"Of all possessions, a friend is the most precious."

- Heradotus

For humans, bloating is uncomfortable and inconvenient. For dogs, bloat is a life-threatening emergency.

When a dog’s stomach fills with food, liquid, or gas, it rotates as it expands. For reasons that still aren’t fully understood, the stomach can sometimes rotate too far until it twists in on itself. This twisting traps food and gas from moving through the intestinal tract, crushes blood vessels, and cuts off circulation to the lower part of the stomach.

This condition, known as gastric dilation volvulus, GDV, or simply “bloat,” requires a surgical intervention within hours to save pets’ lives.

How Serious is GDV?

GDV bloat in dogs x-ray

Gastric dilatation-volvulus from vettimes.co

Bloat is extremely painful and, without surgery, almost certainly fatal. While acting quickly at the first signs of discomfort increases your dog’s odds of survival, unfortunately, 10-23% of pets with GDV don’t live through treatment.

GDV is such a serious threat, veterinarians developed a preventative surgical procedure that can significantly lower dogs’ risk of developing gastric torsion.

What is Gastropexy?

Gastropexy is a veterinary surgery that is designed to prevent GDV from occurring or recurring.

To perform a gastropexy, veterinary surgeons make two small incisions in a dog’s abdomen and suture an area of the stomach to the inside of the body wall. Anchoring the stomach helps prevent it from over-rotating when it dilates, greatly reducing the likelihood of GDV.

Gastropexies are sometimes completed during surgery for GDV to prevent a second bloating incident, but they can also be done electively during spaying, neutering, or another unrelated procedure.

What Are the Benefits?

For dogs that have already experienced GDV, gastropexy reduces their risk of recurrence from 55-80% to less than 5%.

As minimally invasive surgical techniques have been developed, prophylactic gastropexies are considered very safe and relatively simple procedures.

prophylactic gastropexy diagram

Prophylactic Gastropexy Diagram from VeterinaryPartner

Which Dogs Need Prophylactic Gastropexy?

While any dog can potentially experience bloating, body composition seems to play an important role in determining risk. Large dogs with deep, narrow chests have a greater-than-average likelihood of developing GDV.

Great Danes top the list with a 40% lifetime risk of bloat, joined by:

  • Saint Bernards
  • Akitas
  • German Shepherds
  • Dobermans
  • Mastiffs
  • Newfoundlands
  • Weimaraners
  • Irish Setters
  • Standard Poodles
  • Labrador Retrievers

Unfortunately, one of the biggest predictors of GDV is a past incident of bloating. Your vet can help you better understand your pet’s risk factors to determine if they are a good candidate for prophylactic gastropexy.

Preventative Gastropexy in Raleigh

Not all vets offer gastropexy, so it’s important to do your research. Falls Village Veterinary Hospital routinely performs prophylactic gastropexies during spay and neuter surgeries upon request. Pet parents in the Raleigh, NC area can reach out to learn more about preventative options.

Gastropexy Aftercare

Caring for a dog who has just undergone a gastropexy procedure is relatively straightforward, especially if it was done selectively.

Much like aftercare for a spay/neuter procedure, it’s important to limit strenuous activity for a week or two, and ensure the incision stays clean and dry. Your vet may prescribe pain medication or recommend laser therapy to speed healing.

If you are concerned about GDV, talk to your vet. Together you can explore the risks and benefits to decide if prophylactic gastropexy may be right for your dog.

 

You do your best to feed your dog a high-quality, nutritious diet. But what do you do when you begin to suspect that their food may be making your pet sick?

Just like humans, dogs can develop allergies at any point in their lives, meaning the food they’ve been eating without issue for years can suddenly trigger a reaction. Here’s what pet parents should know about how food allergies typically present themselves, and how to choose the right food for your canine companion.

Food Allergies vs. Sensitivities

Food allergies and food sensitivities are often used interchangeably, but they are distinct in important ways.

Allergies involve the immune system. When pets ingest a true allergen, their bodies treat the substance as a threat and react as they would to a virus or bacteria. This immune response causes inflammation that can be quite severe.

Food sensitivities, on the other hand, are typically milder and don’t trigger the immune system. They can build up over time and are often proportionate to the amount of the offending food your pet has eaten. Just like too much chocolate can lead to acne or a second helping of ice cream can bring on a stomach ache in humans, even dogs without allergies may require specially balanced diets to feel their best.

What Are the Most Common Food Allergens for Dogs?

Dog looking into a bowl for food

Because of their molecular structure, proteins account for almost all food allergies in dogs.

Compared to sensitivities, food allergies are quite rare, affecting about 0.2% of dogs. The most likely offenders include:

  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Beef
  • Soy
  • Lamb
  • Wheat gluten

Dog Food Allergy Symptoms

Both food allergies and food sensitivities can have fairly vague symptoms, many of which can have multiple explanations. Because reactions to the same allergen can vary from one pet to the next, getting to the root of the problem will require patience and observation. Keep an eye out for the most common symptoms.

Skin Symptoms

Of all the body systems, food allergies are most likely to affect your dog’s skin. If your pet is rolling excessively in the grass or on the carpet, scratching their ears, or chewing their paws, check for:

  • Red, flaky, or scaly patches
  • Hives
  • Swelling of the face
  • Bad-smelling oily or yeasty skin
  • Dark or thickened areas
  • Missing hair

Confusingly, reactions to fleas, mold, or seasonal allergies can have the same effect on skin, so be sure to consult with your vet to rule out other causes.

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

If you’ve noticed changes in your dog’s bathroom habits, their food may be to blame. Stress and overconsumption can cause short-term GI issues, but persistent problems warrant a closer look. Be aware of:

  • Diarrhea or loose stools
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive gas
  • Burping
  • Frequent or urgent toileting
  • Changes in weight

Behavioral Changes

Sometimes, allergies and sensitivities affect pets in more subtle ways. If your dog is suddenly unusually lethargic, anxious, or even aggressive, they may be struggling to digest their food or hiding their pain.

How Are Food Allergies & Sensitivities Diagnosed in Pets?

Despite the popularity of at-home pet allergy tests, their accuracy is pretty dubious. Identifying the true source of an allergy or sensitivity requires pet parents to work closely with their vet and systematically monitor their dog’s diet.

Once your veterinarian has ruled out stress, parasites, and non-food environmental allergies, an elimination diet is the best way to pinpoint problematic foods.

How to Use an Elimination Diet

The only way to definitively identify the source of an allergic reaction or sensitivity is to take any possible allergens out of your dog’s diet, reincorporate potential offenders one at a time, and watch closely for any reaction.

Your vet may recommend that you begin by feeding your pet only proteins that they’ve never eaten before, like salmon, rabbit, or turkey. They may also provide a prescription for hydrolyzed food that is made with proteins that have been broken down until they can’t be recognized by your dog’s immune system.

Once symptoms subside, your vet will provide a roadmap for testing different protein sources to see if they cause allergies to flare. Once you isolate the cause of your pet’s issues, you can choose a diet that meets their nutritional needs without inflaming their immune system.

Snow, sleet, and freezing rain fall on Huskies and Chihuahuas alike. While some pets have more of an affinity for winter weather, extreme temperatures come with risks for all dogs and cats.

Before you and your companion head out into the frosty air, here are a few tips to help you enjoy the cold weather safely.

1. Be Aware of the Temperature

Owners with dogs in the Winter practicing pet safety

The saying “if you’re cold, they’re cold” is true — and then some.

Pets have a warmer healthier body temperature than humans (around 100.5-102.5°F for cats and 101-102.5°F for dogs). Despite their fur coats, mild hypothermia can begin to set in if their internal temperature dips below 99°F.

In general, pet parents should exercise caution anytime the forecast calls for temps below 45°F. There are many factors that can influence your pet’s individual cold tolerance, but be especially mindful of:

  • Small breeds
  • Pets with short hair
  • Older pets
  • Puppies and kittens
  • Pets with endocrine disorders, like diabetes

2. Bring Pets Inside

When the weather is harsh, pets belong inside

Raleigh, NC laws prohibit long-term tethering year-round, but the practice is especially dangerous in winter. Pets left to fend for themselves can suffer when their water bowl ices over or their bedding collects moisture and freezes overnight. Any night that you would consider too cold for camping is a night that your pets should spend indoors.

3. Protect Paws

Headed out for exercise or bathroom breaks? Much like you have to be mindful that sidewalks aren’t too hot for pets’ feet in the summer, cold temperatures can also cause injuries.

Snow, ice, and road salt can be very irritating to paws. Not all dogs will tolerate wearing booties, so it’s important to inspect feet for redness and open or flaky skin after walks. Trim the fur between your pet’s toes so that less snow and ice cling to their feet, and dry paws thoroughly when you get home to help them warm up.

4. Beware of Water on Winter Walks

It’s a pet parent’s worst nightmare: an excited dog runs out onto a frozen pond in pursuit of a bird or squirrel, and the ice can’t support their weight. Be cautious around bodies of water this winter, and keep pets leashed to prevent accidents.

 

Stray cats walking around in the snow in the Winter5. Check Your Vehicle Before Starting It

Outdoor cats in search of a warm place to sleep will sometimes crawl up into car engines. The results can be tragic when unsuspecting drivers turn the key.

Even if your cats are safely indoors, stray and feral animals may still be at risk. Knock on the hood or take a quick look inside before you head out for the day, and you may save a life.

 

6. Don’t Leave Pets Unattended in Cars

You’re probably well aware that it’s dangerous to leave pets in the car on hot days, but what about cold ones?

When temperatures are low, condensation inside your vehicle can cool rapidly, turning your car into a refrigerator. Though the interior may seem cozy at first, on freezing days, conditions are only a few minutes away from becoming dangerously cold.

7. Lock Up Antifreeze

Antifreeze is an important part of winter car maintenance, but even small amounts can be fatal to pets. An estimated 10,000-90,000 animals die from antifreeze poisoning each year.

Because it has a sweet taste, pets will seek out and consume antifreeze that isn’t properly stored. Lock it up or switch to nontoxic formulations.

Cats are naturally territorial creatures, so many pet parents assume their outdoor cat is hardwired to stick close to home. A recent GPS study that tracked the movements of 925 domestic outdoor cats revealed that our feline friends may be more adventurous than we thought, crossing busy streets with alarming frequency.

If you’re undecided on whether you feel comfortable letting your cat wander outside, check your local laws and ordinances. In Raleigh, North Carolina, “it is against the law for domesticated animals such as dogs and cats to run unrestrained within the City Limits.”

Roaming Cats in Raleigh, NCCat sitting in mulch in a park in Raleigh on a leash

Raleigh laws prohibit loose cats for the safety of the individual animal as well as the community and environment.

Wildlife Damage

Those unwanted “presents” of dead animals on your doorstep are more than just a nuisance. Each year, outdoor cats kill an estimated 1.3-4 billion birds and 6.3-22.3 billion small mammals. This level of predation in cats’ relatively small hunting territories can have severe impacts on local wildlife.

Domestic cats are not a natural part of these ecosystems and can devastate populations of songbirds, chipmunks, voles, and other small animals. Because of cats’ predatory instincts, sending them outdoors well-fed will not prevent them from hunting.

Health Risks

Every year, 5.4 million cats are hit by cars, and a devastating 97% of these accidents prove fatal. Outdoor cats have a much shorter life expectancy than their indoor-only counterparts. Aside from the risk of being struck by cars, these cats also face the possibility of:

  • Injuries from encounters with other outdoor cats, dogs, or wildlife
  • Parasite-born illnesses
  • Communicable diseases like FIV
  • Exposure to rabies

Overpopulation

Unwanted litters of kittens are a crisis in North Carolina, and shelters are often overwhelmed.

Even if you don’t let your pet out intentionally, unneutered male cats are more likely to seek out opportunities to escape the safety of your home. Getting your cat spayed or neutered doesn’t just prevent them from becoming lost or harmed while roaming the neighborhood — it’s a simple way to help protect your local cat community as a whole.

How to Find a Lost Cat

While it’s true that cats tend to wander within the (surprisingly large) area surrounding their home, a cat that is startled or frightened can easily venture too far and lose its way.

Microchipping is one of the best preventative measures pet parents can take to improve their odds of bringing their friend home if they go missing. If you suspect that your cat has slipped outside, try the following:

  1. Check around the outside of your home, looking under any porches, bushes, or other potential hiding spaces.
  2. Look in and around vehicles including the wheel wells and under the hood.
  3. Report your lost cat to your local shelter or humane society.
  4. Hang posters and alert your neighbors.
  5. Post on social media and neighborhood-based networking sites.
  6. Leave food and familiar toys and bedding outside your door — the scent can help guide a lost cat back home.

Check out wake.gov for more resources and tips on finding a lost cat in Raleigh.

Cat on a leash walking through grass in RaleighHow to Keep Your Cat Happy Indoors

If your cat is gazing longingly out the window, it doesn’t mean that they are being denied a fulfilling life indoors. Honor your cat’s natural instincts in a safe way by:

  • Engaging in play that simulates hunting
  • Providing places to climb and exercise claws
  • Offering window perches
  • Planting cat grass indoors
  • Ensuring that the litter box is clean and accessible
  • Try a leash and harness for outdoor walks

 

 

What About Feral Cats?

It’s important to keep your cat safe from cars and predators, but what about the thousands of feral cats facing these hazards every day?

Nonprofit organizations like Operation Catnip are working to aid Raleigh’s unhoused cat population through TNVR (trap, neuter, vaccinate, return) programs that reduce unwanted litters and transmittable diseases.

Learn more about volunteer opportunities here!

Unlike dogs, it’s rare to observe cats enthusiastically lapping up water. Cats’ more conservative approach to hydration can leave pet parents concerned about their intake, especially when water bowls seem untouched for lengthy periods.

If your cat is a picky drinker, several simple strategies can encourage better water intake and ward off the dangerous effects of chronic dehydration.

How Much Water Do Cats Need?Cat drinking water with glass cup and straw

Water goals aren’t just for humans. In general, cats should be expected to drink about 4 ounces of water each day per 5 pounds of body weight. This is only a guideline, however, and factors like your cat’s activity level and the outside temperature can impact their daily needs by a few ounces.

It’s important to get an idea of your cat’s normal water intake so it’s more apparent if they start drinking significantly less or more than they typically do. While dehydration can lead to several serious health problems, sudden increased thirst is a classic early symptom of feline diabetes.

Warning Signs of Dehydration

If you suspect that your cat isn’t getting enough to drink, their body will tell the story. Here are a few indicators that your feline friend is in distress.

Skin

Well-hydrated cats have good skin elasticity. If you’re concerned about water intake, perform the skin tenting test: while petting your cat, gently lift the scruff between their neck and shoulder blades between your thumb and index finger.

Ideally, the skin will snap back into place almost immediately. If the fold you created takes a while to sink, your cat is likely dehydrated.

Gums

A healthy cat’s gums are pink and moist. Over time, dehydration will cause gums to become pale and almost tacky to the touch. Sticky-feeling gums and thick, ropey saliva are a warning that your cat’s water intake is lacking.

Bathroom Habits

Water is essential for good digestion, so many of the symptoms of dehydration play out in the litter box. Watch out for small, hard stools; infrequent or low-volume urination; and abnormally concentrated urine.

Thirsty cat sticking head in glass to drink waterDehydration and Health Problems

Though their body size makes their daily water requirements pretty small compared to dogs and humans, cats still require sufficient hydration to maintain healthy skin and organ systems.

Chronic dehydration can lead to serious issues, including:

How to Encourage Your Cat to Drink More Water

Because most cats have a naturally lower thirst drive, better hydration habits are best accomplished on their terms. Here are a few ways to coax your feline friend into upping their daily water intake.

Get to Know Your Cat’s Preferences

Sometimes a refusal to drink is due to a cat’s dislike of their water bowl. Some cats prefer to drink from a fountain-style dish, while others are wary of moving water. Many cats have a strong preference for metal or glass dishes over plastic ones, and some refuse to drink from a container with edges that bump their whiskers.

Offer your cat some options and take note of what they like and what they avoid.

Keep it Hygenic

Cats are notoriously clean creatures. If their water bowl is filmy, full of food debris, or positioned too close to their litter box, they are likely to avoid it altogether.

Clean your cat’s bowl daily and experiment with placement until you find an arrangement that works for both of you.

Hydrate With Food

Not all hydration has to come from water! Adding wet food and broth to your cat’s diet is a tasty way to supplement their intake. Even the fussiest drinkers are usually beside themselves with excitement when the cans or pouches come out.

As you haul out the holly this holiday season, it’s important to keep your pets in mind. While there isn’t much you can do to keep your cat from stomping through your miniature Christmas village, pet parents can take steps to keep common hazardous and toxic items safely out of reach.

Though table scrap mishaps involving harmful foods like turkey bones, raisins, and chocolate account for a lot of emergency vet visits over the holidays, unsafe decor can be disastrous for your pet as well as your home. Here’s what you need to know to keep things merry.

Dachshund wearing a sweater sitting under a decorated Christmas treePlants and Greenery

Christmas trees are a well-known source of angst for people with curious or active pets. Cats have been known to topple them over, and dogs have to be monitored to ensure that they don’t drink the water that may contain harmful pesticides sprayed onto live trees.

In the battle to keep pets away from the tree, many pet parents overlook other popular holiday plants, like:

  • Poinsettias
  • Holly
  • Mistletoe
  • Lilies
  • English Ivy
  • Amaryllis

While some pets ignore plants completely, it’s best to avoid the risk that they’ll come in for a nibble. Skip these holiday blooms, or display them in an area of your home that’s inaccessible to animals.

If your pet has an upset stomach or is showing signs of neurological impairment like poor balance, contact your vet right away.

Tinsel and Popcorn Strings

Stringed decorations, including tinsel and thin ribbon, can be life-threatening for pets if swallowed. Unfortunately, many pet parents don’t seek help because they assume these items will pass through their dog or cat’s digestive system on their own.

Linear foreign bodies like yarn and string can become anchored in pets’ stomachs or even wrapped around the base of their tongues, causing serious intestinal damage as the GI system tries to move the object forward and cannot. This type of blockage often requires emergency surgery, so it’s best to keep “stringy” decorations out of reach and choose wider ribbons for gifts.

Candles Two eskimo spitz laying with woman in front of a decorated Christmas tree.

Many pet parents assume that their dogs and cats will instinctively avoid an open flame, but every year, out-of-control tails start house fires.

Ensure that lamps and candles are in a place where they can’t be knocked over or swatted to the floor. Better still, opt for flameless LED candles and give yourself complete peace of mind.

Ornaments

To pets, dangling ornaments look like an invitation to play, especially ones that are hung lower on the tree at eye level.

Curious pets can easily shatter fragile glass ornaments, injuring paws (and feet). Further, dogs who love to chew can mistake salt dough ornaments for treats or chew toys, leading to dangerous salt toxicity.

Keep pets safe by placing pet-safe ornaments on the lower rung of your tree, and ensure that they have plenty of their own toys to keep them occupied.

Holiday Lights

If you have young pets or incorrigible chewers, be especially careful of corded holiday lights. Exposed wires can burn your pet’s mouth or even lead to electrocution and start fires.

Choosing a low voltage will help prevent fires and injuries if your pet gnaws on your string lights, but the best way to reduce risks is through good cable management. Tape down or hide loose cords, and try to avoid letting strings of lights dangle in a way that might be attractive to playful pets.