Erasing the fear of veterinary visits would lead to healthier pets

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ORLANDO, FLA. -- The annual North American Veterinary Conference, one of the largest meetings of its kind, was held here Jan. 19-22. Dr. Marty Becker, one of many featured speakers, discussed his concept of fear-free veterinary visits.

Dr. Becker, of Bonner's Ferry, ID, is a contributor to "The Dr. Oz Show" and author of "The Healing Power of Pets: Harnessing the Amazing Ability of Pets to Keep People Happy and Healthy" (Hyperion).

"Because some pets are fearful (when they have to go to the vet), more later become fearful (after they arrive); it's a cascade of effects," Dr. Becker says. "The pets can smell the cortisol (sometimes call the stress hormone), they hear the anxiety of other animals. Cats get anxious when the carrier comes out. And many dogs hit the brakes after jumping out of the car (at the clinic), as soon as they realize where they're going. It doesn't have to be that way."

Becker continues, "We do a great job of vaccinating against disease, but we don't inoculate against fear and anxiety."

Indeed, veterinary visits have been on the decline. While there are many explanations for the precipitous drop, Becker suggests that when pets don't like coming to veterinary clinics, their owners don't, either. There's lots of data to back up what Becker is saying.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dog visits to the vet have slipped 21 percent since 2001 and cat visits have fallen by 30 percent. Without regular checkups, preventive illnesses of all types are up. Even flea infestation is rising as pet owners decide what flea products to buy without a vet's advice.

Dr. Becker says his goal is to promote the idea of practices adjusting their methods to create fear-free visits, and also to educate pet owners about how they can help make the experience more tolerable, or even downright enjoyable.


Zylkene, a nutritional supplement that can help soothe anxious dogs and cats, was introduced at the conference. Uses could include easing the anxiety of pets when visiting a veterinary clinic or groomer, making car travel easier for pets, introducing a new pet to the home, introducing a houseguest to a pet, even tempering a pet's fear of fireworks.

Zylkene, which can be given with food or as a treat, contains a natural product derived from casein, a protein in milk, though it's free of lactose and preservatives.


NEW KITTY LITTER ON THE HORIZON? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS), Americans use 1.18 million tons of cat litter annually. Clumping litters, made from sodium bentonite clay, dominate the market. They're practical and relatively inexpensive but are not biodegradable, and the clay has to be mined specifically to produce the litter. Of course, biodegradable litter would be more politically correct.

Now there's good news! According to a USDA ARS press release issued this month: "Kitty litter that's nearly 100 percent biodegradable can be made by processing spent grains left over from corn ethanol production." U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plant physiologist Steven F. Vaughn and his colleagues have shown that litter made with these grains as the starting material may prove to be more environmentally friendly than popular but nonbiodegradable clay-based litters. The spent grains are also known as DDGs (dried distiller's grains)

The press release explains: "The team's laboratory experiments yielded a suggested formulation composed of the DDGs and three other compounds: glycerol, to prevent the litter from forming dust particles when poured or pawed; guar gum, to help the litter clump easily when wet; and a very small amount of copper sulfate, for odor control. The resulting litter is highly absorbent, forms strong clumps that don't crumble when scooped from the litter box, and provides significant odor control."

As yet, there are no plans to produce such a litter.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA BREAKTHROUGH? The province of Ottawa, Canada, is all about taking control of the production and distribution of medical marijuana. The question then becomes, what do medical marijuana users do with their home-grown stashes? They could hide the stuff, but the government doesn't like that idea. Instead, here's the Canadian Health Department's advice:

"Blend marijuana with water and mix it with cat litter to mask the odor before tossing it into regular household trash."

Under the new system, licensed producers will cultivate marijuana for distribution to patients whose health-care providers agree it's the appropriate treatment.

Meanwhile, catnip remains legal without a prescription, for cats or for desperate people.

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)

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