The National Wildlife Centre (NWC) is a registered Canadian charity whose sole purpose is caring for native wildlife using unique support model that is not available anywhere else in Canada. Working with registered wildlife rehabilitators in Ontario and Nova Scotia, NWC have become the primary providers veterinary care for sick and injured wildlife.
NWC doctors are on call every day and have treated more than 3,000 animals since the charity was founded three years ago. They treat all native wildlife — from moose to mice, bears to beavers, eagles to egrets.
Operating from a mobile hospital and a soon-to-be-completed field hospital, NWC volunteers have their sites on a piece of land in Caledon, Ontario, where they plan to build a more permanent facility. The new wildlife facility will include a surgery, an intensive care unit, a lab and wards for post-operative patient care. It will be the first of its kind, establishing not only an animal care facility, but also a wildlife education program for everyone from doctors to school children.
The founder of NWC, Dr. Sherri Cox, is a wildlife veterinarian and adjunct professor at the University of Guelph. Over the past several years, she’s been a guest speaker for related interest groups such as animal welfare organizations and animal rehabilitators, including the National Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Association conference. It is expected that NWC will train more than 200 students across multiple disciplines, including senior wildlife biology and conservation, veterinary medicine and technology. It will also assist more than a dozen wildlife rehabilitation centres across the country, and in 2018 will easily double Canada’s capacity for treating native wild animals.
The NWC is completely volunteer run — all medicine, travel and operational costs are funded by donations and grants. Support for the program is growing rapidly. British Columbia-based Oiled Wildlife Trust, the SPCA (wildlife section) in Quebec, as well as multiple wildlife rehabilitators in Ontario and Nova Scotia have come forward in the past several months expressing their enthusiasm and support for this initiative.
They are also supported by corporate donations from The Home Depot, Toronto Dominion Friends of the Environment and Lush Cosmetics, as well as private monthly donors. Donations go directly to helping wildlife, and donors can follow the impact of their support through the stories NWC shares on social media.
For more information on the work of the NWC and to make a donation, visit www.NationalWildlifeCentre.ca.
Simply asking a patient if he or she owns a pet can help physicians improve patient care, says Dr. Alan Monavvari, Vice President Medical Operations at Markham Stouffville Hospital. “People like to talk about their pets,” explains Dr. Monavvari. “It strengthens the physician-patient therapeutic alliance and generates a wealth of clinical and psychological data on the patient’s health environment.”
Pets build social capital, are agents of harm reduction, motivate healthy behaviours and are constructive in treatment plans. Many physicians have prescribed pets instead of anti-depressive medication, with great success
In hospitals and hospices, therapy animals are used to relieve stress. And in nursing homes, patients with advanced dementia who won’t eat will begin eating if a tank of swimming fish is placed in front of them. Horses and dolphins are also invaluable therapeutic animals for autistic children.
In 2015, Dr. Monavvari launched a pilot study with veterinarian Dr. Kate Hodgson. The goal was to educate healthcare professionals on the value of incorporating questions about pets into their examinations. In the first stage of the study, 225 healthcare professionals were surveyed to discover if they routinely asked patients about their pets. Participants in the study then agreed to query patients about the number and species of pets in the home and requested that the patient share their veterinarian’s contact information.
The study changed physicians’ practices in many ways and supplied them with comprehensive information for medical assessment and treatment: 70% reported that patients told them more about themselves, 83% learned more about a patient’s physical activity and 48% developed a better rapport.
The second stage of the study generated materials from the study’s findings for patients to offer their physicians. “The patient’s response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic,” says Dr. Monavvari, who sees no downside for physicians. “Five minutes going through a brochure could change the behaviour of a doctor and improve the outcome for a patient,” he says. “Thirty seconds of questions to a patient is a no brainer to adopt.”
Dr. Monavvari is seeking funding for the third phase of the study, a populationbased study focusing on overall well-being and health measured through quality of life scores and chronic disease management.
The mental and physical stress on individuals caring for elderly loved ones with chronic and terminal disease is well-documented and known as caregiver burden. It is linked to depression, anxiety and poor quality of life. There are ways to prevent and treat it. But what about caregivers of pets with chronic and terminal diseases? Do they carry the same level of stress and burden?
Until recently, very little scientific research has been published on what these caregivers go through and how they handle the stress.
go through and how they handle the stress. It took Mary Beth Spitznagel, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist and associate professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences in Kent State University’s College of Arts and Sciences, experiencing it firsthand with her own adopted dog, Allo, to realize she in fact was suffering from caregiver burden. She was subsidizing Allo’s quality of life with her own. It inspired her to study the topic further and publish the results of a collaborative study in the journal Veterinary Record.
The article, “Caregiver Burden in Owners of a Sick Companion Animal: A Cross-Sectional Observational Study,” was co-authored with veterinarians at Stow Kent Animal Hospital (Dr. Mark Carlson and Dr. Melanie Cox) and Metropolitan Animal Hospital (Dr. Dana Jacobson). Carlson is Spitznagel’s trusted veterinarian who has treated her dogs for years, including Allo, who passed away a year ago after a difficult bout with both Cushing’s disease and transitional cell carcinoma in the bladder.
Spitznagel said that this is the first study that has ever examined pet caregiver burden and the pet owner’s psychological experience in the context of sick pet caregiving. She created an online questionnaire using previously validated measures from human caregiver burden research and put it out on social media with general posts and specific online pet disease support group posts. She got an overwhelming response from 600 pet owners
“It turns out that the effects of caregiving for a sick pet — burden, stress, anxiety, depression, low quality of life — are in many ways similar to what we see in a person caring for a sick family member, for example, a parent with dementia,” Spitznagel said. “In the case of this study, burden is at a high-enough level that for some people, it could be causing symptoms of anxiety and, more likely, depression.”
Spitznagel created a science blog, www.petcaregiverburden.com, on this topic and is doing additional studies with a veterinary clinic clientele and pet disease support groups. She also has four additional papers in the pipeline.
“Something striking in this study participant group of pet caregivers is that a good number of people feel stressed out but don’t stop to think about why,” Spitznagel said.
Caregiver burden was not a new topic for Spitznagel. During her training as a clinical psychologist, she worked on a federally funded project examining family members providing care for people with dementia. In recent years, she has held clinical privileges at Summa Health System in Akron, where she provides patient care, working with dementia patients and their families, one day per week.
“It can be overwhelming for some — the burden of almost constant attention, sleepless nights and weekly trips to the doctor,” Spitznagel said. “Difficulty managing that stress contributes to anxiety or depression for many. Over the years, I’ve worked with dementia caregivers who seek counselling for these issues, and I’ve heard similar comments from some of our pet caregivers.”
During her journey of caring for Allo, Spitznagel joined a social media support group for pet owners going through similar experiences. While it helped to share and cope with the stress, it also made her realize the bigger picture.
“There is a ton of research and support for those who care for humans, but virtually none for pet caregivers, even though 85% of pet caregivers consider their pets members of their families,” Spitznagel said. “I could see, as a group, we were coping. But, we were all hanging by a thread.”
“The strain on individuals caring for human patients is well-documented and taxes the caregiver both mentally and physically,” Carlson said. “Since our pets have become family, the hypothesis is that those same struggles plague pet owners also. Compounding this is the fact our pets can’t tell us what’s wrong, which adds to the stress. The more difficulty the owner experiences, the harder it becomes to care for the pet and a vicious cycle ensues.”
Spitznagel said more work is needed to determine how to best help burdened pet caregivers, but the first step is to help people recognize that taking care of their pet is likely to take a personal toll on their own lives.
“They need to know that it is okay to feel stressed out by the situation,” she said. “Acknowledging the stress doesn’t mean they love their pet any less.
“I would also recommend that the pet caregiver takes stock of how much help they are getting from others in the household — are there other people who could pitch in and provide some respite for the primary pet caregiver?” Spitznagel continued. “But if someone is experiencing significant symptoms of depression or anxiety, enough that it interferes with daily functioning, it may be a good idea to consult with a mental health professional.”
Scientists at the University of York have shown that using “dog-speak” to communicate with dogs is important in relationship-building between pet and owner, similar to the way that “baby-talk” is to bonding between a baby and an adult
Speech interaction experiments between adult dogs and humans showed that this particular type of speech improves dog attention and may help humans to socially bond with their pets.
Previous studies on communicating with dogs had suggested that talking in a highpitch voice with exaggerated emotion, just as adults do with babies, improved engagement with puppies but made little difference with adult dogs.
Researchers at York tested this theory with new experiments designed to understand more about why humans talk to dogs like this and if it is useful to the dogs in some way or whether humans do this simply because they like to treat dogs in the same way as babies.
Dr. Katie Slocombe from the University of York’s Department of Psychology, said: “A special speech register, known as infant-directed speech, is thought to aid language acquisition and improve the way a human baby bonds with an adult. This form of speech is known to share some similarities with the way in which humans talk to their pet dogs, known as dogdirected speech.
“This high-pitched rhythmic speech is common in human interactions with dogs in western cultures, but there isn’t a great deal known about whether it benefits a dog in the same way that it does a baby.
“We wanted to look at this question and see whether social bonding between animals and humans was influenced by the type and content of the communication.”
Unlike previous experiments, the research team positioned real humans in the same room as the dog, rather than broadcasting speech over a loud speaker without a human present. This made the set-up more naturalistic for the dogs and helped the team test whether dogs not only paid more attention to dog speak but were motivated to spend more time with the person who had spoken to them in that way
Researchers did a series of speech tests with adult dogs, where they were given the chance to listen to one person using dog-directed speech containing phrases such as “you’re a good dog,” and “shall we go for a walk?,” and then another person using adult-directed speech with no dog-related content, such as “I went to the cinema last night.”
Attention during the speech was measured, and following the speech, the dogs were allowed to choose which speaker they wanted to physically interact with.
The speakers then mixed dog-directed speech with non-dog-related words and adultdirected speech with dog-related words, to allow the researchers to understand whether it was the high-pitched emotional tone of the speech that dogs were attracted to or the words themselves.
Alex Benjamin, PhD student from the University’s Department of Psychology, said: “We found that adult dogs were more likely to want to interact and spend time with the speaker that used dog-directed speech with dog-related content, than they did those that used adult-directed speech with no dogrelated content
“When we mixed-up the two types of speech and content, the dogs showed no preference for one speaker over the other. This suggests that adult dogs need to hear dog-relevant words spoken in a high-pitched emotional voice in order to find it relevant.
“We hope this research will be useful for pet owners interacting with their dogs, and also for veterinary professionals and rescue workers.” The research paper, “‘Who’s a good boy?!’ Dogs prefer naturalistic dog-directed speech” is published in the journal Animal Cognition. – University of Yorkv
Nutrition is one of the most important, and often confusing, parts of pet ownership. There are currently a large variety of commercial diets available for both dogs and cats. Statistically, pet owners spend more on food than on veterinary care and other services combined. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, Americans spent $21.6 billion on pet food in 2013. Despite the often overwhelming variety of pet diets, they tend to fall into five main categories.
VETERINARY PRESCRIPTION DIETS
Veterinary prescription diets are processed diets that are scientifically developed to address specific medical conditions. These diets are developed by veterinary nutritionists and undergo rigorous medical and nutritional studies. Prescription diets are only available through your veterinary office. These diets address a variety of medical concerns including diabetes, kidney disease, allergic skin disease, gastrointestinal disorders and even epilepsy. Your veterinary team can help guide you to find the best diet to address your pet’s individual medical concerns.
COMMERCIAL PROCESSED DIETS
Commercial processed diets are the traditional kibble and canned food that can be found in pet stores, online retailers and even your local grocer’s. This category boasts the largest variety of diets on the market. To ensure you are selecting a nutritious and wellbalanced diet, look for the AAFCO seal. AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials and is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of dog and cat foods. The organization defines and establishes regulations for pet food ingredients and sets standards for nutritional adequacy. This ensures that the pet food manufacturer is providing a nutritionally complete and balanced diet.
Some pet owners prefer to make their own food for their pets to ensure the quality of ingredients. Homecooked diets can be a great resource, especially for picky eaters. However, it is very important to ensure that homecooked diets provide all the nutrients needed to maintain health. There are a variety of vitamin supplements, specific recipes and even pet nutritional consults available to ensure that a diet is well balanced. Your veterinarian can help you with these resources to ensure your homecooked diet is appropriate and nutritious
Grain-free diets are a fairly new diet option available for dogs and cats. These diets claim to contain no grains (corn and oats are most common grains used in pet foods), and often contain potatoes and tapioca, which have a lower nutritive value than grains. There have been no scientific studies indicating that grain-free diets are superior or healthier for dogs and cats. In addition, grains are not a common cause of food allergies, and there is no increased risk of developing diabetes in cats or dogs being fed a diet containing grains.
Raw, BARF (which stands for Bones And Raw Food, and more recently Biologically Approved Raw Food), frozen and freezedried diets are composed of raw ingredients. These commercial diets are often marketed as complete; however, many raw diets do not contain a balanced and complete nutritional composition. This can be problematic, especially when fed to growing puppies and kittens. Studies have also found high levels of bacterial contamination in raw foods. One found that 80% of raw food diets tested positive for Salmonella, which is a strain of bacteria that can cause serious gastrointestinal disease. In addition, 30% of stool sample from dogs that are fed these diets were positive for Salmonella. Contaminated stools can pose a significant health risk for children, immunocompromised people and elderly family members.
When selecting a diet for your pet, it is very important to work with your veterinarian. They have advanced training in nutrition and preventive care and can help select the best diet based on age, breed and underlying medical concerns.
Andrea Smith BSc, DVM, CCRP (candidate) is associate veterinarian at Don Mills Veterinary Practice in Toronto, ON. firstname.lastname@example.org
Research has long told us that smoking is harmful to humans, and not only those who smoke. Both second- and third-hand smoke can be bothersome at best and disease-causing at worst. This is no different for pets who are exposed to household environmental tobacco smoke.
WHY IS TOBACCO SMOKE HARMFUL?
According the Government of Canada “Tobacco contains more than 4,000 chemicals and more than 70 of these chemicals are known to cause, initiate and promote cancer.” Smoking not only causes cancer, but also increases the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in both humans and animals.
WHAT IS SECOND-HAND SMOKE?
Second-hand smoke is the smoke that is either exhaled by tobacco smokers or created from burning tobacco. When exhaled, smoke contains particles of chemicals that are heavier than air and will naturally fall instead of rise in the environment. This means these chemicals are falling into the space your pets occupy, causing them to breath in this toxic mixture.
WHAT IS THIRD-HAND SMOKE?
Third-hand smoke is the nicotine and other chemical residues that can be left behind on such things as carpets, curtains, furniture and pet bedding inside a home where smoking occurs. Pets are self groomers and lick their fur to keep themselves clean. It is easy for these residues to stick to pet fur, creating an opportunity for toxins to be ingested.
WHAT DISEASES CAN SECOND-HAND AND THIRD-HAND SMOKE CAUSE IN PETS?
Studies have shown that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke can cause the following increased risks in pets:
- Oral cancer;
- Nasal, sinus and lung cancers;
- Allergy- or asthma-related; breathing problems;
- Allergic skin conditions;
- Eye problems; and
- Heart problems.
It is important to remember that it is not just dogs and cats being affected by the negative effects of tobacco smoke. According to the FDA, pet birds, guinea pigs and even fish are also very sensitive to these toxins.
TOBACCO TOXICITY FROM ACCIDENTAL INGESTION
Having ashtrays and packages of cigarettes accessible to pets can pose the risk of ingestion to a curious pet. According to ASPCA Poison Control, tobacco toxicity can result in hyperexcitability then depression, vomiting, incoordination, paralysis and possibly death. If you suspect your pet has ingested nicotine, you should contact your veterinarian immediately
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO MINIMIZE YOUR PET’S EXPOSURE TO TOBACCO SMOKE?
The best thing you can do for both you and your pet’s health is to quit smoking. Other alternatives include:
- Limiting smoking to outdoors only;
- When smoking indoors, keep the area well ventilated;
- Try limiting smoking indoors to a room that you can keep your pet out of; and
- Wash your pet’s bedding and toys frequently to eliminate chemical residues that results from smoking.
For more information on how you can quit smoking, visit www.breakitoff.ca.
Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health she is currently the Provincial Manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at email@example.com