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Westford Veterinary Emergency & Referral Center Newsletter

The veterinarians and staff at the Westford Veterinary Emergency & Referral Center are pleased to provide you with an online newsletter. This fun and fact-filled newsletter is updated on a regular basis.

Included in the newsletter are articles pertaining to pet care, information on our animal hospital, as well as news on the latest trends and discoveries in veterinary medicine.

Please enjoy the newsletter!

Current Newsletter Topics

March 23 is National Puppy Day

March 23 is National Puppy Day! Since 2006, National Puppy Day celebrates the magic and unconditional love that puppies bring to our lives. Over the years, this holiday has grown into an international holiday, and has trended on Twitter since 2012.

Creator Colleen Page—who also founded National Dog Day and National Cat Day—created this event to help save orphaned puppies across the globe while educating the public about the horrors of puppy mills. According to the National Puppy Day website, there are approximately 8,000-10,000 puppy mills in the U.S. , including many businesses that call themselves breeders that purposely allow their dog to get pregnant in hopes of selling puppies through local papers or online.

“The tragedy of puppy mills is that they don’t care about the animals more than a commodity to be sold,” National Puppy Day’s website reads. “Most of these animals live in crammed cages with no room to movie, in complete and utter squalor.”

While National Puppy Day is a great day to post pictures of your adorable puppy to your Twitter feed, don’t forget why we celebrate this holiday: for the fair and ethical treatment of dogs across the world. To learn more about National Puppy Day and why adopting a puppy is important, visit http://www.nationalpuppyday.com/

Proper Care of Older Cats

Cats grow old gracefully. As they grow older, they have a tendency to sleep more. An elderly cat generally spends most of his or her time sleeping on a couch, a comfortable chair or on a blanket close to a heat source. In general, they live longer than dogs. The average life span of a housecat is about 12 to 15 years. Some cats are extremely healthy, living well into their 20s.

Older cats are less active and less playful than kittens and young cats. They are also more irritable. As cats get older, their organs function less efficiently. Degeneration of the kidneys, thyroid glands, pancreas and adrenal glands occurs, resulting in kidney failure, hyperthyroidism and diabetes. Their senses (sight, smell and hearing) have a tendency to deteriorate as well.


Health and Hygiene Concerns Facing Older Cats

• Hyperthyroidism- Hyperthyroidism is due to an overproduction of thyroid hormone by the thyroid glands (two glands, one gland on each side of the throat). Symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism include drastic weight loss, hyperactivity and increased appetite. This disease can be treated medically, surgically or with radiation therapy.

• Kidney failure- This occurs when 70 percent of the kidney's functions are lost. Early symptoms of kidney failure include weight loss, increased thirst, increased urination (frequency and amount), decreased appetite and occasional vomiting. Symptoms of kidney failure result from the buildup of toxins in the body, which are normally removed by healthy kidneys. Specially formulated foods are available for cats that are diagnosed with kidney failure. These foods may be purchased through your veterinarian.

• Heart problems- The most common heart disease is cardiomyopathy. Cardiomyopathy is a primary heart disease, though it can develop secondary to kidney disease and hyperthyroidism.

• Cancer- The virus is transmitted from an infected cat to a healthy cat through intimate "nose-to-nose" contact with infected saliva. There are no specific symptoms for feline leukemia virus infection; however, tumors of the lymph nodes, kidneys and intestines are quite common. Other symptoms include weight loss, anemia (decrease in red blood cells), poor appetite, vomiting and diarrhea.

• Diabetes mellitus- Symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst and increased urination. Animals with diabetes mellitus often have ravenous appetites. Insulin is usually necessary for controlling diabetes mellitus in older cats.

• Digestion- The ability to digest and assimilate fat declines with age. Olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) senses are diminished. Food may need to be warmed (not hot) in order to entice an older cat to eat. It is not recommended to give food directly from the refrigerator. Fresh clean water should be available at all times and filled at least once a day.

• Constipation- It is often the result of a decrease in gastrointestinal tract motility. Hairballs can also cause constipation and very often they lead to intestinal impaction. Surgery is occasionally necessary in order to remove obstructive hairballs. Since hairballs are not easily regurgitated, preventative medication such as laxatives should be administered once a week. The use of a laxative is recommended for the prevention of intestinal obstruction, however if the laxative is given too frequently, it can interfere with intestinal absorption of vitamins and minerals.

• Tartar build-up- Tartar causes bad breath and can lead to dental problems — gum disease and tooth loss. Cats may tolerate a bit of home dentistry like brushing, but they must be taken to a veterinary hospital for treatment. Treatment generally consists of cleaning and polishing the teeth.

• Grooming- As cats get older, they groom themselves less and less effectively. Long-haired cats are particularly bothered by coat problems. Their coats are often matted, causing severe skin irritations. If an elderly cat is unable to keep up with his or her grooming, human intervention may be necessary. Long-haired cats and short-haired cats that do not groom themselves effectively should be brushed or combed twice a week.


Routine veterinary check-ups, along with blood and urine tests, are important for detecting medical problems before they become emergency situations. Discuss an examination schedule specific to your cat with your veterinarian.

Estate Planning for the Elderly and Their Pets

If you are like most pet owners, you love your dog or cat and enjoy spending time taking care of it and making sure he or she is happy and healthy. In return, your pet provides companionship and unconditional love and affection.

However, what would happen if you were no longer there to care for your pet? What if you suffer a debilitating accident or sickness, or worse, die? The sad fact is that many pets each year end up unloved by unsympathetic caretakers or in shelters where they run the risk of being euthanized if a home cannot quickly be found.

Asking a friend or family member to take care of a pet if something should happen to you can provide some reassurance. However, you have to ask yourself if they really are capable of handling the responsibility and won’t simply pass the pet on to a shelter after you’re gone.


Estate planning and your pet

If you are concerned by what might happen to your pet, it is wise and important to include your pet in your estate planning. A good place to start is your pet’s veterinarian. This person should have some sense of your state’s laws as well as provide some suggestions of where to start and where else to find help, such as an estate lawyer with relevant experience.

My Will and My Pet

Wills can be a tricky area for ensuring your pet is taken care of because they are primarily a tool for distributing property and cannot be used to enforce demands, such as for the care of a pet.

The effectiveness of wills is also limited by the fact that in most if not all states pets are treated as property. Therefore, you will not be able to leave money or other property directly to a pet for their care because in the eyes of the law it is the equivalent of bequeathing an end-table to a couch.

You can select a trusted caregiver to whom you can bequeath the pet and assets to be used for the pet’s care. However, there is nothing forcing that person to follow through on that responsibility or to follow any care instructions you leave behind.

Also wills are not enacted immediately as they must go through probate. This could leave your pet in a legal limbo while the will is processed. If there is a challenge to the will, your pet could be in limbo for quite some time. Additionally, changes to wills are often left to the discretion of a court.

This is not to say you should not include your pet in your will. You should, but it should be buttressed with a pet trust.

Pet Trusts

This is a legal tool that helps provide assurance your pet will be cared for according to your wishes after you die or are incapacitated by illness or an accident. Basically, a pet owner creates a trust and selects a trustee either in their will or while alive. With the assets used to create the trust, the pet owner includes instructions for the care of the pet that must be followed.

The trustee then brings the pet to the appointed caregiver and ensures the money left for the pet’s care is available when needed. It is very important to select a caregiver that is willing and capable of caring for the pet as well as a backup caregiver just to be sure.

Instructions that can be left include stipulations for veterinary care, lifestyle, food, routines, cages, grooming, compensation for caregiver, liability insurance to protect the caregiver, and nearly any other aspect of the pet’s care that is important to you.

Other Alternatives

Not everyone has the financial resources to establish a trust or the ability to name a trusted caregiver. In this case, selecting an executor of your will capable of finding a good home for your pet and stipulating this in your will is a good idea. There are also organizations such as the ASPCA that for a modest donation will help find a home for your pet. Your veterinarian may be able to help you as well.

What to Expect: Anesthesia Safety and Your Pet

Anesthesia always carries risks, even in healthy animals. In order to minimize the risks, your veterinarian thoroughly evaluates each animal before developing an anesthetic protocol. A complete and comprehensive medical history is also taken to determine what current problems exist and what past medical problems the pet has experienced.

Next, a thorough physical exam is performed and if recommended, blood should be drawn. Blood tests can determine how well the kidneys, liver, pancreas and intestines are functioning. The blood tests can also evaluate your pet's immune system, oxygen carrying capacities and coagulation process. At this point, if everything appears normal, your veterinarian chooses a safe anesthetic agent for the procedure.

A healthy animal should be fasted and water removed several hours before anesthesia. Removing the water prevents the possibility of aspiration pneumonia.

Prior to delivering the anesthesia, a premedication is generally administered. The function of the premedication is to decrease your pet's anxiety, reduce the pain involved with the surgical procedure, decrease the drug dose necessary for anesthesia and to promote a smooth post-anesthesia recovery. For short procedures, injectable anesthetics can be used alone. For longer procedures, they are often combined with gas anesthesia. Similar to human anesthesia and surgery, the patient’s heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, temperature and heart rhythm are monitored.

In human medicine, as well as in veterinary medicine, anesthesia has risks. By performing the preanesthetic tests along with monitoring the anesthetized patient, these risks are minimized.

Protecting Your Dog Against Canine Flu

Canine influenza is an extremely contagious respiratory infection. Signs of the infection include cough, sneezing, runny nose and sometimes a fever. Canine influenza bears a close resemblance to other canine respiratory illnesses and only diagnostic tests can confirm its presence. It was first discovered in 2004.



Dog owners should be careful. If you notice your dog is coughing, sneezing or has a runny nose you should not shrug it off as a little cold or even allergies. The early signs of canine influenza are coughing or gagging. Clinical symptoms such as coughing, runny nose, lethargy, depression and a fever as high as 103-107 degrees typically appear within 7 to 10 days post exposure. The severe form of canine influenza can lead to viral pneumonia.

While highly contagious, the good news is that the virus is easily killed by soap and water, disinfectants and 10 percent bleach solutions. Transmission can be prevented by isolating all suspected dogs, thorough cleaning of all cages and exposed surfaces such as floors, kennels food dishes and bedding. Animal caretakers should be diligent about wearing disposable gloves or washing hands in between handling dogs and any urine, stool or saliva and before entering or leaving any facility that houses dogs.

Almost all dogs exposed to canine influenza become infected; about 80 percent fully develop the illness, while about 20 percent do not. Most dogs recover quickly; however, some dogs may contract pneumonia due to a secondary infection.

While the death rate for canine influenza is low, secondary infections and other complications can sometimes lead to death. It is spread wherever dogs are in close contact with one another. Dogs that stay at home or have limited contact with other dogs are at low risk.

Like the flu that you contract, canine influenza is mostly treated by providing supportive care while the virus runs its course. Antibiotics may be used if secondary infections develop. The canine influenza vaccine is a "lifestyle" vaccine, and is recommended for dogs at high-risk of contracting the virus.

Canine influenza does not infect humans. Call your veterinary hospital today if you believe your dog has contracted canine influenza or if you'd like to make an appointment for the vaccine.