Monthly Archives November 2013

Hamsters, Guinea Pigs and Other Pets Can Help Autistic Children

Numerous studies have shown that pets can have a huge impact on human health. People interacting with pets have less stress, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and increased levels of exercise. The benefits pets can have on people have been demonstrated in numerous social settings including hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and psychiatric facilities. Recent studies have shown that the interaction of pets with children on the autistic spectrum may also help encourage positive social behavior. Autistic children are often drawn to these animals and are calmer, happier and more focused in the presence of these pets. Does species matter? Studies examining autistic children’s reaction to pets have focused primarily on dogs and horses. Recently, however, other pets have been included in this research. For example, in a study at the University of Queensland in Australia, 99 children from the ages of 5 to 13, some of whom were autistic and others who were not, were observed interacting with either toys or two classroom pet guinea pigs. When the autistic children interacted with guinea pigs, they engaged in 55% more social behaviors than when they interacted with toys. With the guinea pigs present, autistic children were less likely to cry and more likely to smile, talk and accept the approach of other kids. The study concluded that inclusion of a pet in an autistic child’s activities may increase socialization with both other children and adults. Importantly, these guinea pigs were not trained therapy animals but simply classroom pets that were used to being around children. The effect pets may have on an autistic child may depend on the age at which the child interacts with the animal. A study conducted at the Autism Resource Center at Hospital Bohars in France looked at autistic children, ages 5 to 16 years, attending a day-care facility. The study compared 12 autistic children who got a pet after the child turned 5 with 12 non-pet-owning autistic children (matched with pet-owning children for age, gender and language skills). Significantly, autism experts consider ages 4 to 5 years to be the time at which the severity of autism most significantly affects development. In this study, pet-owning children were better able to share toys and food with both parents and other kids and better able to comfort others than the pet-less children were. Interestingly, these findings held true regardless of the type of pet: dog, cat, hamster, or rabbit. Similar findings have been noted in studies of children interacting with turtles. French researchers theorized that when people interact with pets, both person and pet react to each other’s nonverbal cues by adjusting their own behaviors. In addition, pets may distract autistic children from stress-producing stimuli, thereby reducing their anxiety.

Exotic Pets and Autistic Children

No one knows definitively why pets help improve autistic children’s social skills. Several experts feel that since many autistic children seek sensory stimulation, the act of touching a pet regardless of the type may be very comforting. Other autistic children, however, are averse to sensory stimulation, reacting negatively to touch. While studies have yet to prove this, my theory as an exotic animal veterinarian who has worked with autistic children owning exotic pets is that very active dogs or fast-moving cats may be overwhelming to children resistant to touch; smaller, calmer exotic pets, such as guinea pigs and slow-moving reptiles (turtles, tortoises, snakes and some lizards) may be less overwhelming to these children. Tactile-averse children may benefit from just watching exotic pets through the glass of an aquarium without having to touch them.

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Holiday travel is here: boarding birds and exotic pets when you’re away

It’s holiday time, and you have planned an exotic, or perhaps not so exotic, getaway for you and your family. Tickets are booked, hotel plans are made, then you are stuck with the question – what do I do with my beloved exotic pet? Some owners bring in a pet sitter who will come once or twice a day to visit, feed and clean their pet in their home. While there are benefits to having someone come to your house when you’re away, a lot can happen to your pet during the hours the sitter is not there. Another option is to bring your
pet to the sitter’s house, a pet shop, or a boarding facility. In these places, the pet is then monitored more closely; however, the risk of exposure to potentially infectious disease is greater. Most pet stores and boarding facilities do not require a certificate of health from a veterinarian before pets board, increasing the chances that a sick pet might come in and expose all of the boarders, especially if pets are housed in close quarters as they are in many of these facilities. Unfortunately, we at the Veterinary Center end up treating many pets each year that become ill because of inappropriate care by pet sitters when the owners are away or of exposure to other pets carrying disease at pet stores and boarding facilities.

All boarding pets at the Veterinary Center, however, are required to have blood and stool tests before accepting them into our state of the art boarding facility. Boarding pets at the Center do not have any contact with each other, because all of the cages are separated from each other by solid walls that slide up to the sides of the cages, thereby enabling us to adjust the boarding space to accommodate to the size of the cage the animals are in. By preventing boarders from seeing their neighbors, we further minimize spread of disease-causing germs through the air and lessen the stress each pet feels by not seeing a strange neighbor next door. During their stay, our staff provides care, love, and attention. Cages are changed twice a day, pets get out of their cages to exercise, and we weigh pets daily to ensure they are eating well. While we are happy to feed whatever food you bring in with your pet to help him feel more at home, we try to provide the healthiest diet possible when your pet stays with us. If he hasn’t been on the most nutritious diet at home, with your permission and in the controlled environment of the hospital where we can monitor your pet’s appetite and stool production closely, we use the boarding stay to transition your animal over to a healthier meal plan that you can continue when he goes home. While we see the boarding pets ever day in the hospital, Dr. Hess keeps an eye on them at night, after hours, on her computer screen at home, via closed circuit infrared cameras that even work when the lights in the room are off. Also, when not being entertained by our veterinary technicians, the animals enjoy watching cartoons on the flat screen TV positioned just for them. There are even speakers in the ceiling to provide music if they need some quiet time, and the lights in the room are on a timer to go off at night before bedtime. Best yet, the hospital is alarmed and monitored via motion detectors to ensure your pet is safe, there is a generator in case of a power outage, and Dr. Hess lives just 5 minutes away in case of emergency.

So, while you’re away on vacation, why not let your pet vacation with us? Call the Veterinary Center today to schedule your pet’s stay with us, so that with your little loved one in our care, there is no need to worry the next time you go on a short or long, exotic, or not so exotic holiday.

Omega-3 fatty acids: for everyone feathered, furred, or scaly

Do you take an omega fatty acid supplement in your diet? Omega-3 fatty acids – alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) – are the buzz words among human nutritionists these days, as these fatty acids have anti-inflammatory/anti-oxidant actions that can protect the body against tissue damage. ALA is derived from plants (like flax seed, soy, perilla and canola oils, and walnuts), while EPA and DHA come from animal sources (fish oil). There is a growing body of research that shows that these fatty acids may help treat and prevent the development of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, asthma, kidney disease, allergic skin disease/psoriasis/eczema, ulcerative colitis, and possibly some forms of cancer. They may also be important for brain/eye/nervous system health and development, as well as normal growth. Given the number of studies now showing the benefits of these nutrients, our pets should be given these supplements, as well. As we all know, it’s hard to provide our birds and exotic pets with the same balanced diet that their wild counterparts consume. There are so many omega-fatty acid supplements available, and not all of them have been tested on birds and exotic pets. One product – Omega-3 Booster™ – provides these essential omega-3 fatty acids in a small volume that’s palatable for all species (birds, mammals, even reptiles) and has been found to be safe in birds and exotic pet species. The Veterinary Center has been prescribing this product for many animals (birds, ferrets, rabbits, rodents, and reptiles) and has seen some terrific results. We are now recommending this great supplement for nearly all our patients. So, given all the health benefits omega-3 fatty acids can provide, why aren’t you giving them to your bird or exotic pet? Call the Veterinary Center to find out more and to get some for your beloved pet.