Tag Archives: cats

Frustration-Related Aggression in Cats

Frustration-related aggression is a form of aggression that occurs when a cat is blocked from getting what it wants. I diagnosed it for the first time in my own cat, Genevieve. I met this adorable little furball while working at a friend’s clinic.  A woman approached the counter carrying a cardboard box.  Inside lay a kitten missing one of its back legs.  She said she found it behind a dumpster and wanted it euthanized.  When I opened the box, I saw a newborn kitten covered in blood and dirt.  A bloody stump was all that was left of her right back leg. I hypothesized that the placenta had stuck to her back leg.  The queen probably chewed her foot off in an effort to clean up her baby.  I could not euthanize Genny just because she was missing a leg.

Genny grew into a beautiful but spoiled cat. When she wanted something like food or attention, she would not take ‘no’ for an answer. If she didn’t get her way, her tail would start to twitch, her eyes narrowed and she would nip. If that didn’t work, she resorted to a full on bite. Of course, she only did this behavior with the her human family members. My friends thought she was a wonderful cat.

Frustration-based aggression is a subject of debate among veterinary behaviorists. So far, no diagnostic criteria have been established for this type of aggression. Dr. Horwitz, a veterinary behaviorist, makes the following observations that fit what I see clinically. First, the cat seems to be trying to control the behavior of people to their own advantage. Second, the aggression is usually directed toward people the cat knows. And third, the behavior occurs when the cat is denied something it wants or expects.

Frustration-related aggression seems to occur most often in hand-reared cats and demanding cats.  In my experience, not getting food or attention are the most common triggers. Another reported trigger is when a cat is denied access to a favorite place, i.e. the outdoors, special room, bed, perch or cat tree.

Treatment is based on avoiding situations that cause frustration-based aggression by controlling the environment and teaching the cat to work for things it wants. This sounds simple in theory but can be challenging to put into practice. The first step in controlling the environment is to identify the situations that trigger the aggression. I recommend a diary that includes feeding schedule, litter box usage, sleep times, active times and any unusual occurrences such as house guests or repairmen as well as attacks. Include when, where and how the cat was acting before the attack took place. After a week or two, the diary looking for things that trigger the behavior. Once the trigger is identified, remove it from the environment. For example, many attacks occur in the kitchen about an hour before feeding. The hungry cat follows their caregiver around demanding food. When the demands are ignored, the cat escalates their demands to the next level by biting. To prevent this, I recommend an automatic feeder. Set the feeder up in a room away from the caregiver. The hungry cat will smell the food and vent their frustration on the feeder.

The second part of treatment is teaching the cat to work for things it wants. This involves teaching the cat to perform a specified behavior before being rewarded. There are many behaviors that cats can learn but I find the most useful is target. The cat is taught to touch a soft ball(the target) on the end of a wand in exchange for a reward like dolphins who jump out of the water to touch a buoy for a fish. Once the cat understands, ask it to follow the wand a short distance before touching. Slowly increase the distance the cat follows until it can be lead into a different room, away from the situation that causes frustration-related aggression.

In addition to the specific treatments listed above, I recommend more exercise for cats with frustration-related aggression. In veterinary college, I was taught that tired animals don’t get into trouble. Exercise burns energy and reduces the desire to control the environment. Use the target technique to exercise the cat by asking it to run and jump as it follows the wand. Set up on obstacle course to make it more fun. Also provide fun things to enrich the cat’s environment including multiple places to rest and play. Cat trees, window perches, cat friendly videos, enclosed outdoor porches and sound tracks are a few examples.

The most important thing to remember about frustration-related aggression is that negative reinforcement does not help. In fact, in my experience, punishment will make the behavior worse. Learn to recognize the signs of frustration in the cat and then follow the steps outlined above to stop it from escalating.

Source:

-Horwitz, Debra. ‘Feline Aggression Toward People’ Australian Veterinary Association Proceedings 2012, AVA2012, VIN.

 

Fearful or Defensive Aggression of Cats Toward Humans

Fearful or defensive aggression occurs when a frightened cat attacks the human who caused their fear. A cat with fearful aggression has adopted “the best defense is a good offense” motto to deal with their anxiety. The aggression may be directed toward strangers, family members or both. This kind of aggression occurs when a cat can’t escape from a fearful situation. The trapped cat assumes a crouched position with their ears flattened against their head and their hair standing on end to look bigger. They hiss, spit and growl warning people to stay away or suffer the consequences. Ignoring these warning signs results in painful bites and scratches. After being attacked, the human leaves the cat alone which is exactly what it wanted in the first place. The cat learns to be aggressive in order to make the scary person leave.

The first step in dealing with fearful aggression is a thorough history.  Was the cat properly socialized as a kitten? Does the cat have any medical problems like osteoarthritis that makes it feel vulnerable? Who does the cat attack? When and where do the attacks take place? How does the victim and also the owner (if not the victim) react? What kind of punishments, if any are used? How often do the attacks occur? In my experience, harsh physical punishment makes this kind of aggression worse because it intensifies the fear. Great care must be taken to avoid punishing a fearful animal of any kind.

Once a thorough history is taken, the next step is a physical exam looking for health issues. The veterinarian will look for dental disease, osteoarthritis and other conditions that cause pain. They will also check the cat’s hearing and vision that can make the cat feel more vulnerable leading to fear. The last step is blood work and a complete urinalysis to look for other diseases such as hyperthyroidism, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease and liver disease which are common in older cats.  All health issues including painful dental disease must be addressed before moving onto behavioral therapy.

Treatment for fearful or defensive aggression is based on counter-conditioning and desensitization of the cat to the person(s) it fears. Here  are the steps for dealing with fear-based aggression toward a family member:

Step One: Keep the cat away from the person(s) it fears. when the scary person leaves every time the cat hisses, the cat learns to hiss and growl when they see the person they fear. Stop the interaction to stop reinforcing the bad behavior.                                                                         Step Two: Reward the cat for calm behavior. When the cat is relaxing, give it a tasty treat. Teach it that good things happen when the cat is relaxed.  For cats who are not food motivated, try playing instead. Use a fake mouse or feathers on a long string for distance. Step Three: Introduce the person it fears. Have the scary human toss treats to the cat from a distance to avoid triggering the cat’s fear. The person should speak in soft tones, move slowly and refrain from staring to avoid scaring the cat.                                                              Step Four: Slowly reduce the distance between the cat and the person it fears. Watch the cat closely for signs of fear and back off immediately. Signs of fear include dilated pupils, flat ears, raised hair, hissing or growling.                                                                                                    Step Five: Pet the cat. When the cat is comfortable eating in the presence of the scary person, they should gently pet the cat. If the cat keeps eating, they are in a relaxed state and the petting may continue. If the cat stops eating, stop the interaction immediately.

If the cat is afraid of visitors, place a harness on the cat or put it in a carrier to keep the guest safe then follow the same steps. If the family is unwilling or unable to follow this protocol, the cat should be confined to their safe room whenever visitors are present.

Most cats with fear-based aggression will respond well to behavior therapy. In rare circumstances psychotropic medications are needed. Since these medications have many unwanted side effects, they are only used in extreme cases.

Sources:

-Horwitz, Debra. ‘Feline Aggression Toward People’ Australian Veterinary Association Proceedings 2012, AVA2012, VIN.

 

Petting-Related Aggression in Cats

Most cats enjoy human interaction especially if it involves petting. As the saying goes, ‘Cats are connoisseurs of pleasure.’ Most love a good head rub, especially when the sides of the face by the whiskers are stroked. Unfortunately, petting may stimulate some cats to bite. The most common history I hear is that the cat was lying next to or on their owner. The owner was scratching their chin, face and/or back when suddenly, the cat bit the owner and ran away.  Most of the time, the cat will inhibit their bite which means only use light pressure but I have seen a few deep wounds during my career.

Petting-related aggression is a clinical syndrome in cats that is poorly understood. The cause is thought to be pain or exceeding the cat’s tolerance for attention. Cats with back pain from arthritis or disc disease will often cry and twitch when their backs are stroked. If the petting continues, they may bite to stop the pain. There is also a condition called feline hyperesthesia syndrome that causes a normally sweet cat to suddenly bite. Cats with this syndrome seem to experience episodes of extreme pain that cause some to lash out at anyone around them. Petting the lower back can cause an episode but I have also seen cats trigger without any stimulation.

Overstimulation is the other cause of petting-related aggression. Some cats seem to have a low threshold or tolerance for human interaction. Some behaviorists speculate that there is an internal conflict occurring between the adult and juvenile response to human attention because many of these cats will solicit attention. They will purr and head butt but then bite when touched.

Treatment starts with keeping the humans safe. I recommend using some sort of inanimate object to stroke the cat like a wand or towel. Watch the cat closely for signs of overstimulated. Look for dilated pupils, flicking the tail, flattened ears or raised hair along the back. If observed, stop touching the cat immediately and slowly back away. If the cat is on your lap, slowly stand up allowing the cat to jump off without injury.

Once the warning signs are known, slowly build the cat’s tolerance to human interaction by rewarding it for good behavior. When the cat is hungry, offer small bits of their favorite treat. Once the cat is comfortable taking the treats, start petting them. Pet once then give a treat. Gradually increase the cat’s tolerance to more petting between treats. Remember to stop immediately if any signs of over- stimulation occur. Hopefully, the cat will learn to control their stimulation to get more treats. Keep the sessions short and vary the food reward for maximum effectiveness.

 

Source:

-Horwitz, Debra. ‘Feline Aggression toward People’, Australian Veterinary Association Proceedings 2012, VIN.com.

Aggression in Cats Toward People

Aggression in cats toward people is a serious problem. Beside the pain, a cat’s teeth and claws may harbor organisms that cause serious disease. Scratches may causes cat scratch fever, a condition caused by the organism Bartonella henselae. Cats also often have several bacteria in their mouths including Staphylococcus sp, Streptococcus sp., Moraxella and Pasturella multocida that can cause infection. The worst infections are usually caused by Pasturella multocida which means ‘many deaths’ in Latin. Immediate medical care and antibiotic therapy is recommended for all bites.

Unfortunately, the reason for feline aggression can be hard to diagnose. Cats, like humans, have complex personalities with different emotional triggers. Feline aggression is broken down into categories based upon the inciting cause. The categories are: Misdirected Play-Related Aggression, Petting-Related Aggression, Redirected Aggression and Fear-Based Aggression. In the future, another form of aggression based on frustration may be added to the list.

In young cats, most aggression is a form a misdirected-play aggression. Kittens like to attack anything that moves, especially feet under blankets. To combat this, the kitten must be given a positive outlet for their energy. Interactive toys like a feather wand allow the kitten and human to play together.

Petting-related aggression occurs when the cat becomes over stimulated from petting. To prevent this, limit petting to the face and stop when tail twitching starts. Also, the cat must be evaluated by a veterinarian for a medial condition called hyperethesia syndrome that can have similar clinical signs.

Redirected aggression occurs when something upsets a cat but circumstances prevent the cat from engaging the thing that upset it. This is common when indoor cats notice a stranger cat through a window. The indoor cat becomes aroused and then takes their aggression out on the humans or other animals inside the house. To avoid injury, never interact with an aroused cat. Gently guide it into a dark room with food, water and a litter box then leave it alone until the cat is back to normal.

The last type of aggression is based on fear. Cats with fear based aggression attack first and ask questions later. They have learned that a good offense is the best defense. Most of these cats were poorly socialized as kittens and/or suffered a traumatic experience early in life. Punishment usually makes this type of aggression worse.

Successful treatment of feline aggression requires a thorough history, physical examination and environmental evaluation. The history taking starts with obvious questions as to where and when the aggression take place. In addition, it is important to determine what occurred right before the aggression. Did strangers enter the house? Was there an unexpected noise? Was the cat trapped in a corner or did the cat seek out a specific person?  The next step in the history is to note how the cat acted before, during and after the episode paying special attention to the cat’s facial expressions and tail activity. Videos of the aggressive episodes are helpful in answering these questions. Keeping a behavior log that records the above information is a huge help in documenting patterns of behavior.

Once the history is finished, the cat needs a thorough physical examination. Many cats suffer from osteoarthritis of their backs and legs just like humans. A cat may bite because it hurts when picked up or petted. Kidney disease, pancreatitis and hyperthyroidism which are common in older cats can make them feel bad and grumpy. Since cats are good at hiding their illnesses, routine blood and urinalysis as well as X-rays are performed to rule out a medical reason for aggression. Cats are just like humans … it’s hard to be nice when feeling bad.

If the results of the physical exam and testing are within normal limits and the history is consistent with aggression, the final step in working up aggression is performing an evaluation of the cat’s environment. Does the cat live alone or have roommates? Is the cat kept strictly indoors or allowed to go outside in an enclosed space? What kind of toys are available? How much exercise does the cat get? Does the cat have high resting places as well as low? Are the food bowls and litter boxes placed in an area with escape routes? Again, video of the cat in their home is helpful in assessing the environment.

Diagnosing the cause and then implementing a treatment plan for aggression can be challenging. The upcoming blogs will go into more detail on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of each type of aggression.

Source:

-‘Cat Scratch Fever’ www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/cat-scratch.html.

-Horwitz, Debra F. ‘Feline Aggression Toward People’ Australian Veterinary Association Proceedings 2012, VIN.com.

-Thomas, Nicole & Brook, Itzhak. ‘Animal Bite-Associated Infections’ Expert Rev Ant Infect Thor. 2011;9(2):215-226.

 

The Effect of Smoking on Dogs and Cats

We all know that smoking tobacco products is harmful to the smoker as well as their family who are exposed through second and thirdhand smoke. But what about the pets? Unfortunately, the pets are effected as well when they breathe in the toxic fumes or ingest the residue left behind in the environment. When burned, cigarettes release an amazing 7,000 chemicals including ammonia, arsenic, benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, lead, mercury, nicotine, toluene and uranium-236. Beside the smoker, other family members suffer secondhand exposure when they breathe the fumes. Eventually, the chemicals settle out of the air onto surfaces creating a residue. Thirdhand exposure occurs when chemicals are ingested, absorbed through the skin or inhaled through dust. Pets may also come into contact with these chemicals when they lick a smoker. These chemicals persist in the environment for months even with cleaning.

Dogs and cats who live with a smoker have an increased risk of cancer. The length of the dog’s nose will determine what kind of cancer they may develop. Dogs with long noses like Greyhounds and Dobermans have higher risks of cancer developing in their nasal passages because the cancer causing chemicals settle out there. The chemicals make it to the lungs in dogs with short and medium length noses.  This predisposes them to lung cancer. Cats have increased risk of lymphoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth when they live with a smoker. The risk of a cat developing lymphoma increases by three times when they live with a 3 pack a day smoker. The squamous cell carcinoma occurs when cats groom the toxic chemicals from their fur. The risk for this aggressive cancer increases two to four times.

To prevent secondhand smoke, many people will smoke outside. Unfortunately, this does not prevent thirdhand exposure to pets and children because the toxic chemicals from tobacco contaminate the smoker’s hands and clothing. The chemicals are transferred to the children and pets through thirdhand contact. As mentioned above, pets are at the greatest risk if they lick the smoker.

For more information of the effect of smoking on pets, please check out the FDA website. Here’s the link: http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/AnimalHealthLiteracy/ucm520415.htm

Sources:

-Bertone, E.R., et. al. ‘Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Risk of Malignant Lymphoma in Pet Cats’ J. Am. Epidemiology 2002; 156:268-273.

-Matt, G.E., et al. ‘When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure.’ Tobacco Control 2011: 20(e1) 1-8.

-Reif, JJ. et al. ‘Cancer of the oral cavity and para-nasal sinuses and exposure to harmful tobacco smoke in pet dogs’ Am. J. Epidemiology 1988:  147(5):488-492.

-Schick, S. ‘Thirdhand smoke: here to stay’ Tobacco Control 2011:  20(1):  1-3.

-‘Be smoke-free and help you pets live longer, healthier lives.’ U.S. Food and Drug Administration Animal Health Literacy, last updated 9/22/16. www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/AnimalHealthLiteracy/ucm520415.htm

Macadamia Nuts are Toxic to Dogs

As a veterinarian, I caution people about giving human food to dogs. That’s because dogs and people metabolize food differently. Macadamia nuts, raisins, grapes and sugar-free gums are some of the human foods that are toxic dogs. Although the exact mechanism for the toxicity is not known, it is thought to be from a serotonin like compound that may come from the nut, processing the nut or a contaminate associated with the nut. More information on serotonin syndrome may be found by visiting Dr. Nelson’s prior post or clicking here. Clinical signs start with weakness of the rear legs, vomiting and lethargy. As the toxin builds, the dogs often experience muscle tremors and weakness. The hind leg weakness progresses until the dog cannot stand.

Like most toxicities, treatment focuses on removing the toxin and treating the symptoms. If the dog isn’t vomiting already, this is one of those toxins in which it is recommended to remove the nuts from the stomach. If too much time has passed since ingestion, then activated charcoal is given to absorb toxins from the gastrointestinal system. To avoid aspiration into the lungs, charcoal is only given to conscious animals that can swallow. Enemas may also be needed to evacuate the nuts. Symptomatic treatment is tailored to the individual patient but often includes intravenous fluids and cooling with tepid baths, fans and  ice packs wrapped in towels on abdomen, neck and paws.

Unlike other compounds, the toxic effects of macadamia nut poisoning are relatively short-lived. With prompt medical attention, most dogs will make a full recovery within two days.

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Source:

-Shell, Linda. ‘Macadamia Nut Toxicosis’ Associate Database, VIN, 01/02/2006.

 

Serotonin Syndrome in Dogs and Cats

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in the central nervous system (CNS) which includes the brain and spinal cord.  It is also in the peripheral nervous system which is basically, the rest of the body. It is synthetized from an amino acid called tryptophan. According to Dr. Sharon Gwaitney-Brant, this important neurotransmitter is involved “. . . in the regulation of many CNS functions including personality/behavior, sleep, appetite, aggression, temperature regulation, sexual function, motor control, and pain perception. Peripherally, serotonin is involved in platelet aggregation, and stimulation of smooth muscle contraction regulating vasoconstriction, bronchoconstriction, intestinal peristalsis and uterine contraction.”

Serotonin syndrome is the term used to describe the clinical signs that occur when too much serotonin is found in the body. In veterinary medicine, the most common cause is an overdose of serotonergic drugs and supplements. The common history is when a veterinarian prescribes a drug that increases serotonin levels without knowing that the dog or cat is on a supplement that does the same. In my experience, this occurs most often when amitriptyline, buspirone, clomipramine or fluoxetine are combined with St. John’s wart. I have also seen it when animals are on a combination of serotonin elevating medications or when a dog or cat has been transitioned from one drug to another without allowing enough time for washout of the first drug. The worst cases occur when animals ingest large quantities of serotonergic drugs.

Signs of serotonin syndrome fall into three general categories depending upon the area of the nervous system being stimulated and can vary greatly from mild lethargy or restlessness to coma and death. The syndrome usually starts soon after ingestion with diarrhea, vomiting and a mild fever. As it progresses, dogs and cats are often ataxic which means they walk like they are drunk. By the time I usually see them, the animals are often experiencing seizures, are struggling to breathe and have dangerously high body temperatures of >105 F. If not quickly controlled, disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) occurs which usually results in the patient’s death.

As with all intoxications, quick medical care is the key to helping these patients. If you think your pet may be suffering from serotonin syndrome, bring them in for immediate care.

Sources:

-Gwaltney-Brant, Sharon. ‘Serotonin Syndrome’. Associate Database, VIN, last updated 05/23/2011.

-Gwaltney-Brant, Sharon. ‘Serotonin Syndrome’. International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Symposium 2015.

Zika Virus in Dogs and Cats

Zika virus was first discovered in Africa back in the 1940’s in a monkey with a mild fever. Since then, the disease has spread all over the world. In humans, the virus causes a birth defect called microcephaly which means ‘small brain’. In animals, the virus has  been found primarily  in non-human primates. Most exposed monkeys and apes show no signs of illness. A small number will develop a mild, short-lived fever.  The virus tends to appear in monkeys and apes that live close to humans who have the virus. A recent study of Brazil’s monkeys identified the virus in a small number of monkeys. So far, no monkey or ape babies have been born with microcephaly from Zika. It is unclear at this time whether the monkeys and apes are getting the virus from humans or vice versa. The prevalence of the virus in non-human primates is also unknown.

Other than the non-human primates, there  is no evidence of Zika virus infections causing disease in other animals. One study from Indonesia performed in the 1970’s found that the virus could infect livestock and bats but there are no documented cases of any of these animals transmitting  Zika virus to humans. More research is needed to determine if Zika is a zoonotic disease meaning animals can infect people (examples are rabies, ringworm and leptospirosis) or a reverse zoonotic disease meaning people infect  (example is MRSA ).

Like dengue fever, yellow fever and West Nile virus, Zika virus is transmitted  by mosquitos of the Andes species. Female mosquitos need the protein contained in blood to lay eggs. When mosquitos bite, they inject saliva into the wound that contains an anticoagulant to keep the victim’s blood from clotting. Their saliva can contain all kinds of infectious agents including viruses, bacteria and parasites (heartworm disease, malaria, etc.) contracted from prior victims. Once infected, a single mosquito can transmit disease to many animals and/or people.  When monkeys and apes are infected with Zika, they develop antibodies against the virus in approximately 14 days. The antibodies clear the virus out of the blood stream stopping the spread of the disease. Since monkeys and apes are quarantined in screened in facilities for 31 days when entering the United States, this should prevent the disease spreading into local mosquitos. Currently, it is unknown if monkeys and apes are reservoirs for the disease.

The bottom line is that Zika virus is not a threat to dogs and cats. There are no studies that show canines or felines can be infected with the virus or spread it to humans.

Source:

-‘Questions and Answers: Zika Virus and Animals’, ARIZONA VETERINARY NEWS, Aril 2016.

-‘Zika and Animals: What we know.’ CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION, Update June 8, 2016.

Heat Exhaustion in Dogs and Cats

Heat exhaustion is a life-threatening condition that occurs in animals of all kinds. It is also called heat stress, heat stroke and hyperpyrexia. In the clinic, I see it most often in dogs. When dogs and cats are not able to dissipate heat, their body temperature soars well above the normal range of 100 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If the body temperature rises over 105.5, the internal organs are injured.  Kidney failure, liver disease, clotting problems, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, gastric ulceration, seizures and coma are a few of the conditions that may occur. Even with aggressive treatment, the prognosis is poor.

In my experience, heat stroke occurs most often when animals with problems cooling themselves are exposed to excessive heat and/or humidity. Here is a list of the health factors associated with heat exhaustion:

  1. Obesity
  2. Brachiocephalic breeds (The short and broad head is often associated with narrowed nostrils, elongated soft pallets and narrowed windpipes making it difficult to breathe.)  – In dogs this includes bulldogs of all varieties, Shih Tzu, Lhasa apsos, Boxers, Pugs and Pekinese. In cats, Persians and Himalayans are brachiocephalic. Some of these breeds like boxers and mastiffs are also heavily muscled which compounds the problem.
  3. Laryngeal paralysis
  4. Heavy coated breeds – Long hair cats especially Maine coon cats, Siberian huskies, Samoyeds,  Malamutes, etc

Environmental factors also play a huge role in causing heat exhaustion. Every summer, I am saddened to hear of children and pets who died after being left in a car. In climates with extreme temperatures including Las Vegas and Phoenix, leaving a pet outside can kill them. Recently, the evening news reported the death of a Labrador retriever who was left on an apartment balcony. I have seen animals develop heat stroke from the blowers used after grooming. High humidity is also lethal because panting isn’t as effective.

If you live with a pet prone to heat stroke, please keep them out of the heat.  I have seen heat stroke develop in as little as five minutes in geriatric pets who went outside and then couldn’t get back in the doggy door.  Watch for rapid respirations, a depressed attitude and dark red gums.  They may also experience vomiting and diarrhea.  If the dog is not cooled off quickly, their condition rapidly deteriorates into bloody vomiting, collapse, bloody diarrhea, seizures and problems breathing.  When the gum color changes into a sick, pale gray I know death is coming.

To prevent heat stroke, keep your pet at a healthy weight.  Take walks and play ball early in the morning when temperatures are mild.  Limit their time outdoors during the heat of the day to a quick trip to urinate and/or defecate in the shade.  Then, return to air conditioning.  Last, watch their tongues closely for a change in color.  If their normal pink color deepens to purple or lilac, it is time to get indoors.  I know we all like to have our pets with us to soccer and baseball games, but sometimes the safest and most loving thing to do is leave them home.  They can help you celebrate after the event!

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Source:

Shell, L. “Heat Prostration”, Associate Database – VIN, last updated 8/11/2007.

Chocolate Toxicity In Pets

Chocolate is one of the most common toxicities I see, especially around Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Pets climb counters to get to candy dishes and desserts. They also rip open boxes of chocolates wrapped as gifts. One of my patients, a cocker spaniel, ate a 5 pound box of dark chocolate that was left under the tree.  They found him unconscious on his doggy bed.

Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine which are toxic to animals.  This fact surprises a lot of people because humans are fairly resistant to this class of drugs. We can drink a lot of coffee and eat chocolate without too many problems. But dogs are much more sensitive to the effects of these chemicals. The half life of caffeine in dogs is 4.5 hours while the half life of theobromine is 17.5 hours!

The amount of these two chemicals varies with the type of chocolate. Milk chocolate contains the least amount of caffeine and theobromine while the bitter chocolate used in cooking contains the most. Dark chocolate falls in between. The general rule that I was taught in veterinary college is the more bitter the chocolate, the more of these chemicals and the greater the danger of poisoning.

Clinical signs of chocolate toxicity depend upon the amount of theobromine and caffeine ingested i.e., the type and amount of chocolate and the size of the pet. A golden retriever who steals a dark chocolate candy bar may show no signs of toxicity whereas a Chihuahua may develop seizures. In general, signs of mild toxicity include an increased heart rate and hyperactivity which many people wrongly attribute to the sugar high.  After the initial rush, some dogs will develop gastrointestinal signs including vomiting and diarrhea. Others drink and urinate excessively. Dogs who ingest large amounts of chocolate often seizure and may die.

Treatment of chocolate toxicity usually starts with ‘decontamination’ which means removing the toxin. If the dog is conscious, vomiting is induced to get rid of as much of it as possible. After the stomach is empty, the dog is given charcoal to absorb the remaining chocolate once they have stopped vomiting. The rest of therapy is tailored to the patient. Seizures are treated with anticonvulsant medications, life threatening ventricular tachycardia is slowed with heart drugs such as lidocaine or propranolol and stomach ulcers are given gastrointestinal protectants. The cocker spaniel mentioned above spent 3 days in the hospital on IV fluids and anticonvulsant therapy. For the first day, diarrhea poured out of his anus.  It looked and smelled like chocolate. He was one of the lucky ones. Unfortunately, he still liked chocolate. His family said he managed to grab a brownie about a week after his ordeal.

If your pet ingests chocolate, contact your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline right away. Have the type of chocolate, quantity of chocolate and weight of the pet ready when you call. The number for Pet Poison Helpline is: 800.213.6680. More helpful information on poison of all kinds can be found at www.petpoisonhelpline.com.

Source:

-Shell, Linda. “Xanthine Toxicosis” VIN Associate, Lasted updated 1/17/2006.