Vaccine Antibody Titers: Are They a Good Choice for Your Dog?

SFSBlog_vaccinetiters

Photo Credit: © Susannah Kay

Perhaps you know a little bit about antibody titers (aka, vaccine titers, vaccine serology, and titer testing), but find the topic to be confusing. Rest assured, you are in good company. The topic is somewhat complicated, and recommendations as to how to use antibody titers vary widely.

Until relatively recently, antibody titer testing was quite pricey and involved sending the dog’s blood sample to a specialty laboratory. The testing process is now far more affordable and readily available. It can be performed right in the veterinary hospital with results provided during the course of an office visit. Given this ease, accessibility, and affordability, it makes really good sense to figure out if antibody testing is a good choice for your dog. Here’s some information to bring you up to speed on this topic.

Antibodies and the immune system

Our immune systems have the amazing ability to recognize and then get rid of things that should not be in our bodies, such as bacteria and viruses. There are two major defense strategies by which the immune system operates, and both are involved in preventing diseases such as canine distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, and rabies.

Antibodies are the first line of immune protection. These protein molecules act as efficient foot soldiers within the bloodstream that attack and defend against the “bad guys.” When we measure antibody titers, we assess this component of the immune system.

The second arm of immune system protection is referred to as cell mediated immunity. As the name implies, specific cells within the body (phagocytes and lymphocytes) are activated to capture the “bad guys.” These cells also release substances that trigger ongoing immune system activity. The function of this portion of the immune system can be measured, but only in highly specialized laboratories. Antibody titers provide no information whatsoever about cell mediated immunity.

Running antibody titers

All that is required to run an antibody titer is a blood sample, something that is quick and easy to collect from most dogs. The component of the blood used for the test is called serum- hence the term “vaccine serology.”

Antibody titers assess the concentration of disease-specific antibodies within the bloodstream. For example, a high parvovirus antibody titer suggests adequate disease protection. Therefore, no need to revaccinate against parvovirus for now. Conversely, a low or nonexistent antibody titer suggests that revaccinating is warranted.

Current in-hospital test kits allow determination of antibody titers against canine distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus. Assessment of rabies-specific antibodies is also available but, because everything to do with rabies is government-regulated, this testing is performed only within specialized laboratories. Additionally, vaccinating against rabies is required by law- antibody test results are unlikely to “excuse” a dog from having to be revaccinated at officially designated intervals.

Interpreting antibody titer test results

In theory, antibody titer testing provides a “yes” or “no” answer as to whether or not the animal has adequate immune protection against a particular disease. Unfortunately, things are not one hundred percent black and white. Here are a few caveats to consider:

  • In hospital test kit results are based on color change. This introduces an element of subjectivity on the part of the person interpreting the results.
  • On the color scale there is a gray zone that can be difficult to interpret as positive or negative.
  • This testing assesses antibodies only. The other arm of immune protection (cell mediated immunity) is not evaluated. Therefore, one cannot be 100% certain that complete immune protection is present, even if testing documents an adequate antibody level.
  • Likewise, if the antibody concentration is interpreted as inadequate, it’s possible that cell mediated immunity is adequate enough to deliver immune protection.

Titers versus simply revaccinating

It’s natural to view vaccinating as simply a “routine procedure.” Not so much, however, if your dog happens to be one who suffers an adverse vaccine reaction. Some adverse reactions occur immediately following the injection, others not until days or even weeks later. Vaccine reaction symptoms vary from mild to severe, and, on rare occasion, they can be life threatening. The American Animal Hospital Association defines immunization as “a medical procedure with definite benefits and risks, and one that should be undertaken only with individualization of vaccine choices and after input from the client.”

I recall a much-beloved Dachshund named Henry, who was five years old when I met him. He’d received a distemper, parvovirus, and adenovirus vaccination two weeks prior and was suffering from a horrific vaccine reaction. The vaccine triggered Henry’s immune system to attack and destroy his own platelets- blood cells necessary for normal blood clotting. He was bleeding internally. Though we tried to stop the bleeding with transfusions and medications, we lost the battle, and poor Henry passed away. Poor Henry’s vaccination was hardly a “routine procedure.”

Using antibody titers wisely

I encourage you to include antibody titers as part of your vaccination discussion with your veterinarian. For more than a decade now, we’ve known with certainty that distemper, parvovirus, and adenovirus vaccinations provide protection to adult dogs for a minimum of three years, emphasis on the word “minimum.” In fact, for some dogs, immune protection extends well beyond three years, and may even be life long. It makes sense then to consider antibody titers in lieu of automatically revaccinating every three years. Here are some other ways antibody titer testing can be put to good use:

Puppies: After completion of the puppy vaccination series at 14-16 weeks of age, an antibody titer can be used to verify that adequate protection has been achieved. If not, revaccination for distemper, parvovirus, and adenovirus at 18-20 weeks of age is indicated.

Dogs with prior adverse vaccine reactions: Whenever a dog has had an adverse reaction to a vaccine, there’s always the potential for a repeat performance. One is left with the dilemma of whether or not to revaccinate. Antibody titer testing can be tremendously helpful in this situation. If the results reveal adequate protection- whew! Another vaccination and its potential side effects can be avoided.

Dogs with immunological disease: It is usually recommended that dogs with a history of autoimmune disease (immune mediated disease) receive as few vaccinations as possible. Because the dog’s immune system has been triggered in the past to attack the body’s own cells, the very last thing the dog needs is a vaccination that will, with certainty, trigger the immune system. Antibody titer testing can really help in such cases.

Dogs who are sick: A vaccination may be the very last thing that a chronically or seriously ill dog needs. Conversely, if the dog’s immune system function is depressed, the vaccine may be truly important. Antibody titers can help sort this out.

Veterinarian insistent on annual vaccinations: Unfortunately, even more than a decade after learning that core vaccinations provide a minimum of three years of protection, some veterinarians continue to insist on revaccinating each and every year. (Picture me shaking my head in disbelief as I type this.) If, for some reason, you insist on continuing to work with such a veterinarian, I encourage you to opt for antibody testing in order to avoid subjecting your dog to the risks of unnecessary vaccinations.

Is serology right for you and your dog?

There is no “right” or “wrong” here. After reading all of this, you may think that vaccine serology is the right way to go. Or, you may opt to forego antibody titers and simply revaccinate your dog every three years. Either way, you will be stepping up to the plate as your dog’s informed medical advocate. Way to go!

Resistance from your veterinarian

If your veterinarian is opposed to vaccine serology or, worse yet, he or she is hell-bent on vaccinating your adult dog for distemper, adenovirus, and parvovirus once a year, you’ve got some decision-making to do. Do you subject your dog to unnecessary vaccinations (and the risks associated with them), or do you find yourself a new veterinarian, one who isn’t operating in the “stone age”?

If you and your dog really like this veterinarian, I suggest having conversation about vaccination schedules and serology. Refer your vet to this article or any of the many others that have been written. Remind him or her that veterinarians who are vaccinated for rabies protection are not automatically revaccinated. Rather, antibody titer testing is used to determine if another rabies vaccination is due.

If you choose to find a more progressive veterinarian to help care for your beloved dog (and I heartily encourage you to do so), request an interview during which you can determine the prospective vet’s philosophy concerning vaccines and antibody testing. Discussing all of this with your veterinarian is a perfectly reasonable expectation, and your input is an invaluable part of the decision-making process.

Have you investigated antibody titers for your dog?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

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

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

 

 

 

German Shepherd Dogs: The Impacts of Early Neutering

SFSBlog_germanshepherds_maccath_flickerCC_stick2getherGenerations of veterinarians in the United States have been taught to recommend neutering for dogs between four to six months of age, and certainly before their first birthday. Relatively recent research has revealed compelling negative implications of such “early neutering” in Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Vizslas, and Rottweilers. Now, along comes more compelling research, this time pertaining to German Shepherd dogs.

German Shepherd research

It’s difficult to find a dog more loyal and intelligent than a well-bred German Shepherd. It’s also difficult to find a breed more prone to joint maladies. Recently published research out of the University of California, Davis explored the impacts of early neutering on the incidence of joint diseases, various cancers, and urinary incontinence (involuntary urine leakage) in this breed.

Medical records from 1170 neutered and intact (not neutered) purebred German Shepherds were retrospectively evaluated throughout the first eight years of the dogs’ lives. The records were investigated for the incidence of joint disorders (hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cruciate ligament disease), various types of cancer (osteosarcoma, lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, mast cell cancer, mammary cancer), and urinary incontinence.

Study Results

Joint diseases: The incidence of one or more joint disorders was significantly higher in male shepherds castrated before one year of age (21% of dogs) compared to the intact male population (7% of dogs). Females spayed before one year of age also had an increased incidence of joint disease (16%) compared to their intact counterparts (5%). Of all the joint disorders the incidence of cruciate ligament disease increased the most in proportion to early neutering.

Cancer: Mammary cancer (breast cancer) was diagnosed in 4% of intact female shepherds compared with an incidence of less than 1% in dogs spayed before one year of age. No significant differences in the incidence of the other cancer types studied were discovered when intact and neutered shepherds were compared.

Urinary incontinence: The incidence of incontinence in intact females was 0%. Amongst the population spayed before 6 months of age, the incidence was 4.7%, and for those neutered between 6 and 11 months, the incidence was 7.3%. The average age of onset of incontinence was 5.2 years.

Conclusions

The increased incidence of joint disease in early-neutered German Shepherds resembles data collected on Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and Vizslas. The theory behind this association relates to closure of growth plates, the regions within bones that promote lengthening. When reproductive hormones arrive on the scene (puberty), they signal the growth plates to close, and lengthening of bones ceases. When a dog is neutered prior to the onset of puberty, the growth plates don’t receive this signal and the bones continue to lengthen. It is theorized that this excess lengthening disrupts normal joint alignment that, in turn, causes joint disorders later in life.

The increase in mammary cancer in intact females in this study aligns with other research results. Interestingly, the effect of early neutering on the incidences of the other cancers studied vary significantly compared to what has been learned about the impact of early neutering in Golden Retrievers, Vizslas, and Rottweilers. In these breeds, early neutering is associated with dramatic increases in multiple types of cancer. These differences are fascinating and underscore the value of performing breed-specific research.

The increased incidence of urinary incontinence in early neutered dogs isn’t surprising. This association has been demonstrated in a number of previous studies.

I can think of multiple occasions throughout my professional career when new information has prompted me to question what I’d been taught to be the “norm” in veterinary practice. All of the research to date pertaining to the impacts of early neutering has caused me, and hopefully plenty of other veterinarians, to question the standard recommendation to neuter dogs before one year of age.

What about your dog?

Is it reasonable to extrapolate the results from any of this breed-specific research to your dog? I don’t know the answer to this question, but do encourage you to discuss it with your veterinarian before your dog is automatically neutered prior to his or her first birthday.

I have a “granddog” named Fisher. He’s a super lovable, kind of goofy, large, mixed-breed dog who wasn’t neutered prior to his adoption from a shelter (surprising given that most shelters insist on this). I encouraged my son to postpone neutering Fish until after his first birthday. My thinking was that neutering later rather than earlier might prevent future joint maladies. My son’s last dog, a fabulous Hurricane Katrina rescue named Tipper, experienced torn cruciate ligaments in both knees! Mr. Fish was neutered just last week, a couple of months after his first birthday.

I present all of the information above with the caveat (and my strong personal belief) that prevention of unplanned litters of puppies should trump all other considerations. If a dog cannot be responsibly supervised, neutering before the onset of sexual maturity is a clear first choice.

Is your dog neutered? If so, at what age was the surgery performed?

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 http://www.speakingforspot.com

 

A Primer on Canine Tetanus

SFSBlog_tetanusOdds are really good that none of the dogs you’ll ever know will develop tetanus. So, why have I chosen to write about this disease? Blame it on Facebook (FB). For those of you who use FB, when I describe the vegetative trance one can enter while scrolling through a FB news feed, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This is the state I was in when I happened to scroll past a photo of a Labrador’ish-looking dog whose facial expression appeared pretty much just like the dog pictured here. This very classic photo pulled me right out of my FB trance.

The text accompanying the photo was a plea for help in the way of “Can anyone tell me what is wrong with my dog?” The FB poster indicated that her vet had already examined her dog a few times, but there was still no diagnosis. Even with baytril (an antibiotic) and pain medication on board, her dog was steadily getting worse. Her dog was still able to walk, but appeared very stiff.

I don’t usually get involved in requests for a “photo diagnosis.” A single photo can usually translate into a dozen or more diagnoses. However, this particular photo was classic- a textbook case of tetanus. And, I knew that, without appropriate treatment administered just as soon as possible, this dog would be doomed. I felt a moral obligation to respond.

I posted a comment letting the FB poster know that her dog likely had tetanus and was in need of intensive therapy. I encouraged her to seek help ASAP, ideally by way of an emergency hospital, or veterinary specialist such as an internist or criticalist. I asked if the dog had a recent wound that would have allowed the tetanus organism to gain entry.

The response arrived within seconds. Sure enough, a week or so ago the dog had been limping due to a cut on his toe. She thanked me profusely and let me know that she would get help for her dog right away. I wished her the best of luck and our FB conversation ended.

The cause of tetanus

Tetanus is caused by Clostridium tetani, a soil bacterium that can enter the bloodstream via a wound, most commonly on the foot or in the mouth. Puppies can develop tetanus because they chew on sticks and other soil-contaminated goodies, and they have open wounds in their gums created by the loss of baby teeth.

The clostridial organism produces a toxin called tetanospasmin that binds to nerve cells and interferes with the function of a particular neurotransmitter (a chemical released from a nerve cell that transmits an impulse) responsible for inhibiting muscle contractions. Disabling this inhibitory neurotransmitter results in relentless muscle spasms.

Symptoms

Tetanus symptoms usually begin around the face and eyes. Dogs lose their ability to blink accompanied by changes in facial features. This classic facial appearance (the one that prompted me to respond to the FB post) is referred to as risus sardonicus.

With time, symptoms become more generalized throughout the body ultimately resulting in a spastic paralysis- the dog is unable to move at all because of muscle rigidity. Without appropriate treatment, death occurs due to paralysis of the muscles responsible for breathing.

To see a dog with tetanic symptoms, have a look at this video. Not to worry, this video has a happy ending.

Diagnosis

There is no simple test for diagnosing tetanus. Rather, the diagnosis is made based on symptoms and the history of a wound that allowed the clostridial organism to gain entry into the bloodstream.

Treatment and prognosis

Clostridium tetani is an anaerobic bacterial organism, meaning that it thrives in environments devoid of oxygen. A wound festering beneath the skin surface is an ideal incubator. For this reason, it is important to treat the wound (if one is found) where the bacteria gained entry. This involves debridement- opening the wound and removing as much infected tissue as possible.

Appropriate antibiotic therapy is imperative. Penicillin-related drugs work well against the clostridial organism and, at least initially, they are typically administered intravenously. With improvement, oral antibiotics are appropriate. (Baytril, the antibiotic the FB dog was being treated with, is ineffective against Clostridium tetani.)

Additional treatment is dictated by the severity of symptoms. Muscle relaxants are commonly administered along with medication to reduce anxiety. If the dog is unable to eat because of “lock jaw”, nutrition is provided by way of a feeding tube. And if the dog is unable to move, intensive nursing care is required.

Dogs with tetanus are usually super-sensitive to stimuli, and sights and sounds can intensify muscle contractions. For this reason, these dogs are often sedated and kept in a dark quiet room during the recovery period. Long-term treatment- up to a month or more- is often required.

The prognosis for tetanus is good, assuming the dog receives early intervention and aggressive treatment. As with most diseases, the earlier the diagnosis is made and treatment started, the better the prognosis.

Prevention

Dogs are not routinely vaccinated against tetanus because they are so much less susceptible to this disease than are other species such as horses, livestock and people. This being said, it does make sense to thoroughly clean even minor wounds, particularly those on the feet.

How the story ends

So, how did things turn out for the dog I “met” on FB? I sure wish I knew. Silly me, I failed to note the woman’s name and, because we are not FB “friends”, I am at a loss as to how to find her again. I suspect things turned out well, and I’m glad my FB conversation prompted me to teach you about tetanus!

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 http://www.speakingforspot.com

Obesity and Diabetes: An Epidemic Amongst People and Pets

 

 

If you’re like me, you’ve become used to hearing about theastronomical incidence of obesity and diabetes within the United States. And, predictions of how many of our children will ultimately develop diabetes is downright scary. Given this information, I wasn’t the least bit surprised to learn that two recent surveys demonstrate that the incidence of obesity and diabetes is also on the rise in our dogs and cats.

Obesity survey

Every year, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) conducts a survey that tracks the prevalence of obesity in dogs and cats. The 2015 survey assessed 1,224 dogs and cats who received wellness examinations within 136 veterinary clinics. For every animal, a body condition score (BCS) was assessed and reported. This score was based on a five-point scale as well as the animal’s actual body weight. The animals were then classified as being ideal, underweight, overweight, or obese.

The APOP survey revealed that approximately 58% of the cats and 54% of the dogs evaluated were overweight or obese. Wow, these percentages are striking! Based on body size alone, more than half of our pets have a significant health issue!

The APOP defines obesity as an animal being 30 percent or more above ideal body weight. APOP board member, Dr. Steve Budsberg, notes that there is a lack of consensus amongst veterinarians about exactly how obesity is defined. “Our profession hasn’t agreed on what separates ‘obese” from ‘overweight.’ These words have significant clinical meaning and affect treatment recommendations.”

The APOP is pushing for the adoption of a universal pet BCS  system. Doing so would allow veterinarians to more consistently and accurately assess their patients, report their findings, interpret veterinary research, and communicate with colleagues and clients. According to Dr. Julie Churchill, another APOP board member, “There are currently three major BCS scales used worldwide. We need a single standard to ensure all veterinary health care team members are on the same page.”

Another APOP board member, Dr. Ernie Ward, takes this one step further. “By defining obesity as a disease, many veterinarians will take the condition more seriously and be compelled to act rather than ignore this serious health threat.” I couldn’t agree more. Having practiced veterinary medicine for over 30 years, it’s clear to me that there is a lack of consensus amongst my colleagues about exactly how to define pet obesity and what to do about it.

Diabetes survey

Every year for the past several years, Banfield Pet Hospital has issued forth a State of Pet Health Report. Their 2016 report, released on April 20, draws on data from approximately 2.5 million dogs and 500,000 cats in more than 900 hospitals across the United States. Now, that’s a whole lot of animals!

This report demonstrated a 79.7 percent increase in dogs with diabetes between 2006 and 2015 with 23.6 cases per 10,000 dogs. Over this same time frame, the incidence of feline diabetes increased by 18.1 percent. This translates into 67.6 cases per 10,000 cats.

The highest incidence of canine diabetes in 2015 was found in Kentucky, Wisconsin, Nevada, Montana, and Iowa. Feline diabetes rates were highest in Arkansas, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Delaware, and the District of Columbia. That’s a double whammy for the state of Wisconsin!

The increased incidence of diabetes, particularly in dogs, is astounding to me. While there are a number of factors that may be responsible for this increase, I’ve no doubt that obesity plays a significant role.

Discussing obesity can be tricky

Frankly speaking, eating too much and exercising too little are traits sometimes shared between people and their pets. If my client isn’t exercising, it is likely that my patient isn’t either. For some folks, food becomes the “language of love,” the way they bestow affection upon their four-legged family members. Additionally, I believe many people develop blinders that prevent them from recognizing just how heavy their pet has become.

Now, picture this. A veterinarian is examining an obese patient. Alongside this patient is the client who is also overweight. Naming the diagnosis of obesity and recommending weight loss can be tricky business. The veterinarian likely has concerns about offending the overweight client, so much so that discussion about the pet’s weight problem may be limited or it may not happen at all. Imagine what you would say if you were in the veterinarian’s shoes.

My modus operandi has always been to have very frank conversation about what I know- being overweight is a significant health problem. I remind myself that the client before me truly loves their pet and, like me, wants that delightful animal to live just as long a life as possible. With this perspective I can boldly talk about the fact that their overweight pet is predisposed to a variety of maladies such as osteoarthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. I discuss body condition scoring and as well as weight loss strategies. With this approach, I believe (hope) that I reduce the number of clients who are put off by the “weight loss conversation.” Bottom line, treatment followed by prevention of obesity translates into one of the best health insurance policies possible.

Check out how to assess your pet’s body condition score (BCS). Next, provide me with a photo of your dog or cat and the BCS you came up with. I will be sure to enter your name into a drawing for your choice of a copy of Speaking for Spot or Your Dog’s Best Health. I’ll also let you know if I think you are on the right track with the BCS you chose.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Helping Dogs Left in Hot Cars

Photo Credit: Genewolf, Flicker CC, Dogs in CarWith the approach of summer, as temperatures increase so too do my thoughts about what I will do when I happen upon a dog left in a car on a hot day. Inevitably, I encounter this situation at least once a year, usually in a grocery store or shopping center parking lot.

After peering through the window to see what shape the dog is in, I will have a decision to make. Will I try to find the owner, hang out by the car for a short while hoping the owner shows up (and if they do show up, turn the situation into a teaching opportunity), call 911, or bust through one of the car windows myself? And, if I opt to break and enter, what might the legal ramifications be? Would I be considered a Good Samaritan or would I be charged with a misdemeanor, or even a felony?

In researching this matter I was pleased to come across an enlightening article on this topic. It was written by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). Given that I live in North Carolina, I now know that contacting a law enforcement or humane officer right away is the best bet from a legal point of view. Truth be told, if the dog were in trouble, I suspect I would break into and enter the car myself, and deal with the legal implications later. Wouldn’t you?

Here is the ALDF article. Have a look and see if your state is mentioned.

HOW TO (LEGALLY) HELP DOGS IN HOT CARS THIS SUMMER

By, Animal Legal Defense Fund

Even on a day when it’s 70 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car with all the windows closed can hit 90 degrees in just 10 minutes. On a hot day, the temperature inside a closed car can shoot as high as 116 degrees in the same amount of time.

What can you do, within your legal rights, if you see an animal in distress in a locked car? The Animal Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, has some tips.

If you see an animal in distress, call 911.

Most states allow a public safety officer to break into the car and rescue an animal if its life is threatened. Calling 911 is the first step to saving that animal’s life.

Know your state laws.

More and more states are adopting “hot car” laws that prohibit leaving a companion animal unattended in a parked vehicle, with six enacted in just the last two years and two more pending. Although 20 states have some form of “hot car” laws, the laws differ drastically from place to place:

  • Only two states—Wisconsin and Tennessee—have “good Samaritan” laws that allow any person to break a car window to save a pet.
  • In 16 states, only public officials such as law enforcement and humane officers can legally break into a car to rescue an animal (Arizona, California, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington).
  • In New Jersey and West Virginia, no one has the authority to break into a vehicle to save an animal, not even law enforcement.
  • Legislation is pending in Florida and New York to give any concerned bystander the legal right to help an animal in distress. Pending legislation in Pennsylvania would make it illegal to confine a dog or cat in a vehicle in conditions that would jeopardize its health but only a police, public safety, or humane officer would have the legal right to rescue the animal.

Penalties for hot car deaths of companion animals are still limited. Most states limit penalties to misdemeanors or civil fines and infractions, even for repeat offenders. Maine and South Dakota’s laws don’t impose a penalty at all.

Let people know it’s not okay to leave their pet unattended in a car.

When an animal dies in a hot car, most of their humans say they left them “just for a minute.” If you see someone leave their pet in a parked car, tell them that even if it’s a pleasant day outside, the temperature inside the car can skyrocket fast. Cracking a window doesn’t eliminate the risk of heatstroke or death.

Get the message out with an ALDF sunshade.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund has created sunshades that remind pet owners of the risks of leaving animals unattended in a car. The sunshades feature the message, “Warning: Don’t leave dogs in hot cars,” in lettering large enough to be readable from across a parking lot. They also urge people to call 911 if they find animals locked in a car and in distress. The sunshades are available at https://tinyurl.com/haapdea and all proceeds benefit ALDF.

For more information on keeping dogs safe this summer visit http://aldf.org/cases-campaigns/action-alerts/dogs-in-hot-cars.

About ALDF

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, ALDF files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit aldf.org.

Are you clear what you will do when you come across a dog locked in a car on a hot day 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.

Canine Cushing’s Disease

Of the handful of hormonal imbalances dogs develop, Cushing’s Disease is one of the most common. Also called hyperadrenocorticism, dogs with this disease have an overproduction (hyper) of cortisol (corticism) by their adrenal glands (adreno).

Cushing’s Disease occurs primarily in middle-aged and older dogs, and, while it can develop in any size or breed, smaller dogs are more commonly affected.

Normal cortisol production

The pituitary gland is a small pea-sized structure situated within the base of the brain. When the hypothalamus- also within the brain- sends the appropriate trigger, the pituitary gland releases a hormone called ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone) into the bloodstream.

The role of ACTH is to tell the adrenal glands to manufacture and then release cortisol (aka, cortisone) into the bloodstream. Just as is true for us, dogs come equipped with two adrenal glands. They are small bean-shaped and bean-sized organs situated adjacent to each kidney.

Cortisol plays a role in a number of body functions. It’s responsible for normal appetite and an overall sense of well being. Additionally, the release of extra cortisol is vital during times of stress.

Three types of Cushing’s Disease

When Cushing’s Disease is suspected or has already been diagnosed, it is important that the veterinarian involved differentiates which form of Cushing’s Disease is at play. There are three possibilities:

Pituitary-dependent: This is the most common form of Cushing’s Disease, diagnosed in 85-90% of cases. The underlying cause is typically a small, benign growth within the dog’s pituitary gland. It is considered to be a “functional tumor” in that it produces an overabundance of ACTH. In response to this excess ACTH, both adrenal glands enlarge as they gear up to pump out excess cortisol.

Adrenal-dependent: This form of Cushing’s Disease is less common and occurs when a “functional tumor” develops in one of the adrenal glands. Without any influence from ACTH, this “rogue adrenal gland” produces excessive cortisol. The adrenal gland containing the tumor is enlarged. The other adrenal gland shrinks in size. For all practical purposes, it “takes a nap” because there is no longer need for it to manufacture cortisol. So fascinating how body parts work!

Iatrogenic: The term iatrogenic is an adjective meaning, “of or relating to illness caused by medical examination or treatment.” This form of Cushing’s Disease can occur in dogs receiving cortisone-containing medications.

Cortisone (often in the form of prednisone, prednisolone, or dexamethasone) is used to treat a variety of inflammatory, autoimmune, and cancerous conditions. It may be administered orally, via injection, or applied topically (skin medication, ear or eye drops). It’s not uncommon for dogs to develop Cushingoid symptoms in response to such therapy, particularly if it is administered long-term.

Symptoms

Cushing’s Disease can cause a huge long list of symptoms. Cushingoid dogs are extremely individualized in terms of which symptoms they manifest Some develop classic symptoms and look like the dog in the accompanying photo. Others are far more subtle in their presentation.

All of the symptoms below can occur in response to an elevated concentration of cortisol in the bloodstream.

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urine output: Affected dogs may need to go outside to urinate multiple times during the night. The dog that has always been well-house trained is now having accidents in the house. Urinary incontinence (involuntary urine leakage) may result from over distention of the bladder.
  • Increased appetite: Some dogs become ravenous, begging for food or getting into the garbage for the very first time.
  • Pica: Eating strange things such as dirt, carpeting, etc.
  • Increased panting: The hallmark here is that the dog pants at inappropriate times with no apparent relationship to external temperature.
  • Hair coat changes: Thinning, baldness, change in texture
  • Recurrent skin infections
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Recurrent bladder infections
  • Calcium deposits within the skin (calcinosis cutis)
  • Muscle wasting and weakness: This is most apparent in the hind legs and may result in less stamina on walks and difficulty jumping up or into the car or onto the couch. You’ve no doubt heard of anabolic steroids that increase muscle mass. Cortisol is a catabolic steroid- it causes muscle wasting.
  • Abdominal distention: Note that this is not caused by weight gain. Rather it is a result of weakness of the abdominal muscles

Less obvious abnormalities caused by Cushing’s Disease

In addition to the symptoms listed above, there are a few Cushing’s Disease-related abnormalities that are not readily apparent simply by observing the dog. Nonetheless, they are significant in terms of health consequences, and should be investigated and treated. In many cases, treatment of the Cushing’s Disease makes the following abnormalities go away:

  • Hypertension- high blood pressure
  • Proteinuria- excess protein in the urine
  • Poor diabetic regulation- Not uncommonly, diabetes and Cushing’s Disease develop hand-in-hand. Cushing’s Disease is suspected in diabetic dogs whose blood sugar levels have proven difficult to regulate with insulin. Cortisol is “gluconeogenic,” meaning that it ramps up sugar production in the body. So, it’s no wonder that Cushing’s Disease wreaks havoc on management of blood sugar levels in diabetic patients!

Diagnosis

Cushing’s Disease is initially suspected based on symptoms and/or characteristic abnormalities seen on routine screening blood tests. Measurement of the amount of cortisol within a urine sample increases suspicion.

A clear cut diagnosis of Cushing’s Disease is made via specific blood testing that measures the amount of cortisol in the dog’s blood stream. The results can help differentiate between the pituitary and adrenal forms of the disease (see above).  Dexamethasone suppression and ACTH response tests are the names of the blood tests most commonly performed to establish a diagnosis.

Once the diagnosis has been established, abdominal ultrasound is commonly recommended to further confirm which form of Cushing’s Disease is at play. In the case of pituitary-dependent Cushing’s Disease, both adrenal glands appear enlarged. With adrenal-dependent disease, the adrenal gland containing the tumor is enlarged, and the opposite adrenal gland is typically smaller than normal in size.

In cases of adrenal tumors, a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the abdomen may be recommended, particularly if surgical removal of the tumor is being considered. The scan identifies how aggressive (invasive) the tumor appears and helps predict the surgeon’s ability to safely remove it. The scan also screens for evidence of spread (metastasis) to other spots within the abdomen.

The iatrogenic form of Cushing’s disease is suspected based on symptoms and a history of cortisone therapy. The diagnosis is confirmed when withdrawal of the drug results in resolution of the symptoms.

Treatment

The goal of treatment of Cushing’s Disease is reduction of cortisol production back down to a normal range. This is tricky business as doing too much too quickly can result in a crisis caused by too little cortisol, a condition referred to as Addison’s Disease.

The best treatment for a dog with Cushing’s Disease depends most significantly on the following factors:

  1. The form of Cushing’s Disease that has been diagnosed
  2. Severity of the symptoms: If symptoms are mild and well tolerated (by the dog as well as the humans involved) and there are no significant abnormalities caused by the Cushing’s Disease (high blood pressure, protein in the urine, poorly controlled diabetes, etc.), taking a “wait and watch” approach is completely reasonable. In such cases, twice yearly recheck examinations are recommended to reevaluate the need for treatment.

Treatment of pituitary-dependent disease: Oral medication is the mainstay treatment for this form of Cushing’s Disease. There are a few medications to choose from- trilostane (Vetoryl) and mitotane (Lysodren) are the two drugs most commonly used. Both cause the adrenal glands to decrease cortisol production. It is imperative to perform blood testing- initially quite frequently- to evaluate the effect of the medication. Treatment is typically life-long.

Every dog is different in terms of how quickly their cortisol production decreases in response to the medication The key is to reduce cortisol production ever so gradually until just the right level is achieved. If treatment overshoots the mark, the result can be a whole host of symptoms (Addisonian crisis) brought about by too little cortisol in the blood stream.

Treatment of adrenal-dependent disease: Surgical removal of the adrenal tumor is the ideal therapy. This may not be possible because of the dog’s overall condition or the invasiveness or spread of the adrenal tumor. If surgery is not an option, medical treatment (trilostane or mitotane) is usually recommended.

Treatment of iatrogenic disease: The ideal treatment is gradual withdrawal of the cortisone-containing product the dog has been receiving. Abrupt withdrawal can result in an Addisonian crisis caused by too little cortisone in the bloodstream.

Prognosis

Many dogs with Cushing’s Disease are successfully treated and go on to achieve a normal lifespan. The prognosis is somewhat dependent on the type of Cushing’s Disease diagnosed. Most importantly, the prognosis depends on the finesse with which treatment is managed. Treatment can be tricky business- the more experience the veterinarian has with this disease, the greater the likelihood of a successful outcome. For this reason, it is wise to consider getting help from a veterinarian who specializes in internal medicine. Such a specialist will have likely managed dozens if not hundreds of dogs with Cushing’s Disease.

Questions for your veterinarian

  1. How do we know that my dog has Cushing’s Disease?
  2. What form of Cushing’s Disease has been diagnosed?
  3. Does my dog have high blood pressure?
  4. Does my dog have excess protein in the urine?
  5. What are the treatment options?
  6. Is treatment necessary at this time?
  7. How many patients with Cushing’s Disease do you typically treat during the course of a year?
  8. Can you recommend veterinary internist who can be involved my dog’s care?

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.

Addison’s Disease in Dogs

Photo Credit: In 1855 Dr. Thomas Addison was the first person to describe a human affliction he dubbed Addison’s disease. Since that time, this disease has become a well-recognized syndrome in both people and dogs. The scientific name for Addison’s disease is hypoadrenocorticism– an insufficient production of essential hormones manufactured by the adrenal glands.

Addison’s disease can occur in any size and breed of dog. Middle-aged females are most commonly affected. A familial or inherited predisposition for the disease has been described in Standard Poodles, Bearded Collies, Great Danes, and Portuguese Water Dogs.

Normal adrenal gland function

Let the physiology lesson begin! Every dog is born with two adrenal glands located adjacent to each kidney within the abdominal cavity. These glands are responsible for producing several important hormones. Dogs with Addison’s disease lose their ability to produce two of these hormones, namely cortisol (aka, cortisone) and aldosterone. Neither man nor beast can live without adequate levels of both of them.

Cortisol is essential for normal function of virtually every organ within the body. It’s responsible for normal appetite and an overall sense of well being. Cortisol production is amped up during times of stress. Canine “stress” can stem from fear, excitement, anxiety, or significant physical exertion. Examples might include: thunderstorms, dates at the grooming parlor, a free-for-all at the dog park, running an agility course, or visiting the veterinary hospital. (Please read my thoughts on Fear-Free office visits)

Aldosterone regulates sodium and potassium levels in the body. Without aldosterone, the potassium level in the bloodstream increases and the sodium level decreases. If severe enough, these changes can be life threatening. Every once in awhile a dog develops “atypical Addison’s disease” in which there is cortisol depletion, but aldosterone production remains normal. These dogs have normal blood levels of sodium and potassium.

Cause

The cause of Addison’s disease is incompletely understood. Autoimmune destruction is suspected. This means that the individual’s own immune system is somehow triggered to attack and destroy the body’s normal tissues; in this case, cells within the adrenal glands.

Cushing’s Disease is the polar opposite first cousin of Addison’s disease. A dog with this disease develops symptoms caused by the overproduction of cortisol by the adrenal glands. Overzealous treatment to reduce the cortisol production can result in Addison’s disease.

Symptoms

Early on in the course of the disease Addisonian dogs may show rather vague waxing and waning symptoms. As the disease progresses, symptoms tend to become more consistent and fulminant. Not all Addisonian dogs exhibit all of the symptoms- in fact, only one or two may be observed. The most common symptoms caused by Addison’s disease include:

  • diminished appetite
  • lethargy/weakness
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • increased thirst
  • increased urine output
  • weight loss
  • hair coat changes
  • trembling
  • collapse

Diagnosis

Addison’s disease is suspected based on symptoms. Abnormal physical examination findings may include a slowed heart rate (caused by the elevation in blood potassium), dehydration, weak pulses, thin condition, generalized weakness, and even collapse or coma.

The diagnosis of Addison’s disease begins with blood and urine testing. The urine is typically dilute rather than well concentrated. Blood test abnormalities may include increased levels of potassium, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine, and calcium along with decreased sodium and glucose levels. A chest x-ray may demonstrate decreases heart size.

Addison’s disease is definitively diagnosed by measurement of blood cortisol levels both before and after an injection of ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone), a substance that stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol. This is known as an ACTH response test. Addisonian dogs have extremely low levels of circulating cortisol both prior to and following adrenal gland stimulation.

The great imitator

Addison’s disease is known as the “great imitator” because its symptoms are often vague and nonspecific and they may mimic those associated with a plethora of other diseases. Additionally, unless the dog is in a state of crisis, symptoms tend to be on-again, off-again. So, it’s easy to talk oneself out of a veterinary visit. And, if basic blood test abnormalities are mild, the veterinarian may not even consider Addison’s disease as a potential diagnosis.

Because of all of this, the biggest pitfall associated with Addison’s disease is its lack of recognition. The most famous Addisonian of all time, John F. Kennedy, had waxing and waning symptoms for years before his physicians finally thought about testing for Addison’s disease!

Treatment

In the case of collapse or profoundly slowed heart rate, emergency therapy for the Addisonian dog may be necessary including intravenous fluid therapy, cortisone injections, and treatment for circulatory shock.

Long-term treatment for Addison’s disease involves life-long hormone replacement therapy and, in some cases, sodium supplementation- table salt added to the dog’s diet. Cortisol supplementation (prednisone is the drug most commonly used) is initiated and is ultimately weaned down to a physiologic dose or discontinued. Whether or not it is discontinued depends upon the aldosterone replacement therapy selected. A physiologic dose is intended to imitate the amount of cortisol normally released by the adrenal glands. If it is known that an Addisonian dog will be experiencing some version of stress, the dose of cortisone is increased accordingly.

Aldosterone replacement is achieved one of two ways. An injectable drug known as DOCP (desoxycorticosterone pivalate- how’s that for a mouthful!) can be administered via an injection under the skin approximately once every 25 days. Most veterinarians are willing to teach their clients how to administer this drug at home. Another injectable option is the newly released drug called Zycortal.  An orally administered daily medication called Florinef is another option for aldosterone replacement.

Unfortunately, these drugs can be pretty darned pricey. Given that they are dosed based on the dog’s body weight (large breed dogs are more commonly affected) and that dogs with Addison’s disease must receive life-long medication and blood test monitoring, the cost of treatment can be enormous.

Prognosis

Well-managed Addisonian dogs are expected to have a normal life expectancy and an excellent quality of life. The keys to success are affordability and conscientious life-long treatment and monitoring.

Sources of support

Not all veterinarians have vast experience recognizing and/or treating dogs with Addison’s disease. Additionally, successful treatment requires considerable finesse based on lots of experience with this disease. Consider getting help from a veterinarian who specializes in internal medicine and who likely has dozens of Addisonian patients under his or her belt.

An excellent, long-running, online source of support is the forum called AddisonDogs. The site is well moderated and provides a wealth of information for those in the position of caring for an Addisonian dog.

Have you ever managed a dog with Addison’s disease? If so, what was your experience like?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

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

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

 

Do Dogs Dream?

Photo Credit: Recompose on Flicker CC license, Whether or not dogs dream isn’t known with scientific certainty, but it sure is difficult to imagine that they don’t. We’ve all watched our dogs demonstrate behaviors in their sleep that resemble what they do in a fully awake state. Paddling legs, whining, growling, wagging tails, chomping jowls, and twitching noses inspire us to wonder what our dogs are dreaming about.

What we know about dogs and dreams

While our knowledge on this topic is very limited, the following known information helps us believe that dogs do indeed experience dreams.

  • Professors of neuroscience, Matthew Wilson, and Kenway Louie, study the relationships between memory, sleep, and dreams. They’ve learned that when rats are trained to run along a circular track for food rewards, their brains create a distinctive firing pattern of neurons (brain cells). The researchers also conducted brain monitoring while the rats were sleeping. Low and behold, the same signature brain activity pattern associated with running occurs whether rats are awake or asleep. In fact, the memories play at approximately the same speed during sleep as when the rats are awake.

Can we take the information that is known about dreaming in rats and humans and apply it to dogs? Wilson believes that we can. He has stated, “My guess is — unless there is something special about rats and humans — that cats and dogs are doing exactly the same thing.”

  • It is known that the hippocampus, the portion of the brain that collects and stores memories, is wired much the same way in all mammals. According to Professor Wilson, “If you compared a hippocampus in a rat to a dog; in a cat to a human, they contain all of the same pieces.” He believes that as dogs sleep, images of past events replay in their minds, much the same way people recall experiences while dreaming.
  • It is known that in people most dreams occur during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Dogs also experience periods of REM sleep, during which their breathing becomes more irregular and shallow. There may be muscle twitching during REM and, when one looks closely, rapid eye movements behind closed eyelids can often be observed. It is during REM sleep that behaviors thought to be associated with dreaming (legs paddling, twitching, vocalizing, etc.) are most commonly observed.

What we want to believe about dog dreams

When we observe our dogs as they sleep, it’s just about impossible to imagine that they are not dreaming. Just like the rats studied by Wilson and Louie, it is tempting to believe that our four-legged best buddies are reenacting their recent experiences; playing at the dog park, sniffing in the woods, chewing on a treasured bone, and chasing squirrels.

Sigmund Freud theorized that dreaming is a “safety valve” for our unconscious desires. Perhaps he is correct, and, when our dogs sleep, they dream about catching the neighbor’s pesky cat, continuous belly rubs in conjunction with unlimited dog treats, and stealing the Thanksgiving Day turkey from the dining room table.

What do you think your dog dreams about?

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.

 

Your Voices Were Heard! Tougher Sentencing for Dog Fighting

Photo Credit: Partsnpieces, Flicker CC license, Sweet victory! Your voices were heard! When I asked you to contact the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) in support of tougher sentencing for people involved in dog fighting you rose to the challenge!

Here is the outcome of your efforts. The USSC received 50,000 comments from the public pertaining to tougher sentencing guidelines. Never before has the Sentencing Commission received so many comments about a single issue.

Until now, prison sentences for convicted dog fighters have been only 6 months on average. Most offenders have received nothing more than probation. On April 15, the USSC voted to strengthen federal sentencing guidelines for animal fighting. The recommended time for incarceration was increased from 6-12 months to 21-27 months. This is a 250 percent increase in the minimum recommended sentence!

Now here’s the part I really love. The USSC issued forth a new sentencing range of 6-12 months in jail for anyone who brings a child to an animal fight. Last but not least, the Commission revised their guidelines to say that causing harm to a large number of animals and performing acts of extraordinary cruelty to animals are grounds for imposing even longer sentences.

Thanks to everyone who contacted the USSC on this issue. How richly rewarding it feels when we win one for the “good guys”- those precious animals with whom we share our time on this earth.

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.

Sneezing Dogs

Two dogs who sneeze after digging in the dirt. Photo Credit: Alan Kay ©

I recently received a phone call from my aunt who was wondering why Pirate, her beloved Tibetan Terrier, had been sneezing for a couple of days. Pirate appeared to be normal in every other way. We discussed potential causes for his sneezing.

I explained to my aunt that only rarely do colds, allergies, and bacterial infections cause sneezing in dogs. Canine colds, aka, upper respiratory viruses, tend to trigger coughing rather than sneezing. And dogs with allergies suffer from itchy skin and ear problems far more than sneezing. Bacterial infections within the nose are exceedingly rare unless they arise on the heels of an underlying primary problem such as a growth or foreign body within the nose.

So, what are the most common causes of canine sneezing? Here’s the list of things I always consider.

Foxtails and other foreign bodies

Foxtails are the most common cause of sneezing for dogs who live west of the Mississippi. After the seed heads of foxtail plants dry in late spring and early summer they are easily and commonly snuffed up into the noses of dogs who like to sniff around. And, what dog doesn’t like to sniff around?

Because the foxtail plant awns are pronged much like fishhooks, once inhaled into the nose, they cannot be sneezed back out. Removal requires special instrumentation that is inserted into the nasal passageways of the sneezing dog. In the vast majority of cases successful removal relies on the dog being under general anesthesia.

Persistent sneezing is the hallmark symptom of a nasal foxtail. A bloody nose may result from irritation of the delicate tissue lining the nasal passageway or from inadvertent nose banging caused by violent sneezing. Over time, foxtails that are not removed result in chronic nasal discharge along with a fungal and/or bacterial infection within the nose. No fun!

Why did I mention the caveat of living west of the Mississippi? This is where these nasty foxtail plants happen to grow. (Why do you think I moved from California to North Carolina?!) There are a couple of ways to prevent nasal foxtails. The most full proof method is to avoid taking your dog anywhere near foxtails from late spring through mid summer. If foxtails are mowed and left on the ground, they can remain a hazard even later into the season. Another prevention option is the clever OutFox Field Guard™, a net like device that encircles the dog’s head.

Nasal foreign bodies other than foxtails are truly rare and are usually the result of a dog’s nose being in the wrong place at the wrong time or an inquisitive young child exploring all the many places small objects can go.

Nasal tumors

Nasal tumors are all too common in older large breed dogs, particularly those with longer snouts such as German Shepherds and Collies. It is known that exposure to tobacco smoke can be a predisposing factor. Carcinomas and sarcomas are the two most common types of nasal tumors in dogs. While neither tends to metastasize (spread to other sites in the body), both expand locally and destroy normal nasal structures in the process. Chronic nasal discharge is the most common symptom of nasal cancer, but some affected dogs do exhibit sneezing.

The diagnosis is best made by a CT scan or MRI scan in conjunction with a biopsy of the abnormal tissue. The mainstay therapy for nasal tumors is radiation therapy. While not curative, treatment often results in a significant period of good quality time. The diagnosis and/or treatment of nasal cancer typically requires involvement of a veterinarian who specializes in internal medicine or oncology.

Fungal disease

Just as nasal tumors are more common in long nosed breeds of dogs, so too are fungal infections within the nasal passageways and sinuses. The fungal species most commonly implicated is Aspergillus, spores of which are normally found in the environment. Aspergillus is considered to be “opportunistic” in that the organisms readily colonize on the heels of any sort of minor trauma within the nasal passageways. As the fungal infection spreads it destroys normal tissue.

The diagnosis is best made by specialized imaging studies (CT or MRI scan) in conjunction with collection of tissue samples from within the nose or sinus of an affected dog. Treatment involves infusion of antifungal medication into the nasal passageways and sinuses and/or long-term oral antifungal medication. As recommended for nasal tumors, involvement of a veterinary specialist is well advised for the diagnosis and management of fungal disease within the nose.

Nasal mites

Nasal mites (Pneumonyssoides caninum) are teeny, tiny, almost microscopic little critters that thrive in the nasal passageways and sinuses of dogs. Boy oh boy, do they cause an itchy nose, and affected dogs typically exhibit lots of sneezing.

Visualizing the mites marching around in a dog’s nose is always cause for excitement. Not only do they look a bit surreal, seeing the mites confirms the diagnosis. Affecting a cure for nasal mites requires a dose or two of an anti-parasite medication. How does a dog acquire a nasal mite infection? Digging in the dirt face first is the most likely cause. Thus far, knock on wood, neither Nellie or Quinn, my two digger dogs pictured above, have acquired nasal mites.

Digging in the dirt

If your dogs love to dig the way my dogs love to dig, they will likely do some sneezing. Submerging ones entire head into a hole quite naturally forces some dirt and plant material into ones snout! The natural way to expel this stuff is by sneezing. Dirt-induced sneezing is typically transient, resolving within several minutes to an hour or two. As mentioned above, nasal mites can be a side effect of digging in the dirt and will produce sneezing that is more persistent.

Excitement

For reasons that are unclear to me, some dogs sneeze when they become excited. This interesting phenomenon is far more common amongst small dog breeds. For some, simply asking, “Do you want to go for a walk?” can produce a barrage of sneezing. Excitement-induced sneezing is harmless unless the dog happens to be a nose banger in the process.

Reverse sneezing

If it were up to me, reverse sneezing would have a different name. This is because it has absolutely nothing to do with sneezing. Rather, reverse sneezing is an overly dramatic response to a tickling sensation in the dog’s throat. It is the canine version of throat clearing. Dogs who are reverse sneezing assume a stiff posture with head and neck rigidly extended forward. This is accompanied by forceful, noisy inhalation and exhalation that can last for several seconds, even minutes. If reverse sneezing becomes more frequent or persistent, consultation with a veterinarian is warranted.

Do you have a canine sneezer on your hands? Now that you’ve read this information, what do you think might be the cause?

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.