Pumps and Valves: February is American Heart Month <3

February 25, 2015

heart monthIn February, we celebrate Valentine’s Day with flowers and candy hearts. February also focuses on another type of heart – the one beating inside your chest! This is American Heart Month, raising awareness of heart disease. Both dogs and cats get heart disease, but the common type in each species is different. Cats’ hearts have pump problems and dogs’ hearts have valve problems. Although the problems are different, the outcome for both pump and valve problems is heart failure, or inadequate delivery of blood throughout the body for normal function to continue.

Poor pumping = heart disease in cats <3
The heart is a sophisticated muscle, but it still performs the basic muscle function – contract and relax. When the heart relaxes, the pumping chambers fill. The next muscular contraction expels the blood from the heart into the blood vessels. When the heart muscle is diseased, it can do one of two things – get thicker or thinner. Both are bad. A thick heart pumps less blood with each beat since the thick muscle occupies space inside the heart where the blood to be pumped normally collects. When the heart is thin, the muscles are weak and do not adequately pump blood. Thick or thin, neither heart pumps blood well.

Leaky valves = heart disease in dogs <3
A normal dog heart consists of four chambers, and the flow of blood between chambers is controlled by little valves. Normal valves remind me of alabaster: translucent and white, but unlike alabaster, they are flexible. Especially in small dogs, the valves degenerate as a dog ages, becoming thick and lumpy and inflexible. The distortion of their shape prevents them from closing normally. Abnormal valves leak and blood is not pumped efficiently through the rest of the heart and blood vessels. Over time, the portion of blood leaking out of the heart chambers increases and blood pumped to vital organs decreases.

Congestive heart failure <3
Even though the underlying heart problem in dogs and cats is different, the result is often the same. Poor pumping in cats and leaky valves in dogs can lead to congestive heart failure. These disparate problems both decrease the blood flow to vital organs, such as the kidneys. To compensate, the kidneys retain fluid and when the fluid reaches a critical level, it floods into the lungs, causing pulmonary edema. Acute congestive heart failure is a common reason for admission to the hospital from The Animal Medical Center’s ER. Congestive heart failure can be treated with medications to remove fluid, help the heart pump more vigorously and dilate the blood vessels, allowing them to hold more fluid.

Keeping your pet’s heart healthy <3
I know you want to keep your pet out of the animal ER, so here are some tips for being heart healthy:

  • Keep your pet at an ideal body weight. Obesity increases stress on the heart and it has other negative effects on health as well.
  • Exercise daily with your pet. Folks who walk their dog daily have better heart health themselves.
  • Ask your primary care veterinarian if a consultation with a board certified cardiologist could benefit your pet. Changes in heart valves and muscles cannot typically be reversed; new medications can prolong good quality of life in both dogs and cats with heart disease.

Brand Name, Generic, Compounded or Refilled: A Prescription Primer

February 18, 2015

Confusion about prescriptions reigned in my clinic this past week. I spent a lot of time explaining the intricacies of brand name versus generic drugs. There was a lot of confusion about refills as well. So, I am reprising a condensed version of my discussions about drugs for the benefit of all.

motrinBrand name drugs are the easiest to recognize because the label on the box has ® or possibly™ after a bold-faced drug name like Benadryl® or Motrin®. Drugs recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot be made as generic drugs until the patent or exclusivity expires. The FDA approves everything surrounding the manufacture, quality control and packaging of brand name drugs. This process assures the consumer the product is both safe and efficacious. Drugs for animals are approved by the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

ibuprofenThe box, carton or tube of generic drug appears more utilitarian than the brand name drug, but the medication inside is a copy of the brand name drug, which is the same as the brand name drug in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance characteristics and intended use. Generic drugs meet the same rigid standards as the brand name drug. All generic drugs approved by FDA have the same high quality, strength, purity and shelf life as brand name drugs. The generic drug manufacturing, packaging and testing must pass the same quality standards as those of brand name drugs.

Specialist veterinarians like those of us at The Animal Medical Center use compounded medications every day to provide drugs in formulations our patients will agree to take. Most commonly, we have medications flavored with beef and turkey or have bad tasting powdered medications put in gelatin capsules to hide their nasty taste. But compounded medications should not be confused with generic medications. Compounded medicines do not have the FDA assurance of safety and efficacy because they do not undergo FDA-mandated quality control testing. In most cases, the absorption properties and the shelf life of compounded medications are unstudied and may differ from brand name or generic medications. Because different compounding pharmacies use different “recipes” to create your pet’s specialized medication, the same prescription may not have the same effect when compounded by a different pharmacist. While the lack of FDA oversight may be a negative, if compounding helps you to get your pet to take its medications, compounding becomes positive.

animal medical center prescriptionWhen I call or fax a prescription to a pharmacy for a medication that a dog or cat will take for a long time, I will pre-authorize refills. The number of refills remaining on a prescription is indicated on the label of the medication bottle. In the sample label shown here, the red circle highlights the number of refills available without the need to call your veterinarian. You simply call the pharmacy and ask for one of the refills. The next prescription label will indicate only 4 available refills. I often choose the number of refills to coincide with an anticipated recheck examination since you need to call my office to get more refills, you can also set up the recheck appointment at the same time.

Understanding medications is critical to their successful use. The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine has a wealth of information on their website for the pet owing public.


Hound’s Tooth and Cat’s Teeth: A Photo Blog in Honor of National Pet Dental Health Month

February 4, 2015

Why Your Veterinarian Goes Crazy for a Urine Sample from Your Pet

January 28, 2015

pet urine sampleWhile it is not unusual for a pet to have an accident in The Animal Medical Center waiting room or while standing on an examination table, my reaction to that accident may be considered unusual. As the embarrassed pet family is grabbing for a paper towel or a tissue to mop up, I blurt out “stop” so I can get a syringe to collect the urine for analysis in the laboratory.

18 Tests in One Tube
At The Animal Medical Center, a urinalysis tests 18 different parameters from just a teaspoon of urine. Some of the parameters are assessed visually, like color and clarity. A special dipstick measures six values simultaneously – especially important here are glucose and ketones – indicators of potential diabetes. The urine is spun in a centrifuge and the material that collects on the bottom of the test tube is specially stained and evaluated under the microscope. Finally, a drop or two of urine is placed on a refractometer, a device that measures the specific gravity and assesses how concentrated the urine is.

A Snapshot of Your Pet’s Health
The results from tests performed on that teaspoon of urine I have collected off the table or floor gives me a whole lot of information about your pet’s health. The finding of red and white blood cells and bacteria when the urine is evaluated under the microscope suggests a urinary tract infection. Observation of crystals in the urine is common and may not represent disease, but if your pet has bladder stones, the presence of crystals gives a hint as to the type of stones, and knowing the type of stone makes treatment more specific and successful. For example, the presence of ammonium biurate crystals in a dog with bladder stones suggests the presence of an abnormal liver blood vessel, and the presence of struvite crystals in a dog with a urinary tract infection and bladder stones suggests struvite stones. In addition to filtering the blood to remove waste products from the body, the kidneys help maintain the body’s water balance. Drink too much and they excrete the excess, drink too little and they hang on to every molecule of water they can. When the kidneys don’t work well, they lose the ability to dilute and concentrate the urine. Measurement of a urine specific gravity, part of a routine urine test, helps veterinarians assess the kidney’s ability to dilute and concentrate and is a partial measure of kidney health.

So much information from something you, the pet owner thought was just an accident. No wonder I am crazy about getting that urine sample from your pet.


Baby, It’s Cold Outside: Winter Tips for Pet Owners

January 21, 2015

Is Chronic Kidney Disease the Same as Chronic Renal Failure?

January 14, 2015

chronic renal failure chronic kidney disease

One of @amcny’s Twitter followers posted the question that is the title of this post. This person also asked, “Should the high end of the normal range of creatinine be 2.4?” These are very good questions, especially for cat families since cats are seven times more likely to have kidney disease than dogs. I am devoting this week’s blog to the answers.

Kidney Tests
A standard panel of blood tests includes measurement of blood urea nitrogen and creatinine. These tests are commonly used to evaluate kidney function, but the results can be abnormal with dehydration, intestinal bleeding and a high protein diet. When combined with a physical examination and an analysis of the pet’s urine, they become a more powerful assessment of how well the kidneys work.

For many years, when veterinarians discovered elevations in blood tests to measure kidney function, we talked with pet families about chronic renal failure or CRF, and before that we talked about chronic interstitial nephritis or CIN. Today we more commonly use the term chronic kidney disease or CKD. As time passed, the name has changed to more correctly reflect our understanding of the disease. Chronic interstitial nephritis comes from microscopic evaluation of a kidney biopsy, something most pets never have. Chronic renal failure was a confusing term to pet owners who were unfamiliar with the medical term for kidney – renal. Failure was a misnomer since the abnormal blood tests indicate decreased function, but not necessarily an absence of function or failure. Thus, renal became kidney and failure was swapped out for disease.

If There is Chronic, There is Also Acute
In medicine, if a disease has the modifier “chronic” you can bet there is also an ”acute” form of the same disease. Acute renal failure has a very abrupt onset in a decline of kidney function and is caused by a variety of disorders including leptospirosis, antifreeze ingestion and lily intoxication. Some pets with acute renal failure completely recover; others improve but continue to have chronic kidney disease and sadly, others don’t make it. The term chronic indicates a long term process that may or may not get worse, but one that, with treatment, can achieve a good quality of life.

Is 2.4 the High End of Normal Range for Creatinine?
Normal range is another term largely gone from the veterinary lexicon because normal depends on the age, sex and even breed of the dogs or cats used for comparison. Now we use the term “reference range or reference interval.” The upper end of the reference range is variable from lab to lab, based on testing methodology, equipment and the exact animals used to develop it. Perhaps more important than the exact reference range from the lab is what is normal for your pet, i.e. what was the creatinine last year and the year before and is the number trending upwards? When that happens, it suggests decreased kidney function and suggests more testing may be indicated.

Thank you to our Twitter follower for asking such important questions. If you are interested in more information about what blood tests tell your veterinarian about your pet’s health, read this recent blog on blood testsLearn more about feline kidney disease.


Five Tips for Keeping Your Pet’s Weight Loss Resolution

January 7, 2015

Since New Year’s has passed, I suspect many pet families are hard at work on their list of resolutions. Weight loss is a common human New Year’s resolution and since estimates of overweight and obese pets range from 25-40%, I suspect it is on the list of many pet families as well. If you have a Labrador Retriever, Beagle, Cocker Spaniel, Basset Hound, Dachshund or Sheltie, breeds at high risk for obesity, weight loss is probably perpetually on your to do list.

Here are my tips to help your pet keep its resolve when it comes to weight loss:

  1. Many pet owners don’t recognize chubbiness in their favorite furry friend. Have your veterinarian assess your pet’s body condition score. This will help determine if weight loss is necessary.

    weight loss for pets

    Pet Body Condition Score Chart

  2. Using your pet’s body condition score, decide how much weight loss is necessary and have your veterinarian calculate the number of calories required daily to attain that weight. Ask if a weight loss food would be nutritionally better than simply cutting back on the current daily portion.
  3. Determine how many calories are in each can, bag or box of your pet’s food and calculate exactly how many ounces, grams or portions of a can are required to meet your pet’s daily calorie allotment. Then feed that number of calories – no more, no less.
  4. Limit treats to 10% of the calculated daily calorie allotment AND include treats in the daily calorie total. Treats can look deceptively calorie free and help to pack on the pounds. A small Milk Bone biscuit contains 20 calories and a Bully Stix has up to 22 calories per inch. A six inch stick could be nearly 25% of your 30 pound dog’s calorie allotment for the day.
  5. Keep your pet active. Throw a ball. Use the laser pointer with your cat. Exercise with your pet. Scientific research has shown exercising your dog is good for those on both ends of the leash.

Here are more weight loss suggestions for pets.

Let’s clink our glasses of no calorie seltzer water to a healthy, happy and thinner 2015 for the whole family!


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