At the suggestion of my esteemed editors, I took topics from readers for this month’s column:

     Fever: How do I know if my dog or cat has one?  The tale about a warm, dry-nosed dog having a fever is a myth. Dogs with warm, dry noses may not have a fever and cold, wet-nosed dogs can have one, and vice versa. It really comes down to knowing your pet.  That may require taking your pet’s temperature rectally, and then correlating that to how hot your dog or cat’s ears are, how warm the head is, as well as how warm the inside thigh/trunk junction is. Now, if you endeavor to take your cat’s rectal temperature, you may want to alert the ambulance service first, just in case you can’t make it to the phone after your attempt. Dogs are definitely easier. A little Vaseline on the operational end of the thermometer is all you need.  Normal temps are 100.5 to 101.5 degrees in most cases, with puppies and kittens being slightly higher.

    What pets can and cannot eat: The list of ‘cannots’ is endless. For the sake of simplicity, try not to let your pets eat anything other than their standard diets. Everyone wants to know which bones are best for dogs: Essentially, none. Chicken, pork, and beef rib or steak bones are all too brittle to be safe. Every breeder, trainer, and neighborhood pet expert will have their own opinion on what is safe, but for my money, I wouldn’t risk thousands of dollars’ worth of surgery with a potentially poor prognosis just so your pet can finish off the BBQ.

     Limping pets: Someone asked about limping animals, and there are no pat answers.  If you are an owner who has to find out what is wrong immediately, the vet visit is in order. Not to encourage complacency, but in most cases of acute lameness, it would probably be okay to rest and watch your pet to see if it resolves on its own. Just like the weekend warrior in all of us, we may gimp around after a rousting round of hoops, just to recover a few days later. Cats seem more likely to need a vet visit when lame because they so rarely limp. With dogs that are acting, eating, and drinking normally that pull up lame, 48 hours without improvement would warrant an orthopedic exam. If there is significant improvement in that time frame, maybe another day of observation and rest could work. After three days, there is probably a real problem. Do not give aspirin, Tylenol, or Ibuprofen to pets that are lame. It can be mortally toxic to cats, and therapeutic dosages vary with the size of dogs. Rest is the best medicine. If a lameness develops slowly and progressively gets worse, that pet needs to be examined. 

    Diarrhea: Diarrhea can be observed and remedied at home with cautious optimism. A pet will get a bout of diarrhea most likely due to something it ate. As with limping, if your pet seems otherwise ‘normal,’ then fast them from solid foods for one day and see if that firms things up. If they are not vomiting and just have diarrhea, give them all the water they want, just no solids. If they have the double whammy, fast them from everything by mouth for a day, and monitor to see if things go back to normal. If not, it is time to make an appointment. If there is blood in the stool or vomit, that is never good and shouldn’t be ignored. It may turn out to be fine, but let the vet guide you in that situation. Sometimes, after a fast of 24 hours, you can feed dogs a binding mixture of rice and boiled hamburger, or skinless chicken breast cooked in boiling water.

    Blood: Blood belongs in its own plumbing system and nowhere else. Blood can show up in urine, vomit, stool, in the eyeballs, under the skin, in body cavities, or as the result of injury, fracture, or laceration.  A reader asked about lacerations specifically, so we’ll include under the general bleeding topic.  Ears, paws, and mouths bleed like crazy and could drive you into panic mode, even though the problem may be minor. Often, though, your pet’s coat will mask the severity of a laceration. Cat fight wounds are always worse than they look, and puncture wounds, in general, are usually worse than they appear and shouldn’t be taken with a grain of salt. Bloody urine usually is just a simple bladder infection, but it should be analyzed by your vet. Blood in the stool or vomit can be harbingers of very bad things and should be taken seriously. Pooling blood in the eyes can result from a wide array of problems, including tick-borne illness and is a no-brainer for requiring an exam. Bloated abdomens are sometimes the result of fluid build up and if that fluid is blood, something very wrong is happening. Bleeding into the thorax is also of grave concern that you probably wouldn’t know is happening except for labored breathing and turning pale. Bleeding is bad.

    Grooming: I’m not a groomer and I don’t play one on TV, but every pet owner wants to know how to care for their pets’ ears. Clean, debris free, odorless ears need no care.  Cats are their own groomers and hardly need ear care. But, being in St. Louis, our heat, humidity, and insane allergen levels conspire against our dogs’ ears by creating little greenhouses happy to grow yeast and other nasties. If your cat or dog gets what I call ‘Retriever ear,’ you will need to be on ear duty on a seasonal or yearly basis. Retriever ear is that black, waxy junk that plagues dogs with gunk and sometimes odor, but no infection. Cats can get it, too. I don’t advise the use of home remedies for ears. There are a million of them out there but most result in an ear that smells like a locker room and quite likely, smelling worse than before. Get an ear cleaner made for pets and follow the directions. 

    Thank you, readers, for providing our potpourri of mini-topics to kick off the summer. I hope that your vet visits are few this season, and that some of the tips discussed here help to delineate the most often-asked question, Should I go to vet or can I sit this one out?

    P.S.  The ticks have arrived.  LN