Most Popular Dog Names of 2014

December 14th, 2014

Okay, I confess. The release of the year’s most popular dog names is more exciting for me than the Academy Awards and the Grammys combined. You’re a dog lover- surely you can relate to this.

Now, let’s share the excitement. Drumroll please as I present the highlights from 2014’s most popular dog names. There were some interesting trends this year:

  • Eighteen of the top 20 names are human names. Perhaps this correlates with the growing trend of people referring to themselves as “pet parents” rather than “pet owners”.
  • Compared to 2013, there was a significant rise in food and beverage-themed names such as “Guinness,” Kahlua,” “Coconut,” and “Kale”.
  • There was a huge jump in names associated with things found in the great outdoors (perhaps a by product of our “going green” culture). “Lightning,” “Shadow,” “Clover,” “Panda,” and “Moose” are some examples.
  • Pop culture shaped how we named our dogs this year. Many pups were named, “Elsa,” “Olaf,” and “Anna” based on the movie, Frozen (why am I not surprised). The Game of Thrones (I’ve never seen this show) spawned plenty of doggie ID tags inscribed with Khaleesi, Daenarys, Sansa, and Tyrion. Any of these names are quite the mouthful when contemplating an effective recall command!
  • Newly retired New York Yankee superstar, Derek Jeter must feel flattered. “Jeter” made the top ten list of sports-related names.
  • No great surprise to see “Max” and “Bella” leading the pack of male and female names. Both are good, rock-solid dog names, and have been super popular for years.

I enjoyed these results, just as I do most every year. As long as “Lucky” doesn’t make the top ten list, I’m a happy camper. Every “Lucky” I’ve known was lucky enough to get kicked by a horse, run over by a truck, whooped in a dog fight, or trapped in a garage for days.

How did you choose your pets’ names?

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.

Clinical Trials in Veterinary Medicine

December 7th, 2014

Photo Credit: Shirley Zindler

Oh, how I love my readers! I learn so much from you, and you are a constant source of fresh ideas for me. Case in point, a week ago I published a blog post about Degenerative Myelopathy, a debilitating spinal cord disease in dogs. One of my readers named Linda has lots of experience with Degenerative Myelopathy. That’s because she’s been involved in Corgi rescue for more than 35 years, a breed particularly predisposed to this disease.

Linda turned me on to a clinical trial just getting started at the University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine. This trial is soliciting dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy for purposes of testing a new drug that may be an effective treatment for this terminal disease. The same drug is also being tested to treat the parallel disease in humans called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. One of Linda’s dogs will be the first to receive this new medication. How cool is that!

What is a veterinary clinical trial?

Veterinary clinical trials are studies that investigate methods to improve the detection or treatment of animal illnesses. Many clinical trials enroll privately owned animals.

In some clinical trials a portion of the participants receive a placebo rather than the actual medication being tested. Such studies are “blinded,” meaning that no one directly involved in interpreting outcomes knows which animals are receiving the placebo and which ones are receiving the real McCoy.

Advantages of enrolling your pet in a clinical trial

Here are some reasons why enrolling a beloved pet in a clinical trial might make good sense:

  • The clinical trial offers hope in an otherwise hopeless situation. The clinical trial I mentioned above that is investigating a new treatment for Degenerative Myelopathy is an example of this.
  • Expenses involved in monitoring the progress of an animal enrolled in a clinical trial are usually factored into the cost of the study. This means that services such as physical exams, blood testing, and imaging studies are provided at no or very low charge. Even so, enrolled animals and their human companions are treated with the same compassion and expertise that are provided to paying customers. This situation may be appealing for people who have the desire to care for their pets in the best possible way, but finances are limiting
  • Clinical trials offer a means to acquire new knowledge that then has the potential to help many animals. This might be appealing to someone who has the desire to help more than their own pet.

The downside of clinical trials

Enrolling your four-legged family member in a clinical trial can feel like a risky proposition. After all, your pet will be subjected to something that has not been previously tested on oodles of other animals. Unanticipated complications can arise, which is one of the reasons animals involved in clinical trials are monitored so meticulously.

This being said, rest assured that clinical trials are a far cry from “experimenting on animals”. Most clinical trials involve a technique or medication with some sort of safety track record. Additionally, all clinical trials have an “out clause”, meaning the animal can be withdrawn from the study should anything go awry, whether stemming from the clinical trial itself or something completely unrelated.

Another downside to most clinical trials is the inconvenience factor. Multiple trips to and from the veterinary hospital are typically required, and rarely are they located close to home.

Things tend to move relatively slowly at university teaching hospitals (where most clinical trials are conducted), so something as simple as a blood test may be a half-day endeavor from start to finish. The flip side of the coin is that some clinical trials take place within privately owned specialty hospitals where things tend to proceed at a faster clip. Some clinical trials allow the convenience of having the family veterinarian participate in monitoring the patient.

Might a clinical trial be right for your pet?

Here are few reasons why you might consider enrolling your pet in a clinical trial:

  • Your pet has a disease with no proven treatment and the clinical trial offers something that may be effective. Degenerative Myelopathy is an example of such a disease.
  • Your pet has a disease, but is not a good candidate for the treatment usually prescribed for it. For example, amputation of the affected limb is commonly prescribed for dogs with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. Asked to use three legs rather than four would cause some dogs to flounder, particularly those with orthopedic issues affecting their other legs. A clinical trial at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine offers an alternative. There, osteosarcoma patients (with or without amputation) are treated with “immunotherapy” in which the patient’s own immune system is triggered to target and kill the cancer cells.
  • You are motivated to treat your pet’s disease, but your finances dictate otherwise. A clinical trial may be able to provide help, both therapeutically and financially.
  • Your pet’s personality is well suited to the rigors of the clinical trial which will likely involve lots of “hands on” time with veterinary professionals and many trips to and from the veterinary hospital.

Finding a clinical trial

Here are some helpful hints for locating a clinical trial that is close to home and/or pertains to a particular disease:

  • Most clinical trials are conducted at university veterinary teaching hospitals. If you want to know which trials are happening at the veterinary school closest to you, call the school’s veterinary hospital or Google “clinical trial” along with the name of the veterinary school. For example, if I lived in upstate New York, I would Google “clinical trials Cornell Veterinary School”. When I do so, the option that appears third from the top on my browser is a website that takes me to all of the school’s current clinical trials for dogs and cats. Way to go Cornell, my alma mater!
  • Some clinical trials are conducted in privately owned veterinary specialty hospitals. If interested in a particular hospital, I encourage you to call a knowledgeable staff person to learn about the clinical trials happening there.
  • If researching online for a clinical trial pertaining to a particular disease, Google the following three things in conjunction with one another:

1. “clinical trial”

2.  species of animal

3.  name of disease

For example, when I Google, “clinical trial feline lymphoma” I find a clinical trial for treatment of feline lymphoma at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center.

  • Listed below are some organizations that can help guide your search for veterinary clinical trials:

Veterinary Cancer Society

Veterinary Cancer Group

Morris Animal Foundation

American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation

Would you ever consider enrolling your pet in a clinical trial?

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.

Speaking for Spot Holiday Book Sale

 

Degenerative Myelopathy

November 30th, 2014

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a slowly progressive spinal cord disorder that resembles Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in people. The inevitable result for dogs with DM is paraplegia- hind end paralysis.

Dogs at risk

DM affects primarily older dogs, with symptoms typically beginning at eight years of age or older. Back in the day (when I was just a pup) we referred to this disease as German Shepherd Myelopathy because we thought it was unique to this breed. We now know that DM occurs in many purebred and mixed breed dogs. The breeds most commonly affected include the German Shepherd, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Boxer, Borzoi, Rhodesian Ridgeback, American Eskimo Dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Golden Retriever, Great Pyrenees, Kerry Blue Terrier, Poodle, Pug, Shetland Sheepdog, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Wire Fox Terrier, and Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

Symptoms

DM symptoms progress slowly over the course of months to even years. From beginning to end, DM affected dogs typically remain alert and animated. The symptoms usually progress as follows:

  • Initial
    • Loss of coordination (ataxia) in the hind legs.
    • Dragging the hind feet causing wearing down of the toenails.
    • Hind end weakness (difficulty climbing stairs, jumping up into the car, going for walks).
  • Intermediate
    • Knuckling of hind feet (weight bearing on the tops of the feet rather than their undersides).
    • Difficulty supporting weight with hind legs.
    • Inability to walk without support.
    • Urinary and/or fecal incontinence.
  • Advanced
    • Paraplegia (paralysis of hind legs).
    • Weakness in front legs.

Although this degenerative process is not painful, affected dogs can develop discomfort because of overuse of other body parts attempting to compensate for the hind end weakness.

Cause of Degenerative Myelopathy

DM causes degenerative changes within spinal cord axons, structures that transmit information back and forth between the brain and the rest of the body. These degenerative changes begin in the thoracolumbar region of the spinal cord, the portion that lines up with the end of the rib cage. This explains why the hind limbs are more severely affected. Given enough time, the disease progresses towards the head end of the body, causing loss of front leg function as well.

DM is an inherited disease. In 2008 a group of researchers reported that a genetic mutation on the SOD1 gene is a major risk factor for the development of DM. Their study involved Boxers, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, German Shepherds, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, and Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

The researchers discovered that DM has a recessive mode of inheritance. In order for a dog to be affected, the mutation must be inherited from both dam and sire. What remains unknown is why some dogs who have this “double mutation” never develop symptoms of DM.

Genetic testing for DM

Testing is available to determine an individual dog’s SOD1 mutation status. This test is available through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). All that is required is a blood sample or cheek swab. The current cost for this testing is $65.

This DNA test identifies dogs that are normal (have two normal copies of the gene), those who are carriers (have one normal copy of the gene and one mutated copy), and those who are at risk for development of DM (have two mutated copies of the gene). It is important to remember that DNA testing does not diagnose DM. This is because not all dogs with two mutated copies of the gene go on to develop DM.

Responsible breeders utilize DNA testing for DM to help assess whether or not a particular dog is suitable for breeding purposes. If contemplating purchasing a pup of an at-risk breed, it is important to request DM test results for the dam and sire of the litter of interest. It is also reasonable to have the puppy tested prior to purchase, although, if the parents have been tested and have “normal” results, this is unnecessary.

Making the diagnosis

DM is a “rule out diagnosis”. What this means is that a presumptive diagnosis of DM can only be made by ruling out other causes of spinal cord disease (e.g., herniated intervertebral disk, tumor, infection, trauma). The only way to definitively diagnose DM is via a spinal cord biopsy collected through an autopsy (post-mortem) examination.

The diagnostics performed to rule out other causes of spinal cord disease often include:

  • A thorough physical/neurological examination
  • Blood and urine testing
  • Advanced imaging (CT or MRI scan)
  • Spinal fluid collection and analysis

The cause of spinal cord disease is best diagnosed by a veterinarian who specializes in neurology, internal medicine, or surgery.

Treatment

Currently there is no known treatment capable of significantly altering the course of DM. When searching the Internet, one might find a number of approaches that have been tried or are recommended. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence that supports their efficacy.

Prognosis

Unfortunately, the prognosis for dogs with DM is poor. The quality of life for affected dogs can be enhanced through diligent nursing care, prevention of pressure sores, rehabilitation therapies such as swimming and stretching exercises, massage, acupuncture, monitoring for urinary tract infections (immobilized dogs are more prone), and the use of specialized equipment such as booties, slings, harnesses, and wheelchairs to assist with mobility.

DM becomes so debilitating that most people eventually opt for euthanasia. Exactly when to euthanize is a highly individualized decision based on how adaptive, both physically and psychologically, the involved dog and human(s) are. Some dogs thrive in a well-fitted doggie cart/wheelchair. Others are highly resistant to such an apparatus. For the human caretaker, in addition to the emotional toll that DM takes, there is a great deal of lifting, carrying, and cleaning involved. Everyone responds differently to this challenging situation.

Letting go of a beloved four-legged family member is never easy, but it can be particularly heartbreaking when DM is the cause. Affected dogs typically have good appetites, are pain-free, and their minds remain just as sharp as ever. Letting go of a dog who acts or feels sick is usually a bit easier, simply because the process seems to make more sense.

Degenerative Myelopathy and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

It so happens that, like dogs with DM, some people with ALS carry the SOD1 gene mutation. Having a canine model for studying ALS has important ramifications. Not only might more be learned about the degenerative process that afflicts people with ALS, the canine model may ultimately prove to be valuable in terms of learning more about therapeutic interventions.

Have you ever known or cared for a dog with Degenerative Myelopathy?

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.

 

 

 

Open Hearts and Full Tummies

November 25th, 2014

Photo Credit: Pam Young

Of the many holidays celebrated throughout the year Thanksgiving is my hands down favorite. I love devoting an entire day to preparation of a meal and an autumn hike with my puppers and anyone else who cares to tag along. I also relish a holiday that doesn’t involve giving gifts that require forethought, shopping, and wrapping. The gifts shared at the Thanksgiving table are spontaneous, require no embellishment, and are simple to deliver. These are gifts such as love, empathy, and connectedness, all created within and delivered by an open heart.

Many different things can nurture open heartedness. For some, music, art, or a walk in the woods may be required. What is it that opens your heart? If you are like me, interactions with animals are the thing most capable of doing so. And if it’s a baby animal, forget about it! Not only does my heart open wide, I think it even grows larger!

To those who question the sanity of loving, nurturing, and caring for animals when there is so much human suffering in the world I say, “Bah humbug!” Without animals in our lives people like me would have a tough time opening our hearts to give to others. Loving our animals doesn’t make them more important than humans, nor does it “use up” our ability to tend to people in need.  Rather, loving them makes our own humanity more accessible. They nourish our hearts and allow them to open wide.

My Thanksgiving wish for you is a full tummy and an open heart. Thank you for your loyal readership.

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.

Speaking for Spot Holiday Book Sale

November 23rd, 2014

Photo Credit: Kathie Meier

Since the idea for Speaking for Spot was first conceived, my mission has been to empower as many people as possible to become effective health advocates for their pets. To further promote this mission I am offering you the opportunity to purchase my two books at my cost:

Speaking for Spot                $5.65 per book

Your Dog’s Best Health       $2.33 per book

I invite you to order as many books as you like for all of the dog lovers in your life. If you are involved with a nonprofit organization, you are welcome to resell the books at their retail price for  fundraising purposes. Feel free to share this offer with other people/organizations. The more the merrier!

Simply send me an email, with the number of books you would like and the shipping address(es), and I will provide you with exact cost information (including tax and shipping) as well as payment details.

Books ordered at my cost will be shipped directly from the publisher. Please allow two weeks for delivery.

You also have the option of purchasing books that have been personally signed by me (you may specify what you would like to have me write). These are sold at the retail price that includes complimentary holiday giftwrap. If interested in this option, please click on this link and follow the instructions.

I will leave you with one of many Amazon reviews for Speaking for Spot:

As a dog trainer for many years, there are numerous books I may recommend to my clients. I call Dr. Kay’s book, Speaking for Spot, the guidebook to canine health. It covers a broad range of topics and helps dog owners navigate the complex waters of modern veterinary care. We not only need to visit our vets, we need to know the right questions to ask. Dr. Kay educates us to face that challenge with success. The outcome is better communication, better treatment, and cost saving visits. She also prepares us for the final days of our dog’s life, and how to make choices without regret. The book is highly readable, with an excellent Index and Appendix. It’s easy to find the answer to a specific question, especially if you have a query at three in the morning. Quite simply, Speaking for Spot should be on every dog owner’s bookshelf. Thank you, Dr. Kay.

Happy holiday shopping!

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.

How Did You Do? Were You Smarter Than a Vet Student?

November 16th, 2014

Photo Credit: Susannah Kay

Thanks to those of you who played along with my most recent edition of, “Are You Smarter Than a Vet Student”. Posted below are my preferred responses to the questions posed to you one week ago.

Responses to the Questions

A. The Bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine is a “noncore vaccination,” meaning it should be given only to dogs with significant exposure to kennel cough. There’s no reason to give this vaccine to dogs without risk of exposure. Doing so subjects them to the risks of the vaccine without any benefit. The Bordetella vaccine does not provide absolute protection because Bordetella bronchispetica is only one of several infectious organisms capable of causing kennel cough (contagious tracheobronchitis). To learn more, I invite you to read, “Is the Kennel Cough Vaccine a Wise Choice For Your Dog?”.

B. The size and color of a canine skin growth do not predict whether the growth is benign or malignant. I would love to be able to know the type and behavior of a mass based strictly on its appearance. This would make things much simpler. Unfortunately, diagnostic testing is necessary for most growths that arise within a dog’s skin. To learn more about this, check out this article.

C. 2013 study showed that, amongst 7,827 dogs ranging in age from 1 to 24 years, the percentage that had significant abnormalities on routine blood testing was 31%. Of the four options you had to choose from, this was the highest percentage. Kind of surprising, huh? This result truly speaks to the benefit of wellness/preventive health care exams and blood testing. Some of you asked what breed the 24-year-old dog was. Unfortunately, this information was not presented in the study.

D. Vomiting can be caused by all of the above (gastrointestinal disease, kidney disease, Addison’s Disease). When vomiting occurs it’s always tempting to think that the problem must be within the gastrointestinal tract. It is important to remember that a whole host of non-gastrointestinal diseases can cause vomiting as the primary symptom. This is the main reason why blood testing is part of the diagnostic workup for a vomiting dog. By the way, Addison’s Disease is a hormonal imbalance that occurs when the adrenal glands are no longer capable of producing cortisol (cortisone). Most Addisonians also quit producing aldosterone, the adrenal hormone that controls sodium and potassium levels. Did you know that John F. Kennedy suffered from Addison’s Disease?

E. Dogs can transmit none the following diseases directly to people: Tick-borne diseases, pinworms, and bacterial pneumonia. People do get tick-borne diseases, but only via a bite from an infected tick. Bacterial pneumonia is not contagious from dogs to people, and vice versa. Lastly, dogs don’t get pinworms. The human pinworm, known as Enterobius vermicularis, is transmitted directly from person to person via a route that is too gross for this veterinarian to discuss. (I get a bit squeamish when it comes to some human health issues.)

F. Excessive panting in dogs can be caused by anxiety, pain, and a common hormonal imbalance called Cushing’s Disease (production of excessive cortisol by the adrenal glands). Some other causes of increased panting include respiratory tract diseases, fever, and overheating. This symptom is also a side effect of some medications.

G. Bladder stones in dogs can be caused by liver disease. Bladder stones don’t occur in association with the majority of liver diseases, but they do commonly accompany portosystemic shunts, a disorder in which blood that normally flows through the liver is shunted around the liver. While an x-ray is a useful way to diagnose some bladder stones, based on their mineral composition, not all types of stones will show up this way. Abdominal ultrasound trumps an x-ray because this technology identifies all types of stones. Not all bladder stones need to be removed surgically. Some will dissolve with use of a special diet. Lithotripsy, a procedure that dissolves bladder stones, is available at some veterinary teaching hospitals. Lastly, stones that are small in size can sometimes be nonsurgically flushed out of the bladder.

H. Marijuana toxicity in dogs can cause a variety of symptoms including urine leakage, dilated pupils, and heart rhythm abnormalities. The most common symptom is lethargy. Depending on the dose of marijuana ingested, the affected dog may appear somnolent to comatose. A small percentage of affected dogs exhibit agitation and excitation. Following legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, veterinarians practicing there have seen a sharp rise in the number of toxicity cases. I will never forget Layla, a patient of mine who presented to me with classic symptoms of marijuana toxicity, much to the chagrin of my clients. Her story is documented in a piece I wrote called, “Busted”. Good reading if you are looking for a laugh!

Congratulations to Judy Wolff of Acton, Massachusetts. Out of more than 100 entries, she was the lucky winner of the book drawing. For those of you who weren’t so lucky, look for my special holiday book offer. It will be posted in one week.

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.

Are You Smarter Than a Vet Student?: Honoring Pet Health Awareness Month

November 9th, 2014

In honor of November’s Pet Health Awareness Month, I bring you another episode of “Are You Smarter Than a Vet Student?” For those of you who are new to this assessment of your animal aptitude, here’s the way it works:

  1. Read through the questions.
  2. Post your responses (one correct response for each question).
  3. Once your responses are received I will enter your name into a drawing for a free copy of Speaking for Spot or Your Dog’s Best Health. The choice will be yours if you are the lucky winner.
  4. Look for the correct answers to these questions in my next blog post.

Questions

A. The Bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine:

  1. Is a “core vaccination,” meaning it should be given to all dogs.
  2. Is a “noncore vaccination,” meaning it should be given only to dogs with significant exposure to kennel cough.
  3. Is a sure way to prevent kennel cough.
  4. Answers b and c are correct.

B. The size and color of a canine skin growth:

  1. Predict whether the growth is benign or malignant.
  2. Do not predict whether the growth is benign or malignant.
  3. Determine what action should be taken by the veterinarian.
  4. Answers a and c are correct.

C. A 2013 study showed that, amongst 7,827 dogs ranging in age from 1 to 24 years, the percentage that had significant abnormalities on routine blood testing was:

  1. 7%
  2. 16%
  3. 22%
  4. 31%

D. Vomiting can be caused by:

  1. Gastrointestinal disease
  2. Kidney disease
  3. Addison’s disease (a hormonal imbalance)
  4. All of the above

E. Dogs can transmit the following diseases directly to people:

  1. Tick-borne diseases
  2. Pinworms
  3. Bacterial pneumonia
  4. None of the above

F. Excessive panting in dogs can be caused by:

  1. Anxiety
  2. Pain
  3. Cushing’s Disease (a hormonal imbalance)
  4. All of the above

G. Bladder stones in dogs:

  1. Are most reliably diagnosed via an x-ray.
  2. Can be treated successfully only with surgical removal.
  3. Can be caused by liver disease.
  4. None of the above are true.

H. Marijuana toxicity in dogs can cause:

  1. Urine leakage
  2. Dilated pupils
  3. Heart rhythm abnormalities
  4. All of the above

I look forward to your responses. In one week, I will provide my preferred answers to these questions along with the name of the winner of the book drawing.

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.

 

Caring for Our Pets and Ourselves at the End of Their Lives

November 3rd, 2014

Photo credit: Blair O’Neil

If ever you’ve lost a beloved pet, or you are close to losing one, I think this piece will resonate with you. My friend, Susan Shannon, who lives and works in California, is the author. She is an animal minister and chaplain who truly understands relationships between people and their pets. She has given me permission to share the following article with you. If you are moved by what Susan has written, please voice your comments. I know she will appreciate them.

Helping Your Pet Let Go

Chances are, your beloved furry soul mate pet knew before you did that the time to say goodbye was approaching. That doesn’t make it any easier of course. Our pets absorb our thoughts, feelings and emotions in ways we as humans are just beginning to understand. It is quite possible that your thoughts about your pet’s old age, sickness, injury, etc are getting in the way of them being able to let go.

Our pets often tune into our sadness, conflicted grief, worry and concern and internalize it as if they are the cause of your sadness. True, they are, but not because they are “bad.” It is important for us to “send” them the thought-images that whatever the cause of their impairment is, that it is not their fault. They are reaching the end of their life in this body, but they need to be assured that the joy they have given you continues and WILL continue even after their spirit is released. Talk to them outwardly and inwardly to let them know that this is a natural process and that leaving their body does not mean their spirit will be abandoned by you.

This asks a lot of us humans-and this is a good skill that we, as chaplains and ministers, will have a lot of opportunities to practice. When we are involved in care-giving our pet animals OR humans, it is helpful to bring an altruistic awareness to everything we do for them. When we are administering medication, think, “May this elixir transform all elements of suffering and pain into the pure ground of being” or something in that realm of thinking. Compare the energy behind this positive affirmation to the energy of “I am so full of sadness and sorrow that I have to force you to take this.” or, “Here goes another $5.00 pill.” or something like that. Your pet feels the emotional charge in everything you do or feel.

Keep this altruistic line of thought when you are cleaning their excrement, too. Animals have pride-often, when incontinence strikes, they are ashamed and might even expect to be punished. This can be a real challenge to the humans, but you can let them know that this is part of the bond you made when you took them under your stewardship. This is a sign that their bodies are getting ready to let go, and that soon their spirits will be set free from this kind of substance. Be gentle with them when you clean them, tell them it is ok, and try to practice equanimity.

The Journey Ahead: Theirs and Yours

It is wise to have more than one “conversation” with your pet about the journey ahead. Let them know that they will be released from their body into a realm of light and love. Let them know that when that happens their home in your heart will become the most constant place of connection-that you and them will always be together then, that there will no longer be separation. Let them know that once they are released from this body, this body which has served them well and given both of you much enjoyment, that they will experience a freedom that you will celebrate. During these conversations it is helpful to let the animal know how and when you will remember them, such as visits to places you loved, other dog friends, rides in the car, cuddling on the couch, etc.

Our animals want to know that we will be cared for too. Let them know how you will fill your time once they are gone. Show them, through your thought-pictures, what you will do: working in the garden, walking, jogging, biking, playing music, whatever it is that feeds you, let them know that you will continue to engage in these activities. Help them understand that you will be healthy, that you will be engaged, that yes, you will be sad for a little while but that when you are sad at their loss you will talk to them and keep their spirits warm in the present tense of your grief and loss.

Be Ready, Be Aware: Complicated Grief and Exploring Your Own Theology

If you have recently lost someone dear to you, if you were raised with the idea that “boys don’t cry” or “the funeral is over so get over it” or “euthanasia is murder” or any similar code of thought, you might have a very difficult time with initiating your pet’s transition. Be aware that all of this is normal, and utilize whatever resources (see above for some sources) to find your solid ground here.

Your own personal theology about death, or your lack of personal theology around death will factor into your feelings. This is a good time to explore whatever that is or isn’t in the current context of letting your pet go.

Compassionate Release

You can let your pet know that “compassionate release” or euthanasia is an act of love and the highest intention of commitment as a human being in your decision to free them from the suffering of their body. If you plan on ritualizing the passage, you can also let them know what each stage of the ritual means to you and to them. Focus on the release from form to the formless, and give formless an introduction as a place we all come from, go back to, and to some degree, live in on a daily basis. As their spirit transitions, you might feel them hovering around the space you shared with them. If so, acknowledge them, but let them know that they have your full permission to soar the heights of the spirit realm in true joy and freedom, and that you will still be joined with them, even more so, when they are beyond time and space into the formless realms. Your love, your light, your joy, will always be with them-and theirs with you!

Plan Ahead

As you contemplate the time to let your pet go, offer yourself deep discernment around what is best for you. Do you want to keep your pet at home for this transition? If so, get referrals for vets who do home visits. Many vets will offer a deep, respectful compassionate presence as they release your pet in your own home. You might want to keep the body for a while afterwards for your own prayers or for closure with respect to other family members who might need to see the pet before burial or cremation.

If you are doing the euthanasia at home, it is important to make arrangements to either bury your pet, bring the body to a pet crematorium, or have the vet take the body or come back to pick up the body after you have closure. Think ahead. Get all your ducks in a row before choosing the date and time so that when the moment comes, you can be totally present with all that is on the day.

When The Hour Has Come

When the time has come for your pet’s final vet appointment, do what you can to be at peace. Some people make a special bed for their beloved. Some give them their favorite foods if they can still eat. If you have personal deities or teachers who you feel would be good spirit guides for your pet’s transition, you can make a little altar near the bed. It is good to keep in mind though that these things are more for your own peace. For your pet, YOU are their guide, their deity, their protector. Their needs are very few at this point.

Some people have soft, gentle music playing. Again, that is fine, but know that this is more for you. As your animal’s consciousness goes from being tranquilized to finally leaving its body, sometimes it is best to have silence. As the vet administers the sedative before the terminal injection, if possible, allow your palm to gently hover above your pet’s forehead, drawing the attention and focus of the life force there, in the third eye area, then moving and holding your hand above the animal’s crown chakra area before the second injection. You don’t need to touch the animal-the energy from your palm is enough. You can silently pray to the God/Goddesses you find strength in to guide your pet home, visualizing them around your beloved. In this way you can assist the consciousness leaving the body through the highest energy center.

Honor What YOU Need

Everyone has their own style and needs when dealing with grief and loss. Be true to what YOU need. Some people benefit by cleaning up all of their pet’s toys, leash, bed, bowls, litter boxes, even vacuuming the whole house before the body is taken away. After the body is gone from your house, it might be good to leave the house for a night, or at least the day. Ritualize what you do next, with the focus on self-care. This is what your pet would want. Let the honest tears fall, and allow them to continue as much as they want, but take care of yourself. Do something physical, do something distracting, sit in meditation, take a bath, just do what nurtures YOU.

For others, keeping the remembrances of their pets in the home can help with closure, in which case they might WANT to keep their pet’s toys etc. around. There is no right or wrong with what you need.

Afterwards

Yes, there will be tears. Yes, there will be sadness, loss, grief, perhaps even remorse or guilt. Losing a beloved pet can be even more traumatic than losing beloved humans. After all, they loved you unconditionally. Don’t let anyone minimize your grief. This is really important. “Get over it, it was just an animal.” is one of the most misinformed lines ever. Use care with whomever you turn to for companionship during this time. If you have a friend who has gone through this process, he/she might be a good start. If you need to talk about your grief further, it is helpful to find some local pet-grief/loss groups. If that is not available, there are a number of “rainbow bridge” pet loss on-line forums.

In conclusion, helping you and your pet travel this journey of the soul is a blessing for sure, but is also a painful realization of the impermanence of all our relationships. You can help their spirit release from their body by letting them know that you will never be separate in your heart, and by showing them that you will take good care of yourselves after they are gone. This is a lifelong practice that will serve you well in the transitions of all your relationships, human or animal. Remember to be gentle, hold your intention of love and thanks gently but firmly, and fully recognize the teachings our beloved four-leggeds have to give us by opening your heart more to the many ways the Divine works. In this way you are embracing the true gifts of Animal Ministry.

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.

Following Our Dog’s Lead, and Not Just on Halloween

October 26th, 2014

Photo Credit: Susannah Kay

Our dogs are such accommodating creatures. They tolerate our erratic hours, cross-country moves, late meals, skipped walks, and unpredictable moods. And if all this weren’t enough, sometimes we ask them to do things that conflict with their inherent nature. For example, we take our introverted dogs to the dog park so that we can socialize, or we force our water-phobic dogs into the pool because we love to swim. When do we cross the line, asking too much of these wonderfully adaptive and forgiving creatures?

Dogs tell all

Some recent observations prompted this blog. The first was a day spent at a combined all breed and Pharaoh Hound Specialty dog show where I was the invited speaker. As I watched the dogs compete, it was abundantly clear that some dogs downright loved the show process. They pranced around the ring, wagged furiously, showed excitement as the judge approached, and clearly enjoyed being with their handlers. Watching these dogs made my heart swell a bit. I appreciated their jubilant and showy canine energy and the judges clearly felt the same- invariably, these were the dogs in the ribbons.

I also observed dogs in the show ring who were reluctant participants. Tails that should have been flagging were tucked between hind legs and I saw resigned expressions on these canine faces. They wilted a bit when the judge approached, and the only thing these competitors seemed to enjoy were the intermittent treats served up by their handlers. My heart sank a bit watching them. I suspect that, for these dogs, their above average conformation was a curse rather than a blessing.

Another observation that provided blog fodder came in the form of a photo I happened upon while sorting through my computer files. The photo features my own two dogs, Nellie and Quinn sitting in a helicopter. I purposefully positioned the pose, leaving the two of them with a double dose of, “Stay!” The expressions on their faces tell exactly how they are feeling about the experience. Yuck! When I rediscovered this photo, I asked myself, “What in the world was I thinking?”

What is reasonable?

Dogs tolerate so much based on the needs of their humans. Apart from sleeping, most get to participate in their favorite activities likely no more than an hour or so every day, if that. How then, can we turn around and ask them to do something they really don’t enjoy?

My dogs have, for the most part, taught me well. They don’t enjoy the dog park, so we don’t go there. They love hiking, and we do this together almost every day. Quinn is a canine Mikhail Baryshnikov, yet he told me, “No thank you” when I introduced him to agility. Nellie would rather be re-neutered than wear a Halloween costume.

Costuming dogs for Halloween

Speaking of Halloween…… before costuming your best buddy, I hope you will consider his or her degree of affinity or aversion to dressing for the occasion. Perhaps you’ve created the greatest canine costume ever- a slam-dunk contest winner. And the Facebook posting of your dog in costume will undoubtedly score lots of “likes”. Or, maybe, just maybe, you will look back on the photos a year from now, note your dog’s expression and body language, and wonder to yourself, “What in the world was I thinking?”

What activity have you given up for your dog’s sake?

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 Ebola Virus

October 14th, 2014

Nina Pham with Bentley Courtesy of Pham family

As I write this, Teresa Romero Ramos, a nurse assistant in Spain, is battling for her life against Ebola virus disease. Despite local protests and objections voiced via a global social media campaign, a court order mandated that Teresa’s elderly, but overtly healthy dog named Excalibur be euthanized. His remains were “put into a sealed biosecurity device and transferred for incineration to an authorized disposal facility.”

And now, a nurse in Texas named Nina Pham has tested positive for the virus, the result of helping care for the first Ebola victim in the United States. Nina also has a dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Bentley who has been moved to an undisclosed location and is under the care of Dallas Animal Services. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins stated,

When I met with her parents, they said, “This dog is important to her, judge. Don’t let anything happen to the dog.” If that dog has to be The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, we’re going to take good care of that dog.

Here are two vastly different approaches to two similar situations. Which approach best serves public safety and peace of mind? I certainly don’t have a well-informed answer to this question. I’m not sure there is anyone who does.

What we know

I was able to come up with only one study pertaining to Ebola virus infections in dogs. Published in 2005 in Emerging Infectious Diseases, the authors examined 439 dogs, some of which were living in the midst of an Ebola outbreak in Gabon, a country on the west coast of Africa.

Blood samples from the dogs were evaluated for antibodies to Ebola virus. (Antibodies are the foot soldiers of the immune system that are manufactured in response to the presence of an infectious organism.) Of the dogs from villages with both infected animal carcasses and human cases of Ebola, 31.8% tested positive for antibodies to the virus. None of them showed any symptoms of disease.

This study clarifies that dogs can be infected with Ebola virus, and they experience no infection-associated symptoms.

What we don’t know

There remains a great deal to learn about canine Ebola virus infections. Given the evolution of Ebola and growing public awareness and concern, we are in critical need of answers to the following questions:

  • How do dogs become infected with Ebola virus?
  • Do infected dogs shed the virus in their bodily fluids? If so, which bodily fluids and for how long?
  • Is canine Ebola contagious to other animals, including humans?
  • Do dogs serve as fomites for Ebola? A fomite is defined as an object (animate or inanimate) that is capable of carrying and transferring an infectious organism from one individual to another. Classic examples of fomites include used tissues, drinking glasses, and articles of clothing. We know that the Ebola virus survives for days if not weeks after being shed into the environment.
  • How long do antibodies remain in a dog’s bloodstream following infection?
  • Why don’t infected dogs become sick? The answer to this might shed some light on ways to mitigate illness in people infected with Ebola.

Information from the Centers for Disease Control

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently working with the American Veterinary Medical Association to provide information for veterinarians pertaining to pets and Ebola virus. The CDC has a new page on their website devoted to “Questions and Answers about Ebola and Pets.” Have a look, but be forewarned- you may come away with more questions than answers.

What’s next?

I really don’t know how the concerns about pets and Ebola virus will play out. My hopes are that panic will not prevail and that research efforts to understand more about Ebola virus in pets will become an immediate priority.

Veterinarians, myself included, are pondering what we will do if asked to care for a pet that has been exposed to Ebola virus. Given how little evidence-based information is available, I think our skittishness is justified.

I will keep you posted on any new developments in our understanding of how Ebola virus impacts our pets. In the meantime, let’s all keep our fingers crossed for Teresa Romero Ramos, Nina Pham, and Bentley.

How do you feel about the recent decisions made concerning Excalibur and Bentley?

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.