Thomas Dock, CVJ, Vet. Technician  
Male, 53
Indianapolis, IN

Interests: animals, Reading (sci-fi and fantasy)
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Autumn, Halloween and Fall Pet Dangers

Oct 05, 2009 - 8 comments

This past week in Indiana has been one of crisp temperatures and definite fall like weather.  The full moon last night reminded me that we need to spend some time keeping your pet safe during the upcoming Halloween holiday.

Lots of people (me included!) love the spirit and fun of Halloween.  We decorate our homes with spooky ornament and creepy pictures.   And, most of the fun is finding that perfect Halloween costume!  We even try to get our pets involved in the fun and that’s what I want to discuss today.

You have all seen pictures of the dachshunds dressed up in hot dog bun costumes, or the pug with eight spider legs or even the Great Dane dressed up like a bumblebee.  These dogs seem to get excited about the holiday just like their owners.  Unfortunately, not all of our pets like being dressed up.   IF you are lucky and your pet tolerates a costume, be sure that it doesn’t use rubber bands or other constrictive devices that might cut off breathing or circulation.   Also, don’t use costumes with toxic dyes or paints and make sure that its inedible as well.

If your pet struggles or seems uncomfortable in any way, just let him dress up in his “birthday suit” for the day!

When you are trying on your costume, remember that this is probably something new that your pet has never seen before.   Our pets can be confused by big hats, masks, and other costume accessories.   Territorial instincts are even triggered in some pets and that can cause a pet to act fearful or even aggressive.

Even when our pets are normally super social with people, costumes can baffle them.  And, since you are responsible for your pet’s behavior, you want to be doubly sure that normally kid friendly Spot doesn’t go out and bite the little ghouls and ghosts flitting around the neighborhood.

With constant knocking or doorbells, this holiday is a bit too much excitement for some pets.  Halloween is a big day for pets to escape and run off.  Even fenced in yards are not ideal for this scary night.   Consider letting your pet stay inside in a special quiet place, with his own treats.   He will be safe and secure from the goblins there!

Even those decorations we spend so much time on can be a problem for pets.   The fake spider webs and string like material are very tempting for our feline friends.  When cats ingest things like these, there is a good chance that it will cause an obstruction and a trip to the Animal ER!

Likewise, candles in pumpkins can be easily knocked over, potentially burning a pet or even starting a fire.  Be sure to extinguish all candles if you leave for your Halloween party.

Finally, as everyone is already aware, many of the “treats” we pick out for this holiday are dangerous to our pets.   Chocolate is a definite problem, although the milk chocolate in most candy bars is less of a problem than semi-sweet or baker’s chocolate.  In any case, if you pet ingests some of the candy, call your veterinarian with the amount your pet ate along with the weight of your pet.   Some veterinarians might have you make your dog vomit, others will have you go to the ER.  In some cases, just watching  your pet is ok, but you definitely want to check with your veterinarian before making that assumption.

Candies with sticks or foil wrappers also have the potential to cause a digestive tract obstruction.  And, don’t forget to keep candies sweetened with Xylitol out of the reach of dogs.   This sweetener can cause extremely low blood sugar levels and possibly cause liver damage in our dogs.

All in all, this is a great holiday to have fun and let your “inner child” come out.   Just remember that you as the adult still needs to be mindful of the needs of your “four legged children”.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Disaster Preparedness for Pets

Sep 08, 2009 - 5 comments

Seeing the California wildfires in the news over these past two weeks has really got me thinking about things that I can do to help.  In any disaster, man-made or natural, people and their pets are affected in a number of ways.

Thankfully, the severe storm season of 2005, when Hurricanes Rita and Katrina came ashore, taught us some needed lessons about handling animals during disasters.   A direct result of those storms was a piece of legislation known as the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, or PETS Act.   This bill, which was signed into law in October of 2006, directs states to have contingency plans in place to handle both people AND their pets in the event of a disaster.  Failure to do so could mean a loss of federal monies.

Also, the plight of our pets during catastrophes was highlighted.   Merial, a prominent veterinary pharmaceutical company, began a program to put a spotlight on pets’ needs.   This program is called Paws To Save Pets and their purpose is three-fold.  First, they provide funding for disaster preparedness training.   Next, in the event of a disaster, they are prepared to provide needed monies for medications and shelters.   Finally, this program helps animal shelters and veterinarians rebuild and restock after disaster strikes.   They partner with the American Veterinary Medical Foundation and the PetFinder.com Foundation to raise the money needed.  In just four years, they have raised more than $3 million!!

But, it’s really up to you, the individual pet owner, to be prepared for any kind of emergency.   You can start by having a “pet disaster and evacuation kit” ready in your home.  Things to include in this kit might be:

1-2 weeks supply of food for all pets
Supply of clean drinking water
1-2 weeks supply of any needed medications
Vaccination records
Pictures of your pet
Leashes (also a muzzle)
List of contact numbers (veterinarians, friends, local shelters)
Trash bags
Letter authorizing treatment of your pets in your absence.

In the event of a mandatory evacuation, don’t leave your pets behind.  You may think that you will only be gone for 1-2 days and your pets will be fine, but a short evacuation could turn into a weeklong affair.  It’s always best to take your friends with you!

All of this talk about the upcoming hurricane season along with the impending wildfire season out West has piqued my “volunteer spirit”.  During Katrina, I was anxious to head south and go help with the animal rescues, but, working in a veterinary hospital 50 hours per week made that difficult.   Now that I work from home, I am excited to see if I can join a Disaster Response team, like American Humane’s Red Star Animal Emergency Services or even one of the AVMA’s Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMATs).

So, I am proud to announce that I have started with online courses offered by FEMA on how to understand our national emergency plans and Incident Command Systems.  As I complete those courses, I am looking forward to disaster training with the American Humane Association.  

I certainly hope that we, as humans, can learn to avoid many of the disasters that we create (oil spills, explosions, fires), but in the event that someone makes a mistake, I want to be ready to be on the front lines!  

Labor Day safety for pets

Sep 05, 2009 - 0 comments

labor day pet safety

For those of us in the US, many have a long weekend this weekend as the Labor Day holiday is now here.   I know it sounds silly, but this is a weekend when animal emergency rooms often get busier!

I thought it might be a good idea to just toss out some ideas for keeping your pets safe during the celebrations.

If you are planning a big get-together or barbecue to celebrate with family and friends, make sure that you can account for your pets.   It is not unusual for your guests to be unaware of the need for securing doors and gates.  Many pets, dogs and cats, wander away from home, investigating news sights, sounds and smells.   Sadly, they also encounter bigger or meaner dogs and cats or a speeding car.   Some pet owners go as far as to assign someone to be the “pet monitor” for the event.

Although not common, fireworks will be heard this weekend as well.  Remember that our pets are often not used to these noises and can get scared very easily.   If fireworks are part of your celebration, put the animals inside in a quiet room and turn on the TV or radio for them.  If your neighbors are using fireworks, bring your pets inside.  Many animals become frantic with the loud bangs and will injure themselves in an attempt to escape from the yard.  Make sure your pets have permanent identification in case they do get out.

Watch for well-meaning party guests who can’t resist “puppy dog eyes”.   There are many foods that should not be given to your pet.   These include things like onions, grapes, raisins, chocolates, highly salted foods, and high fat foods.   Keep an eye on the trash can as well.  We all know how sneaky some of our pets can be when it comes to stealing food!  If you are serving desserts sweetened with Xylitol, make sure your dogs don’t decide to have a bite.   Xylitol can cause sudden decreases in blood glucose and/or liver damage in dogs.

Luckily, most of the country is experiencing a mild weekend, but it is still possible for your dog to get overheated if he or she is outdoors and roughhousing with the kids all day.  Keep plenty of fresh water available and give them a place to escape the sun and heat.

Sun damage is a possibility, especially with light colored dogs.   DON’T apply a sunscreen or insect repellent unless it is labeled specifically for use on animals.

If you are traveling this weekend with your pets, don’t leave them in the car alone.  Even with mild temperatures, the interior of the car can heat up very quickly in direct sunlight.  Leaving your pet alone in a car on a hot day is now illegal in several cities and states and can lead to criminal charges.

This should be a fun holiday for everyone to relax and enjoy the company of family and friends.  Don’t let a lapse in judgment or inattention send you to the animal ER this weekend.

Emotional Damages For the Loss of a Pet?

Aug 18, 2009 - 18 comments

emotional distress





In keeping with controversial topics this week, I found a story out of Virginia about a man who is suing his former domestic partner for emotional distress after the death of his Chihuahua.

In a nutshell…here’s the story:  Jeffrey Nanni and Maurice Smith were former domestic partners.   Two years ago, Smith allegedly beat their 12 lb Chihuahua with a wooden board.  Smith was found guilty of assault and battery as well as cruelty to animals in connection with this event.  An autopsy of the dog found that he died of blunt force trauma to the head.

Nanni, who is a paralegal, maintains that he continues to suffer emotional distress and should be compensated for that.   He is asking for no less than $15,000, which is the minimum amount that will ensure the case will be heard in this particular court (Arlington Circuit Court).

So…it certainly is a sad case and one that should have never happened (Nanni evidently picked up the dog as he and Smith here fighting and Smith attempted to hit him with the board).  Smith served 10 days in jail and was on probation for a year.

But, my bigger concern is the precedent that this case could set.   Currently, in almost every state, emotional damages are not allowed to be collected by pet owners.  Most states simply allow the owner to collect the “fair market value” of the pet.  A recent case in New Jersey though did set another precedent stating that a pet’s “special subjective value” needs to be considered in custody cases.  This has now opened up the doors that will move pets from “property” or chattel to another classification that we don’t even have yet (sentient property?).

Another case in California sided against an attorney who was suing a veterinarian for wrongful death of her Maltese.  The court stated that pets were considered property and you can’t get damages for emotional distress or loss of companionship with property.  Furthermore, parents can’t sue doctors accused of medical malpractice after the death of their child and expect damages for emotional distress either.  In case after case across the United States, the courts normally find that there is no basis for damages based on emotional distress because (again) “pets are property”.

There are a few states that have broken away (Idaho, Kentucky, Florida, Alaska, New York, New Jersey and Hawaii) from this traditional view of pets as property, but they are still reluctant to award substantial damages based on emotional distress.   Instead, the “intrinsic value” of the pet is calculated.

There is no doubt that pets are special to almost every one of us and we cherish their special value…but how do you adequately put a price tag on that in the event of the pet’s death?  Should purebreds be worth more?   Should dog owners get more money than cat owners?  Should it depend on how much money you spent at the veterinary office in wellness care, etc?

The scary thing about this case is that a jury who awards Nanni a substantial amount of money will open the floodgates to a landslide of wrongful death lawsuits.  Veterinarians will be forced to carry larger amounts of malpractice insurance simply because the insurance carriers won’t want to take these cases to court…they will settle out of court in order to “make things go away”.  If veterinarians have to pay more for insurance, you can be very certain that those costs will be passed on in the forms of higher medical invoices.

And, as many here at MedHelp know, there are people who have a hard time paying for veterinary expenses, despite the fact that it is a true bargain when compared to human medicine.  But rest assured, a case like this that sets a precedent will cause veterinary costs to increase.

So, what is the answer?  Do we have a new classification for pets beyond property but short of human life?   Should you be able to get emotional damages after the loss of your pet?