Pet Food: What You See May Not Be What You Get

Many regulations exist for pet foods, but some recent research questions whether such regulations are adequately protective against pet food mislabeling. A study, conducted at Chapman University’s Food Science Program, suggests that pet food mislabeling is relatively common.

The researchers evaluated 52 commercial pet foods and treats marketed for dogs and cats. They used DNA analysis to look for eight meat species (beef, goat, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, goose, and horse) within each product. They then determined if the protein species identified within each product matched up with the species identified on the product label.

Results

Here’s what the Chapman University researchers learned. Of the 52 products tested 20 were mislabeled. Thirteen contained meat from a species not listed on the label, four lacked one or more meats listed on the label, and three had both problems. One wet cat food product contained a non-specific meat ingredient that could not be clearly identified.

Chicken was the most common meat species identified, followed by pork, beef, turkey, and lamb, respectively. Goose was the least common species, and none of the products tested contained horsemeat.

Of the 20 mislabeled products, seven were cat foods and 13 were dog foods. Pork was the most common undeclared species (existed in the product, but not on the label) and occurred in seven out of 52 samples.

This study did not look into why some pet foods are mislabeled or where in the manufacturing chain of events the errors are arising. Perhaps the problem occurs within the factory itself. Perhaps it originates from the source of meat products delivered to the factory from who knows where.

By the way, the various brands of pet foods and treats included in the study have not been revealed.

Questioning the results

Pat Tovey, director of technology and regulatory compliance for the Pet Food Institute, has questioned the Chapman University results based in part on his belief that pet food companies would never risk their reputations by committing fraud. Tovey has stated,

Our member companies want to comply with the regulations, and we feel that it’s important and companies feel it’s important that customers buying the products get what they’re paying for.

Tovey has theorized that small amounts of protein in a product would be sufficient to comply with FDA standards yet be too small to be detected by the methods used in the study. For example, beef needs to make up only three percent of a pet food labeled as “with beef” to comply with AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards.

While Mr. Tovey’s theory sounds logical, it is likely not applicable. Tara Okuma, one of the Chapman University researchers, stated that there was a one percent minimum detection limit for turkey in two of the three products in which turkey meat was on the label, but was undetected in the food product.

Additionally, beef was listed on the label, but was not detected in four products. In three of these products, beef was listed as the first or second ingredient suggesting that detection should have been possible if the species was indeed present.

Why is this important?

Does it really matter if a pet food label misidentifies the source of protein within the product? After all, isn’t it the amount rather than the type of protein that’s important? (Can you tell that it is difficult for me to play devil’s advocate here?)

There are a few reasons the results of the Chapman University matter to me. To begin with, the results beg one to wonder if misidentification of the source of protein within a pet food product is only the tip of the iceberg. What other label inaccuracies might be flying “under the radar” that just might adversely impact the health of the dog or cat consuming the product?

Secondly, food allergies are a relatively common occurrence amongst dogs and cats, and proteins are the most commonly incriminated cause. For example, a dog that is allergic to beef might do fine eating a purely lamb or turkey based diet. Someone who purchases a “hypoallergenic” or “novel protein” diet for their allergic pet has the right to feel confident that the product’s protein labeling is accurate.

Lastly, pet lovers who spend beaucoup bucks on high quality nutrition for their four-legged family members are entitled to product label transparency. What they are seeing on the product label is exactly what they should be getting.

What is your reaction to this news?

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.

 

Students Organize Puppy Mill Awareness Week

Puppy Mill Action Week begins on May 6th. It is a time to contemplate what we can do to make a positive difference. For some time now, I’ve believed that the very best way to eradicate puppy mills is by educating kids. A child who is aware of the reality of puppy mills can rattle the family conscience, particularly when Mom or Dad are thinking about purchasing a puppy on line or from a pet store. This is the reason a recent story about eighth grade students at Courtenay Language Arts Center in Chicago put a big smile on my face.

When these students learned about the suffering of dogs in puppy mills, they were determined to make a difference. Here’s what they did. After researching puppy mills and speaking with experts on this topic, they brainstormed ways that they could make a difference.

The culmination of their efforts occurred just last month. They organized an entire week devoted to increasing awareness about puppy mills within their school. This Puppy Mill Awareness Week included:

  • Daily morning announcements with facts about puppy mills
  • Visits to classrooms of younger students to read Ruby’s Story, a children’s book about a dog from a puppy mill
  • A basketball game fundraiser for a local animal shelter
  • Posters hung to educate students about puppy mills
  • An assembly created by the eighth grade students and featuring speakers from The Puppy Mill Project and Found

It appears that the Courtenay Language Arts Center Puppy Mill Awareness Week was a huge success in terms of raising awareness. As one student stated,

I will keep informing others about the situation in case they’re buying from a suspicious place. Finally, if I get a puppy I’ll make sure to get it from an animal shelter and not a pet shop or puppy mill.

It just doesn’t get any better than that! Now, I challenge you to educate kids about puppy mills. If you need some ideas, check out “Puppy Mills Exposed” and “A Happy Home for Every Dog and Cat” in HEART’s Humane Resource Guide. For older kids, I recommend that together you watch, “What is a Puppy Mill” created by HEART and the ASPCA. This video is just about guaranteed to stimulate some important discussion.

Are there children in your life who can learn about puppy mills?

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.

 

When Doing the Wrong Thing Feels So Right

Photo Credit: Susannah Kay

Have you ever made the mistake of doing the wrong thing with your dog because, in the heat of the moment, it felt like exactly the right thing to do? Here’s an example of what I’m describing.

A few months ago, my husband and I went horseback riding in Pisgah National Forest, located in western North Carolina. The day was crisp and cold, and the ground was covered with slushy snow. As we chugged along trying to stay warm, the sound of a man’s shouting interrupted our conversation. We turned to look and saw the man’s dog, a large Husky or Malamute mix, making a beeline towards us.

The man issued forth a vehement litany of progressively louder recall commands, none of which produced a change in his dog’s trajectory:

“Scout, come!”

“Scout, you better get over here!”

“Right now!!”

“Scout, come, right now!!”

“Get over here right now!!!”

My husband and I provided some help by turning our horses around and slowly advancing towards the dog who responded in a predictable fashion. Scout turned tail and ran towards what he thought would be safety. Although he was now heading in the right direction, the man continued his angry ranting, so much so that I was surprised to see Scout venture back into capture range.

I had a sense of what Scout was in store for, and I attempted to salvage the situation by shouting, “You should praise him for coming back to you. Tell him he’s a good boy.” My words were either not heard or ignored. The man was intent on doing what he believed was the right thing- making sure his dog knew that he did a very, very, very bad thing. As soon as Scout was in range, the man grabbed him by the nape of the neck and lifted him off the ground, all the while yelling, “Bad dog!” Scout screamed in alarm as only a Malamute or Husky can do. I cringed and turned my horse back in the opposite direction. I didn’t want to watch any more and believed that any attempt on my part to educate would end badly.

Do I think that Scout’s dad shouldn’t be caring for a dog? Heck no. Sure, he acted inappropriately, but this does not negate the facts that he brought his dog along on an outdoor adventure, and he didn’t want him hassling our horses or potentially getting injured by them. Like so many of us have done, this man simply made the rookie mistake of doing the wrong thing because, in the heat of the moment, it felt like exactly the right thing to do. One can only hope that his experience with Scout that day convinced him to consult with a professional dog/human trainer.

When working with your dog, have you ever done the wrong thing because at the time it felt like exactly the right thing to do?

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.

 

Glomerular Disease in Dogs

Glomerular disease occurs quite commonly in dogs. It affects purebreds and mixed-breeds alike, and can be an inherited disorder in Shar Peis, Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, Bull Terriers, Dalmatians, Samoyeds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Newfoundlands, and English Cocker Spaniels.

Terminology

Veterinarians use a number of different terms interchangeably when describing “glomerular disease”. Here is a sampling of those most commonly used:

  • Glomerulopathy
  • Glomerulonephropathy
  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Protein losing nephropathy

Glomerular function

Each kidney contains millions of glomeruli, microscopic filtration units that interface with the blood vessels that supply the kidneys. I like to think of a glomerulus as a tiny sieve or colander because the size of its pores dictates which substances within the blood are allowed to enter into the fluid that ultimately becomes urine. Normal glomeruli do not allow larger protein molecules such as albumin to pass into the urine.

Causes of glomerular damage

The most common means by which glomeruli are damaged include:

  • Inflammation, particularly that which is immune mediated (autoimmune) in nature
  • A form of scarring referred to as glomerulosclerosis
  • Persistent high pressure blood flow to the kidneys (e.g., elevated blood pressure)
  • Deposition of a protein called amyloid (this is referred to as amyloidosis)

When glomeruli are damaged, they become “leakier,” thus allowing larger protein molecules to filter into the urine. Persistent proteinuria (increased protein within the urine) is a hallmark characteristic of glomerular disease.

Glomerular damage may be present at the very earliest onset of kidney disease, well before there are other measurable laboratory changes or symptoms typically associated with kidney damage. Moreover, compared to dogs with kidney disease and no proteinuria, those with glomerular damage are far more likely to develop significant illness and/or death as a result of their kidney disorder. In other words, glomerular disease, particularly when left untreated, hastens the progression of kidney failure.

Glomerular damage can arise as a primary disease process, or it can occur secondary to another underlying disease. Diseases commonly associated with secondary glomerular injury include:

  • Heartworm disease
  • Pyometra
  • Pancreatitis
  • Infectious diseases (bacterial, fungal, tick-borne)
  • Cancerous diseases
  • Immune mediated (autoimmune) diseases

Symptoms of glomerular disease

In and of itself, protein loss in the urine does not cause any symptoms. Therefore, many dogs with glomerular disease, particularly early on, appear completely normal. When symptoms do arise, they are usually related to one or more of the following:

  • The underlying disease process causing the glomerular damage (see the list above)
  • Kidney failure
  • Complications associated with glomerular damage (high blood pressure, decreased protein in the bloodstream, blood clot formation)

Some common symptoms observed in dogs with glomerular disease include:

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Increased thirst and urine output
  • Weight loss
  • Halitosis (bad breath)

Documentation of excessive protein in the urine

There are four different laboratory tests that can be used to assess protein within the urine. They include:

  • Urinalysis: This provides “semi-quantitative results.” This means that a positive test result gives only a rough idea of how much protein is in the urine. The urinalysis is a very useful first screening test, but it is fraught with false positive results. Additionally, it is not always sensitive enough to detect the very earliest stages of glomerular damage. For these reasons, follow up testing via another methodology (see below) should be performed, either when the urinalysis is positive for protein or when the urinalysis is negative for protein but glomerular damage is suspected (e.g., dogs of breeds with inherited forms of glomerular disease).
  • Urine protein to creatinine ratio: This test helps quantify the amount of protein in the urine. This accomplishes two things. It verifies whether the amount of protein in a urine sample is normal or increased. Secondly, it establishes a baseline to which future samples can be compared. This helps in the monitoring of disease progression.
  • Microalbuminuria testing: This test detects very small amounts of a protein called albumin within the urine, even before proteinuria can be documented via a urinalysis. As such a sensitive test, it is recommended in the following situations:

• The results of other screening tests for proteinuria are negative in a dog with a serious illness, particularly one known to be associated with glomerular disease (see the causes of glomerular disease above).

• As a general health screening test in middle-aged and older dogs.

• As an early-age screening test for dogs with a possible inherited predisposition for glomerular disease.

  • 24-hour urine protein quantification: Back when I was a pup (before urine protein to creatinine ratios and microalbuminuria testing were available) we would house a dog in a “metabolic cage” or place a urinary catheter so as to collect every drop of urine produced over a 24-hour period. The amount of protein in this duration of urine was then measured. This methodology was a pain-in-the-you-know-what for everyone involved, particularly the poor dog. Thank goodness, such testing is now considered antiquated and is rarely if ever used.

Diagnosing glomerular disease

If a dog demonstrates persistent proteinuria (repeatable on multiple tests over the course of a few weeks), a battery of tests is typically recommended to rule out non-glomerular causes of excess protein within the urine such as urinary tract infection, stones, or bleeding. This testing typically includes the following:

  • Complete blood cell count (CBC)
  • Blood chemistry profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Urine culture
  • Abdominal ultrasound or x-rays

Other tests may be recommended for purposes of ruling out heartworm disease, infectious processes, cancer, and other diseases that can cause secondary glomerular damage. Diagnostics may include:

  • Heartworm testing
  • Chest x-rays
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Specific screening tests for infectious diseases

A clear-cut diagnosis of glomerular disease requires a kidney biopsy. This can be accomplished via surgery, laparoscopy, or with ultrasound guidance. Whichever methodology is used, collection of a kidney biopsy has the potential to cause significant complications. Thoughtful discussion with a veterinarian about risks and benefits should always precede a kidney biopsy.

Complications commonly caused by glomerular disease

As if glomerular disease isn’t enough to worry about, it is capable of causing a number of serious secondary issues including:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure): Can cause damage in heart, kidneys, brain, and/or retinas; hypertension promotes proteinuria
  • Hypercoagulability (an increased propensity to form blood clots): Thromboembolism (blood clot) formation can occur within any organ
  • Kidney failure

Treatment of glomerular disease

There are four primary goals when treating canine glomerular disease. How they are implemented will depend, in part, on the dog’s kidney function and degree of proteinuria.

  1. Identify and eliminate the underlying cause of the glomerular damage: Doing so may resolve the proteinuria altogether (the best outcome possible). For example, successful treatment of heartworm disease often eliminates the associated glomerular damage. Unfortunately, in many cases, the underlying cause of the glomerular disease cannot be identified or successfully eliminated.
  1. Attempt to lessen the degree of proteinuria: Doing so is the best bet for slowing the progression of kidney damage and other complications associated with glomerular disease. The mainstays of such therapy include:

• Feeding a diet that is low in quantity, but high in quality in terms of protein content: This decreases the amount of protein filtered by the kidneys.

• Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids: Their anti-inflammatory effects are thought to be responsible for decreasing proteinuria.

• Administration of an angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitor drug (enalapril, benazepril): Alters microscopic blood flow at the level of the kidneys.

• Immunosuppressive drugs: Suppression of the immune system may help diminish glomerular inflammation.

  1. Treatment of glomerular disease complications: Examples of such treatments include administration of medications to control high blood pressure, anticoagulant therapy to help prevent blood clot formation, and daily subcutaneous fluids to manage kidney failure.
  1. Follow up monitoring: Once the diagnosis of glomerular disease is made and treatment is instituted, there will be a need for ongoing monitoring. The results of such monitoring will direct how the dog’s therapy should be adjusted. A typical follow up veterinary visit for a dog with glomerular disease would include:

• Discussion of how the dog is doing at home

• A thorough physical examination

• Blood pressure measurement

• Blood testing to evaluate kidney function

• Urine protein to creatinine ratio

The treatment of glomerular disease can be challenging, and the more experience a veterinarian has with this disease, the better. For this reason, when glomerular disorder is suspected or has been diagnosed in your dog, I strongly encourage consulting with a veterinarian who specializes in small animal internal medicine. To learn more about the treatment of glomerular disease, I invite you to read, “Consensus Recommendations for Standard Therapy of Glomerular Disease in Dogs” prepared by veterinarians who are members of the International Renal Interest Society (IRIS).

Prognosis

The earlier glomerular disease is detected and managed, the greater the likelihood of deterring a negative outcome. Left unchecked, glomerular disease is known to increase the severity and progression of kidney failure.

Canine glomerular disease is often associated with kidney failure which may progress very slowly, very quickly, or anything in between. Some dogs live for several years with glomerular disease. The likelihood of such an outcome is far greater with appropriate treatment and monitoring.

Nephrotic syndrome

Dogs with severe glomerular disease can progress to a condition that is referred to as nephrotic syndrome. This is characterized by the following four abnormalities:

  1. Excess protein loss in the urine
  2. Decreased protein (specifically albumin) within the blood stream
  3. Elevated blood cholesterol level
  4. Presence of edema (accumulation of watery fluid under the skin or within body cavities)

Nephrotic syndrome represents an advanced stage of glomerular disease. In addition to the treatment options mentioned above, measures to manage the edema (fluid drainage, specific medications) may be warranted.

Have you had any experience with glomerular disease in your dogs?

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.

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

Photo Credit: Steven Turville

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

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

New virus within the United States

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

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

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

Symptoms

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

Diagnosis

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

Treatment

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

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

Prevention

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

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

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

 

New Information about Jerky Treats for Pets

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

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

New jerky-related problems

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

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

Jerky treats and your pet

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

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

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

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

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

 

Raising Awareness About Dog Fighting

Images Courtesy of the ASPCA

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

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

Taking action against dog fighting

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

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

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

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

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

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

 

Multiple Myeloma

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

What is multiple myeloma?

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

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

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

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

Cause of myeloma

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

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

Symptoms

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

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

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

Diagnosis

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

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

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

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

Treatment

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

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

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

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

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

Prognosis

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

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

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

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

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

 

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

Photo Credit: Shirley Zindler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

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

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

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

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

Pollakiuria caused by lower urinary tract disease

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

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

Common lower urinary tract maladies that cause pollakiuria include:

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

Pollakiuria caused by increased thirst

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

1. Hormonal imbalances

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

2. Kidney disease

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

3. Liver disease: dogs and cats

4. Pyometra: primarily dogs

5. Medications

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

Recognizing pollakiuria

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

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

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