July is Sarcoma Awareness Month

July 23, 2014
The wrist of a dog diagnosed with osteosarcoma.

The wrist of a dog diagnosed with osteosarcoma.

Both veterinary and human oncologists talk about three big families of cancer: carcinomas, sarcomas and tumors of the blood and lymphatic system. Carcinomas frequently originate from glands – like breast or prostate carcinomas. The most well-known tumors of the blood and immune system are leukemia and lymphoma. Sarcoma is a form of cancer arising from bones, tendons, muscles, nerves, joints, blood vessels and fat. Over 13,000 Americans were diagnosed with sarcoma in 2013. Sarcomas are rare in adults, but represent 15% of all childhood cancers.

Pets Get Sarcomas Too
Cancer registries for pets exist, but recording the types of cancer pets have is not mandatory as it is for human cancer diagnoses. Some information about the occurrence of sarcomas in pets has been published. In a survey of Greek dogs with skin cancer, 40% of the tumors were sarcomas, the two most common were mast cell tumors and fibrosarcoma. A study of American dogs found the mast cell tumor was the most common malignant tumor on this side of the Atlantic as well. An Italian tumor registry based out of Genoa found sarcomas occurred more commonly as a dog aged. Breed also influences the development of sarcomas. A survey of flat coated retrievers in the United Kingdom found 55% of malignant tumors and 26% of all tumors in this breed were sarcomas.

Common Dog Tumors with the Last Name Sarcoma
Osteosarcoma (bone sarcoma) is ten times more common in dogs than in humans. Large and giant breed dogs have a greater risk of developing osteosarcoma. In dogs, the tumor destroys the bone (see the above photograph) and to control pain, amputation is often recommended; although limb-sparing surgery and radiation therapy are also used to control pain. Coupling surgery or radiation with systemic chemotherapy helps to control the spread of osteosarcoma and thus prolongs survival.

Hemangiosarcoma is a tumor of blood vessels. Because the vessels are cancerous, they rupture easily and dogs with hemangiosarcoma frequently end up in the animal ER with catastrophic hemorrhage from a ruptured tumor in their spleen, liver or heart.

Soft tissue sarcomas include tumors whose name is a mouthful like hemangiopericytoma, or that sound like a more benign tumor, such as the nerve sheath tumor. Soft tissue sarcomas are a mixed group of tumors frequently of the skin and often lumped together because of a similar clinical course. These tumors send tentacles of tumor out into the surrounding tissue, making complete removal challenging. Successful surgical removal of a soft tissue sarcoma requires a much bigger incision than most dog owners expect in order to remove the tentacles. If residual tumor is left behind, these tumors commonly recur and may require radiation therapy to control.

Cat Tumors with the Same Last Name

An injection site sarcoma in a cat just prior to surgical removal.

An injection site sarcoma in a cat just prior to surgical removal.

An injection site sarcoma is a very specific type of sarcoma, most commonly found in cats where injections are administered, such as a vaccination or insulin injection. When these tumors develop on the nape of the neck (as in the photograph on the right) or on the hip, they are very difficult to completely remove and they recur much more frequently than soft tissue sarcomas of dogs. Most patients need follow up with radiation therapy, and because 25-40% of these tumors metastasize, chemotherapy as well.

Raising Sarcoma Awareness

  • Osteosarcoma causes bone pain and limping. Don’t assume your limping dog has a bum knee or weak ankles. Have your limping pet seen by your veterinarian.
  • Soft tissue sarcomas and injection site sarcomas often start as a skin lump. See your veterinarian for any lump that is enlarging over a month, is larger than 2 cm (3/4 inch) in diameter, or has been present for more than 3 months.
  • Sarcomas can often be diagnosed based on a fine needle aspirate. Help your veterinarian take the best care possible of your pet and allow this simple procedure if it is recommended.

Protect Your Pet Against Summertime Hazards

July 2, 2014

Keep Your Kitties Safe from these 10 Potential Toxins

June 11, 2014

Resources for Summer Pet Travel

June 4, 2014

traveling dogMemorial Day has passed, school will soon end, and then comes the annual family summer vacation–an event which now more than ever before includes the family pet. Because pets are not always welcome at hotels, parks and on public transportation, planning ahead for your furry friend will help make your summer vacation memorable for fun and not for travel headaches. Here are some tips and websites to help you plan the perfect pet holiday.

General Travel Tips
For a good overview of traveling with pets, try one of these sites:

Public Transportation
During the busy travel months of summer, finding a parking spot for your car can be difficult, making public transportation especially attractive. Petsweekly.com gives information on pet travel on trains and buses

Parks and Recreation
America’s National Parks have been called “our best idea” because they preserve the most spectacular natural wonders for all Americans, except pets. Because of their fragile ecosystems and the risk to pets’ safety from large predators such as coyotes, pets are only welcome in a limited number of National ParksPetfriendlytravel.com has information on the accessibility of state parks throughout the country.

Pet Friendly Hotels
Westin Hotels, W Hotels, Kimpton Hotels and a number of other hotel chains advertise pet friendly rooms. Be sure when you make a reservation to request a pet friendly room and also inquire about additional charges to have the pet stay in your room.

International Travel
Taking your pet on an international vacation requires the investigative powers of Sherlock Holmes and better planning than the D-day invasion of Normandy. Start your investigation with the United States Department of Agriculture’s website.

Pay close attention to the rules for export (taking your pet out of the USA) and import (getting your pet back into the USA). Also check the website of the country you plan to travel to on your vacation. Every country’s entry requirements for pets are different and your pet may need special paperwork, blood tests or vaccinations months in advance of the trip. If your trip stems from a job-related relocation, you may want to use a professional pet shipper to help you interpret and follow the travel guidelines. For more information about international travel with your pets, read our archived blog.

Here’s to safe travels for you and your four-footed companions this summer!


10 Warning Signs of Cancer in Pets

May 21, 2014

Bad Back, Good Friends

May 7, 2014
Tiko

Tiko

Tiko (right) first came to The Animal Medical Center after Reynaldo noticed his little buddy was not quite right. Over two days, Tiko lost control of his hind legs, and was referred to The AMC by our neighbors at the Humane Society. Tiko was first seen in The AMC’s ER by Dr. Carly Tichner and she immediately recognized the clinical signs of an intervertebral disc extrusion, colloquially known as a slipped disc. By the time Tiko came to the ER, the slipped disc was not only pressing on his spinal cord and affecting his ability to walk, it was pressing on the nerves giving sensation to his skin. The loss of sensation along a very well defined line in the skin helped Dr. Tichner determine the slipped disc occurred somewhere between the third thoracic vertebra and the third lumbar vertebrae.

Time is of the Essence
The longer a slipped disc goes uncorrected, the greater the damage to the spinal cord and if too much times goes by before the disc pressing on the spinal cord is removed, paralysis can be permanent. The AMC’s second year neurology resident, Dr. Vanessa Biegen, and staff neurologist, Dr. JP McCue, immediately took over Tiko’s case management and within 3 hours of his arrival at The AMC, had the little fellow in The AMC’s MRI machine, and shortly thereafter, onto the operating table to remove the slipped disc. As Dr. Tichner accurately predicted, the MRI identified a slipped disc between the eleventh and twelfth thoracic vertebrae! During the 75 minute surgery, Drs. Biegen and McCue found severe compression and hemorrhage of the spinal cord as a result of the slipped disc.

A Tail Wag = Good News
On afternoon rounds the day after surgery, Tiko wagged his tail for his neurologists and when they examined him, they found he had regained partial ability to move his hind legs! Within 8 weeks, Tiko was 90% back to his old self. To protect his back, Tiko has a new lifestyle – less roughhousing, more resting in his new favorite indoor dog house but according to his family he is once again the totally happy-go-lucky, loving and healthy little guy that he has always been, thanks to the dedicated doctors and staff at The AMC.

Grateful Words
Tiko’s successful surgery and recovery were possible because of the generosity of those who support the Neurology Patient Assistance Fund. Those ill or injured animals like Tiko who benefit from the fund must qualify medically and the pet family must qualify financially to receive this Community Fund-sponsored care. Tiko’s owner summed up his AMC experience this way, “It was definitely one of the toughest weeks I have ever been through, but everyone at The AMC was absolutely amazing. I was immediately impressed and reassured by everyone’s genuine concern for Tiko and knew that he would make it through and be okay. I feel extremely fortunate to have had access to the level of treatment and care provided by The AMC and to have been accepted by the community funds program.”


How Do Dogs’ Noses Work?

April 30, 2014
dog nose

Photo: Mark Watson

Dog noses have been in the news lately. Not just because dogs can sniff out a cracker crumb between the sofa cushions or because dogs smell the new bag of bacon strips through the closed pantry door, but because dog noses are being put to work in a very serious way.

For hundreds of years, dogs, like the Bloodhound, have been employed as search and rescue workers to find missing people after being given a whiff of the missing person’s clothing. Now medical sniffer dogs are being trained to diagnose cancer, detect low blood sugar and predict an epileptic seizure. Several features of dogs’ noses make their sense of smell better than our own.

Bigger is Better
CT scan of a dog's noseCompared to the size of their face, dogs have big noses – well most of them do. And, a bigger nose means they have more area for smell receptors. Inside the nasal passages, the dog has ruffles of tissue called turbinates which increase the surface area that accommodates their smell receptors. Compared to our 5 million, dogs have 300 million receptors on their nasal turbinates. The CT scan on the right shows the ruffles of tissue inside a dog’s nasal passages, and if you watch our video, you can see what turbinates actually look like when a rhinoscopy (nasal endoscopy) is performed.

Bidirectional Smelling
Take a look at your dog’s nose. Notice the nostrils have slits on the sides and the openings are a bit more to the side than directly out front. These features give your dog’s sense of smell directionality. New smells come in from the front and old smells go out through the side slits with exhalation, allowing new smells to constantly bathe the smell receptors.

More Brain Power
Because dogs’ sense of smell is their most highly developed sense, they devote an enormous amount of brain power to the act of smelling. Compared to our rudimentary sense of smell, there is 40 times more canine brain power dedicated to smelling, which allows dogs to differentiate 30,000 to 100,000 different smells. Our repertoire of smells is only 4,000 to 10,000 different smells.

For more about these scent-sitive dogs, watch my interview on Fox5 News with Liz Dahlem.


Hairball Awareness Day 2014

April 23, 2014

This Friday, April 25, 2014 is Hairball Awareness Day. Most of us think of hairballs left for us by our pet cats as an annoyance, found typically between the bedroom and the bathroom. Their peak occurrence is somewhere around 3am and appear only when you have bare feet. As annoying as hairballs are to us, to pets they can actually cause a surgical emergency. Here to prove it is my patient Toby.

Toby clipped

Toby after having his fur clipped

Toby is an eight year old long-haired cat, but in this photo you can see he has been clipped, thanks to a hairball emergency. The second photo shows him with a full coat. Toby’s story starts with a voice change and trouble breathing. In addition, his owner noticed Toby had not been eating well and was not grooming himself. A visit to The Animal Medical Center emergency room found a tumor on his larynx. Ultimately Toby’s diagnosis was lymphoma of the larynx, readily explaining his voice change and respiratory difficulties. Because the tumor was also obstructing the opening to his esophagus, a soft food diet was prescribed, instead of his normal crunchy hairball prevention formula.

Toby at home

Toby at home

A few days later, Toby started chemotherapy. Within days he could meow, was breathing and eating well and resumed his normal grooming routine. But just before his fourth chemotherapy treatment, Toby vomited up a six inch long hairball and initially seemed to be fine, however, on the day of his chemotherapy appointment, he vomited twice and we began to worry about a hairball obstruction since Toby seemed painful when we examined his abdomen. An abdominal ultrasound confirmed the presence of a hairball obstruction. Surgeons at The AMC discovered a hairball blocking his small intestine and removed it. Toby recovered uneventfully and resumed chemotherapy once he recovered from surgery.

Today, Toby is back on his hairball prevention diet, has completed chemotherapy and is enjoying a complete remission of his cancer. Whenever we sedate him to evaluate his larynx, we clip his fur to prevent another hairball emergency.

How to avoid a hairball crisis in your pet:

  • Feed your pet food or treats designed to move hairballs efficiently through the intestine.
  • Brush, brush and brush your pet daily.
  • Use a deshedding tool to efficiently remove loose hairs before your pet swallows them.
  • Use caution when removing hair mats as scissors can cut the underlying skin if the mat is tightly adhered.
  • Consider a professional grooming if your pet is severely matted.

Rat-Bite Fever and Pet Rats: How Concerned Should We Be?

April 16, 2014
Photo: freeinfosociety.com

Photo: freeinfosociety.com

The recent report of a 10-year-old boy that died from rat-bite fever in San Diego has raised concerns about the risk of contracting this disease from pet rats. The family of the child is suing Petco, where they bought a pet rat two weeks before the boy died after a 48-hour illness characterized by flu-like symptoms. This incident has brought into discussion the rare but real risk of this zoonotic disease, which is caused by two different bacteria that are carried by rats. The type of rat-bite fever that is most common in North America is caused by Streptobacillus moniliformis. Another form of rat-bite fever is caused by Spirillum minus and occurs primarily in Asia. Rats can carry both bacteria as part of the normal flora of their respiratory tract. Because of this, rats do not usually exhibit any outward signs of illness from these bacteria. People are infected with the bacteria through rat bites or exposure to urine, feces or saliva of rats that carry the organism.

Illness after the bite of a rat has been described for thousands of years in Asia in poor populations that are exposed to wild rats. With the increased use of large numbers of laboratory rats in the last century, this disease has been seen most often in laboratory animal workers in the US, as well as in poor populations. However, the growth of the pet industry and the increased popularity of fancy pet rats in the last 30 years have shifted the disease incidence so that now more than 50% of the cases in the United States are seen in children. Rat-bite fever is not a reportable disease in the US, so the actual number of cases that occur annually is unknown. However, the incidence of the disease in the US is very low, and death from rat-bite fever is also rare. The cases that are known are those that are documented in the medical literature. To complicate matters, the clinical signs of rat-bite fever in people are nonspecific, and the tests to isolate or identify the organisms involved are not routine. Often, a history of exposure to a rat, in combination with the clinical signs, is the clue that doctors use to suspect rat-bite fever in patients, and then diagnosis is based on specific testing methods. If the disease is suspected or diagnosed, treatment with antibiotics is curative in most cases. A good review of this disease is available – see Rat Bite Fever and Streptobacillus moniliformis.

So what is the risk of this disease if you or your children have a pet rat? Fancy rats are very popular as easy to maintain, social and gentle pets. They are common children’s pets but also have an avid following among adults who can’t afford or don’t have the lifestyle suitable for a dog or cat. Fancy rats are widely available from both pet stores and private breeders in different colors, sizes and conformations. However, few, if any of the pet rats sold are tested for the bacteria that cause rat-bite fever. The prevalence of the bacteria in rats can vary, from as few as 10% to as many as 100% of rats in a breeding colony or laboratory that are infected. Any pet rat can carry these organisms, but the risk of actually contracting the disease from the rat is very low.

What should you do? As with any animal that carries a risk of zoonotic disease, hand-washing after handling is of utmost importance. Using either soap-and-water or an alcohol-based hand cleanser after handling the pet rat and cleaning the cage is mandatory. Children should be instructed to always wash their hands after playing with the pet and to always tell parents about any bites that occur when handling the pet. Owners of pet rats should immediately report unexplained fevers, illness or rashes to their healthcare provider. Specialized screening tests to see if your pet rat is a carrier of S. moniliformis are available from veterinarians, but make sure you call ahead to see which veterinarians provide this test, as it is not routinely offered.

This blog was written by:
Katherine Quesenberry, DVM, MPH, DABVP (Avian)
Head, Avian and Exotic Pet Service

The Animal Medical Center


Dogs Get Cirrhosis? Cats Get Lung Cancer?

April 9, 2014

cat and dogFrom a medical perspective, we are not that different from our pets. Humans, dogs and cats have many diseases in common and the treatments for these diseases are often strikingly similar. Diabetes in pets is treated with a special diet and insulin injections; radioactive iodine therapy is used to treat feline hyperthyroidism; and dogs with heart disease receive diuretics (water pills) and ACE inhibitors. Despite these similarities, disease in our pets is not always the same as it is in humans.

Dogs Get Cirrhosis?
In people, cirrhosis of the liver is most often associated with alcoholism, or hepatitis virus infection. Since dogs don’t drink (or they shouldn’t) and the hepatitis virus is a human virus which does not infect dogs, how do dogs get cirrhosis? The diagnosis of cirrhosis does not imply a cause and the cause in dogs differs from humans. Cirrhosis is a liver disorder in which the liver loses its normal structure and function as a result of chronic inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, causes replacement of normal liver cells with scar tissue and destroying their function. If enough of the liver is damaged, dogs show signs of liver failure: jaundice, accumulation of abdominal fluid (ascites) and a bleeding tendency. Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels and West Highland White Terriers are breeds with an increased risk for developing liver inflammation and cirrhosis. The inciting cause of the inflammation in dogs remains a mystery.

Lung Cancer in Nonsmokers?
The number one cause of lung cancer in humans is cigarette smoking. Since pets don’t smoke, why do they get lung cancer? Veterinarians don’t know exactly. Studies evaluating the impact of the home environment on dogs with lung cancer did not find an association with either living in an urban or a rural environment. We know secondhand smoke affects pets, increasing their risk of lymphoma and oral squamous cell carcinoma, but secondhand smoke has not yet been linked to lung cancer in dogs and cats. If you smoke, don’t do so near your pet; better yet, quit.

But What About Heart Attacks?
Heart attacks, a leading cause of sudden death in the United States, occur when the blood flow to the heart is abruptly blocked. Most heart attacks are the result of high cholesterol and blockage of the coronary arteries which supply blood to the heart muscle. Dogs and cats do not develop coronary artery disease as a result of high cholesterol, and thus do not have heart attacks like their human companions. However, since heart attacks often cause sudden death, grieving families frequently blame a heart attack when their pet dies unexpectedly. Heart disease in pets can be a cause of sudden death due to abnormal heart rhythms, ruptured heart valves and bleeding tumors of the heart.

To read more on disease affecting pets and people, read some of our previous blog posts.


Making a Specialist Visit Special

April 2, 2014
A French bulldog is examined by AMC's Ophthalmologist

A French bulldog is examined by AMC’s Ophthalmologist

Your pet needs a second opinion from a board certified veterinary specialist and your veterinarian has helped you set up the appointment with the right specialist. You know this is going to be different than seeing the familiar veterinarian you have trusted with your pet’s care since you brought him home from the shelter in a cardboard carrier. How can you make this nerve-wracking experience efficient and affect the best possible outcome for you and your pet?

Look at a consultation with a veterinary specialist at The Animal Medical Center or another specialty hospital like you do any other meeting. If you are running a meeting at your office, you will be sure the right people are invited to attend the meeting; the meeting will have an agenda agreed upon in advance; it will have a start and stop time and meeting attendees will be assigned tasks to complete after the meeting is over. All of these points also describe your appointment with a veterinary specialist.

The Right Attendees
I am a veterinarian and my job is to take care of sick pets. To me, your pet is a critical participant in the specialist consultation. While your role of transporting your pet to the appointment and being its spokesperson is also crucial, I really need to examine your pet and see first-hand the problems that need correcting. You would be surprised at how many people come to see me without their pet. If you choose to leave your pet at home and fly solo at a consultation with me, I can guarantee one of your tasks after the meeting will be to bring your pet to The AMC for an examination.

Specialist Agenda
A veterinary specialist has been trained to approach patients with a basic agenda:

  • Ask about the past history and review any documentation from the primary care veterinarian
  • Perform a physical examination
  • Make a list of possible diagnoses
  • Create a list of tests to determine which diagnosis is the correct one
  • Interpret the test results once they become available

Pet owners can streamline that agenda by having medical records, x-rays and blood tests sent in advance of the scheduled consultation.

Pet Owner Agenda
Simply put, the pet owner agenda for a specialist consult revolves around one of three issues: making a diagnosis, treating a disease or improving the quality of life. For some pet owners there may be other issues that are equally important, such as having the pet attend a family function. If there is an important issue for you and your pet, be sure to let the specialist know what it is and how you feel this issue might impact the recommended diagnostic and therapeutic plan.

The To-Do List
At the end of the consultation, the specialist or a member of their team will explain the plan for your pet. It might be to give medications or schedule a follow up test at your veterinarian’s office. Following the plan exactly and scheduling tests or treatments on time will help get your pet back on its feet as soon as possible. And having a healthy pet is what makes any visit to the veterinarian’s office special.


Medicine By the Numbers

March 26, 2014
Dr. Ann Hohenhaus

Dr. Ann Hohenhaus

We all rely on numbers to help us make decisions. The stock market is above 16,000; time to sell. Your chance of winning the Powerball Jackpot with a two dollar ticket is one in 175 million, but it’s only two dollars so you buy yet another losing ticket. One in four Americans dies of heart disease every year; more exercise and less butter for you. In my line of work, veterinary medicine, quoting numbers is not nearly as easy.

I have been struggling with a particularly complicated cancer case the past few weeks. After hours of discussion and many more of pondering the options, a clear plan has emerged for this patient. And then the client asked the number one question: “What are the chances my pet will benefit from this procedure?” Having never been much of a math whiz or very successful at gambling, explaining the concept of odds is difficult. The odds of A versus B are calculated from a large group of patients with the same disease. But when I am talking about Fluffy or Fido, it becomes harder to predict the outcome for an individual patient. In some ways it’s a 50-50 coin toss. Your pet gets better or it doesn’t. Because medicine rarely has 100% certainty, no doctor, human or animal, will ever guarantee a 100% chance of success. Even with a 99.9% chance of success, there will be some patients who do not have the desired outcome after the test, treatment or surgery is completed.

An article in last week’s New York Times ‘Science Section’ written by a physician, numbers and their connection to disease appear again. Dr. Abigail Zuger writes about using a reasoned numerical approach (“30 percent of people with your problem of X will develop Y”). Yet, she writes, “many studies (and all casinos and lotteries) illustrate how abysmal is the average person’s understanding of risk when couched in mathematical terms.” Her patients have a hard time grasping the importance of risk factors on their future health or as she calls them “pre-diseases.”

If two medical professionals have difficulty using numbers in their daily practice, then how can people or pet owners make well-informed decisions on healthcare matters?

  1. Preventing disease is much easier (and cheaper) than correcting a problem. If your veterinarian gives you numbers on preventing disease, pay close attention. For example, obesity quadruples your dog’s risk of cruciate ligament rupture. Getting your dog’s weight down saves money two ways – you buy less food and your dog doesn’t need an expensive reconstructive knee surgery.
  2. There are actually some medical conditions that doctors can predict the outcome with reasonable certainty; for example, diabetes. Without administration of insulin, which is deficient in dogs and cats with diabetes, your pet will die of high blood sugar within days.
  3. Since not all diseases come with certainty of outcome like diabetes, think about quality of life. If your pet’s current problem is decreasing their quality of life, consider a treatment to improve it. Keep in mind this is where numbers can become overwhelming and sometimes a decision is made based on your heart rather than your head.

Canine and Feline Heartworms: The Long and Skinny for Pet Owners

March 21, 2014
Photo: American Heartworm Society

Photo: American Heartworm Society

Just in time for spring, the American Heartworm Society has released its updated 2014 Canine and Feline Guidelines for treatment and prevention of heartworm disease. We always think about heartworms in the spring because they are spread by mosquitoes that become active at this time of year. These days, with global warming and urban heat islands, mosquitoes have expanded their season and their territory; the American Heartworm Society has amended its guidelines to provide up-to-date recommendations for your dog and cat 

Treat Your Dog Year-Round with a Heartworm Preventative
This recommendation is designed to offer your dog maximum protection against heartworms, with minimal effort on your part. Heartworm disease is a serious and life-threatening illness in dogs. Although treatment of the disease can be successful, it is far more prudent for pet owners to administer a medication that is safe and simple than to treat a dog that has contracted the disease. Here at The AMC in NYC, where we have experienced a more severe winter than in recent years, there is clearly not a mosquito around to spread heartworms. However, I have recently signed many health certificates for travel to warmer, mosquito filled climates. If these patients are on year round heartworm medication, their families have one less travel worry in preparation for a trip down south.

Get Your Dog an Annual Heartworm Test
Most cases of canine heartworms can be diagnosed using less than a teaspoon of blood and an in-clinic test. Annual heartworm screening can detect infections early, before the cardiopulmonary system has been damaged due to the presence of heartworms within the heart and the blood vessels of the lungs. Early diagnosis gives your dog the best chance of recovering from a heartworm infection.

Don’t Think of Your Cat as a Small Dog When it Comes to Heartworms
Cats are susceptible to heartworm infection, but less so than dogs and they tend to have fewer worms than dogs do; however, given the small size of cats, a few worms is enough to cause serious heart and lung disease. Heartworms persist in cats for 2-3 years and then they die. When adult heartworms die, that is when they are most dangerous for your cat. Dead heartworms can cause blood clots to form in the lungs which can be fatal. Prevention of heartworm infection in cats is critical since the Heartworm Society reports there is no treatment that prolongs survival of cats diagnosed with adult heartworms. Cats can take a monthly heartworm preventative, just like dogs do.

Follow These Simple Rules

  1. Test your dog annually for heartworms. Any dog over 7 months of age is old enough to have contracted the disease.
  2. Talk to your veterinarian about which type of heartworm preventative—pills, topical or injectable—is best for your pet’s lifestyle.
  3. Give heartworm preventative on schedule. A late dose can result in heartworm infection.
  4. Avoid taking your pet out at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active, and keep them away from standing water where mosquitoes breed or tall grass where they reside.

Want more information about heartworms? Read these previous posts:


Adrenal Gland Yin and Yang

March 5, 2014

puppy-yinyangLast week was a big week for adrenal gland disorders at The Animal Medical Center. Not one, but three dogs were admitted by The Animal Medical Center’s 24-hour Emergency Service with a diagnosis of Addison’s disease, or hypoactivity of the adrenal gland. Additionally, I evaluated two of my patients for adrenal gland hyperactivity, or Cushing’s disease.

Small but Mighty
Adrenal glands are tiny organs, one sits atop of each kidney. The normal width of a dog’s adrenal gland is less than half an inch. In cats, adrenal glands are half that size. Small compared to the liver or kidneys, these glands are powerhouses pumping out an array of hormones critical to maintaining normal homeostasis. Because the adrenal glands produce so many different hormones, either condition hypo- or hyperactivity can cause a wide variety of serious clinical signs. The hormone most important in Cushing’s and Addison’s disease is cortisol.

Poodle Problem
Two of last week’s ER patients with Addison’s disease were poodles. This was no coincidence. Addison’s disease is inherited in the Standard Poodle and also the Portuguese Water Dog, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and the Bearded Collie. Cats very rarely develop Addison’s disease. What is strange about the dogs at AMC is the diagnosis of Addison’s disease in three dogs in one week, since the prevalence of the disease in dogs is thought to be 0.6-0.28% of all dogs. Dogs with Addison’s disease have vague, nonspecific clinical signs such as vomiting and diarrhea. One reason your veterinarian performs blood tests when your dog has vomiting and diarrhea is to identify the characteristically low blood concentrations of sodium and chloride and the high concentration of potassium, classic for a diagnosis of Addison’s disease. The consequences of missing a diagnosis of Addison’s disease are dire. Dogs become progressively dehydrated and the potassium climbs to levels which can stop the heart from beating. The AMC ER has a machine which can test blood concentrations of sodium and potassium in minutes, speeding the diagnosis of Addison’s disease.

Too Much Water; Too Much Pressure
The adrenal glands of dogs with Cushing’s disease produce too much of the hormone cortisol, either because of an adrenal tumor or because the pituitary gland in the brain forgets to tell the adrenal glands to stop producing cortisol. The two patients I evaluated for Cushing’s disease had different medical problems. One dog had an increased amount of protein in her urine, high blood pressure, and an elevated liver test. All three disorders are known to occur as a result of Cushing’s disease. The other dog was drinking too much water and having accidents in the house — two more signs of Cushing’s disease. Neither dog had hair loss, but it is another common problem we see in dogs with an overactive adrenal gland. Cushing’s disease, like Addison’s disease, is rare in cats.

Giving and Taking Away
Treatment for these two opposite diseases is opposite! For Addison’s disease we give hormones, and for Cushing’s disease we take the hormones away by suppressing the adrenal glands. Dogs with Addison’s disease respond rapidly to either oral or injectable forms of the missing adrenal hormones. Treatment of dogs with Cushing’s disease takes a month or two, while oral medications are adjusted to individualize the dose for each dog.

Recognizing the Yin and Yang of Adrenal Gland Disease in Your Dog
Even though Cushing’s disease is more commonly seen than Addison’s disease, both diseases can be readily diagnosed with blood tests. Your veterinarian will suggest testing if your dog is showing the following signs:

Cushing’s Disease

  • Excessive drinking and urinating
  • Hair loss on the trunk
  • Elevated liver tests
  • High blood pressure
  • Protein in the urine
  • Pot-bellied appearance

Addison’s Disease

  • Waxing/waning vomiting and diarrhea
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • High blood potassium
  • Low blood sodium and chloride

The [Veterinary] World is Flat

February 26, 2014

digital x-raysThe title of this blog takes its name from author and New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman’s bestselling book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. The book’s thesis explains globalization in the 21st century as a result of wide accessibility to personal computers and fiber optic cables which make communication via email and information gathering via the internet nearly instantaneous. This form of globalization renders geographic divisions between countries irrelevant.

Friedman describes “ten flatteners” including: the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Netscape and workflow software. My own observations of the world of veterinary medicine indicate that it is not much different than the global economy Friedman describes in his book. Paying tribute to the Pulitzer Prize winner Friedman, here are my veterinary flatteners.

A New Workflow
Digital radiography has changed the workflow of daily veterinary practice. In the pre-computer days, each x-ray was a piece of film, not easily copied and very easily misplaced. Now The AMC and many other veterinary hospitals have switched to using digital radiography, using a machine that looks like a regular x-ray machine but which takes digital images similar to those taken with your smart phone. These x-rays can’t be lost because the images are stored in a picture archiving and communication system (PACS). The image files are very large, but can be transported by burning them onto a CD or transferring them through any number of file sharing systems.

Electronic Medical Records
As it has revolutionized the global economy, the personal computer is revolutionizing veterinary practice. Electronic medical records systems (EMRS) allow rapid dissemination of medical information between specialists and primary care veterinarians. I can write a letter to a patient’s primary care veterinarian after I have completed my consultation with their patient. Through the magic of the EMRS, I can have the letter in that veterinarian’s inbox for his/her review before the pet has returned home.

Board Certification
Twenty-five years ago when I started the process of becoming a board certified veterinary oncologist, there were only about 25 veterinary oncologists in the world. The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine now has certified over 300 oncology diplomates and there is a European College of Veterinary Internal Medicine which certifies oncologists as well. Board certified specialists all over the world form a healthcare network that trades patients back and forth when pet owners relocate or go on vacation, just as I described in a previous blog: “Clea’s International Healthcare Team.” Since veterinary oncologists and other specialists have expanded their reach worldwide, specialist veterinary care no longer has geographic boundaries.

Multinational Veterinary Companies
Specialists are not the only international flatteners. Because international companies provide veterinary products and services, veterinary specialists can access information about pets seen by a veterinarian practicing on a different continent! Take for example my patient Gigi. She came to The AMC from Kuwait, but because the biopsy of her tumor was sent to the European branch of the same laboratory used by The AMC, I was able to ask additional questions about the biopsy result. The biopsy sample was retrieved from storage and then reviewed by a pathologist in Europe. The answers to my questions were sent via email.

Real Time Communication
The internet has changed the face of veterinary education. Today, veterinarians no longer have to travel to earn continuing education credits necessary to maintain their licenses. Continuing education comes to them though their computers. This year, the keynote speaker addresses at the annual Veterinary Cancer Society Meeting were streamed live to members unable to attend. Additionally, several internet based companies offer on-demand veterinary continuing education opportunities.

The veterinary world is indeed flat and that means your pet can get excellent veterinary care from a veterinarian in your neighborhood or from a specialist somewhere a long way from home!


When Life Gives You Lemons, You Need a Buddy

February 20, 2014

gray tabbyTracy and her 14 year old grey tabby, Baller, have experienced a few bumps in the road this past year. In April, Tracy noticed Baller, named after a rap song, was defecating outside his litter box. He also had diarrhea, but he didn’t seem very sick since he was eating well and was his usual playful self. Her neighborhood veterinarian examined Baller and found two pounds of weight loss. Tracy thought she could breathe easier when she heard the blood tests were normal, but an abdominal ultrasound revealed Baller had colon cancer.

Minimally Invasive Testing
Tracy brought Baller to The Animal Medical Center for a consultation with one of our board certified oncologists. Baller’s oncologist, Dr. Maria Camps, explained the most common type of cancer in cats is lymphoma, and recommended a minimally invasive approach to diagnosis since lymphoma is treated with chemotherapy, not surgery. Ultrasonography was used to direct a small needle into the colon tumor and retrieve cells from the tumor. Within hours, Tracy found out she and Baller were facing an uphill battle against lymphoma. The anticipated survival time for a cat with lymphoma treated with chemotherapy is less than one year.

Chemotherapy Helps
Dr. Camps actually gave Tracy so much hope, and Dr. Mollica, Baller’s regular veterinarian and a former AMC intern, was also very supportive. These two veterinarians really gave Tracy that extra oomph she needed to continue Baller’s treatment. Ms. Koch says, “I knew the chemo was working almost immediately. Right after his first treatment he was feeling better again. He is one to make it known when he has issues by hiding under the bed, not eating and not able to use the bathroom. But, it was amazing that right after his first treatment he was back to his normal routine. I thought it [the chemotherapy] would help a bit, but I didn’t realize how much better it would make him feel. He was like a whole new cat, which makes me sad because who knows how long he was feeling bad before he really started to show it.”

About one third of the way through his prescribed course of chemotherapy, and just when Baller’s cancer seemed to be in control, a roadblock obstructed the path to further cancer treatments; Tracy was laid off.

Buddy Fund Helps Out
This is where the Buddy Fund comes in to assist Tracy and Baller. The Buddy Fund, one of AMC’s Community Funds, was established to provide financial support for AMC patients with cancer whose owners could otherwise not afford to treat their four-footed family members. The name of the Buddy Fund has a double meaning. The original donors to the fund had a very special cat named Buddy and the fund acts as a “buddy” to owners of pets with cancer. Baller’s oncologist recommended him for the fund because he was responding exceptionally well to the prescribed course of chemotherapy. Discontinuation of treatment would put him at high risk for relapse of his cancer.

Thanks to the Buddy Fund and its generous supporters, Baller completed his chemotherapy protocol just before Thanksgiving and without missing a single treatment. At his most recent follow up appointment he was given a thumbs up because no tumors were detected during the examination. Going forward, Baller will continue to be monitored for tumor recurrence. As the one year anniversary of his diagnosis approaches, everyone has their fingers crossed for Baller. Tracy looks forward to a time when she is employed again and can be a “buddy” to another deserving cat through a contribution to AMC’s Buddy Fund.


Heart Healthy Tests for Pets

February 13, 2014

In addition to being National Pet Dental Health Month, February is American Heart Month. Veterinary patients suffer from heart disease, although coronary artery disease, which is common in people, doesn’t occur in dogs and cats. Even so, cardiologists at The Animal Medical Center use a variety of diagnostic tests to determine if their patients have heart problems requiring treatment.

Auscultation
The stethoscope has been around since the early 1800s when it was invented by French physician René Laennec. Every veterinarian has a stethoscope and they use their stethoscopes to determine the heart rate, heart rhythm and heart sounds. Abnormal heart sounds, also known as murmurs, may be “innocent” or of no concern. Innocent murmurs are most commonly heard in pediatric patients. In adult dogs and cats, the development of a heart murmur typically indicates leaky heart valves. If your veterinarian hears a heart murmur, consultation with a board certified veterinary cardiologist for additional testing may be recommended by your primary care veterinarian.

Electrocardiogram
An electrocardiogram measures the electrical impulses produced by the heart. The recording is a graphic representation of the heart’s rate and rhythm. The normal heart rate varies depending on whether your pet is a dog or cat. Cats have a higher heart rate than dogs, and small dogs tend to have a higher heart rate than large dogs. A normal heart beats regularly. Heartbeats that occur at irregular intervals, called an arrhythmia, indicate heart disease and often land a pet in the animal ICU for emergency treatment by a veterinary cardiologist to correct the abnormal rhythm. Pets with serious abnormal rhythms may be very weak, faint and in rare cases, die suddenly.

This chest x-ray of a cat shows an enlarged heart and fluffy white patches in the lungs typical of pulmonary edema.

This chest x-ray of a cat shows an enlarged heart and fluffy white patches in the lungs typical of pulmonary edema.

Chest X-rays
Radiographs or x-rays show the size of your pet’s heart and the surrounding lungs. Enlarged hearts can occur with diseases of the heart muscle or as a result of leaky heart valves. When the valves are extremely leaky or the heart muscle becomes very weak, heart failure occurs. Heart failure allows fluid to build up in the lungs. This buildup of fluid, called pulmonary edema, can be seen on an x-ray as fluffy white patches in the normally black lungs.

Echocardiogram
An echocardiogram uses sound waves to create a real-time moving image of the heart as it beats inside the chest. The sound waves are created and recorded via a probe placed on the chest over the heart. As the probe is moved, different parts of the heart come into view. The computer inside the echocardiography machine is able to precisely measure the thickness of the heart walls, the valves and measure the rate of blood flow throughout the heart given your pet’s cardiologist an exact measure of how well all components of the heart are functioning. An echocardiogram is used to diagnose nearly all forms of dog and cat heart disease, including the most common form of heart disease in dogs, leaky valves, and in cats, heart muscle disorders.

Brain Natiuretic Peptide (BNP)
If your veterinarian recommends a BNP test as part of a cardiac evaluation, she has not lost her mind. Although the name seems just plain wrong for a heart test, BNP is actually a small hormone produced by the heart. Production increases when the heart muscle is excessively stretched, as in cases of heart failure. Sometimes the clinical signs of heart failure overlap with the signs other diseases causing breathing difficulties, including heart failure and pneumonia. This blood test provides a non-invasive method to help differentiate between cardiac and non-cardiac causes of respiratory problems. This test is most useful when combined with the other tests mentioned previously.

What can you do to have a heart healthy pet?

  • Keep in mind no test is perfect. It may take a battery of tests to determine your pet’s cardiac condition.
  • Excessive coughing or breathing difficulty in your pet should be evaluated immediately by a veterinarian.
  • Packing on the pounds puts extra stress on the heart. Keep your pet in ideal condition.

AMC Resident Research Abstract Presentations

January 15, 2014

veterinary researchJust before Christmas, The Animal Medical Center held its annual residents research abstract presentations. As part of their specialty training, residents are expected to design, execute and report on research in their area of clinical specialty, and this mini-conference provided a forum for exchange of the knowledge gained from research between members of The AMC medical staff. The AMC performs a very specific type of research – clinical research. This means we study diagnostic testing, new treatments and procedures in the patients we care for as part of our effort to improve the health and well-being of our patients. We do not test or treat any animal for the sake of “research.”

Caspary Research Institute
Research at The AMC is not new; when The AMC moved uptown in the 1960’s from Lafayette Street to its present location, a decision was made to locate the new veterinary research institute right in the middle of the Upper East Side’s strong human-focused biomedical community. The AMC became the fifth biomedical institution in the neighborhood, joining The Rockefeller University, Cornell University Medical College, Sloan-Kettering Institute and Memorial Hospital for Cancer and Allied Diseases. Early architectural drawings of the AMC building show a sign on the north side of the building saying, “Caspary Research Institute.” When The AMC opened on 62nd Street, research and patient care were its main focus areas.

Short and Sweet
From a research point of view, an abstract is a very short presentation – 12 minutes, followed by a 3 minute question and answer period. Resident research abstract presentations are commonly preliminary reports which allow discussion of data and help formulate the interpretation of results prior to the writing of a manuscript for publication. Because the information presented was preliminary, I have a few interesting tidbits to report.

Lookalike Medicines
One study evaluated treatment of cognitive dysfunction in dogs with an anti-seizure medication compared to dogs treated with a placebo. In order to help veterinarians and owners make an unbiased assessment of patient response to the actual medication, our colleagues at Best Pet Rx Pharmacy made every dog’s medication look exactly the same. No one could tell which dogs were getting the medication being studied and which dogs were getting placebo pills. This is called double blind study design. Double blind because two people, the patient and the researcher, don’t know the treatment group assignment because it is hidden by the look-a-like pills.

Challenge of Science
Most research projects do not proceed exactly as planned. A study of ICU patients was designed to follow the effects of treatment on dogs with low blood protein (hypoalbuminemia). Dogs were to have a blood sample prior to treatment and 48 hours later. The study did not meet the enrollment target. Why? Despite an impression that dogs stayed in ICU longer than 48 hours, most dogs did not stay that long and fewer dogs than projected entered the study. Of course, we were happy your dogs went home earlier than expected, which was a scientific finding on its own.

Changing Protocol
The AMC’s ICU patients often need to be fed intravenously. We use a commercially available product called Procalamine. This product provides amino acids, the building blocks of protein and glycerin, as a source of glucose for energy. One emergency critical care resident studied patients receiving Procalamine as part of their treatment protocol. Patients receiving Procalamine through a catheter in their leg had more inflammation of the blood vessel than patients who get Procalamine through other, larger blood vessels. Although the directions for Procalamine indicate it can be given in the legs, we now will try and avoid this whenever the patient’s condition allows it.

Helping Pets Everywhere
These types of studies enable AMC veterinarians to improve the level of care for your pet. Through the publications that will result from these and other studies performed here, the knowledge will improve the care of pets everywhere.


CT Versus MRI: Battle of the Big Machines

January 8, 2014

Veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center depend on high tech equipment to make diagnoses and monitor treatment success. Two commonly used pieces of high tech equipment are the CAT scan or CT (Computed Tomography) and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Often, if I recommend a CT, pet owners will ask if an MRI would be better. I checked with one of AMC’s board certified radiologists, Dr. Anthony Fischetti, to help dispel any myths about which test is the best. He says “both are equally as good, but which test is used depends on the body part being imaged and the type of resolution required to optimally image that body part.”

Big Machines at AMC
Computed tomography was introduced to human medicine in the 1970s. The AMC acquired its first CT scanner about 10 years later and is currently using its third scanner, a high-powered 64-slice CT scanner. Magnetic resonance imaging became commercially available in the 1980s and The AMC installed its first MRI machine in 2002 and upgraded that machine in 2006 for a more powerful model. To give you a comparison of the frequency of use of these tests, in 2007, a total of 73 million CT scans were performed on humans. In 2013, 700 CT scans and 600 MRI exams were performed – just at The AMC!

CT reconstruction of the skull of a dog with a jaw tumor

CT reconstruction of the skull of a dog with a jaw tumor

Starting at the Top
Imaging the head is a particularly good example of why we need both a CT scanner and an MRI machine at The AMC. The brain is composed of soft tissue and the boney skull is clearly hard tissue. When our neurologists want an image of the brain to determine the cause of seizures, they choose an MRI because it produces images with exquisite detail of soft tissues comprising the brain. An MRI can show minute changes in both types of brain tissue, the grey and white matter. But if an internal medicine specialist suspects the cause of a bloody nose to be a tumor in the nasal passages, they choose a CT scan, not only for its speed, but for its ability to show changes in the bones composing the nose and nasal passages. Because computed tomography is part computer, the images it creates are easily manipulated into a variety of views and even three dimensional reconstructions. The image you see to the right shows a reconstruction of the skull of a dog with a jaw tumor.

CT Goes with the Flow
CT scan is a form of x-ray and can detect a special contrast agent when the agent is administered intravenously. Using an intravenous contrast agent during a CT scan (CT angiography) helps veterinarians identify abnormal blood vessels in the liver – a common congenital disorder in small breed dogs – or determine, prior to surgery, if a tumor has breached a major blood vessel. Armed with this information, surgeons can better plan their approach before they get to the operating room.

MRI image of a  heart tumor in a dog using a contrast agent

MRI image of a heart tumor in a dog using a contrast agent

MRI has a Heart
MRI also uses intravenous contrast agents to differentiate various soft tissues in the body. The MRI image you see on the right shows a tumor of the heart in a dog following administration of a contrast agent.

Your Pet and the Big Machines
Here are some tips for pet owners whose pets require a CT scan or MRI:

  1. Expect blood tests and possibly a chest x-ray to be done before the scan. Testing helps veterinarians determine safe anesthetic protocols for your pet.
  2. Unlike when you or I receive an MRI or CT scan, you should anticipate that anesthesia will be administered to your pet. You know how hard it is to get a clear photograph of your wiggly pet. We need them to be perfectly still for imaging so that we can obtain an accurate scan.
  3. Know that it may take up to 24 hours for the radiologist to issue a final report on the scan. Waiting is hard, but reviewing images takes time and should not be rushed.

The Year in Veterinary Medicine

December 31, 2013

year-in-review-revisedAs 2013 comes to a close, we have put together a review of some of the interesting veterinary and animal-related highlights of the past year. We hope some of these tidbits will bring a smile to your face, a tear to your eye or spark some conversation at a holiday party.

January
Several articles reported the veterinary profession turned 150 years old in 2013. A misnomer in reporting, it was the American Veterinary Medical Association which turned 150 years old, celebrating with a traveling Smithsonian exhibition and a commemorative book. (Cavalry horses during Roman times were cared for by practitioners known as veterinarii, suggesting the profession has existed for much longer than 150 years!)

February
The Animal Medical Center created AMC TO THE RESCUE, a new fund to support specialist level treatment of pets that are currently under the care of rescue groups. The goal of the fund is to use AMC specialists to treat correctable medical conditions, making pets, like Frankie, more adoptable into a forever home.

March
In a year without much bipartisan cooperation, two veterinarians, Kurt Schrader, a Democrat, and Ted Yoho, a Republican, joined forces to increase awareness of the role veterinary medicine plays in research, public health, animal health and welfare, food safety, and the economy.

April
Starting in April, therapy dogs were almost continuously in the news. They arrived in Boston to comfort survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing. Later in the month, therapy dogs were called to Texas in the aftermath of a fertilizer plant explosion. Finally, therapy dogs took up residence at LAX to de-stress airline passengers.

May
If April was for dogs, then May was for cats. The Cannes Film Festival is always newsworthy, but this year not because of a Hollywood starlet, but because of a small ginger tom cat who starred in the Coen brothers’ film, Inside Llewyn Davis. Tama, a Japanese calico cat, was credited with saving a cat-themed train station from closure.

June
Therapy dogs made the news again in Michigan for supporting anxious victims of violent crimes during courtroom testimony.

July
Veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward sits in a hot car with the window cracked for 30 minutes while the temperature climbs to 116 degrees Fahrenheit to demonstrate how dangerous leaving your dog in a parked car can be.

August
Cat DNA, sent to the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, became key evidence used in a 2012 British murder case. Scientists in the lab identified the hairs on fabric wrapping the body as coming from the murderer’s cat.

September
News of a new and potentially lethal dog virus spread like a contagion on the Internet. But by late fall, veterinary researchers determined circovirus was not a significant threat to canine health.

October
One of the most visible victims of the government shutdown was the National Zoo’s Panda Cam. Sixteen days later when the camera again rolled, one tweet rejoiced that “our long national nightmare is over.”

The Urban Resource Institute (URI) and Purina teamed up to support victims of domestic violence through URIPALS, New York City’s first initiative to allow victims of domestic violence to enter shelters with their pets. Purina donated much-needed welcome kits and educational materials for families entering URI’s largest domestic violence shelter.

November
The Animal Medical Center hosted the Third Annual Zoobiquity Conference, along with UCLA and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The Conference explored the diagnosis and treatment of disease from the perspective of both physicians and veterinarians.

December
Rosie and Clarence, the first two official police comfort dogs, were honored at The AMC’s annual Top Dog Gala. These canine officers received the Top Dog Award for their support of first responders at critical incidents and traumatic events, including the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy and the Boston Marathon bombing.

…and, we “Pawse to Remember”
No end of the year retrospective would be complete without acknowledging the passing of those who led notable lives:

  • Tuxedo Stan, former Halifax, Nova Scotia mayoral candidate.
  • Kaiser, a World Trade Center search and rescue dog and 2011 AMC Top Dog Gala honoree.
  • George, who held the Guinness Book of World Record’s title of tallest dog.
  • Barney Bush, the AP reporter-biting former FDOTUS.
  • Brian Griffin, canine family member on Family Guy.

Wishing you and your families the very best this holiday season and a healthy and prosperous New Year!


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