Monday, April 19, 2010

Heartworms Continue to Plague Pets!

Each year, veterinarians do battle with an ancient enemy of our dogs and cats. Heartworms are easily preventable with affordable and safe medications, but positive cases continue to rise. Is there any hope that we could see an end to this parasite?

By: Krista Gibson, DVM

It’s been more than 150 years since a scientist discovered the heartworm parasite of dogs and more than 80 years since the parasite was found in cats. Still, each year hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats are diagnosed with this dreaded worm and it is estimated that North American cases are actually in the millions. In all this time, why have we not found a way to combat and stop this plague?

Heartworm disease is devastating to the pet’s health. Spread by mosquitoes, this parasite can grow close to two feet long and takes up physical space in the heart’s chambers and pulmonary artery. This means that the dog’s heart must work harder to push the same amount of blood out to the body. Early signs of this disease included fatigue and exercise intolerance, but later signs can include coughing, fluid accumulation in the lungs or abdomen and death.

For cats, the heartworm larvae prefer the lungs and can cause vomiting, asthma like symptoms and even sudden death in some cases.

Not only is the pet harmed, but the owner is affected as well. Heartworm treatments for small dogs can run in excess of $500 and costs for larger breeds might surpass $1200 or even $1500. Sadly, the case might be worse for cats as there is no approved treatment for heartworms in our feline friends.

Amazingly, veterinarians do have an answer to this problem. Safe, effective heartworm medications exist in a variety of easy to use applications. What’s even more incredible is that the cost of a lifetime of preventive for most pets is significantly less than a single treatment for the disease. So, why do pets continue to suffer and die from a preventable problem?

Two radical theories seen on the Internet state that either the heartworm medications are failing or that the parasites are developing a resistance to the drugs. While conspiracy theorists may love these ideas, scientific evidence for both is lacking. Heartworm preventives have a failure rate of less than 1 in 1 million doses. Likewise, the complex life cycle of the heartworm does not lend itself to developing a natural resistance to medications.

Some people look to climate change for answers. Increasing temperatures mean a longer mosquito season and larger potential for transmission to pets. While we are seeing more mosquitoes in previously mosquito-free areas, the likely reasons are changes made by humans. Irrigation of dry areas and increased plantings of trees in certain locales can actually help a mosquito population. More mosquitoes mean more opportunities for transmission of heartworms.

When all the facts are reviewed, the simplest reason for our failure to control this deadly parasite is simply that we don’t give the preventive as we should. Whether it’s forgetfulness or financial concerns, pet owners must realize that they are on the front lines in this battle and their actions could have dire consequences for the pet.

Thankfully, as pet owners, you do have powerful allies in this war. Your veterinarian can help you pick the best heartworm medication for your pet and your lifestyle. Oral formulations, like Heartgard and Sentinel, topical products, like Advantage Multi and even a long lasting injection, ProHeart 6, can help keep you on the winning side.

Beyond your veterinarian, veterinary pharmaceutical companies are also helping. Websites, such as and email alerts are available to help you remember to give the preventive on time.

Don’t waste time looking for “natural” or organic ways to prevent heartworms; they simply don’t exist. Follow recommendations given by your veterinarian and the American Heartworm Society ( It’s the best way to keep your pet and your wallet safe! For more information on heartworms, visit If you have questions about heartworm disease, products or treatment, visit the veterinarians at

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Dr. Krista Gibson is a veterinarian at Animal Medical Services and can be reached at

Friday, February 26, 2010

Pet Dentistry without Sedation - Worthwhile or Is it Just Surface Changes?

In veterinary medicine, dental disease is seen in almost every animal. But, in our busy lives it’s hard to find the time to do regular preventive care. Adding to the problem, dental cleanings under general anesthesia seems risky to many. Recently, anesthesia-free pet dentistry has become a fad. However, is this option good care and safe long term?

By: Krista Gibson, DVM

With more than 85% of pets over age three suffering from some sort of dental disease, veterinarians are constantly reminding clients to provide at home dental care for their pets. In addition, most veterinarians encourage annual dental exams and cleanings for their patients followed by care at home. Still, pet owners are reluctant to follow these recommendations.

Some people are actually leery of anesthetics used for dental procedures. In response to client concerns, some people have developed Anesthesia-Free Pet Dentistry (AFPD) protocols. Marketing brochures show calm dogs sitting on the laps of “pet dental hygienists” who gently scrape tartar off the pet’s teeth. For anyone who has a senior pet or anyone who has lost a pet under anesthetic, this idea might seem to be right on target.

In practice, however, there are several negative unintended consequences. While some dogs can be tolerant and will sit patiently, many have to be physically restrained, leading to stress and deep-seated fears.

Veterinarians use ultrasonic scalers and sharp dental instruments. This is one reason a general anesthetic is needed. Beyond keeping the patient from moving, heavy sedation or general anesthetic allows a more thorough procedure and proper visualization of the entire mouth and hard to see gingival areas.

Dr. Brett Beckman, a fellow in the American Veterinary Dental Society says “most non-professional dental cleanings are done using some sort of hand curette. These tools cause scarring and micro-pitting of the enamel surface and this can actually accelerate plaque retention and tartar build-up!” In other words, this incomplete “cleaning” actually damages the tooth causing plaque and tartar development to occur more rapidly in the future.

Dr. Beckman goes on to say that “these procedures do much more harm than good. Pets that have had this done actually need to return for more frequent cleanings as a result of this enamel damage. This might be good for the business, but it is certainly not good for the pet.”

In a proper veterinary medical setting, dental cleanings are followed by a polishing step that helps remove the microscopic divots from the tooth enamel and creates a smooth healthy surface. Many veterinarians also apply a barrier sealant that helps repel plaque-causing bacteria and has been shown to reduce plaque and tartar accumulation. Once professionally applied, this sealant can be maintained at home for better prevention.

Another serious issue with AFPD cleanings is that only visible portions of the teeth can be cleaned – usually only the outside surfaces. Areas under the gumline and on the insides of teeth will still have significant tartar and harbor the harmful bacteria. In time, the underlying bony structure of the jaw can deteriorate and the pet may lose teeth.

Under safe anesthetic, veterinarians are able to probe all areas of the mouth and use tools to remove plaque and bacteria from under the gum line. This actually stops the disease process. At the same time, dental x-rays can be done to help find potential problem areas. Even though more than 28% of dogs and 42% of cats have hidden dental disease, you won’t find x-ray equipment at the anesthesia free dental facility!

Finally, safety is also an issue with these non-professional cleanings. Even though many pets are patient and tolerant, there is the very real danger that the dog or cat will lash out in frustration or pain and bite someone. Lacerations of the pets gums, hard pallet and even the lips are also possible

If you know your pet needs a proper dental cleaning, but the thought of general anesthesia frightens you, talk with your veterinarian. While no anesthetic protocol is 100% safe, anesthetic complications are extremely rare. Allow your veterinarian to show you the monitoring equipment and explain how a well trained staff makes anesthesia as safe as possible.

You can also reduce the need for dental cleanings by using dental home care products designed to remove plaque buildup in between the veterinary visits. The gold standard is to brush your pet’s teeth daily. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and a special dentifrice product designed for pets. You should never use human toothpaste!

Certain diets, like Hill’s® t/d food or Eukanuba® Dental Defense, or dental chew products, like Greenies® can also reduce the amount of plaque for problem cases. Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal when choosing chew products for your pet.

Even the barrier sealant used at your veterinarian’s office is available in a home version. Oravet® by Merial can be applied on a weekly basis to help reinforce the product used at the time of your pet’s dental cleaning.

Anesthesia free dentistry for pets might sound like a good idea, but the truth is the benefits are strictly cosmetic and there are serious medical and behavioral risks. To learn more about steps you can take to keep your pet’s smile bright, visit the Pet Library at

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Dr. Krista Gibson is a veterinarian at Animal Medical Services and can be reached at

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pets Gone Wild!

From thunderstorm phobia to outright aggression, our pets can suffer from a variety of behavioral maladies. Thankfully, modern science has given us new therapeutic tools, like anti-depressants, that appear to help our pets cope with these issues. But, have we gone too far in pushing these pills on our pets?
By: Krista Gibson, DVM

According to a recent marketing survey, about 17% of all dogs exhibit signs consistent with a condition known as separation anxiety. Video footage of pets left alone can show excessive pacing, extreme vocalization and, in some cases, a rampage of destruction. Doors are chewed, furniture destroyed and other pets go as far as injuring themselves on their cage or other objects. Sadly, some owners won’t or can’t tolerate this sort of behavior and the pet ends up being relinquished to a local shelter and often euthanized.

Beyond separation anxiety, other pets suffer from an obsessive compulsive type of behavior known in veterinary circles as abnormal repetitive behavior. Dogs that endlessly chase their tails, big cats in zoos and even stalled horses who pace tirelessly are all examples of this compulsion. Our pets can also suffer phobias due to thunderstorms and even fireworks.

Veterinarians noticed these pets were behaving similarly to people with mental disorders. Various human ant-depressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were tried to lessen these behavioral issues. In some cases, the medications appear to have a lasting beneficial effect. Now, drugs like Lilly’s Reconcile® are commonplace in a veterinarian’s arsenal of dealing with behavior issues.

In fact, many owners prefer the convenience of a medication to the hard work, time requirements and discipline of behavior modification. It is not uncommon for pet owners to request a pill despite the fact that the right type of positive behavior modification or changes in the pet’s environment might do the trick.

Of course, there are critics who feel that we have focused too much on medicating our pets and not enough on how to enrich our pet’s environment. In a New York Times article, Dr. Ian Dunbar, a noted veterinary behaviorist, is quoted as saying that he has never needed to resort to drugs to resolve a behavior problem. Although he acknowledges that pharmaceuticals can help in some circumstances, his main thrust is that we shouldn’t set up pets in unhealthy lifestyles and then rely on drugs to correct it. Sound advice for humans as well!!

Veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Valarie Tynes of Premier Veterinary Services wonders if “we are not putting dogs in realistic, appropriate situations and are we not teaching them how to behave in unusual situations.”

Likewise, Dr. Melissa Bain, a veterinary behaviorist with UC Davis has commented that our own expectations of how we interact with pets have changed drastically in the last 30 years.

So, what’s the best way to make sure that your family won’t experience a behavioral “meltdown” with a pet?

First, realize that pets are not an item of convenience. Unlike video games or electronic gadgets, our pets can’t be turned on and off at our discretion. They need a stimulating environment and plenty of activity to thrive in our homes. Owning a pet requires a commitment to the animal’s mental well-being in addition to their physical health.

Next, look at your schedules. If both parents work full time jobs and the kids are busy in multiple school activities, who is going to engage with the pets on a regular basis? Pets left alone often are at a higher risk to develop abnormal behaviors.

Investigate and learn about the type of pet you want. For busy, on the go families who aren’t home much, an energetic dog like a Labrador or a Dalmatian might not be a good match. There is definitely a genetic basis to certain behavior issues, and some breeds have a strong need to “work”. Failure to provide the pet with the proper stimulation and socialization can set them up for potential behavioral problems.

Finally, always consult with your veterinarian if any abnormal behavior occurs with your pet. Some behaviors are linked to medical conditions, so a good physical examination could help resolve the issue. Your veterinarian may offer a referral or you can find veterinary behaviorists at Another option would be a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists at

And, although they are not “cure-alls”, there is a place for some medications in dealing with issues relating to our pet’s mental health.

Dr. Tynes reminds us that we shouldn’t fixate on the “Disney Dog stereotype of perfect pets”. For whatever reason, we tolerate less imperfection in our pets, yet we are failing to prepare them for what is a novel and rapidly changing world.” Be sure to bookmark as your sources of up-to-date and accurate pet health information. And get answers to your pet medical or behavior questions at

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shedding Pounds With Our Pets

Losing weight is a challenge for both people and their pets. With obesity levels at an all time high in North America, how can we reverse the trend and start shedding those pounds? The good news is that working out with your pet has definite advantages!

By: Krista Gibson, DVM

They might not understand the aerobics instructions and they can’t use free weights, but it’s possible that our pets may be just as valuable as expensive exercise machines in helping us humans lose weight.

A twelve month study recently completed has shown that exercising with your dog has several positive benefits for both owner and pets. The People and Pets Exercising Together (PPET) study showed people who are trying to lose weight often need a positive support system of friends, co-workers and relatives. Unfortunately, these same people can negatively affect an individual’s exercise plan by sabotage and even negative influences. Exercising with your pet however, brings unique encouragement and fun not seen in other programs.

An owner who desires to lose weight can count on consistent prompting from their canine buddy to exercise. The need for the dog to go outside is a positive influence, encouraging activity. Most owners see their daily walks with the pet as enjoyable and less like exercise. A separate Canadian study showed that dog owners actually averaged 300 minutes per week walking compared to 168 minutes for people without dogs.

Beyond the prompting to exercise, our pets also affect our desire to succeed because of parental pride. Most pet owners consider their dogs and cats to be members of the family and when the pet loses weight as well, you can see the delight in the owner’s eyes.

But, before you rush out to buy a track suit for your four-legged buddy, there are a few considerations to make sure everyone stays healthy and safe.

First, just like you, your pet may not be ready for the Mini-Marathon. Increase the amount of time spent walking gradually. For some very obese dogs, you might begin with simply walking to the end of the block, then gradually working up to longer distances.

It’s also important to realize that your pet will be very excited and not know to take it easy. Every spring, veterinarians see dogs with ruptured cruciate ligaments, painful hips, and other injuries because of over-exertion. Learn your pet’s limits and help him build strength and stamina. Even if your pet is not overweight, strenuous exercise can debilitate any pet not used to the routine

Not all pets are equally suited to the same workout routine. Although all dogs will benefit from daily walks, many breeds won’t make good running partners. Be sure to tailor your exercise plan to your dog’s physical and athletic abilities.

Cats should not be left out of these activities either. Spending 20-30 minutes doing play activities with your kitty can help her lose weight as well. Cat experts recommend using laser pointers to increase activity or even wearing a long “tail” while you do your housework. As you move through your home, the cat can actively “hunt” and pounce on the tail. Other suggestions include allowing the cat to search/hunt for her food by placing multiple bowls around the house in high and low places. Similarly, a Tricky Treat Ball ( can help by stimulating activity and reward your cat with her favorite treats.

Don’t forget the appropriate diet! For overweight pets, a light diet or even a prescription reducing diet from your veterinarian might be appropriate. But, if your canine athlete is already in peak condition, he may actually need a performance diet to help him meet his caloric needs as you increase his exercise regimen.

Be sure to get your pet a good physical exam before starting any weight loss or exercise program. Your veterinarian can help you find the right rate of weight loss for your pet and will have additional ideas on exercise routines and proper diets.

Cultural changes have led to a significant increase in obesity among both humans and pets. Although the study was small, the PPET study effectively showed that our pets can be supportive exercise partners. This teamwork helped both pets and people lose weight and cemented yet another layer into the human-animal bond.

To learn more about how obesity affects our pets, visit You can also learn from licensed practicing veterinarians at

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Dr. Krista Gibson is a veterinarian at Animal Medical Services and can be reached at

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dangers in Our Own Backyard

For many people, the sight of deer in their backyard on a brisk autumn morning is a wonderful start to the day. But, as we continue to encroach into formerly “wild” areas, are we putting ourselves and our pets at risk?

By: Krista Gibson, DVM

Wildlife fascinates us. Whether it’s the sight of a fox along the roadside or a raccoon ambling across a yard, people often stop in amazement, enthralled by these encounters with nature.

However, there is a darker side to this fascination. As we build more homes in formerly rural areas, contact with wild animals increases. Much of this new interaction has unfortunate consequences for the wildlife. This is evident by the number of dead skunks, raccoons, and possums along the roadside.

But, we humans and our pets are also in danger in these wild interactions. Along with deer come blood-thirsty ticks and an array of bacterial diseases. Raccoons and skunks bring the terror of rabies to our backyard and even the humble mouse has the potential for spreading deadly Hantavirus. Is there any way that we can peacefully co-exist alongside wildlife?

Thankfully the answer is yes! Knowing the risks and taking steps to avoid them can help keep the whole family safe.

First, as mentioned above, skunks and raccoons are two important reservoirs of rabies in North America. Prior to 1977, rabies was very rare along the mid-Atlantic states and New England area. But, a human managed relocation of raccoons from Florida to West Virginia in the late 1970s has unleashed a new epidemic of rabies in these areas.

Rabid raccoons often become nice and “approachable” and many people are tempted to take the animal into their yards or homes. Skunks, on the other hand, will become overly aggressive and actively attack humans and pets.

Raccoons also harbor a significant parasite known as the “raccoon roundworm” or Baylisascaris. These large worms are associated with severe or even fatal central nervous system disease in many mammals. The eggs are passed in the feces of the raccoon and then encountered by other animals, including children. The parasite can also mature in our dogs. This means that it is possible our pets are helping to contaminate larger areas with this potentially fatal worm.

They may be small, but many mice and rats can carry a killer virus. First discovered in the Four Corners region of the US, Hantavirus (or Sin Nombre virus) is now found in more than 30 states. Because of a long incubation period (one to five weeks), many people are unaware of a problem until too late. Thirty percent of affected individuals die. This disease is spread through rodent droppings, urine and saliva. It is possible to become infected after cleaning a house or barn where rodents have been in residence. Thankfully, our pets are not affected by this virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (, the white tailed deer population in North America is now approaching levels not seen in more than 200 years. Although beautiful to look at, many wild deer carry some unwanted passengers, like ticks.

Ticks are the primary vector for several serious bacterial diseases like Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and tularemia. As we have built new subdivisions in rural areas or reforested old agricultural lands, these diseases have shown significant increases, both in humans and our dogs.

Finally, a single celled organism known as Giardia is the most common intestinal parasite of people in North America. In fact, people comprise the main reservoir of this disease. But, wild animals, like beavers, muskrats and small rodents also make up an important additional source of infection. This parasite can cause severe diarrhea, anorexia, and weight loss in both people and pets.

Thanks to modern veterinary medicine and good common sense, it is possible to enjoy our wild neighbors and keep everyone safe.

First, avoiding contact with wildlife is the number one rule. Not only will it help prevent disease transmission, but it will also stop traumatic injuries from fights or chases through the woods.

Avoid the temptation to feed the local wildlife (with the exception of birds). Like our dogs and cats, wild animals become accustomed to regular feeding stations. Although well intentioned, this act will cause wild animals to linger in your yard and puts them in danger.

Similarly, don’t adopt orphaned or injured animals unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Keeping these animals increases your risk of contracting one of the diseases or parasites mentioned above.

Watch for wildlife defecation areas, like communal raccoon latrines. Using proper protective equipment, remove and destroy the feces.

Vaccinations and preventive flea and tick medications are vital in keeping our pets safe from these dangers. Your veterinarian can help you determine your pets’ risk factors and then guide you to choosing appropriate vaccines and flea/tick preventives.

Our growing urban sprawl and the adaptability of wild creatures means that we will continue to encounter many animals in and around our homes. To learn more about keeping everyone safe, visit for a video on the dangers wildlife can pose to our families.

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Dr. Krista Gibson is a veterinarian at Animal Medical Services and can be reached at

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Feline Food Controversy Confounds Cat Lovers

As predators go, it’s pretty hard to beat the cat family. Designed to thrive on meat, cats have perfected their bodies, both inside and out, as “obligate carnivores”. Now, a debate about the right type of diet has many pet owners, and veterinarians, perplexed.
By: Krista Gibson, DVM

Even when times are tough, pet owners still find ways to make sure their furry companions have the right food. For many cat owners, that food has always been a high quality dry kibble. Some experts are now saying that these commercial diets are at the center of an epidemic of obesity and diabetes among our feline friends. So, how do you know what’s best to feed?

To try and find an answer, veterinarians and nutritionists are looking at the evolutionary history of our cats. All of our felines, purebred and mixed, are descended from a Middle Eastern wild cat that goes by the simple name of Desert Cat.

As with most desert creatures, our cats’ ancestors evolved to obtain most of their water from the food they ate. In the cat’s case, the majority of their moisture came from hunting lizards, small rodents, birds and insects.

And, unlike their canine cousins, these cats didn’t routinely eat plant material as a significant portion of their diet. Cats evolved to be obligate carnivores, meaning that all their nutritional needs can be met through eating animal tissue. In fact, some early commercial cat foods were deficient in certain amino acids found only in meats and animal fats. This caused heart and vision problems in numerous cats.

Today, almost all cat foods are complete and balanced. So, why the worry?

Some experts are concerned that most of our pet cats are eating dry cat food made with significant amounts of cereal grains. In a recent paper published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), author Dr. Deb Zoran speculates that the use of grains in our cats’ diets as well as the routine use of a dry food has potentially predisposed a large percentage of cats to diabetes, obesity and several other issues, including blockages in the urinary tract.

Dr. Zoran’s argument is that as obligate carnivores, cats are unable to fully utilize carbohydrates as an immediate energy source and the excess carbs found in these cereals end up being stored as fat.

One solution proposed by experts is to use grain free, canned cat foods. Unfortunately, not all cat owners like this option as they feel it is wasteful (the canned food dries out quickly) and more expensive. Using a dry food offers the owner convenience and less of a mess to clean up.

There are even cats who refuse to eat canned diets. Moreover, some veterinarians feel that cats will over-eat canned diets just as easily as dry and the sticky wet foods promote more dental issues than the dry kibble. Finally, because canned diets of the meat and gravy variety are only complete and balanced if the pet eats the whole portion, cats who lick up the gravy and leave the meat are at risk for nutritional deficiencies.

So, is there an easy, or even a right answer to this debate?

First, cat owners should realize that millions of cats have eaten dry commercial diets for many years and done very well. So, there is no immediate need for panic. Although nutrition does play a part in diseases like diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and urinary obstruction, other factors, such as genetics and environmental issues, also influence the progression of these illnesses. So, a switch to canned diets may not prevent the development of these diseases.

Next, choose foods wisely. There are many commercial diets, canned and dry, prepared by companies who have invested years in developing nutritionally sound diets for pets. Don’t be fooled by fancy label claims or celebrity endorsements. Your veterinarian is a great resource to help you find a quality food for your pet.

If you and your veterinarian decide that adding canned foods to your cat’s diet is a good idea, remember to start slow. Sudden changes in diet can be hard on a cat’s digestive system or could cause them to stop eating entirely.

Finally, remember to “count calories” with your cats. Leaving bowls full of dry kibble AND feeding canned diets can lead to overweight kitties and the problems mentioned above. Feed small meals frequently throughout the day to mimic a cat’s natural “grazing” activity. Some owners even hide small amounts of kibble around the house for cats to “hunt”.

Nutrition is probably the most important aspect of the health of any pet. Veterinarians and nutritionists are actively researching and refining diets to best match the needs of our cats. You can find more helpful pet care information, along with the Internet’s largest gathering of licensed veterinarians and pet professionals at

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Dr. Krista Gibson is a veterinarian at Animal Medical Services and can be reached at

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Internet Reunites Lost Pets With Their Owners

With our impressive array of technologies, like GPS and “smart” phones, you might think that finding a lost pet is getting easier each year. Sadly, the odds are still against many missing pets ever making it back home. Isn’t there some way to insure that your pet will return safely from his wandering?

By: Krista Gibson, DVM

Everyone loves the amazing stories of dogs and cats who travel long distances to find their way back home or even locate their owners in a new city. Unfortunately, these happy tales are the rare exception to the rule. For every pet that makes it back after leaving, there are tens of thousands who never live to see home again!
Humane groups and pet industry experts estimate that more than 5 million pets will be lost this year. One pet in every three will be lost at some point in his or her lifetime. According to the American Humane Association (, of those that roam away from home, less than 17% of the dogs and only 2% of the cats ever make it back to their owners. Sadly, most of the rest will be euthanized in over-crowded animal shelters. Newspapers and on-line ads still tell the sad story of some youngster’s lost pet every day. Why do we see a continuation of this problem year after year?
First, despite leash laws and other ordinances, many families are reluctant to chain their dogs or attempt to keep their cats from roaming. This is especially true in rural areas.
Compounding the issue is that there are more than 200 million pets in North America and only a very small percentage has some form of permanent identification. ID tags and collars are easily removed by unscrupulous individuals or even by the pet in some instances. Microchips help to insure that the pet has some means of identification, but even these implants aren’t foolproof.
In fact, it is a rare pet that actually has a microchip. According to industry data, only about 5% of all pets in North America actually have a microchip. And, even the pets with chips aren’t necessarily any safer. When owners fail to register their pet properly, reunions are delayed or even prevented in many instances. Again, experts from all major microchip companies state that less than 50% of chipped pets are registered with correct and current information.
Other forms of identification, such as tattooing, are very rare and obscure. This fact means that a shelter employee or veterinary office may not even note the presence of a tattoo.
Finally, even though they have good intentions, shelters and rescues are often overwhelmed with pets. A microchip could be missed during a hurried exam or a description of your lost pet might not match what the employee sees in front of him.
In spite of these overwhelming odds, you can proactively help insure that your pet will make it safely home. First, like so many things, prevention and preparation go a long way. Neuter your pet to decrease his roaming urges and consider using both ID tags and a microchip. Obey local leash laws and don’t allow your pet to wander the neighborhood.
Next, if your pet does become lost, act fast! Don’t delay in the hopes that he will simply find his way back. The faster you respond to his disappearance, the better your odds are of finding him safely. Visit local shelters daily.
A new online service, has recently made headlines across the country for their success rate in finding pets. This pet recovery service offers a nationwide alert system for lost pets.
If you are enrolled at their website and your pet is lost, one call sets a flurry of activity into motion. First, all veterinary offices, groomers, shelters, pet stores, and HelpMeFindMyPet members within a 50 mile radius of your pet’s last known location receive notification via email or fax of your pet’s disappearance. This communication contains a flyer with a picture or description of your pet and any other identifying features or ID numbers. Additionally, using the power of the social media networks, like Facebook and Twitter, announcements are made to help increase the number of searchers for your pet.
According to Jessica Staton of HelpMeFindMyPet, more than 87% of pets reported through their system make it home. Additionally, this service continues to broadcast alerts until the pet is found! Ms. Staton describes numerous incidents of stolen pets being returned because of intense publicity. Other organizations, such as Amber Alert for Pets and also have web-based recovery services.
We all want our family members to stay close to home and to heart. But, like all children, our pets love exploration and adventure too. Work with your veterinarian to make sure all your pets are properly identified with tags and/or microchips. Now, you also have the option to use the power of the Internet in case your pet decides to wander off.
To learn more about microchips, visit You can also find expert pet advice at
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Dr. Krista Gibson is a veterinarian at Animal Medical Services and can be reached at