Tell your dog the tooth

Is your dog or cat due for dental work? On the day before the appointment, and then just before you go, calmly tell the animal where you are going and what will happen. 

You don’t need to use much detail, but do picture it — the ride to the clinic, the staff member greeting you both and taking him back, and the vet giving him something to help him sleep while his teeth are examined and cleaned. If you already know an extraction is needed, tell him how much better it will feel once the tooth that is hurting him is out of there.

In any case, tell him he will feel a little funny when he wakes up, but you’ll be there to take him home and he’ll be back to normal soon. Above all, emphasize how much easier and better it will be to eat his food and chew his toys with a healthy mouth.

The result will likely be a less stressful experience for both of you … and a longer and happier life for the animal. February is National Pet Dental Health Month, so this would be a great time to ask your vet about procedures, tooth brushing, dental chews, breath freshening and more.

Photo by TheDigitalWay from Pixabay

Caring for those who care for animals

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Veterinarians have adopted a host of measures to keep pets healthy, humans safe, and clinic doors open during the pandemic. These changes have added stress to a profession that already has its share.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study showed veterinarians died by suicide at between two and 3.5 times the national average between 1979 and 2015. Mounting student debt (without the salaries “people” docs get), the physical and emotional strains of the job, scathing public criticism, and the ever-present shadow of death were among the reasons cited in a Washington Post story.

A second-career vet in the story struggled with debt, depression, and chronic illness that fueled gossip and anger in real time and online. A conversation with an “old friend” was the last straw. She wrote goodbye letters and, using drugs meant for euthanizing animal patients, prepared to end her life. Then she looked into the eyes of her dog and couldn’t do it.

Another veterinarian regularly treated animals who suffered some of the worst humans can do. On the way home from work one night, he considered driving off a California highway. Shaken, he sought help. He later became a founding board member of Not One More Vet, which seeks to support vets and staff members who may be on their own dark roads.  

Others, such as well-known vet and trainer Sophia Yin, are no longer here to take that one more chance.

A veterinary well-being study in 2020, this one by Merck Animal Health in partnership with the American Veterinary Medical Association, also found high rates of suicide, substance use disorder, and burnout. Just over half the vets in the study would not recommend a career in veterinary medicine. 

The researchers called for every practice to discuss these issues and encourage people to seek help if needed. Employers without employee assistance plans were urged to adopt them. Self-care measures such as stress management plans, limiting time on social media, and working with a financial planner were encouraged for individuals. 

All of these efforts are great, but the rest of us — pet parents, others who work with animals, and animal advocates — have skin in this game. (Shouldn’t we all be watching out for each others’ skin anyway, just ’cause?) If difficult human clients and a lack of support from the wider community are part of the problem, for heaven’s sake, let’s fix it.

Here are a few thoughts about what we can do:

Respect the profession

Veterinarians have gone to school, learned multiple systems (“people” docs only have to study one), and done work most of us could not. Though I am not a fan of unquestioningly accepting whatever experts say, if you’ve done your homework and chosen a good vet or clinic, trust them.

Practitioners of complementary and alternative modalities such as massage, Reiki, essential oil therapy, etc. as well as vet techs, kennel owners, trainers, groomers, and more — would do well to work with vets as much as possible. We may not always agree, but we’re all in the business of helping animals and the people who love and care for them. Our collective efforts might just surprise us.

When a client wants to address a particular question or problem through animal communication or animal Reiki, my first question is always: When was the animal last seen by a veterinarian, and what did he or she say or do regarding the issue? I make it clear that I am not a medical or veterinary professional and do not diagnose. Anything I do is in support of — never instead of or against — veterinary care.

Show appreciation

Does your veterinarian administer the dreaded annual vaccinations in such a way that your dog barely seems to notice, let alone mind? Was your veterinarian exceedingly kind and gentle with your cat … and with you … when you faced the gut-wrenching decision to put her to sleep? Did your veterinarian come in on a Sunday when your dog got stung by a bee … again? Is your veterinarian patient even when your little darling is doing a spot-on Tasmanian devil imitation?

Notice. Say something. Your comment, however small it may seem to you, could make a big difference if your vet just had to put an animal down because the pet’s owner basically didn’t care, if an angry review just turned up on Facebook or Yelp, or if it’s simply been a long day.

Be aware, and use discretion

If you have reason to believe your veterinarian is struggling with a physical or mental health challenge, especially if it’s affecting his or her work, carefully consider the most kind, fair, and discreet way forward. You’ll have to decide whether you feel comfortable asking him or her directly or taking your concern to the clinic owner or even a state licensing board.

Whichever option you choose, do so in the spirit of help and accountability, not getting even. Likewise, anything you say on the subject to others in real time or on social media — and the best choice may well be to say nothing — should be in that same spirit.

Do your bit during the pandemic 

Yes, “doing your bit” was a World War II homefront thing, but surprise! The concept still works. Follow instructions. Be patient. Offer a smile (genuine, please) instead of a sigh when the vet tech picks up or returns your dog to your car. On the phone or online, offer an encouraging word instead of a criticism. If what you’re about to say on social media isn’t true, kind, or helpful, delete it and log off.

During these angry and confusing times, or in seasons of your own pain, it may seem that nothing you do matters.

Trust me, it does.

(Note: This updates an earlier version of the story to include the 2020 study and the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Use caution first with essential oils

Image by Charlotte Govaert from Pixabay 

When a journalist friend shared a Snopes Fact Check piece about essential oils being poisonous to pets, I took notice.

Snopes is generally good at sifting out scams and misinformation, and I already knew cats are much more sensitive than other animals to essential oils. Its rating: True. When used the wrong way or in the wrong concentration or amount, even diffused, essential oils can be toxic.

I would never suggest a client use essential oils with any animal without first seeking reliable guidance on which oils to use, how, and with what species. First, I’m not a veterinary professional. Second, there are too many variables — species, the individual animal, the condition being treated, oil quality, and use. The following is intended only as a starting point should you want to learn more about essential oil use for animals.

A veteran physical therapist and dog parent told me about animalEO, a line of essential oils and blends developed by holistic veterinarian Dr. Melissa Shelton. Her website is packed with information and instructions, and there is a very active animalEO Facebook group hosted by Dr. Shelton herself. (Good luck keeping up with the high volume of posts.) Also see her response to the viral post that led to the Snopes piece.

I’ve used a few of these blends with my own animals, mostly for diffusion and at low concentrations. The whole household benefits from a little aromatherapy. Moreover, it gives me confidence to know that the products were created for animals by an experienced veterinarian. (I receive no compensation from animalEO.)

Speaking of oil: CBD oil and other cannabinoid products for animals merit even more caution. There is very little data on their use, and your veterinarian may be restricted from even discussing it. 

Finding reliable pet health information in a sea of social media and commercial sites can be challenging. Here are some guidelines I use, both as a journalist and an animal wellness practitioner. 

If you are interested in using essential oils — either for yourself or the animals you love — there is no harm in going to animalEO to learn before you buy. Then here are my recommendations:

  1. Don’t be tempted by cheaper, lower-quality oils, or blends not formulated for animals. 
  2. Take what you learn (from whatever or whomever) and run it by your veterinarian.
  3. If you do use essential oils for or around animals, use as directed. When in doubt, use less rather than more.
  4. Observe your animal carefully. If you remotely suspect any adverse effects from the oil — stop use and contact your vet.

Remember that “natural” isn’t necessarily beneficial. As always, be mindful, not fearful.