Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Pet Owner’s Nightmare: When Loving Pets Become Aggressive

I remember when my dogs took turns laying their heads on my pregnant belly. Even our cat would partake in this activity, which soon became a daily routine. My husband and I found great joy in this. Both animal lovers, we prayed that our unborn child would follow in our footsteps and enjoy God’s creations. However, I did notice a change in our pets’ behavior the larger my belly grew. They seemed to become more protective, never leaving my side, but never exhibiting aggression either.

Veterinarians deal with aggressive animals on a daily basis and the reasons for pet aggression can be numerous. Extensive research has been conducted leading to multiple theories about why animals misbehave. Yet, there is still so much to learn about pet aggression.  We cannot ask unruly pets “What is making you upset?”  We can only observe and study their actions and do our best to make sense of their inappropriate behaviors.

Many clients seek my advice about their pet’s aggression. My first task is to conduct a thorough examination to rule out physical causes for bad behavior such as diminished vision or hearing, or undiagnosed pain. Once I am convinced the pet is not experiencing any physical reasons for behavioral changes, I then counsel the pet owner about options to cope with their pet’s aggression. These might include changing the pet’s behavior through proper obedience training, an environmental or diet change, or medication.

Sadly, some pet owners have become afraid of their own animals, and many of them, like me, have children in their home. I have been asked by parents of small children on several occasions, “What would you do if you had an aggressive animal in your home?”  The question regarding aggressive animals in a household with children was always hard for me to answer, because until recently I did not have children.

It is hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes if you have no experience with their challenges. Of course, I have always been straight forward and honest with my clients. I have and always will offer them every option available to help them seek the choice that they are most comfortable with.

Veterinarians are charged with helping and protecting all animals. However, our higher responsibility is to protect the welfare of people, as well as pets. My personal goal is and always will be to do what is best for the animal AND its family. I am never judgmental, as I constantly realize every human-animal bond is different.

I can now say that as a first time mother with pets, answering questions on aggressive animal behavior in regards to children is easier. My husband and I recently found ourselves in the moccasins of my clients who own aggressive pets. This experience was truly eye-opening when it was in my own household.

A parent’s instinct is always to put the child first and protect them no matter what. However, this may be easier said than done, as most, like me, consider pets as family members. Needless to say, any decision about a pet’s well-being should always be made with the deepest consideration and utmost concern for the pet as well as its family.

Speaking from experience and the heart, I know bad pet behavior should never be shrugged off nor taken lightly.  Many are the avenues for coping with pet aggression. If you are dealing with an aggressive animal in your home, with or without the presence of children, please seek the advice of your veterinarian.

Author: Dr. Tracy Strauer

Monday, March 3, 2014

Conventions, Coffee and Diabetic Cats

The Midwest Veterinary Conference took place this past weekend in Columbus. The MVC is a continuing education convention where members of the veterinary profession gather to learn more about what’s new in our field and refresh and expand our understanding of what we’ve already been taught. It’s basically one of my favorite weekends of the year. I get to sit in lectures learning from some of the top people in my profession, listening about topics that interest me and that will make me a better veterinarian. And best of all there is no homework! Instead of writing papers and taking tests, I get to walk around a great big room full of like-minded individuals picking up pens and candy from vendors and sales reps and members of different veterinary associations. It is a wonderful weekend in my year.

The biggest downside to the convention is that it’s never long enough. And usually, I don’t get to go for the entire four-day course as someone has to “hold down the fort” at the clinic. So, for the days that I’m blessed to attend, I always feel rushed to fill every minute of my days with as much information-gathering as I can. This includes late nights of networking functions and meeting up with old friends and vet school classmates. This, in turn, means a lot of caffeine to stay awake and function during those amazing classes with world-renowned lecturers during the daytime. It’s that classic “burning the candle at both ends” scenario. For one weekend of learning and fun, I think I can still handle it.

Early one morning of the convention, as I settled into my seat with my two cups of complimentary coffee with my standard amount of copious sugar and creamer (I don’t do black coffee) I realized that I was setting myself up for a bit of medical irony. I was getting ready to listen to an internal medicine specialist elaborate on the topic of current diagnostics and therapies for feline diabetes. I probably had enough sugar in those two cups of coffee to induce diabetes in a cat.

As in people, the most typical form of diabetes in cats occurs when the pancreas can not produce enough insulin or the body doesn’t properly use the insulin that is made. In cats, most diabetic patients require regular (daily, twice daily or three times daily) injections of insulin given by the owner. Many cats respond fairly well to insulin injection therapy. The process of figuring out the best insulin dosing schedule can be a tedious one. It is often fraught with repeat trips to your veterinarian and routine blood and urine glucose checks. That’s how I got to meet and know my friend Max. Max is a big, fat, laid-back guy who loves to cuddle and lets me kiss and squeeze him. I don’t even mind that I’m allergic to him. Our friendship continues to grow as I work with his owners to manage his diabetes.

Max is a great example of a classic diabetic cat. He was a bit on the hefty side. To put it bluntly, he was a fat cat. He is well loved and, therefore, as in many family pet situations that means he was well fed. He presented for evaluation because he was losing weight and started urinating outside of the litter pan. Diabetic patients often drink more and therefore urinate more which usually means urinary accidents.

In addition to starting an insulin therapy regimen, Max’s owners started meal feeding (instead of free-feeding) Max. Cats who are free-fed have inconsistent blood sugar and insulin spikes throughout the day as they snack and graze. Free-fed cats also do not have restraint — they don’t know when to say enough is enough. Oftentimes free-fed cats are the fattest cats. In contrast, owners of meal-fed cats have more control over the calories that they are giving. Exercise and controlling calories are the best tools that we have to promote weight loss in humans and felines. Increasing activity (i.e. toys, perches, environmental enrichment) with the family housecat can reduce the likelihood of diabetes by producing a slimmer feline.

I had a wonderful weekend of learning. Even though it may take me a few days to return to a regular sleep pattern and to detox from all of the caffeine that I ingested — it was worth it so that I could continue to increase my understanding of the vast information that comprises Veterinary Medicine. I am proud to be a veterinarian who gets to help pets like Max, the diabetic cat, to live happier, healthier lives with their owners.

Author: Dr. Marisa Tong