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.

July Fourth is an essential summer celebration for most Americans and a time to enjoy fireworks displays and gathering with friends and family. Pets, however, may suffer anxiety, stress,or physical harm, or get lost because of large gatherings, loud fireworks, and summer heat. The Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team wants to help pet owners keep their pets safe this year, so here are five July Fourth safety hazards and tips to avoid them. 

#1: Pet fear and anxiety from fireworks noise

Two-thirds of dogs have noise aversion, a treatable anxiety condition that causes extreme, fearful responses to loud noise. Fireworks are a top trigger, along with thunderstorms, construction noise, and more. If your pet is scared of fireworks, they are also more likely to develop fears of other noises or separation anxiety, and you should seek treatment from your veterinary team. Untreated noise phobias will worsen over time, but early intervention will help your pet stop panicking, feel better, and prevent the problem from progressing.

Noise aversion treatments for fireworks include keeping your pet indoors in a safe, quiet area, playing calming music, using calming species-specific pheromones, and administering prescription anti-anxiety or sedative medications before the event. If you know noises bother your pet or you’ve noticed the following signs during other noise events, ask your veterinary team to assess your pet and prescribe appropriate medications:

  • Pacing, hiding, or clinginess
  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Attempts to escape or run away
  • Destructive behavior
  • Trembling or cowering
  • Vocalization

#2: Pet injury from fireworks

Pets who get too close to fireworks risk injury from burns and explosions. Always keep pets indoors in their safe, quiet space if you or your neighbors plan to set off fireworks. Fireworks can be unpredictable, and your pet will be safer away from the launch site. If your pet gets injured, immediately head to the nearest veterinary emergency facility.

#3: Pet illness from holiday food and drink

What pet hasn’t been tempted by tasty food or drink left out by unsuspecting guests? Eating rich or unfamiliar foods can lead to stomach upset or pancreatitis, and eating inedible objects such as corn cobs can lead to life-threatening intestinal obstructions. Many party foods also can be toxic to pets, causing signs ranging from lethargy and vomiting to seizures and death. Tell your guests to avoid feeding your pets, promptly discard their trash, and pay close attention to dishes containing the following toxic foods:

  • Chocolate
  • Grapes or raisins
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Garlic
  • Onions

#4: Pet heat stress and heatstroke

Pets cannot dissipate heat by sweating, which makes them more susceptible to heatstroke than humans. Pets exposed to high summer temperatures and sun for too long can experience an elevated body temperature, which damages the brain and vital organs and can lead to death. Pets at the highest risk for heatstroke include puppies, kittens, seniors, thick-coated breeds, overweight or obese pets, flat-faced (i.e., brachycephalic) pets, and pets with underlying medical conditions. Keep pets inside when temperatures rise or give them frequent breaks from the outdoors, and provide plenty of cool water and shade when outside. 

#5: Lost pets

Pets left outdoors and unsecured can easily run away if noise from fireworks or crowds spooks them enough. More pets are lost during the July Fourth weekend than any other time of year, leading to overcrowded shelters and difficulty in finding their families. Ensure pets are kept inside during frightening events, regardless of how you think they may react—better safe than sorry.

If your pet does get away from you, you’ll want them to have proper identification so they can be returned. Ensure your pet has up-to-date ID tags on their collar, and consider microchipping pets who aren’t already. The microchip can be scanned by shelter staff, police, and veterinary facilities to locate your contact information and reunite you with your pet in the event they run away.

By safeguarding your pet from these hazards, you can ensure both of you enjoy the Independence Day celebrations. Contact us to schedule a visit or consultation if you think your pet may need medications to help them cope with noise anxiety, or with questions about July Fourth pet safety. If your pet suffers an injury or ingests a toxin during the holiday, contact a local veterinary emergency facility, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, or the Pet Poison Helpline.

The Value of Good Health: Screening Tests for Your Pet

Regular screening tests are an essential part of your pet’s preventive health care plan, as they are vital for detecting disease, monitoring overall health, and guiding treatment plans. Without screening tests, disease can smolder in your pet, causing a decline in their quality of life. Although normal results may not seem exciting, they are fantastic news about your pet’s health. Read on to learn more benefits of regular screening tests for you and your four-legged friend.

#1: Regular screening tests establish a baseline for your pet’s health

Although cats and dogs tend to follow species-specific guidelines, each pet is an individual and some of their test results, such as blood glucose concentration, urine specific gravity, or resting heart rate, may fall outside the reference range. While a singular test that detects these “abnormalities” may spur us to recommend additional testing to determine the cause, a series of screening tests that have the same abnormal result over the years will ease our worries. However, we will continue to closely monitor these minor test result differences over your pet’s lifetime so we do not miss subtle changes that can indicate disease. 

By performing screening tests at each wellness visit, we can build your pet’s health baseline, specific to their particular quirks. Any variance from this baseline will let us know that your pet may have an internal problem that requires further investigation.

#2: Regular screening tests can detect early disease in your pet

Pets are incredibly skilled at hiding illness and disease signs until they have advanced and are causing serious problems. For example, pets can lose two-thirds of their kidney function before they begin showing signs of nausea, vomiting, and excessive thirst and urination. Standard blood work also will not detect kidney dysfunction until that point, but a specialized kidney test called an SDMA test can spot kidney disease much sooner. Pets at greater risk for developing certain diseases, like cats and chronic renal failure, benefit from customized screening test protocols. By adding this kidney test to your pet’s routine screening tests, we can detect kidney disease in its earliest stages and take appropriate action to provide a better outcome. 

#3: Regular screening tests are invaluable

Although paying for screening tests when your pet appears perfectly healthy may seem unnecessary, your peace of mind, knowing that your furry pal is in good health, is priceless. When your pet’s screening test results are normal, you can rest assured that you are doing everything you can for your pet.

In addition, regular screening tests can save you money in the long run, because they can detect disease in early stages, making advanced testing and intensive treatment unnecessary, and allowing more economical treatment and a better prognosis.

#4: Regular screening tests can help prevent the spread of infectious diseases

Pets can unknowingly carry a multitude of pathogens and parasites that can infect other pets or people. Without regular screening tests, you have no way of knowing your pet is a silent carrier of a disease that you could contract. While year-round parasite prevention and regular vaccinations can protect you and your pet from many pathogens, no preventive health care is 100% effective. 

Routine screening tests, such as fecal exams, infectious disease testing, and vector-borne testing, can determine if your pet is carrying intestinal parasites, shedding feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), or harboring Lyme disease, and the test results can guide you on managing your pet’s lifestyle to prevent disease transmission.

#5: Regular screening tests can improve your pet’s quality of life

Screening tests provide a great deal of information about your pet’s health status that you may not otherwise realize. For example, without a regular wellness exam, you may not know your pet has dental disease, is overweight, or is developing cataracts. But, we can spot these health concerns on a thorough annual or biannual physical exam and outline a treatment plan designed to improve your pet’s quality of life.

Regular screening tests are an essential part of your pet’s preventive health care plan, and are critical for early disease detection that can lead to better outcomes. Give our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team a call to schedule your four-legged friend’s wellness visit.

4 Ways to Manage Your Cat’s Arthritis At Home

Although your cat likely seldom complains—except when their food dish is empty—arthritis pain can significantly impact their life. New studies show that arthritis in cats is much more common than previously suspected, with around 60% of cats showing arthritis signs by age 6, and 90% of cats older than 12 showing evidence of degenerative joint disease. 

However, arthritis in cats can be difficult to detect, as they typically do not limp or show many of the other obvious signs seen in arthritic dogs. Instead, you may notice your cat:

  • Jumping shorter distances
  • Refusing to jump
  • Urinating and defecating outside their litter box
  • Neglecting their grooming
  • Avoiding interaction
  • Becoming irritable
  • Eating less
  • Losing weight

Accurately diagnosing feline arthritis through veterinary exams can also be challenging. Cats are generally reluctant to participate in a gait analysis and orthopedic exam, and instead will crouch on the exam table, with their limbs tucked safely under their body. X-rays usually show only minimal changes that could indicate arthritis, so an arthritis diagnosis in cats is often made only when their mobility and discomfort improve after they received pain-relieving medications.

You can help your painful, arthritic cat. In addition to the pain-relieving medications prescribed by Dr. White, try implementing the following at home:

#1: Help your cat reach and maintain a healthy weight

One of the best ways to help soothe your cat’s arthritis pain is to eliminate extra baggage—any additional weight your furry pal is carrying. Each extra pound puts extra pressure on your cat’s already sore joints, so helping them lose weight and maintain a sleek physique will go a long way toward alleviating arthritis pain.

To help your cat lose weight, calculate the number of calories they need each day to reach their ideal weight. Then, rather than filling up their food dish when it’s empty—or when your cat complains—measure the exact amount they need, allowing only 10% of their daily calorie allotment for treats. For cats who struggle to lose weight through a traditional diet, you can feed prescription weight-loss diets, which have the added benefits of improving your cat’s mobility and satiating their hunger.

#2: Encourage your cat to exercise daily

Cats can snooze up to 16 hours each day, so after subtracting time for eating, grooming, and lounging, not much time is left for exercising. However, your feline friend needs to get up and get moving for at least 10 to 15 minutes twice a day. Regular, low-impact exercise improves muscle mass and promotes healthy joint function.

Encourage your cat to exercise by flicking a feather wand, swishing a fishing pole toy, or tossing them a catnip mouse. Robotic mice and other prey-like toys can also entice your cat to play stalk-and-pounce games.

#3: Modify your cat’s surroundings so they can comfortably access resources

Arthritis pain and limited mobility make it difficult for your cat to reach their food, water, bed, and litter box. Ensure they can easily and comfortably access these resources by placing them all on your home’s main floor. Also, consider the following:

  • Food and water bowls — Elevate your cat’s food and water dishes, so they do not need to crouch on their arthritic elbows.
  • Beds — Purchase a firm orthopedic bed that supports your cat’s joints, and cover the bed with a self-warming heating pad to further soothe joint pain.
  • Litter boxes — Choose a low-sided, uncovered litter box for your cat’s elimination needs, and place a litter-catching mat next to the box to provide traction if the floor is slippery.
  • Ramps and stairs — Install ramps or stairs next to your cat’s favorite piece of furniture, and replace tall climbing towers with lower ones, so your cat can still stretch and scratch.

#4: Add joint supplements to your cat’s diet

If your cat’s health allows, add joint supplements to their daily regimen. Products that contain omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin, and green-lipped mussels have been proven to improve joint function through stimulating joint fluid production and cartilage regeneration and reducing inflammation.

If your cat is having trouble climbing on their favorite perch, or crouching down to reach their food dish, they may have arthritis. Schedule an appointment with our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team, so we can provide your cat with the treatment they need to alleviate their pain and improve their mobility.

10 Easy Steps to Pet-Proofing Your Home

Keeping your pet safe requires being at least one step ahead of them. Fortunately, our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team is giving you a leg up by providing 10 steps to pet-proof your home. Put these steps into action to keep your four-legged friend safe from common household hazards.

#1: Scout out hidden pet dangers in your home

To know what hazards hide in your home, take a walk around and look for potential dangers. Small spaces that your pet can sneak into and get stuck should be blocked off, such as under furniture where electrical cords run. Everyday items, like purses and backpacks that store candy, gum, and choking hazards, should  be hung up out of your pet’s reach, while jackets should be stored safely in a closet.

#2: Establish off-limits zones for pets

Some areas are easier to completely block off instead of removing pet hazards. Create off-limits zones with baby gates or establish strict rules about closing doors to keep your pet safe from dangers in bedrooms, bathrooms, and the garage and kitchen.

#3: Install a locking trash can lid for pets

If your four-legged friend is constantly rooting through your trash in search of a treat, it’s past time to install a locking lid. You can also place your trash can in the pantry or under your kitchen sink to prevent your pet from dumpster diving.

#4: Pick up small objects pets may ingest

When your child is done playing with small figurines or legos, instruct them to pick up their toys to keep them from being eaten. Ideally, your child will understand the consequences of leaving their toys laying around, but reinforce the idea that not only will they lose toys, but their pet could become seriously ill and may need surgery.

Many hazardous items are frequently left out during home improvement projects. Nails, screws, wood scraps, paintbrushes, and other supplies can be gulped down or chewed on by a curious pet, potentially causing toxicity or an obstruction. Keep your furry pal out of your construction zone, and ensure small items are picked up before allowing them back in.

#5: Use child locks on cabinets and drawers to keep pets out

Child locks are an excellent way to keep your pet out of cabinets and drawers that contain chemicals, food, sharp items, medications, and other threats. Child locks are easy to install and use, and can save your pet’s life.

#6: Keep windows and doors closed around pets

High-rise syndrome occurs when pets fall from a great distance out windows or over balconies, so keep your furry pal safe from disaster by ensuring doors and windows remain tightly shut. Window screens are often not sturdy enough to keep a pet from falling through, so open windows only a few inches at the top, and ensure your pet cannot scale nearby furniture to climb through.

#7: Verify your plants’ safety around pets

Before planting your spring garden or bringing in a beautiful bouquet to brighten up your home, verify its safety. Many popular plants are toxic to pets, whether your furry pal ingests the leaves, petals, stem, or roots. For example, if your cat eats only one leaf from a true lily, such as an Easter lily, daylily, or tiger lily, or drinks the vase water, they can suffer deadly kidney failure.

#8: Swap out rodenticides for alternative pest control options

Rodenticides work by causing brain swelling, soft tissue calcification, cardiovascular collapse, or clotting issues in rodents, and are equally toxic to pets. Newer rodenticide types cause more severe toxicity, and immediate action is needed to save your pet’s life. Swap out rodenticides for traps, or consult a pest removal service for pet-safe options.

#9: Use caution when spraying fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides around pets

When preparing your lawn and garden for a phenomenal growing season, carefully check the labels on your lawn chemicals. Many products are not safe for use around pets, or they may have a required drying period before your pet is allowed back on the grass. Avoid using organic fertilizers that contain blood, bone, or feather meal, which are tempting to pets, and skip over the delicious-smelling cocoa bean mulch. To be safe, block your pet from your garden or lawn areas that have been treated with any sort of chemical, or keep your four-legged friend contained in a pen while outside.

#10: Secure your backyard to protect your pet

Not only can slipping under or through the fence be dangerous for your loose pet, gaps can also allow wildlife to sneak in. Wild animals can carry a host of infectious diseases and parasites, which can be transmitted to your pet through bodily secretions, fluids, and feces. Ensure your fence is animal-proof to keep your pet from becoming lost or falling victim to wildlife-borne illnesses.

Keeping your pet safe in your home, yard, and garage can be challenging, even for the most experienced and diligent pet owners. If your furry pal finds themself in a sticky situation, contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team for help.

5 Reasons Your Pet Needs Regular Professional Veterinary Dental Cleanings

A healthy mouth is an important part of your pet’s long-term health and comfort. Often pet owners overlook their pet’s dental care, but poor dental hygiene can have significant consequences. February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team wants to heighten awareness about this important issue by explaining why your pet needs regular professional veterinary dental cleanings.

#1: Dental disease is common in pets

Dental issues are extremely common in pets, with an estimated 80% of dogs and 70% of cats older than age 3 years having some degree of periodontal disease. In addition, tooth resorption lesions occur in about 50% of cats older than 5 years of age, and occasionally in dogs.

#2: Pets are stoic creatures

Dental disease can lead to significant discomfort and pain, but pets tend to hide vulnerabilities. In the wild, an animal who is exhibiting pain can be targeted as a predator’s next meal. While you likely don’t have wild animals roaming around your home, your pet maintains the instinct to appear strong, so they usually show no signs of a health problem, such as dental disease, until the condition is advanced. Signs that may be present include:

  • Bad breath — Bacteria that accumulate in your pet’s mouth produce sulfur compounds that smell bad, and bad breath is the most common sign of dental disease.
  • Discolored teeth — Plaque and tartar accumulation can cause yellow or brown discoloration of your pet’s teeth.
  • Behavioral changes — A pet affected by oral pain may withdraw, or be uncharacteristically irritable or aggressive.
  • Nasal or ocular discharge — In some cases, dental disease can affect the nasal passages or eyes, and chronic nasal or ocular discharge may occur.

#3: Dental disease can cause significant health problems for pets

While bad breath is the most common issue that pet owners notice in their pet with dental disease, the condition can cause many, much more serious health problems, such as:

  • Bleeding gums — The first stage of periodontal disease is gingivitis. At this stage, bacteria irritate and inflame the gingiva, leading to swelling and bleeding that can be extremely uncomfortable for your pet.
  • Loose teeth — As periodontal disease progresses, the bacteria damage the tooth’s supporting structures, and eventually the tooth loses stability, which can make chewing difficult. When the tooth is lost or extracted, the space that results can collect food, leading to additional problems.
  • Tooth root abscesses — If bacteria enter the tooth root, an abscess can form which, if not treated promptly, can create a draining tract in your pet’s face or jaw.
  • Oronasal fistula — Periodontal disease affecting an upper tooth can migrate through the soft palate, creating an opening into the nasal cavity that allows food, water, and saliva to enter the nasal passage, leading to inflammation. 
  • Eye infections — Your pet’s eyes sit close to their back upper tooth roots, and periodontal disease can lead to eye infections. 
  • Jaw fractures — In advanced stages, periodontal disease invades bony tissue, weakens the bone, and potentially leads to a fracture. Small pets, such as cats and toy-breed dogs, are at highest risk for jaw fractures associated with periodontal disease.
  • Oral cancer — Periodontal disease causes chronic inflammation inside the mouth and has been linked to increased risk for oral cancer in humans.
  • Heart disease — Bacteria typically isolated from pets affected by endocarditis and valvular disease are the same pathogens found in those with dental disease. Studies have linked periodontal disease to an increased heart disease risk in pets.
  • Liver and kidney disease — The liver and kidneys are responsible for filtering the blood, and when periodontal bacteria enter the bloodstream, these organs are vulnerable to damage.

#4: Dental disease lurks below your pet’s gum line

Bacteria below your pet’s gum line cause the most damage, and to effectively clean this area, ensure your pet does not experience stress during the procedure, and prevent injury from the sharp instruments we use to evaluate and clean their teeth, your pet must be anesthetized. A veterinary professional monitors your pet’s vitals during the entire procedure until they fully recover, and changes their anesthetic level as needed. Since anesthesia is necessary, we perform diagnostics, such as a thorough physical exam, complete blood count, and biochemistry profile, to ensure they are healthy enough to undergo the procedure. If abnormalities are detected, we may recommend other diagnostics, such as chest X-rays or a heart ultrasound.

#5: Dental X-rays are necessary to fully evaluate a pet’s oral health

About 50% to 60% of the tooth and supporting structures are below the gum line, which means dental X-rays are necessary to view this anatomy, or we will not be able to devise an appropriate treatment strategy for your pet. Lesions that can be seen only on dental X-rays include:

  • Devitalized tooth roots
  • Tooth resorption lesions
  • Tooth root infections
  • Jaw fractures
  • Bone loss

Most pets should receive a professional veterinary dental cleaning about once a year, but pets at high risk for dental disease, including senior pets, toy-breed dogs, and brachycephalic pets, should be evaluated more frequently. If you are concerned about your pet’s dental health, contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team, so we can evaluate their mouth and advise you on the best options for maintaining their oral health.

Welcome Wellness in 2023: New Year’s Resolutions for Your Pet’s Health

When setting—and keeping—New Year’s resolutions, include your furry pal. Because your pet cannot take their health into their own paws, accept this mission to make 2023 their healthiest and happiest year yet. Read our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team’s pet-centric New Year’s resolution ideas that can help improve your furry pal’s health.

#1: Swap processed treats for healthy alternatives

Take an honest look at your pet’s treats. If they are brightly colored, and loaded with sugar, fat, and calories, switch to healthier options. Keep in mind that treats should only make up about 10% of your pet’s diet, so get the most bang for your buck by choosing treats that are low in sugar and fat. You can also swap your pet’s usual treats for healthy people food. To determine which fresh foods your pet prefers, offer them small amounts of the following:

  • Berries
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Green beans
  • Squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots

When giving your pet fruits and vegetables, stay away from foods that can be hazardous or toxic, such as grapes, raisins, and nuts. In addition, avoid giving your pet foods on this list from the ASPCA.

#2: Brush up on your pet’s dental health

As do many pet owners, you may be inadvertently overlooking your furry pal’s dental health, which has a significant impact on their overall wellbeing. Your pet likely has some breath odor, which is normal, but foul eau de doggy or kitty breath can indicate your pet has painful periodontal problems. Brown, yellow, or gray tartar buildup on your pet’s teeth indicates the presence of oral bacteria, which can travel through your four-legged friend’s bloodstream, attacking their heart, kidneys, and liver. Annual professional dental checkups enable your veterinarian to evaluate your pet’s oral health, and perform cleanings to remove plaque and tartar, and treat dental problems. However, daily toothbrushing is also essential to maintain your pet’s dental health. In addition to brushing your pet’s teeth at least three times a week, you can give them Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC)-approved dental treats and chews, food and water additives, or dental wipes and rinses.

#3: Challenge your pet’s mind

While you are at work, your pet is home alone and—likely—bored. To help prevent your pet’s boredom when they spend hours home alone, provide them with:

  • Treat and food puzzles
  • Interactive toys
  • Pet sitter or dog walker visits
  • Window views
  • Wildlife television shows 
  • Treat scavenger hunts
  • New chew toys

A great way to stimulate your dog’s mind when you are together is to take a sniffari, or a long walk that allows your pet plenty of time to sniff. Sniffing lowers a dog’s heart rate, reduces anxiety, and challenges their mind. 

Provide your cat with plenty of scratching surfaces, climbing posts, and lookout towers. Cats love vertical spaces, and climbing, scratching, and hiding satisfies their many instinctual needs.

#4: Make new pet and human friends

Ongoing positive socialization is important to help your pet remain calm and confident when meeting unfamiliar pets, people, and places. Making new friends and enjoying playdates is a wonderful way for your furry pal to get the mental and physical exercise they need, continuing their socialization experience. If your pet is hesitant to meet four-legged playmates, see if they prefer people’s company. Your pet may like playing fetch or pouncing on a fishing pole-type toy with your neighbor, or cuddling on the couch with one of your distant relatives. If your pet is more social, take them to pet-friendly neighborhood spots, such as restaurants, bars, parks, and other local hangouts where you both can meet other pets and their people. This enrichment is a great way to continue socializing your four-legged friend.

#5: Schedule your pet’s wellness care

Healthy pets’ annual and seniors’ biannual wellness exams are the best way to monitor your furry pal’s health. Your pet’s regular wellness care enables your veterinarian to monitor your four-legged friend’s health trends and patterns, allowing them to spot abnormalities before they cause serious issues. During these wellness visits, our team performs many preventive care tasks, including:

  • Administering lifestyle-appropriate vaccinations to prevent infectious disease
  • Screening for and treating parasites and vector-borne illnesses before they cause health issues
  • Running screenings to diagnose early-stage disease before a condition causes illness
  • Discussing your pet’s diet, behavior, and grooming 
  • Making recommendations to improve your pet’s health and happiness

Your four-legged friend’s regular wellness exam should top your resolution list every year. Give our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team a call to schedule your pet’s wellness visit.

Assessing and Improving Senior Pet Quality of Life


As much as we wish, pets don’t live forever, and because of their relatively short lifespan, we see them getting older every day. Pets are more prone to health problems as they age, and may develop chronic or terminal ailments, including kidney or liver disease, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, or cancer. Chronic disease, or treatment side effects, can make pets feel unwell and impact their overall quality of life (QOL). Some pets with chronic disease can live happily for many years, while others will suffer, despite treatment. Harbor Pines Veterinary Center wants you to have the tools to assess your senior pet’s quality of life, so you can spot changes sooner, and discuss them with your veterinarian. 

How to assess quality of life

Your pet’s QOL depends on multiple intertwining variables that change over time. Your senior or chronically ill pet may have a bad day, and then a good day, so you must assess QOL frequently to watch for trends. You should consider each of the following categories when you evaluate your pet’s QOL, and assign each category a score, to objectively track changes over time. A low score in any category can mean your pet is suffering, despite an acceptable overall score.

  • Pain — Uncontrolled pain can arise from many sources that cause suffering. For example, painful conditions such as arthritis, tumors, eye conditions, and severe dental disease can lower QOL, although pain medications and other treatments can help control pain.
  • Breathing — Breathing is necessary for life, so pets who struggle generally have low QOL. Breathing can be compromised by heart conditions, or cancer that spreads to the lungs.
  • Nutrition and hydration — Chronic disease often causes weight loss, dehydration, nausea, and poor appetite. Pets who don’t eat generally feel unwell, and may have a low QOL. Subcutaneous fluids, tube feeding, anti-nausea medications, and appetite stimulants may help.
  • Hygiene — Sick pets may frequently soil themselves and therefore have chronically poor skin and coat condition. Cats may be unable to groom themselves. QOL can remain high in this category if you devote the necessary time to keep your pet’s skin and coat clean, dry, and free of parasites or mats.
  • Behavior and engagement — If your pet’s demeanor has changed and they no longer seek attention or spend time with you, their QOL may be low. Try to remember what your pet was like before their illness, and consider whether they can still enjoy previous activities.
  • Mobility — Can your pet move around the house well enough to get to their food, water, and bed? Is moving painful? You can use wheelchairs, slings, toe grips, and strategically placed rugs to improve your pet’s mobility, keeping them on one house-level to ensure they stay close to their necessities.
  • Good versus bad days — Try using a calendar to mark off each day as good or bad. More bad days than good may indicate that QOL is dipping.

What to do if your pet’s quality of life is low

Contact your veterinarian to discuss your pet’s condition, and whether they have any viable treatment options. Your veterinarian is an objective source who can help you determine if your pet is in pain, if treatment could improve their condition, if household changes could help, or if it’s time to consider humane euthanasia. Have an open, honest discussion about your goals, values, and finances, and consider potential treatment success rates, costs, and side effects. If you pursue additional treatment, assess your pet’s QOL frequently to ensure they’re getting better, not worse. If your pet’s QOL remains low and your pet has more bad days than good, talk to your veterinarian about hospice care or euthanasia. Nobody wants to make that choice, but humane euthanasia can be your final gift to your pet to relieve their suffering.

Many pets develop health conditions as they age, and a quality of life assessment can help you determine next steps. We’re pet owners, too, and we understand the turmoil a pet illness can cause. If you’re concerned about your senior pet’s quality of life, or want to discuss hospice care or euthanasia, call us to schedule a consultation with our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team.

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