Protect Your Family and Pets Against Shared Threats

On one hand, there are many ways having a pet can contribute to your health. Pets offer emotional support, help people exercise and assist the disabled.

On the other hand, pets (and other animals) can also spread diseases to people. Called zoonotic diseases or zoonoses, they can be especially dangerous for young children and people with certain medical conditions.

There are two main types. One, such as leptospirosis (a bacterial infection), can be transmitted from animals to people. The other type infects both people and pets. Lyme disease, for example, can cause arthritis and is spread by ticks.

Fortunately, there are ways to keep your family and pets healthy. According to veterinarians, you should:

• Get a wellness exam for your pet every six months. Remember, pets age seven times faster, on average, than people and need regular checkups.

• Make sure your pet is protected against disease whenever possible. Many zoonotic diseases, including leptospirosis, Lyme disease, rabies and giardia (a parasitic infection), can be prevented by vaccination.

• Ask your veterinarian about flea and tick control.

• Wash your hands often when touching, playing with or caring for pets.

• Never handle the stool of any animal without wearing disposable gloves or using a plastic barrier.

• Avoid kissing your pet or letting him lick your face.

• Do daily “tick checks” on yourself, your kids and your pet. If you find a tick, use tweezers to slowly pull it out. After removing the tick, immerse it in rubbing alcohol. Wash the tick bite wound and your hands with soap and water.

• If you’re pregnant, have someone else clean the cat’s litter box. If you must do it yourself, wear gloves and immediately wash your hands after changing the litter.

• Wash your hands after gardening or working in soil where pets may have relieved themselves.

• If you are scratched or bitten, wash the area with soap and water right away and administer first aid. If you are concerned, contact your health care professional.

• Not let your pet drink from standing water outdoors.

• Remove food, garbage or nesting material that may attract disease-carrying wildlife.

To help protect pets and the people they come in contact with, thousands of U.S. veterinary clinics are participating in National Pet Wellness Month, a veterinary clinic-centered educational campaign sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association and Fort Dodge Animal Health.

Veterinary clinics offer pet wellness exams and consult with pet owners about disease prevention and other ways to help their pets live longer, healthier and happier lives.

Your veterinarian will know the predominant disease threats in your area and can develop a plan to provide disease protection for you and your pet.

Experienced Vet Is Worth The Search

Establishing a good working relationship with a veterinarian can be a challenge for any pet owner, but is a special challenge for the exotic pet owner. The exotic pet owner must find a vet who is willing to see their pet, knows something about their pet, and has the facilities, equipment and materials to treat their pet.

An interest in exotics doesn’t necessarily equal proficiency in treating them. I say this from experience, as although I am fascinated with exotic pets, I have no special training in treating them medically. When I was practicing as a veterinarian, except for very routine care, I generally referred exotics to a specialist nearby. Thing may have changed a bit since I went to school, but during my training, exposure to exotics was still very imited even though I sought out extra exposure to exotic pets in my choice of clinical rotations. If at all possible, try to locate a vet who specializes in exotics and has taken specialized training (e.g. a residency in exotic animal medicine, or one who is board certified in an exotics specialty).

Such specialists can be hard to come by, so the next best is someone who has lots of experience treating exotic pets. Ask a potential veterinarian about their training, credentials, and memberships in specialty organizations such as the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) or the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV). At the very least, choose a veterinarian with a real interest in exotic species and who is willing to learn about them and who will consult with a specialist when needed.

Personal recommendation or word of mouth is probably the most efficient way of finding a veterinarian. Friends, breeders, or organizations (e.g. the local herpetological society, other clubs) are good starting points. Other places to locate veterinarians include the yellow pages/phone directories (look for clinics that specifically advertise that they treat exotics), the state/provincial veterinary association directory, or even web pages that have veterinary directories (including the AAV and ARAV sites mentioned above). Several species specific web pages have sections where readers can submit contact information for veterinarians they have used.

Most importantly, do not wait until an emergency to find a vet. If your pet should get sick, a veterinarian with whom you feel comfortable and who is comfortable dealing with your pet will make the situation less stressful. An initial check up is well advised for any new pet and this is a good chance to see how a veterinarian handles your pet and how comfortable they are with your pet, and also to see if you and the veterinarian make a good match – sometimes there is a personality clash and you won’t develop a good rapport with a certain veterinarian.

A veterinarian familiar with exotics will spend a good deal of time discussing the care and husbandry of a particular pet, as many problems with exotic pets are related to improper diet or husbandry. The veterinarian should also appear confident handling your pet.

There are several criteria which can be used to evaluate a practice in general and the following web pages discuss these in detail:

– How to Find a Veterinarian – advice from About’s Guide to Veterinary Medicine on finding and evaluating a vet, with a link to some online vet finder directories.

– How to Find an Avian Veterinarian – helpful tips for finding a veterinarian- geared toward bird owners but also applicable to any exotic species.

For exotics there are more specific considerations, including:

– special training or continuing education related to exotic pet medicine

– how often exotic species are seen in their practice

– special facilities or equipment to handle exotic pets

– experience (personal or professional) and familiarity with the husbandry and medicine of a particular species

Finding the right vet can be a challenge and may not seem that important when your pet is healthy, but the effort will be well worth it if your pet should fall ill!

Give Your Pet Safety and Love

Losing a pet is a devastating experience, and in fact, according to a recent survey, four in five pet owners consider losing a pet to be more traumatic than losing a job, getting in a car accident or breaking a bone. Although no pet owner ever wants to believe a beloved pet is lost or missing, there is a good chance it might happen. “One in three pets will get lost during a lifetime,” said Marty Becker, DVM. “That adds up to 10 million pets that are lost every year in the United States, and without proper identification only one in 10 will be reunited with his or her owner.”

One way to help ensure a lost pet is recovered is by encouraging pet owners to speak with their veterinarian about microchipping. Microchipping is a safe and permanent form of pet identification.

Gina King of Soledad, California, knows the value of microchips firsthand. “I spent months looking for my Shih Tzu, Radar, who ran out the front door as our children left for school,” said Gina. “I had just about given up hope of ever finding him when, a year and a half later, I got a phone call saying Radar had been found on a highway off-ramp, about 25 miles from home. Radar had been taken to a veterinary clinic, where his microchip was scanned, and my information was retrieved from the HomeAgain® database.”

Although collar tags are an easy and inexpensive way to identify pets, they can come off or be removed. Microchips are the size of a grain of rice and are inserted by your veterinarian between a pet’s shoulder blades, with no more discomfort than a routine vaccination. The microchip contains a unique number that cannot be altered. Despite the important role microchipping can play in pet safety, only one-fifth of pet owners have used this method of identification to help protect their pets.

Consider the following facts about microchipping:

• About 7,000 lost pets that are microchipped and registered with HomeAgain® Pet Recovery Service are reunited with their owners in the United States every month. That works out to a pet recovery every six minutes.

• There are about 70,000 microchip scanners currently in use by shelters and veterinary clinics across the United States, enabling your pets to be scanned no matter where they are found.