Health Alert: Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus found in Ramsey County
On Tuesday, September 28th, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health announced that two housemate rabbits in Ramsey County were diagnosed with Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV2). RHDV2 has previously not been reported in Minnesota. This virus causes acute death and is sadly nearly always fatal for rabbits who contract it. The state is investigating whether this is an isolated incident. If your rabbit is showing any signs of illness, or especially if they die suddenly with no previous symptoms of disease, it is very important to report this to your veterinarian so they can help determine next steps. Please also be on the watch for any deceased wild rabbits, especially if they show no obvious signs of trauma (i.e. being hit by a car). This virus can infect our wild rabbit population as well.
The Board of Animal Health is in discussions about whether they will begin allowing veterinarians in Minnesota to import the vaccine for RHDV2 from Europe. Until we get their approval, we cannot start the importation process. We will keep you updated on if and when a vaccine clinic is being planned.
For our cat and dog owners, and for those that have pocket pets other than rabbits, the good news is that RDHV2 is not transmissible to other species. Make sure that your cats and dogs are on flea and tick prevention if you have indoor rabbits, because these parasites could spread RHDV to an indoor rabbit.
Until your rabbit can be vaccinated, it is very important to practice good biosecurity measures to keep your rabbit safe. This includes:
- No outdoor access for rabbits. RHDV is spread between infected animals by flying insects and is incredibly stable in the environment. You should not allow your rabbit access to the outdoors, and especially not to areas that wild rabbits have access to.
- Remove your shoes prior to entering your home.
- Ideally, change clothing and wash hands well before entering the space where your rabbit is housed.
- Do not feed any grass or plants gathered from outdoors.
- Check the source of your rabbit’s hay and feed; use products from manufacturers that are taking precautions to ensure that their hay and feed is safe for your rabbit.
- Do not participate in any social gathering with other rabbits (shows, “Hoppy Hours”, etc).
- Visit https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/downloads/rhdv-cleaning-guidance.pdf for guidance on disinfecting objects that may be contaminated.
We know this is scary news for those of us who have pet rabbits. We will keep you posted on this developing story as we learn more.
Bark Bark Bark! Correcting Nuisance Barking
Excessive barking can be a big problem for families. Barking can be disruptive for owners and can strain relationships with neighbors. Barking can even threaten your lease if you are a renter and your neighbors are complaining. As we’ve all been home more throughout the pandemic, nuisance barking is even more noticeable and bothersome. The good news is that most dogs can be trained out of this annoying behavior.
When working on reducing excessive barking, keep in mind that punishment can make barking behaviors worse. Dogs who are barking out of excitement will interpret your scolding (such as yelling “Quiet!”) as you joining them in making noise. Anti-bark collars (i.e. shock collars, citronella collars) can cause fearful or anxious dogs to become even more fearful and worsen their anxiety, thus making them more likely to bark. Most dogs respond much more reliably to positive reinforcement (redirecting their attention and rewarding quiet behavior) than to punishments.
The first step in addressing excessive barking is to try to “find their why”. What is your dog barking at? When are they barking? How long do they bark? Motivations for barking can include anxiety (especially separation anxiety), resource guarding (protecting their home), sensitization to specific stimuli (such as a knock on the door), boredom, attention-seeking, cognitive dysfunction, or totally normal (particularly in certain breeds who have been bred to be vocal, such as hounds). Tracking when your dog barks can help you determine specific triggers and then start to work on training and modifying the environment to help reduce the barking. A white noise machine or calming music helps to decrease your dog’s awareness of certain triggers such as loud noises. iCalmPet provides a wide variety of “bioacoustic” music- music specifically designed to reduce anxiety and calm both cats and dogs. Sounds Scary is a training program that helps you teach your dog to become less reactive to specific sound stimuli such as knocks at the door or other dogs barking. Dr. Sophia Yin wrote an excellent article describing the process of identifying and correcting the cause of barking.
No matter the cause of barking, remember that a tired dog is more likely to be a quiet dog. Make sure your dog gets at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, as well as some sort of mental enrichment such as playing with a puzzle toy or working on a chew item. Exercise helps to reduce boredom and anxiety, two of the most common causes of excessive barking.
Dogs who bark due to anxiety will usually only bark excessively when they are separated from their people. You may not even be aware that your dog is barking until neighbors complain about the behavior. Barking when alone is a strong indication that a dog has separation anxiety. Anxiety management can be an intensive process and oftentimes requires the help of a veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist. You can learn a lot about separation anxiety from the booklet “I’ll Be Home Soon” by Patricia McConnell. If this isn’t enough information to help you get started on managing your dog’s separation anxiety, then you may want to call your veterinarian to discuss next steps.
If your dog is barking in response to people or dogs walking past your house, remember that the behavior is self-rewarding. Every time your dog barks, the thing they are barking at leaves. This means that, as far as they can tell, their barking was effective! They got the intruder to leave! Every time your dog repeats this pattern, they get a positive reinforcement that encourages them to do it again. To disrupt this type of barking, prevent them from practicing the behavior. Don’t leave your dog unattended in the yard to bark at passers-by. Place window clings on your windows to prevent your dog from being able to see the stimuli that makes them bark and use white noise to decrease outside noises that can trigger barking. Keep your dog confined to a crate during times that they are prone to excessive barking so they cannot hear or see the things they want to bark at.
If your dog is older and has just recently developed a habit of nuisance barking, consider that they may be developing cognitive dysfunction. This is a syndrome similar to dementia. Nuisance barking is usually not the only symptom of cognitive dysfunction; other common symptoms include breaking in normal toileting behavior, disruption of their sleep cycle, and seeming forgetful (i.e. getting stuck in corners, not recognizing familiar people or dogs). Your veterinarian can discuss management of cognitive dysfunction with you.
Problem barking can be corrected with the right combination of understanding, training, and tools. Ask your veterinarian for resources if you need help managing your dog’s excessive barking!
PU/PD In Cats
“PU/PD” means “polyuria/polydipsia”, and is the term that veterinarians use to describe excessive urination and excessive drinking. This is a symptom that we pay close attention to in both dogs and cats. For kitties, there are several diseases that can commonly cause PU/PD:
- Diabetes mellitus: Diabetes is a disease in which the body becomes unable to absorb glucose and turn it into energy. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that allows cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream and use it for energy. Most cats with diabetes have insulin resistance (also called type 2 diabetes). The most common symptom owners notice first is increased drinking and urination, as well as significant weight loss.
- Kidney disease: The kidneys are responsible for filtering toxins from the blood and retaining water in the body. For normal animals, if they become dehydrated, the kidneys can create a very concentrated urine to keep water in the body, and if they drink a lot of water, the kidneys create a very dilute urine to allow excess water to leave the body. If the kidneys become diseased, they stop being able to do these jobs well. In order to keep their bodies hydrated, cats respond to kidney disease by drinking significantly more water than normal. In many cases, despite drinking large volumes of water, they can’t drink enough to stay adequately hydrated and can start to feel very sick.
- Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism in cats is caused by a tumor within the thyroid gland that produces thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormones regulate how the body uses energy, and too much thyroid hormone will make every organ system work overtime. Most cats with hyperthyroidism become voracious eaters. They often have GI upset (vomiting, diarrhea), weight loss, and hyperactive behavior, and most of them develop PU/PD.
The best starting point to figure out why a cat has PU/PD is to perform bloodwork and a urinalysis. These tests often get us a diagnosis, or help guide us to the next diagnostic steps. If you see your cat spending more time at the water bowl than usual, don’t ignore it! The sooner we determine why your cat has PU/PD, the sooner we can correct the underlying problem.
We are updating some of our clinic forms! If your pet is being dropped off with us for an exam, diagnostic tests, or surgery, you’ll be receiving an electronic form to fill out ahead of time via email. These forms will ensure that we have accurate contact information and up-to-date information about your pet’s health status. The forms will also provide you with all of the information you need about your pet’s visit and give you time to decide about any optional procedures you might want to pursue for your pet while they are hospitalized. If you have any feedback about these new forms, we’d love to hear it!
We will be closed on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 26th from 12 pm to 6 pm for a staff workshop. We will be unable to dispense medications or food during this time. We appreciate your understanding!