Frequently Asked Questions: Pancreatitis in Pets

Our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center veterinarians diagnose several pets with pancreatitis each month. Dietary indiscretions (i.e., consuming rich and unfamiliar foods) are one common pancreatitis cause. 

If your pet develops pancreatitis, you may feel scared and confused, questioning how this illness could have come about. To learn about this condition, its causes, signs, and treatments, read our answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about pancreatitis in pets. 

Question: What is pancreatitis in pets?

Answer: Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas, a small digestive organ located at the start of a pet’s small intestine (i.e., the duodenum), becomes inflamed. Many pet owners do not even realize their dog or cat has a pancreas. However, this is a highly sensitive organ that, when irritated, can cause your pet to experience a severe and potentially fatal illness.

Q: What is the function of a healthy pancreas in pets?

A: The pancreas serves two critical roles in your dog’s or cat’s body, and is divided into two separate parts (i.e., endocrine and exocrine). Each part is made of unique cells designed specifically for its purpose. Consider each part’s job:

  • Endocrine pancreas — Produces the blood-sugar controlling hormones—insulin and glucagon.
  • Exocrine pancreas — Produces, stores, and releases powerful digestive enzymes into the small intestine to break down fat and nutrients.

Q: Is pancreatitis a serious condition in pets?

A: Pancreatitis occurs in two forms, acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis has a sudden and often dramatic onset, which veterinarians typically describe as an attack and can be fatal in severe cases. Chronic (i.e., persistent) pancreatitis can occur as an acute pancreatitis complication, causing intermittent and low-intensity discomfort and illness. Unmanaged chronic pancreatitis can flare and become acute-on-chronic pancreatitis. Both forms require veterinary attention and treatment and are significant health issues.

Q: What happens when a pet develops pancreatitis?

A: During an acute pancreatitis attack, inflammatory changes in the organ’s tissue allow the digestive enzymes within to escape into the pet’s abdominal cavity. These powerful enzymes begin to digest surrounding tissues and organs, including the pancreas itself. This autodigestion, along with the inflammation, causes an affected pet to suffer severe pain.

Pets with chronic pancreatitis or repeated acute pancreatitis bouts experience destructive changes to the pancreatic tissue. These changes result in decreased function and long-term complications such as diabetes mellitus or digestive disorders (e.g., exocrine pancreatic insufficiency [EPI]).

Q: What causes pancreatitis in pets?

A: Unfortunately for most pets, pancreatitis is considered idiopathic (i.e., cause unknown). However, dietary indiscretion, specifically consuming rich or high-fat foods, is known to often be the cause of dogs’ acute pancreatitis. Other risk factors that may contribute to pancreatitis include:

  • Age — Acute pancreatitis can occur at any age, but chronic pancreatitis is more prevalent in adult pets, including cats older than 7 years of age. 
  • Genetic predisposition — Dog breeds that are genetically predisposed to developing pancreatitis include miniature schnauzers, Yorkshire terriers, cocker spaniels, poodles, and dachshunds.
  • Trauma — Blunt abdominal trauma (e.g., a fall from a height) may contribute to cats’ pancreatitis. 
  • Pre-existing conditions — Cats with pancreatitis often suffer from other health conditions, including diabetes, chronic intestinal conditions, and liver and gallbladder diseases.
  • Medications — Prolonged corticosteroid administration can affect the pancreas. 

Q: What are pancreatitis signs in pets?

A: Pets with acute pancreatitis are visibly ill and painful. However, because these signs are nonspecific, our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team must rule out conditions that present with similar signs before confirming your pet’s diagnosis. Acute pancreatitis signs may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • In dogs, praying or bowing position (i.e., standing with their forelimbs on the floor and their hind end elevated)

Pets with chronic pancreatitis may exhibit no signs. If an affected pet does exhibit signs, they may include low-grade intermittent changes such as decreased appetite, lethargy, or diarrhea. 

Q: How is acute pancreatitis treated in pets?

A: Pancreatitis treatment will depend on your pet’s condition such as whether they have acute or chronic pancreatitis, and the signs and their severity. Our team can manage a pet’s mild acute pancreatitis by prescribing medication and a low-fat bland diet. However, if your pet is severely affected, we will hospitalize them and provide corrective therapies that may include medication and fluids to address pain, nausea, and dehydration. Your pet may need intravenous (IV) nutrition or a bland low-fat diet. With prompt veterinary attention and treatment, the prognosis for acute pancreatitis is generally good.

Q: Will my pet need to be on long-term medication or a special diet for their chronic pancreatitis?

A: Our team generally recommends dietary modification for pets with chronic pancreatitis. A low-fat therapeutic diet is a simple and effective way to ease the damaged pancreas’s workload and ideally reduce the risk for future inflammation and acute pancreatitis attacks. Depending on your pet’s species and their signs’ severity, we may prescribe medications, such as steroids or antibiotics, as needed to decrease inflammation or harmful bacteria. If your pet suffers from other health conditions or pancreatitis-related complications (e.g., diabetes, EPI), additional therapies and treatments will be necessary.

Q: Can pancreatitis in pets be prevented or minimized?

A: Because most pancreatitis cases are classified as idiopathic, our veterinary team often has no way of knowing why your pet developed this condition or how you can completely prevent them from developing pancreatitis again. However, as a general rule of thumb, you should avoid feeding your dog high-fat meals or table scraps.

Do you have additional questions about pancreatitis in pets? For answers and to schedule an appointment for your pet, contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team.

Safeguarding Against Disease Through Pet Wellness Care

As the saying goes, prevention is the best medicine, and this is true for your pet. Veterinary wellness care goes beyond the essential physical exam to help your veterinarian detect disease before the condition severely affects your cat’s or dog’s long-term health. Preventive wellness care not only enhances your pet’s quality of life but also helps ward off many diseases and health issues. Our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team explores some common diseases that can be prevented through proactive pet wellness care. 

Pet wellness care can prevent disease

Wellness exams provide the foundation of your pet’s health. Through regular preventive exams, our team establishes your furry pal’s baseline health, their normal health status. Establishing a baseline is important because doing so helps us detect health divergences that may indicate your pet has a developing condition. Wellness care is essential for preventing the following common pet diseases:

  • Dental disease While often overlooked, dental health plays a significant role in your pet’s overall well-being. Periodontal disease, a common dental issue in pets, can lead to pain, infection, and organ damage if left untreated. Regular toothbrushing, dental checkups, and professional dental cleanings help prevent dental disease and maintain your pet’s oral health. Your pet’s wellness visit includes assessing your four-legged friend’s oral health and creating a personalized treatment plan.
  • Obesity Obesity in pets is a serious epidemic that leads to several problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and joint issues. During your furry pal’s wellness exam, our team assesses your pet’s weight and suggests a balanced diet, appropriate portion sizes, and regular exercise. You are instrumental in helping your pet reach a healthy weight by encouraging them to exercise and reducing their obesity-related disease risk through weight management. If we determine your pet is overweight, we can devise an effective, safe weight loss program to get them back to their fighting weight.
  • Parasitic infections Fleas, ticks, intestinal worms, and other parasites adversely affect pets who do not receive year-round parasite preventives. Implementing a year-round parasite prevention plan, including medications and regular screenings, can protect your pet from these harmful invaders and prevent disease transmission. Our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team bases your pet’s prevention plan on their lifestyle, where you live, and other risks. We can recommend an appropriate prevention technique to ensure your four-legged friend is protected from these dangerous parasites.
  • Heartworm disease Your pet should be screened for heartworm annually and be on a monthly heartworm preventive. Transmitted through mosquito bites, heartworm disease can be life-threatening if left untreated. Heartworm and other parasitic diseases are avoidable when your pet receives veterinarian-prescribed preventives. Regular testing and medication adherence are vital to protecting your pet from this potentially deadly disease.
  • Vaccine-preventable diseases Vaccinations are essential for preventing various contagious diseases in pets, including rabies, distemper, parvovirus, and more. Following a recommended vaccination schedule tailored to your pet’s lifestyle and risk factors provides crucial immunity against these diseases and protects your pet and the community. Puppies and kittens should start vaccines at about 8 weeks of age and receive boosters every three weeks until they are 16 weeks of age. After their initial vaccine regimen, they will need boosters every one to three years depending on the vaccine. 

What is included in a pet wellness exam?

During your furry pal’s wellness exam, our veterinary team assesses your pet’s health and well-being. Your pet’s visit includes these essential components:

  • Nose-to-tail physical exam
  • Weight assessment and management
  • Nutrition consultation
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Ear and eye health
  • Biochemistry profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Fecal check
  • Skin and fur quality check
  • Heartworm test and parasite prevention plan
  • Behavior analysis

Most pets require annual or twice-yearly wellness exams to keep up with any changes occurring to their physical and mental health. Puppies and kittens need more frequent exams to receive vaccines and boosters. Senior pets benefit from twice-yearly or more frequent wellness checkups because many diseases are prevalent in older cats and dogs. Our team will recommend the appropriate frequency for your four-legged friend’s exams.

By ensuring your pet receives regular wellness exams, you provide them with the best possible chance for optimal health and well-being. Schedule your pet’s next wellness exam with our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team.

Keeping Your Pet’s Mouth Healthy and Smile Sparkling

February is Pet Dental Health Month and the perfect time to focus on your furry friend’s oral health. Pets are susceptible to periodontal disease, a progressive infection that affects the gums and supporting structures of the teeth and can lead to pain, tooth loss, and eventually damage to organs, such as the heart, liver, and kidneys.

The good news is that periodontal disease is easily preventable. When you understand the disease and recognize the signs, you can implement proactive measures to help ensure your pet’s good health. At Harbor Pines Veterinary Center, we’re committed to helping pets maintain their sparkling smile through regular dental checkups and cleanings. 

Periodontal disease signs in pets

Periodontal disease can be tricky to identify in the early stages, but you should watch for the following  signs:

  • Bad breath A healthy pet’s breath should smell fresh or slightly meaty, and a foul odor could signal an infection.
  • Red, swollen, or bleeding gums Healthy gums should be firm, pink, and a little shiny. If your pet’s gums are red, swollen, or bleeding at the gum line, inflammation and infection are likely present.
  • Loose or missing teeth Periodontal disease can damage the tissues that support the teeth, leading to loose teeth or tooth loss.
  • Difficulty eating Pets with oral pain can find eating difficult. If your pet is having trouble chewing or is losing interest in food, they could have painful dental issues.
  • Drooling Excessive drooling can signal pain or difficulty swallowing associated with periodontal disease.

If you recognize any of these signs in your pet, scheduling a prompt appointment with your veterinarian is vital. Periodontal disease treatment typically includes a professional dental cleaning while your pet is under anesthesia to remove plaque and tartar buildup. In some cases, antibiotics or other medications may also be necessary for the pain and infection.

Periodontal disease prevention in dogs and cats

Preventing rather than treating periodontal disease should always be the goal. Follow these simple tips:

  • Toothbrushing As in humans, routine toothbrushing remains the gold standard for maintaining our furry companions’ healthy mouth and bright smile. Using a pet-specific toothbrush and toothpaste, gently brush your pet’s teeth daily, or three times per week at a minimum, focusing on removing plaque and tartar buildup, particularly along the gum line.
  • Chewing Your pet’s natural chewing instincts can be another valuable tool in the fight against periodontal disease. Opt for dental chew toys with abrasive textures designed to scrape away plaque and tartar. 
  • Eating Consider incorporating rough-textured kibble into your pet’s feeding routine to help polish away plaque during mealtime. Additionally, look for dental treats specifically formulated with ingredients that promote oral health and inhibit tartar buildup.
  • Drinking Encourage your pet to drink plenty of fresh water, which will help flush away food debris and bacteria that contribute to periodontal disease development.
  • CheckingRegular veterinary checkups and professional dental cleanings are invaluable for early detection and treatment before periodontal disease advances. 

Long-term consequences of periodontal disease in pets

While periodontal disease in its early stages may seem inconsequential, neglect can lead to a cascade of adverse health effects. Left unchecked, this chronic infection can extend far beyond the confines of the mouth and seriously threaten your pet’s overall health. Consequences include:

  • Chronic pain Inflammation of the gums and deterioration of supporting structures can cause serious discomfort for your pet. When simple tasks like eating and playing become too painful, quality of life is diminished.
  • Tooth loss As periodontal disease progresses, the bony structures anchoring teeth are eroded, leading to tooth loss, affecting your pet’s ability to chew and exposing sensitive tissues. Tooth loss also can lead to jawbone degradation, which can cause irreversible structural damage.
  • Infection spread — When the bacteria in infected gums enter the bloodstream and reach vital organs like the heart, kidneys, and liver, they trigger more inflammation and can lead to serious health complications. The risk of endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of the heart valves, significantly increases in pets with advanced periodontal disease.
  • Systemic consequences The chronic inflammation associated with periodontal disease can affect several organ systems. The immune system becomes overburdened by bacterial overgrowth and loses its ability to combat other infections. Chronic inflammation can also affect the kidneys and liver.
  • Decline in quality of life Painful teeth, difficulty eating, and the potential for systemic complications take a toll on the pet’s physical and emotional well-being. 

However, when you understand periodontal disease signs, take prevention measures, and prioritize regular dental care at home and in the veterinary clinic, you can help ensure your pet’s bright smile and good overall health. 

Harbor Pines Veterinary Center is committed to helping pets maintain lifelong good dental health and a happy smile. Don’t let Pet Dental Health Month go by without scheduling your pet’s wellness and dental exams.

The Top 9 Benefits of Mobile Veterinary Care

Today, many of us can work from the comfort of our own homes. We can sit on our couch and order a picture frame or a toothbrush—or just about anything we need—and it’ll be left on our doorstep within a few hours. When we crave our favorite restaurant meal, that, too, can be delivered directly to us with a few simple clicks on a smartphone. 

We live in a world of convenience, and more organizations are working to make it easier for you to do business with them. Here at Harbor Pines Veterinary Center, we think your pet’s healthcare should be just as convenient as your online shopping. That’s why we provide in-home veterinary services, from dog and cat exams to vaccinations, lab work, and more. 

Why mobile veterinary care? Here are the top nine reasons in-home pet care is taking off (and allowing you to stay in).

#1: Mobile veterinary care reduces pet stress

Traveling to the veterinary clinic and being exposed to unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells can cause a pet to experience fear, stress, and anxiety. Mobile veterinary care eliminates this stress and allows pets to remain in the comfort of their own home, where they feel safe and secure.

#2: In-home care produces more accurate diagnostic results

We’ve all been there. Your blood pressure and heart rate are usually perfectly normal—until you’re sitting in the exam room with your doctor. The same thing can happen to our pets. The stress associated with traveling to the veterinarian can cause temporary physiological changes in a pet, which can lead to false results on diagnostic tests.

#3: Pet parents enjoy convenience with mobile veterinary services

Busy schedules can make veterinary clinic visits challenging, and some pets—especially our feline friends—can be difficult to get to the vet. Mobile services provide the convenience of professional pet care right at your own home, saving time and hassle, and ensuring your pets get the care they need.

#4: With in-home care, pets get personalized attention and enhanced observation

An in-home visit allows your veterinarian to spend more time with your pet, offering personalized care and a deeper understanding of their health needs in their natural environment. And, because the veterinarian is observing your pet in their natural environment, they may be able to glean more insights that might not be evident in a clinical setting. 

#5: Multiple household pets can be seen during one home visit

If you have multiple pets, you can knock out all of their wellness appointments during one home visit from the veterinarian, rather than trying to get them all into the car at once or making multiple trips to the veterinary clinic.

#6: In-home vet visits are ideal for pets—and people—with mobility issues

Pets and people who are older or struggle with mobility benefit greatly from in-home veterinary care. With mobile services, there’s no more picking up your arthritic 50-pound dog to put him in the backseat of your car—instead, he can bark at the front door when your veterinarian rings the doorbell.

#7: Mobile veterinary care reduces exposure to contagions

Visiting a veterinary clinic can expose pets to other animals and their potential illnesses. Mobile care minimizes this risk, which is especially important for young, elderly, or immunocompromised pets.

#8: You can get most of the same veterinary services at home

From wellness exams for dogs and cats to vaccinations, blood work, and microchipping, much of what can be done in a veterinary clinic can be done by a mobile veterinarian in the comfort of your home. A mobile vet can also prescribe or authorize refills of your pet’s medications, which you can then order online. 

#9: In-home veterinary care allows for a peaceful ending

No one wants to say goodbye to a beloved pet, but, when the time comes, in-home euthanasia offers a peaceful, dignified, and comfortable ending. Without having to travel to the veterinary clinic, your pet can be surrounded by love in their favorite spot at home as they peacefully cross over the rainbow bridge.

At Harbor Pines Veterinary Center, we believe in the power of compassionate, convenient care. Our mobile veterinary services reflect our commitment to the well-being of your furry family members, ensuring they receive the best care in the most comfortable setting. Give us a call to schedule your pet’s next in-home visit.

Why Cats Need to Scratch

Whether they shred your favorite sofa, a fancy plush carpet, or your new favorite sweater, your cat’s sharp little claws seem to have expensive taste. Before you decide your cat has a personal vendetta against you and is determined to drain your bank account, understand that their scratching isn’t personal. Scratching is deeply rooted in feline instinct and plays a pivotal role in their health and wellbeing. Our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team digs into feline scratching behavior’s purposes and offers tips to save your furnishings, clothing, and most important, your relationship with your cat. 

Do cats really need to scratch?

Cats enjoy scratching, but they also need to scratch for many reasons. Scratching is an instinctual behavior that has evolved over thousands of years for various functional and communicative purposes. Frustrated cat owners often seek ways to curb their cat’s scratching completely. However, because this behavior is normal and healthy, you should not ask, “How can I stop my cat from scratching?” but rather, “How can I encourage my cat to scratch in appropriate places?”

What is the purpose of scratching for cats?

Your cat doesn’t shred your prized possessions because they are angry with you. Cats’ scratching serves several purposes, including:

  • Claw conditioning — Cats scratch with their front claws by dragging them on horizontal or vertical surfaces to remove frayed and worn outer nail layers, helping keep their nails sharp and healthy.
  • Satisfying stretch — Cats need to stretch their whole body frequently, which involves scratching as they rise on their hind feet, arch their back, and extend their back legs and paws.
  • Clear communication — When a cat scratches a surface, they apply scent and visual markers to communicate with other cats, and to claim territory. 
  • Stress relief — Scratching can relieve a cat’s stress when they feel anxious or excited or need to release excess energy. 

You can learn to redirect your cat’s inappropriate scratching and maintain a balance that helps them remain comfortable and your furniture intact. To help your cat satisfy their instinctive needs without wreaking havoc on your upholstery and clothing, follow these strategies:

#1: Trim your cat’s nails 

Regular nail trimming can reduce your cat’s scratching frequency and intensity. Trimming will likely require practice, and perhaps a demonstration from our veterinary team, but if you can master this skill and keep your cat’s claws short, they’re less likely to do damage. When trimming your cat’s nails at home, always use feline nail trimmers, which give you better control and help prevent splintering their nails. Remember to always trim your cat’s nails in a calm environment, and provide positive reinforcement by rewarding them with a high-value treat.

#2: Provide your cat with scratching posts 

If you don’t want your cat to shred your furniture and drapes, you need to provide enticing scratching alternatives. Ensure your cat has appropriate outlets for their natural scratching instinct by placing scratching posts near their food and water, litter box, and favorite napping places. Scratching posts come in various sizes, from a basic single structure to an elaborate floor-to-ceiling unit that provides various scratching surfaces and orientations, and includes multiple levels where your cat can play, exercise, and rest. Posts should be tall and stable enough to offer your cat a good stretch without tipping or wobbling. You can determine your cat’s scratching post material and orientation preference by giving them posts in various shapes and surface textures. The scratching post your cat uses the most is likely the type they prefer. 

#3: Use temporary feline synthetic nail caps 

Adhesive claw cap covers fit over your cat’s natural nails and reduce the damage their claws can cause. The covers come in various sizes, so you can easily find them to match your cat’s natural shape. They also come in fun colors. Claw covers can last for four to six weeks. 

#4: Provide your cat with environmental enrichment

Cats need plenty of physical and mental enrichment to alleviate boredom, which can lead to inappropriate scratching and other destructive behavior. To encourage your cat to engage in appropriate instinctive behavior, provide them with the following:

  • Interactive toysStimulate your cat’s predatory stalking and pouncing behaviors with toys that trigger chase behavior.
  • Food puzzles  — Ditch your cat’s food dish and feed them using puzzles that require your whiskered pal to use their problem-solving skills to reach the food.
  • Window perch — A window perch offers your cat a spot to sunbathe with a view. By placing a bird feeder outside the window, you provide your cat with additional enrichment. 

If you have questions about redirecting your cat’s inappropriate scratching or need help cutting their claws, schedule an appointment with our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team.

Does My Pet Need a Vet? 5 Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore

Pets are exceptionally skilled at hiding illness or injury signs, and problems are usually significant before they cause outward issues obvious to pet owners. But, by closely monitoring your furry pal for changes, you can get them the care they need, when they need it.

Don’t miss the following five often-ignored clinical signs that mean your pet needs veterinary care.

#1: Behavior changes in your pet

Your pet can be quite the character, acting like a Sour Patch kid—sour and sassy one moment, sweet and cuddly the next. Yet, as your pet’s constant companion, you know their typical behaviors best, despite how they can fluctuate. But, personality, attitude, and some behavior changes can indicate that your pet has serious underlying health concerns that need addressing Watch for the following clues:

  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Hiding
  • Avoiding interaction
  • Irritability
  • Aggression toward you or other pets
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Excessive vocalization

Any illness or injury can unsettle your pet and cause behavior changes that mean they need veterinary attention, despite not knowing the underlying cause, especially if the changes are ongoing or dramatic.

#2: Appetite and thirst changes in pets

If your pet shows unusual changes in appetite or thirst for only a day or two, that typically is not cause for concern, but chronic or major alterations should be addressed. Pets can display changes in their eating and drinking habits for a wide range of reasons, and this outward barometer is an excellent indicator of what’s happening inside.

Appetite and thirst changes in your pet may signify:

  • Pain
  • Dental disease
  • Endocrine disorders (e.g., diabetes, Cushing’s disease)
  • Organ dysfunction (e.g., kidney disease, liver disease)
  • Gastrointestinal illness
  • Toxin ingestion
  • Diet change
  • Changing weather and temperatures
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Cognitive dysfunction

The best way to monitor your pet’s food intake—and manage their weight—is to portion out their meals. If your four-legged friend goes from inhaling their food to leaving some behind at each meal or suddenly starts draining their water bowl, they need a veterinary exam.

#3: Activity changes in pets

Changes in your pet’s activity levels or mobility are a sure sign something is bothering them. Pets who are restless and agitated may be in too much pain to relax comfortably, may be nauseous or anxious, or showing cognitive dysfunction signs. If your pet is spending more time sleeping, they may also be in pain or feel unwell because of an illness or chronic disease.

While a decrease in energy levels after an intense hike or long day of play is normal, if your four-legged friend doesn’t bounce back, they may be injured or ill.

#4: Elimination changes in pets

If your once perfectly house-trained pet is now using your rug as a bathroom, something is amiss. Many pet owners believe their furry pal urinates or defecates inappropriately out of spite, but you can rest assured that your cat is not peeing on your coat because you gave them only three treats instead of four.

Instead, urination and defecation changes that include altered frequency, amount, consistency, and color, may indicate the following problems:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Feline idiopathic cystitis
  • Urethral obstruction
  • Urinary crystals or bladder stones
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Irritable bowel disease
  • Foreign body ingestion
  • Incontinence
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Cancer

A host of other issues also can trigger changes in your pet’s urination and defecation habits, so you must not ignore this problem. Monitor your pet’s bathroom activities, whether outdoors or in the litter box, to ensure they can eliminate comfortably and normally, and schedule an appointment if you notice ongoing problems.

#5: Skin and hair coat changes in pets

Some seasonal fluctuations in skin and hair coat conditions, such as mild dryness in the winter and shedding in the spring, can be normal, but many serious health concerns can cause chronic changes that do not resolve or become worse. Your pet needs veterinary care if they exhibit any of the following skin and hair coat changes:

  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Oozing skin
  • Pustules, sores, or scabs
  • Lumps or bumps
  • Unusual skin, ear, or paw odor
  • Hair loss
  • Coarse, dry fur
  • Greasy skin and fur
  • Unkempt haircoat
  • Shaking their head and ears
  • Scooting along the ground
  • Excessive chewing, licking, or scratching

These skin and hair coat changes can be triggered by a wide range of causes, from external parasites and allergies, to endocrine disorders and skin cancers, and should not be ignored.

While you may be tempted to rush to Harbor Pines Veterinary Center for every unusual change you see in your pet, they may not always need veterinary treatment. However, some issues always warrant a veterinary exam. Do not hesitate to contact our team if you think your furry pal may need an appointment.

Why Your Pet’s Eating and Drinking Habits May Change

Monitoring your pet’s food and water intake is important, because changes in their eating and drinking habits can indicate a serious health issue. Read our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team’s educational blog to learn what conditions can alter your furry pal’s appetite and thirst.

Why is my pet not eating?

If your four-legged friend turns their nose up at their food bowl, their decreased appetite could be the result of numerous issues, including:

  • Diet change — Many pets are finicky about what they deem a favorable meal, and switching their food can lead to a hunger strike. If you need to change your furry pal’s food, do so gradually over five to seven days to help them adjust to their new diet.
  • Dietary indiscretion — Some pets are notorious food scavengers, and dumpster diving or counter surfing can lead to gastrointestinal (GI) upset and decreased appetite. 
  • Illness — A decreased appetite is a common sign of many diseases, such as chronic kidney disease (CKD), certain cancers, heart disease, and tick-borne illnesses. 
  • Pain — Pain caused by issues such as dental disease, arthritis, and glaucoma can negatively impact your pet’s appetite. 
  • Stress — Your stressed pet may avoid their food bowl. Examples of stress include being bullied by another pet, a new pet being introduced to the home, construction in or around your house, and lack of proper mental enrichment.

If your pet loses interest in their food, contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team, so we can diagnose the problem as soon as possible. This is especially important for cats, who are prone to a life-threatening condition called hepatic lipidosis if they go too long without adequate nutrition. 

Why is my pet not drinking?

Sufficient hydration is critical to your pet’s health and wellbeing, but nausea, illness, pain, and stress can lead to decreased water intake. Tips to encourage your pet to drink more water include:

  • Offering multiple options — Provide multiple water bowls throughout your home, so your pet can always easily access a drink.
  • Cleaning frequently — Clean your pet’s water bowls and refresh the water daily.
  • Preventing smelly water — Plastic containers can retain unpleasant odors, so use ceramic or stainless steel bowls to prevent smelly water. 
  • Packing water — On outings, pack bottled water and a portable water bowl, so your pet can drink whenever they get thirsty.
  • Preventing discomfort — If your pet is arthritic, ensure they can easily access their water bowl and that they can drink comfortably by raising the bowl.
  • Avoiding whisker stress — Cats may avoid their water bowl if drinking irritates their whiskers. Ensure your cat’s bowl is wide and shallow to help prevent whisker stress.
  • Providing a fountain — Some pets are attracted to running water and may drink more if they can access a water fountain.

Why is my pet always hungry?

Many pets beg for treats, but if your furry pal’s appetite seems insatiable, potential causes include:

  • Poor diet — A poor quality diet that provides inadequate nourishment can result in increased hunger, because your pet’s nutritional needs aren’t met.
  • Intestinal parasites — Intestinal parasites can leach nutrients from your pet, causing them to feel hungry even when eating a proper diet. 
  • Diabetes — Diabetic pets can’t use glucose for energy, so they feel constantly hungry. Other signs include lethargy, weight loss, and increased thirst and urination.
  • Cushing’s disease — Cushing’s disease causes increased cortisol production, which results in an increased appetite. Other signs include lethargy, a pot-bellied appearance, hair loss, skin infections, increased thirst and urination, and weight gain.
  • Hyperthyroidism — Hyperthyroidism is most common in middle aged and senior cats and causes an increased metabolism, which leads to an increased appetite. Other signs include weight loss, unkempt appearance, increased thirst and urination, and hyperactivity.
  • Medication — Certain medications, such as prednisone, can increase your pet’s appetite.

Why is my pet always thirsty?

As mentioned above, conditions such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and hyperthyroidism can lead to increased thirst and urination. In addition, pets with CKD and pyometra may increase their water intake. If your pet’s water bowl is constantly empty, they should be evaluated by our team to rule out a serious medical condition.

How can I prevent changes in my pet’s eating and drinking habits?

You cannot prevent every issue that changes your pet’s eating and drinking habits, but tips that may help include:

  • Knowing your pet’s normal — Monitor your pet’s eating and drinking habits, so you know their normal. This will help you recognize changes as early as possible.
  • Feeding an appropriate diet — Feed your pet a nutritious diet to ensure their dietary needs are met. Ask our team if you have questions about your pet’s nutritional requirements.
  • Scheduling regular wellness visits — The best way to prevent changes in your pet’s eating and drinking habits is to schedule regular wellness visits, so our team can detect issues in the early stages before they cause your pet a problem.

If you notice a change in your pet’s eating or drinking habits, or if you would like to schedule a wellness visit, contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team today.

What You Need to Know About Giardia in Dogs

Giardia is a parasitic organism that can cause a host of gastrointestinal (GI) problems for your canine companion, including severe, foul-smelling diarrhea. Dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes can contract giardiasis, which is extremely contagious and widespread in places where many dogs are together such as shelters and boarding facilities. Learn about Giardia and how our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team can help prevent your canine companion from contracting this parasitic infection  

Understanding Giardia in dogs

Giardia is a microscopic, single-celled parasite that lurks in feces-contaminated soil, food, and water. The parasite exists in two forms.

  • Trophozoites — A trophozoite is the active form inside the host.
  • Cysts — A cyst is the hard-shelled dormant form that a dog expels in their feces. Giarda cysts can survive in the environment for several months.

Giardiasis, the disease a Giardia infection causes, can lead to acute or chronic diarrhea, and if left untreated, can cause significant nutrient malabsorption and weight loss. Only some dogs with Giardia exhibit infection signs but they all infected dogs are able to transmit the disease. 

Determining your dog’s risk for contracting Giardia

Understanding how your dog may contract Giardia can help you take precautions to reduce their risk. A dog can contract giardiasis in numerous ways, including:

  • Contaminated water — One of the most common ways dogs contract Giardia is by drinking water contaminated with Giardia cysts such as standing water in puddles, ponds, or communal water bowls, which are often available in dog parks. Dogs that enjoy swimming are also at risk, as they may accidentally swallow contaminated water.
  • Infected feces — Dogs, especially curious puppies, often sniff or taste objects in their environment, including feces. A dog who comes into contact with an infected animal’s feces can ingest Giardia cysts and contract the disease.
  • Contaminated environments — Giardia cysts can survive in cool and damp environments for several months. Your canine companion can pick up the cysts from contaminated grass, soil, or surfaces, and then ingest them while grooming.
  • Contact with infected animals — Giardia can spread rapidly from one animal to another, especially in a multipet household or a place where many dogs congregate such as a boarding kennel, shelter, and dog park.

Identifying Giardia signs in dogs

Recognizing Giardia’s signs can be challenging, and many infected dogs will exhibit no signs. However, a young dog or one who has a weakened immune system is likely to display illness signs. Dogs’ most common giardiasis signs include:

  • Acute diarrhea 
  • Soft, poorly formed, pale stool
  • Malodorous stool
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Fatty-appearing stool
  • Abdominal discomfort

Timely Giardia detection and treatment are vital to prevent severe complications such as chronic diarrhea and malnutrition. Humans can contract Giardia, and by having your pooch’s infection detected and treated promptly, you also help protect your family’s health. Many other GI conditions cause signs similar to those of Giardia, and the best way for your dog’s condition to be definitively diagnosed is to have our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team perform a fecal exam. 

Treating Giardia in dogs 

While giardiasis can cause uncomfortable signs, Giardia is typically responsive to treatment. Diagnosis is confirmed through stool samples, however, because Giardia cysts shed intermittently, they may not be present in each of your dog’s stool samples. Our team will likely test multiple samples of your pooch’s stool over several days to be able to make an accurate diagnosis. Once a Giardia infection is confirmed, treatment may include:

  • Medication —Medication is necessary to kill the parasite. Your veterinarian will prescribe an antibiotic and/or antiparasitic medication. You must ensure your affected pooch completes the full medication course to eliminate the parasite completely.
  • Probiotics — Probiotics can supplement your dog’s medication to support their gut health and ease symptoms. 
  • Rehydration therapy — If your pooch is dehydrated as a result of diarrhea, rehydration therapy may be necessary.

Preventing reinfection in dogs

Giardia cysts can survive in the environment for several weeks to months, putting your dog at risk of reinfection. To reduce your pooch’s reinfection risk during Giardia treatment, follow these tips:

  • Bathe your dog regularly — Bathe your dog regularly during and after treatment to remove any cysts from their fur, especially around their hind end.
  • Clean and disinfect — Regularly clean and disinfect your dog’s bedding, bowls, and toys. 
  • Dispose of your dog’s waste promptly — To limit parasites’ spread in the environment, immediately clean up after your dog, and dispose of their fecal waste appropriately.
  • Practice good hygiene — Wash your hands regularly, especially after handling your dog or cleaning up their waste.

Reducing your dog’s infection risk

Giardia are ubiquitous, and this infectious disease can cause your dog severe GI upset. Nevertheless, you can reduce your pooch’s Giardia risk by following these tips:

  • Avoid contaminated water — Before leaving the house with your dog, pack fresh, clean water. When out, discourage your canine companion from drinking out of puddles, streams, or other potentially contaminated water sources.
  • Socialize safely — Keep your pooch away from areas in which dogs congregate, as Giardia can spread rapidly in such environments. If you do frequent these places, monitor your dog and discourage them from drinking communal water, or sniffing or eating feces.
  • Schedule regular exams — Regular veterinary examinations, including fecal tests, are critical giardiasis preventive measures, especially for dogs who have a high risk of contracting the disease such as puppies, seniors, or dogs who live in a multipet household or attend doggy daycare.

If your four-legged friend exhibits Giardia signs, contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team, so we can diagnose their GI upset’s cause and provide them with appropriate treatment.

Importance of Early Chronic Kidney Disease Detection in Pets

Pets affected by stage one and two chronic kidney disease (CKD) rarely exhibit signs, although early diagnosis is critical for successful treatment. Our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team explains why screening tests are so important, and offers diagnostics to improve your four-legged friend’s prognosis.

Chronic kidney disease is prevalent in pets

The International Renal Interest Society (IRIS) reports that an estimated 1% of dogs and 1% to 3% of cats are affected by CKD. Prevalence increases with age, especially in cats, where CKD is seen in approximately 80% of the senior cat population. Conditions that can increase your pet’s CKD risk include heart disease, periodontal disease, diabetes, infectious diseases, and obesity.

The kidneys are responsible for numerous essential body functions, and dysfunction can result in significant problems, including:

  • Toxin accumulation in the bloodstream
  • Inability to conserve water by producing concentrated urine
  • Inability to regulate blood pressure, leading to hypertension (i.e., high blood pressure)
  • Protein loss in the urine (i.e., proteinuria)
  • Reduced red blood cell (RBC) production
  • Improper body pH that interferes with vital metabolic processes
  • Inability to properly balance electrolytes and minerals

Chronic kidney disease screening tests for pets

Pets tend to hide their vulnerabilities. If their ancestors exhibited weakness, they often became a predator’s next meal, and while your pet doesn’t need to evade saber-toothed tigers, they retain these wild instincts. Therefore, when they feel unwell, they often continue to behave completely normal and can delay diagnosis of a serious health condition. Our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team recommends regular wellness screenings to help detect conditions, such as CKD, in the early stages, when they are easier to manage. A veterinarian should evaluate adult pets at least once a year, and senior pets, who are at higher risk, every six months. Screening tests that provide information about your pet’s kidney health include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) — A CBC evaluates your pet’s RBCs, white blood cells (WBCs), and platelets. The kidneys normally produce erythropoietin, the hormone responsible for signaling the bone marrow to produce RBCs. In CKD, sufficient erythropoietin is often not produced, leading to anemia. 
  • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) — BUN is a waste product that is typically filtered by the kidneys. Elevated levels can indicate kidney dysfunction, but the levels can also be affected by the pet’s diet, exercise, and muscle mass. In addition, a large amount of kidney tissue must be damaged before BUN levels rise. 
  • Creatinine — Creatinine is another waste product typically filtered by the kidneys, and elevated levels usually indicate kidney dysfunction. Similar to BUN, kidney function must deteriorate by about 70% before creatine levels rise. Blood chemistry profiles that only assess BUN and creatinine can’t detect early stage CKD.
  • Symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA) — At Harbor Pines Veterinary Center, we also assess your pet’s SDMA, which is an amino acid produced when protein breaks down. SDMA is less affected by other influencing factors and increases at about 25% of kidney function deterioration. Therefore, elevations can be observed 12 to 36 months before BUN and creatinine levels change, which allows our team to detect your pet’s CKD earlier.
  • Urinalysis — Your pet’s urine evaluation provides valuable information about your pet’s kidney health. CKD inhibits the kidneys’ ability to produce concentrated urine, so samples are usually dilute. In addition, the kidneys typically preserve proteins, and urine samples from CKD patients often contain protein. 

Other diagnostics for chronic kidney disease in pets

If your pet’s blood and urine values indicate CKD, other diagnostics we may recommend include:

  • Infectious disease testing — Leptospirosis is a common bacterial infection that affects the kidneys, especially in dogs. Testing is important so that treatment can address the infection as soon as possible and because leptospirosis can be transmitted to other pets and people through an infected pet’s urine.
  • Urine culture — A urine culture is important to determine if a urinary tract infection is contributing to kidney dysfunction.
  • X-rays — X-rays can help our team visualize the kidney silhouette and determine if stones or a tumor are present.
  • Ultrasound — Ultrasound can help evaluate the kidney structure and may be necessary to determine the severity of your pet’s CKD.
  • Blood pressure — High blood pressure commonly occurs in relation to CKD, and can exacerbate disease progression. We evaluate your pet’s blood pressure to determine if they need medication to control hypertension. 

Chronic kidney disease management for pets

CKD is incurable, but treatments are available that will improve your pet’s quantity and quality of life, especially when the condition is detected early. Management strategies we may suggest include:

  • Hydration — Maintaining your pet’s hydration is critically important. We may administer intravenous fluids if your pet is severely dehydrated, and they will likely also need subcutaneous fluids at home. Our team will explain and demonstrate this process in complete detail.
  • Nutrition — Prescription renal diets, which have lower protein and phosphorus levels and often include additional antioxidants and essential fatty acids, are typically recommended for CKD pets. 
  • Medications — We may prescribe medication to address anemia, hypertension, nausea, elevated phosphorus levels, and decreased potassium levels. 

Contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team today to schedule your pet’s wellness examination, so we can ensure their kidneys are in tip tip shape.

Get it Off! FAQs About Removing Ticks From Your Pet

A tick is an unpleasant and unwelcome sight, especially when the parasite is attached to your beloved pet. To minimize disease transmission and stop the tick life cycle, prompt removal is necessary. Unfortunately, these small and unsavory creatures can be difficult to extract, which can be frustrating and stressful for your pet and you. To learn how to remove a tick safely from your pet, read our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team’s tips and get the answers to your frequently asked tick removal questions.

Question: Why are ticks hazardous to pets?

Answer: Ticks are vectors (i.e., carriers) for many harmful bacteria species, including those that cause Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and many more. Ticks initially ingest the infectious material while feeding on wildlife (e.g., mice, deer, squirrels). During their next blood meal, these parasites then transmit diseases to pets and humans through their saliva.

Although tick-borne diseases are generally treatable, their vague presentation can delay diagnosis, chronically affecting pets who then suffer permanent injury. Depending on the disease, health consequences vary but may include joint stiffness, fever, lethargy, lymph node enlargement, bleeding disorders, kidney damage, and neurologic dysfunction. 

Q: Will tick removal hurt my pet?

A: Proper removal may cause your pet mild and brief discomfort as an attached tick’s mouthparts are pulled from your four-legged friend’s skin. Pain typically only occurs because of improper removal if a pet’s skin or hair is pulled or pinched. Using a specially designed tick removal tool is the best way to ensure a secure and safe grip, and pain-free removal.

Q: Is it safe to burn or twist the tick off my pet?

A: No. These methods are outdated and can cause your pet additional pain or injury. They are not recommended under any circumstances. Manual removal with tweezers or a tick removal tool is the only way to remove a tick safely and humanely from your pet. 

Q: How do I remove a tick from my pet?

A: After finding a tick attached to your pet, take your four-legged friend to a quiet distraction-free location. Place small pets on a table or furniture to ensure easy access and safe restraint. Part your pet’s hair so you have a clear work area, and using your removal tool, slide under the tick and grasp its head close to the skin’s surface. If you’re using tweezers or a hemostat, ensure you do not pinch your pet’s skin and hair. Pull up and away using steady gentle pressure. You may feel a small pop as the tick is freed. Check your pet’s skin to ensure you have removed the tick’s head and mouthparts.

Q: The tick’s head is stuck in my pet’s skin. What should I do?

A: If the tick’s body is broken during removal, its head or mouthparts may be embedded in your pet’s skin. If your pet will tolerate additional handling and if the remaining parts are large enough for you to grasp with your removal tool, you may be able to remove the parasite’s fragments. If this isn’t possible, monitor the area for several days while the trapped pieces dry up and fall out. If your pet’s skin is visibly irritated, itchy, or swollen after several days or if the tick’s head remains embedded, contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team. 

Q: How can I safely dispose of the tick I removed from my pet’s skin?

A: Properly disposing of live ticks is crucial to prevent them from reattaching or reproducing in the environment. The best options minimize handling, so you avoid contact with potentially infectious material. To dispose of a live tick properly, follow one of these tips:

  • Flush the tick in the toilet
  • Wrap the tick in tape
  • Seal the tick in a plastic bag
  • Drown the tick in isopropyl alcohol

Dead or desiccated ticks can be disposed of safely in a trash can. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling a tick, tick tools, and your pet.

Q: Should I have my pet tested for tick-borne diseases?

A: Tick-borne disease testing is available for dogs and recommended as part of their annual wellness testing. The test detects tick-borne disease antibodies (i.e., proteins) in a dog’s blood, indicating exposure, but not necessarily that they have contracted a disease. If your pet tests positive and is exhibiting signs, your veterinarian will recommend antibiotic treatment. Tick-borne disease testing is not necessary after a single tick bite unless your pet exhibits concerning signs several weeks or months after exposure.

Q: How can I identify the tick that bit my pet?

A: Although identifying a tick’s species isn’t necessary, you may be curious about your region’s tick populations and your pet’s potential disease risks. To identify a tick you removed from your pet’s skin, visit TickSpotters, upload a picture, and answer a few questions about your pet’s encounter.

Q: My pet receives tick prevention: Why am I finding live ticks on my pet?  

A: Most tick preventive products kill a tick after it bites your pet, rather than completely repelling the parasites. As such, you will occasionally see a tick attached to your pet. These ticks are generally newly attached or dying. Veterinary-recommended tick preventives are designed to kill ticks before disease transmission, usually fewer than eight hours after attachment.

An engorged (i.e., swollen) tick attached to your pet has ingested a blood meal, indicating a problem with your four-legged friend’s prevention plan. This is generally attributable to forgotten or late dosing, or inappropriate application, rather than the product being completely ineffective. If you’re concerned about your pet’s tick preventive efficacy, contact your Harbor Pines Veterinary Center veterinarian. 

Although tick-borne diseases are generally treatable, their vague presentation can delay diagnosis, chronically affecting pets who then suffer permanent injury. To prevent your pet from becoming an easy target for disease-carrying ticks, contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team to ensure your pet is receiving effective parasite prevention.

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