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Pet FAQs

Just the FAQs

  1. Why are annual exams so important for companion animals?
  2. Why should I spay/neuter my companion animal?
  3. Why shouldn’t I feed my companion animal table scraps?
  4. Why should I brush my companion animal’s teeth?
  5. What is the best flea/tick preventative available?
  6. What is mange?
  7. What is hyperthyroidism? Hypothyroidism?
  8. What are anal sacs/anal glands?
  9. Should I consider "pet health insurance" for my companion animal?
  10. Does Alternative Medicine have any role in companion animal healthcare?

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The FAQs and the Facts

Why are annual exams so important for companion animals?

Within their species, companion animals are  less able to care for themselves than humans. They have a lesser mental capability, cannot rationalize or learn on a level as humans, and therefore cannot adequately understand many aspects of today’s artificial environment which surrounds them. They cannot read, write or otherwise communicate in a word-based language as can humans, and therefore cannot articulate physical/behavioral problems which they will invariably develop sometime during their life-cycle. They age much more rapidly than do humans, and in some cases have a life expectancy that is only ten percent of humans.    Because of all these factors companion animals frequently accept the entire spectrum of health, from excellent to poor, as just a normal part of life. When this scenario is coupled with the fact that owners are largely untrained to assess a companion animal’s physiological and psychological condition, the real need for regular veterinary medical exams to be conducted becomes readily apparent.

An annual exam is the most cost-effective medicine available for a companion animal. It is preventive medicine in its truest form. It is one of the most meaningful proactive measures an owner can undertake. Not only does it provide early detection of possible serious illnesses, but it serves as an opportunity to immunize the companion against certain diseases and eliminate parasites which are known to compromise health.

Annual exams prepare a companion animal for the future by furnishing an owner with the knowledge and insight to ensure its health. The attending veterinarian provides information specifically tailored to the companion’s own physical and psychological condition. Annual exams provide an owner with the opportunity to review important healthcare elements –– diet, general hygiene, behavior, breed propensities, environmental hazards, travel, and injury prevention –– which are designed to make the lives of the companion and his or her family more meaningful and enjoyable. Annual exams are undoubtedly the best investment owners can make for their companion animals.

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Why should I spay/neuter my companion animal?

Because you are a responsible owner and care about the long-term health and welfare of your companion animal in particular and companion animals in general. Only a select group of professional breeders who are totally committed to fostering the genetic integrity of their selected breed can, on a calculated basis, justify not spaying or neutering certain companion animals in their kennels. All other owners who are adverse to the procedure should reconsider their objections. There is simply not a legitimate reason for the typical owner to not spay or neuter their companion animal, but many ill-conceived, perceptually myopic, or out-right false notions abound for not doing so.

  • Myth – Spay/neuter surgeries are complicated and painful to companion animals.

    • Fact – Dogs and cats do not adversely suffer from spay/neuter surgeries. These routine procedures are generally completed in less than 30 minutes, many not even requiring overnight hospitalization.


  • Myth – Spay/neuter surgeries are just another expense for an owner and more revenue for veterinarians.

    • Fact – Opting for a spay/neuter surgery can easily save an owner five to ten times the amount actually expended on the surgery through fewer medical costs associated with their  companion animal’s future healthcare. Reduced incidences of accidents and injury due to roaming, fighting, and cancer translate into savings.  And, veterinarians themselves believe so much in the value of these surgeries to the animal itself that spay/neuter procedures are always among the most economically priced procedures a veterinarian performs. 


  • Myth – A companion animal will be less of a male or female if spayed or neutered.

    • Fact – If the procedure is performed at the optimal age of 6 to 12 months, a companion animal will only be different by not being able to reproduce. Period!  Spay/neuter procedures performed earlier than 6-12 months of age have not been shown not to adversely affect certain normal companion animal behaviors as they age as well as possibly adversely contributing to certain physiological functions.


  • Myth – Spay/neuter procedures will adversely affect a companion animal’s personality.

    • Fact – They will not be influenced by a sex drive, but that drive only serves the purpose of reproducing. In all other respects their personalities will be little changed. They may be somewhat less dominant or less aggressive, but that is not a personality detriment.


  • Myth – Companion animals who are spayed or neutered have a tendency to become obese.

    • Fact – Although there are a few physiological causes for obesity, spay/neuters are not one of them.  In healthy animals, obesity is exclusively the result of caloric consumption to the excess of that needed or used.


  • Myth – Children should experience the birth of puppies/kittens.

    • Fact – A professionally produced video tape with an appropriate  narrative remains the most educational medium for families desiring their children to experience the birth of puppies/kittens.

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Why shouldn’t I feed my companion animal table scraps?

First, it unbalances their diets. Second, it fosters a behavior called table-side begging which is generally inappropriate for any esteemed family member to undertake.  Third, it encourages obesity.

Companion animals like to eat as much as people do, but since their diet usually consists of commercially manufactured dog or cat food which is nutritionally balanced, no other food is needed for their nutrition. Other food fed to them is almost exclusively done so to satisfy the emotional needs of their owners. But when owners feed table scraps, i.e., food they choose not eat themselves, a companion animal’s diet becomes unbalanced. Food supplemented to an already balanced diet leads to the #1 health problem in companion animals – obesity. Further, when the supplemental food is foreign to their digestive systems and contains many of the artificial elements required to make food taste good to humans, the result to companion animals is often gastrointestinal distress – vomiting or diarrhea.

Companion animals like their regular food on a regular basis. They are not influenced by the advertising media. Their normal high-quality commercial food is composed of various different ingredients which companion animals have a keen sensory capability to appreciate. If food rewards are desired to be awarded to them by their owners at specific times or for specific reasons, withholding a certain amount of their mealtime kibble for such times is as psychologically rewarding to the companion as it is to the owner, and it’s more healthy for the companion.

The final benefit is that table-side beggars they will not be!

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Why should I brush my companion animal’s teeth?

For the very same reason you brush your own teeth – to have a healthy mouth. Brushing a dog’s or cat’s teeth greatly reduces the amount of food debris and bacteria which can lodge below the gum line to create periodontal (gum) disease and lead to tooth loss. If left unchecked, this oral bacteria can further contribute to the over stressing of other organs by dissemination through the body and potentially causing injury or infection. Poor oral hygiene is a leading cause of premature kidney failure and heart disease in companion animals.

The good news is that the mouths of most companion animals are less prone to oral disease than those of people. Most breeds of dogs and cats  have teeth that are widely spaced between, and they also lack a salivary enzyme in the mouth that starts the digestion of starch and contributes to the tooth decay many people experience. The bad news is that bacteria still flourishes and plaque still forms and nothing short of regular brushing will reduce its buildup and its attendant adversity to health. No hard food products or dental-type toys can effectively rid the mouth of bacteria below the gum line.

If dogs and cats are conditioned early in their lives to regular tooth brushing they easily come to accept, if not enjoy it. Many owners, due to lack of companion animal healthcare education or indifference, fail to assertively condition their young companions to such preventative oral hygiene measures and become overwhelmed when the adult companion objects to having a brush placed in its mouth. Then it becomes  a wrestling match which the companion usually wins. But the companion and the owner both really lose in the long run since the animal’s life-span will be reduced, and the owner will encounter additional expenses that could have been prevented.  Expenses that may be avoided or reduced include dentistry procedures requiring general anesthesia, tooth extractions, antibiotics to treat oral infection, as well as special diets and medication resulting from kidney and/or heart disease.

Brush properly and frequently is the advice all veterinarians should be giving their clients.

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What is the best flea/tick preventative available?

In years past, fleas and ticks were just accepted as one of the given factors of owning a dog or cat. In the more recent past, certain products were developed to control these parasites through  sprays, dips, or chemically impregnated plastic collars. Today, a variety of pharmaceutical manufacturers have not only come to the conclusion that companion animals are big business, but that the control/elimination of fleas and ticks on companions is highly profitable to them. Thus, significant efforts have been undertaken by pharmaceutical companies in research, development, testing, evaluation and manufacturing resulting in the market being flooded with several dozen flea/tick products of varying effectiveness.

Mail order catalogues, pet superstores, and veterinarians all have various products that have been developed to control or eradicate these external parasites from dogs and cats. But as each new product competes to entice an owner's purchase of it to the exclusion of all other products, consumer/owners are at a loss for making an informed decision. Even if an average owner collected all the product and pricing information on the flea/tick products available, there is little likelihood that an optimal decision could be made. The only true way an owner is able to obtain a product that is effective, safe, and of value is to rely upon the advice of a competent veterinarian whose interests are in the long-term health of the companion animal.

Today, the most effective products available for flea/tick control include those which prevent flea eggs from reaching maturity (insect growth regulators -- IGRs), those that sterilize fleas so no fertile eggs are produced, and topical products that kill adult fleas and ticks (adulticides).  One or a combination of these products provide the most cost-effective, efficacious and safest protocol for specified external parasites currently available to companion animals and their owners.

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What is mange?

The term "mangy" is a descriptive colloquialism for an individual whose external appearance is deplorable. The term conveys contempt and scorn, and implies low self-esteem and poor personal hygiene. "Mangy" is derived from the communicable skin disease "mange," which indeed causes the skin of domestic animals afflicted with it to appear ill-kept – patchy hair loss, crusty skin, epidermal sores. The disease is caused by various types of minute tick-like parasites called mites which burrow under the skin and cause irritation.

One of the most serious types of mange is called sarcoptic mange after the microscopic mite that causes it (genus Sarcoptes). This type of mange is insidious because the mites live in the hair follicles below the skin surface feeding on blood and reproducing where they are difficult to detect.  Because of the widespread irritation caused by these rapidly multiplying mites and the attendant intense scratching and biting reaction of the companion animals who serve as their host, "hot spots," secondary infections, and compromises to the immune system can result. Owners can easily confuse mange with flea bite or allergic reactions, but veterinary initiatives through skin scrapings and microscopic examination can isolate the cause. It is important to note that sarcoptic mange is transmissible to humans causing an equally irritating, although generally short-lived disease called scabies.

It is not normal for any companion animal to continually scratch or bite itself. There is always a reason for such abnormal behavior. Veterinarians can diagnose and prescribe treatment for most parasitic and dermatologic conditions before severe damage is caused, but only if a diligent owner monitors the behavioral signs of their companion animal and understands that any abnormality is cause for scheduling a professional consultation.

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What is hyperthyroidism? Hypothyroidism?

The companion animal body contains hundreds of different types of glands which are formed by specialized cells that secrete chemical substances unrelated to their own normal metabolic needs. The normal operation of these glands is critical to the function of the body with malfunction causing dramatic changes to it. Dogs and cats, like people, have two basic types of glands: exocrine glands which secrete substances externally via ducts outside the body or into cavities within the body such as sebaceous glands to lubricate the skin or salivary glands to assist in processing food; and, endocrine glands which secrete substances (hormones) within the body and are ductless. Endocrine glands secrete hormones directly into the circulatory system and exert a physiological response from other cells. The thyroid gland is such a gland. It weighs a fraction of an ounce, is divided into two parts, and is located beside the trachea on the underside of a companion animal’s neck. It is a major software element of the body and provides critical instructions affecting all the physical and chemical processes by which cells are maintained in the body. The thyroid controls the body’s metabolism. Because the body is essentially a metabolic "machine," the thyroid plays a major role by influencing all other members of the glandular system. But unlike mass produced computer software, the body’s software can vary on an individual basis due to genetics and external influences such as diet, disease, and injury.

Hyperthyroidism occurs when an overactive thyroid gland produces too much hormone and causes a cascading effect as other glands react similarly. This causes the body to go into overdrive causing an acceleration of almost all biological activities. Symptoms frequently include weight loss even though accompanied by increased appetite, diarrhea, faster heart rate, sleeplessness, anxiety, tremors, inability to tolerate heat, difficulty in focusing the eyes and protruding eyeballs. There are no general preventative measures for hyperthyroidism. Diagnosis is through blood testing for hormone levels. Treatment is through pharmaceuticals, radioactive iodine treatment, or surgery. If left untreated heart failure will result.  Hyperthyroidism is prevalent in cats and rare in dogs. 

Hypothyroidism occurs when an under-active thyroid gland produces too little hormone.  Biological activities slow.  Dogs  have a greater tendency to develop an under-active thyroid condition than an overactive condition. In many instances hypothyroidism is genetically linked. In canines, members of specific breed groupings have a high propensity for hypothyroidism – sporting dogs, working dogs, herding dogs, and terriers. Symptoms frequently include excessive sleep accompanied by fatigue, lower body temperature, slowed heart rate, weight gain, dry skin, swollen eyelids, loss of hearing, premature graying of the hair and hair loss. Diagnosis is through blood testing for hormone levels. Treatment is through pharmaceuticals which may be necessary throughout life. If left untreated, death will ensue.  

Thyroid disorders are as treatable in companion animals as they are in people if diagnosed during their early stages. Annual veterinary examinations form a basis of information to detect trends that might be missed by most owners but which will lead a veterinarian to early diagnosis and treatment.

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What are anal sacs/anal glands?

Two anal sacs house hundreds of tiny anal glands and serve as repositories for the fluid the glands manufacture. They are small, hollow receptacles located just under the skin on either side of the anus at the eight and four o’clock positions. A short hollow tube called a duct from each anal sac acts as a conduit for the anal glands’ secretion to be transported outside of the body at the anal ring. Anal sacs are vestigial (obsolete) organs like a human’s appendix, and no longer serve a known, useful function for companion animals who still retain them. In distant times past they were probably used by wolves to scent-mark territories, and may have served as a defensive repellent under conditions of fright to ward off close contact from enemies in the manner similar to that which skunks have perfected on a much larger scale.

Since anal sacs have little use given the modern environment in which dogs and cats currently reside, they are not as fully developed as they were several hundred thousand years ago. The glands do, however, still produce small amounts of odiferous fluid which is stored in their sac housing. Without the ability for a companion animal to express their sacs voluntarily as their ancestors had in the past, stored fluid can build up, sometimes becoming solidified, with impaction, infection, or rupture possible. Some breeds of dogs are more affected with anal sac problems than others. Cats are inclined to have anal sac problems too, but with much less frequency than dogs.

Dogs with anal sac problems may exhibit such symptoms as scooting or dragging their anal areas across the floor, excessive licking under the tail, accompanied by a foul smelling, sometimes swollen anal area. Dogs prone to anal sac problems should have their anal sacs periodically emptied (expressed) as necessary to avoid fluid build-up complications. Few owners actually express their companion’s sacs due to both lack of practical knowledge and the distasteful aspects of this intimate health maintenance duty. Annual physical exams are an excellent time to check the status of the anal sac and to receive instruction concerning this procedure from the veterinarian. If problems caused by the anal sacs are continual and severe, they can be surgically removed. Gland removal is a relatively simple procedure, but there remains a chance of future fecal incontinence due to neurologic damage that can occur during the surgery.

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Should I consider "pet health insurance" for my companion animal?

Insurance is a mechanism that provides for protection against financial losses which may occur under a variety of situations. Pet health insurance helps to pay medical bills through an insurance company's pool of premiums  received from insured pet owners and then paid out in certain amounts under provisions prescribed in its policy. Like all businesses, insurance companies are in business to make money. They market their programs effectively and creatively. They calculatedly "bet" that their pool of premiums will always exceed their pay-outs.

For some companion animal owners who do not have the financial means to accept the high costs of certain catastrophic illnesses or injuries, certain types of pet health insurance may provide a level of comfort. For most owners it provides little value for its cost. But for all owners it is important to know that pet health insurance is seldom similar to human health insurance except for the word "insurance." Most pet health insurance policies severely limit their coverage. In many cases genetic disorders are excluded. This means that if any number of the medical problems known to exist within a breed occur, they probably will not be covered. Owners should not expect $3,000 hip replacement procedures to be covered for most large breeds prone to hip dysplasia, or reimbursements for medically necessary eye surgery in Shar Peis, diabetes treatment for Miniature Schnauzers, cancer therapy for Great Danes – the list goes on and on. Even when an accidental injury is covered, there may be severe limitations to procedures authorized, veterinarians approved, or amounts reimbursable. Unlike human health insurance which is significantly funded/subsidized by governmental and corporate contributions, pet health insurance is entirely funded by premiums of policy holders.

Any owner desiring health insurance for their companion animal is advised to be aware of what they may receive for what they will pay. Coverage and payments for injuries and illnesses could be significantly less than what most owners believe are acceptable. These are key reasons which account for the fact that less than 1% of all companion animal owners have pet insurance policies.

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Does Alternative Medicine have any role in companion animal healthcare?

The United States healthcare system for both humans and companion animals is founded upon the practice of scientifically-based, clinically-tested, conventional medicine, or more succinctly termed "Western medicine."   Western medicine is more advanced, more proven, and more reliable for most aspects of animal healthcare than alternative methods.  It is the customary, prevailing, normally accepted standard that is predominantly taught at our medical schools, found in our hospitals, and covered under our health insurance policies. Any other type of medical practice that significantly diverges from that standard is viewed as unconventional, unorthodox, or alternative. Unfortunately, many Western medical practitioners disdain alternative practices of medicine due to skepticism, ignorance, or fear of the unconventional.

Conventional practitioners all too easily forget that modern Western medicine is actually an offshoot of yesteryear’s traditional medicine and that its roots have tapped many aspects of alternative modalities which are now actually incorporated into its own practice. But regardless of how successful Western medicine is, its methods and therapies are not always effective with all of its patients all of the time. Certain branches of alternative medicine have advanced and have clinically been proven to be safe and effective for particular illnesses. While most veterinarians exclusively practice Western medicine, those who are knowledgeable of the broad-based nature of the discipline of medicine have little problem with alternative modalities if or when a patient’s condition is not responding to modern medical therapy, and the alternative modality has legitimate merit which could be of benefit.  Owners will be well cautioned, though, to remember that dogs are not simply "little people" and therefore practitioners of veterinary alternative medicine should also be licensed veterinarians in order to best serve the needs of their companion animal.

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10205 Colvin Run Road, Great Falls, VA

  Information contained in this Web site is for general information purposes only, and is not intended as a substitute for proper veterinary medical care and counsel. This Web site was written and designed by Adams Mill Veterinary Hospital © 1998-2013