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:


Canine Heartworm Update

August 14, 2013

Last week I was a guest on Dr. Frank Adams’ monthly pet show on NYU Langone Medical Center’s “Dr. Radio.” One of the callers asked if heartworm preventative was really necessary in her dogs. She thought (incorrectly) that since she lived in an area where mosquitoes are uncommon, her dogs would be safe against heartworm infection. My answer to her was a resounding “yes” and I added, “Give those pills exactly on time.”

canine heartworm life cycle

Click image to enlarge

Treatment versus prevention
No dog owner would ever miss a dose of heartworm preventative if they knew how difficult and dangerous treating heartworms can be. When a diagnosis of heartworm disease is made, any signs of heart failure must be immediately controlled. After your dog’s heart has been stabilized, veterinarians then administer a drug by injection to kill the adult heartworms. Strict cage rest is instituted to minimize the risk of blood clots which may form in the lungs as a result of dying heartworms. Cage rest continues for at least a month after adult heartworm treatment. Protocols for the treatment of adult heartworms are 90-98% successful and if unsuccessful, your dog will need to be treated a second time. Throughout treatment for adult worms, your dog must be maintained on heartworm preventative in case of another bite by an infected mosquito.

Heartworm review
Mosquitoes transmit heartworms. A bite from an infected mosquito injects heartworm larvae into your dog’s blood stream. Heartworm preventative kills the larvae before they mature. If unchecked by heartworm preventative, the larvae mature in the large blood vessels of the heart and lungs, leading to severe heart and lung compromise.

CAPC changes heartworm recommendations
Last month, the Companion Animal Parasite Council revised its guidelines regarding canine heartworm disease. Council members cited new evidence of resistance of heartworms from the Mississippi Delta region to heartworm preventatives, specifically ivermectin, selamectin, moxidectin and milbemycin oxime, confirming years of speculation about resistance in the veterinary community. At this time, it is not known how widespread heartworm resistance is, but it makes an annual heartworm test even more important than before.

Heartworm prevention tips

  • Year round administration of heartworm medication gives the best protection against heartworms.
  • Giving heartworm medication precisely on time is critical to successful prevention.
  • Place the stickers from the heartworm preventative medication on your calendar to remind you to give the monthly heartworm preventative.
  • Sign up for email or text message reminders on your smartphone from the website of your heartworm preventative manufacturer.
  • Get the reminder app from the website of your heartworm preventative manufacturer.
  • Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk. Keep your dog indoors during peak mosquito activity.
  • Ask your veterinarian about monthly flea and tick medications that also repel mosquitoes.

Ten Tips for Dog Safe Summer Exercise

April 17, 2013
Animal Medical Center Doggy Dash participants

Animal Medical Center Doggy Dash participants

With summer just around the corner, everyone, including your dog, wants to be in shape for summer activities. Outdoor activities can be a fun way to spend time with your favorite pup. The veterinarians at The AMC have the following suggestions to make exercise safe and healthy for your dog:

  1. Have your pet examined by a veterinarian to ensure exercise is safe for your dog. Stop exercise and let your dog rest anytime he is resisting you, unable to keep up or showing other signs of distress.
  2. Always warm up your dog with a 10 minute walk prior to jogging or heavier exercise.
  3. Train your dog gradually to increase the amount of time and intensity of exercise over several weeks, just as you would train yourself.
  4. Massage your dog and provide gentle passive range of motion for all major joints.  You may do this before or after exercise, but it is most beneficial AFTER exercise.  In a side-lying position, keeping the limbs parallel to the body, gently flex and extend each joint of the front and hind limbs. Check out these videos on forelimb passive range of motion and hindlimb passive range of motion.
  5. Do not feed your dog a large meal for 2 hours prior to exercise. Exercising on a full stomach can predispose your dog to bloat, which can be life-threatening.
  6. Give your dog small and frequent amounts of water.  To facilitate this, consider carrying a collapsible bowl or a specially made, dog-friendly, BPA-free water bottle.
  7. Avoid exercising during the warmest part of the day, especially if you have a short-nosed dog.  Pugs and all types of bulldogs should stay in an air conditioned environment as much as possible and only have brief outdoor walks for bathroom breaks during peak heat.  When heat and humidity are high, short-nosed dogs cannot cool themselves by panting as efficiently as their long-nosed cousins and are more prone to heat stroke than the average dog.
  8. Keep dark coated dogs out of direct sunlight while exercising.  Their dark coats absorb heat, making them prone to heatstroke as well.
  9. Consider a cooling jacket for dogs exercising in summer heat.
  10. Provide your dog a shady place to rest after exercising.  For elegant comfort, try these fashionable outdoor beds.

If you and your dog are running partners, consider registering for the Animal Medical Center Doggy Dash, a 5 mile run in conjunction with the New York City Triathalon.

Thanks to Dr. Leilani Alvarez from The Animal Medical Center’s Tina Santi Flaherty Rehabilitation & Fitness Service for her helpful hints on exercising your dog.


Avoiding the Knife: Preventing Pet Surgeries

April 11, 2013

At The Animal Medical Center, our board certified surgeons and neurologists perform approximately 1,500 surgeries each year. A recently released pet insurance study completed in 2012 listed the top ten surgery claims for both dogs and cats:

Top-10-Canine-Conditions-large

Survey attributed to VPI Pet Insurance 2012

Since none of us want our pets to be subjected to the difficulties most surgeries pose, I will devote this blog to suggestions on how to avoid some of the most common canine and feline surgeries.

Tooth extractions

Topping the surgery list for cats and coming in at number three for dogs were tooth extractions. Keeping your pets’ teeth healthy means daily brushing and annual dental cleanings. The American Veterinary Dental College website provides good information about home dental care in dogs and cats. Remember, doggy breath often means periodontal disease, so if your pet has smelly breath, see your veterinarian for treatment before extractions become necessary.

Skin abscess, inflammation and pressure ulcers

This list of skin conditions ranks number two as a reason for surgery in both dogs and cats. Pressure ulcers generally occur in older dogs with limited mobility. Padding, padding and more padding will help prevent pressure ulcers on their elbows and thighs. Investigate orthopedic beds for your dog and try to keep him from laying on hard surfaces like the bathroom tile floor which can aggravate pressure sores. Promote mobility in your dog through regular exercise and management of arthritis with diet and medications.

Feline bite wounds

When I was a veterinarian in a more suburban area, we treated cat bite wounds on a daily basis. Preventing cat bite injuries is as simple as keeping your cat indoors. Cat bites not only cause wounds which can become abscesses, but cat bites transmit the feline immunodeficiency virus and possibly blood parasites as well. Priceless is how I define the value of keeping your cat indoors and healthy.

Aural hematoma

The tenth most common surgery in dogs was to repair an aural (ear) hematoma. Cats can develop aural hematomas too, just not as commonly as dogs. This condition is essentially a blood blister inside the ear flap. Blood accumulates in the ear flap when your dog incessantly shakes his head or scratches her ears. Usually, the shaking and scratching is in response to an allergy or an ear infection. If you see this behavior, check inside the ear for redness or discharge. See your veterinarian immediately to treat the cause of the shaking and scratching to prevent the development of an aural hematoma.

While some surgeries are unavoidable, these are prime examples of how a visit to your veterinarian for routine preventive care can help your pet avoid surgery.


Brush Up on Your Bicuspids: A Dog and Cat Tooth Tour

February 11, 2013

February is National Pet Dental Health Month. According to the American Veterinary Dental College, your pet needs daily toothbrushing and annual dental cleanings to keep their pearly whites white. Just like your visit to the dentist, where x-rays are taken to find periodontal disease or tooth abscesses, x-rays are a critical component of an annual dental cleaning for your dog or cat. Since most pet owners don’t get a chance to see their pet’s dental x-rays, I thought I would show you some from The Animal Medical Center.

dental1

Above, you see Spanky the cat’s six normal front teeth (incisors) flanked by his big fangs, also called canine teeth, even though he is a cat. Based on x-rays, the rest of Spanky’s teeth were normal and he did not have to have any teeth extracted during his annual dental cleaning.

 dental2

In this x-ray you see one of Rhett Butler’s big molars. Both roots are surrounded by a dark area, instead of normal white bone. The dark area represents a periapical tooth root abscess which was the cause of his reluctance to eat and his swollen face. Once the tooth was extracted and he was treated with antibiotics, he recovered quickly.

dental3dental4

Here you see dental x-rays of the right jaw of two different cats – Spanky on the left and Willie on the right. At first glance, the two look the same. If you look closely you will notice the third tooth in Willie’s x-ray appears moth eaten, especially on the left side of the tooth. The appearance is characteristic of a feline odontoclastic resorptive lesion (FORLS) or root resorption. Teeth with root resorptions need to be extracted as they can be painful and are prone to fracturing. The American Veterinary Dental College recommends cats affected by FORLS should be evaluated twice annually to detect and treat these lesions early.

dental5

Despite daily tooth brushing by her owner, Pippa has developed periodontal disease. You can see a pocket of bone loss around the two adjoining teeth. Both teeth had to be extracted during her annual dental cleaning.

Since I shared pictures of pets’ pearly whites, you might want to share yours!

On Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/groups/pearlywhitepets

On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/121936134646100/

On Twitter: Use the hashtag #pearlywhitepets


Pneumonia in the Summer?

August 23, 2012

The veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center, myself included, spent much of last week diagnosing and treating pneumonia in our canine and feline patients. I suspect many readers are surprised to find me writing about pneumonia in the summer. Cold weather, colds, and the flu bring pneumonia to mind, not the heat and humidity of August. None of these patients had a cold or the flu, but all had other medical problems leading to pneumonia.

Delbert’s debacle

Asthma in cats differs in most ways from the disease in humans – except both cats and humans with asthma are prone to developing pneumonia. The bronchi (breathing tubes in the lungs) of cats with asthma become inflamed. The inflammation blocks transfer of oxygen in the lungs, causing a cough or difficult breathing. Inflammation of the bronchi disturbs normal lung function, increasing a cat’s risk of developing pneumonia. This is exactly what happened to Delbert. He has asthma. Last summer and again this summer, he is fighting a case of pneumonia provoked by his asthma.

Gem’s tummy troubles

Twisted stomachs, also called bloat, threaten dog’s lives; not just because of the stomach problem, but because these dog’s vomit frequently. Gem successfully underwent surgery to put her twisted stomach back in place, but one of the many times she vomited, food went down the wrong pipe and into her lungs. When food goes into the lungs, the condition is called aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia can occur after any episode of vomiting, but is most likely to occur in an already critically ill pet, not after a simple case of tummy upset.

Frederik the Great

This champion Cavalier King Charles spaniel stars in an award-winning children’s book, Frederik goes to Hollywood. Right now he is the star ICU patient with, you guessed it, pneumonia. Frederik has a malfunctioning esophagus which cannot properly transport food into the stomach. This abnormality, called megaesophagus, creates a situation similar to Gem’s, where food ends up in Frederik’s lungs and causes pneumonia. Frederik has the most severe case of the three patients. Severe cases of pneumonia require treatment in an oxygen cage, intravenous fluids, and antibiotics. Happily, the pneumonia has been improving and he will go home shortly.

Recognizing pneumonia

How can you as a pet owner recognize pneumonia before your pet is seriously ill? As these cases show, the time of year clearly does not help you recognize pneumonia in your pet. Pneumonia might start with a cough which gets worse over time. Delbert’s family noticed weight loss and a few days later a cough. I saw Frederik in the waiting room just prior to his admission to the hospital. He looked like a limp rag. His owner thinks the pneumonia could have been triggered by the difference between last week’s heat and humidity outdoors compared to the cool of the air conditioned apartment. Gem developed a fever following surgery. The fever clued her doctors in to the possibility of pneumonia. Cough, weight loss, lethargy, and fever are all good reasons to see your pet’s veterinarian to make sure pneumonia is not the problem.


Urine Dribbling: Plugging the Leaking Dog

December 14, 2011

Willa came to The AMC today. Her owner was worried she might have diabetes because the dog bed was smelly and soaked with urine the last couple of mornings. Dogs with diabetes (and cats too!) will drink and urinate excessively, often having accidents in the house. When I questioned Willa’s owner, the “accidents” only happened when the dog was sleeping and there was no increase in water consumption or urinations. A quick test of the urine the owner brought with her dog determined diabetes was not the problem.

Causes of Urine Dribbling
Simple and complex disorders can lead to urination abnormalities in dogs. Infections, bladder stones and hormone problems are common causes of urine leakage and can readily be identified with routine blood tests, analysis of urine and x-rays. The x-ray to the right shows a dog with four large stones in its bladder. In some cases, a special diet will dissolve bladder stones. In this case, surgical removal of the stones resolved the urine dribbling.

In Willa’s case, testing showed no urinary tract infection, no stones and no blood test abnormalities. Because she is an older spayed female dog, I thought she might have “urethral incompetence.” Large breed, older, spayed female dogs are at risk for developing this condition, which may be related to a lack of estrogen in spayed female dogs and occasionally neutered males.

Treatments for Urine Dribbling
Commonly it is treated with medications including drugs to tighten the urethra (known as α-blockers), such as phenylpropanolamine, ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, or with estrogen replacement therapy using diethylstilbestrol. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration approved estriol for use in dogs.

If your dog resists taking medications, specialists at The Animal Medical Center can inject collagen into the urethral wall using special noninvasive endoscopic equipment to help narrow the urethral lumen and prevent urine dribbling. For refractory cases, AMC specialists also use a hydraulic urethral occluder.

Willa quickly responded to treatment with estrogen and once again has a dry bed in the morning. With all these options available to plug the leak, no dog should have to suffer with a stinky, wet bed.

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

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


Will My Pet Have Quality of Life?

October 4, 2011

As an Oncology specialist, I am frequently asked how cancer treatments will affect the quality of life for the dogs and cats in my care at The Animal Medical Center. I give these discussions with my clients as much time and attention as they need because I know my explanation will impact the pet owners’ decisions to treat their pets for cancer.

Quality of life is an important topic for most veterinarians and frequently discussed at meetings and professional seminars. It has been the topic of various research studies. For example, veterinary cardiologists studied quality of life in cats with heart disease as perceived by cat owners.

For the cat owners who took part in this study, appetite, litter box habits and sleep patterns were important markers of quality of life in their cat. And, these owners stated they would trade longevity for an improved quality of life for their pet with heart disease.

The study also showed that illness does not only impact the quality of life of the sick pet. Having a sick cat increased the owner’s stress with an increasing number of medications prescribed by the veterinarian.

Making the decision to amputate a pet’s limb, whether for an irreparable fracture or cancer, is another example of a wrenching experience for all pet owners and where the discussion of quality of life is inevitable. A recent study of cats undergoing amputation found a normal quality of life following amputation in nearly 90% of cats.

Dog owners feel the same way about their dog’s quality of life following amputation.

What, then, is the definition of quality of life for your pet? Is there a universal answer? Unfortunately not. Every pet owner has his or her own definition of quality of life for his or her pet. My clients have shown me through the love of their cats and dogs, the knowledge and understanding of their pets’ personalities how they have answered these difficult quality of life questions. The following video, photographs and one endearing text message illustrates how pet owners interpret their pets’ quality of life.

Dakota likes to fish. When his cancer relapsed, and he needed to start chemotherapy again, quality of life came up in our discussions. Here is a video of him fishing shortly after he restarted chemotherapy. As long as he can fish, his family knows he has a good quality of life.

Argos on a successful hunt.

Argos, like his mythical namesake, had superior tracking skills, especially for ducks. In this photo, Argos appears to be more successful at his chosen sport than Dakota! To maintain a high quality of life for Argos, his cancer treatments were scheduled around duck hunting season and, like Dakota, he could still have fun while being treated for cancer.

Penny accompanying her owner on a Maine bike ride.

Penny loves to romp in the Maine woods in the summer. It is her break from the heat and humidity we New Yorkers suffer from in the summer. This past summer, her cancer treatments were seamlessly transferred to a Maine-based veterinary specialist for her vacation in order to maintain both quality of life and remission.

And finally, a text message from an owner who was worried quality of life was waning:

“He played sock today and trotted around with a pair in his mouth. He’s back to himself.”

I think that is what quality of life is: being yourself and doing the things you love to do. I am sure this is true for both man and beast.

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

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


The Pen Cap May Be Mightier than the Sword…

July 15, 2011

But it can’t beat a bronchoscope!

Barcley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pen cap in windpipe

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

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

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

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


Dogs and Cats as Diana and Orion, the Hunters

July 13, 2011

Photo: Hemera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Everything Old is New Again: Plague and Leprosy

July 7, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Summer Noise Phobias

July 5, 2011

Lovely weather, summer holidays and a relaxed atmosphere make summer everyone’s favorite season – everyone except for dogs with noise phobias. Fireworks and thunderstorms create unexpected loud noises, frightening to many dogs and cats as well. The veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center see dogs and cats injured and lost over the Fourth of July weekend as a result of their noise phobias.

Signs of noise phobia:

Destructive behavior

  • Scratching/digging at door or wall
  • Chewing
  • Loss of housebreaking

Anxious behavior

  • Clinging to owner
  • Drooling
  • Hiding, especially cats
  • Panting
  • Expressing anal glands
  • Dilated pupils

Abnormal behavior

  • Skipping meals
  • Jumping out of windows/running out of doors
  • Shaking
  • Loss of training, i.e., not responding to commands

Home Remedies
Consider trying home remedies for noise phobia. One of my patients with thunderstorm phobia calms down if her owner wipes her fur down with a dryer sheet. Dryer sheets may decrease the buildup of static electricity caused by the impending thunderstorm. I suggest the unscented ones, since dogs don’t like smelling like an ocean breeze. Anxious dogs may feel calmer during storms or fireworks if you apply a dab of lavender oil to their ear tips. The lavender oil fragrance has calming properties and is available at health food stores and on the internet.

Noise Phobia Products

  • Along the lines of the antistatic dryer sheet is the Storm Defender Cape which has a special lining to diffuse static electricity.
  • The Thundershirt is a snug fitting dog T-shirt which some of my dog owners have used for anxiety related to car rides, veterinarian visits, as well as thunderstorms.
  • An interesting product I found is dog ear muffs, but I don’t have personal experience with them.

For additional tips on managing fireworks phobia in dogs read a previous blog, “Fireworks and Your Dog.”

If you need professional help managing noise phobias in your pet, a behavioral consult with a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists can help set your dog or cat on the road to recovery.

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

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


Day at the Museum: The Animal Medical Center Sequel

June 23, 2011

The Animal Medical Center has a computer system to manage our diagnostic imaging, including x-rays, ultrasound, CT scans and MRIs. The Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) lists all the images for any given day. If you looked at the list for June 17, you would see my patient Dakota, who got a chest x-ray, Chippie, the dog who had a full series of dental x-rays, and BooBoo who had a brain MRI — a typical list for a Friday.

But reading down the list you get to Croc 1, Bird 2, Snake 3 and Ibis 4. These images come from the oldest patients ever seen at The AMC. No, not a 25 year old dog or a 30 year old cat. These 32 patients are 2,500 year old animal mummies.

CT scan of Croc1. Head left, tail right

Like many AMC patients, these animals came to The AMC across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. Unlike any other AMC patients, these patients belong to the Brooklyn Museum’s Egyptian collection.

Like all patients who come to The AMC, they came for our diagnostic expertise, utilizing our state of the art equipment. In this case, the animal mummies came to The AMC for CT scanning in our 64-slice CT scanner.

Reptile mummy in its box being placed in 64-slice CT scanner

The AMC’s 64-slice CT scanner rapidly produces high quality images. So fast, all 32 were scanned in one day as outpatients! Rapid is better for our usual patients, since the faster the scan, the shorter the anesthesia time. For the animal mummies, the high quality images are critical in helping AMC’s board certified radiologist, Dr. Anthony Fischetti, collaborate with the curators from the Brooklyn Museum to decipher the mummy’s contents. The 64-slice CT scanner can recreate three dimensional and multiplanar images of the patient. In our usual patients, we use these features to better diagnose and treat illnesses. Our colleagues at the Brooklyn Museum plan to use the reconstructed CT images to study the mummies’ contents without disrupting the intricate linen wrapping.

If our CT scanner is so fast and can scan thirty two mummies in one day, you might wonder why your AMC veterinarian wanted your pet here all day when it had a CT scan. A CT scan in one of our usual patients requires administration of a short-acting anesthetic. Obviously, an animal mummy does not require anesthesia, the associated monitoring of the heart, respiration and blood pressure and does not have to recover from anesthesia. All these differences shorten the procedure time.

Most of our usual patients have two CT scans back to back. The first scan is before and the second is after administration of a contrast agent. The contrast agent highlights abnormalities the veterinarians are hunting for, such as inflammation and tumors. Administration of contrast was not possible or necessary in the animal mummies.

This animal mummy project between The Animal Medical Center and the Brooklyn Museum will culminate in an exhibition in 2013, so mark your calendars now!

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

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


Take Your Dog to Work Day

June 20, 2011

Becky (L) & Percy (R) hardly working at The AMC

Friday, June 24th, is Take Your Dog to Work Day. Employees of The Animal Medical Center (AMC) are lucky since every day here is Take Your Pet to Work Day. Not surprisingly, The AMC is a pet-friendly employer.

Although most pets that come to work are dogs, we do have the occasional infant kitten or ancient cat who come to work because of special feeding and medication requirements during the day. The photo below shows Pepe avoiding work by hiding under a chair.

First celebrated in 1999, Take Your Dog to Work Day was created to celebrate the great companions dogs make and to encourage their adoption from humane societies, animal shelters and breed rescue clubs.

Pepe (available for adoption)

Companies, large and small, are recognizing the importance of pets in our social fabric. Some offer their employees pet insurance as one option in their benefits package. Inc.’s series, “Winning Workplaces,” highlights the increased worker productivity and camaraderie of workplaces where dogs are allowed.

Taryl Fultz, copywriter for Trone, Inc., a 70 person marketing firm in High Point, NC, with many pet care clients, including GREENIES® and NUTRO® says, “I absolutely [get more work done] when my sheltie is at work. He is very well behaved, but I feel better when I have him with me. I often stay later, bring my lunch those days and work through at my desk. When people/clients get tours of the office, he is always a featured stop along the way. Pets make most people smile. And can often turn a tense meeting/moment into a better one.”

I emailed with one employee of the marketing firm Moxie. Dogs are welcome at this 300+ person company, but visits must be scheduled in advance and misbehaving dogs are put on restriction. Visiting the office is not all fun and games. One Chihuahua was even pressed into service, when he was photographed wearing a wig and playing the piano for an ad campaign.

Trone, Inc. employees, from the VP for human resources to copywriters, have wonderful work stories about their pets. One 65 pound mutt works on stealing stuffed toys from other dogs, small children or co-workers’ offices. Another dog likes to work in a private space – behind the credenza — only she doesn’t quite fit and all her owner can see is the back half of a dog sticking out. Owen, a Plott hound, likes work because of the availability of GREENIES. One weekend Owen didn’t come when he was called. Finally he came running with a large mailing box where his head should have been. Owen had grabbed one of the mailing samples, which had a Greenie affixed to it. He was so excited to bring to his owner and then rip it off of the package.

If your office is going to be dog-friendly, you might want to consider establishing office etiquette guidelines. Our friends at the ASPCA have some useful suggestions.

________________________________________________________

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

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


Potty Training Your Cat: Are You Kidding?

June 16, 2011

Toilet-trained cat

A cat and dog owning client of The Animal Medical Center called about a month ago wondering if I had heard of toilet training for cats. I guess he hasn’t seen Jinxy, the potty trained cat of the “Fockers” movie series. I had also seen the CitiKitty products in November 2010, when I attended the No Place Like Home Pet Products Showcase, which had included CitiKitty in their list of exhibitors.

CitiKitty is just one of several cat toilet training kits available. The concept seems simple. The device attaches to a toilet seat and you put litter on the device at the same time you take away the litter box. Gradually you remove the rings in the device until the entire device is removed and your cat stands on the toilet seat while eliminating in the toilet. An automatic flusher is even available to facilitate cleanup!

After that initial call, I didn’t hear from the owner for a while. Then a couple of weeks ago he and I had a good laugh about what had happened next. Uli, his Chartreux cat, performed brilliantly with the CitiKitty device, successfully using it on the first try. Tonka, his dog, looked at the CitiKitty device as a buffet option and ate all the cat litter, resulting in a severe case of tummy upset and diarrhea.

Photo: Tonka and Uli, courtesy of the family

The next part of the plan included a baby gate to allow Uli in and keep Tonka out and the training started again. Because Tonka is a French bulldog, he could not jump over the gate and Uli could. Uli used the training device until too many training rings were removed. Then he rebelled by using the bathtub as a litter box.

So what went wrong? My friend called the CitiKitty helpline and after some discussion with them, thinks he possibly rushed Uli by taking the rings out too fast. He is going to try again when his travel schedule allows him to be home to monitor the situation. Perhaps Uli should have had more positive reinforcement with a special tasty treat during the training process, as CitiKitty recommends.

But why all this fuss? What’s wrong with an old-fashioned litter box? In places like New York City, space is tight and having your cat use the toilet means you don’t need a litter box taking up valuable space in your apartment. Pregnant women should not scoop cat litter and this is an easy way to eliminate that task from the to-do list. Clay litter is very dusty and may contribute to respiratory problems in some cats and definitely contributes to landfills, making a potty trained cat a green cat.

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

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


Preventing Foodborne Infections in Pets

June 13, 2011

Foodborne illness has been in the news all week. First, the massive multi-country European outbreak of E. coli has sickened over 1,000 people and killed more than 20.

Closer to home, the United States Food and Drug Administration notified consumers of multiple recalls due to possible salmonella contamination in pig ear treats and a raw diet for cats. This type of news has veterinarians, including us at The Animal Medical Center on alert for illness possibly related to food.

Food and water can become contaminated with salmonella and E. coli bacteria if they come in contact with fecal material or if the processing plant is contaminated. Cooking readily destroys both of these bacteria. Neither of the recalled pet products was cooked. One was a diet designed to be fed raw, and pig ears are frozen and dried, but not cooked.

Both salmonella and E. coli are enteric bacteria and are commonly spread when contaminated food and water are ingested. Ingestion of salmonella or E. coli contaminated food or water can result in gastroenteritis, fever and abdominal pain in both humans and pets.

How can pet owners protect their pets and themselves? The June 1 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association offers suggestions on safe feeding practices. I have summarized them here.

  • Avoid feeding raw food diets.
  • Avoid purchasing bulk pig ears, buy individual packets.
  • Return pet food to store if it is discolored or has a bad smell.
  • Store pet food according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Save packaging and product codes for pet food to facilitate identification of a recalled food.
  • Children, the elderly and immunosuppressed humans should not handle pet food and treats.
  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after handling pet food and treats.
  • Wash pet water and food bowls regularly.
  • Keep human and pet foods separate.
  • Discourage humans from eating pet foods and treats.

________________________________________________________

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

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


How Do You Know if Your Dog is in Pain?

June 6, 2011

I get asked this question daily by at least one worried dog owner. Since dogs can’t talk, how do we identify a dog in pain?

Jack's legs

Dogs and Pain
Sometimes identifying pain is easy. Dogs hit by a car or suffering from another traumatic injury are obviously painful. Here is a photograph of an Irish Setter, with two reasons to be in pain. The leg on the right side of the photo looks red, sore and swollen. This skin change is induced by radiation therapy used to treat a bone tumor and it will resolve now that radiation is completed. The swelling is caused by a bone tumor. Bone tumors are particularly painful and tend to cause limping, which is what clued the dog owner in to Jack’s problem. Treatment is already making him walk better.

Sylvie after back surgery

Back Pain in Dogs
A dog with a slipped disc in the back (intervertebral disc disease) typically cries and whines, without external signs of injury, but the dog owner can readily determine there is a pain problem. Sylvie, shown here after her back surgery, came toThe AMC because her owners noted her crying when they picked her up. Later, they noticed she was having difficulty walking. Examination at The AMC identified her back as the source of the pain and she had surgery to remove the disc and relieve the pain.

Signs of Subtle Pain
Extreme pain is reasonably easy to identify; subtle pain may not be so easy to spot. With hospitalized patients, we look for changes in the sleep-wake cycle, a decrease in appetite or poor grooming habits. We also watch how the dog sits or lays in its cage. Painful dogs may hide in the back of the cage or sit in a strange fashion to protect a painful area of their body. Licking, rubbing or scratching a particular area of the body may also indicate a painful area. Whining and crying are not reliable pain indicators, but we monitor these behaviors in our hospitalized patients in case they indicate pain in a particular individual.

If you think your animal is in pain, a trip to the veterinarian is in order. In the past few years, new drugs to treat pain have been developed for dogs. Keep in mind, painful animals are typically frightened and even the most docile pet can bite when handled if it is experiencing severe pain. If your dog is injured and needs transportation to the ER, consider using a muzzle, or if you don’t have one, a necktie to gently tie his muzzle closed while he is handled because you don’t want to have to go to the ER too.

________________________________________________________

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

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


Careers in Veterinary Medicine

May 31, 2011

On May 26th I participated in a career fair at IS 204 in Long Island City, Queens. In case there are any aspiring veterinarians reading this, I thought I would give a review of what I talked about at the career fair with these middle school students.

Most middle school students in New York City are exposed to veterinary medicine through the care a neighborhood veterinarian provides to a family pet such as a cat, dog or other companion animal, but the opportunities the profession offers are much wider.

Nearly 100,000 veterinarians in the United States provide healthcare to animals who supply us with food, such as cattle and fish, produce fiber for clothing, such as sheep and alpacas, and protect the public health though their efforts on behalf of local, state and federal agencies. Veterinarians care for animals in research laboratories, wildlife parks, zoos and classrooms. Other veterinarians become professors, training the next generation of animal caregivers.

Neighborhood veterinarians are typically generalists, providing preventive and general healthcare to their patients. Some veterinarians, like me, are specialists, with additional training. My training is in treating pets with cancer.

For middle school students interested in a career in veterinary medicine, choose a high school with a strong college preparatory program, especially in science and mathematics.  Use your summers to explore veterinary medicine by volunteering at an animal shelter or veterinarian’s office. Participate in an animal related summer program. One such program is sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo.

Colleges of veterinary medicine offer summer programs for high school juniors and seniors. My alma mater, Cornell University, offers four programs for high school students. Michigan State University, Tufts University and the University of Pennsylvania, among others, host similar programs.

When choosing a college major, it is not essential to choose biology or animal science. I went to veterinary school with someone who had majored in Russian literature, but she completed all the science and math prerequisites required to apply to veterinary school. Keep in mind, grades matter. The University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine offers a college level summer “camp” for preveterinary students.

If the four years of college and four years of veterinary school are not for you, but you are interested in being part of an animal healthcare team, you might want to consider becoming a Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT). Multiple programs throughout the country offer associate degrees in veterinary technology. The closest program to both The AMC and IS204 is at LaGuardia Community College, also in Long Island City, Queens.

Veterinary medicine offers great diversity in career options for the student interested in biology, zoology and mathematics. Additional information on pursing a career in veterinary medicine and veterinary technology can be found at the American Veterinary Medical Association website.

________________________________________________________

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

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


Name This Puppy!

May 25, 2011

The adorable West Highland White Terrier pictured here is in search of a name. His new family is considering Harper, a name of Scottish origin that also belonged to a famous Southern American author, Harper Lee, or Henry because of the puppy’s regal bearing and royal personality. Or perhaps my readers have a better suggestion. Go to the Animal Medical Center’s Facebook page and join in the discussion about this puppy’s name. Below are some of my thoughts on memorable patient names to help you start thinking. We would also like to hear the story about how your pet got its name.

During the course of my career as a veterinarian, I have heard lots of unusual pet names. To write this blog, I reviewed my personal patient archives to remind myself of some of the colorful names my patients have. Unlike human baby names, which are recorded by the Social Security Administration, and reported on websites like parenting.com, there is no registry of pet names.

Popular culture influences baby names, and 2010 was no exception. The Twilight Saga gave us the top boy and girl names of 2010: Jacob and Isabella.

Popular culture also influences pet names. Over the years I have noticed an evolution in Rottweiller names. For example, a common name in the 1980’s was Mr. T. Tyson became popular in the 1990’s, and more recently Kruger or Hannibal.

Remember the movie Milo and Otis? Milo was an orange cat. Every veterinarian will tell you orange cats named Milo increased dramatically after this movie was released and The AMC has over 300 cats named Milo in its patient database.

Here are some more fun names of pets, in alphabetical order so no one will be offended.

Abie – A West Highland White Terrier owned by a pianist. The name was a truncation of the Composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin.

Barbara, Diana and Mary – An entire litter of three female miniature black poodles named after the Motown group, The Supremes.

FSBO – (pronounced fizz-bo) A real estate acronym which stands for For Sale By Owner. This dog’s family worked in the real estate business.

Handsome – An aptly named, fabulously handsome Pug with velvet black lips.

Pugsley – When I first met this dog I spent a lot of time in the waiting room looking for a Pug or a Puggle, but I just found a brown, mixed breed dog. Turns out the owner just liked the name and its choice had nothing to do with the dog’s appearance.

Quay – A dog rescued from a drug dealer and previously known as Quaalude.

Sapphire – This cat should have been named Spitfire. No veterinarian could get within a mile of this cat without risking life and limb.

Simon – A Morkie, was thought to look British in a photo sent to a family member and he immediately became Simon.

________________________________________________________

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

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


Spring Allergies in Dogs

May 23, 2011

Spring finally has come to New York City. I know because of the springtime changes I see. No, I don’t mean the daffodils, tulips, flowering trees or the verdant carpet of grass in Central Park , nor the return of the robins, Yankees or Mets. It is the phone calls from the owners of Willie, Coco, Willa and Roman who have noticed their dogs licking, scratching and chewing at themselves and shaking their heads due to itchy ears.

Signs of an Allergy
Dogs that are licking, scratching and chewing at themselves likely have allergies to something in the environment, a common disorder in dogs. One of the major pet insurance companies in the United States reported the top claims for 2010. The top three in dogs were all related to allergies: ear infections, skin allergies and skin infection/hotspots.

Types of Allergies
Your dog can be allergic to the same allergens you are – seasonal ones such as fleas, mold and pollen from trees, flowers and shrubs. Dogs also suffer from non-seasonal allergies to dust mites or feathers. And poor Roman has been diagnosed with being allergic to cats! This time of year we suspect seasonal allergies, but if the scratching and itching continue into the winter months, then we worry about year round allergies.

Treating Allergies
If your dog has seasonal allergies, frequent bathing with soothing shampoos and medicated rinses often help, especially after weekend romps in the park. If your dog develops a skin or ear infection as a sequel to her allergies, your veterinarian can evaluate an ear or skin swab and determine the proper medication to remedy the situation. Sometimes antihistamines or steroids are prescribed to help control the itch.

Seeking a Veterinary Dermatologist
When the allergies are present year round or are not controlled by the methods described above, a veterinary dermatologist can perform special testing to determine the allergen(s) causing the problem. Two types of allergy testing are available for dogs: a blood test and intradermal testing (the skin prick test your allergist may have used on you). The veterinary dermatologist will determine what test is best for your dog. Most dogs are allergic to more than one thing and a custom allergy vaccine can be created for them based on the test information. You give your pet small volume injections under the skin to decrease the immune system’s response to the allergen, and over time the itching, scratching and associated skin and ear infections subside.

If your dog is scratching more this spring or seems to always have an ear infection, maybe he has allergies. See your veterinarian for advice on management and follow the directions closely to avoid a serious hotspot or ear infection this spring.

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

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


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