Arthritis: Inflammation Station!

                Sliding in here right at the end of the month, May has been a month focused on addressing the pain of arthritis. Many of us are familiar with the changes that the development of arthritis brings- it’s a pain in the neck! And maybe some of us have not yet considered that this pain can also be felt by our furry friends. In this blog, I’ll address a few common examples in both dogs and cats. Then we’ll discuss the measures that we can take to alleviate pain and discomfort.

                There are several common orthopedic disorders that can affect canines, some more common in larger breeds and others affecting the smaller breeds. Some of you may be familiar with a disease known as Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD). It is characterized by an abnormal formation of the hip joint- the ball does not fit perfectly into the socket. We’ll sometimes note pain and lameness when dogs are young and growing, but resolves with time. Eventually with age, secondary arthritis forms due to the fact that the joint has been imperfect during the course of development. This disease is much more common in large breed dogs. Smaller breeds tend to be more affected by a disease called Medial Patellar Luxation (MPL), where there is laxity of the knee cap and abnormal shifting out of place. Secondary arthritis forms with long term abnormal motion of the knee cap.

                 For our feline friends, arthritis tends to form more commonly in the lower spine and hips, also elbows and knees can be greatly affected. This tends to occur with age in cats, and is made worse by an overweight body condition in some. Signs of arthritis tend to be more subtle in cats than in dogs, and tends to be a more slowly progressive disease. Although less common in cats, arthritic changes in cats can lead to drastic changes in your cat’s life. Anywhere from overall decreased energy level to inappropriate urination and defecation outside of the litter box. Most cats also rely on their ability to easily jump and climb, which they may not be able to do well with arthritic pain.

                 So what can we do to change this. As I always say, it’s never too soon to consider starting joint supplements. It’s an easy, daily supplement that can be used to slow the progression of arthritis and keep the joints healthy. Another great tool is diet. Prescription diets for both weight loss (if necessary) and joint health are also available for both dogs and cats. Laser therapy is also used to treat arthritis. The title of this article points to the fact that arthritis is a type of inflammation, and laser therapy aims to decrease inflammation deep in the tissue and joints. Last, but not least, medication is sometimes necessary to help create a comfort level that is optimum for your pet. There are so many options, some that may work better for your pet than others, so this option warrants a discussion with your vet!

                 My hope is that this blog has been very informative to all of the readers, and that you will be on the lookout for signs of arthritic changes in your pets! See you in June for another new blog!

Dr. Molly Jette


Heartworm Disease Awareness

                    As April comes to a close, the topic of discussion for this blog is heartworm disease. Heartworm disease can be contracted by both dogs and cats, so we will talk about the disease process, prevention, and treatment for both species in this article.

                    Both canine and feline heartworm disease are contracted with the bite of a mosquito. The mosquito will inject larvae into the bloodstream, where they mature into adults. Adult worms will then take up residence in the heart and lungs. Inflammation begins to build in these tissues, leading to the signs that tend to arise from heartworm infections. These include coughing, exercise intolerance, and on exam your pet may even develop a heart murmur.

                    The most concerning aspect of heartworm disease is that it can become fatal without much warning. The worms, in addition to causing intense inflammation and possible anaphylactic reactions, can also break into pieces and get stuck in smaller vessels. This has a similar effect to that of a clot forming in a vessel. Much like the disease itself, the treatment of canine heartworm disease can have similar adverse effects on the body.  Definitive treatment of the disease, however, is a more desirable option than allowing the infection to persist if appropriate protocols and safety measures are followed.

                     Although heartworm disease is less prevalent in cats, it can lead to the same issues as heartworm disease in dogs. The difference between feline and canine heartworm disease is that there is no treatment approved for use in cats. The disease has to run its course until the worms die naturally, which can take 3 to 5 years. In that time, the effects on the heart and lungs may become permanent. Monthly prevention is recommend in both indoor and outdoor cats due to the high prevalence of mosquitos in Florida- we just can’t keep them out of the houses!

                   Due to the fact that the disease and the treatment have such negative effects on the body, monthly prevention of the disease is highly recommended. In Florida and other gulf coast states, heartworm disease has a much higher prevalence. It is very important that the prevention is given every month and on time to ensure that your pet has the highest level of protection. This is paired with a yearly heartworm test to ensure that your pet is still negative for the disease! If your pet has not been on prevention for an extended period of time, the test should be repeated in 6 months to ensure he or she is truly negative. Our test only identifies the presence of adult heartworms, which take 6 months to mature!

                  If you have questions about monthly heartworm prevention, please be sure to ask your vet at your next appointment!


-Dr. Molly Jette

Canine and Feline Nutrition

            The month of January is dedicated to proper nutrition for our pets! Just like many of us make New Year’s Resolutions for ourselves, we may be able to make some for our pets as well. Veterinarians use specific diets to help treat a number of different diseases, but the issue that is commonly overlooked or underdiagnosed is the overweight or obese patient. We know that an overweight patient is at a higher risk of developing many other diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.

            Veterinarians have a measured and scientific way of evaluating a patient’s weight, which is called a Body Condition Score. We use several markers during the physical exam to determine if the body condition is below, above, or within the normal condition. If you are at all concerned that your pet may be overweight, your veterinarian can help you determine that with an exam! And don’t forget to ask us to show you the body condition chart!

            The goal of a diet for your pet is to decrease the number of calories they receive in a day without restricting the nutrients that they need. This is typically why your veterinarian will recommend a formulated weight loss diet. There are both over the counter and prescription options that can be discussed at your next appointment.

            Prior to considering a weight loss diet, it is important that we make sure that the food your pet is eating on a daily basis is carefully measured. Make sure you have a measuring cup dedicated to your pet’s food, rather than a scoop or household cup. We should also consider how many calories our pets receive as treats during the day. The number of calories in a small treat can sometimes be shockingly higher than we would ever expect, then consider how many your pet receives over the course of the day. Switching to treats with very low calorie content can help you reach a weight loss goal as well.

            Finally, nutrition is intimately associated with an overall healthy lifestyle. Exercise is just as important for our pets as it is for us! So make sure you get out there with them and enjoy this beautiful weather! And for your kitties, make sure they have some playtime of their own too. You’ll be glad you did.


Thanks for reading!

Dr. Molly Jette

To Insure, or not to Insure

For what I would consider the majority of my clients, their pets are considered family members. I would wager that this is why I am occasionally questioned about purchasing pet insurance. The interesting thing about that question is that I have been asked in several different situations: during a first puppy exam, after telling someone that their pet needs an expensive surgery, and for an older patient that is otherwise healthy.

For those of you that are not familiar with pet insurance, it works in a similar capacity to human health insurance. We all know that the best time to purchase an insurance policy is when we are young and healthy. This makes the underwriting process easier, and there are no issues with attempting to insure a pre-existing condition. None of us ever expect to have something that threatens the health or happiness of our pets to happen, and some pets live very long and healthy lives without ever having major medical problems.

But let’s go back to that patient who needs expensive surgery. In his case, he’s fallen off the couch and has injured his back. The tests that are required to diagnose his injury are expensive alone, however he is now going to need surgery that requires the expertise of a neurologist. Having pet insurance in this situation may help this pet get the care and treatment that he needs when it may have otherwise been financially impossible. This scenario illustrates a large sum of money that is required for an injury, however insurance can often cover chronic problems too. My last blog post, for instance, was about allergies. Some of you know all too well that this can be a frustrating and difficult condition to treat, in addition to being expensive.

If you’re thinking pet insurance is starting to sound like a good idea, there are some things you should know about it first. There are a lot of companies out there offering pet insurance, so it’s important to understand what each has to offer. Some companies offer plans that are for emergencies only, while others offer coverage for wellness costs. It’s important to pick the right one for you. The other very important detail to mention is that there are often “breed specific” exclusions. So what does that mean? Certain conditions that are common in specific breed types and are often genetically inherited issues may not be covered under your insurance. Check to make sure there are no breed specific exclusions and that coverage for these potential conditions is adequate before purchasing your insurance.

Back to the original question: do you insure, or do you not insure? If this blog got you thinking about what would happen in the event of an emergency situation, and during that thought process you were concerned about how your would be able to afford to pay for treatment in that moment, pet insurance may be a good option for you. We just can’t predict if and when our pets may get sick, or be in an accident. A pet insurance policy may give you some peace of mind, knowing that it will help you do what is necessary when it matters the most.

Thanks for reading and have a very Merry Christmas!

Dr. Molly Jette (Kovacs)

Veterinary Technician Appreciation

             During the month of October, I would like to take the time to acknowledge our veterinary technicians, as well as the other support staff of the hospital. Vet tech appreciation week officially begins on October 15th, but really one week is not enough time to consider all of the things our vet techs, receptionists, office members, and kennel technicians do for this profession. In fact, it is really important for us to make sure we are appreciating them every day, because our animal care, health, and welfare depends on it!

             The veterinary technician is the first and likely the last one in the exam room when you come to visit Shaffer Animal Hospital. Without their supreme history taking skills and your input as pet parents, it would be difficult to truly understand what goes on at home for our patients who cannot speak to us. Not only do the techs find out what’s been going on at home, but they are responsible for checking the medical history as well to see what needs to be updated, any specific medical conditions that we should all be aware of, etc. These are just a few components of the multi-faceted responsibility of a technician. Our kennel technicians, who you see when you drop off your pets for boarding, are often also involved in these activities as well.

             Several of the responsibilities of the technician are really artforms. Proper restraint is important for the protection and safety of your pet, but also for the people involved in their examination. Venipuncture, x-rays, wound treatments- we rely on our technicians and their skills to accomplish many of these tasks. And all of this in a timely manner! Surgical technicians have the unique responsibility of understanding anesthesia, making sure your pet is doing well before, during and after a procedure. Then there are the wonderful men and women that you see when you come in and go out the door, or who talk to you over the phone. The receptionists are with you from start to finish and help make the magic happen!

              We rely on the staff at Shaffer Animal Hospital to provide a smooth and enjoyable experience for our clients, a low-stress and safe experience for the pets, and an efficient and organized experience for our veterinarians. We consider our staff to be family here at Shaffer Animal Hospital, and we surely do appreciate their dedication immensely. So, remember to thank your technicians when you come in for your next appointment!

Molly Kovacs, DVM
Shaffer Animal Hospital

Allergy Awareness

Hi, there! For those of you that don’t know me already, my name is Dr. Molly Kovacs and I am the newest associate veterinarian and Shaffer Animal Hospital. I am a graduate of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine (go Gators!), but prior to that I was a graduate of the University of Central Florida (GO KNIGHTS!) I have started this blog to create a fun and interesting way of keeping the Shaffer family informed on topics in veterinary medicine. I am hoping that you all enjoy reading my thoughts, I certainly enjoy writing them!

May was allergy awareness month, but in Florida every month calls for allergy awareness! So the question is, what are the different allergens that cause our pets to itch incessantly? The first thing to come to the minds of most people would be the pollens and other environmental allergens in the air that cause us to sneeze and itch as well. However, there are several other stimuli that can cause our pets to itch just as much as those pesky environmental factors.

The three most common types of allergies in dogs and cats are flea allergies, food allergies, and environmental allergies (contact allergies often also fall under this category). Allergies can be tricky for us to put a finger on sometimes, so we typically try to methodically rule out each category one at a time.

Let’s start with flea allergies. This can be a frustrating one to treat and get under control, but can be fairly easily maintained after the initial stimulus. Here in Florida, fleas are inevitably present everywhere. For most pets, the occasional flea may be simply an annoyance, and once the flea is gone, the annoyance is gone. For a pet that is allergic to fleas, just one bite can cause an outbreak of intense inflammation and overall discomfort.

Treatment for flea allergies starts with prevention. Using flea prevention as instructed on the label (usually monthly) is essential to keeping an overall flea-free environment. This also means that every animal in the household should be on regular flea prevention as well. Your veterinarian will likely recommend a prevention switch to a newer, potentially more effective product if fleas are still a persistent problem. In addition to flea prevention, treating the immediate itch and inflammation is also important. Treating your surrounding environment during a flare up of flea allergies is also crucial to preventing that dreaded flea bite. The life cycle of the flea is approximately 3 months long with several life stages that occur in this time frame. Our dogs and cats are essentially “little salt shakers”, scattering flea eggs as they wander about our houses. Treating the environment for a full 3 months is recommended. Be persistent and the results will be positive!

Food allergies are up next. A new allergy to food can develop at any time over the course of your pet’s life, although middle age tends to be the most common. Thats right, even if your pet has been on the same food its entire life, they can develop an allergy to it! The component of the food that is most commonly related to an allergy is the protein, but grains can also be the culprit as well. Recurrent ear infections are common in pets with food allergies, as well as issues and infections of the anal glands. Some will even have issues with intermittent diarrhea or soft stool. A food trial is usually indicated to determine if itching is related to food allergy. Food trials are very strict, and your veterinarian will almost always recommend using a prescription diet. The trial should last for 6 to 8 weeks before you can say a food allergy is present or not.

Last, but not least, we have environmental allergies. When all other allergens that could potentially cause itch have been excluded, we usually default to environmental allergies. Testing for environmental allergies is similar in dogs and cats to the procedure performed for humans. A patch of hair is shaved and a grid is formed, the allergens are inoculated into the layer of the skin called the dermis and the reaction is recorded. A vaccine can be made based on your pet’s specific allergens in an attempt to make the body less reactive to those agents. This process is usually done by a Veterinary Dermatologist. Additional anti-itch treatments for environmental allergies are available, and sometimes several of these options are used in tandem to control allergic itch. 

It is possible for several types of allergies to exist in the same animal. If you have concerns about your pet’s itch, then we can help! It can sometimes be a long and frustrating process to identify and treat allergies, but we are discovering new information and tools to use to treat them. As always, you know where to contact us if you have any questions! Thanks for reading!

Dr. Molly Kovacs

Shaffer Animal Hospital