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Friday, October 17, 2014

Ebola and Pets

The Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in the Congo of Africa. It has caused outbreaks of death and disease in Africans ever since. The most recent outbreak has been particularly horrible, and the illness has crossed the border to threaten other nations, including ours. We know that African Fruit Bats can act as reservoirs and can spread the disease to people, so the question arises: can dogs do the same? One dog has already been euthanized, and another quarantined after being exposed to their infected owners.

A study published in 2005 demonstrated that some dogs exposed to Ebola virus (many through eating carcasses of Ebola-infected animals) developed titers to the disease. None of the dogs showed any clinical signs of illness. So what does that mean? It could mean that some dogs, when heavily-exposed to the virus (as in eating it) may actually become "infected." Can these asymptomatically-"infected" dogs spread the virus to people? We don't know, but at this time there is zero evidence that it has ever happened.

Another question is, could dogs (or other animals, for that matter) spread the virus on their feet or fur from an infected person? The answer to that is also unknown, but it seems likely to me that they could, since the virus is known to survive on inanimate objects for a period of time.

The CDC assures us that Ebola is extremely unlikely to become a widespread threat in the US, and I certainly believe that to be accurate, because we are much more "organized" in the disease-control area than third-world countries. Hopefully, probably, this will prove to be true.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Grain-Free Myth or "The Emperor's New Diet"

As described by Wikipedia, "The Emperor's New Clothes"  is a short tale by Hans Christian Andersen about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, a child cries out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!" The tale has been translated into over a hundred languages.

The wave of grain-free diets that are flooding the pet food market very much reminds me of this parable. Several times a week I have a client proudly proclaim that they have switched their pet to the new, healthier grain-free food!!!! I admit, that like the townspeople in the story, at first I was unable to respond to these proclamations with anything other than a hearty congratulations (while doing my best to hide my bewilderment).

Grains (which include wheat and corn as they are processed for pet food) have been implicated lately in every animal malady possible. I have heard it blamed for every possible digestive disorder (of course), urinary tract problems, immune system problems, skin problems (this is a biggie), seizures, and cancer. Yes, I have had clients brag that, "Fluffy's ________ problem has completely resolved since we switched to grain-free!" This is sometimes accompanied with an insinuation that they are disappointed  in me for not thinking of switching their pet to a grain-free food. 

Most of the time, the improvement also coincides with some other form of therapy or medication, which gets no credit at all for the miraculous recovery. Sometimes not. However, it is important to remember that many chronic conditions wax and wane in their severity. Improvement which is credited to the new food, may simply be the condition taking its normal course. Lots of folks seem to think that "grain" is a major food allergen in pets. Scientific research says otherwise. In dogs, beef/dairy comprise 70% of all food allergies, followed by poultry, lamb, and pork. In cats, beef, dairy, and fish are the most common allergens. 

So, not ever having read or heard of the miracle of grain-free food in the extensive continuing education and veterinary references utilized by the doctors at my clinic (yes, we discussed this), I set out to research what factual, non-anecdotal evidence is out there regarding the benefits of grain-free diets. I didn't find any. None. So I sought out a veterinary nutritionist and asked him. He laughed and said, "You have no idea how many veterinarians have asked me that question in the past two years." He further said that as far as the experts are concerned, it is simply a fad being propagated by the growing boutique pet food industry. I bet that if you go to a fancy pet food store and try to buy a bag of Purina, some salesperson will try to get you to switch to some "wild," "natural," or grain-free food.

In fact, several large, reputable pet food manufacturers now carry "grain free" pet diets. Why? If they can't beat them, they are joining them. The grain-free fad is causing them to lose market share. 

Now I know this seems like a rant against grain-free foods. It's really not. In my search for information, I found nothing "bad" about these diets. They are usually nutritionally complete.  So if you want to feed them, go ahead. No problem!  But don't be fooled by the Emperor's new diet.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lyme Disease Is Coming Our Way

Here is an interesting (and somewhat worrisome) article I found on the Companion Animal Parasite Council website. If you check the map, you can see that the St. Louis area is showing an increased incidence of Lyme Disease. If your dogs get ticks, make sure they're vaccinated! -DH
Lyme disease infection occurs when an infected tick feeds on a dog and transmits the organism that causes disease. The 2014 Parasite Forecast Maps from the Companion Animal Parasite Council show that Lyme disease is expanding westward from the historic focus of the northeastern United States. Southern New England and the Pacific Coast continue to be key hotspots of activity, and are likely to experience elevated rates of disease prevalence, with an increasing numbers of infections seen for this year. Consistently stable activity levels are predicted for the Mid-Atlantic States and the upper Midwest. The CAPC forecast also shows that Lyme continues to expand southward and involve more areas of Appalachia.
Dogs infected with Lyme disease do not usually have the bull’s-eye-rash as seen in people, but may have clinical signs of fever, lameness, swollen joints, lethargy, and depression. Dogs cannot transmit Lyme disease to people, but they are considered a “sentinel” of the disease. This means a high prevalence of Lyme disease in dogs provides an advance human warning system of can provide a warning of humans contracting the disease.
The 2014 CAPC Parasite Forecast Maps have predicted higher-than-normal levels for Lyme disease in several areas of the country, which means dogs in these areas, may be at greater potential risk for infection.  Even if you don’t live in an area where Lyme disease is a problem, there are many different tick-borne diseases, so year-round tick protection is still important. Dogs can also be exposed to tick-borne diseases if they travel with you to parts of the country where those diseases are more common.
CAPC bases its parasite forecasts on many different factors, including temperature, precipitation, humidity, ground elevation, forest cover, population density, reported human Lyme disease cases and deer strikes with cars. These factors are incorporated into an equation created by a team of statisticians that allows CAPC to predict the likelihood of any parasitic disease. The forecast is also the collective expert opinion of respected parasitologists who engage in ongoing research and data interpretation to better understand and monitor disease transmission and changing life cycles of parasites.  Click here to learn more.
You can use the CAPC Parasite Prevalence Maps to check the risk for different parasitic diseases in your geographic area, down to the county level. You can also check the maps when you are traveling with your pet to other areas of the country so you can be aware of any possible new risks to protect you dogs against ticks. The maps provide statistics about the number of dogs infected by Lyme disease and other parasitic diseases by state and county. This information can serve as a helpful starting point for a discussion with your veterinarian about the best year-round parasite protection program for your pet.
Automatic email updates from CAPC will help you stay informed about ongoing parasite activity in your area. You can sign up by going to the CAPC Parasite Prevalence Maps and clicking on “Get Updates.” Enter your email address in the provided field and click “Subscribe.” You will begin receiving updates as soon as they are posted. Visit the How-To page to sign up now.  Year-round parasite protection is essential for all pets, and knowing which diseases are more significant in your area will help keep your pets safe and free of parasites. Your veterinarian can help you decide how to best protect your pet against the threat of parasitic diseases.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Lesson Learned From "Marley and Me"

I have never read the book or seen the movie. There are two topics I just can't tolerate in print or film when it comes to my reading or viewing for fun, and those are cancer and the death of a pet. My wife knows this - I get really (embarrassingly) emotional about those topics - so we don't watch movies about a beloved pet dying or a person struggling with cancer. So, I've neither read nor seen "Marley and Me." However I do know that (spoiler alert!) Marley dies. I also have been told that Marley dies of a condition called "GDV" (Gastric Dilitation and Volvulus).

Now, I don't know if "Marley and Me" is based on a true story, but if it's not, GDV is a creatively-dramatic (and horrible) way for a protagonist-pet to die. I hope I never see another case of it during my career as a veterinarian. Some of the most agonizing deaths I've seen were patients with GDV.

In GDV, the stomach becomes distended with gasses and/or liquid ("bloat"). Then the distended stomach twists on its axis. This gives the air/liquid no way to escape and also severely compromises the blood flow to the stomach. As a result, the stomach becomes more distended and at the same time the stomach wall starts to die. The dog is in unimaginable pain.

Despite a lot of misinformation on the internet and other places, we really don't know much about what causes GDV. We do know that it it occurs almost exclusively in large, deep-chested dogs (German Shepherds, Irish Setters, Golden Retrievers, Dobermans, Great Danes, etc...) Once a dog develops GDV, the only hope is through emergency surgery, and even with that the prognosis is fair to guarded at best.

The good news is, we now have an effective method to prevent GDV. It is a preventive surgical procedure called gastropexy. A gastropexy is where a veterinarian attaches the stomach to the body wall so that it is unable to twist. We usually do this surgery at the time that the pet is spayed or neutered. Dogs with gastropexys are twenty-nine times less likely to develop GDV. So, in my mind if you have a new puppy that is a high-risk breed for GDV, doing a gastropexy at the time of spaying/neutering is a no-brainer.

Who knows? If we were offering gastropexys during the time "Marley and Me" was written, the story might have had a happier ending.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Leptospirosis Is Sneaking It's Way Into Your Life

There is an infectious disease "out there," and it is trying to find you. It's called Leptospirosis, but we call it Lepto for short. It is caused by a bacterial organism of the same name. It can affect most wildlife species, domestic livestock, dogs, and people. It is a pretty horrible infection to acquire, as it usually infects the kidneys, and sometimes the liver.

This bacterial organism loves water, and is passed in the urine of infected mice, rats, deer, cows, raccoons, dogs, people, etc... Once the organism gets into a wet environment, it will thrive. As water moves, so will the bacteria. Your dog can become infected simply by sniffing or licking the moist grass after a hard rain. We used to think of this as a "rural" disease, but recent statistics show that urban dogs are at higher risk than we thought - probably due to transmission by rats and mice.

The disease is not easy to diagnose because the symptoms are vague, and mimic a number of other conditions. This is especially bad because the longer it takes the veterinarian to diagnose your dog, the longer your family will be unsuspectingly at-risk for acquiring the infection from the dog. There is a veterinarian near my practice who lost a kidney to Lepto.

The best way to protect your dog from Lepto is via vaccine. The vaccine is not 100% protective, but greatly reduces the risk for infection. The new Lepto vaccines (at least the ones we use) are much safer than the old vaccines from 10 years or more ago. We still occasionally see some soreness or lethargy in smaller vaccinated dogs, but it is usually self-limiting. It definitely beats getting Lepto! We do not feel that vaccination is necessary for dogs leading extremely sheltered lives (ie never go outside, potty indoors on papers, do not go for walks outdoors, etc...)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Spaying, Neutering, and Cancer: The Controversy

A week or so ago, a retrospective study on the effects of spaying and neutering on age of onset of cancer and behavioral disorders in Vizslas was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. This study suggests that, in the Vizsla (which is a relatively-uncommon purebred dog), the risk for developing certain cancers and storm-phobias is significantly increased if the dog is spayed or neutered. This follows a similar study in Golden Retrievers published last year which showed an increased risk of certain cancers and orthopedic conditions in dogs which have been spayed or neutered. Both of these studies were peer-reviewed (the gold standard), and in my opinion, properly done, and should be taken seriously.

Understandably, there has been a bit of an uproar calling for "us" to stop, um "mutilating" our pets with these horrible procedures (spays and neuters) which rob them of their reproductive organs and make them get cancer and other debilitating diseases. I am not trying to belittle these concerns, but before we rush to judgement, we might want to gather more information. I own two Golden Retrievers, and I want them to live the longest, healthiest lives possible. For that matter, I want all of my patients to live the longest, healthiest lives possible!

There certainly appears to be some serious disadvantages to spaying and neutering, at least in Vizslas and Goldens. (Note: these studies also suggest that early-age spay/neuter may increase the risk even more.) Another study suggests that neutering male dogs can increase the risk for prostate cancer. However, when we look at life expectancy (which is kind of important, wouldn't you agree?), the picture is a little different. The Golden Retriever study did not look at life expectancy, and the Vizsla study showed no difference in life expectancy between spayed/neutered dogs and intact dogs. So even though the S/N dogs were getting more cancer, they were getting less of something else - which made it a "wash." A more comprehensive study, looking at ALL dogs and cats (purebred and otherwise) was also published last year. There were 2.2 million dogs and 460,000 cats in this study. In this one, they looked at life expectancy in S/N pets versus intact pets. Guess what? S/N dogs of all breeds live 15% longer, and S/N cats live about 50% longer.

Does this mean we should mindlessly continue to recommend spaying and neutering all dogs and cats? Or should we crucify those who advocate spaying and neutering? Well, I for one don't want to judge anyone. There is still a lot to learn, and as more studies become available we will know more. Society (including companion animals) has benefited tremendously from the S/N "movement." How? Since routine spaying and neutering of pets has grown in acceptance (starting around 1970), the euthanasia of unwanted animals in shelters has declined from 24 million to 4 million. As a guy who "moonlights" at an animal control facility, I can tell you that's huge.

I will not bore you by listing all the benefits to the individual pets from spaying or neutering, although I've already mentioned the longevity study. But they are there, and they are documented. At my practice, we are keeping an open mind. Maybe we will be doing vasectomies and hysterectomies (a spay is an ovariohysterectomy, and a neuter is a castration) some day. But please be assured that we want very much to do what's best -we will recommend for your pet what we would do for our own.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

$20 Chemical Neuters

A local television station recently ran a story about a "new" chemical neutering agent for dogs. I believe it's called "Zeuterine." I didn't see the story, but I've been told that it claimed that male dogs could be "neutered" with this product for about $20. Understandably, I have received quite a few inquiries about this since the story ran. Here is my response to one such inquiry, as posted on Facebook:

A very similar (maybe even the same thing?) injection was marketed to veterinarians several years ago called "Neutersol." It is a caustic agent, which, when injected into the testicles, causes them to necrose (it destroys the tissue). It had a lukewarm reception after more vets started using it. There were/are two main drawbacks: it decreases testosterone levels only about half as much as neutering (many dog-owners neuter their dogs to decrease testosterone-driven behaviors), and a portion of the dogs developed complications such as abscesses and self-mutilation - some of these had to be subsequently neutered. My humble opinion is that it is a very useful tool for decreasing dog overpopulation in third-world countries, and even poverty-stricken areas in the US. It is not something we will use for our clients' pets for the reasons stated above. Once this injection starts being more widely used, we will know a lot more. Maybe it will be a significant upgrade from it's predecessor, but that's not what I'm hearing yet. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Year's Resolutions for Cat Owners

Cat-owners (of which I am one), are a unique bunch. We love our cats (every bit as much as dog-owners love their dogs), but we tend to be more "hands-off" with their care. This is probably because cats don't complain much, especially if allowed to stay in their routine. They tell their humans, "You do your thing and I'll do mine. I'll let you know if I need anything." And they do, especially at 6:00 AM when they are ready for us to WAKE UP! However, cats are not necessarily keen on change, even if it's for their own good. They detest going to the vet, having their food changed, meeting new cats, etc... This is another reason we cat owners are hands-off: We don't want them ticked off at us. 

So cat-owners are a tough crowd for us veterinarians. When "what is best for the cat" doesn't jive with "what the cat wants", they are caught in the middle. "Do I really want to incur Garfield's wrath, just because this guy in the white coat says I should?" Trust me, I understand. But there are so many things that cat-owners could do better for their cats, that it really is worth it in the long run to make some changes. So here are my New Year's Resolutions for cat-owners:

1.Bring your cat to us at least once a year, no matter what! I know your cat hates it. I know she never goes outside. I know she seems perfectly healthy. But cats are the very best at hiding illness. It is very common for me to see an extremely sick cat, and have the owner swear that they brought her in as soon as they noticed a problem. Many of these problems have actually been chronic, and have pushed the cat to the breaking point, at which time my job becomes a lot tougher, and the outlook for the cat is much worse.

2.Put your cat on heartworm/intestinal parasite/flea medicine every month. Even indoor cats get parasites. Heartworm infection in cats is extremely difficult to diagnose, but can definitely shorten the cat's life by causing asthma-like symptoms, wasting disease, or even sudden death (I've seen it happen.) Cats can also carry intestinal worms, with no symptoms, which are contagious to her owners (gross!) Prevention is easy - there is a once-a-month topical product (no pills!) called Revolution which protects your cat against all these parasites.  

3.Give your cat canned food, at least once in a while. The more we learn about feline medicine, the more we discover the value in treating many chronic conditions with certain "prescription" canned foods. The dietary therapy is often more effective than drugs (really!), and soooo much easier....as long as the cat will eat it. Yes, some of these diets also come in a dry form, but the canned food is almost always more effective. The biggest obstacle is trying to get a cat that has always eaten dry food to switch to canned (did I mention that cats hate change?) So, get your cat used to eating canned food, at least once a week or so. It may pay off later.

4.Feed your spayed/neutered adult cat about 30% less than the label says. AAFCO feeding guidelines are based on studies done mostly on non-spayed, non-neutered cats. We know that a spayed or neutered cat has about a 30% lower metabolic rate, and so needs fewer calories. Having said that, every cat is different, so the nutritional plan for your cat should be discussed with your veterinarian!

5.Play! All cats need physical and mental stimulation. They are predators by nature and are physiologically healthier if allowed to "scratch" their predatory "itch." Strings, feather toys, and laser pointers all provide the stimulation needed to help keep a cat healthy. Here is a link to a terrific website regarding environmental enrichment for indoor cats: http://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats/.