Puppy Socialization Addendum

July 20th, 2014

My recent article about the pros and cons of early puppyhood socialization solicited some wonderful comments, many of which were from trainers and breeders. Thanks to all of you who responded. Here are some take home messages from our conversation:

-         We are all in agreement that socialization for puppies less than four months of age is a “must-do”.

-         Greta and two Laura’s voiced their belief that inadequate socialization is far more likely than infectious diseases to result in canine unhappy endings (rehoming, relinquishment to shelters, euthanasia). I believe this is often, but not always the case. Infectious disease prevalence varies depending on the level of canine health education within a community. As Susan suggested in her comments, find out what the risk for disease is in your neighborhood (check in on this with your veterinarian) before determining how best to socialize your pup.

-         Several readers made a good case for the argument that the “sensible socialization” I recommended was not enough for puppies to become adult dogs with calm demeanors and good manners. Kat suggested exposing youngsters to the sights, sounds, and smells of the big wide world. Greta and Gail recommended baby strollers, puppy packs, baby slings, and/or shopping carts as ways of transporting puppies out and about for socialization without ever letting their feet touch the ground. I think that this makes great sense as long as one realizes this is not a foolproof means of disease prevention.

-         We are all in agreement that public venues frequented by dogs of unknown vaccination status, such as dog parks and pet stores are to be avoided.

-         Laura directed me to a position statement on puppy socialization crafted by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. The statement reads as follows: “In general, puppies can start puppy socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age. Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to the first class and a first deworming. They should be kept up-to-date on vaccines throughout the class.”

-         A 2013 study in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association reported on almost 300 puppies attending puppy socialization classes before 16 weeks of age. The data was collected from four different cities. Results demonstrated that vaccinated pups attending early socialization classes (before four months of age) had no greater risk of developing canine parvovirus infection than vaccinated pups who did not attend those classes. Thank you Greta and Dr. Melissa Bain, one of the coauthors of this study, for bringing this information to my attention.

-         Certified dog behavior consultant, Caryl Wolff turned me onto her recently published book, Puppy Socialization: An Insider’s Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness. She is in advocate of puppy socialization classes and provides her readers with tools to find just the right one.

-         All of this information has nudged me retract my earlier comments advising against socialization classes for pups under four months of age. While I can now encourage them, I cannot overemphasize the importance of performing due diligence to learn how conscientiously the trainer is screening the pups allowed into the class and disinfecting the environment. I encourage you to read the description of dog trainer Jill Kessler Miller’s puppy socialization class as it appeared in the Spring, 2014 edition of the IACP Safe Hands Journal.

Thanks to all of you who contributed your comments. You’ve re-proven the theory that, indeed, you can teach an old dog (vet) new tricks!

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.

Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome (SARDS)

July 13th, 2014

Muffin- the inspiration for Muffin’s Halo

Over the years I’ve developed a top ten list of my most despised diseases. Those that make it to this list tend to be diseases that are untreatable, leaving me helpless to help my patient. Such is the case with Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome (aka, SARDS). In addition to being untreatable, the cause of SARDS is unknown. (Note to reader: the less that is known about a disease, the longer the name of that disease.)

What we do know about SARDS

SARDS is a disease of middle age, and approximately 60% of affected dogs are females. Any breed is susceptible, but Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, Pugs, Brittany Spaniels, Malteses, Bichon Frises, and mixed-breed dogs are particularly predisposed.

SARDS affects the retinas which receive visual input and then transport this information to the brain via the optic nerve. In dogs with SARDS, the photoreceptors (rods and cones) and possibly the nerve fiber layer within the thin-layered retinas undergo degenerative changes. The end result is complete blindness. These changes are microscopic in nature- one cannot detect them by performing a basic eye exam. The diagnosis of SARDS is made based on the patient’s history, the presence of partial to complete blindness in both eyes, normal appearing retinas, and characteristic changes on an electroretinogram (ERG). The ERG is a test used to evaluate photoreceptor function and is performed by veterinarians who are specialists in ophthalmology.

It’s been theorized that SARDS is an autoimmune disease in which a misbehaving immune system attacks the body’s own normal cells. Dogs with SARDS who have received immunosuppressive therapy (the treatment of choice for autoimmune diseases) have not demonstrated any clear improvement in overall outcome compared to untreated dogs.

Symptoms

All dogs with SARDS develop complete and permanent blindness over a rapid course, typically days to weeks. Stumbling, difficulty navigating at night, and failure to track treats are the most commonly reported early symptoms of visual impairment.

During the weeks to months preceding their blindness, most SARDS-affected dogs also experience marked increases in appetite and/or thirst with subsequent weight gain and changes in urinary behavior. Testing for hormonal imbalances (diabetes mellitus, Cushing’s Disease) that classically cause these symptoms is commonly pursued and typically comes up empty. Savvy veterinarians consider the possibility of SARDS before loss of vision becomes apparent. In most cases, it is not until vision wanes that the diagnosis of SARDS becomes suspect.

Long-term outcomes for affected dogs and their human companions

When a dog develops SARDS, a significant period of adjustment is required for everyone involved. Imagine living with a newly blind dog who is begging for food, drinking incessantly, and urinating copious amounts (all that water has to go somewhere).

A study of long-term outcomes in dogs with SARDS surveyed 100 people living with SARDS-affected dogs. In addition to blindness, most of the dogs were reported to have increased thirst, urine output, and appetite along with weight gain. Increased appetite was the only one of these symptoms reported to increase over the course of one year following the SARDS diagnosis.

In this study, 22 of the 100 dogs received some sort of treatment (corticosteroids, nutritional supplements, melatonin, and/or doxycycline) for their blindness. None experienced improved vision in response to therapy.

Eighty-seven percent of the dogs were reported to have moderate to excellent navigation skills within their home environments, and 81% had moderate to excellent navigation skills within their yard environments. Of the people surveyed, 48% reported making special provisions for their dogs such as the use of baby gates, fencing, and ramps, carpeting pathways to important locations, and auditory clues or scents to signify certain locations.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents reported that the relationship with their dog actually improved after the SARDS diagnosis. The authors of the study theorized that the increased time and involvement necessary to care for a blind dog may have been responsible for enhancing the human-animal connection. Only 17% reported that the relationship with their dog worsened.

Seventy-six percent of respondents ranked the quality of their dog’s life to be moderate to excellent. Only nine dogs were reported to have a poor quality of life. Of the 100 people surveyed, 95 indicated that they would discourage euthanasia if advising others caring for dogs with SARDS. One must bear in mind that those who chose to euthanize when SARDS was diagnosed were not surveyed.

This study provides truly uplifting results. While adaptation to a dog’s loss of vision usually proceeds smoothly, when one factors in the other SARDS symptoms that accompany the blindness, the challenge to maintain quality of life for everyone involved increases significantly. Dogs and the people who love them can be amazingly adaptive creatures!

Muffin’s Halo

The photo accompanying this article is of Muffin, a Poodle with cataracts. The halo apparatus he is wearing was designed by his clever companion, Silvie as a means to allow Muffin to explore his environment without bumping his face into things. While I have no direct experience with Muffin’s Halo (I just learned of this product a couple of weeks ago), the concept is intriguing to me. My impression is that this device would significantly boost a blind dog’s confidence level, particularly one who is newly blind. If you have used this product, I would value your feedback.

Have you ever cared for a blind dog? How was the quality of your lives impacted?

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.

Socializing Your Young Pup: Healthy or Hazardous?

July 6th, 2014

Photo Credit: ©Kathie Meier

If you want to make yourself a little crazy, ask a bunch of dog experts if it’s a good idea to socialize your youngster before completion of his or her puppy vaccinations. Guaranteed you will hear, “Absolutely!” from some and, “Absolutely not!” from others. Why the discord? While we all know that socialization with people and other dogs is developmentally beneficial for youngsters, we also recognize that most pups are not fully protected against that dastardly disease duo (distemper and parvovirus) until they’ve had the last of their puppy vaccinations at four months of age.

The Pros and Cons

Canine distemper is a highly contagious and heartbreaking disease. It spreads from dog to dog via respiratory secretions. Most puppies who contract distemper don’t survive, no matter how aggressively they are treated. Parvovirus organisms are passed in the feces of infected dogs, and they remain contagious in the environment for weeks to months after they are shed. Puppies who are sick with parvovirus disease do survive, but not without aggressive medical care that, in and of itself, can negatively impact socialization (some pups become timid and fearful in response to all of the necessary poking and prodding). Taking puppies out into the world before they have ample immunity to canine distemper and parvovirus is risky business.

On the other hand, puppies who are not well socialized from a very young age are less likely to develop into adult canine good citizens. They are more likely to develop undesirable traits such as inappropriate aggression, fear, and anxiety. Such negative behaviors often lead to dismal outcomes such as backyard isolation, rehoming, and euthanasia.

Sensible Socialization

Clearly, there are perils on both sides of the fence when it comes to early socialization. What’s a puppy raiser to do? My recommendation for pups younger than four months of age is what I refer to as “sensible socialization” involving one-on-one play dates in safe environments. Here’s what’s involved:

  • Avoid the temptation to bring your new puppy home once weaned from its mother. Ideally, littermates should remain together until at least 10 weeks of age. All that rough and tumbling between siblings builds a solid foundation for good socialization skills.
  • Allow your pup to socialize only with dogs who appear overtly healthy and are known to be up to date on their vaccines or have serology results that indicate adequate disease protection against distemper and parvovirus.
  • Your puppy’s playmates should be proven “good sports” who don’t lose their temper when reprimanding clumsy, demanding puppies.
  • One-on-one play dates are best. Interaction with more than one dog at a time can be overwhelming for puppies.
  • Puppy kindergarten classes for dogs under four months of age are risky business. Even when vaccinated “by the book” most pups experience lapses in their immune protection against distemper and parvovirus while in the midst of completing their puppy vaccinations. This has to do with individual variation in the timing of when maternal immunity (protection acquired from the mama dog) tapers off. And, one cannot tell a book by its cover- a pup with parvovirus will be contagious to other dogs several days before showing any outward symptoms of this disease.
  • Socialization should ideally take place in individual home environments rather than places that may be frequented by dogs with unknown vaccination histories. This means avoiding venues such as public recreation areas, pet stores, and dog parks.
  • Socializing with other dogs is great, but don’t forget to socialize your pup with the people you know- ideally individuals of all ages, shapes, sizes, and colors.

Please know that these “sensible socialization” recommendations represent one veterinarian’s opinion. Other veterinarians, breeders, or trainers might provide differing advice based on their experiences. It is ultimately up to you to determine how best to socialize your pup while minimizing health risks.

How have you socialized your puppies? If you are a trainer, behaviorist, veterinarian, or breeder, please do chime in.

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.

 

Sebaceous Adenomas

June 29th, 2014

Photo Credit: Sumner Fowler

One cannot discuss lumps and bumps in dogs without talking about sebaceous adenomas. These are, far and away, the most common benign skin tumors in dogs. Most dogs will develop at least a couple of them by the time they are senior citizens.

Sebaceous glands are microscopic structures found just beneath the skin surface. They secrete an oily substance called sebum that is transported to the skin surface via microscopic ducts. Adenomas can arise from the gland or the duct, and can develop anywhere on a dog’s body.

Sebaceous adenomas tend to be small, no more than ¼ to ½ of an inch in size. They may appear round or they can have a wart-like appearance. These benign growths occur primarily in middle-aged and older dogs. Any breed can develop sebaceous adenomas, but certain breeds are particularly predisposed: English Cocker Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, Samoyeds, Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, West Highland White Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Dachshunds, Miniature Poodles, Toy Poodles, Shih Tzus, Basset Hounds, Beagles, and Kerry Blue Terriers.

Because of their benign nature, the vast majority of sebaceous adenomas require no treatment whatsoever. Just about as soon as two or three are surgically removed, two or three more will develop. Surgically chasing sebaceous adenomas accomplishes nothing more than turning a dog into a patchwork quilt. There are some exceptions to the general rule of leaving sebaceous adenomas alone, and they are as follows:

- Surgical removal is warranted for those sebaceous adenomas that recurrently bleed or become infected because of self-trauma (the dog bites or chews at them), or because they get in the way of the groomer’s clippers.

- Some sebaceous adenomas secrete oodles of sebum creating the constant appearance of an oil slick on the dog’s hair coat. The grease rubs off on hands, furniture, clothing, and anything else the dog contacts. No fun!

- Some sebaceous adenomas are pretty darned unsightly, looking like warty little aliens poking through the hair coat. Although this is not bothersome for the dog, it can pose a significant psychological issue for the person living with that dog.

- If a mass believed to be a sebaceous adenoma is growing or changing in appearance, it is important to ask your veterinarian to have another look. What was thought to be a benign adenoma may be its less common cancerous cousin, a sebaceous carcinoma.

Does your dog have any sebaceous adenomas?

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.

Dogs and Lipomas

June 22nd, 2014

Expanding on the topic of tumors discussed last week, this blog is devoted to lipomas, aka fatty tumors. Of all the benign growths dogs develop as they age, lipomas are one of the most common. They arise from fat (lipid) cells and their favorite sites to set up housekeeping are in the subcutaneous tissue (just beneath the skin surface) of the axillary regions (armpits) and alongside the chest and abdomen. Every once in awhile lipomas develop internally within the chest or abdominal cavity. Rarely does a dog develop only one lipoma. They tend to grow in multiples and I’ve examined individual dogs with more lipomas than I could count.

Should lipomas be treated in some fashion? In the vast majority of cases, the answer is a definite, “No!” This is based on their benign, slow-growing nature. The only issue most create is purely cosmetic, which the dog could could care less about!

There are a few exceptions to the general recommendation to let sleeping lipomas lie. A fatty tumor is deserving of more attention in the following situations:

1. A lipoma is steadily growing in an area where it could ultimately interfere with mobility. The armpit is the classic spot where this happens. The emphasis here is on the phrase, “steadily growing.” Even in one of these critical areas there is no reason to surgically remove a lipoma that remains quiescent with no discernible growth.

2. Sudden growth and/or change in appearance of a fatty tumor (or any mass for that matter) warrant reassessment by a veterinarian to determine the best course of action.

3. Every once in a great while, a fatty tumor turns out to be an infiltrative liposarcoma rather than a lipoma. These are the malignant black sheep of the fatty tumor family. Your veterinarian will be suspicious of an infiltrative liposarcoma if the fine needle aspirate cytology reveals fat cells, yet the tumor feels fixed to underlying tissues. (Lipomas are normally freely moveable.) Liposarcomas should be aggressively surgically removed and/or treated with radiation therapy.

4. Occasionally a lipoma grows to truly mammoth proportions. If ever you’ve looked at a dog and thought, “Wow, there’s a dog attached to that tumor!” chances are you were looking at a lipoma. Such massive tumors have the potential to cause the dog discomfort. They can also outgrow their blood supply, resulting in possible infection and drainage from the mass. The key is to catch on to the mass’s rapid growth so as to surgically remove it before it becomes enormous in size and far more difficult to remove.

How can one prevent canine lipomas from occurring? No one knows. Anecdotally speaking, it is thought that overweight dogs are more predisposed to developing fatty tumors. While I’m not so sure I buy this, I’m certainly in favor of keeping your dog at a healthy body weight.

Does your dog have any lipomas?

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.

Lumps and Bumps

June 15th, 2014

Given the opportunity to examine an older dog, I’ll very likely find at least one or two cutaneous (within the skin) or subcutaneous (just beneath the skin surface) lumps and bumps. Such growths are common by-products of the aging process. In this regard, I liken them to the brown spots that appear on our skin as we get older.

The good news is that most cutaneous and subcutaneous canine tumors are benign. It’s that small population of malignant masses that keeps us on our toes. They are the reason it’s important to have your veterinarian inspect any newly discovered lumps and bumps your dog develops. The smaller a cancerous growth is at the time of treatment, in general, the better the outcome.

Pet your dog!

In terms of “lump and bump patrol,” your first order of business is to pet your dog. No doubt you and your best buddy already enjoy some doggie massage time. What I’m asking you to do is a more methodical petting session. Once a month, slowly and mindfully slide your fingers, palm sides down, along your dog’s body. Move systematically from stem to stern while inspecting for any new lumps or bumps.

Also, look and feel for changes in the size or appearance of those previously discovered. Any new findings should be addressed with your veterinarian who relies upon your help with this surveillance. Imagine your vet trying to find a tiny growth on a shaggy Sheepdog or Sheltie during the course of a single exam. Some lumps and bums are bound to be missed without your assistance.

When to see your veterinarian

Does finding a new growth mean that you must see your veterinarian right away? Not necessarily. Say that you’ve just spotted a new bump in your dog’s skin that is the size of a small pea. She is due for her annual physical examination in three months. Must you go rushing in this week with this new finding, or can it wait the three months? The answer depends on the behavior of this newly discovered growth.

My recommendation is that you continue to observe the new lump once a week. Examining it more frequently can make it difficult to accurately assess change. If the mass is growing, or otherwise changing in appearance, best to have it checked out sooner rather than later. If no changes are observed, waiting to address it at the time of the annual physical exam makes perfectly good sense.

In contrast, say that in the course of examining your best buddy you discover a prune sized, firm, subcutaneous growth that feels attached to her shoulder blade. Based on the larger size and deep attachment of this mass, better to have this one checked out right away. If in doubt, contact your veterinarian to figure out the best course of action. As with most things medical, better to be safe than sorry.

In advance of your veterinary visit, be sure to mark the location of any lumps or bumps requiring inspection. You can clip some hair over the site or mark the fur with a ribbon, hair band, or marking pen. Growths discovered at home when an animal is lying down in a relaxed, comfortable position have a habit of magically disappearing when the dog is upright and uptight in the exam room.

Fine needle aspirate for cytology

If a newly discovered growth is large enough, the usual first step your veterinarian will recommend is a fine needle aspirate for cytology. The purpose of this step is to attempt to noninvasively clarify the cell type within the mass, and whether it is benign or malignant.

Collection of a fine needle aspirate is a simple process that is easy on the dog and rarely requires any sort of sedation. Using a needle no larger than the size of a vaccination needle along with some gentle suction, your vet will remove a smattering of cells from the growth. These cells are then spit out onto a glass slide and evaluated under the microscope.

Some cytology interpretations are a slam-dunk, and can readily be interpreted by your family vet. Others require the eyeballs of a specialist- a clinical pathologist who works in a veterinary diagnostic laboratory. Remember, the goal of the cytology testing is to determine the underlying cell type, therefore whether the growth can be left alone or requires more attention. Fine needle aspirate cytology is often (but not always) definitive. If the results do not provide clarity, a surgical biopsy of the mass may be recommended.

If your veterinarian recommends surgical removal of a mass as the very first step (chooses to forego the fine needle aspirate), I encourage you to consider getting a second opinion. It is always disappointing and frustrating when a veterinarian foregoes cytology, proceeds with surgery, and the biopsy report reveals a malignancy with cancer cells extending beyond the margins of the tissue that was removed. In other words, cancer cells were clearly left behind. Had the veterinarian known in advance from the cytology report that the tumor was malignant, a different approach (much more aggressive surgery and/or radiation therapy) would have been undertaken, almost certainly resulting in a better outcome.

A second “bad news scenario” that can arise from forging ahead with surgery without benefit of fine needle aspirate cytology is failure to identify a cancerous growth that may have already spread elsewhere in the body. If the cytology reveals a malignancy, screening the rest of the body for metastasis (spread) is the logical next step. If metastasis is discovered, removal of the originally discovered mass is unlikely to provide any benefit. Rather, such surgery will only subject the patient (and the client’s pocketbook) to a needless procedure. Leaping into surgery to remove a mass without the benefit of cytology is risky business.

The importance of histopathology

If your veterinarian surgically removes a growth from your dog, do not, I repeat, do not let that tissue sample wind up in the vet clinic garbage can! A far better choice is to have the mass submitted to a veterinary diagnostic laboratory for histopathology (biopsy). There, a veterinary pathologist will evaluate paper-thin slices of the mass under the microscope to confirm the identity of the mass.

Even if a fine needle aspirate cytology indicated that the growth was benign, histopathology is warranted. On occasion, the pathologist discovers something quirky such as a malignant tumor within the center of one that is benign.

If histopathology is not affordable, ask your vet to place the growth that was removed in a small container of formalin (preservative) that you can take home for safekeeping. This way, should multiple masses begin growing at the surgery site or should your dog develop a tumor at another site, you will still be able to request histopathology on the original sample. Formalin is toxic stuff, so keep the container lid sealed tightly.

Lumps and bumps are a very normal part of the canine aging process. Teaming up with your veterinarian to assess them on a regular basis is the very best way to insure that they never create a health issue for your wonderful dog.

Does your dog have any cutaneous or subcutaneous masses? If so, have you had them evaluated by your veterinarian?

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.

 

A Summertime Safety Reminder

June 8th, 2014

Photo Credit: Shirley Zindler

Tuffy, a scruffy and adorably sweet little terrier arrived at my hospital in a state of collapse with profoundly labored breathing, purplish gums, and a temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit (the normal body temperature for a dog is 100-102 degrees). Tuffy’s well-intentioned family let him accompany them on a brief outing and, while they were in the store for a mere ten minutes, Tuffy remained in the car. The outdoor temperature at the time was 82 degrees, and the temperature within the car quickly soared to well above 100 degrees. Tuffy is one of the lucky ones. He survived his episode of heatstroke without any lingering complications and has gone home to rejoin his grateful (and more knowledgeable) family. Most patients with heatstroke don’t fare nearly so well. I invite you to share Tuffy’s story with others with hopes of preventing a needless tragedy.

Dog Days of Summer

Some of us take “dog days of summer” literally- we want to go everywhere accompanied by our beloved canine companions! As tempting as this may be, keep in mind that when temperatures are soaring your dog’s well being is best served by staying home. Heat has the potential to be hazardous to your dog’s health.

Dogs are incapable of significant sweating- their only sweat glands are located on the undersides of their paws. The major mechanism by which dogs dissipate heat is by panting, but this cooling system is easily overwhelmed when the temperature climbs. Panting becomes even less effective in humid conditions or for dogs with underlying respiratory tract ailments (collapsing trachea, laryngeal paralysis, lung diseases). Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, and others I lovingly refer to as “smoosh-faced” breeds readily overheat because of their unique upper respiratory tract anatomy.

What happens when dogs get too hot? The result is heatstroke, a life threatening condition. Symptoms of heatstroke tend to occur abruptly and can include increased heart rate, labored breathing, weakness, collapse, purplish gum color, and even seizures and coma. Of all the “summertime diseases” veterinarians dread heatstroke the most because we know that, even with aggressive therapy, many heatstroke victims will succumb to organ damage and death.

Most cases of canine heatstroke are a result of confinement in cars.  Perhaps the vehicle was parked in the shade, but the sun shifted, or a well-intentioned person thought that leaving the windows cracked or returning to the car quickly would be a safe bet.  Overactivity in the heat is another common cause of heatstroke. For some dogs the desire to chase the ball trumps all else, and the person throwing the ball doesn’t recognize when it’s time to quit.

If you suspect your dog has or is on the verge of heatstroke, spend just a few minutes cooling him off with water from a hose or covering him with towels soaked in cool water. Then get to the closest veterinary hospital as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence- the earlier heatstroke is treated, the greater the likelihood of a positive outcome.

Heatstroke Prevention

Knowledge is power when it comes to preventing heatstroke. Here are some pointers to help keep your best buddy safe during the hot summer months:

- Never leave your dog inside the car on warm or hot days. A panting dog in an enclosed space quickly creates a muggy greenhouse environment that can quickly cause heatstroke. Even with the windows down, temperatures inside a car can rise to 120 degrees or more. If you happen upon a dog confined in a car on a hot day, find the owner of the vehicle or contact a police officer- whichever will most rapidly liberate the dog from danger. If the dog is clearly in trouble and help is not quickly forthcoming, it is appropriate to break a car window.

- Exercise your dog early in the morning or during evening hours to avoid the heat of the day.

- Allow for plenty of rest and water breaks during play activity and exercise. Your dog may not know his limits and will continue to enthusiastically chase the Frisbee even when his internal thermometer is getting ready to blow a fuse.

- Keep your dog indoors, ideally in air conditioning, on very hot days.

- If your dog is left outside, be sure he has plenty of shade and provide him with access to a sprinkler, wading pool, or sand pit soaked with water.

- If it’s necessary to transport your dog by airplane during the summer months, schedule your flight for nighttime or early morning. Check with the airlines to find out whether or not the cargo hold is temperature controlled.

Check out other ways to keep your dog safe this summer at The Dog Fence DIY Safety Round Up .

What will you do to keep your dog safe this summer?

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.

Home Cooking for Your Dog

June 1st, 2014

Feeding dogs has come full circle. Back before the invention of canine convenience foods (kibble and canned products), a dog’s diet consisted primarily of table scraps left over from the human supper plate. The introduction of commercially processed foods changed all that. Not only were kibble and canned foods more convenient, they were formulated to provide complete and balanced nutrition. These features were appealing, particularly to people who were transitioning their dogs from the doghouse in the backyard to the sofa in the living room.

Fast-forward several decades to the current shift back to preparation of homemade diets for dogs. What’s the quibble with kibble? Increasingly, people are concerned about the effects of processed ingredients and the use of additives. Although there is a lack of scientific substantiation, it’s not uncommon to hear blame for a whole host of canine maladies placed on processed foods.

Some folks cook for their dogs as they would cook for themselves. The meals vary from day to day or week to week, and they typically contain a hodgepodge mixture of meats and veggies with or without vitamin/mineral supplementation. Others work from recipes found on line, in books, or obtained from a veterinarian with the notion that the end product will be nutritionally balanced.

Are homemade diets nutritionally balanced?

A study titled, “Evaluation of recipes of home-prepared maintenance diets for dogs” published in a 2013 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association documented significant nutritional imbalances in homemade diets. Two hundred recipes from 34 sources including veterinary textbooks, pet care books, and websites were evaluated. Most of the recipes were authored by veterinarians. All were assessed both qualitatively (specificity of ingredients and preparation instructions) and quantitatively (calculation of total energy, energy density, proportion of calories contributed by protein, fat and carbohydrates, and essential nutrient concentrations).

The study demonstrated that most of the recipes (92% to be exact) contained vague or incomplete instructions requiring the chef to make assumptions about the method of preparation or exact products used. Additionally, most of the recipes provided no information about caloric content or feeding instructions. Thirteen recipes called for the addition of garlic or onion, both of which can be associated with hemolytic anemia, a potentially life threatening disease in dogs.

Of the 200 recipes evaluated, only ten of them (5%) provided adequate concentrations of all essential nutrients based on NRC (National Research Council) and AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards. NRC and AAFCO set the standards for balanced nutrition in commercially prepared foods. Most of the home-prepared recipes (83.5%), including those that called for rotation of ingredients, had multiple nutritional deficiencies. The nutrients most commonly lacking were zinc, choline, copper, essential fatty acids (DHA and EPA), and calcium. Total fat concentrations were adequate in all but two of the recipes, likely reflecting human preferences and the desire for enhanced palatability (the more fat, the more yummy the diet is for the dog).

Some deficiencies were so severe that nutrient concentrations did not reach 50% of the recommended amounts. Additionally, nine recipes surpassed the safe upper limits for specific ingredients such as vitamin D and the fatty acids, EPA and DHA.

The use of published recipes for home-prepared dog food is an example of really good intentions gone awry. People wanting to feed their dogs in the healthiest way possible are unintentionally providing nutritionally unbalanced diets.

Veterinary nutritionists

I am fully supportive of home cooking for your dogs, but discourage doing so without professional guidance. Unfortunately, this guidance likely needs to come from someone other than your family vet. The sad fact of the matter is that most veterinarians (myself included) don’t have the know-how to formulate a made-from-scratch balanced and complete canine diet. For this reason I encourage consultation with a veterinarian who specializes in nutrition. Such specialists can be found via the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. For a one-time consultation fee, veterinary nutritionists provide their services over the phone or via email (no need for an office visit). Not only do they formulate diets for healthy digs, they also craft homemade recipes for those with special dietary needs because of an underlying chronic disease process.

Some folks are skeptical about veterinary nutritionists based on the belief that they are simply pawns of the processed pet food industry. My reaction to this is, so what if they have some bias about dog food? The way around this is to let your own bias be known loud and clear. Do you want a grain-free diet, or one that avoids red meat, or one that uses game meat as the primary protein source? If so, specify up front where you draw your line in the sand. The nutritionist should be able to build a balanced and complete diet for your dog around your preferences.

The alternative to working with a veterinary nutritionist is to feed a home-prepared diet that likely contains too little or too much of key ingredients. Do all dogs on unbalanced diets fail to thrive? Absolutely not, but given the opportunity to feed your dog a diet that is balanced and complete, why would you choose otherwise?

If you care to learn more about the home-prepared diet study cited above, I invite you read an interview conducted with one of the researchers, Dr. Jennifer Larsen.

Do you feed your dog a homemade diet? How do you feel about the results of the study cited above?

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.

 

Got a Fever?

May 25th, 2014

Just like us, dogs and cats can spike fevers in response to infectious diseases, inflammatory disorders, and heatstroke. How can you tell if your pet’s temperature is on the rise? The notion that a hot, dry nose is a sure sign is simply an old wives’ tale. The only accurate way to know if you have a hot dog or a feverish feline on your hands is with use of a thermometer.

Digital thermometers made for humans work just fine for pets as long as they can be inserted rectally. While it would be so much easier to obtain a temperature measurement from the skin, ear, or armpit, such readings are inaccurate in dogs and cats. If you have an old-fashioned mercury-filled glass thermometer, I discourage you from using it. Should it break, the mercury exposure could be hazardous. Contact your state’s waste management program to determine how to safely discard this relic.

Ready to take your pet’s temperature? Begin by taking a deep breath (the calmer you are, the more relaxed your best buddy will be). Apply Vaseline or lubricating jelly to the tip of the thermometer and insert it within the rectum to a depth of ½ to one inch. Cats, in particular, can pucker tightly. Success depends on gentle clockwise/counterclockwise rotation in conjunction with steady forward pressure. Dogs have much less “pucker power” so insertion of the thermometer tends to be easier.

Be careful not to inadvertently yank your pet’s tail upwards while concentrating on thermometer placement, lest you cause discomfort. Whether working with a cat or dog, enlist an assistant to help reduce the wiggle factor. The helper should place one hand under the belly to prevent sitting down- a natural response to insertion of the thermometer. For kitties, grasping hold of the scruff (nape of the neck) works best. After the thermometer has been placed, a digital readout of numbers will occur followed by an auditory beep indicating success. If the reading is greater than 102 degrees Fahrenheit, your pet has a fever (normal range for dogs and cats is 100-102 degrees).

A whole host of different inflammatory and infectious diseases can cause a fever. So, it is reasonable to take your pet’s temperature whenever you observe a new symptom. Those most commonly associated with a fever are sluggish behavior and loss of appetite. Your pet may or may not feel warm to the touch.

If your Fluffy or Fido has a fever, the best thing to do is contact your family veterinary clinic or a local emergency hospital to determine the best course of action. Do not administer aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol). These medications can cause serious side effects in pets. Likewise, resist the temptation to douse your warm dog or cat in cold water or alcohol. Not only will this cause significant discomfort (think of how chilled you feel while in the throes of a fever), your pet’s internal thermostat will simply go into overdrive to restore the fever. The exception to this rule is if your pet is suffering from heatstroke. In this situation, cooling with water is strongly recommended.

Lastly, I’d like to address a pet peeve of mine (pun intended). If the thermometer reading is elevated, please do not say, “My dog (cat) has a temperature.” Of course, your pet has a temperature, as does every living, breathing animal! The more accurate description is, “My dog (cat) has a fever.” There! Thank you for indulging me!

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.

Canine Car Sickness

May 18th, 2014

For some dogs, the car feels like a second home. Not only do they delight in going for rides, they love just hanging out in their car any chance they get. This is not the case for dogs who experience motion sickness. These poor pups dread car travel regardless of the destination.

Vomiting is, of course, the tell-tale sign of motion sickness. More subtle evidence that your best buddy is feeling queasy may include lip licking, heavy drooling, anxiety, and/or subdued behavior.

Car sickness or motion sickness is super common amongst puppies, and may be associated with immaturity of the inner ear apparatus that regulates equilibrium and balance. While many dogs outgrow this problem, others continue to experience motion sickness throughout their lives. For some, this may become a conditioned response- the dog learns to associate car travel with nausea.

Although motion sickness does not have any long-lasting health consequences, it is certainly a major drag for the poor dog and the poor human who must clean up the mess. If your dog experiences motion sickness I encourage you to take advantage of the following suggestions with hopes that your car rides together will become far more peaceful and enjoyable.

Tips for decreasing your dog’s motion sickness

- Allow your dog to spend good quality time in your car with the engine turned off. Spend these driveway moments with a peaceful, calm mindset and provide lots of positive reinforcement.

- Graduate from the step above to sitting in a parked car with the engine running and lots of positive reinforcement. Next comes very short road trips- no more than a trip around the block. Gradually build up car travel time, ideally winding up at destinations your dog considers desirable.

- Travel when your dog has an empty stomach (no food for 4-6 hours). This means skipping a meal or timing your travel according to your dog’s feeding schedule.

- While driving, confine your dog using a crate or a seat belt setup designed specifically for dogs. Less movement will lessen the likelihood of nausea. It is thought that facing forward may help prevent motion sickness. If using a crate, cover it in a fashion that prevents your dog from looking out other than in a forward direction.

- Try a different car. Here I am giving you a reason to go out and buy that new car you’ve had your eye on! Can you imagine the auto dealer’s reaction to taking your car sick dog going along on test rides? In all seriousness, if you do have access to more than one vehicle, see if one produces a more favorable response for your dog than the other. I can attest to the fact that I am much more prone to motion sickness in some cars than in others.

- Keep the car cool by cracking windows and/or using air conditioning. I am not an advocate of allowing your dog to travel with head hanging out the window. There is too much potential for bodily harm, particularly those precious corneas.

- Ask your veterinarian for a prescription for Cerenia (maropitant citrate), a drug that was developed specifically for the prevention of motion sickness in dogs. It is safe and effective and doesn’t cause drowsiness. Cerenia comes in a tablet form that is administered orally once daily. It works best when given two hours prior to travel.

- Over the counter medications developed for people with motion sickness are not as effective for dogs as is Cerenia. Additionally, most cause significant drowsiness. Do not use these products without first checking in with your veterinarian.

- Ginger may reduce motion sickness for some dogs. Some people believe that feeding a ginger snap or two to their dog before travel does the trick.

- Aromatherapy with lavender has been shown to significantly reduce car ride-induced anxiety in dogs. While not proven to lessen canine motion sickness (to my knowledge, this has not been studied), the reduction in anxiety may prove beneficial. Unless you detest the smell of lavender, this is certainly worth a try.

Has your dog experienced motion sickness? If so, what have you tried and how has it worked?

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.