Volume I, Issue VI

December 2005


        If Dogs Could Fly – Potentially Deadly Problems with Pets and Airlines

        The Bald Truth - Hair Loss in Cats & Dogs (Reader Requested)

        Care for Horses in Cold Weather



Is Your Four-Legged Buddy Getting Chubby?


Healing Springs Animal Hospital will hold a FREE Weight Management Clinic for dogs and cats on January 10.  Make an appointment between 2 PM and 4 PM.  Staff will assess your pet and report a body condition score, so you will know where your pet stands.  They will help you establish a weight reduction plan and provide some free products to get you started.


(276) 236-5103


If Dogs Could Fly – Potentially Deadly Problem with Airlines




Despite proposed legislation and pressure from the ASPCA, airlines are not required to provide temperature control in the cargo holds where animals are stored.  The Safe Air Transport for Animals Act passed this June now requires airlines to report all incidents of family-owned pets who are injured, lost, or killed while in the custody of airlines and airports.  The numbers are concerning.


From May to October, the airlines self-reported 21 deaths, 16 injuries, and 3 losses.  Monthly reports can be viewed at the US Department of Transportation website, http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/reports/atcr05.htm.  The airline reports blame the majority of dog deaths on cardiac failure due to a pre-existing condition.  However, all pets allowed to be checked as baggage have successfully passed a veterinary physical.  They rarely if ever place blame for a death with the airlines.  Dr. Heather Jenkins Brazzell points out that hyperthermia and hypothermia can cause cardiac failure in dogs, but she also notes that the airlines never cite temperature as a factor in these deaths.


Healing Springs will examine your dog and certify airline health certificates for healthy dogs.  Be aware that the forms provided by airlines usually require a positive response to statements such as, “The pet can withstand temperatures below 45 and above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.”  The implication is that temperature will range around 45 and 85.  On the other hand, a literal interpretation of these statements means you are acknowledging temperatures could go well below 45 for extended periods and/or well above 85 for extended periods.  The important questions here are “What extremes of temperatures will be reached?” and “For how long?”  These are the questions that the airlines do not seem to be answering.


The numbers available in the DOT reports are in-and-of-themselves meaningless.  While American Airlines seems to be a leader in pet deaths, we cannot say that they are better or worse than any other airline without knowing the total numbers of animals transported.  For instance, if American Airlines flies twice as many dogs as Delta, it stands to reason that they would see twice as many incidents.  What we need the DOT to provide is additional information on incidents expressed as a percentage of total animals flown.  This would allow us to compare airlines.  We also need the DOT to show airline pet mortality rates compared to general pet mortality rates to truly evaluate the safety of pets flying as baggage.  In the meantime, considering the generally low numbers of pets that do fly in cargo holds, the raw data provided definitely gives rise to concern.  Some statements on airline health certificates about cargo hold temperatures are also suspicious.  Pet owners may want to think twice and check the latest DOT information before allowing their pets to be checked as baggage. 



The Bald Truth – Hair Loss in Cats & Dogs



When you see hair thinning or hair loss in a cat or dog, it is important to understand that healthy pets do not simply lose their hair as humans can.  Alopecia (the partial or complete lack of hair on any part of the skin where hair would normally be present) is a symptom in dogs and cats.  Hair loss is not a condition in and of itself.  Rather, hair loss indicates that some other problem exists with the pet.  Dogs and cats have more than 60 typical causes for hair loss.  Most of these conditions can be very serious.  Allergies and parasites serve as the most common reasons for hair loss.  All cases of alopecia should receive thorough investigation and usually require a veterinary examination.


Hair loss is not normal for dogs and cats.  It often signals a serious health problem.


The veterinary examination at Healing Springs Animal Hospital may include skin scrapings, a fungal culture, and/or a biopsy of the skin.  When performing skin scrapings, a veterinarian scrapes a blade along the pet’s skin to remove some surface cells and look for mange and other parasites.  A fungal culture can verify the presence of ringworm.  A skin biopsy will allow a pathologist to study skin samples under a microscope and look for causes of alopecia.


The reader request mentioned hair loss with scaling.  A number of problems, including hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease can create this presentation.  Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces an inadequate amount of hormone.  Pets with this condition appear to gain weight easily and appear sluggish.  They seek out warm spots more than normal.  They can have loss of hair and scaling at the flanks and back.  Pets with hypothyroidism often present with greasy earwax.  Vets can confirm hypothyroidism with a blood test and manage it with hormone supplementation.


Pet owners can help their pets have good skin and hair condition by adequately addressing four very important factors: (1) Nutrition, (2) Bathing & Grooming, (3) Environmental Cleanliness, (4) Parasite Control.  Not all pet foods are created equal.  Very often, the more expensive dog foods are genuinely more nutritious.  The effects of good nutrition are usually evident in a soft, shinny coat.  Healing Springs recommends and retails Science Diet formulas.  At the grocery store, the top-end Purina, IAMS, or Pedigree can be a good pick.  Regular bathing with a mild soap and routine combing is important for hair and skin health.  House dust carries living mites that can create allergic responses.  Keeping the house, including air vents, free of dust can help reduce pet itching.  Hepafilters are proven to help reduce dust and dust mites.  Fleas and other parasites can create skin problems that go well beyond the itchy bite.  Apply flea control every month of the year.  Ask your veterinarian about the best parasite control product for your situation.




Care for Horses in Cold Weather

Burr!  The weather has already taken some cold spells.  Has your horse noticed?  Horses are good at adjusting to cold weather.  Some simple modifications to diet and management can help ensure that your horses stay comfortable and healthy.   


Diet: Your horse may want to increase forage intake during cold weather.  Microbial fermentation breaks down hay in the horse’s cecum.  This process generates heat.  Horses may increase their forage intake to naturally warm themselves.  To help this process make sure your horses have plenty of hay.  Increased hay consumption necessitates increased water intake.  Too much hay with too little water increases the chance of impaction colic.  Make sure plenty of water is available and that water sources are not frozen.  Where water heaters are used, even the smallest amount of electrical current being released in the water will cause some horses to shy away from water sources and decrease drinking. 


Insulation:  A horse’s hormonal system controls the thickness of a horse’s coat.  Daylight triggers this hormonal system.  Toward the colder months, days shorten, and the hormonal system causes the development of a winter coat.  A dry winter coat can keep horses comfortable at temperatures around 20 degrees Fahrenheit.  Artificial light can cause a horse to keep its wet, summer coat.  With this coat, horses become uncomfortable at around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  


Fat layers also provide important insulation.  If hay and grazing alone do not put a good fat layer on your horse, increase the amount of grain fed.  Horses with a body condition score of less than 5.5 should be provided with protection from the cold.  A common misconception is that corn, often called a “hot feed,” will increase the horse’s body heat.  Corn is a good source of calories and can help with the fat layer.  However, only forage such as hay will generate appreciable heat during the digestion process.  If your horse does not tolerate well increases in grain, call Healing Springs to discuss other nutritional options. 


Shelter: Shelter can go a long way toward increasing the comfort and health of a horse during winter.  Even a simple, three-sided shelter will help protect horses from wind, rain, and snow. 



The Animal Health Bulletin is a FREE service of

Healing Springs Animal Hospital

(276) 236-5103

107 Nuckolls Curve Rd

Galax, VA  24333


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© BMA 2005