Pet Health

The Importance of Giving Heartworm Prevention All Year in Oklahoma

posted October 15th, 2010 by
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Mosquitoes transmit heartworm disease, which affects both dogs and cats. Due to our temperate climate in Oklahoma, mosquitoes can be seen at various times all year long. I have swatted mosquitoes in my home in January and February, which shows how resilient these insects can be. We can have one or two days of above freezing temperatures that will cause otherwise dormant mosquito eggs and pupae to hatch and become active.

When a mosquito bites an animal, the larva, or immature form of the heartworm is deposited on the skin, and from there makes a journey to the bloodstream, which takes 30 days, eventually taking it to the heart, where it will mature to an adult heartworm. This is the reason that heartworm preventatives can be given once per month…they kill the immature heartworm that is migrating through the skin. But, once the larva reaches the bloodstream, the preventative is ineffective. Therefore, it is very important to give the heartworm medication on a strict monthly schedule.

Heartworm disease can be hidden for a long time, sometimes taking years before symptoms appear. One of the first things that dog owners will notice is a decrease in exercise tolerance, which means there is a shorter period before the dog gets tired and stops playing or running. As the disease progresses, a chronic cough may be heard and an even greater exercise intolerance may be noticed. Other symptoms may include weight loss, lethargy due to pneumonia, and signs associated with congestive heart disease. Cats will have episodes of sneezing and coughing, and may eat less and become more isolated from their owners.

Annual heartworm testing for dogs is very important, even if you are giving heartworm preventative every month of the year. Sometimes the preventative will be given late or incorrectly applied to the skin, as in the case of topical products. This is why a heartworm test should be performed yearly in conjunction with a check up and vaccinations.

Treatment for active heartworm infection in dogs consists of a series of injections given in the muscle of the back. This is usually a painful procedure but the pain can be controlled with analgesics and other medications that are given at the time of treatment and at home for several days afterwards. In our hospital, we will pre-treat with an antibiotic for a month and will have the client start pain medication 2-3 days before the injections start. We will give injections on one day, then wait one month and give injections for 2 days in a row. This makes a total treatment time of 2 months, which is uncomfortable for the dog and can be expensive for the owner. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for heartworms for the cat, simply because the drugs are too toxic.

There are many types of heartworm preventatives available for both the dog and the cat. When I first started practicing veterinary medicine, the only available heartworm preventatives were pills that were given on a daily basis. Now we have medications that are given or applied monthly, and even an injection that is administered every six months. We have monthly oral heartworm preventatives in combination with intestinal wormers, and we have oral preventatives in combination with intestinal wormers that also can inhibit the hatching of flea eggs. There are also products available, that, when applied to the skin, will prevent heartworms, intestinal worms, and will kill fleas, their larvae, and their eggs. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on what is the best product for your pet.

Giving heartworm preventative all year is very important for the health of your pet due to the prevalence of mosquitoes and other parasites in Oklahoma. Yearly testing for dogs is also necessary to ensure that treatment will never have to be a necessity for these important companions and family members.

Mark Shackelford
Mark Shackelford is a co-owner and veterinarian at the 15th Street Vet Group, Tulsa.

Pet Insurance – Is it worth it?

posted October 15th, 2010 by
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Just recently, Suzanne Hurst was asked to euthanize a three-year-old dog. The owner, says Hurst, a veterinarian at Kindness Animal Hospital, could just not afford the back surgery that the dog needed. Instead, the animal was put down. It was heartbreaking for all involved, she says, and a tragedy watching the owner make the decision to put the dog down because of money.

“People shouldn’t have to make decisions like that,” she says.

As pets become more and more a part of our families, many owners are considering buying pet insurance. A study conducted by research group Packaged Facts shows that form 2003 to 2007, the number of cats, dogs and exotic animals insured in the United States increased 56 percent. Pet owners insure their dogs over any other pet, according to the report. In 2008, 2 million dogs were covered while approximately 900,000 cats were insured, the American Pet Products Association says.

Although those numbers only account for a tiny percentage of the overall number of dogs and cats in the country, the use of insurance for a pet seems to be growing. And, according to Hurst, there is no reason not to have it. “Ideally everyone should have health insurance for their pets. You never know when an accident or major illness will occur,” Hurst says.

Although vets charge far less for procedures compared to humans, things can quickly add up, she adds. “It is not unusual for a medical bill to be several thousand dollars when we treat, for instance, a dog that has been hit by a car or a cat that has developed diabetes.”

She says the greatest source of stress in her line of work is having her hands tied when she is trying to help a sick animal whose owner cannot afford the necessary procedure.

“When lack of money on the client’s part causes us to have to forgo diagnostics or choose between an x-ray and blood work when really both are needed is extremely frustrating,” the vet says. “When surgery is necessary but we have to opt for euthanasia or a pet who will be left with chronic pain or dysfunction, it is very upsetting.”

Vets try to work with clients as much as possible, but the bottom line, Hurst says, is that a profit has to be made to stay in business. While practicing in Florida, Hurst says about 5 percent of her clients had insurance for their pets and seemed happy with their decision.

“These clients brought their pets in more frequently which resulted in better medical care and a healthier pet,” she says. “They were able to proceed with surgeries or treatments that they may not have been able to afford otherwise.”

Not all owners are sold on the idea of insurance, though. Tulsa resident Caitlin Getchell, who owns Ollie, a Yorkie, says insuring her dog seems pointless. She adds that she already has enough bills to pay each month and wouldn’t want to add one more.

For her part, Hurst reiterates that insurance for your four-legged friend can be affordable. “Maybe the super deluxe ‘Gold’ plan that covers every little thing and has no deductible is too expensive for your budget, but there are plans that are very affordable,” she adds.

What To Look For
There are about a dozen different companies offering health insurance for your pet. They are mostly similar to one another and similar to human heath insurance providers, Hurst says. A positive, she says, is that overall, pet insurance is more comprehensive, less restrictive and far less expensive than human health insurance as you can pick the coverage you want.

Very basic policies, that cover accident only, can be purchased for under $10 a month. Some policies cover illnesses, including cancer and breed-specific conditions. Like with human healthcare insurance plans, the more comprehensive plans cover a wide array of options, but also cost more, Hurst notes. The most comprehensive plans will cover illnesses, injuries, accidents, diagnostics, surgery, hospitalization, prescription medications and hereditary conditions. Some plans even include coverage for boarding and kennel fees and will pay out a set amount for vacation cancellation due to a pet’s illness or for the loss of a pet due to theft, straying or death.

“For an additional fee you can even get coverage for wellness care including vaccines, dentals, spays, neuters and flea and heartworm prevention,” the veterinarian says. “You can choose your annual deductible and your per incident deductible. One company allows you to choose the amount of reimbursement from 80 percent to 100 percent.” A major benefit of pet insurance compared to insurance for humans, is that owners with insured pets can use any veterinarian, emergency clinic or specialist they choose; there are no networks that your pet must use for care.

The drawback to that, however, Hurst says, is that most vets are not currently set up for direct pay from the insurance companies. Instead, she says: “You must pay your bill and then get reimbursed by the insurance company. Reimbursements usually take a week or two. Some veterinarians may even be willing to have you cover your co-pay and then pay the remainder of the bill when you get reimbursed by the insurance company.” Another thing to remember, she says, is that pre-existing conditions are not covered in pet health insurance plans, so it is best to get an insurance policy for your pet when they are young and healthy.

Should you get insurance?
Two websites to compare plans

Learn about the various plans and compare and contrast pricing and options, read reviews from customers who have the provider and get quotes online for your specific pet.

Treatments that are covered by most pet insurance plans:
• Initial and follow-up visits to the veterinarian for illness or injury
• Laboratory tests and diagnostic procedures, such as ultrasounds, X-rays, CAT scans, MRI’s, and blood tests
• Non-elective surgery
• Hospitalization
• Anesthesia
• Prescription medication
• Euthanasia for humane reasons

Conditions or treatments that may not be covered under the plan:
• Routine care and well pet visits to the veterinarian
• Vaccinations
• Deworming
• Dental care and dental diseases such as gingivitis
• Pre-existing conditions
• Chronic illnesses lasting more than one year
• Genetic testing and conditions
• Cosmetic procedures such as tail docking and ear cropping
• Alternative therapies such as acupuncture or holistic treatments
• Organ transplants

Be Careful with Online Pet Meds

posted October 1st, 2010 by
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Veterinarian Prescription

With the economy still in tatters, it’s an option that many pet owners might be considering: turning to the Internet for your pet’s needed medication to save a few bucks and get around needing a prescription.  But according to a recent report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, while some online companies are legitimate pharmacies, others are dispensing pills and medication that could greatly harm your pet, says Martine Hartogensis, DVM, deputy director Office of Surveillance and Compliance in FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), in a release.   There are several red flags to look out for, Hartogensis says. Some foreign pharmacies will advertise pet medication without a prescription, but, in fact, “there is a risk of the drugs not being FDA-approved,” the vet says.   Also, do not trust sites that say a veterinarian will evaluate an animal based on a form that the owner filled out, Hartogensis says.   “A veterinarian should physically examine an animal prior to making a diagnosis to determine the appropriate therapy,” says Hartogensis.   The FDA is noticing in particular that pet owners are going online to buy nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and heartworm preventives.   The FDA gives the following recommendation if you are thinking about buying medication for your pet online: 

– Order from a Web site  that belongs to a Vet-VIPPS accredited pharmacy. VIPPS stands for the Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites. 

– Order from an outsourced prescription management service that your veterinarian uses.

– Kristi Eaton

The Veterinary Wellness Center Opens Its Doors

posted August 14th, 2010 by
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Dr. Heather Owen, front right, exercising patient Madelaine while business partner and practice manager Jackie Judd, front left, assists.

The new Veterinary Wellness Center in Tulsa hosted an open house on Saturday, August 14th, to show pet lovers their new clinic focusing on holistic approaches to small animal healthcare.

The lobby area in the new Veterinary Wellness Center.

The center provides animal acupuncture, animal massage and chiropractic, and water and treadmill therapy.

The water therapy treadmill/tank in the Water Room.

Exam rooms are open and airy.

The center even has a personal trainer for humans on staff so pet parents can work out while their furry children have their treatment.

A shot of the "people" workout room.

Veterinary Wellness Center

5137 S. Harvard, Suite C

Tulsa, OK


Flying Cargo? It’s Not Safe

posted August 9th, 2010 by
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Story by Kristi Eaton

With the recent news that seven puppies died after flying in the cargo hold aboard an American Airlines flight from Tulsa to Chicago, some travelers may be thinking twice about how to get their beloved pet from one destination to the next. 

The puppies aboard the Chicago-bound flight were half of 14 puppies that were initially put on board the flight that was delayed for an hour, as temperatures in Tulsa increased to 86 degrees Tuesday morning.

Coincidentally, just a few days before, released its list of most pet-friendly airlines for the year. Pet Airways, the first ever pet airline, stands out among the rest, according to Petfinder, because “pawsengers,” as they are referred to as, fly in the climate-controlled pressurized main cabin and are checked on by pet attendants every 15 minutes during flight. Also, the plane will be diverted to the nearest airport if a pawsenger falls ill, so that the pet can be treated.

Unfortunately, Pet Airways does not have a presence in Tulsa. (It can found be in Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington, Chicago, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Hawthorne/Los Angeles, New York, Omaha and Phoenix.)

Because of its limited availability across the country, Petfinder looked at commercial airlines to find the best airlines for pets. JetBlue was commended for its refusal to permit pet transport in cargo, and is another important animal safety measure.

Evidence, like the recent incident aboard the American Airlines flight to Chicago, supports JetBlues policy: from May 2009 to May 2010, the only airlines with zero reported pet deaths were those that required pets to travel in-cabin.

“Pets are becoming more of an integral part of our families so it’s only natural that airlines are taking pet travel more seriously,” said Betsy Banks Saul, Petfinder’s co-founder, in the release announcing the most pet-friendly airlines. “This list will raise awareness on criteria that pet parents should take into consideration, such as the risks of traveling in cargo, so they can make well-informed decisions.”

– Kristi Eaton

Buckle ‘em Up

posted August 4th, 2010 by
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Backyard 2008 066B

Story by Kristi Eaton

Buckling up a friend or loved one is a no-brainer when going for a car ride. But some may forget the importance of strapping in the four-legged friend when getting behind the wheel. Forgetting, or merely skipping, to buckle your dog could have deadly consequences for both you and your pet. For example, when driving 35 mph, a 60-pound unrestrained dog can cause an impact of 2,700 pounds, slamming into a car seat, windshield or passenger, according to Bark Buckle UP, a national pet safety campaign.
The campaign travels around the country educating pet owners and first responders about the importance of properly restraining animals in vehicles. The campaign’s website,, lists products that have been tested and found to be safe to use by your dog. Examples of products include a safety vest, a flotation vest, a first aid kit and an oxygen mask.
And to help every pet and owner remain safe, the Bark Buckle UP campaign offers free safety kits in case your pet is in an accident. First responders will locate the pet safety kit in your glove box and call your contacts to come get your pet, in addition to informing them you have been in an accident. The safety kit includes emergency contact information, shots and other records, and vet information, in addition to safety tips for traveling with your pet. To receive your own kit, fill out the information requested at

– Kristi Eaton