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

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 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,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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