Okaw Veterinary Clinic LLC

140 West Sale Street
Tuscola, IL 61953



Fluffy, Talk to Me!


How can I Tell what my Pet is Thinking?
March Mud Madness
Heartworms: Did you Know...
I Found a Baby, What do I do?


How can I Tell what my Pet is Thinking?

Animals communicate to us all the time. Every species, including humans uses their body to communicate how they feel. Humans also use their voice - words usually to add clarity to another human. Animals also use their voice - meows, hisses, barks, whines, whinny are all vocalizations that add emphasis to what that animal's body is telling us. As a veterinarian and behaviorist, I spend a lot of time educating people on how to read and listen to what this animal is saying to us.

Veterinarians and technicians learn a little of this during the years in school. Much is learned through added education and experience. I find this to be unfortunate because understanding what the animal in front of us is telling us, will help both the animal, owner and veterinary staff to provide the care, welfare and interpretation of what this animal needs.  In this article I will give a short summary of the most important aspects for a dog or cat owner to know what their pet is thinking.

When reading an animal's body language, look at the entire body - not just the ears or the tail. A dog may be wagging it's tail walking around a playground with it's owner, but the ears may be down, body held low and the dog is nervously looking around. Is this dog happy because the tail is wagging? No, he is wavering between happy because it is with the owner, but scared of the noise and activity of the children. That is why the ears are back, tail down and body held low. Putting it all together one would say this is a nervous dog one who does not want children near. What tends to happen is the owner sees the wagging tail and thinks "my dog is happy around children." When a child approaches and the dog starts pulling behind the owner, or lets out a growl, the owner is now confused. "Why growl if your tail is wagging?" the owner thinks. The dog growled because he is fearful and cannot get away. As the child approached, the dog pulled away - trying to get away. Stuck on the leash it growled to make it more clear - stop child. All of this can happen in a few seconds and likely when growl happened the tail was not wagging. This scenario plays out often, unfortunately resulting in near bites and sometimes punishment for the growl. Humans do not understand what the dog is telling them. Everything that dog did was saying "I am scared now I have to make the scary human go away."

Cats are more subtle with their body language. A small change in how they are sitting - from laying sprawled out to curled up means they are now tense. Staring, small tail flicks means they are increasing in tension. Cats do not wag their tails in happiness - only dogs do! Cats will turn their ears to the side, and crouch their body down when upset. A common miscommunication is when owners pet their cat repeatedly. The cat may first push their body into you for the petting, but will start to flick the tail or twitch the skin and ears turn back slightly, indicating they are getting irritated. As you continue to pet, the cat may suddenly bite or swat to make you stop. That swishing tail and twitching skin was the body language of "I am not liking this." Even though they are still sitting with you the rest of the body is saying time to quit petting.

As humans we tend to greet animals the way humans want to be greeted. We go up to the face, reach out and touch the head, face or body immediately and even kiss an animal on the head. For humans this what we like - face to face because the majority of our body language cues are facial. For many animals a face approach is threatening. Many get used to it but if you look at many dogs, cats and horses when an unknown person goes to the face they pull away at first. You are invading the personal space. Another misinterpretation is humans think if it is nice for them, it must be nice for the animal. Not always so. Watch the animal and see what the animal is saying.

To help you with reading your pet's body language here is a good place to start:
The Signs of Early Anxiety in the Dog poster. There will also be a cat body language poster soon.
Dog Body Language by Brenda Aloff 
What is My Cat Saying by Jacqueline Munera 

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March Mud Madness

Finally the snow has melted and the days are getting warmer. The birds, squirrels, and of course bunnies are back in full force. So is mud. Ugh! Until the grass really gets growing to fill in all those gaps in your yard and garden we will have to cope with mud. It is possible to maintain your sanity while allowing your dog to enjoy the early smells and sights of spring. It's all about understanding what your dog needs now, and planning for it.

Now that the snow is gone, all the smells in the ground are much more intense and enticing. Your dog likely has its nose to the ground, is digging up dirt, and worse yet eating what is leftover from winter.

Here are some suggestions for coping with muddy paws, faces and bodies. 

  1. Have a towel, baby wipes, treats, and a place to hook the leash onto (door knob is okay) set up for clean up. Have this right by the one door you go in and out of. After you come in, hook the leash on the door and get a few treats out and break them up in your hand. As you rub your pet down, give them a few tidbits. Or you can drop a piece or 2 on the floor to keep them still and rewarded for standing still for clean up. It is really important that you give this reward as they are being rubbed and not fighting you. If they fight, hold the treat away until they settle down, and focus on the treat. Give the treat as you touch the body. 
  2. Trim the hair around the face, paws and legs short for easier cleaning.
  3. Minimize the mud pick up by walking your dog. You can avoid a lot of puddles and mud this way and your dog will have more interesting smells than just from the yard alone.
  4. Put pavers around the perimeter of your fence line. This is the area most dogs always tread down. The pavers will decrease the mud, decrease weeding for you and keep their nails short.

You can rinse your pet down with warm water for the big messes. Use an oatmeal shampoo if you need a big cleanup. Weekly baths are fine for most dogs but check with your veterinarian if your pet has sensitive skin.

Soon we will be past this, and until then have a happy spring!

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Heartworms: Did you Know...

  • Cats can get heartworms. Cats usually have fewer worms in their heart, but have more damage done to their lungs by the worms. 
  • Dogs and cats get heartworm by being bitten by a mosquito. So your pet does not have to be around other pets in order to get heartworms. The mosquito bites an heartworm infected pet and sucks it's blood and also sucks up baby heartworm (larva) The larva grow inside the mosquito. The grown larva then go to the mouth parts of the mosquito and are injected into the next pet the mosquito bites.
  • 6 months after your pet is bitten by an an infected mosquito he or she will have adult heartworms living in his or her heart. 
  • Female heartworms can grow to be 14 inches long. Male heartworms grow to 7 inches long.
  • Heartworms live in other areas besides the heart. They live in the vessel entering the heart (vena cava) and the vessel going from the heart to the lungs (pulmonary artery).
  •  If not treated, a dog or cat with heartworms will die. The worms clog the heart and put extra stress on the heart and lungs. One dog can have 250 worms in his or her heart.


Heartworm is on the Rise!

This map shows the number of cases of Heartworm Disease clinics reported in 2013. Thankfully, last year we didn't see any heartworm cases seen in our clinic. Why do we see so many cases of Heartworm Disease? There are several reasons. Some pets take heartworm prevention, but for only part of the year. They are bitten by a mosquito during the time they are not taking the preventative and develop Heartworm Disease. Another reason is that many pets are not on prevention and many of those pets have Heartworm Disease. These pets act as carriers and help infect other pets when mosquitoes bite them. A third reason is that heartworms may be becoming resistant to the medications that kill them. So it is recommended to give one heartworm preventative for part of the year and then switch to another heartworm preventative. A fourth reason is counterfeit, expired or damaged medication is often purchased through some online pharmacies. Many of the medications purchased through online pharmacies are"bootlegged" products. Owners purchase these medications, not knowing that they may be purchasing a product that will not protect their pet. Read our article about online pharmacies and how you can lower the risk of buying a counterfeit, expired or damaged medication.

 What can You do to Protect your Pet from Heartworms?

Keep you pet on heartworm prevention year round. You have several options to choose from. We carry two Heartworm preventatives at our office, Revolution and Sentinel. We offer more preventatives through our online pharmacy. Have your dog tested for heartworm every year. We just need a few drops of blood to check for heartworms. Cats are not tested for heartworm unless they show symptoms.

What Happens if your Pet has Heartworms?

We have much safer treatments for heartworm than we did 15 years ago. We have a couple different options for treatment. The first is an injection that will kill the adult worms. The second option is giving your dog a pill once a month for at least one year. The second option is the safest for older dogs or dogs who have many heartworms. Treating a cat with Heartworm Disease is a little bit more complicated. We are still learning about cats and Heartworm Disease. Right now we treat the cat's symptoms such as trouble breathing, vomiting, wheezing, anorexia and a rapid heart rate.

How do you Know if your Pet has Heartworm?

The best way to find out if your pet has Heartworm Disease is to bring your pet in for an exam and a Heartworm Test. Dr. Foote will examine your pet, including listening to your pet's lungs and heart. She will take a sample of your pet's blood. The test looks for heartworm antigen, your pet's immune response to the female heartworms. We may also do another test where mix a sample of blood and a solution to remove the blood cells. We push this mixture through a filter and look at the filter under a microscope. We are looking for the baby worms, larva.

Dogs with heartworm can have the following symptoms: coughing, tire easily when exercising or playing, trouble breathing and fainting. Cats with heartworm can the following symptoms: difficulty breathing, coughing, rapid heart rate, blindness, collapse,convulsions, vomiting, weight loss, fainting, lethargy and sudden death.

For more information visit the American Heartworm Society

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I Found a Baby, What do I do?

Published: Apr. 6, 2011  Source: Anne Rivas  An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at http://vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/. 

In springtime wild critters emerge from their winter hideaways and before you know it, baby animal season is here. When you go out to enjoy the warmer weather, you may hear the peeps of baby birds high up in the trees, or the little chirps of baby rabbits hiding in their nests of grass.

But, wait! You see no sign of the mother. You begin to worry about the helpless little ones. You sit on your porch, waiting for the mother to return. After several hours with no sign of the mother, you conclude that these animals must be orphaned. What can you do to save them?

According to Anne Rivas, a veterinary student and co-manager of the Wildlife Medical Clinic at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, approximately half of the"orphaned" animals brought to the wildlife clinic are perfectly healthy. Some of these animals have been removed from their nest to avoid such dangers as the family pet or tree removal. But unfortunately,well-meaning people often "kidnap" baby animals that are being cared for by their parents.

Why don't you see the mother? It's because mothers in the wild instinctively try to protect their nests.That means not drawing attention to the area where the newborns lie. If the mother detects that her nest is being watched by a potential predator (even a human standing at a distance), she will stay away from the nest completely until the coast is clear. If you would like to ensure that the mother visits the nest to feed her babies, it is best to watch from afar(completely out of sight) for 4 to 6 hours. In fact,even without the prospect of danger, mother rabbits normally spend no more than 5 minutes at their nest per day.

If you find a baby animal out of its nest, however, this is a time when you can take action to help the newborn! What to do depends on the age of the animal.

Young birds with feathers are likely fledglings that may be ready to leave the nest even though they are not yet fully able to fly. If the bird is featherless, it needs to go back to its nest as soon as possible.

For baby mammals, age is more difficult to estimate and depends on the species. The most commonly found baby mammal is the wild rabbit. If the rabbit is about the size of a tennis ball, looks just like a miniature form of its adult counterpart, and is able to hop around, then it is old enough to survive on its own.

If the baby animal appears too young to survive on its own, it is very important to remember that any baby animal's best chance for survival is with its mother.

"Even in the best possible scenarios,humans will be nowhere near as proficient in care for these delicate little animals as their mothers will. Survival rates for animals raised in captivity can be significantly lower than those raised in a natural setting," Rivas says.

There is also a risk that the baby animal will "imprint" on humans, meaning that it will no longer have a fear of humans. In order for the animal to have a good chance of being successfully returned to the wild, it needs to maintain a healthy fear of humans to avoid harm to itself and to people. This is particularly true for raccoons, deer, and birds, who may pose a risk if they approach people once they are returned to the wild.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not true that the mother won't feed a baby that has been touched by human hands. If a baby animal has fallen or been removed from its nest, you can certainly pick up the baby and return it to its nest if possible. If you are unable to find the nest or the nest is no longer intact, you can place the baby in a shallow box with grass and place it near where the baby was found (in a tree for birds, on the ground for baby mammals). Then, out of sight, you can once again monitor the make-shift nest for the mother to return.

Unfortunately, you may also find a baby animal that is injured. According to Rivas,"If the animal appears to have broken a bone, is very cold, is bleeding, or has been attacked by a predator, the baby animal needs medical attention."

There are many wildlife rehabilitators throughout the country who know how to care for an injured baby animal and ready it for release back into the wild once it has healed. To find a wildlife rehabilitator, you can call your state wildlife agency, a local veterinarian, humane societies,Audubon societies, animal control officers, or the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

If you are unsure whether an animal is old enough to survive on its own or needs medical attention, then it is best to contact a wildlife rehabilitator before removing it from the area where you found it.

"Remember," Rivas stresses, "any baby animal's best chance for survival is with its mother in the wild." If you have any questions about orphaned animals,contact your local veterinarian or visit the website of the University of Illinois Wildlife Medical Clinic at vetmed.illinois.edu/wmc/.  

Veterinary Extension/Office of Public Engagement
University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

News writer: Julia Disney

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Okaw Veterinary Clinic
140 W. Sale
Tuscola, IL 61953
(217) 253-3221


Mon & Fri 8 am - 6 pm
Tues & Wed 8 am - 5 pm
Sat 8 am - noon
Closed Thurs & Sun

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