Pet Care Update: Experts Talk Nutrition, Spay-Neuter, Hoarding and More

Nevadans share their homes with some 1.5 million dogs, cats, birds, and horses. Most consider them family. 

But do people know as much about taking care of their furry and feathered family members as they should?

Two veterinarians and a rescue expert join us to talk about the latest in pet care and medicine, and they answer listeners' questions.


Is pet care in Southern Nevada different than other places?

Melissa Schalles: Absolutely, when we have temperatures of 103, 104, we get concerned with heat stroke especially with those dogs with the smushed faces. 

They have a tough time breathing. Their smushed face doesn't allow for air to pass back and forth properly and sometimes we have to do surgery on them. We actually do a rhinoplasty - we give them a nose job - and open up their nose and cut the area in the back - the soft palate, which decreases the amount of snoring.

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Steven wants to know if changes to diet would help his dog, which suffers from seizures.

James Rayburn: It really depends on what the cause of the seizures is. There are multiple factors involved in seizures... assuming this is traditional epileptic seizures, diet isn't necessarily the biggest component in it. Every animal has different triggers just like with people. It is more about finding out the determining factors for you.

There are some foods out there that do claim that things like omega 3  and 6 fatty acids do help with those things and they certainly can't hurt, but there isn't any hard fast diet that has any scientific proof that it truly changed something like that.

Is CBD - cannabidiol - the non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis- safe for animals?

Rayburn: As of right now, there isn't any solid research that shows that it necessarily works for animals. There aren't any dosing concepts and even the products that are out there right now we don't have any consistent ones.

I'm sure that two years from now you could bring me on and I would praise it because they are doing so much research right now and we'll have some good solid points but right now, even if it does work, we don't know how to dose it. Using a human dose and just trying to scale it, is not necessarily going to work.

Certainly, people who are using human products that have THC [the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis] animals are much more sensitive to THC than we are. That can cause a lot of major side effects. 

Cheryl is hosting a Family, Fur & Fun event at Mountain's Edge Oct. 12. What advise do guests have for picking the right pet for your home?

Schalles: What I would recommend is that they understand what their home life is going to be and then look at each breed in particular... Like, a sporting breed can't live in an apartment necessarily because they need to get out and get exercise. If you're looking for something along the ratting line, like a corgi or a Jack Russell terrier, they're going to need to have a job, something to do. 

Is a vegan diet a good choice for pets?

Rayburn: I would strongly recommend against that. This is a situation where people want to put their own wants and needs onto their animals. The reality is you're going against everything in their evolution to try to remove that.

There are non-animal protein sources available but they aren't as digestible as the animal sources for a creature that has evolved solely for that purpose.

While some people take it a step too far with the raw diets, trying to force a vegan diet on an animal, you're going to have a lot of difficulties managing their health. There is going to be a lot of side effects.

There have been a number of stories of people who have been found hoarding animals. 

Kim Alboum: Hoarding is a mental health issue. Where the Humane Society of the United States becomes involved in these cases is the large-scale neglect associated with these cases.

We are seeing an enormous amount of these cases happening across the country. And I think that there are many reasons for that. One is that social media has provided a platform for outreach. Everyone has seen the posts about a dog only having a few days to live.   

There are people out there that are pre-disposed to these mental issues and tend to take these animals in.

We also see this happening with rescue groups that started out with good intentions but unfortunately took in a lot of animals that may not have been adoptable - whether it's behavioral or medical - and then over time, they lose control of the care. 

If you believe someone in your neighborhood is hoarding animals, Alboum suggests you call Clark County Animal Control.

Caller David thinks it is getting close to end of life for his two dogs and wanted to know if the animals are aware of what's going on when they are put down.

Rayburn: It is difficult to say honestly. This is where you're looking at it from a human perspective when the reality is they're not really going to know exactly what's going on. 

If you're getting someone who does good quality work, which I like to think I certainly do, we do try to make it the easiest way possible. It is really good to be thinking ahead on these things honestly because it is harder for you than it is for the animal.

Usually, [we] give them some kind of sedative and essentially they just fall asleep and they don't wake up. So other than the brief confusion when they start to fall asleep, they are not aware of what's going on to any severe extent as long as it's done properly.

Joan is wondering if a raw diet is a good idea for her dog, which is suffering from food allergies 

Rayburn: I would strongly avoid it. We say that animals eat raw food all the time but we're talking about numerous generations back when they were wolves and they eat raw food. And realistically, wolves that eat raw meat have all kinds of weird parasites and get weird intestinal problems. You're putting yourself at risk for that too because bacteria blooms like that happen all the time.

Even if you have a diagnosed food allergy, there are allergy foods out there that can manage that. 

Schalles: It is prescription based. You need to find out what protein source that your animal is actually having the intolerance to. There are a lot of tests out there that can be done by your veterinarian or there are specialists in the valley that can have that done and then you can look at the different foods that are out there at your veterinarian facilities.

Gordon's vet has told him that his golden retriever needs to lose some weight. He takes him on a walk every night but apparently that is not enough.

Schalles: There are only two ways to drop weight off of a pet: one is exercise, and one is decreasing the amount of food. Same thing we do for people. 

Other than the exercise that you're giving him, have your veterinarian or your veterinary nurse look at what you're feeding your pet and then look at the amount of food that you're feeding him and then go from there.

A recent opinion piece in the New York Times argued that spaying and neutering animals may not be a responsible approach for pet owners.

Alboum: I do agree with that. Blanket spay and neuter, whether it's ordinances — local ordinances, state law — are really not effective because there are many people who can't afford spay-neuter and so it's basically penalizing the underserved community.

Does spay-neutering make an animal unhappy?

Rayburn: I think that is something people overstep on to an extent. Because everyone is sitting there thinking, I wouldn't be happy if my testicles were removed — which I probably shouldn't have said 'my testicles' on the air — people tend to sit there and look at it from that perspective. A dog isn't aware of his own testicles.

In some animals, there is something that is valuable, and cost is an issue in these cases for some people, but we do have a lot of opportunities here in this community for it.


Low-Cost Spay and Neuter - Animal Foundation

Clark County Animal Control - Spay - Neuter

Heaven Can Wait Animal Society

Schalles: We do have a law in our books here where animals have to be ssterilized by the age of four months. And it's extremely important to decrease these overpopulations.

Is it a good idea to spay-neuter at an early age?

Rayburn: Well, we could probably do an entire show with four veterinarians debating about when to spay and neuter. There are some studies out there that have come out recently that are questioning that. There was a golden retriever study that was done earlier this year that showed early spaying and neutering can cause a lot of orthopedic problems, arthritis, and increased rates of obesity. 

That said, it's not that cut and dry, and that's why you have got to balance it out, because it also cuts down on cancer rates, and so it's really important for them to consider doing something like that at an early age. 


Kim Alboum, Director of Shelter Outreach, Humane Society of the U.S.; James Rayburn, VCA Spring Mountain Animal Hospital; Melissa Schalles, Veterinary Nurse, Administrative Faculty, CSN


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