Ask the Vet: Holiday Edition + Update on the ‘Mystery’ Illness!Chris Simmons, Veterinarian
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By Dr. Chris Simmons
Happy Holidays y’all! 🎁🎄🎁 Back at it again to answer some holiday-themed pet questions 🙂
For those new to this segment, I’m a veterinarian and the 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 have found it harder than ever to ask questions, let alone get answers from their veterinarian. While this column certainly can’t replace that relationship, I’ll do my best to address some of your questions, ranging from the most pressing to the silly. And hopefully have some fun along the way!
On to the Questions!
I would love to hear your thoughts on the canine respiratory illness that has been making headlines. Have you seen an uptick of infections in our area? My senior boy is scheduled for his pre-holiday grooming appointment, so I’m definitely concerned.
— Kelly B
A primer on what is known about this mystery respiratory illness affecting dogs would be helpful. I am personally worried about walks around the neighborhood. Is it possible to get a virus like this by getting into something on a walk?
— Tiffany E-H
Happy to do my best to give some clarity on this topic, Kelly and Tiffany. As many of you have seen in the news, there is an aberrant uptick in canine respiratory cases in numerous states in the US over the past few months.
First things first: At present, this situation does not appear to be panic-worthy! Is it possible that this is an emerging new pathogen? Yes. But, the evidence suggests that it’s more likely this is an uncommonly contagious strain of the typical respiratory complex.
So what do we know?
Local prevalence is unclear: The lack of uniform reporting has made the extent and spread of this disease difficult to track and interpret. The state of Oregon has fairly comprehensive reporting where there have been more than 200 cases since mid-August with symptoms varying from mild to severe. But so far as I can tell, there is not any official data to reflect confirmed incidence here in Metro Atlanta.
This illness is rare: Though the lack of available data makes interpretation challenging, the lack of documented profound spread is still meaningful. This disease does not appear to be overtly common. And further, the percentage of dogs that experience the dramatic illness (pneumonia) are minute.
So what should we do?
Prudent socialization: If you can avoid crowds of other dogs, do so. Does that mean you should avoid the groomer entirely? Maybe. But it’s also not likely dangerous either. And that matted fur isn’t taking care of itself! Walks around the block should also be perfectly safe.
Vaccinations: It is recommended to keep your pup’s respiratory vaccinations up to date. These include Bordetella, Parainfluenza, and Canine Influenza. Vaccinating your pet against some of the known common respiratory viruses may help fend off serious illness such as pneumonia.
Can you provide reminders of the dangerous foods for pets as we head into a holiday break where more humans are in the house (regardless of what we celebrate!)?
— Meg S
Hi Meg, love the inclusivity here! Let’s do a quick overview of some of the “dangerous” food stuffs to dogs and cats for the Holiday Season.
Chocolate: This is a big one! That peppermint bark is delicious, but the chocolate in it contains theobromine and caffeine which are both toxic to dogs and cats. Ingestion can cause significant gastrointestinal distress, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythms and, in severe cases, death! If your pet gets into some chocolate, use this toxicity calculator to determine if you need to go to the Emergency Room.
Onions and Garlic: Commonly used in Holiday cooking to make yummy food, onions and garlic contain thiosulfates which can damage dog and cat blood cells. Clinical signs include gastrointestinal upset, lethargy, and pale gums. Please note that cats and Japanese breed dogs (Shiba Inu, Akita, etc.) are more sensitive to this toxicity. And, it may have a delayed onset (days).
Grapes and Raisins: Used in all sorts of fruitcakes and hors d’oeuvre spreads, grapes and raisins pose a potentially fatal threat to your pets! Though the underlying mechanism is not understood, ingestion of even a small amount could lead to severe, acute kidney failure! If your pet gets into one of these, it is advised to contact your nearest Emergency Room as soon as possible.
High Fat Foods: Pancreatitis! Ouch! See below for more 😉
Some More Holiday-Specific Stuffs: Mistletoe, Holly, Poinsettias, Lilies, Macadamia Nuts, Tinsel, Latkes (onion/garlic), Gelts (chocolate), Sufganiyot (especially if they contain Xylitol), Kinara Candles (fire hazard if knocked over!), and Alcohol.
Why do vets discourage table scraps (most of us know, what is harmful/toxic)? Seems like the only thing encouraged by vets is commercial dog food! Reminds me of medicine and pharmaceuticals.
— Melonchka F
Excellent and timely question Melonchka! We all know that big gatherings during the Holidays lead to a natural uptick in our dogs and cats getting to skim off some of those delicious table scraps.
To start, see the answer to the last question! There are lots of food items out there that are perfectly safe for us but toxic to our furry family members! Thus, it’s always a good policy to reduce risk by discouraging giving food from the table generally.
Giving table scraps to dogs and cats also leads to increased incidences of general gastrointestinal distress which is a) not fun for your pup or cat and b) usually involves significant clean up and/or late nights for you!
On that same note, there is a subset of animals that will develop a serious gastrointestinal condition called pancreatitis if given a food high in fat content. This painful illness usually requires an expensive 24-48 hour hospital stay with supportive care. It’s a bad time!
Finally, feeding a commercial pet food and avoiding table scraps helps to ensure that your pet’s nutrition is appropriately balanced! Nice added benefit 🙂
Now for some Quick-Fire Questions!
Dog gift recommendation 🙂 Any recommended bones or bone type products for dogs to chew? I know rawhide is not good (hard to digest), Nylah bones can have splinter type pieces of the plastic come off and injure the dog… so what can they chew?
— Anna S
What about a gift guide?
— Jessica H
When it comes to dog chew products, I tend to recommend the Kong brand. These toys are usually strong enough to handle the jaws of most chewers and elastic enough to not break any teeth. And they’re not brittle so they won’t splinter leading to the risk of a dangerously sharp foreign object in the belly. That said, it’s best to supervise your pup during vigorous chew sessions and replace any toy that becomes too small or develops rough or sharp edges.
Oh, and here is a fun doggo gift guide list 🐶 🎁 🐱 🙂
Why do cats hate Christmas trees?
— Dan W
Cats don’t hate Christmas trees! They love them! These trees are all-you-can-pounce indoor jungle gyms, fully stocked with shiny, dangling baubles waiting to be booped. Christmas trees are a cat mecca of playfulness, curiosity, scent, and texture.
Now, this can be frustrating for us humans! So, I recommend 1) securing the tree as best you can, 2) using non-breakable ornaments near the bottom, and 3) providing plenty of alternative appropriate cat-friendly activities to keep your kitty occupied and away from the tree!
That’s it for today! Keep a look out next month to ask me more questions!
And remember you can book an appointment to come see us at Simmons Vet. We’ve got readily available appointment slots and a kind team ready to help you and your furry family members 🙂
Happy Holidays y’all!
— Dr. Chris