Continuing Education Season

Fall is the season of continuing education for me, though it does seem to pop up year round. There is always something more to learn. Just this past June, I participated in the second part of the Herbal Immersion course for veterinarians through the CIVT (College of Integrative Veterinary Therapies.) I lectured on the use of herbal medicines in animal hospice and palliative care including some of the gems I have gathered over the last several years from some of my dearest patients. Just when I think I know just how to do things, I learn something new to bring home and share with my clients, patients, family and friends.

In September I will be off to the
AHVMA (American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association) meeting preceded by a day of lectures on medicinal mushrooms from the ACVBM (American College of Veterinary Botanical Medicine.) At the AHVMA meeting, I have my eye on some interesting talks on more herbal medicine, but also essential oils, nutrition and acupuncture.

Then in October, I will attend the
IAAHPC (International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care) meeting. This year is the debut of the new animal hospice and palliative care certification course. Part one began online starting in July, part two will be in person at the conference, then parts three and four plan to be released online in January. This course is currently for veterinarians and technicians, but plans are to create a certification course for other animal hospice care providers as well in the future. I have 2 lectures in the Advanced module (part 3) on “Balancing Efficacy and Burdens of care” and “Complementary and Integrative Medicine in Animal Hospice and Palliative care.” These are my two chapter topics in the upcoming textbook due for publishing in 2017.

It is a busy season and I will do my best to keep you updated on my whereabouts and be sure to take care of any medication and herbal refills during this time!

Adapt animals to handling to provide better care!

In order to provide care to animals in need, some handling is usually required. As a vet who has worked in zoo and wildlife medicine, these become serious challenges when an animal refuses care. Our "domestic" animals are not always that much different!

Sometimes the ability to provide care to animals is hampered by their fears and distrust of our handling. They don't know why we need to get blood or give them fluids under the skin. They see no benefit whatsoever in being poked with a needle! They also don't get why we are trying to brush their teeth, trim their nails, clip the hair under their tail or any number of invasive things we try to do. 

Sometimes what we really need is for them to just trust that they won't be hurt in the process. This comes with gentle training, positive reinforcement and good experiences. For some animals a treat is enough reward or even a friendly voice or pet on the head. For others even that is offensive or suspicious behavior. 

Zoo animals are sometimes taught to allow safe handling for certain procedures. Some gorillas will put their arm through the cage bars for a blood-draw! Our domestic animals can learn these skills as well.

It is best to start when they are young and impressionable. Puppies and kittens between the ages of 8-12 weeks are the most malleable and good experiences during this time can really pay off with socialization to other people and animals as well as physical handling. 

But don't despair if your beasts are older and getting set in their ways. We can always learn new things and so can they. 

Gentle massage and manipulation of paws, ears teeth and gums can be enjoyable attention for many animals. Start slow, even just a few seconds of pleasant stroking or gentle massage is good. Do a little bit every day. Gradually increase the time spent with these physical touches and try to stop before the animal feels at all uncomfortable—leave them wanting more! They may be coming to you for a back rub or foot massage soon! 

Be aware of your animal's likes and dislikes. Some really don't like to have their tail touched, leave that for later or never. Start with the favorite spots like rubbing a cat's neck—know your own animal's preferences! And please, don't put yourself in a position to be bitten. This is meant to be a pleasant experience for all and should not be forced. 

Once they are comfortable with their favorite people doing this, invite others to start slowly. Again, don't put your friends and neighbors in danger of being bitten either! Respect your animal's limitations and watch for body language such as tensing up, twitching lips or ears back that say "That's enough, I'm not enjoying this." Try to stop the handling session before this happens. It should always be a positive experience. Food rewards often work well. Even allowing someone new to give a treat can be a huge step in acceptance!

Gentle handling and conditioning at home when they are healthy can really help when animals need veterinary care, grooming or other physical care. 

Don't Hug the Dog?

Many of us love giving and receiving hugs—doesn't everybody? Well, no actually, there are some people who are not comfortable with hugs and usually they can tell us when it's ok and when it's not.

It's a little different with our four-legged friends. Dogs (and all animals) can't tell us how they feel with words, but if we watch them closely, they might be saying more than we once thought. They're just speaking in a different language—body language.

Most of us recognize a growl or bared teeth as a sign that a dog does not like what we're doing, but they can also show more subtle signs of discomfort with a situation. When dogs are feeling stressed or uncomfortable they may lick their lips, yawn, look away or avoid eye contact, lift a paw, put their ears down, close their eyes, or even have dilated pupils and "wide eyes" showing the white area around the eye.

This topic has been in the news lately with a report in Psychology Today noting how many photos there are on the internet of happy people hugging anxious dogs. The signs of anxiety are often not recognized by people since dogs, more than any other animal species, are willing to put up with a lot to please their humans.

Here is a link to the Psychology Today article:

And a New York Times article on the topic:

The photos included in the articles are great examples of uncomfortable-looking dogs. I should know, I'm a veterinarian, I make animals uncomfortable for a living! I try to reduce their stress as much as possible and learning their language is very helpful. See if you can figure out what your animal is trying to say to you today!

Enjoy the spring and go hug your 2-legged friends!

Choosing the right pet


You never know what you might run into in the UK!

My family and I are getting ready to come home to Iowa soon, and much to my girls' disappointment we haven't seen any dragons in our time here. If we had, they might have wanted to take them home along with the hedgehogs they were hoping to see, which are all sleeping the winter away. As a veterinarian, I can't recommend wild animals as pets. It's not fair for the animal and can be harmful to the keeper!

But what about other creatures we might decide to keep in our home? Dogs, cats, small rodents, horses? Ok, only small horses inside…

Shelters are full of animals that need our love and care. Some things to think about when deciding to bring a new animal into your home:

1. Do I have the time to give this animal the daily care and attention he/she needs?

- All animals are living beings and require regular exercise, feeding and a clean, safe and emotionally secure environment. Most dogs need regular walks and cats need daily clean litterboxes!

2. Do I have appropriate housing and space for this animal?

- Different animals have different housing requirements and space needs. Small puppies and lizards can grow to be quite large as adults. A big dog is not usually an appropriate choice for a city apartment, and all living beings need protection from weather, predators and other dangers.

3. Is this an appropriate match for me and my family members?

- Very nervous animals are usually happier in a quiet home with few comings and goings. Some are able to adapt, but many develop anxiety and health problems as a result of the emotional stress.

- Animals that live with children need to be tolerant just as children need to be taught to treat animals with respect and kindness. It can be wonderful for all involved in the right setting with the right match.

- Other animals in the household need to be considered as well. Will they be compatible or will they be a danger to each other? Will the energy of a new young animal be too much for a geriatric animal?

- Physical care needs are also a consideration especially with disabled or elderly pet owners. Will you be able to handle the energy of a puppy or physically care for your animal as he/she ages?

4. Do I have the financial resources to provide food and care?

- It is a fact of life. Animals, like people, need nourishment and regular medical care to maintain optimal health. Young animals need vaccinations and neutering, while older animals begin to have age-related health problems. Plan ahead for emergencies and your pet's senior years.

This is an important discussion to have with your children when they are begging for a pet dragon, believe me, I know…