Pets: Just What The Doctor Ordered

Dr. Ruth MacPete discusses the positive health impacts pets can have on our lives. For more from Dr. MacPete, find her on Facebook or at!

As pet lovers, we all know that our furry four legged friends make us feel better with their unconditional love, friendship and companionship. Now there is mounting scientific evidence that they are also good for our health. It turns out that pets are good for our physical, emotional, and social well-being.

There is a growing body of evidence that pets are good for our health. Studies have reported that pets can lower cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, stress, and even the risk of having a heart attack. One study from State University of New York, Buffalo evaluated the effects of pets on blood pressure. Dr. Karen Allen studied people who have high blood pressure and one of the most stressful jobs: stockbrokers. Everyone in the trial was treated with medications to lower their blood pressure but half were randomized to also get either a dog or cat. Six months later, they were re-evaluated and the group with a pet had a lower baseline blood pressure and when confronted with a stressful situation, their blood pressure rose 50% less than the group without a pet.

Another interesting study by the Minnesota Stroke Institute reported that having a cat could lower your risk of a heart attack. They looked at nearly 4500 people between the ages of 30 and 75 over a 20 year period. They found that people who never owned a cat had a 40% greater risk of dying from a heart attack and not having a cat was also associated with a 30% greater risk of dying from any sort of cardiovascular disease. Exactly how cat ownership lowers cardiovascular risk is unknown, but it may be due to their beneficial effect on various cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol.
Besides being good for our physical well-being, pets are good for our emotional health. Recent studies report that pets can lower anxiety and help with depression. One study found that playing with a dog raises the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body. Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters that regulate mood and have a calming effect. Another study reported that AIDS patients with pets were less likely to suffer from depression than patients without pets. Similarly, pets lowered anxiety, decreased frustration, and relaxed patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Pets also help us emotionally by allowing us to focus on something other than our problems.

Pets are also good for us socially and have a natural ability to draw people together. Just ask anyone with a dog! Walking your dog is like walking with a beacon or magnet for other animal lovers. Pets are also natural conversation starters and give people a reason to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. Finally, pets can also help people make a romantic connection. A recent report suggests that pets may be as good as matchmaker services at bringing couples together.

So if sharing your home with an animal that gives you unconditional love, friendship and companionship weren’t reasons enough, now there is mounting scientific evidence that having a pet doesn’t just feel good, they are good for our health!!

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Just What the Doctor Ordered -- Dental Hygiene and Home Safety for Your Pet

Helping your pet maintain an active and healthy lifestyle requires more than serving him the right kibble and securing a daily dog walker. In fact, many of us forget that regular dental care and preventing safety hazards within your home, can help keep your furry friend from experiencing a painful tooth extraction or winding up in the ER with a belly full of shiny pennies. Stacey Kilcullen, DVM at Little Silver Animal Hospital, shares her tips to help pet parents keep their pet's teeth in top form and emergency trips to the veterinarian down to a minimum.

Dental care 101

"The mouth is the entranceway to your pet's body - to their heart, lungs and all their vital organs," says Dr. Kilcullen. She points out how studies have shown that animals with healthy teeth live an average of two years longer. "The mouth's gums have a blood supply, so if a pet's gums become infected that infection can end up spreading to other parts of the body."

Signs of dental problems

Dr. Kilcullen says a hallmark of dental disease comes in the form of bad odor emanating from your pet's mouth. It doesn't necessarily have to be a strong, overpowering odor. If you don't want to get a kiss from your dog or cat, that's not just stinky morning breath but a sign of a more serious problem.

Other signs of dental disease include yellow and brown build-up of tartar along the gum line, pets that struggle keeping food in their mouths, have difficulty chewing, or show sensitivity around their mouths. For instance, if your pet suddenly tries to bite you after you touch her mouth, that's a sign she could have a dental disease.

Combat dental disease with annual exams and brushing

It's essential to get your pet an annual dental exam so a vet can check his mouth for abscesses and scale his gums. Since it's a procedure most animals won't sit still for, your pet will need to be put under general anesthesia. Anesthesia is a serious procedure where owners should make sure all the proper precautions are taken to minimize anesthetic risk for their pet. Pets under anesthesia should be intubated, have a catheter in place, and be monitored by an EKG and pulse oxygen monitor.

Dr. Kilcullen also recommends brushing your dog's teeth with a specially formulated toothpaste and toothbrush at least three times a week. She suggests holding one hand over your pet's mouth to keep it shut, while using the other hand to elevate the gum and slide the toothbrush in for thirty seconds on each side. It's best to start early but grown dogs and cats can learn to tolerate brushing too.

Pet proofing 101

Whether you have an existing pet or you've just brought a new pet home, you should always make sure your home is safe enough for your pet to roam free without fearing she will get hurt.

Keep your cats safe

"Kittens and cats love to eat and play with shiny, metallic things so keep objects like needles and string out of your cat's reach," says Dr. Kilcullen. Plants and cats are also a bad combination, as many plants are toxic. Instead of leaving them on counters where cats can get to, hang your plants up.

Protect your dogs

Puppies and dogs love to chew and tend to swallow things that can cause obstructions in their intestines. Avoid leaving objects like socks, rocks or coins within their reach. Also keep chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, nicotine and any other recreational drugs away from them, as all can be fatal if swallowed in large quantities. The same goes for all human medications, bleaches and cleaning products.

"Basically anything you don't want your pet to ingest should be in a safe place," says Dr. Kilcullen.

New research reveals why adopting a pet may be just what the doctor ordered

I recently read an interesting new study about the many ways older adults benefit from having a pet. It reminded me of the 1950s song “I’m Walkin’ the Dog” by country-western singer Webb Pierce.

In just a few lines, he captures pretty much the whole story:

“Well, I’m full of pep, I just can’t grow old
I got a one track mind, so I’ve been told
But I’m fancy free, I don’t worry no how
And I’m walking the dog all the law will allow”

While the study synopsis is certainly less poetic than Mr. Pierce’s rhyming couplets, its content is similar.

It involved a little over 2,000 men and women, ages 50 to 80. And 55 percent of the participants had at least one pet. 1

The researchers found that an overwhelming majority of older pet owners believe that their pets help them enjoy life to its fullest and give them a sense of purpose.

Plus, all kinds of pets—dogs, cats, fish, birds, small mammals, or other types of animals—were found to help people deal with the physical challenges of aging. Research indicates that pets reduce their owners’ stress levels, keep them physically active, and even help them cope with health issues like pain.

The study also found that pets help reduce loneliness. And research shows that people who are lonely not only have greater rates of chronic disease, but are also more likely to suffer an early death.

I have become an animal lover myself, and all of these findings make perfect sense to me. After all, who isn’t delighted by a pet’s good-hearted antics? Not to mention the heartwarming feeling created by their loyalty, attention, and affection.

When you should—and shouldn’t—get a pet

Of course, not everyone wants a pet. Some study respondents were concerned about caring for the animal’s health (and the associated costs), as well as the losses and heartbreak that occur due to pets’ naturally short lifespans.

In addition, pets require you to make adjustments to your schedule and adapt to their needs. Or, some people are simply allergic, although as I explained in a recent Daily Dispatch, exposure to pets and farm animals in early childhood is associated with lower rates of asthma and allergies in later life.

These are certainly valid concerns. But if you are an animal aficionado, I encourage you to have a pet. And I think you’ll be able to relate to the following tongue-in-cheek personal observations of the benefits of having a furry (or feathered or gilled) friend by your side.

In Florida, we live in a mile-long waterfront development set on acres of green space on a barrier island (or “key”) off the coast of Sarasota. The development acrimoniously split into “north and south” sections years ago on the issue of keeping pets.

Our side allows pets, and generally speaking, the people here are friendly, easy-going, intelligent, well-informed, and accommodating. But next door, where they don’t allow pets…well, let’s just say, they seem quite the opposite.

Of course, it makes me wonder what would happen if they added a pet to their lives. Because according to this study, their lives would be a lot happier, more fulfilling, and lengthier.

So, adopt one if you can. There are many abandoned animals looking for a home that would make fine pets. Because at the end of the day, research shows it will be good for both of you (and even the people around you).

Pet Patrol: Just what the doctor ordered

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A Midlands man has found a way to give some really good medicine to hospital patients. And it's not in the form of pills.

Pet therapy has healing benefits - and not just for those who are sick.

Coming in at 150 pounds, 34 1/2 inches at the shoulder, and on hind legs that would reach six foot three inches, this three year old Great Dane named Rumor is the real answer to some health problems.

Lexington Medical Center offers pet therapy to its patients since studies praise a pups' ability to significantly reduce a patient's pain, anxiety, fatigue and depression.

"They're lonely, they want somebody to talk to. And, again, the dog doesn't ask for anything in return. The dog just gives her love," Butch Younginer said.

Rumor is one of Butch Younginer's three Great Danes all are therapy dogs. He says they're gentle giants that are the perfect height for a patient's bed. Just as big as Rumor's size is her disposition.

"She gives unconditional love," Younginer said. "She doesn't ask for anything in return. She's there to cheer up the patients or make them feel better or in some cases patients are missing their pets at home so she's there to help them cope with their situation that they're

Before becoming a therapy dog, Butch does obedience training for a year which includes taking the dog wherever he goes to socialize her to all kinds of places and people.

"We try to bulletproof the dog as much as we can to different sounds and smells and noises, you name it," Younginer said.

Being a devoted volunteer for pet therapy is just as therapeutic for Butch. Years ago, he had been a longtime volunteer for Little League baseball with his son. But then life threw him a curveball.

"In 2005 we lost our son, killed in a car accident. My love for baseball kind of waned after that because that was something he and I did together."

Butch's wife suggested he find something he and the dog could do together as a new volunteer outlet. At first, even pet therapy was tough because of seeing a patient's pain - or death.

"I've learned over time how to distance myself, but to go in and give those kids and here in this hospital with adults as much unconditional love as we can."

The most common questions patients ask Butch are 'Can we ride it? Is that a horse coming down the hall? And how much does it eat'?

"Quite surprisingly Great Danes don't eat as much as people think they eat. During their first year of life when they're growing rapidly they do eat a lot but once they hit 15, 16, 17 months old their food consumption drops. Rumor only eats 3 1/2 cups a day. It's a lot less than people think."

Perhaps that's how she keeps her girlish figure. After all, Rumor even has her own Facebook page.

That Facebook page is "Levi, Phoenix, Rumor." Most Great Danes live to about eight or nine.

Rumor will work till she's about six or seven - or whenever she feels like retiring.

Copyright 2015 WIS. All rights reserved.

The Pet Apothecary is just what the doctor ordered

The Pet Apothecary answers a need for all those who love and care for animals. This pharmacy formulates and fills prescriptions for animals with dosages, flavors, textures and alternative ways of administering medication, making it easier and more effective for both the pet and its owner.

In 2012, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimated that 36.5% of U.S. households were occupied by at least one dog and 30.4% had at least one cat. Although The Pet Apothecary mostly fills prescriptions for dogs and cats, the business has developed pharmaceutical formulations for animals ranging from rhinoceroses to bats. “We have developed good relationships with veterinarians,” said owner and pharmacist Jeff Langer. “Although vets tend to carry the medications for their patients, we are able to alter or customize them for correct dosage, taste, textures and formulation. We are also often asked to find unusual, rare or discontinued medications.”

Langer comes from a long line of pharmacists. His father, Jack Langer, was a pharmacist and ran Langer Pharmacy in Bay View for decades. “My grandfather, uncle and cousin were all pharmacists.” His wife, Patti, is also a pharmacist and co-owner of The Pet Apothecary. “There was never a question I’d be a pharmacist,” Jeff Langer said. But a pharmacist for our four-legged, furry and finned friends?

When Langer was in graduate school, he presented a paper on ”dosage formulation in ruminant animals.” “I bored my audience to death,” he recalled. “But I was fascinated.” Langer began his career at his father’s pharmacy, filling and dispensing prescriptions. The pharmacy was eventually sold to a national chain.

By 1999, with a no-human pharmacy clause as part of the national chain agreement, Langer starting building relationships with area veterinarians as he and Patti began developing medications for a multitude of animal species from cats, dogs, ferrets, rats, fruit bats, Bonobo monkeys, cheetahs and orangutans to hawks and eagles. “We saw a need for an animal pharmacy that was not being met in the area or the state,” he said.

A conventional human pharmacy carries medicines formulated for human patients. While the same medicines can be used on animals, the dosing and the physiological processing of a medication can be vastly different. The Pet Apothecary mixes the medications on site. “Some medicines simply act in different ways in different species of animals. We continually do research in these areas,” Langer said. “Clients, vets and medical doctors call us with unusual questions and medication requests.”

Oftentimes a vet tells a client that the patient may have trouble with a certain medication, in terms of dosing or administering the drug. The vet contacts The Pet Apothecary to have the medication altered in flavoring, formulation or texture. “We make our own bases. We do not use commercial bases,” Langer said.

The Pet Apothecary does not sell any OTC (over the counter) medications. Prescriptions are ordered and are either picked up or shipped out. Everyone at The Pet Apothecary is committed to the care and well being of its patients -- including Reuben, the office dog. “I love this business,” Langer said. “We enjoy our customer contact with people who love their pets and the veterinarians who are wonderfully committed to their patients as well.”

Langer was named Pharmacist of the Year in 2010 by Phi Delta Chi, the fraternity for pharmacists. “We constantly get questions regarding the possibility of treating a condition I’ve not thought of, or using a medication in a way we have not done before, which is great for me. I thrive on that kind of challenge,” he said. “The work also provides the capital to do good things and give back to the community.”

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