Midwest Canine Influenza Outbreak: A New Virus Within the United States

April 18th, 2015

Photo Credit: Steven Turville

If you keep tabs on dog-related news, you’re probably already aware of the recent outbreak of canine influenza in the Midwest. Chicago appears to be at the epicenter of the epidemic.

The first dogs affected by this virus were observed in mid-March of this year. Since then, more than 1,000 known cases have been reported in and around Chicago, and there have even been a few deaths.

New virus within the United States

Until a week ago, the virus responsible for this canine influenza outbreak was thought to be H398, a strain of Influenza A that has been present in the United States for some time. Cornell University (thumbs up to my alma mater) recently reported that scientists there have isolated a brand new influenza virus from affected dogs in the Midwest. This virus, referred to as H3N2, is closely related to strains of influenza affecting dog populations in South Korea and China. H3N2 is now making its debut appearance within the United States. How the virus was introduced here is anyone’s guess.

Dogs living within the United States have no natural protection against H3N2 because their immune systems have never been exposed to it before. For this reason, it will remain highly contagious until canine populations develop immunity, either through natural infection or vaccination.

The contagious stage of canine influenza begins a few days before symptoms arise. In other words, the healthy-appearing pup at the dog park or doggie daycare center may be on the verge of developing viral symptoms. Spread of the disease occurs via respiratory secretions (discharge from nose, mouth, and eyes). Both dogs and cats are susceptible to the H3N2 virus. It is not transmissible to humans.

Symptoms

The symptoms most commonly associated with influenza virus include: high fever, loss of appetite, coughing, nasal discharge, and lethargy. In the best-case scenario, an infected dog may show only mild symptoms or none at all. Worst-case scenario, pneumonia may develop. Pneumonia was the likely cause of death in five dogs who have reportedly succumbed to this disease.

Diagnosis

Many infectious bacterial and viral diseases are capable of producing the symptoms described above. Knowing that H3N2 is the culprit requires specialized testing performed on a mouth or nose swab. Cornell reports that the development of a blood test capable of diagnosing this disease is in the works.

Treatment

Treatment of influenza ideally involves supportive and symptomatic care until the dog’s immune system wins the battle against the virus (requires approximately two weeks for most dogs). Therapy may include supplemental fluids, special diets to entice appetite, anti-inflammatory medications, and cough suppressants. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent secondary bacterial infection.

If evidence of pneumonia is present, much more intensive therapy is indicated and may include hospitalization for intravenous fluids and antibiotics, supplemental oxygen, and 24-hour monitoring by a veterinarian.

Prevention

At this time, it is not known if the vaccine currently available to prevent H3N8 is also protective against the newer H3N2 strain. There may be some cross over protection, but just how much is uncertain. I suspect that updated information about the effectiveness of the current vaccine and/or development of a new vaccine will be forthcoming in the near future. For now, I recommend discussing use of the current influenza vaccine with your veterinarian.

If you live in or around Chicago, or if you learn that influenza cases are beginning to pop up in your neck of the woods, know that the very best protection involves keeping your dog away from popular, public, canine venues such as dog parks, boarding kennels, grooming parlors, pet stores, and doggie daycare facilities.

Please know that there is no cause for panic. The vast majority of dogs affected by this new strain of influenza fully recover. Talk with your veterinarian about the incidence of canine influenza in your locale to help determine the level of concern for your dogs.

Have you had any experience with canine influenza? If you live in the Midwest, are you taking specific measures to protect your dog?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

New Information about Jerky Treats for Pets

April 12th, 2015

Since 2007, we’ve known that chicken jerky treats manufactured in China can cause gastrointestinal and/or kidney issues in some dogs. Until recently, virtually all commercially sold jerky treats in the United States were manufactured in China. Despite extensive investigations by numerous experts, the actual cause(s) of jerky-induced illnesses has not been identified.

When jerky-associated problems were first documented, savvy proprietors of many independently owned pet stores quit stocking Chinese-manufactured jerky treats. More recently, many of the big box stores have followed suit. These pet store changes have seemingly produced positive results. According to a February 2015 Seattle Times article, “For the first time in seven years, complaints that jerky pet treats made in China are sickening and killing America’s animals, mostly dogs, have fallen sharply.” Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman, Siobhan DeLancey reasoned, “We’re not sure if this is because the products are off the market, because people are more aware of the problem, or because some of the products have been reformulated.”

New jerky-related problems

Ms. DeLancey was recently back in the news responding to reports of illnesses caused by jerky treats manufactured within the United States. In response to these new claims filed by veterinarians Ms. DeLancey stated, “We have found some of these products may contain ingredients from outside of the U.S. The FDA continues its investigation into these, as well as other, jerky treats potentially linked to illnesses.” The implication is that jerky treats manufactured within the United States don’t necessarily contain domestic ingredients. Whether or not the source of ingredients explains recently reported illnesses remains anyone’s guess.

Some dogs who responded adversely to jerky treats manufactured within the United States experienced vomiting and diarrhea. More seriously affected dogs developed kidney failure, and some developed Fanconi Syndrome, a rare form of kidney disease seen primarily as an inherited disorder in the Basenji breed. Dr. Urs Giger, a veterinary geneticist, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and leading expert on Fanconi Syndrome, reported that his laboratory began seeing many more non-Basenji cases of Fanconi Syndrome in or around 2007, all seemingly related to jerky consumption. Four hundred Fanconi cases were identified between 2009 and 2012, and Giger reports that he continues to see new cases weekly. The most recent cases are seemingly associated with consumption of jerky treats manufactured within the United States.

Jerky treats and your pet

What does this information mean in terms of your dog’s health? Jerky-induced illnesses remain a reality, and a “Manufactured within the United States” product label is not a guarantee of safety. Until the actual cause(s) of jerky-related illness is identified, I strongly encourage you to avoid feeding jerky products to your dogs, regardless of where they are manufactured. If your dog really loves jerky (can’t live without it!), consider making your own. Until further notice, please stay away from the store bought stuff.

Based on this information, will you be altering your dog’s jerky habit?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

Raising Awareness About Dog Fighting

April 5th, 2015

Images Courtesy of the ASPCA

Just over a week ago ten people were arrested in Elizabeth, New Jersey in conjunction with an alleged dog fighting ring. Seventeen dogs were found, most with obvious injuries, and all were living in small dirty cages. At the site investigators discovered a pellet gun, a treadmill used to develop dogs’ stamina, and a dog fighting ring stained with blood.

Such stories are commonplace in the United States, so much so that it’s easy to become numb to this horrific form of abuse. How about if, together, we try to reverse any apathy that exists about dog fighting and generate some real passion about putting an end to this blood sport!

Taking action against dog fighting

What can we do to make a difference? Here are some suggestions, and I invite you to share any additional ideas you have:

  • Learn more about dog fighting by watching “Life on a Chain,” Live link to  a documentary produced by the ASPCA.
  • Use the ASPCA’s “Get Tough on Dog Fighting Toolkit” to help educate others. This kit contains materials that you can post on social media. You can obtain this toolkit free of charge, thanks to the ASPCA.
  • Create a neighborhood watch program and report any suspicious activities.
  • Talk to your children about dog fighting so that they become the next generation of vocal advocates against this form of abuse..
  • Sign an online petition asking the Department of Justice to create harsher sentencing guidelines for people convicted of dog fighting.

What will you do to help eradicate dog fighting? Provide a comment about what specific action(s) you plan to take and I will enter your name into a drawing for a special prize. Let’s all very purposefully honor National Dog Fighting Awareness Day. Together, we can make a difference.

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

Multiple Myeloma

March 29th, 2015

Multiple myeloma is a cancerous process that dogs, cats, and people happen to share in common. This disease is also referred to as myeloma and plasma cell myeloma. It is relatively uncommon in dogs and rare in cats. Although not considered curable, myeloma can be successfully treated.

What is multiple myeloma?

Multiple myeloma cells originate from lymphocytes, a normal type of white blood cell that resides in the bone marrow. These lymphocytes differentiate into a variety of different types of cells, one of which is the plasma cell, an important component of the body’s immune system.

In cases of multiple myeloma, plasma cells developing within the bone marrow undergo a malignant transformation, and way too many plasma cells are manufactured. This results in a “crowding out” of the normal bone marrow production of infection fighting white blood cells, oxygen carrying red blood cells, and platelets, the cells responsible for controlling bleeding in the body. Myeloma patients often have dangerously low numbers of these normal cells within their bloodstream.

Once released from the bone marrow, the malignant plasma cells often spread to other sites. Their favorite place to set up housekeeping is within bones where the damage caused by the cancer cells can create significant pain.

Plasma cells produce proteins called immunoglobulins that are the foot soldiers of the immune system. An overabundance of plasma cells, as is the case with multiple myeloma, translates into an overabundance of immunoglobulin found in the bloodstream. This immunoglobulin excess alters the normal viscosity or thickness of the blood, transforming its normal water-like consistency to that of syrup. This viscosity change wreaks havoc within smaller blood vessels where the blood sludges and causes damage to the tissues. This is referred to as hyperviscosity syndrome and can be life threatening, particularly if the brain is affected.

Cause of myeloma

Multiple myeloma in people has been associated with exposure to toxic chemicals present in tobacco smoke and emissions from petroleum refinery waste dumps and industrial operations.

The cause of multiple myeloma in companion animals is unknown, and there is no breed or sex predilection. Middle aged to older dogs and cats are most commonly affected.

Symptoms

The major symptoms associated with multiple myeloma are caused by the spread of cancer cells, hyperviscosity syndrome, and the underproduction of normal cells within the bone marrow (see explanations above). Additionally, some dogs and cats with myeloma develop hypercalcemia, a higher than normal level of calcium in the bloodstream. This hypercalcemia can produce a number of serious consequences over time, the most significant of which is kidney failure.

Because multiple myeloma cells can wreak havoc in so many ways, the symptoms associated with this disease vary from patient to patient. Most commonly reported symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lameness and or bone pain caused by spread of cancer cells
  • Unexplained bleeding caused by inadequate platelet production or hyperviscosity syndrome
  • Loss of vision caused by inadequate platelet production or hyperviscosity syndrome
  • Abrupt onset of neurological symptoms or seizures caused by hyperviscosity syndrome
  • Increased thirst and urine output caused by hypercalcemia

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of multiple myeloma is made when two or more of the following criteria are satisfied:

  • Radiographs (x-rays) document characteristic bony changes caused by the spread of myeloma.
  • Bone marrow analysis reveals an overabundance of plasma cells.
  • Protein electrophoresis results demonstrate a monoclonal gammopathy. Protein electrophoresis is a laboratory test that detects the types of immunoglobulins circulating within the bloodstream. Normal blood contains several types. Blood from a multiple myeloma patient contains an overabundance of strictly one type produced by the cancerous population of plasma cells. This “monoclonal gammopathy” is characteristic of multiple myeloma.
  • The patient’s urine contains Bence-Jones proteins, a characteristic type of immunoglobulin (protein) produced by many dogs and cats with multiple myeloma.

A battery of tests is typically performed to make the diagnosis as well as to evaluate the patient’s overall health. In addition to a thorough physical examination, testing may include:

  • A complete blood cell count, chemistry profile, and urinalysis
  • Full body radiographs
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Bone marrow collection and evaluation
  • Protein electrophoresis (performed on blood sample)
  • Screening for Bence-Jones proteins (performed on urine sample)

Treatment

The key to successful treatment of multiple myeloma is getting therapy started as soon as possible, so as to eliminate the excess plasma cells before they manage to cause a life-threatening problem such as a stroke, hemorrhage, infection, or kidney failure. Whenever possible, it is ideal for myeloma therapy to be initiated by a veterinarian who specializes in oncology or internal medicine. Such specialists have significantly more experience treating this relatively uncommon disease.

Chemotherapy: The mainstay of multiple myeloma treatment is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy refers to medication that is absorbed systemically, therefore fights cancer cells throughout the body. The most commonly used medications to treat myeloma are administered orally at home. They are typically well tolerated, but relatively frequent monitoring, including physical examinations and blood testing, is required. The drug dosages are adjusted up or down based on trends in the patient’s blood test results.

The chemotherapy most commonly employed to treat myeloma consists of a combination of two drugs- melphalan and prednisone. Melphalan is typically continued lifelong, and the prednisone is tapered over time. If melphalan is not well tolerated, cyclophosphamide is often substituted.

Radiation therapy: Multiple myeloma cells are quite sensitive to radiation therapy. This mode of treatment can be used to rapidly diminish the pain associated with spread of the cancer to bony sites. Radiation therapy is considered palliative (providing comfort), but does not replace chemotherapy in terms of fighting the disease.

Biphosphonates: These are drugs that can be used to help manage bone pain caused by myeloma. They may also be helpful in reducing hypercalcemia (excess calcium in the bloodstream). Use of bisphosphonates is rarely warranted when chemotherapy is used.

Prognosis

Although multiple myeloma is not considered a curable disease, it is one of the more treatable forms of cancer. Most dogs respond well to chemotherapy with restoration of a good quality of life. In a study of 60 dogs with myeloma treated with melphalan and prednisone, 92% experienced remission (evidence of the cancer partially to completely resolved). Average survival time for these dogs was 540 days.

Have you cared for a dog or cat with multiple myeloma? If so, what was your experience like?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

Shirley Zindler: Animal Control Officer, Author, and Photographer Extraordinaire

March 22nd, 2015

Photo Credit: Shirley Zindler

I’ve met some truly extraordinary people in my life, and Shirley Zindler happens to be one of them. I know her from my California days, and have described her as a saint disguised as an animal control officer. Only recently did I learn that Shirley is also a gifted author and photographer.

Shirley’s book, The Secret Life of a Dog Catcher is an eye-opening, highly entertaining, and endearing read. Readers are treated to a wonderful variety of animal-related experiences, all told through the eyes of an animal control officer (ACO). Shirley’s descriptions of her day-to-day adventures remind me of James Herriot’s writing style in All Creatures Great and Small. Every story is captivating and, regardless of outcome, there’s little doubt that Shirley’s involvement has a profoundly positive impact on the lives of the animals she encounters.

Shirley and her own tribe of dogs (those who are permanent fixtures and others who are being fostered) are a Monday institution at Dillon Beach in northern California. The beach is an off-leash venue where Shirley captures some incredibly vibrant photos of dogs running, playing, surfing, chasing, and cavorting. If ever you need a psychological “pick-me-up,” I encourage you to pay a visit to Shirley’s Facebook page. Guaranteed, the photos you find there will put a smile on your face! Better yet, if it’s a Monday morning and you happen to live north of San Francisco, treat you and your dog to a Dillon Beach field trip. Just about guaranteed Shirley and her dogs will be there.

Shirley’s primary vocation is serving her community as an ACO. Here’s what I know about this profession. The work is exceptionally challenging, both physically and psychologically. Dealing with an injured deer requires a lot of muscle. Dealing with an animal neglect case requires abundant emotional strength and intelligence. An ACO is asked to endure exposure to animal suffering, emotionally charged people, middle-of-the-night calls to tend to animal-related emergencies, and, of course, a never ending stream of euthanasia procedures. This is exceptionally tough stuff, particularly for one who truly loves animals. It’s no wonder that many ACO’s burn out, leave the profession, or simply become numb to their work. Not true for Shirley Zindler. She somehow manages to remain incredibly connected, optimistic, empathic, and enthusiastic. What a gift! How does she do it? Here’s Shirley’s explanation:

Some people say that the longer they work in animal control or animal sheltering, the more they hate people. I’ve found the opposite to be true. In 25 years of shelter and ACO work, I’ve found that for every person doing terrible, unthinkable things, there are a hundred, or even a thousand people trying to make up for it. I picked up this beautiful Belgian Malinois recently as a stray. He had a chip going back to an original owner in Georgia who placed the dog with a bomb detection trainer three years ago. These high-energy working dogs are often happier with a job and the owner was truly trying to do what was best for the dog. Anyway, somehow, the dog ended up here as a stray. The original owner is willing to take him back and give him a great home but is also open to placing him in a fabulous home in California if there is a good match. The cost to fly the dog back to Georgia is around $500, which would be a challenge for the owner to come up with on short notice. I posted about the situation and have had so many people willing to help pay some of the costs, to give the dog a home, to drive him to the airport etc. One person even anonymously offered to cover the entire cost. The Malinois community, and people in general have been amazing! And that is why I love people. It also shows the beauty of microchips!

I encourage you to read The Secret Life of a Dog Catcher. Word has it that another Shirley Zindler book is in the works. I can’t wait to read it.

In your opinion, what is the most important role an animal control officer plays in his or her community? Post your response and your name will be entered into a drawing to receive a signed copy of The Secret Life of a Dog Catcher.

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Pollakiuria: Why is My Pet Urinating More Often Than Normal?

March 15th, 2015

Pollakiuria is a fun word to pronounce, but it’s certainly not a fun symptom to deal with. Pollakiuria means increased frequency of urination. Dogs with this symptom ask to go outside more frequently than normal, often round the clock. The well house trained dog may begin leaving puddles in the house and cats with pollakiuria are in and out of the litter box with increased frequency. Some kitties abandon the box altogether choosing other places to urinate.

Pollakiuria caused by lower urinary tract disease

Pollakiuria is most commonly caused by abnormalities within the lower urinary tract, consisting of the bladder and urethra. The urethra is the narrow tube that transports urine from the bladder to the outside world.

Lower urinary tract disease may cause a dog or cat to sense the need to urinate well before their bladder is full, and the puddles produced are quite small. If ever you’ve experienced a bladder infection, no doubt you can relate to this sensation.

Common lower urinary tract maladies that cause pollakiuria include:

  1. Bacterial infection within the bladder, aka bacterial cystitis: common in dogs, relatively uncommon in cats
  2. Stones within the bladder or urethra: common in dogs and cats
  3. Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC)- an inflammatory condition of unknown cause affecting the bladder and/or urethra: purely cats
  4. Tumors or polyps within the bladder or urethra: relatively common in dogs, less common in cats

Pollakiuria caused by increased thirst

Some diseases causing pollakiuria are associated with increased thirst (polydipsia). Excess water intake and excess urine production (polyuria) go hand in hand. The animal drinks more, therefore the bladder fills more rapidly and frequently, and the puddles produced are quite large. Causes of increased thirst and urine production in dogs and cats include:

1. Hormonal imbalances

  • Diabetes mellitus: dogs and cats
  • Diabetes insipidus: primarily dogs
  • Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease): primarily dogs
  • Hyperthyroidism: primarily cats

2. Kidney disease

  • Kidney failure: dogs and cats
  • Pyelonephritis (kidney infection): dogs and cats

3. Liver disease: dogs and cats

4. Pyometra: primarily dogs

5. Medications

  • Cortisone containing products: primarily dogs
  • Anti-seizure medications: dogs and cats
  • Diuretics: dogs and cats

Recognizing pollakiuria

Some pollakiuric pets show overt symptoms (the kitty who urinates in the bathroom sink or the dog who leaves a bedside puddle for you to step in first thing in the morning). Other pets show more subtle symptoms. Be on the lookout for:

  • Increased frequency of urination on walks
  • Increased number of puddles in the litter box
  • A litter box that needs to be changed more frequently
  • Interrupted sleep because your pet is asking to go outside
  • The need to fill the water bowl more frequently than usual

If such symptoms arise, I encourage you to schedule a visit with your veterinarian. Do your best to arrive with a full bladder (your pet’s that is) because testing a urine sample will be an important first step in arriving at a diagnosis. This is best accomplished by taking your kitty’s litter box away a few hours prior to the office visit. Likewise, avoid walking your dog before the visit, and get into the waiting room quickly so as to avoid those many tempting places to urinate just outside the clinic.

Has your pet ever experienced pollakiuria? If so, what was the cause determined to be?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

Therapy Dogs Help People with Cancer

March 8th, 2015

Photo Credit: Kathie Meier

Animal-assisted visits in cancer treatment centers are gaining in popularity. Patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy can opt for some doggie face time during their treatments. But does this truly influence the patient’s well-being? Until recently, scientific documentation of the benefits of pet-facilitated therapy for cancer patients has been lacking. A study published in the January Journal of Community and Supportive Oncology provides just such evidence.

The study titled, “Beneficial effects of animal-assisted visits on quality of life during multimodal radiation-chemotherapy regimens” evaluated 37 people undergoing a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy for treatment of head and neck cancer. Throughout their treatments, these patients received daily 15-20 minute animal-assisted visits. A questionnaire called the FACT-G (Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy- General) was administered three times during the seven-week course of treatment. The responses of the patients demonstrated a significant increase in their sense of social and emotional well-being despite declines in their physical and functional well-being.

Principal researcher, Dr. Steward Fleishman called this study, “the first such definitive study in cancer.” He goes on to say,

Having an animal-assisted visit significantly improved quality of life and humanized a high-tech treatment. Patients said they would have stopped their treatments before completion except for the presence of the certified Good Dog Foundation therapy dog and volunteer handler.

This fabulous study was funded by Zoetis Animal Health and The Good Dog Foundation. Dr. Michael McFarland, director of Companion Animal Veterinary Operations at Zoetis stated,

There is mounting evidence in human and veterinary medicine that the emotional bond between people and companion animals can have a positive impact on emotional and physical health. These new results help advance our understanding of the value of animal-assisted therapy in cancer treatment and point to the ways the oncology and animal health communities can work together in supporting cancer patients to achieve the best possible outcome.

Hats off to Zoetis Animal Health, Good Dog Foundation, and the researchers who performed this study. My hope is that these results will promote the interest and funding necessary to make animal-assisted therapy in medical settings an integral part of patient care.

What is your experience with animal-assisted therapy?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

 

Who Have You Met Through Your Dog?

March 1st, 2015

Photo Credit: IStockphotoFor me, the most endearing thing about 101 Dalmatians is the fact that, without their dogs’ involvement, Roger and Anita would likely never have met, fallen in love, and married. Two spotted dogs named Pongo and Perdita ignited this animated romance.

Another dog-arranged marriage happened in real life for my dear friend Beth and her husband Michael. As the story goes, while hiking in the forest Beth and her adorable, goofy dog named Nimbo became separated. Given his hound-mix pedigree, it was suspected that Nimbo simply got “lost in his nose”. Beth spent hours searching and asking everyone she encountered on they trail if they’d spotted Nimbo. Just as she was about to give up the search, down the trail came a tall, handsome fella named Michael with Nimbo in tow. The rest is history!

Now, here’s one more story that I love. As reported by The Huffington Post, the love affair between Claire Johnson and Mark Gaffey began at a guide dog training course during which their own two guide dogs, Venice and Rodd, couldn’t stop playing with one another. After Gaffey and Johnson learned that they only lived a mile apart from one another, they set up some play dates for their two besotted dogs. Before long, the humans were the ones who were besotted. In fact they are now newlyweds. Referring to herself and Gaffey, Johnson stated, “Much like our two guide dogs, we really are best friends and soul mates.”

Now it’s your turn to tell your story. Who have you met through your dog? Perhaps that person has become your best dog walking buddy, a wonderful friend, or even a life partner. Please explain how you met and provide a description of the canine matchmaker. Last but not least, I invite you to share this article with those special people who are part of your life all because of your dog.

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Transitional Cell Carcinoma in Dogs

February 22nd, 2015

Transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) is the most common cancerous condition affecting the urinary tract of dogs. Scottish Terriers top the list in terms of breed predisposition.

What is TCC?

TCC is a malignant tumor that most commonly grows within the urinary bladder. It also frequents the urethra, the tube-like structure that drains urine from the bladder to the outside world. TCC can also arise within the prostate gland (males), kidneys, and ureters (the long, narrow tubes that transport urine from the kidneys into the bladder).

TCC arises from transitional epithelial cells that line the inner surface of the urinary tract. In addition to growing inward within the lumen of the bladder and/or urethra, the cancer cells invade locally into the walls of these structures. TCC cells also have the ability to metastasize (spread) to lymph nodes and other distant organs.

This cancerous growth has a propensity for growing within the trigone region of the bladder, the anatomical area where urinary tract plumbing is most complicated. It is here that the urethra and ureters connect into the bladder. It’s no wonder that TCC commonly causes a dog to experience difficulty urinating and, sometimes, even complete urinary tract obstruction.

Causes of TCC

Genetic predisposition and environmental factors likely play a role in most cases of TCC. The genetic basis is strongly suspected because Scottish Terriers have as much as an 18-20 fold higher risk for this disease. Other predisposed breeds include, Shetland Sheepdogs, Beagles, West Highland White Terriers, and Wire Hair Fox Terriers.

Environmental factors that have been incriminated as risk factors for TCC are application of older generation pesticides and insecticides to the animal and exposure to lawn herbicides and pesticides. A study comparing 83 Scottish Terriers with TCC and 83 similarly aged, normal Scotties discovered that the group with cancer had greater exposure to lawns and gardens treated with insecticides and herbicides or herbicides alone. The effect of lawn and garden chemicals on other breeds has not yet been studied.

Smoking is the number one cause of TCC in people. It is not known if exposure to second hand smoke contributes to the occurrence of TCC in dogs.

Symptoms of TCC

The earliest symptoms caused by TCC vary from mild to severe, and often resemble those caused by a urinary tract infection. Such symptoms include:

  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Blood within the urine
  • Straining to urinate
  • Inability to urinate

Straining to have a bowel movement may be observed if the prostate gland becomes enlarged due to infiltration with TCC cells. When a dog becomes completely unable to urinate due to obstruction, systemic symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting, and loss of appetite will arise within 24 hours.

Diagnosis of TCC

TCC is suspected when a mass within the bladder is detected by an imaging study such as abdominal ultrasound. Growth of TCC within the urethra is best detected via endoscopy (a fiberoptic telescope device that allows visualization within the urinary tract).

Collection of tissue samples from the mass that are then processed and examined under the microscope is the only way to make a definitive diagnosis of TCC. Such tissue samples can be collected via surgery or endoscopy, and sometimes by urinary tract catheterization.

Other testing

Many dogs with TCC have a concurrent urinary tract infection, and a urine culture is performed to determine if antibiotic therapy is warranted.

Once TCC has been diagnosed, “staging tests” may be performed. Staging is the process used to determine if the tumor has spread to other sites in the body. Staging is warranted when the additional information these tests provide are important for providing ongoing care. The results of staging tests assist in:

  • Determining the prognosis.
  • Choosing the most appropriate course of treatment.
  • Establishing a baseline set of tumor measurements that will help determine if subsequent treatment is successful.
  • Anticipating which future symptoms may arise.

Staging tests for dogs with TCC may include:

  • Blood and urine testing
  • Radiographs (x-rays) of the chest cavity to look for spread to the lungs and/or lymph nodes
  • Ultrasound of the abdomen to assess changes in the kidneys caused by possible obstruction to urine flow and spread of cancer to abdominal organs and/or lymph nodes

Treatment options

There are several options for treating TCC in dogs. Complete remission (complete elimination) of this cancer is always desirable, but this outcome tends to be the exception rather than the rule. Partial remission (reduction in the overall size of the tumor) and simply arresting growth of the tumor over a prolonged period are far more likely outcomes that usually result in restoring and maintaining an excellent quality of life.

Surgery

For dogs with TCC that has not spread outside of the bladder, complete surgical removal of the mass is the ideal therapy. Unfortunately, even for a highly gifted surgeon, this outcome usually isn’t possible. This is because TCC has a predilection for growing within the trigone region (neck of the bladder) where aggressive surgery would disrupt the delicate urethral and ureteral plumbing located there. Surgical removal works well when the TCC growth is relatively small and is located well away from the trigone.

Medical therapies

The medical options described below tend to be extremely well tolerated by most dogs. These drugs may be used individually, but it is not unusual for them to be used in combination to treat dogs with TCC.

Piroxicam

Piroxicam is an oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication that substantially reduces the size of many TCC tumors. Piroxicam and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (e.g., Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Previcox) are referred to as cyclooxygenase (cox) inhibitors. It so happens that TCC cells often produce and use cyclooxygenase, and inhibition of this enzyme can hinder tumor growth.

Piroxicam’s ability to influence the growth of cancer cells was discovered spuriously when the drug was being used to provide pain relief for dogs with cancer. Unexpected cancer remissions were observed. This resulted in a study of 34 dogs with TCC who were treated with piroxicam. The results were as follows:

  • Complete remission (cancer fully gone): 2 dogs
  • Partial remission (cancer reduced in size): 4 dogs
  • Stable disease (no change in cancer size): 18 dogs
  • Cancer increased in size: 10 dogs
  • Average survival time: 181 days

Mitoxantrone

A chemotherapy drug called mitoxantrone has also been used to successfully treat TCC. A study of 48 dogs treated with the combination of piroxicam and mitaxantrone was performed by the Veterinary Cooperative Oncology Group. Results included:

  • Complete remission: 1 dog
  • Partial remission: 16 dogs
  • Stable disease: 22 dogs
  • Cancer increased in size: 9 dogs
  • Average survival time from start of therapy: 250-300 days

Vinblastine

A third drug for the treatment of TCC is vinblastine. This drug is typically used following failure of the other drugs mentioned above. A study using vinblastine to treat 28 dogs with TCC resulted in:

  • Partial remission: 10 dogs
  • Stable disease: 14 dogs
  • Cancer increased in size: 4 dogs
  • Average survival time from first vinblastine treatment: 147 days
  • Average survival time from the time of diagnosis: 299 days

Metronomic therapy

Metronomic chemotherapy refers to long term, low dose, frequent oral administration of a Chemotherapy drug. Metronomic therapy is given with hopes of blocking the formation of new blood vessels within the tumor, thereby inhibiting its growth. This is referred to as an “anti-angiogenic” effect.

A study of metronomic therapy for TCC was performed using a drug called chlorambucil (Leukeran). Of the 31 dogs studied, 29 had failed prior TCC treatment. The results are as follows:

  • Partial remission: 1 dog
  • Stable disease: 20 dogs
  • Progressive disease: 9 dogs
  • Lost to followup: 1 dog
  • Average survival time from start of therapy: 221 days

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is an option for control of TCC growth. Unfortunately, applied in suitable dosages, radiation therapy often produces harmful complications affecting the bladder and surrounding organs.

Have you ever cared for a Scottie or any other breed of dog with transitional cell carcinoma?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Puddle Precautions

February 15th, 2015

Author’s dog Quinn bounding through a puddle. Photo Credit: Susannah Kay

There’s a lot to be said for a vigorous walk with your dog after a heavy rainstorm. The landscape appears refreshed, the air smells great, and you and your dog get to unleash some cabin fever!

As fun as it is to watch your dog splash and play in the puddles you encounter on your walk, some caution is advised. Depending on the surrounding environment, those pools of standing water can harbor some health hazards.

Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis organisms are bacteria that thrive in wet climates. Wild animals, particularly deer and rodents, and some domesticated animals (cows, sheep, pigs) can be leptospirosis carriers. Although infected, these mammals maintain good health while shedding leptospirosis organisms in their urine.

Dogs can contact leptospirosis by drinking from water sources contaminated with urine from an infected animal. Puddles that have formed from rain runoff certainly qualify as such a source. A study of the prevalence of canine leptospirosis in the United States and Canada revealed that disease prevalence correlates with the amount of rainfall. The more rain, the more dogs diagnosed with leptospirosis.

Not all dogs become sick when exposed to leptospirosis, but for those that do, the results can be devastating. Leptospirosis most commonly causes kidney failure. Associated symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. The liver and lungs are also targets for this disease. The diagnosis of leptospirosis is made via blood and urine testing. Successful treatment consists of antibiotics and supportive therapy such as supplemental fluids.

The leptospirosis vaccination does a good job of protecting against this disease. Talk with your veterinarian about whether or not this vaccine makes sense given where you live and the nature of your dog’s extracurricular activities.

Giardia

Giardia are microscopic, protozoan organisms that live within the intestinal tracts of a variety of domesticated and wild animals. The infectious (contagious) forms are shed within the feces and readily contaminate water sources. This is one of the main reasons it is recommended that hikers and backpackers drink only filtered water. A 2012 study documented that dogs who attend dog parks are more likely to test positive for giardia than those who do not attend dog parks.

The most common symptom caused by giardiasis in dogs is diarrhea. Vomiting and loss of appetite may also occur. The diagnosis is made via stool sample testing. A handful of medications can be used to rid the intestinal tract of giardia. Metronidazole and fenbendazole are the two most commonly used. The diagnosis of giardia in one dog may warrant treatment of the entire household herd, as giardia is highly contagious from dog to dog. It can also be transmitted to other species, including cats and humans.

Antifreeze

Consumption of only a very tiny amount of antifreeze can have devastating consequences for dogs. Ethylene glycol, the active ingredient in antifreeze, causes acute, often irreversible kidney failure. Symptoms typically include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weakness, and ultimately coma and/or seizures. The diagnosis is made based on history, urine and blood testing, and often a kidney biopsy. Unfortunately, even with aggressive and expensive therapy, most dogs suffering from antifreeze toxicity don’t survive.

Until relatively recently, antifreeze had a sweet taste rendering it all the more enticing to dogs and children. In 2012 antifreeze manufacturers were forced to add a bittering agent to their products. Even with the addition of a bitter taste, vigilance is required to prevent antifreeze toxicity. A small amount of antifreeze within a puddle may not be enough to deter a thirsty dog from drinking.

Antifreeze sources include open product containers and antifreeze leaks from the undercarriage of vehicles. When with your dog, be sure to avoid puddles that have formed in and around parking lots.

Take home message

My goal in telling you about the potential perils of puddles isn’t to convince you to confine your dogs indoors. Heck, my dogs hike off leash with me daily, rain or shine. Rather, my objective is to increase your awareness so that you will be mindful about where your dog drinks when out and about with you (no parking lot puddles!). I encourage you to maintain awareness of the symptoms of leptospirosis, giardiasis, and antifreeze toxicity so that, if observed, you will seek veterinary attention right away.

Does your dog have exposure to puddles?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.