A Living Legend Because of a PDA

May 6, 2015
Molly, a Ganaraskan and AMC Living Legend

Molly, a Ganaraskan and AMC Living Legend

Molly is a cute fluff ball of a Ganaraskan. Although her name sounds like she belongs in a Tolkien novel, the Ganaraskan is a modern dog breed, developed only a few decades ago in Canada near the Ganaraska River in Ontario. The originators of this breed set out to develop the ideal therapy dog from English Cocker, Bichon Frise, Poodle and Miniature Schnauzer stock. Molly is typical of the breed – curly coated, anxious to please and weighing just about 20 pounds. But Molly is anything but typical; she is a legend in her own time a survivor of a major cardiac procedure necessary to save her life.

An Early Beginning of a Legend
Molly’s story starts when she is just a young pup and is diagnosed with a heart murmur at ten weeks of age. An echocardiogram did not identify a cause for the murmur and since the murmur was not very loud, no treatment was prescribed. Two years later, Molly came to The Animal Medical Center for evaluation of a fractured tooth. Dr. Stephen Riback, one of The AMC’s dentists, heard the murmur and recommended an echocardiogram.

The “Heart” of the Problem
The echocardiogram, performed by one of The AMC’s board certified cardiologists, Dr. Dennis Trafny, revealed an enlarged heart and a 4mm (1/8 inch) wide abnormal blood vessel known as a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). Normal before birth, the PDA typically closes shortly thereafter. In Molly, the PDA did not close, allowing blood to traverse between two major blood vessels, the aorta and the pulmonary artery. The abnormal blood flow caused the heart murmur. But the murmur was just a harbinger of a future, more serious problem – the potential risk of heart failure if the abnormal blood flow was not halted.

The first technique available to veterinary cardiologists for repairing PDA’s in dogs required a thoracic surgery to ligate the PDA vessel using suture material. The incision scar was the size of your hand on the dog’s chest. Now, veterinary cardiologists use fluoroscopy, a special video x-ray machine, to guide a special catheter with a disc occluder up through a blood vessel in the leg, into the heart and right to the site of the PDA. When the disc occluder was deployed on both sides of Molly’s PDA, it corrected the abnormal blood flow. All it took was an incision the size of your fingertip on the inside of her leg and a highly skilled team of AMC veterinarians and medical staff.

Screen Legend – A Movie of Blood Flow
The video clips of Molly’s procedure come from The AMC’s fluoroscopy machine. It is a special x-ray machine which makes a video x-ray of a procedure. In the first video clip, before the PDA was occluded, the rapidly moving black material is a special contrast agent administered intravenously to highlight the PDA. The contrast agent should all stay in the big blood vessel (aorta), but instead it circulates throughout the lungs and the blood vessels highlighted by the contrast agent represent blood vessels in the lungs.


In the second video clip, you can see the PDA has been closed off with a disc occluder. It blocks the blood flow through the PDA. You see the blood does not circulate abnormally through the lungs like in the first video.


Two weeks following surgery, Molly’s cardiac size decreased by 25% and she is doing well today. She is no longer at risk for developing heart failure and is expected to live a long, full life!

If you liked Molly’s story, you might want to hear other stories of medical triumphs at the 7th Annual Living Legends Luncheon on May 12th. Learn more about this event.


Canine Flu: An Update

April 29, 2015

Dog flu/canine influenzaFor the last few months, veterinarians and dog owners in the Chicago area and other Midwestern states have been faced with an outbreak of canine influenza. Over 1,100 dogs have been diagnosed with the virus and sadly, some have died. First identified in an outbreak of what was believed to be “kennel cough” in greyhounds, the canine influenza virus was initially described in 2005. Canine influenza virus is just one of the causes of “kennel cough” which is really a general term for canine upper respiratory tract infections.

The canine influenza virus reported in 2005 is an H3N8 strain of the virus which has been documented nationwide. The current Chicago outbreak is caused by an H3N2 virus, which is the virus circulating in Asian dogs. Exactly how the Asian strain came to the Windy City is not currently known. Canine influenza seems to be moving east and cases have now been confirmed in the state of Indiana. Just yesterday, dog flu was diagnosed in Iowa.

Dog to Dog Transmission
Canine flu is transmitted from dog to dog and dogs can transmit it prior to showing symptoms of the virus. That feature of the disease is probably responsible for its rapid transmission within a population. Inanimate objects, leashes, collars, bowls and bedding used by an infected dog could be a source of infection for other dogs coming in contact with those objects. Petting a sick dog and then petting a healthy dog can also spread the infection.

Clinical Signs of Canine Influenza
The clinical signs of canine influenza run the gamut of respiratory disease. Twenty percent of dogs infected with the virus will never show any signs, but still can infect other dogs. Most dogs develop what we might think of as a cold– sneezing, runny nose and a cough. Dogs with the flu feel out of sorts with a fever and a poor appetite. About ten percent of infected dogs will develop a serious complication of influenza – bacterial pneumonia.

What precautions should dog owners take?

  1. Avoid doggie day care, the boarding kennel, the dog park, obedience classes and any other areas where dogs congregate. The canine flu spreads most rapidly in situations where many dogs come in contact with each other or with infected dogs’ coughs and sneezes.
  2. Wash your hands well. The canine influenza virus can live on human hands for 12 hours, unless they are washed with soap and water.
  3. Talk to your veterinarian about the canine influenza vaccine. The available vaccine is for the typical H3N8 virus. Because the virus in this outbreak is H3N2, we don’t know if the flu vaccine will protect dogs against this new virus, but it is being recommended in the Chicago area. The canine flu vaccine is like the human flu vaccine; it lessens signs of flu and shortens their duration, but does not prevent the disease.
  4. If your dog contracts the flu, wash bedding, dishes, leashes and clothing which can transmit the virus for up to 24-48 hours after coming in contact with a sick dog.
  5. Keep your cat away from your sick dog since the H3N2 strain can be transmitted to cats. The H3N8 strain is not believed to infect cats.

Shedding Light on Feline Hairballs

April 22, 2015

Feline HairballsHairball Awareness Day is April 25th. Most of us become aware of hairballs in the middle of the night, either when we hear that characteristic yacking sound made by a cat about to deposit a hairball on the sheets or as we inadvertently step on a cold, slimy furball deposited on the darkened bedroom floor.

Even though cat families believe hairballs are a common problem, a survey of British cats found most had never vomited a hairball – at least that their family discovered. Intuitively, the same study found long haired cats were more likely to vomit hairballs than short haired cats.

Why do cats get hairballs?
Cats may spend as much as 25% of their waking hours grooming. When a cat grooms, the barbs on her tongue act as a comb and brush. The shed hairs get caught in the barbs and are swallowed. In normal cats, ingested hair is excreted in the stool. Because most ingested hair is excreted in the feces, an uptick in the frequency of hairball production suggests a problem in your cat.

Can hairballs indicate a medical problem?
The simple answer is yes. Formation of hairballs suggests a cat is suffering from excessive hair ingestion or is not excreting ingested hair normally. Excessive hair ingestion can result from overzealous grooming behavior leading to hairball formation. Excessive grooming is a clinical sign of several feline health concerns such as fleas, itching due to allergies, an overactive thyroid gland, food sensitivity or stress.

Decreased grooming behavior is frequently a sign of illness in cats. If the illness progresses, hair mats develop. Once the cat resumes grooming, hairballs may form and you may also notice increased hair in your cat’s stool.

An increase in the frequency of hairball vomiting may also signal some sort of gastrointestinal problem preventing normal passage of hair out in the stool. My patient Sunshine developed an intestinal obstruction from a hairball when intestinal lymphoma disrupted her ability to pass hair in her stool.

Cat families often talk about “coughing” up a hairball, but if your cat is coughing, that is a completely different problem that should be brought to your veterinarian’s attention.

What can cat families do to minimize hairballs?

  • Control loose hair with regular brushing. Don’t just smooth over the top coat, but use a deshedding tool to remove dead undercoat. Many cat resist brushing, so start with short grooming sessions and use rewards liberally.
  • Feed commercially available food, treats and supplements formulated to improve intestinal motility and facilitate hair excretion.
  • Consider a lion cut to decrease the amount of hair ingested. Check out a photo of my patient Toby who tangled with a nasty hairball and now routinely gets clipped.
  • An increase in hairball vomiting can be a sign of illness. Report any increase to your cat’s veterinarian.
  • Ask to your veterinarian about medications that might help facilitate hair movement through the intestinal track.

Flea and Tick Prevention: 2015 Update

April 8, 2015
Photo: Vetstreet.com

Photo: Vetstreet.com

When I started my career as a veterinarian, the options for flea and tick control were limited, smelly and messy. I dispensed cans of spray, bottles of dip, and cartons of powder, but hardly ever prescribed a flea collar. Back then, the collars were not that effective and some thought the only way a flea collar killed a flea was by squashing it when you put the collar on your pet. Thirty years later, the options for pet owners to prevent ectoparasite infestations are infinitely better and way more numerous.

Better flea and tick control has resulted in healthier pets. I used to routinely see dogs and cats crawling with fleas from head to toe. Many developed flea allergic dermatitis, often complicated by a superficial skin infection. While we still see allergies in pets, flea allergic dermatitis is much less common and pets are much more comfortable, thanks to these new products.

Top Spot Products
The big revolution in flea and tick prevention started when top spot products were introduced. These are the little tubes of liquid that come in multipacks for monthly application to the nape of your pet’s neck. The product then distributes throughout the haircoat and kills fleas and ticks when they come in contact with the medicine on your pet’s hair. They also come with stickers for your calendar or an app for your mobile device to remind you when to apply the medication. Many of the manufacturers of these products have videos on their website demonstrating proper application of the product.

Oral Flea and Tick Prevention
Oral products can be active against only fleas or prevent multiple species of ticks as well. Most oral products come as tasty chew treats and are administered monthly; although long lasting products are also available. Not all oral products start working instantly. If your pet has a flea infestation because you missed a dose, check with your veterinarian about a rapidly acting oral product for quick flea takedown.

Long Lasting Collars
Unlike the early flea collars, today’s models last for months at a time. Depending on which collar your veterinarian prescribes, modern flea collars may be active against a single species of tick or fleas and multiple species of ticks. If you choose a collar, check the label carefully as some collars may take a week to reach full strength on your pet.

Choosing What’s Right for Your Pet
When selecting from this array of products, consider the following criteria:

  1. Talk with your veterinarian about the types of parasites in your area. Selecting a product with a profile that fits your area’s parasite population is critical.
  2. Top spot products often repel as well as kill fleas and ticks. If you live in a geographic locale with high numbers of fleas and ticks, you might want this added protection.
  3. Certain collars and oral preventatives last for months at a time. If you are busy and forgetful, one of these products might be a good choice.
  4. Not all top spot preparations and collars are waterproof. If your dog is a swimmer, choose a waterproof product or consider an oral flea and tick preventative.
  5. If you have a puppy or kitten, make sure the product you select is safe for the newest family member. Some products are not labeled for pets < 6-12 weeks of age.
  6. Use dog products for dogs and cat products for cats. Never switch, or you may need a trip to the animal ER.

Clinical Research at The Animal Medical Center

April 1, 2015

veterinary researchOne part of The Animal Medical Center’s tripartite mission involves advancing the practice of veterinary medicine through research. Many types of research exist: scientific, historical, social science and economic are just a few examples. The AMC participates in a specific type of scientific investigation called clinical research.

Studying Healthcare
Clinical research asks and attempts to answer questions related to healthcare delivery, and in the case of The AMC, animal healthcare. At various times, the veterinarians at The AMC have studied the impact of new medications, treatment protocols, diagnostic tests and therapeutic devices on canine and feline patients. Clinical research is distinct from, but seeks to improve, clinical care.

Institutional Review Board
Research involving living patients, human or veterinary, happens only after an institutional review board studies and approves the research protocol. This process assures the safety of the patients involved in the project. The review board also evaluates the patient consent document. To ensure the pet’s family understands their family member is part of a research protocol, they must read and sign documents about the planned treatment’s risks and benefits. In any clinical study, a pet owner may withdraw their pet from the study at their discretion.

Abstract Presentation
Another component of conducting research is presentation of the findings to a group of your scientific peers. At The AMC, resident research projects are presented to the entire hospital community. The audience can ask questions and make suggestions to clarify or improve the interpretation of the results. At this year’s Resident Research Seminar, five residents presented their work to the AMC community. They addressed topics such as using MRI and CT scanning for dogs with prolapsed spinal discs, vitamin D levels in ICU patients, blood clotting abnormalities as a result of severe trauma, comparison of continuous infusion versus intermittent diuretic infusion for the treatment of heart failure, and iron supplementation in cats with cancer. The results from the studies help AMC veterinarians to improve patient care and when published, influence the care of pets everywhere.

Publish or Perish
The final step in any research project is to publish the results in a peer reviewed journal. Peer reviewed means just what it says. Expert veterinarians review the manuscript for bias in research methodology, statistical analysis and conclusions. They recommend changes to improve the final publication and once those changes are made, approve the final manuscript, which is ultimately published for all interested in the topic to read.

Recent Publications
Here are summaries of some recent AMC resident research project publications:


Blindness in Pets

March 25, 2015
Smiley

Smiley

Smiley, a blind Golden Retriever therapy dog and former puppy mill rescue, recently became an internet sensation. Born without eyes, Smiley bonded with a deaf Great Dane after he was rescued from the puppy mill. According to reports, the relationship drew Smiley out of his shell and turned him into a confident therapy dog, sharing his smile at schools, nursing homes and libraries.

Forms of Blindness
Smiley was born without eyes – medically known as ocular agenesis, but blindness in pets takes many forms. High blood pressure, especially in cats with kidney disease, causes blindness. The increased blood pressure causes vision loss from retinal detachment and intraocular hemorrhage. Chronic herpes infection in a cat’s eye can cause corneal ulcers that are painful, difficult to heal and which can lead to blindness. A lack of tear production or dry eye predisposes dogs to corneal ulcers and scarring, and if left untreated, blindness. Both dogs and cats develop glaucoma, a painful swelling of the eye. If the swelling cannot be controlled, glaucoma can rob pets of their vision.

AMC TO THE RESCUE Helps
Doc, a mixed breed puppy, had developed glaucoma, a painful increase of fluid inside the eyeball that damages or destroys vision. Doc came to see The AMC’s board certified ophthalmologist, Dr. Alexandra van der Woerdt, through a joint effort between AMC TO THE RESCUE and Doc’s rescue group, Louie’s Legacy. AMC TO THE RESCUE funds specialty care to rescued pets whose medical conditions form a barrier to their adoption, preventing them from finding a forever home.

Dr. van der Woerdt determined Doc’s vision could not be saved, and because his eyes were painful, she outlined three options to make him pain free. First, surgical enucleation, or total removal of the eye; second, chemical ablation, where a substance is placed into the eye to destroy the fluid-producing tissue, lowering the pressure inside the eye; and finally, placement of an intraocular prosthesis. This device maintains blinking eyeball shape, but removes the “insides” of the eye so fluid is no longer produced and the eye is no longer painful. Doc underwent surgical enucleation of both eyes.

New Family and a New Name
Doc is now Zach, the name bestowed by his new family who adopted him shortly after the enucleation surgery. A new name is fitting since Zach is a new dog because he no longer suffers from painful eyes. Zach’s new family says, “He is doing super well. He loves to wrestle at the dog park and can navigate around our house and neighborhood with ease. Most people don’t even notice that he is blind!”

AMC TO THE RESCUE is proud to have helped turn one more unadoptable rescue dog into a beloved family pet. For more information about this vital Community Fund, or to donate, please visit our website.


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!


Veterinary Year in Review: 2014

December 31, 2014

Holiday Gifts for Pets

December 3, 2014

Sharing Turkey Day Dinner with Your Pets

November 26, 2014

Happy ThanksgivingThanksgiving is all about food and family. Many of us consider our pets family members and want to include them in the holiday celebration, but menu selection for pets can be tricky. For example, dogs love chocolate, but it will cause vomiting, diarrhea and hyperactivity if Fido indulges his passion with a few foil wrapped chocolate turkeys. Your cat may find the raw turkey trimmings sitting on the counter a tasty treat. Raw poultry can be teeming with organisms such Salmonella or E. coli and give Fluffy a nasty case of food poisoning. So here are simple suggestions for taking food from your holiday table and creating a healthy and safe buffet for the family pets. More difficult will be figuring out if seating Fido next to Grandpa and Fluffy next to Uncle Ray will provoke a family fracas!

Doggie dishes
When choosing Thanksgiving food for your dog’s dish, stay away from high fat dishes, such as gravy or sausage stuffing, which can provoke an episode of painful pancreatitis. Steer clear of raisins and grapes, whether in a fruit salad or stuffing, as these delicious fruits can cause serious kidney problems. A spoonful each of nice white meat turkey, sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes minus the butter, sour cream, nuts, and marshmallows would be safe turkey day fare for your dog. Fruit often appeals to dogs, and while recreating grandma’s apple crumb pie, save a couple of apple slices for your dog.

Reptile recipes
If you have a vegetarian reptile, such as an iguana, bearded dragon or a tortoise, the Thanksgiving side dishes provide an opportunity to share the bounty of the season.  Winter greens such as collards and mustard greens make a tasty holiday treat. While you’re setting aside the greens for your special scaled friend, save some raw squash, yams and even a few fresh or boiled cranberries to create a colorful and healthy reptile dinner. In addition to the vegetables and fruit, your turtles might like a bit of white or dark meat turkey added to their plate.

Kitty cuisine
Because cats think of you as their servant, dishing up what you believe to be a special holiday meal without asking their permission may result in rejection of your best culinary efforts. Perhaps just serve up the turkey flavor of your cat’s favorite canned cat food and call it a day in the kitchen! If you must cook for your kitty, consider simmering the giblets from the turkey until they are cooked through. Once they are cooled, mince them finely for a feline Thanksgiving Day indulgence.

Pocket pet provisions
If you have a small mammal, such as a rabbit or guinea pig, save some salad fixings, like lettuce leaves and carrot pieces, to make Thanksgiving extra special. While you are making the pie, save a small piece of apple before it is mixed with sugar and cinnamon as a rabbit dessert. The family ferret can feast on small bits of plain turkey meat without gravy or seasonings.

Bird buffet
Before you add the butter, sugar or marshmallows to the steamed or boiled sweet potatoes, save a small portion for your bird’s Thanksgiving dinner. If you garnish your vegetable dishes with pecans, walnuts or slivered almonds, they too can be added to your bird’s holiday fare. Selections from the vegetable side dishes, such as carrot pieces, green beans and Brussels sprouts, make a tasty and healthy addition to your bird’s plate, but be sure to set them aside before butter or salt is added!

The Animal Medical Center wishes a happy Thanksgiving to all! “Bone” Appétit.


Keeping Your Senior Pet Healthy

November 19, 2014

senior petsSince November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month, this image posted on Twitter by @PetLiving caught my eye. Adopting a grey muzzle pet bypasses the need to housebreak, train and socialize your pet, all necessary tasks when you adopt a puppy or kitten. The text accompanying this photo highlights just two of the health issues, loss of vision and hearing, that you might expect when you adopt a senior pet.

Do you have a senior pet?
A dog or cat is considered a “senior” when he or she is in the last 25 percent of the breed’s expected lifespan. So a Great Dane with a life expectancy of 8 years might be a senior at 6 years. Conversely, a miniature poodle with an expected lifespan of 15 years might not be a senior until 11 or 12 years. The lifespan of cats remains more consistent across breeds than in dogs, and cats over 10 years of age are considered seniors.

Keeping your senior cat healthy
Essential to keeping your senior cat healthy are regular preventive care visits to the veterinarian. Over the past 10 or so years, the frequency feline patients see their veterinarian has dropped to less than one time per year. Without routine care, small problems become big ones. Take for example feline teeth. In a British study of over 140,000 cats, nearly 15 percent suffered from periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is a painful condition which can be nipped in the bud by routine dental prophylaxis. Wait too long to have your cat’s teeth treated and the need for multiple extractions increases. Preventive health care visits allow your cat’s veterinarian to perform blood tests which can reveal kidney disease at a time when dietary therapy can be effective. Routine visits to your cat’s veterinarian also help to keep tabs on your cat’s weight. Overweight cats have a greater risk of developing diabetes and bladder problems.

Keeping your senior dog healthy
Three critical factors in keeping your senior dog healthy are preventing obesity, promoting mobility and monitoring for cancer.  A multi-year study of Labrador retrievers demonstrated the negative impact of obesity on longevity. Dogs fed a restricted amount of food lived nearly two years longer than dogs fed a higher number of calories.

Keeping your senior dog in lean body condition is directly tied to maintaining mobility. Overweight senior dogs with creaky joints have a much more difficult time getting around than their slimmer counterparts. More time sitting on the sofa translates to a decline in muscle strength and turns into a dog that can barely walk. During your twice yearly senior pet checkup, your veterinarian has in her pharmacy a variety of medications to keep your senior dog moving comfortably. Experts estimate that almost 50 percent of all dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer, making this a significant problem in the senior dog. You can easily monitor for skin cancers by simply doing a through belly rub and petting your dog from nose to tail. If you find any lumps or bumps, bring them to the attention of your veterinarian immediately.

Better medical treatment means pets can live longer and healthier than ever before. Don’t assume your senior pet is just slowing down as a normal part of aging. Slowing down could indicate your pet is developing a disease. That’s why veterinarians recommend your senior pet see them twice yearly. Make an appointment for your senior pet today!


National Pet Cancer Awareness Month: Pet Cancer Treatment Options, Part II

November 12, 2014

dog receiving chemotherapyNovember has been designated National Pet Cancer Awareness Month to raise awareness about the causes, prevention and treatment of dogs and cats with this terrible disease. To raise awareness of the possible treatments for pet cancer, this second part of my two-part blog on cancer treatments for pets discusses three additional treatment therapies: chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy. Part I focused on surgery and radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy
Although the use of radiation therapy in humans preceded the use of chemotherapy, chemotherapy was more widely used in pet cancers before radiation therapy. Chemotherapy is administered when a biopsy indicates a tumor has spread or might spread, such as in feline breast cancer.

Chemotherapy can also be administered when a tumor is too widespread for either surgical removal or radiation therapy. At the top of the veterinary list of pet cancers treated with chemotherapy is lymphoma.

Veterinary oncologists treat both dogs and cats for lymphoma using a variety of chemotherapy drugs. Most commonly used is the CHOP protocol. CHOP is an acronym representing the first letter of each chemotherapy drug in the protocol and is repurposed from human oncology. Despite the bad reputation chemotherapy has, both cat and dog owners report a good quality of life in their pets receiving chemotherapy.

Immunotherapy
The concept of harnessing the cancer patient’s own immune system to fight cancer is an idea that has been around a long while. The idea came to fruition when a vaccine to treat melanoma in dogs was approved in 2010.

Dogs suffering from melanoma are given four vaccinations over two months and then boostered every six months. This treatment protocol prolonged survival by 300 days or more in dogs receiving the vaccine. In people with lymphoma, treatment using monoclonal antibodies like Rituxan® has dramatically improved patients’ survival time. In a similar vein, AMC oncologists are currently studying a monoclonal antibody against T cell lymphoma and a monoclonal antibody against B cell lymphoma is also available.

On the horizon for the treatment of lymphoma is a new cancer vaccine for a particular type of lymphoma in dogs called large B cell lymphoma.

Targeted Therapy
In 2009, toceranib phosphate, known as Palladia®, became the first targeted therapy approved for use in dogs diagnosed with mast cell tumors.

A second targeted therapy, mastitinib, known as Kinavet®, has conditional approval for the treatment of the same tumor. Targeted therapies exploit a physiologic abnormality in tumor cells, not present in normal cells. Targeted therapies commonly work by turning on or off a cellular process critical to cancer growth and metastasis, halting tumor growth. In the future, expect to see more targeted drugs used in dogs and cats.

Because cancer is diagnosed in over six million pets each year, you may be faced with this diagnosis in your favorite furry friend. But treatment of cancer in pets is possible. You and your pet have more treatment options and more specially trained veterinarians than ever before to help you achieve a good outcome if your pet is diagnosed with cancer. To find a board certified veterinary cancer specialist in your area, visit the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine website and use their search function.


Do We Really Have to Worry About Ebola in Dogs?

October 15, 2014
Excalibur with his mom

Excalibur with his mom

With the first death in the United States from Ebola virus last week and the first known transmissions of Ebola virus outside of Africa occurring in Spain and here at home in Texas, Americans are rightfully nervous about this deadly virus spreading. For those of us who love pets, the euthanasia of Excalibur, a Spanish dog exposed to Ebola virus by his infected owner, was another heartbreaking chapter in the Ebola saga. Not only was this healthcare worker infected with a lethal virus, her beloved dog is dead too. So far the news out of Dallas, where the newest American Ebola victim has exposed her dog to Ebola virus, is that this dog will live.

How did we get to this point?
In West Africa, the Ebola virus has been thought to spread as a result of handling bush meat – wild animals hunted for food – and through contact with infected bats. West African dogs are not fed, but scavenge for food in and around their villages. This feeding practice theoretically puts them at risk for exposure to Ebola virus though consumption of scavenged bush meat. The possibility of Ebola virus exposure in dogs consuming bush meat prompted scientists to study the blood of dogs in regions of West Africa affected by the 2001-02 Ebola outbreak. They also studied dogs in West African areas spared by the 2001-02 Ebola outbreak, as well as some dogs in France. The results of that study suggests dogs in West Africa living in villages affected by Ebola virus have been exposed to the virus, but do not seem to show clinical signs of illness. A couple of French dogs also tested positive for exposure, which was perplexing since exposure of these dogs to Ebola virus seems very unlikely. A few dogs were tested for the presence of the virus, but no virus was identified.

How much evidence is there for Ebola in dogs?
In response to questions at a press conference on Tuesday [October 7, 2014], before Excalibur was euthanized, CDC Director Tom Frieden said, “There is one article in the medical literature that discusses the presence of antibodies to Ebola in dogs. Whether that was an accurate test and whether that was relevant we do not know. We have not identified this as a means of transmission,” Frieden added, “although scientists do know that Ebola can infect mammals and the virus can spread that way.”

Was Excalibur’s euthanasia justified?
While I can understand Spanish public health officials’ goal of preventing any additional cases of Ebola virus infection in humans by euthanizing Excalibur, the scientist in me sees a lost opportunity. If public health officials could have found a way to quarantine Excalibur and monitor his health, much could have been learned. The currently available studies tested the blood of dogs for antibodies against the Ebola virus, but the actual virus has not been identified. The presence of antibodies against any infectious agent, Ebola virus included, tells us the patient was exposed to that organism. It does not tell us if the animal carries the virus, if the animal will get sick and, most importantly, if the animal can transmit the virus to another animal or human. Much is lacking in research about dogs and Ebola virus, especially identifying the actual virus in the bloodstream and identifying how or if dogs shed the virus. Fortunately, scientific minds have prevailed in Dallas and we must all hope this dog will provide vital information about Ebola virus.

Now what?
Keep in mind exposure of your favorite Fido or Fifi to Ebola virus is highly unlikely since you serve up nutritious and safe dog food and not bush meat. We also are not in the midst of an Ebola epidemic in the United States and the probability of your dog being exposed to Ebola virus is currently nil. But the sad story of Excalibur and his owner are a stark reminder that many diseases can pass readily between pets and their people; among them fluringworm and Salmonella.

Whenever you are sick, quarantine yourself from the rest of your family, pets included, to prevent transmission of your illness to others. Cover your coughs and sneezes and wash your hands frequently to protect all other members of your family. If you are worried about your pet’s health, seek the advice of your best pet health resource – your family veterinarian.


What Does a Vet Tech Do?

October 8, 2014

Feeding Your Pet for Optimal Health

September 17, 2014

Protect Your Pet Against Summertime Hazards

July 2, 2014

The Hunt for Huckleberry: Finding Your Lost Pet

June 25, 2014
Huckleberry

Huckleberry

A couple of evenings ago, I received a frantic phone call from one of my cat-owning clients. Their young cat, Huckleberry, had been missing for a couple of hours and had not come to the kitchen at his appointed dinner hour.

Search Everywhere
When my clients discovered him missing, they took immediate action: opened all the room and closet doors in their apartment in case Huckleberry had accidently been shut in or out of his favorite hiding places, checked the dryer for a cat toasting in a pile of warm, clean, fluffy towels and looked in the hallway outside their apartment door. They even went so far as to disassemble some electronic devices. But, no Huckleberry.

Alert the Veterinary Community
I emailed the front desk and the Emergency Service at The Animal Medical Center alerting them to a possible “injured stray cat” meeting Huckleberry’s description. The front desk in turn emailed Huckleberry’s photo and microchip number to all of the 24 hour emergency hospitals in our area and gave Huckleberry’s home phone number in case a good Samaritan found him and took him to a local animal emergency room.

Use Social Media
Next, I tweeted Huckleberry’s photo, giving his New York City neighborhood and The AMC’s phone number in case someone recognized the little guy on the street looking for a way home. If I had a “do over” I would use a neighborhood hashtag and would have tagged some neighborhood and cat Twitter handles. Still, over 5,000 people got the tweet.

A Happy Ending
This story has a happy ending. After ten hours of searching, Huckleberry was discovered, hungry and in serious need of a litterbox, in his apartment building’s freight elevator. His family speculates the curious cat hopped a ride with a repairman earlier in the day.

I hope none of my readers ever have to search for a missing pet, but the hunt for Huckleberry brings up some important points and ideas for finding lost pets:

  • Be sure your pet has a microchip and the information in the microchip database is up to date.
  • Keep a current photo of your pet readily accessible for making “lost/missing” posters, emailing and posting on social media.
  • Use social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to broadcast photographs of your missing pet. The wider you broadcast, the greater your chance of finding your pet.
  • If you live in an apartment building with security cameras, ask the building staff if you can review the security tapes for clues to your pet’s whereabouts.
  • Check strange places like inside a box spring or an electronic device with an open area inside the case.

Fifty Years of Postgraduate Education: A Look Back

June 18, 2014

50 years of postgraduate educationThe next two weeks at The Animal Medical Center mark an important milestone for the institution, veterinary medicine and pets everywhere. On June 24th, we are celebrating the graduation of the 50th class of veterinary interns. Earlier this week, we welcomed the 51st intern class at our annual White Coat Ceremony.

Over the past 50 years, more than 1,200 veterinarians have completed a formal internship at The AMC and many have gone on to become leaders in our profession. Today, AMC-trained veterinarians work in all facets of veterinary medicine including teaching, research and clinical practice. The first intern class graduated in 1965 and consisted of three men and one woman. The members of this class embody the mission of The AMC: teaching, research and clinical service. Dr. Daryl Biery retired as a professor of radiology from The University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Stephen Ettinger is best known for his Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, now in its seventh edition, and Dr. William DeHoff founded MedVet, a specialty hospital which was just named “Hospital of the Year” by the American Animal Hospital Association. The first class was also the smallest class to graduate. The largest class graduated 31 years later and had 35 members.

Training the Leaders of Tomorrow
Currently there are over 50 AMC-trained veterinarians who are members of the faculty at colleges of veterinary medicine throughout the world, and another 30 who have retired from their faculty positions. These numbers do not include a handful of AMC-trained veterinarians who serve as veterinary academic leaders such as deans, associate deans and program administrators, such as Dr. Mark StetterDr. Rodney PageDr. Claudia KirkDr. Robert Mason, and Dr. Joseph Taboada. I would venture to say nearly every AMC alumnus has, at one time or another, helped to train a future veterinarian when they have taken a young aspiring veterinarian under their wing and into their practice.

Discovering Knowledge for the Future
Part of The AMC’s mission is the discovery of new knowledge through research into naturally occurring disease. This month’s scientific publications in veterinary medicine highlight that mission through the publications of AMC alumni. In the current issues of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association and the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, there are eight publications by AMC-trained veterinarians. These topics include the equine athlete, canine urinary tract infections, polyarthropathy, and the minimum clinical database. There are two articles each on feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and lymphoma. In the past, AMC alumni were instrumental in identifying feline taurine deficiency cardiomyopathy, West Nile Virus infections in the United States, hepatic copper toxicosis in Bedlington terriers and techniques to repair kneecaps in dogs.

Saving Animals Every Day
The accomplishments listed above are noteworthy, groundbreaking and important to the veterinary profession, however most graduates of AMC training programs are like me, providing medical, surgical and preventive healthcare for animals of all species, day in and day out. Some of us are specialists and others are your favorite neighborhood veterinarian, but we all love to celebrate a new puppy, reflect on the life of a 19 year old cat, piece together a fractured bone, or put cancer into remission.

So, happy 50th birthday to AMC’s Postgraduate Education program, congratulations to this year’s graduating class and welcome to the incoming class of interns. Click here to see an extensive list of the accomplishments of AMC alumni.


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