-needed anti-inflammatory medication, such as Galliprant

“Oh! How do you use the Heimlich maneuver on different animals, like dogs?” – Laura O. 

Learned something new here, as I didn’t know the answer to this one! I’ve not yet needed to use this maneuver in practice. But check out this helpful article from the American Kennel Club!

That’s all for today! Keep the questions coming! Feel free to contact me at [email protected] and check out simmons.vet for more information about Simmons Veterinary Clinic 🙂 

— Dr. Chris