Lifestyle

Wisdom Panel 3.0- the next gen DNA test has arrived

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Mars Veterinary Wisdom 3.0 Panel. Opinions are those of the author.

 

So, if I showed you a picture of a dog, you may be able to tell me a little about him or her.

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You would often be able to make some generalizations about temperament-

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Or adult size-

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Or medical concerns, such as whether or not a dog can tolerate ivermectin.

But what about when it’s not entirely obvious, as is the case with my friend Karen’s adorable dog Ramone?

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He’s been labelled everything from shar-pei to Bernese Mountain Dog to pit bull. Karen doesn’t care, because she evaluated him on an individual basis before deciding he was just perfect, which is what groups with extensive adoption experience like the ASPCA recommend anyway.

On the other hand, there are some good reasons to know the genetic history of a dog beyond the simple novelty of it all. Shelters who have used DNA testing such as the Wisdom panel have found potential adopters really like having a bit of extra information in front of them. For example, my friend adopted a pup about a year ago with a projected weight of 30 pounds who looked pretty similar to these guys:

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As of his first birthday, he just topped 50 strapping pounds and still growing.

Or what if you have a dog who might be part Australian shepherd but you’re not sure and he has Demodex? It would be nice to know if he has the MDR1 mutation before taking your chances on a course of ivermectin treatment.

 

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When Mars Veterinary Wisdom panels first came out a while back, people (myself included) had mixed reactions. What started out as a novelty has grown to have some real use. As our knowledge of the canine genome has evolved, so too has the role of DNA testing in dogs, everything from keeping dogs in homes when a misinformed landlord says, “but he LOOKS like a pit bull!” to increasing shelter adoption rates to helping HOAs bust the person who isn’t picking up after their dog’s business in the common area.

The latest version, Wisdom Panel 3.0, has the added benefit of screening for the MDR1 mutation, a test licensed for home use for the first time to Mars Veterinary  by Washington State University. The MDR1 mutation is known to affect particular breeds and results in some very specific drug sensitivities.

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Over the next six months, the Wisdom Panel Swab-a-thon Tour will be partnering with communities and shelters to swab the DNA of a number of their dogs, with the reports showcased to help match the pets to compatible homes. (I am really excited about the way this is helping shelter pets!) They will also be offering the product to consumers at the events.

The regular test runs $84.99, but the Swab-a-thons will offer discounts to pet owners during the events. On April 10, 11, & 12th Wisdom Panel will be hosting the first Swab-a-thon at the America’s Family Pet Expo in Costa Mesa, California. Visitors to the Wisdom Panel booth can take home a discounted kit for $49.99. 3 weeks later, you get a report and the results of the MDR1 test for you to discuss with your vet.

For more information about the Wisdom Panel or to see if there’s a Swab-a-thon coming to your area, you can check them out at: Wisdom Panel,  Facebook , Twitter, Pinterest, and on Instagram.

Happy sleuthing! Isn’t science neat?

 

 

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Dogs, Featured Posts, Health, Lifestyle Tagged: , , ,

How to be happy in 4 simple steps

This month’s JAVMA features confirmation of what those of us in the profession for more than a year or two already suspected: veterinarians are a sad bunch, compared to the general population. Consider these stats from the CDC’s first-ever survey of the veterinary population:

  • 1 in 6 have considered suicide;
  • 25% of men and 37% of women in the profession report depressive episodes;
  • 1.1% of men and 1.4% of women have attempted suicide;

That last stat is the only one where vets figure in below the national mean, but before you cheer consider this: it’s because more veterinarians successfully complete suicide.

This preliminary data doesn’t delve into the causes or the proposed solutions, though those are currently hotly debated. Nonetheless, it’s good to see on paper what so many who are struggling have needed to hear: You’re not alone.

Stayin’ Alive

After watching my Ignite talk on being a Death Fairy, a veterinarian asked me how I avoided compassion fatigue in my work. I told her I would answer that, but first I have to admit this:

For a long time, I didn’t avoid it at all. I didn’t just float out of vet school and find an amazing job and love every second and plan to be a hospice vet because I knew that was the right thing for me to be. I wish I could tell you I was that organized and thoughtful, but the truth be told I did what most people I know in this field do when they’re stressed: power through bad situations until they became untenable, taking on more responsibility every other second.

So no, I didn’t avoid compassion fatigue. In fact, I burned out and quit. But then I reincarnated, I guess you could say, with a lot more perspective and a healthy understanding of what I’m really supposed to be doing here. But not until after I got really sick, like going to specialists and talking about scary tests sick, did I decide to get my priorities in order. Once that got sorted out, life got really good!

How to be a zen vet in a Prozac profession

 

1. Don’t underestimate the importance of your co-workers

 

team

I think there is no greater indicator of how happy you will be at work than how well your team works together. They will prop you up when you’re down, have your back when things get nuts, and inspire you to do better every day. Unfortunately, the converse is also true. The saying “turd in the punchbowl” exists for a reason.

2. Don’t settle for a toxic environment.

temporary

Temporary Like Sadness by Dominic Alves on Flickr

 

Sometimes you think you’re starting in at the best place on the earth, but something happens. The office manager is stealing. Your mentor turns out to be Voldemort. You get pregnant and can’t work overnights anymore. So many people stick it out in a bad situation because 1) we’re taught not to whine and 2) we’re scared there’s nothing better out there.

There’s always something better out there, but you won’t find it if you don’t look. If you are in an office that is causing you physical symptoms of anxiety, it’s time to start looking for a new job. Living in modern day American comes with certain advantages, like the whole “no indentured servitude” thing.

3. Don’t be afraid to explore. 

ROAD

I had no intention of being a veterinary writer. Blogs didn’t exist when I started vet school, nor did hospice veterinarians. Sometimes you just have to strike out in a direction that looks good and see what’s out there. Because guess what? I don’t care what anyone else has told you, you’re allowed to come back and be a vet if you leave. Taking time off to explore another career, take care of family, get another degree, none of it is a one way valve- unless you want it to be.

4. Set boundaries. Mean it.

boundaries

Out of every rule I laid out, this is seriously the number one important one. With the exception of the rare shining star who really does want this to be their life, most of us want a life of which veterinary medicine is only a part. This is a profession where it is very easy for it to take over your life, because there will always be more asked of you than you are able to give. Always. It is not a failing to recognize that.

Set boundaries with your clients, your co-workers, and yourself. Take vacations. Exercise. Enjoy your family. Do not let work intrude on this or else you will begin to resent it, and that is the seed of burnout. You can (and should) work your butt off, then go home and play your butt off.

Set those boundaries, and enforce them like your life depends on it.

you-shall-not-pass-o
It was an ironic realization to figure out that point of diminishing returns in terms of giving of yourself. You cannot truly understand compassion unless you’re willing to extend it to everyone, including yourself.

Resources

AVMA list of Wellness Resources

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

A place to talk to other vets- I am aware of several online and Facebook groups for vets to talk and support one another. Feel free to reach out to me if you would like more information.

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Featured Posts, Fit Life, Health, Lifestyle, Musings Tagged: , , ,

Grand Opening: The Pawcurious Surgical Training Centre

Title

So, every year I attempt some form of creative teaching enterprise at the kids’ school, and some years go better than others. This year, in a school I really like, I think things went well. I was asked to do a “veterinary science station” for the annual Science Fair, and I thought back to what I was excited about when I was a kid:


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Playing with guts! And I thought to myself, I bet I could create a dog version of this anatomical model. So I went to Joann’s, bought a bunch of random attachments and fabric bits, and commandeered one of my daughter’s stuffed animals to volunteer to be my surgical model.

Step one: preparing the abdominal cavity

FullSizeRender_4

 

I chose a mottled red fabric for the interior of the dog, and sewed a pouch to contain the abdominal organs. After cutting open a midline incision, I removed a bit of stuffing then sewed in a zipper. (Do this before sewing the pouch in, or you’ll end up with the zipper seam showing.) Then you can sew the top ends of the pouch to the edges of your incision and voila!

Step two: making organs

You can go kind of crazy with this stuff, but I tried to hold myself back to the main parts (no spleen, pancreas, etc). All of the organs were secured to the abdominal wall with Velcro so they would remain in the right place but they could be removed if the kids really wanted to see what was in there.

FullSizeRender

 

I tried to keep the organs moderately accurate, but I was limited by my own sewing experience and what I had on hand, which is how I wound up with lavender sparkly kidneys and a two-lobed liver. For the bladder we filled a white balloon with rice. The kids don’t care too much about accuracy.

FullSizeRender_1

 

The intestines were a long tube of velour that I sewed and then had to turn inside-out. I didn’t think that one through ahead of time. I debated leaving it a giant intussusception but I eventually got it figured out with actual surgical tools. Next time, forget it.

In the interest of simplicity, the loop represented both the large and small intestine. I had some nubby yarn that I really, really wanted to throw in there as omentum but I held myself back.

The stomach needed to be fairly correct as a gastrotomy was going to be one of the two surgeries the kids could do. It’s a fleecy material with the nubby side on the inside (rugae! yaay!). I ended up using ribbon “stitches” sewn into the sides of the incision, which was a smart choice once the fifth graders started yanking on them full-force.

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For the uterus, I sewed two red socks together at the toe (worked like a charm!) and bought a handful of small puppy toys. The ovaries were little white yarn pom-poms.

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I sewed a snap into the tip of both socks to keep the “uterus” closed. I also put in a piece of stretchy rubber ribbon on both sides of the abdomen that the uterus held to with velcro but that was overkill with these kids so I didn’t use it. Feel free to use it for the vet student in your life, though- they’ll have to get used to wrestling with that thing.

By the time everything got stuffed in there it was actually a shockingly decent approximation for the surgical experience- you look in and think, what the heck am I looking at? So I made a legend as well.

FullSizeRender_3

With all of that in hand, as well as a bunch of gloves and masks we didn’t end up using, we headed off to the science fair.

Step 3: The actual test

We had a lot of competition at the science fair. Computer programming, dry ice, slime, rockets, frogs. Since the kids didn’t know they were going to be doing surgery until they came up and asked what was going on, they all freaked out a little and then said, let’s do it!

preg

 

I used some of the radiographs readers shared with me. The pregnancy one was a big hit!

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A small cardboard tube served as a trachea and the kids intubated with a See’s candy stick.

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An old pillowcase with a rectangle cutout in the middle served as a surgical drape.

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For the case where the dog was vomiting, we used our legend to try and determine what we were looking for (something big and pink.)

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The kids got to pull out the assortment of items our patient ingested: a ball, a sock, a rock, and to see how they would lodge in the pylorus as there was no way they’d fit into the intestines.

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I could easily have had two dogs going, but as I had to re-stuff the dog after every surgery I had my assistant prepare the surgery table while the next group waited.

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Unsurprisingly, the c-section was a big crowd pleaser. We had only one person run off in horror when they figured out what was going on, and it was a dad.

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I wrapped the puppies in saran wrap “membranes”. For the little kids who weren’t quite up to delivering a puppy, the bigger kids could hand them a puppy to wrap in a towel, remove the membrane, and stimulate them to breathe (you see one in the lower left corner). Worked like a charm.

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Even the moms learned something, as in, “dang, that’s a big uterus.” Yes, it is.

The kids were all very concerned after to make sure the dog was closed and “woken up” after surgery was completed, all except the older boys who wanted to pull all the organs out and play with them. There’s something for everyone here at the clinic.

And the best part of the night were the kids who realized there were two surgeries and came back for more. Mission Minion recruitment accomplished!

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Featured Posts, Goofball Antics, Lifestyle, Mother of the Year Tagged: , ,

Giveaway: Halo Night at the Oscars Goodies Grab Bag!

When I was in college, I volunteered one night at a Grammys gifting suite. As a peon, I wore my one nice dress and handed bags full of ridiculously extravagant presents to celebrities and/or celebrity assistants. In return, I got….well, to say that I did it, I guess. Swag has gotten even more crazy in the ensuing years. Out of control, even.

Compared to the Grammys, the Oscars are even more insane- the “Everybody Wins at the Oscars” bag given to the non winning nominees in the top 5 categories is valued this year at $160,000. Included: glamping trips, “adult massagers”, cars, wine, jewelry, and- for real- mind control lessons. All the things a needy star could desire. Ah, Hollywood, you’re so crazy.

To balance out the scales of ridiculousness, Halo and Freekibble.com are donating something to the bag that everyone will love: 10,000 meals to the shelter of the nominee’s choice (that’s $6K in food!) So when they sort through the bottles of moisturizer and tooth care items, they will also find this:

Halo Oscars 2015 certificate

 

So you don’t have to give up on humanity entirely. Some good will come of this bacchanalia.

In honor of this event, Halo is helping me out by offering something to you as well: two goody bag items, one dog and one cat. While I can’t give you guys any adult items (this is a family blog!) or 10,000 meals (though I promise if I’m ever an Academy Award bag recipient I totally will donate my prize), I can offer the following:

redcarpetdog

redcarpetcat

 

The dog and cat prize will each contain:

1 bag of Halo food (dog or cat depending on the prize)

1 container of Halo Liv-a-Littles treats

1 autographed copy of All Dogs Go to Kevin (to be sent after release on July 14)

At least 2 additional surprises such as a Gentle Leader, K9 Cakery kit, Yeoww! catnip cigar, Blinking Buddy cat toy, Through a Cat’s Ear CD, Groom Genie brushes, Hidey Hole cat bed!

Estimated retail value: $125

 

Terms: This giveaway starts NOW and ends at midnight PST Tuesday, Feb 24 2015- so enter now before you forget in your haste to watch Fashion Police on Monday! All you need to do is click here and enter your email address. One winner for each prize will be selected randomly and notified by email. US only (There’s weird laws about international food shipping, sorry.)

enter-now-button

As for the Oscars themselves? I’m rooting for Grand Budapest Hotel, personally, but that might be because it’s the only Best Picture nominee I’ve seen. Who cares? It’s all about the dresses anyway!

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Featured Posts, Giveaways, Lifestyle Tagged: , ,

Candy Pee and Me: How Big Pharma Seduced Me at NAVC

It’s been entirely too long since I’ve posted, and for that I apologize. I’ve been terribly busy responding to nastygrams depositing my checks from Big Pet Food sneering at plebians going to a continuing education conference this past week, and what a week it was.

Like many of you, I read the Indy Star’s expose about the loose strings of pharmaceutical companies (or, in internet conspiracy parlance, Big Pharma) at continuing education conferences such as the one I was going to attend, and also like many of you, I was surprised. And excited. I had no idea this was what I had to look forward to! I thought I was just plunking down a couple grand in fees, airfare, and hotel for a measly week of polishing my science know-how, and here’s this whole seedy underbelly of riches I had no idea existed.

I arrived in Orlando for the North American Veterinary Community Conference with 16,000 of my closest friends energized, ready to be plied with jewels, cash, and cars. Kind of like The Price is Right, but with drugs.

In the past, I’ve wandered the exhibit hall for a breather in between talks, taking a peek at the new products on the market. Sometimes the companies would give us candy, or pens- enough to get us to stop by and familiarize ourselves with the product, but not enough to justify actually changing how we practice medicine. I would have done it anyway. Because becoming familiar with new products is, you know, what we’re supposed to do.

I wanted to start my day with one of the storied free food lectures, hoping to begin my morning with roasted pheasant and perhaps a fluffy souffle. Then I learned you had to get up at 6:30 and the most they could guarantee was that the food was “hot,” so I passed and had a Kind bar instead.

"All we need is cantaloupe and these vets won't know what hit them."

“All we need is cantaloupe and these vets won’t know what hit them.”

After a few am lectures about respiratory distress, where the speaker (and every other one at NAVC) carefully informed us about their financial ties- or lack thereof- to the topics of their talk, I hit the exhibit hall in search of fortune.

Somewhere past the forceps booth and to the left of the lasers, a long line started to snake through the aisles and out into the halls. Whatever they were giving away, that had to be good.

“Excuse me,” I said to the woman at the end of the line. “Is this where they’re handing out free cars?”

“No,” she said. “This line is for Build-a-Bear.”

“This huge line is for Build-a-Bear?” I asked somewhat incredulously. The three men in front of her turned around and to a one muttered something about little girls at home. It’s cool, guys. Everyone likes Build-a-Bear.

buildabear

“Where’s the contest where everyone wins something?” I asked, and they directed me over to the east hall, where a bored looking woman instructed me to spin a ‘wheel of parasites.’ I won a chapstick with a picture of a tapeworm on it.

As I continued to wander, I heard some grumbling from around a corner, where four people were congregated around a woman clutching a big bag. “Where’d you get that?” they asked her, and she pointed to another long line snaking through the hall.

“Is that the jewelry line?” I asked.

“No,” they said. “This is for the stuffed Olaf.”

“Like Olaf from Frozen?” I asked.

“Yes,” a woman replied, “but you have to be careful. They’re really hard to get. You have to go through a screening process.”

olaf

“What sort of screening process?” I asked.

“No one knows,” she said. “All I know is that they keep turning people away who don’t own practices. I think they sell some sort of financial services. It might involve an application and a credit report.”

“I’ve tried three times for an Olaf,” said another woman. “They’re not very nice about it.”

“Isn’t Frozen kind of old news anyway?” I asked, but that was apparently not the right question to ask.

Dispirited, I walked into the booth of a large pharmaceutical company. “If I listen to your spiel,” I asked, “What do I get?”

“Information,” the rep said, pulling out a sheaf of papers.

“No car?” I asked, disappointed. “Or a trip somewhere?”

She dug into her pocket and pulled out some mints. “I have these,” she said, then brightened. “Or a pen! Do you want a pen?”

“I’m OK,” I said. “I think I just need something to drink.”

“They have coffee over by that pet food display,” she said. “I think the line’s down to 15 minutes.”

By this time, the line for the Build-a-Bear had disappeared, and in exchange for giving a journal my email address, I was presented with a small, naked bear.

“We’re having a contest tomorrow for some scrubs,” the booth person said.

“For me?” I asked. “Or the bear?’

“For the bear.”

After an hour or so of this, my tally of freebies was as follows:

-One naked bear

-A bedazzled lanyard

-chapstick

– 15 pens

-one urine container filled with yellow candy (this was actually my favorite)

schwag

“Why do you think these lines for all these freebies are so long, do you suppose?” I asked my friend Kristen. “Are we that hard up for stuff we’d wait for half an hour just for a chance to win a free ipad?”

“You’re veterinarians,” she said. “Of course you are.” Touche.

After a long day of lectures and wandering, I had worked up an appetite, so I set out in search of the free feasts. I searched every corner of the hotel, and couldn’t find a single one. I realized everyone must have gone to the free rock concert instead.

“Free concert?” I said, intrigued. Maybe there was some credence to this Indy Star thing after all! “Who’d they get? Dave Grohl? Bruno Mars?”

There was a long pause as my friend flipped through the conference brochure. “38 Special,” she said.

38special1

“38 Special?” I replied. “Are those guys still alive?”

“Apparently.” Pause. “My dad’s gonna be so jealous. He almost took a cruise with them last year.”

Hungry and alone, I went to my room at 10 pm and decided to order room service. After 15 minutes on hold, I placed an order for a Cobb salad and was told it would be an hour and a half, because shutting ourselves in our rooms alone with our papers is apparently a popular choice for veterinarians. I’m so predictable.

 

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Goofball Antics, Lifestyle, Musings Tagged: , , , ,

3 ways to save money on pet care

If you were awake at 7:50 this morning and happen to have been watching San Diego 6, you’d have seen me trying with varied success to get a very sweet and nervous Saint Bernard to eat some treats. You know what they say about pets and kids. But that’s OK, because Gabana was still a precious prop to our perhaps less entertaining but still very important topic, saving money on pet care. Here’s the tips I shared:

1. Don’t skimp on preventive care.

Pop quiz: what is more expensive-

  • Regular dental cleanings on healthy teeth once a year
  • One set of extractions on a majorly diseased mouth, complete with antibiotics and an echo to check out that heart murmur the bacteremia ended up causing over time.

I brought in some Minties as an example of a home care item you can use in between cleanings. Love them within caloric reason, but again- cleanings at the vet are just an important as cleanings at your dentist.

minties

Early detection of problems like diabetes, kidney failure, and cancer results in lower vet bills, and more importantly, a healthier pet.

2. Ask for a written prescription

Yes, veterinarians often charge more for some meds than what you can get it for at Target or Wal-Mart. They pay more for them in the first place than the big pharmacies. The tradeoff is convenience, which is fine when you are getting one prescription but can add up if your pet needs regular medication. We all get that.

Ask for a written prescription. The veterinarian should provide one on request. Sometimes they will price match, too. The primary concern of our office is to make sure your pet gets the care they need, and the price of meds is often the difference between getting treated and going without.

3. Make your own treats

I’ve covered this extensively, from cupcakes to  donuts and jerky, but making your own treats can save money and be a ton of fun as well as give you lots of control over ingredients. Making dog treats is how I got my kids interested in cooking.

bronuts

Words cannot express my deep love for Fido’s Frosting from K9 Cakery, which is how I made the donuts above. If you recall, Kekoa like to eat this straight from the bag.

There’s only so much you can fit in a quick segment so I didn’t get to cover other topics like pet insurance, but we just spoke about that here a couple of weeks ago anyway. If you have any other tips that’s helped you save without losing out on quality care for your pet, I’m always up for ideas!

Filed: Blog, Cooking, Daily Life, Lifestyle Tagged: ,

The best day of the year is here!

It’s National Dog Day, a day to celebrate the love and bond we share with our canine companions.

It’s hard to top. What could possibly be better than National Dog Day?

dogday

 

Having your birthday fall on National Dog Day. Especially if you’ve always proclaimed that dogs are pretty much the best thing ever. It is also, in a strange twist of fate that I cannot tell if it is coincidental or not, is also National hot dog day, which is a fact I’m not as excited about so I will choose to ignore.

But it’s my birthday! And the fact that it’s National Dog Day is a welcome distraction from the fact that I am now old enough that birthdays are officially depressing, so Brody and I are going to have a great walk and have some treats and I may, in a fit of generosity, even give him a bit of hot dog, even though I won’t partake myself because I watched that episode of “How It’s Made” and eew.

In another wonderful coincidence, just yesterday GoPro released their new Fetch dog harness. I’ve been waiting for this for years. Some of you may remember my failed attempts at Brody cam, when I actually commissioned a person on Etsy back when you still could do that to make me a helmet harness for the dog. He looked like a Spaceball. It didn’t work. So we waited, and finally, our patience has been rewarded.

Heck yes I have one. To make things even scarier my husband bought himself a drone for his birthday so we have all the tech. Brody cam is COMING. Be warned.

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ETA: Have also just been informed that today is also Women’s Equality Day, a celebration of the 19th Amendment ratification on 8/26/1920. The day just keeps getting better and better!

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Lifestyle, Pet Gear Tagged: , ,

Pet insurance- the good, the bad, the somewhere in between

I admit I am biased about pet insurance. I like it, mostly. Clients who had it were, in my experience, much more likely to approve necessary treatments. That dog with a case of happy tail who wagged it so hard and so fast he got a nasty deep infection that ended up necessitating a partial tail amputation? Insured. Hit by car? Insured. From my perspective, it allowed owners to focus on the pet’s immediate needs and get them taken care of.

I also liked it because I didn’t have to do anything to get it taken care of, other than fill out a brief form.  The owners paid me upfront, and were reimbursed by their company after the fact. If the owner and the insurer had a disagreement about what should or should not be covered, it wasn’t something I had to get involved in. It was nothing like human medicine. The summer before I started veterinary school, I actually worked the front desk in an internal medicine MD practice and good lord, those staffers spent probably 33% of the day dealing with insurance issues.

Source: Trupanion.com

Source: Trupanion.com

Just a few years ago, I could list three pet insurance companies, tops. Now there’s almost too many to count, with good policies and bad policies and fine print a mile long and exclusions even longer, especially if you have a bulldog in which case you might as well just get a second job.

Some pay a flat percentage of your bill. Others use benefit schedules, and specify exactly what amount they will pay per procedure. Most reimburse you, but I know of at least one that is rolling out a program that will pay veterinarians directly. Some cover preventive care. Some cover accidents. Some cover breed related illnesses, and others don’t. Tooth extractions? May or may not be a pre-existing condition. WHO KNOWS.

It’s gotten so confusing, even for me, that when people ask me what I think all I can say is, “Yes, go for it, but with caution.” Caveat emptor. But even then, even knowing all there is to know and asking all there is to ask, I’m hearing more and more people tell me they just spent five hours on the phone with an insurance rep trying to figure out how a newly diagnosed endocrine condition counts as “pre-existing.”

If this sounds familiar, that’s because that’s what all of us have done with our health insurers at least once, right? It’s confusing, and getting even more so the more players that enter the field. All companies are not created equal. I think most people completely understand the need for exclusions and limits, but for goodness sake let people know when they sign up what, exactly, they are signing up for.

fuzzy

While lawmakers in California had hoped that pet insurance would fall under the auspice of state insurance regulators, it hasn’t happened, and people with complaints have found they were pretty much out of luck. Fortunately, a new bill that already passed the legislature and is headed for the governor’s desk should give consumers a good deal more protection.

AB 2056 will make California the first state in the nation to specifically pass regulations about the pet insurance industry, separate from its current designation as miscellaneous property and casualty. It specifies the need for clear language about co-pays, exclusions, waiting periods, and caps- all the stuff people run into issues with now.

This is good news for everyone: the excellent insurance companies out there whose reputation is being sullied by the shyster groups, veterinarians who are able to better care for pets, and most of all the clients and pets who stand to benefit from better access to care.

So let’s hear it: what’s been your experience lately? Have you been blindsided or pleased with your insurance coverage?

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Health, Lifestyle Tagged: ,

Live from Vegas: Pet Products You’ve Got To See

FTC Disclosure: featured products provided review product and/or compensation for inclusion in the Product Spotlight.

If you’ve ever been to a trade show, you know how easy it is to get overwhelmed. A pet show like SuperZoo is an utter cacophony of sounds, sights, and row after row of many things that all look the same after an hour: treats and collars, treats and collars, rinse, repeat.

szIt’s hard for products to stand out in a crowd like that, but when Dr. Andy Roark and I hit the convention floor the last couple of days that is exactly what we were looking for. Fortunately for us, we found it.

Like two wandering corporate souls in sensible shoes and dark suits, we crisscrossed the vast plains of the Mandalay Bay convention floor searching, talking to people, and petting booth dogs until we wound up with three fantastic standouts for the Inaugural Roark and Vogelsang SuperZoo Product Spotlight. Here they are:

1. Tech of the Year: Voyce collar

Remember that moment in Up when Carl says to Dug, “I wish he could talk” and Dug’s collar says, “Hi there”? The idea of our dogs being able to speak has transfixed us humans for years with the possibilities of what they could tell us: Are you hurt? Are you hungry? Are you tired?

While the Voyce collar can’t actually make your dog talk, it is a huge leap forward in the ever growing market of wearable tech for dogs and so far, the closest thing we have to speaking their language. The Voyce collar’s technology and interface tracks and trends over time not only activity level and calories burned but heart rate and respiratory rate.

Great Dane Taz-2216-2_noStethoscope

As someone vastly invested in the concept of providing better care for senior pets, one of the messages I keep trying to get across to pet owners is this: ‘he’s getting old and tired’ is only the tip of the iceberg. If your tired old man has a resting heart rate through the roof and pants 24/7, guess what- he may be in pain. This data, which up to now were only accessible by a person with a stethoscope, can be collected at home over time and accessible to both the owners and the vet.

To add value to the experience, Voyce teamed with education resource provider LifeLearn to ensure owners have access to a wide variety of educational resources to help understand the data and make all of us better pet owners through improved knowledge. The dashboard features not only your individual pet’s collected data but advice and articles from a large panel of  animal experts.

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There’s a reason it won the PC World/Tech Hive and Yahoo! Tech “Best of CES 2014″ at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. It’s nice to see the tech world finally going to the dogs.

The Voyce collar will be launching before the holidays- interested owners can sign up on the Voyce website to be notified when it is available for sale online. In the meantime you can join the ever growing community on Facebook of techie dogs waiting for their chance to have a Voyce. -JV

2. Toy of the Year: Tuggo Dog Toy

It always makes me feel good to watch a big man dance. That’s the same feeling I get when I watch a big, strong dog play wildly with a toy. I think that’s why I am such a fan of the Tuggo Dog Toy.

The toy is wonderfully simple in its design. It’s a large plastic ball with a rope through it. The ball can be filled with water to add weight and cause a “tugging” motion. Dogs grab the rope, pull the ball around, and toss the entire contraption into the air.

To appreciate what Tuggo is, you’ve just got to see dogs at play with it. Tuggo’s Facebook page  is covered with videos of dogs enjoying the toy. Here’s the video that originally caught my attention:

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I love large dogs, and one of the greatest struggles I see pet owners having with them is getting them enough exercise. While small dogs can often work out inside the house or in the back yard, large dogs may not have the space to adequately stretch their legs. If a product like Tuggo can get these big dogs out and moving and burning calories, then I’m all for it. And who doesn’t like watching big dogs frolic like puppies?

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The ball is available in red, blue, and green colors, and in 10-inch diameter and 7-inch diameter sizes. Tuggo Toys can be purchased through their website  and shipping is free.   -AR

I asked founder Adam Harrington what inspired the Tuggo, and he told me “watching my dog play with a bowling ball.” All of you people asking me for a TOUGH toy? Here it is. -JV

 3. Lifestyle Product of the Year: Kinn Kleanbowl

As a busy mom, I have to tell you: things that make my life easier make me very happy. We eat on paper plates a lot around here. While I am tempted by the ease of doing the same for my pets, if you’ve ever watched a dog try to eat out of a paper bowl you know that just ends in upended bowls wedged under a chair and food embedded in the kitchen floor, so stainless steel it is.

Here’s the bad news: according to NSF International, pet bowls are the 4th germiest place in the house, teeming with E. coli, Salmonella, yeast, and mold. This is exactly what you would expect when you leave a bowl of meat products sitting around. People? We’re lazy and don’t wash the bowls nearly enough, and that is just how it is.

Here, in an elegant form, is the solution: the Kinn Kleanbowl, a stainless steel rim that sits on top of a sturdy, compostable bowl made from recyclable yet sturdy and waterproof (yes!!) sugar cane fiber. Yup, you can use it for water too, so you eliminate that algae-goo that builds up if your bowl doesn’t go in the dishwasher every day.

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My cat eats a lot of wet food and Brody get rehydrated raw, so we know all too well how dirty and crusty bowls get. That being said, oily kibble residue isn’t much better. In addition for being a boon to time starved people like me, the Kleanbowl is a great solution for busy vet clinics who need their staff to spend less time scraping uneaten leftovers off in the trash and more time replacing the catheter the dog in cage 4 chewed out, yet again.

Klean Bowl top view

There is a small but persistent voice in my head that wants to know how this would also work with toddlers and spaghetti.

Clean. Convenient. Compostable. This is a bowl for  the people. The Kleanbowl retails for $19.95 and 50 count refills are available for $14.95 at the Kleanbowl website. To keep up on all the innovative products from Kinn including what I believe to be the world’s finest pill splitter, check out the Kinn Facebook page. -JV

 

Any of these jump out to you as must-haves? Stay tuned. Andy and I are going to be running a giveaway very soon!

Filed: Blog, Features, Lifestyle, Pet Gear, Reviews Tagged: , , , ,

Moo-eauty is in the eye of the beholder

Ever since my first $5 velvet tiger bought at a flea market when I was 12, I’ve been a fan of animal art. My mother, whose taste runs more to lighthouses and anything by Thomas Kincaid, was flummoxed but tolerant, as long as I kept it all in my room and away from her floral landscapes.

People who come to my house these days are unsurprised at the amount of animal art we have. Sure, it’s not the only thing we have on our walls, but in the grand scheme of things one could easily deduce we like little creatures. Wooden giraffe. A bronze cat. A painting of Emmett. What I did not have, however, was a cow. It wasn’t something I thought about, or laid long nights awake thinking, “You know what I need here in this house? A depiction of a bovine.” 

And yet when I saw it, I had to have it.

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I’m not sure what exactly about this cow (her name, according to the title, is Geraldine) appealed so much to me, but her face just instantly made me smile. It’s that combination of guilelessness, mild interest, and derpiness that I can’t resist. She has Brody’s eyes and Kekoa’s nose.

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HELLO I AM A COW

My husband, who had already moved past this piece in the small beachside store and was looking at candlesticks, saw me going back and forth, back and forth in front of the painting as it hung out by its lonesome out on the front porch.. He looked at the price tag. It was priced to moo-ve. Geraldine had been out to pasture for a bit, apparently.

“You like it, don’t you?” he asked.

“I do,” I said.

“Where would you put it?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe the hallway outside the kids’ rooms?”

A few hours later, I left Geraldine reclining in the entryway while I gathered the kids, who would surely delight in this whimsical piece of colorful art soon to be greeting them every morning.

“What’s THAT?” asked my son dubiously.

“It’s a cow,” said my daughter. “I think.”

“YES it’s a cow,” I said. “Isn’t it cute?”

“……um, sure,” said my daughter. “Where are you going to put it?”

“In your hallway!” I said, as my son wrinkled his nose. “Or did you have a better idea?”

“It should totally go in your bedroom,” said my daughter. “It’s perfect for there.”

My son agreed. “We were going for a Frozen/Minecraft thing upstairs,” he reminded me. I think it’s fair to say tastes skip a generation. My husband looked briefly horrified at the thought that this would not be secreted upstairs but would in fact greet him each and every morning, staring him down as he brushes his teeth, but to his credit he recovered quickly.

Clearly, Geraldine and I are meant to be together, a face only a veterinarian could (does) love. I have placed her assertively across from the doorway to the bedroom so the second you open the door you are greeted with Geraldine’s quizzical face.

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Nobody puts Geraldine in the corner.

Everyone’s a critic these days. Ah well.

 

Filed: Blog, Lifestyle Tagged: ,

What to Say to Someone in Mourning

This morning, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Joanne McGonagle over at The Tiniest Tiger for a Google Hangout on the topic of pet loss. I had this whole long post about how easy it is to get wrong and how hard it is to get right, but rather than go through the long sordid tales of all the times I’ve said the exact wrong thing  I thought I would instead sum up what we, along with all the wonderful participants, concluded during the course of the talk. Some of the statements are specific to pet loss, but really, most of them are pretty universal when it comes to grief.

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WORST THINGS TO SAY TO SOMEONE WHO HAS LOST A PET

1. How old was he?

While it may be an innocent question, it sort of implies a gradient of allowable grief depending on the age of the pet. Three? Tragic. Thirteen? Well, he was old, so it’s not quite so sad. Losing a pet is sad and awful no matter the circumstances; pets who lived a long life had that many more years to seal into your heart.

2. Aren’t you over it yet?

Clearly, they’re not. Making a person feel like there is something wrong with them for feeling sad will only force their sorrow into isolation. There’s no official grief timeline.

3. Come on, it was just a dog/cat/bird. I can get you another one this afternoon.

A pet is not a yoyo, an easily replaceable object. Nor is the pet a human, but that does not mean the attachment the person felt to their pet wasn’t just as deep, nor their grief easier to bear. And that individual will never be replaced.

4. Too bad you didn’t try fish oil/more chemo/crystal therapy.

Second guessing what a person did in the days leading up to a pet’s passing serves no purpose other than to add guilt to what they’ve already piled on themselves. This is not a teaching moment; nothing will change what happened. If you can’t say “You did the right thing”, don’t say anything.

5. My dog had cancer too- all of my dogs! And my hamster!

While it’s human nature to want to empathize through sharing similar experiences, beware of the Pain Olympics- being the person who has to turn someone else’s grief into their own, and then top it. “Oh, you’re sad? Well, not as sad as I WAS back in 08! Boy was that a doozy!”

6. He’s in a better place.

The only place we wanted him was here, with us.

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BEST THINGS TO SAY TO SOMEONE WHO HAS LOST A PET

1. I’m so sorry for your loss.

Simple, right? Just acknowledge their pain. Those around a bereaved owner may hesitate to say anything out of discomfort, not knowing what to say, or trying to avoid having the topic come up at all. Make no mistake, they haven’t forgotten that they are sad, they’re just stuffing it down as hard as they can because that is what one is supposed to do.

2. My favorite memory is:

I love this one. Share a memory, something their pet did, or how their fur felt, or how they always leaned up against your leg. It is so lovely to have another person share with you an impact, no matter how big or small, your pet had on them too.

3. (Silent hug)

If you can’t think of any words, just go for the hug. It is another form of powerful acknowledgement.

4. Take as long as you need.

Grief is not a straight line that decreases in a defined percentage each day. Think of it more like a receding tide, waves roll in, then go back out, then roll up again, and pull back, a little bit further each time. There are good days and bad days, and having a meltdown 6 months after the fact in a Barnes and Noble just happens sometimes. It just does.

 

I’m happy to explore this topic more, as I think there is so much to learn to help us be better pet care providers, better caretakers, and better friends. If you have more suggestions as to things you’ve heard that were good or bad, please share them below.

Filed: Blog, Lifestyle, Musings, Picks of the Litter Tagged: , , ,

My husband and Her: A neato love story

herI have no one to blame but myself, of course, for the events that have transpired since Christmas.

I was the one who brought her in, invited her to come into our home and get to know the place. My husband said it was the only thing he wanted this year, so I went with it, albeit with some trepidation.

You should have seen his face when he realized what I had done. “Wow!” he said. “Finally!” The children looked on in confusion. Brody ran away. Only Penelope, the newest addition to the fold, approached her with anything resembling curiosity.

Her name was Rosie, and she was here to stay.

I don’t consider myself a jealous person under normal circumstances, but it’s hard to compete with someone who plays their role with such aplomb. I even took out my Thomas Keller Bouchon Bakery cookbook and made what may be the most amazing chocolate chip cookies in existence in an attempt to regain my rightful place in his affections: “See!” I say, holding one out. “Aren’t they wonderful?” He takes a bite, nods in assent, and before I can say another word in she comes, swerving around me to clear the floors. She’s loud in her approach. You can’t miss her. Immediately his attention is gone, focused now on something newer, shinier. He smiles in admiration as she saunters away, the crumbs vanished.

Rosie is, if you haven’t figured it out yet, our new Neato robotic vacuum. I thought I was buying a household appliance. What I was getting was an obsession.

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Every day, my husband greets us after work: me, the kids, Rosie. “What did you get done today?” he asks, then turns to Rosie. “And how did she do?” He surveys the house. “Wow. Wow. This is, like, the best thing ever. Is the dustbin full? Is your brush stuck?” He turns to me. “Did you check if she was OK and if she needed anything? Did you check the dustbin?”

She is thorough, I’ll give you that. She follows Brody around and grabs more off the floor in one afternoon than I seem to manage in several gos around the house. She doesn’t get annoyed at and ignore the space under the coffee table where furballs go to retire. She flushes them out like an angry beagle.

Living with her is sometimes a drag. She drones on and on, vRRRrrrRRRRRR. She always seems to be underfoot right where I need to be. Brody is petrified of her. My husband won’t stop talking about her. One day, when I lost all patience for her and her distracting antics, I hissed “Choke on a carrot, you dumb robot.”

Later than day, I came home from the grocery store, expecting the usual roar but instead being greeted with a disquieting sense of silence. The floor in the entryway, sparkling clean since her arrival, had the thin sprinkling of daily dust we were accustomed to in our pre-Rosie days. Brody looked at me with an expression I couldn’t read. I heard her, finally, a quiet, desperate chirping. I followed her cries for help to the kitchen.

She had choked on a squirrel.

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Immediately chagrined, I disentangled the two battling toys and dispatched Rosie to the entryway, while I spent the time I would normally be dragging my Dyson around working on the book. When my husband got home, he didn’t even need to ask. “I emptied the dustbin. Twice.”

My husband posted about her on Facebook a few days ago, and one by one, the men all came out of lurking. “I have one too.” “Me too.” “It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.” Our friend J just bought posted that he bought two. One for each floor of the house, or one for each dog, not sure.

I’d be more insulted at the apparent poor vacuuming skills this implies were it not, if I must tell the truth, an entirely correct assessment. We have come to an agreement, Rosie and I. My husband can gloat and lavish praise all he wants, as long as she keeps those hairballs away.

*No, I have no affiliation with Neato. This post is all me.

Filed: Blog, Lifestyle, Musings, Pet Gear, Reviews Tagged: , ,
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