Fighting Breed-Related Diseases

May 10, 2012

The refinement of purebred dogs over the past four or five centuries has created interesting versions of Canis familiaris, such as dogs with dreadlocks, wrinkles, extra toes, a double coat, or an innate ability to herd sheep.

Selective breeding of dogs to propagate characteristics related to coat, foot size, or herding prowess may also have created the predisposition of some purebred dogs to specific diseases. As humans bred dogs to meet their own specifications, the genes controlling disease tagged along into the next generation with the genes controlling desirable characteristics such as dreadlocks and double toes. But the cloning of the canine genome in 2005, coupled with the multi-generational pedigrees available in purebred dogs and the close genetic relatedness of dogs within a given breed gave scientists powerful tools to study genetic disease in purebred dogs.

Eye diseases no more

Genetic tools combined with the advanced clinical skills may also be used to eradicate some diseases. For example, veterinary ophthalmologists have nearly eradicated breed-related disease of the eye in several breeds, including progressive retinal atrophy in Irish Setters and Irish Red and White Setters. This inherited disease results in blindness due to a failure of the retina to transmit images to the brain. The diagnosis can be made by a veterinary ophthalmologist using CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation) testing of puppies as young as five or six weeks of age. Now a genetic test is available to identify dogs carrying the mutation causing progressive retinal atrophy in the two types of Irish Setters. The test requires only a small amount of blood and identifies dogs that are clear of the mutation, the ones optimal for breeding to avoid producing puppies with abnormal eyes. The Irish Setter Club actively supports research into the diseases of their breed and a list of open studies is on their website.

Inherited drug sensitivity

We mostly think of genetics as determining physical stature and predisposition to disease, but a genetic mutation, found predominantly in herding dogs, called MDR1 (multiple drug resistance) determines heightened sensitivity to a variety of medications.

Possibly most important on this list are two drugs commonly used to prevent heartworms in dogs, ivermectin and milbemycin. Collies, Australian Shepherds (both the standard and mini), and other breeds lack the ability to process not only the previously mentioned heartworm preventatives but also acepromazine, butorphanol, and chemotherapy drugs used on a daily basis by veterinarians. Standard doses of these drugs can prove fatal in a dog with the MDR1 mutation. Genetic testing is available to identify dogs with the mutation, allowing veterinarians to prescribe safer medications.

The current version of the AAHA-AVMA Canine Preventive Healthcare Guidelines recommends the use of genetic testing in dogs and if I see one of the breeds on the list for a MDR1 mutation, I would test that dog prior to administering chemotherapy, if the test had not be performed as part of a preventive healthcare program.

If you have a purebred dog, ask your veterinarian about genetic testing for any diseases that run in your breed. If you are thinking of adding a purebred dog to your family, do your homework and investigate possible health concerns. Also, ask the breeder if they are involved in helping to eradicate their breed’s diseases.


The Importance of Portion Control for Pets

January 9, 2012

In my last blog I wrote about Pusuke, the world’s oldest dog and the role of breed and size in dog longevity. Every pet owner dreams of having their beloved cat or dog with them for many, many years. But do you know you could be doing something which might decrease your pet’s longevity? That something is overfeeding.

Every living creature needs food to survive. But research has shown overweight and obese pets do not live as long as their thinner counterparts. Maintaining your pet at an ideal body condition score will help to lengthen its life.

Ideal body condition score
Your veterinarian may have talked to you about your pet’s ideal body condition score (BCS). Body condition assessment is used by veterinarians to quantify under and overweight pets. It serves the same purpose as the BMI your doctor calculates for you. At The Animal Medical Center, we record the body condition score of each pet we examine using a separate system for dogs and cats.

Portion size matters
Portion control is critical to maintaining an ideal body condition. An article in the New York Times about kitchen scales made me think of another worthwhile use for your kitchen scale: weighing pet food. It is so easy to be too generous when you use a scoop or cup to serve up a portion of dry food nuggets. When I prescribe a cup of food, I mean a level cup, not the heaping one I suspect pet owners are serving. Not all cups are created equal and some cups have the measuring line just below the top of the cup – allowing you to feed more than the cup you think you are feeding. Now, I prescribe pet food in grams – easily weighed on your kitchen scale. Busy pet owners might want to premeasure pet food servings into plastic bags or storage boxes, kind of like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig meal plans for people. This will make it quick and easy to feed your pet easy at the end of a busy workday.

The kitchen scale can also be used to measure canned food by putting the feeding bowl on the scale using the tare button. The kitchen scale should be used if your pet’s daily portion is a little more or less than an easily measured amount like a ½ can at each meal.

Portion control will go a long way toward keeping your pet at their ideal body condition and healthy for a long time. If you need help deciding on the best kitchen scale for your kitchen, try Cook’s Illustrated.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


The Spleen: Do Dogs and Cats Really Need One?

August 29, 2011

Some weeks seem to have a medical theme. For me, this week’s theme is the spleen or, more accurately, the absence of one as I wrote earlier this week about the case of Walker. Many of my patients this week have had their spleen surgically removed, a procedure called a splenectomy.

The spleen is a dark red organ which resides in the abdomen and is loosely attached to the border of the stomach by a thin veil of tissue and blood vessels.

Outlined is a very large, but smooth spleen in a cat. This is due to a mast cell tumor.

In most pets, the spleen is about as long as their forearm. It functions as part of the immune system, helping the body to fight off infections and removing aged, non-functioning red blood cells from circulation. Neither dogs nor cats suffer long-term effects from the lack of a spleen, which is different than in humans. Humans without a spleen need to take special precautions to protect themselves from a serious infection.

Veterinarians don’t know the cause, but several different disorders affect the spleen and disturb its normal function. Some disorders require a splenectomy as part of the treatment.

The loose attachment of the spleen to the stomach can sometimes result in the need for an emergency splenectomy in a dog if the spleen twists around itself and blood flow to the organ is blocked. The lack of blood supply makes the dog acutely ill, and on examination the ER veterinarian will feel a very enlarged spleen. The cause of this disorder is unknown, but surgery is curative.

One of the normal functions of a spleen is to remove old red blood cells. In cats with an unusual and as of yet unexplained disease, red blood cells are cleared at a more rapid rate than normal, resulting in anemia and an enormously enlarged spleen. In this disease, known as increased osmotic fragility of erythrocytes, removal of the spleen benefits the cat by improving the anemia.

Outlined is a very large, but irregular spleen in a dog. This is due to hemophagocytic histocytic sarcoma.

Because dogs and cats tolerate removal of their spleens so well, splenectomy is a common treatment for tumors of the spleen. In dogs, the most common tumor of the spleen is hemangiosarcoma.

The x-ray of a dog’s abdomen (shown below) is typical of a dog with a rare splenic tumor called hemophagocytic histocytic sarcoma. The x-ray of a cat’s abdomen shows an enlarged spleen due to mast cell tumor, the most common spleen tumor in the cat.

Although removal of an organ is medically serious, a splenectomy often results in a dramatic improvement in a pet’s quality of life without long-term negative consequences.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


National Pet Fire Safety Day

July 18, 2011

Last Friday, July 15, 2011, was National Pet Fire Safety Day. When we hear about pets and fires in the home, we often think of the dog who awakens his owner, saving lives with a warning bark about a fire in the house.

But pets are also the victims of fire. According to Pet Safety Alert, 40,000 pets are killed in fires annually, most of them in residential fires.

Every year, The Animal Medical Center provides care to pets who have been trapped in burning buildings and rescued by New York’s bravest, our friends at the NYC Fire Department.

As a pet lover, you can take action to prevent pet-related fires and to protect your pet if there is a fire.

To help firefighters find all of your pets, the folks at ADT Home Security Systems offer a free window cling to alert firefighters to the presence of pets in the home. You can request one through their website.

Firefighters want to help pets suffering from smoke inhalation, but the oxygen masks designed for humans are not shaped to fit a pet’s nose. If you are feeling philanthropic, donate a pet oxygen mask to your local firefighting team.

Pet proofing your home can help to prevent a catastrophic fire. Candles are a huge danger for pets. A wagging tail can knock a candle off the coffee table and into a pile of flammable papers. My own cat, who had a big puffy tail, swished it over a lit candle and nearly went up in flames! Space heaters and backyard grills present a hazard, as they can easily be knocked over by a pet and start a fire.

To protect the entire family, make sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors have their batteries changed twice a year. A good time to change the batteries is when you change the clocks for daylight savings time in the spring and fall.

Like people, pets can suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning. If everyone in the family is ill and your pet is exhibiting the following signs, see your veterinarian and mention you are concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cough
  • Loss of exercise stamina
  • Disturbances in gait

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit http://www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Photo: iStockphoto


The Pen Cap May Be Mightier than the Sword…

July 15, 2011

But it can’t beat a bronchoscope!

Barcley

One thing I love about pets is their unpredictability. You just can never guess what they will do next. Here’s the story of Barcley, the French bulldog and the nearly fatal pen cap.

The beginning seemed innocent enough: a dog playing with a bright blue highlighter pen. Suddenly, he couldn’t breathe and his owners rushed him to The Animal Medical Center. Quick administration of oxygen and a sedative by the ER staff seemed to alleviate the breathing problem enough to allow a chest x-ray to be taken.

No one would have predicted the x-ray would show Barcley’s windpipe contained what looked like the cap of the bright blue highlighter!

Barcley’s chest x-ray. Arrows point to outline of pen cap in his windpipe.

The ER staff had to think quickly and cleverly. Barcley needed anesthesia and a bronchoscope to remove the highlighter pen cap, but the standard anesthetic plan of placing a breathing tube into the windpipe was out of the question; it was already full of the highlighter cap. To further complicate matters, Barcley is a brachycephalic (short nosed) dog, a type of dog known to have a greater risk of anesthetic complications.

Dr. Stacy Burdick of The AMC’s Internal Medicine Service was called in at 1:30 am to perform the procedure which took 20 minutes, but seemed like a lifetime. She placed a small rubber tube in the windpipe to deliver oxygen and administered an injectable anesthetic agent into Barcley’s vein. Dr. Burdick cautiously advanced the bronchoscope down Barcley’s windpipe. She was worried the windpipe could have been damaged as the cap went down, or worse, the windpipe could tear when she pulled it back up.

Pen cap in windpipe

On the right, you can see what Dr. Burdick saw when the cap came into view. The cap blocked the entire lumen of the windpipe. Knowing she had to work quickly to restore the delivery of oxygen to the lungs, she passed a special grabber device through the bronchoscope, grabbed the cap and gently pulled it gently out through the mouth as she pulled out the bronchoscope.

Barcley’s life was saved from the pen cap by the mighty bronchoscope and the skilled Dr. Burdick.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit http://www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Dogs and Cats as Diana and Orion, the Hunters

July 13, 2011

Photo: Hemera

Pet owners believe their well-fed, or more likely overfed, dog or cat should have no reason to hunt, but lately it seems my patients are on a hunting spree.

Most cat owners who allow their cats outside, become accustomed to freshly killed gifts of mice and other small rodents carefully placed as an offering on the back stoop. But this week the take has been much more substantial.

Take Francie, for example, a special needs Cavalier King Charles Spaniel on anti-seizure medication. Twice last week she captured an unidentifiable furry creature and dragged it in through the doggie door. One unfortunate victim was hauled into Francie’s crate and the other left with pride in the middle of the kitchen floor. Franice’s family was outwardly distressed over her behavior, but the diminutive “Diana” seemed pleased with her hunting success.

Dixie and Mabel, a pair of Labradors, have not been hunting because they are, of course retrievers! To their owners’ initial horror, they were about to retrieve what appeared to be a dead possum, when the possum stopped “playing possum” and safely scampered back into the woods.

The Orion of the group is Willie, a handsome black Standard Poodle. He was out romping in his yard when a fawn strolled by. He tackled the fawn and was immediately tackled by his owners, who saved the fawn and had it safely transferred to the care of a wildlife rehabilitator.

I can share all these stories with you because the pet owners called me; not to brag, but out of concern for their pet’s health. Most were concerned about the potential for rabies transmission from wildlife. This is a real concern for pet owners and just one very good reason for having your pet vaccinated for rabies. Rabies vaccines are very effective and rabies is very uncommon in vaccinated dogs and cats.

Another concern is for parasite which can be carried by wildlife and transmitted to your dog or cat. The Dianas and Orions need annual fecal examinations and routine year round parasite prevention as recommended by the Companion Animal Parasite Council.

These pet owners also called wondering how to handle injured wildlife. First, you should not attempt to touch or move injured wildlife as you may be bitten. In New York State, the Department of Environmental Conservation licenses wildlife rehabilitators who can provide assistance and care for injured wildlife. There is also a FAQ page with great information about wildlife in your yard.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Everything Old is New Again: Plague and Leprosy

July 7, 2011

Nine banded armadillo, which can carry leprosy, seen in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood at modern:ANTHOLOGY.

Last week there were two very interesting stories in the news about the intersection between people and animals. Both reported on diseases we rarely hear about anymore: plague and leprosy.

Leprosy is the older disease and has been reported since Biblical times. The first reported epidemic of plague occurred somewhat later, in the 6th or 7th century. Bubonic plague, or the Black Death, was the scourge of the Middle Ages.

Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yesinia pestis. The usual source of Y. pestis is the rat flea, but hunting pets can contract the plague from eating infected rodents or rabbits. Even though Y. pestis is predominantly found in California, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, cases can be seen throughout the country if a human or pet travels to one of these areas and contracts the disease before they return home. An infected pet can, in turn, infect humans. The possibility of plague transmission is one reason prairie dogs may not make the best pets.

The name bubonic comes from the word bubo, which is a fancy word for enlarged lymph node. Wikipedia shows an illumination from a medieval Bible of sinners afflicted with buboes.

Both humans and pets with bubonic plague have enlarged lymph nodes, which are painful. Fever, malaise and non–specific flu-like symptoms are typical for plague in both humans and pets. Although last week’s plague case occurred in a dog, in general, cats are more susceptible to plague than dogs.

Leprosy was in the news too; not because of a sick dog or cat, but because of armadillos. Those prehistoric-looking armored mammals carry the leprosy bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae. Most leprosy cases occur outside the United States, but cases occur in people who have not traveled outside the USA. This finding puzzled researchers until the DNA of the M. leprae was studied. Both armadillos and humans infected with M. leprae in the USA share the same unique strain of the bacteria. This bacterium is different from the strain of M. leprae found outside the USA. The New England Journal of Medicine article concluded humans can contract leprosy from infected armadillos.

To help protect yourself and your pet from contracting diseases of wildlife:

  • Keep your pet leashed or indoors to prevent contact with wild animals which can cause serious diseases.
  • Never approach, pet or handle wildlife even if they are acting friendly.
  • If your pet is sick, always tell your veterinarian where your pet has traveled and do the same when you visit your physician. It may be just the perfect clue to the diagnosis.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


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