New Cat Friendly Vet Practice Guidlines

AVMA News

AAFP celebrates 10 years of Cat Friendly Practice Program, releases new guidelines

By Katie Burns

November 15, 2022

The American Association of Feline Practitioners established the Cat Friendly Practice Program in 2012 to elevate care for cats by enhancing the environment and experience of a veterinary visit to reduce the stress for the cat, cat caregiver, and veterinary team.

The AAFP has been celebrating the 10th anniversary of the CFP Program this year and recently released new cat-friendly guidelines, which were endorsed by the AVMA on Nov. 11.

On Nov. 2, the AAFP and International Society of Feline Medicine launched the 2022 AAFP/ISFM Cat Friendly Veterinary Interaction Guidelines: Approach and Handling Techniques and the 2022 ISFM/AAFP Cat Friendly Veterinary Environment Guidelines.Cat Friendly Practice logo


Dr. Michelle Meyer, 2021-22 AAFP president, announced the guidelines during her address at the AAFP’s annual conference, Oct. 27-30 in Pittsburgh.

“These guidelines are pivotal,” said Dr. Meyer, who practices at Serenity Animal Hospital in Sterling Heights, Michigan. “They are not only essential for anyone who works with cats, but they also provide every veterinary professional with a foundation to really understand who cats are and other reasons why they behave and react like they do in the veterinary setting.”

As of early November, about 850 practices were designated as being cat friendly through the CFP Program, which is an AAFP member benefit, and about 350 practices were working on their applications. According to the AAFP, earning the CFP designation demonstrates that a practice has committed to provide the highest standards of care for cats and assures cat caregivers that a practice has taken extra time and effort to consider each cat’s experience and care.

The 2021 CFP survey (PDF) found the program benefits cats, cat caregivers, and veterinary teams. Respondents cited the top benefits as less stress for feline patients, a higher client satisfaction rate with the veterinary visit, a dedicated display of care for feline patients, and improved client retention and frequency of visits.

Individual team members can enroll in the Cat Friendly Certificate Program, with AAFP members receiving a discount. The certificate program aims to build knowledge, skills, and best in-clinic practices for feline care on the basis of the individual’s role within a practice. As of early November, more than 13,000 individuals had registered for the program, and nearly 8,000 had earned a certificate.

The new cat-friendly guidelines from the AAFP and ISFM were authored by experts in feline medicine and behavior, who undertook a literature review and drew on experience gained from the AAFP Cat Friendly Practice Program as well as the ISFM Cat Friendly Clinic program, which was also established in 2012.

A veterinary team member approaches a cat in its carrier with a soft hand, including curved fingers. (Courtesy of Ellen Carozza)

Dr. Ilona Rodan, co-chair of the task force that prepared the guidelines on cat-friendly interactions, and Dr. Sarah Heath, another member of the task force, delivered a presentation on the topic at the AAFP conference. Dr. Rodan spoke about why practices should incorporate this approach.

“The No. 1 reason to do so is the welfare of the cat,” said Dr. Rodan, owner of Cat Behavior Solutions out of Wisconsin. “We are responsible for the welfare of our patients, as veterinarians, as veterinary technicians, or whatever your position in the practice, and what that means is we’re taking care of not only the physical but also the mental health of the cat, which is equally important to physical health.”

Dr. Heath, clinical lead at Behavioural Referrals Veterinary Practice in Chester, England, has developed new terminology for cats’ underlying emotions and behavioral responses. Dr. Heath does not refer to negative or positive emotions, for example, but refers rather to protective emotions and engaging emotions. Her terminology and the Heath Model of emotional health are used throughout the cat-friendly guidelines.

The guidelines on cat-friendly interactions and the guidelines on cat-friendly environments together cover all aspects of a cat’s veterinary experience, including the trip to the practice and interactions with veterinary team members, as well as the clinical environment.

Some of the key areas covered include the following:

  • Implementing cat-friendly interactions and minimal handling that allow the cat to have a sense of control and choice.
  • Educating cat caregivers about how to reduce distress when traveling to the veterinary practice, including carrier training.
  • Creating an experience that considers the cat’s natural behaviors and altering the approach to suit each individual cat.
  • Creating an environment that considers and implements ways to reduce fear and anxiety and that promotes emotions and behaviors that cats find comforting.
  • Ensuring the entire veterinary team understands species-specific behavior and individual differences.
  • Understanding how to identify the cat’s emotional state and the subsequent behavioral response—and what to do in each situation.

As of press time, both sets of guidelines had been endorsed by more than two dozen veterinary organizations throughout the world.

The new guidelines and supplemental resources are available in the guidelines section of the AAFP website. Details about the AAFP Cat Friendly Practice Program and the AAFP Cat Friendly Certificate Program are available in the section of the AAFP website about these recognition programs.

Dog Age Calculator

Key takeaways about a dog’s age

  • The 7:1 ratio is flawed —As it turns out, figuring your dog’s age is more complex than multiplying by seven. That old rule of thumb that one dog year equals seven human years is based on the notion that dogs live about 10 years and humans live to about 70.
  • There isn’t a perfect formula — A dog age calculator is a great way to get a better idea of your dog’s age in human years, but parents of rescue dogs may not know their pet’s birth date. There are other ways to estimate if you don’t know your dog’s age.
  • Small dogs typically live longer than big dogs — Dogs under 40 pounds aren’t as prone to conditions such as hip dysplasia that can limit their mobility and increase their risk for obesity and other health conditions.

To calculate your dog’s age in human years, CLICK HERE

4 Tricks to Keep Dogs Away from Fish Tanks

Learn some simple tricks and cues you can use to keep your dog from harassing your fish tank.

by: David Thomas

In this article, you’ll learn four types of cues you can use to break your dog’s attention on your fish tank and keep them occupied with safer, more interesting things.

            Keeping your dog away from your fish tank can be a real challenge. The sights, sounds, motion and especially smells of a fish tank are naturally deeply intriguing to an intelligent, curious animal like a dog, and their deep-seated evolutionary instincts will tell them that fish they smell are prey and therefore food, and therefore very much worth investigating further. This dynamic will be particularly powerful if you have a dog, like a terrier or setter, that was bred to have a high prey drive, or a Labrador or Portuguese water dog that was bred to have an interest in all things wet and splashy.

Luckily, in addition to the precautions you should take in setting up your fish tank, you can also train your dog to leave it alone. This training won’t necessarily be easy, as instituting training that will override your dog’s natural instincts to explore and check out potential food sources is always difficult. However, it will be well worth it when you avoid a catastrophic accident between your dog and your fish, and when you realize the peace of mind that comes from knowing your dog will behave when you tell them to, even if they’d rather keep sniffing the fish tank.

  1. Go to your place. This is probably the most useful skill you can teach your dog, after a strong recall command. You assign your dog a “place” in the house that’s theirs, where they can hang out and stay out of trouble. David Thomas from everythingfishkeeping.com recommends this is a crate or mat; ideally, it’s something you can move and still have your dog recognize and use as their place. To start training a go to your place command, you have to make the place appealing to them by filling it with toys and treats. In the beginning, reward your dog with treats and praise every time they hang out in their place, then every time they go to it, then eventually only when they go when you tell them to. It will take time, but once your dog has this skill down, you will have a perfect command to keep them out from underfoot in the kitchen or far away from your fish tank.
  2. Come. A reliable recall is crucial for your dog for a number of reasons, probably most notably as a safety measure if they start getting into anything dangerous, but it’s also incredibly useful for breaking their attention on something you don’t want them paying attention to – in this case, the fish tank. Having your dog come to you if they’ve been staring at the fish tank too long will break their focus on the tank, and also give them a reward for doing so, in the form of praise and pets for obeying their recall. It will also shift your dog’s focus onto you and what you’re doing, which will hopefully be more interesting to them than a fish tank that has never given them a belly rub or salmon treat.
  3. Spin. If you’ve brought your dog’s attention back to you and they’re still going back to the fish tank, you may have to up your attention redirecting game by introducing an element of play or training – something for your dog to think about other than the fish tank. Remember that however appealing the fish tank is to them, a well-trained dog will always prefer your attention and affection. You can ask your dog to sit, spin, dance, shake – anything that will let them succeed at a simple task and then bask in your praise and love. If you have time, you can turn this into a full-on training session or playtime. This will not only break your dog’s fixation and keep them away from the tank, but it will also tire them out, and a tired dog is much less likely to bother your fish tank. 
  4. Hide and seek. This is another one where the actual command or trick you are asking your dog to perform is not as important as what you’re getting them to do, which is think about something other than the fish tank. When it comes down to it, all of these tricks work mostly by breaking your dog’s focus on the fish tank and redirecting their mental energy elsewhere. If your dog is extremely focused on the fish tank, though, and keeps going back to it, once you have their attention, you may have to assign them a fairly complex task – like playing hide and seek or retrieving a certain object from elsewhere in the house – to break that mental cycle and get them into a new frame of mind. Hide and seek or a retrieval task are good options because they get your dog to focus on objects in the house that aren’t the fish tank. Keep in mind that you want to set your dog up for success with this task, so give them a few simple cues first to make sure their attention is on you and they’re ready to listen and perform.

If you bring a fish tank into a house with a dog in it, or vice versa, the dog is going to be very curious about the tank. All it takes is a little vigilance and a lot of redirection from you before your dog will learn the fish tank has nothing to offer.

AHF/SCVMA Angel Fund Helps Main Coon Cat Deal With Kidney Failure

Prince, an 18-year-old Maine Coon cat, came into Delores Johnson’s life some 15 years ago when she wanted to bring a cat into her home after her aging father had been taken to a care facility.

“I’ve always had cats,” Delores said.  “I didn’t think my dad would be coming back [to the mobile home she had shared with him].  So I went on petfinder.com and there were these two cats – Prince and his brother from another mother – a black short-haired domestic cat.” Both animals were about three years old and were available because their family was moving to Europe.

“The woman who owned the animals brought them over.  They were both in a carrier and, when she opened it, they ran under the bed in the closest bedroom.  They stayed under the bed for at least a week,” she said.

“I would try to familiarize myself with them and talk to them.  They had been with their first family from the time they were six weeks old,” Delores said.  “The black cat originally was named Madonna. The cats were named by the family’s daughter, who thought the black cat was female.  When they went to get them fixed, they found out that Madonna was not female.  So they added an ‘n’ to his name and he became Mandonna.

Three years ago, Mandonna was afflicted by late-stage kidney failure and Delores had to put him down.”

“Prince was always my scaredy cat,” she said.  “He was always under the bed. He was never the social cat.  Mandonna was more the Alpha cat.  he was always the talker.  He was the one who would sleep next to me. He was the one who would eat anything I put in front of him, whereas Prince would only eat what he wanted to eat.” 

Once Mandonna was gone, Prince blossomed, Delores said.  “His personality started to develop and he became more animated. he came out from under the bed.  He’s now ‘his royal highness’ and he walks through the house and talks and yowls.”

But about three years ago, she said, she noticed that, “from the middle of his spine to his tail end, Prince was starting to get skinny.  He looked like a weightlifter: the front part of his body was real big and developed but the back part of his body was skinny.”

She took him to Fairview Pet Hospital in Costa Mesa to see Dr. Hongwon Kang.  (She calls him Dr. K.)  The doctor told her after his examination that Prince was in the early stages of kidney failure.  “I told him I could only do so much [financially] because I have limited resources.  They gave Prince his rabies shot and didn’t charge me.  That was nice. 

“The plan was that I would bring him in once a week for injections to keep him hydrated.  The bags of hydrating solution were $65 and they would last about 10 weeks. I was driving there because there was no way I could bring those bags home and give Prince the shots.  But it’s a 40-mile round trip from where I live in Anaheim to the hospital.”

Delores made the trip every week for two years.  “It was costing me $85 a month, since I purchased a bag of the solution every month and also paid for a $20 flea treatment.  Dr. K never charged me for the injections.  We also did blood work periodically and I’d have to save to pay for that.”  But, she said, Prince was doing pretty well. 

Dr. Kang wanted to put Prince on a special diet, Delores said.  “But Prince said, ‘Absolutely not.  I am not eating that food.’  I told the doctor, he won’t eat it and I am not paying for food he won’t eat. ‘That’s fine,’ Dr. K said.  ‘He’s an old man.  We’ll just feed him what he wants.’”

After two years, Delores said, Dr. Kang told her that he’d like to give Prince the shots twice a week.  But she was not receptive to that idea.  “I can’t do this anymore,” she said.  “I told him that we should just let nature take its course.”

But that brought new concerns.  She knew that she would need money to put her pet down, eventually.  She expected that to cost about $350.  And her application for CareCredit was turned down, despite the fact that she had other credit cards, including American Express and Walmart.

She called Fairview Hospital and was told about Angel Fund and that she should come in and the clinic would help her with an application.  She listed the things she would like to finance, including bloodwork and an x-ray, because Prince had constipation occasionally, as well as money for euthansia. 

Dr. Kang listed the charges that he expected for treating Prince on his submission and Delores soon learned that she would receive a grant.  She then resumed her weekly trips to the hospital for injections.    

“Dr. K has been wonderful,” Delores said.  “I was very fortunate and thankful that there was an Angel Fund and that my application was approved.  I get Social Security once a month and I don’t have two plugged nickels left to rub together for anything extra.”

Prince’s blood work showed that he was doing better, she said. “As of right now,” she said in a recent interview, “his kidneys seem to be stabilized.  He is doing fine.”

When Dr. K told her that her application had been approved, she said: “Praise the Lord.  I was very, very pleased.  It was a wonderful, wonderful blessing.  I’m a born-again Christian and I believe everything is in God’s hands.”

Spot and Tango Dog Food Recall

September 6, 2022 — In a private email to customers, Spot and Tango announced it is recalling four batches of its UnKibble Dog Food product line because samples tested positive for Salmonella bacteria.

What’s Recalled?

The lot codes and SKU numbers for affected products listed below can be found on the bottom and back of each pouch.

Spot and Tango Unkibble Dog Food Recall Lot Numbers

No other Spot & Tango products or lot codes are impacted by this recall.

End of Life Decisions

From: The Whole Dog Journal

By Nancy Kerns  –Published:September 7, 2022

I will trust someone whose practice is mostly animals at the end of their lives to help me with this decision.

Three years ago I wrote a blog post about “how to know when the time is right for euthanasia.” A the time, I had three friends and family members who were facing this decision. One dog, Beau, was euthanized not long after I wrote the post. Lena lasted another year before her owner decided that the dog was too disabled to go on. Chaco, the third dog is still living, the last I heard (I don’t hear from that friend very often anymore). But as I said in the post. I hoped it would be at least several years before I was mulling this topic again.

Well, here we are, almost exactly three years later. Guys, I’m having to think hard about this right now, with my nearly 15-year-old heart dog, Otto.

He had surgery on his liver about four years ago, and we keep an eye on that organ with annual abdominal ultrasounds, to make sure that the benign growth that was removed hasn’t grown back. He’s had a handful of teeth extracted for various reasons, including one broken and several cracked. And he’s been receiving an increasing amount and variety of medications for arthritis pain for a couple of years now.

But until recently, he honestly looked pretty darn good for his age. This last year, though, as the arthritis pain has ramped up, he’s moving less, and has lost a lot of muscle tone, especially in his rear legs. His weight is a few pounds less than his ideal “high school weight” and he’s a little on the ribby side – but I’m trying to keep him on the light side, to reduce the burden on his arthritic joints. His worst arthritis is in his elbows and front paws, and the pain seems to be altering his stance – which is probably causing more pain in his shoulders and back. In the past few weeks, all of a sudden (it seems), he just looks awful when he stands around, swaybacked and panting, and with his ears back and face tense.

We’re having a really hideous heat wave in California right now, so that’s not helping as I try to figure out how much of his panting is due to pain and how much is the heat. He’s always hated being hot. Now it’s even too hot for him to find relief, as he’s always done, by digging a hole in his dampened sandbox, in the shade of an umbrella under an oak tree. For the past few days, it’s been over 100 degrees in the shade! I’ve had to make him come in my office and stay with me and the other dogs where it’s cooler – but he hates this, too. He lays down for a few minutes, then gets up, pacing and panting. He scratches at the door, wanting out. I open the door and he gets only halfway through when the wall of heat makes him stop and remember why he’s not already out there. He turns around, stiffly, and stands for long minutes in the middle of my office, panting and with that awful, painful-looking posture, before laying down again. This just breaks my heart! I don’t want him to be in pain.

Is it the dementia that makes him forget it’s too hot to go outside? Absent-mindedness? Stubbornness? Why can’t he seem to get comfortable in my cool office? There are three beds, of varying heights and softness, and he gets first dibs on any of them. But he just doesn’t want to be in here, he wants the heat to go away and he wants to be in his sandbox. I know the heat is temporary, but his arthritis pain is not.

I don’t want him to suffer.

I use several different assessment tools, developed by various experts on hospice and end-of-life issues for dogs, in an attempt to find some objective data points to help me decide whether “it’s time.”

On one, the result translates to, “Quality of life is a definite concern. Changes will likely become more progressive and more severe in the near future. Veterinary guidance will help you better understand the end stages of your pet’s disease process in order to make a more informed decision of whether to continue hospice care or elect peaceful euthanasia.”

On another, the score indicates, “Everything is okay.”

On a third, the score suggests that Otto has “acceptable life quality to continue with pet hospice.”

Assessment Tools for Deciding End of Life Care

Lap of Love Pet Quality of Life Scale

Lap of Love Daily Assessment

The HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale

I discuss Otto’s condition with close friends who know him. My trainer friend Sarah suggests a consultation with a veterinarian who has a housecall practice and specializes in hospice care for animal companions. Well, why and how the heck did I not think of that on my own? I called and made an appointment for next week. For now, a load has been taken off of my mind. I will trust someone whose practice is mostly animals at the end of their lives to help me with this decision.

dog swimming in lake
Much more comfortable in the lake.
If only I had a lake in my backyard! But 5 or so miles is not too far to drive every day, if it keeps him happy. © Nancy Kerns | Whole Dog Journal

And in the meantime, of course, the goal is to give Otto the best possible daily experience I am capable of delivering to him. I’m trying to make up for his unhappiness with the heat and the unaccustomed confinement in my (cool) office by taking him and my other dogs to the lake every evening. There’s a place that has a sandy, gravelly (but not sharp) bottom and with water that gets only very, very gradually deeper. It’s where I like to bring small dogs, novice swimmers, and now, my old guy, too.

As shallow as it is close to shore, the water is refreshing but not cold. We can linger at dusk, when the other lake-visitors are all gone, and not get a chill. Woody asks me to throw his ball, and he bounds through the shallow water, happily fetching. Boone looks for opportunities to steal the ball from Woody and then play “catch me if you can!” Otto wades back and forth, back and forth – not like his nighttime dementia pacing, but like a happy water buffalo. Every so often he wades into the deeper water and swims a bit, and then comes back, tail wagging slowly on the surface of the water, looking extremely content. When he’s like this, the end feels far away from now, and I find a little bit of hope that it truly is.

Dog faces can be incredibly cute — here’s how and why

Certain muscles help make dogs ‘smile’ or raise an eyebrow, expressions that help them bond with humans.

From The Washington Post

By Galadriel Watson

August 23, 2022 at 9:15 a.m. EDT

When its owner arrives home, a dog may seem to smile. When a dog wants to go for a walk, it may lift an eyebrow and look pathetic. These adorable expressions have helped create a “deep, long-standing bond between humans and dogs,” says Anne Burrows, a professor of physical therapy at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They also make dogs unique when compared with species such as wolves or cats.

Burrows and her team discovered that domesticated dogs have a muscle in the eyebrow region that gray wolves don’t: the levator anguli oculi medialis. “This allows dogs to make that puppy-dog-eyes face,” says Burrows. “And wolves just don’t make that face.”

They also studied two muscles around the mouth: the orbicularis oris and the zygomaticus major. Both dogs and wolves do have these muscles. In dogs, however, they’re mostly composed of fast-twitch fibers. In wolves, they’re mostly slow-twitch.

To understand what this means, Burrows says to think of human runners. “If you’re a sprinter, you’re going to run really fast but only for a short distance. Your leg muscles are probably dominated by fast-twitch fibers,” since these can contract quickly.

“If, though, you’re a marathon runner, you might take a while to get up to speed, but you’re going to last a long time. So marathon runners probably have leg muscles that are dominated by slow-twitch fibers.” These shift more gradually into motion but then don’t get tired as soon.

A dog with primarily fast-twitch fibers, therefore, can quickly make facial expressions. (Humans are fast-twitch face-makers, too.) These fibers also mean they’re great at barking, “which is a really fast movement of the lips.”

On the other hand, wolves’ muscles are perfect for extended movements — such as howling. “They kind of turn their mouth into a funnel, and they hold that contraction for, you know, 30 seconds maybe,” Burrows says.

But why are dogs’ and wolves’ muscles and behaviors different? One possibility is that, when humans were first domesticating wolves — which would eventually become what we now know as “dogs” — “they were choosing this animal that barked instead of howled,” Burrows says. Some 40,000 years ago, people were deciding to hang out with dogs that were good at creating alarm calls, such as indicating when a stranger was outside. It just happened to be that these dogs — the ones with more fast-twitch fibers than slow-twitch ones — could also make the sweetest faces.

Then again, maybe those ancient humans felt a stronger bond with dogs that could look cute and the barking trait was a bonus. After all, gazing into a dog’s eyes is known to release a hormone called oxytocin (ox-see-TOH-sin) in both human and dog. “It’s thought to be a love hormone, a hormone that promotes bonding,” Burrows says.

As for pet cats, they have similar facial muscles to dogs but don’t generally use them to peer at us longingly. Instead, they’re mostly used to control their whiskers, which help them navigate their environment. Those movements don’t usually get an emotional response from humans.

“I love my cats,” Burrows says, “but in a different way.”

Gabapentin For Dogs: What You Should Know

Veterinarians are prescribing this medication in record numbers for canine pain and anxiety. Could gabapentin help your dog?

By  Eileen Fatcheric, DVM for Whole Dog Journal

 Published:March 25, 2021

gabapentin for dogs
Never give a dog the commercially available liquid form of gabapentin made for humans. This preparation contains xylitol, the sweetener that’s commonly used to sweeten sugar-free gum. Xylitol is extremely toxic, even deadly, for dogs.

Gabapentin is a medication that veterinarians are prescribing with increasing frequency, sometimes alone but more commonly in combination with other medications, for the management of pain in dogs. It’s also increasingly prescribed in combination with other medications for canine anxiety. Why has it become so popular? I’ll get to that, but first we have to discuss pain.

TREATMENT OF PAIN IS A MEDICAL PRIORITY

Pain management has become an integral aspect of health care in both human and veterinary medicine. If you’ve ever been hospitalized or had surgery, you will be familiar with the frequent question, “How’s your pain? Rate it on a scale from zero to 10.” So you try to pick a number, again and again, throughout the time you are hospitalized.

It turns out there is a very compelling reason for this. Pain is not our friend. It hurts. But the significance goes much deeper than that. Left uncontrolled, pain causes not only physical damage but also emotional and psychological damage. It delays healing and negatively impacts the immune system. In humans and nonhuman animals alike, it frequently results in harmful, unwanted behaviors like self-trauma, aggression, or withdrawal from the joys of life.

You’ve heard medical professionals say it’s important to stay ahead of the pain. There’s a strong reason for this as well. Untreated pain makes your pain receptors increasingly sensitive, which results in increasingly worsening pain. This is called “wind-up” pain, and it becomes more difficult to control.

We, veterinarians, work hard to prevent pain. When this is not possible, we work even harder to relieve it. This has become easier over the years with the ongoing advancements in science, medical knowledge, and extrapolation from discoveries made in human medicine. Veterinarians now have a whole array of medications and other therapeutics at their disposal for managing pain.

Chronic pain, something that is not expected to go away, is particularly challenging for us. It must be managed, often for the remainder of the dog’s life. For this type of pain, “polypharmacy” (multiple medications) and a multi-modal (more than one treatment modality) approach are usually most effective.

To manage chronic pain, we usually employ prescription medications, as well as safe and potentially effective “nutraceuticals” –nutritional supplements that have positive effects for a medical condition. There are increasing numbers of veterinarians who use Chinese and herbal medicine as complementary therapies to treat pain. Modalities like acupuncture, laser therapy, therapeutic ultrasound, physical therapy, and rehabilitation are all readily available to dog owners in most areas. An increasing number of dog owners now use various forms of cannabidiol (CBD) to treat their dog’s pain.

Pain is a highly personal experience. How one patient perceives pain may be completely different from another. Some have higher tolerances than others. One medication or therapy may work wonders for one patient and do nothing for another. This makes it crucial for owners to be observant, monitor their dogs closely for response to therapy, report accurately back to their veterinarians, and be open to recommended changes in the prescribed pain protocol. 

AN UNEXPECTED BENEFIT

dog playing outside in yard
The addition of gabapentin to a dog’s anti-anxiety medication may improve its effect without an increase of its dosage.

Gabapentin has gained popularity in leaps and bounds (hey! that’s what we’re going for: leaping and bounding dogs!) for its potential contribution to pain management in veterinary medicine. But this isn’t what it was initially developed to treat.

Pharmaceutically, gabapentin is classified as an anticonvulsant, or an anti-seizure medication. It works by blocking the transmission of certain signals in the central nervous system that results in seizures. Then researchers learned that some of these same transmitters are involved in the biochemical cascade involved in pain perception, and doctors began exploring its use for pain management. 

Today, gabapentin is best known and respected for its ability to manage a specific form of pain called neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain comes from damaged nerves, either deep in the brain and spinal cord or in the peripheral nerves, which are the ones that extend outward from the brain and spinal cord. It is different from the pain that is transmitted along healthy nerves from damaged tissue.  Examples of neuropathic pain include neck and back pain from bulging discs, pinched nerves, tumors of a nerve or tumors pressing on nerves; some cancers; and dental pain.

A perfect example of neuropathic pain in humans is fibromyalgia. You’ve probably seen the commercials for Lyrica, a treatment for this chronic, debilitating, painful nerve disorder. Lyrica is pregabalin, an analog of gabapentin. (By the way, pregabalin is used in dogs as well, so if your dog’s current pain protocol includes gabapentin but isn’t working well enough, ask your veterinarian about pregabalin.)

HOW GABAPENTIN IS USED FOR DOGS

Although gabapentin is primarily thought to work best for conditions with neuropathic pain, it is most commonly used as an adjunctive or “add-on” medication in the polypharmacy approach to managing any chronic pain. It is rarely used alone, as the sole medication for pain, even in neuropathic conditions like neck and back pain.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are, and likely always will be, the first-line choice in veterinary pain management. But gabapentin is being added more frequently when an NSAID alone isn’t helping enough. Gabapentin is so safe it can be added to virtually any of the drugs currently used for pain management in dogs. There is a recent study that shows gabapentin has a synergistic effect, which means when it’s used in combination with another drug, such as the opioid pain-reliever tramadol, the effect of both drugs are enhanced.

When adding gabapentin to a current pain protocol, you may see some effect within 24 hours, but you won’t see the maximal effect for seven to 10 days. For this reason, dosage adjustments are usually made only every couple of weeks. Be patient. Gabapentin has the potential to add much value to your dog’s current pain-management plan.

Additionally, adding gabapentin, which has minimal side effects, sometimes allows for dosage reduction of other medications like NSAIDs, which do have potentially dangerous side effects, especially with long-term use. This is a huge plus for both your dog and your veterinarian, who took an oath to “do no harm.”

What are the side effects? Nothing much. There is the potential for mild sedation and muscular weakness, which increases with higher dosages. This side effect is usually minimal at the dosages typically prescribed for pain. Veterinarians actually take advantage of this side effect by using higher dosages of gabapentin in combination with other sedative drugs like trazadone to enhance the calming effect for anxious or aggressive patients in the veterinary clinic setting. 

PRECAUTIONS AND SIDE EFFECTS OF GABAPENTIN FOR DOGS

Gabapentin has a huge safety margin in dogs. It won’t hurt your dog’s kidneys or liver and is even safe to use with CBD products, although the mild sedative effect of both products may be enhanced.

There are some important precautions of gabapentin for dogs, however:

  • First and foremost, do not use the commercially available liquid form of gabapentin made for humans. This preparation contains xylitol, the sweetener that’s commonly used to sweeten sugar-free gum. Xylitol is extremely toxic, even deadly, for dogs.
  • Wait before giving gabapentin after antacids. If you regularly give your dog an antacid like Pepcid or Prilosec, you must wait at least two hours after giving the antacid before giving gabapentin, as the antacid decreases absorption of gabapentin from the stomach.
  • Never stop gabapentin cold turkey if your dog has been on it for a while. This could result in rebound pain, which is similar to wind-up pain, in that it’s pain that’s worse than ever. For this reason, always wean your dog off gabapentin gradually.

VETERINARY FAN

odin, dog prescribed gabapentin
Odin was prescribed gabapentin as an adjunct to a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to treat pain from a chronic eye condition. After the problematic eye was removed, gabapentin was given post-surgically and then tapered off.

As you can probably tell, I am a huge fan of gabapentin for dogs. It helps many of my patients with their pain, it’s safe, and it’s not expensive. I prescribe it most frequently as part of my polypharmacy approach to managing chronically painful conditions like osteoarthritis and cancer. I prescribe it for dental pain. It works wonders for neck and back pain. 

While gabapentin is not currently used heavily for post-operative pain as its efficacy in that realm has been questionable, I’m excited right now as there is a study under way to assess its efficacy pre-emptively (before the pain) for dogs undergoing surgery. Many veterinarians already prescribe it for their surgical patients to be started before the procedure, because they have so much faith in it.

Gabapentin is extremely safe for dogs, and it has the potential to alleviate pain for our dogs and improve their quality and enjoyment of life. If you’ve been wondering why so many veterinarians are prescribing this medication more and more, there’s your answer. We see results, plain and simple. 

Gabapentin for Anxiety

Gabapentin does not have a direct anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect, limiting its usefulness for treating the chronically stressed, anxious dog as a stand-alone drug. However, as with its synergistic use alongside pain medications, it is sometimes prescribed in combination with Prozac (fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reputable inhibitor [SSRI]) or Clomicalm (clomipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant [TCA]) for persistent cases of generalized anxiety, panic disorders, compulsive disorders, and true separation anxiety. 

The goal when adding gabapentin in these instances is to help the dog relax in the face of his stressors, as you try to help him through his issues with appropriate desensitization and behavior modification exercises. This is particularly useful in cases where the dog is already receiving the maximum dose of anti-anxiety medication, with less than the desired effect. 

It’s important to note that medication alone is not likely to relieve anxiety for your dog unless paired with the above-mentioned desensitization and behavior-modification exercises. These exercises can be prescribed by your veterinarian or a veterinary behavior specialist.

Gabapentin’s sedative effect at higher dosages can be used on an as needed basis to help dogs relax and get through specific situations that cause undue stress for them. Examples of this type of situational anxiety are veterinary visits, grooming appointments, long car rides, thunderstorms and fireworks. 

Guido Gets Bladder Surgery With Help from Angel Fund

Early in May, Allyson Vaquera noticed that Guido, her nine-year-old pit bull terrier, was having some problems. 

“He had an accident or two in the house – peeing accidents – that I really didn’t think anything about at first,” Allyson said.  “Sometimes that happens when he’s left inside too long.  But it happened again and I noticed a couple of spots of blood.

“Then Guido started to throw up and he didn’t want to eat.  And I noticed that he had problems having a bowel movement.  The combination of all those things made me really decide that he ought to see the doctor.”

She took the dog to Northridge Pet Hospital, where she works as a receptionist.  Dr. Marissa Williams treated the dog.  The hospital “did blood work and a urine test to see if there was an infection and then an -x-ray,” Allyson said. “That’s when they saw the stone in his bladder.  It was a very big stone and the only option was to have it surgically removed.”

Allyson said that the cost of the surgery was more than she and her husband, David, could afford.  “Because of Covid, David hasn’t had steady work in a long time and we’ve been struggling.  We had to decide what we could do and euthanasia was the last thing from our minds.”

The hospital said that Angel Fund might be able to help, although it had not used the service in some time.  After checking, the hospital helped her apply.  She received a $500 grant that was matched by the hospital.  She also found another charitable group that helped with a grant of $200. 

“I only had to come up with a few hundred dollars,” she said.  “Angel Fund was like a sigh of relief.  You just have so much stress and anxiety, thinking about how you’re going to help a member of your family when financially you just can’t do it,” she said.

 Guido had his surgery on May 13.  Allyson took him home that evening. “He pretty much slept the rest of the day,” she said. “The doctor said not to feed him that night. But when I fed him the next day he seemed pretty much back to normal. He didn’t seem to be in any discomfort. It was almost like nothing had happened.

“The stitches were taken out two weeks later and he got the cone off and he was back to his regular activity.  He’s doing great now.”

Guido is the protector and buddy of her younger son, Calyx, 8, Allyson said.  He was acquired as puppy.  “We had another dog and we lived in an apartment so we had to take him out for walks multiple times a day.  David was walking him one day and somebody drove up and told him that they had a new puppy and weren’t allowed to have a dog where they lived. They asked if we could take him.

“My husband came home and he showed me this little white puppy.  And I said, ‘Oh my gosh, where did this puppy come from?  You went out to take our dog for a walk and you come back with this puppy!’  That’s how we got him.

“We decided then that we could not live in an apartment anymore.  We’d have to get a house.  And that’s what happened.  We needed a yard with our two dogs.”

Allyson and David have an older son, Nathan, who is 13.

3 Signs Your Dog Is Stressed

From UC Davis Magazine

by Shelby Dioum | Jul 6, 2022 | Aggie LifeAnimal ScienceSpring/Summer 2022

Dogs get stressed just like humans. When dogs act out, tense up or become distant, their owners may wish that their dogs could verbally tell them what’s wrong. Fortunately, though, dogs have body language that can help their caregivers better understand them. Emma Grigg, an animal behaviorist at UC Davis, said that understanding their behavior plays a significant role in their welfare. “It makes us more compassionate when they’re doing something we don’t like if we can understand what’s triggering that behavior,” Grigg said. Here are some ways that your dog may express to you that they are stressed or anxious. 

Leaning away

This is a sign that a dog is fearful of a certain situation. Some dogs will lean away from what is stressing them out (an unwanted hug, for example). Other times, a dog may avert its head slightly, but keep its eyes fixated on a person or thing. According to Grigg, dogs may do this to pretend that whatever is stressing them is not there, or to signal that they don’t want an interaction to continue.

Tensing up

“When [dogs] suddenly get very still and tense, it’s a huge sign that they’re uncomfortable,” said Grigg. Many dog owners may think that a tense dog is being stubborn or dramatic, but they may actually be anxious or irritated. Relaxed dogs are wiggly and loose, according to Grigg, so a dog may be very uncomfortable if it suddenly goes tense.

Firmly closing the mouth

“A happy dog will have a relaxed, open mouth with their tongue hanging out,” said Grigg. On the other hand, a dog with a firmly closed mouth may be uncomfortable in a particular moment or environment. “This sign is subtle and can be easy to overlook,” Grigg added.