World AIDS Day 2013: Pet Ownership and AIDS Patients

November 27, 2013

World AIDS Day LogoThis Sunday, December 1 is World AIDS Day. This special day is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died from the disease. World AIDS Day became the first ever global health day, with the first one held in 1988. Since we at The AMC are all about pets, today’s blog focuses on pet ownership for immunocompromised individuals such as AIDS patients.

Pets are “pawsitive”
AIDS patients and indeed all immunocompromised patients are at greater risk for acquiring infections from their pets. Yet, many believe the positive benefits of pet ownership outweigh the risks of infection. The health benefits of pet ownership are well known. People with pets exercise more, especially those with dogs. Pets lower your blood pressure and speed recovery from cardiovascular disease. Pets also increase human social interactions and decrease feelings of isolation in pet owners.

In a 2008 article, Dr. Russell Steele, a specialist in infectious diseases at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans, asks and answers the question “Should immunocompromised patients have pets?” Since his answer to the question is yes, Dr. Steele recommends a two pronged approach to pet ownership for immunocompromised individuals:

  1. Careful selection of the pet
  2. Frequent health monitoring of pets

Pet selection

  • Choose an adult pet with a known health history. Puppies, kittens and pets without any health information are more likely to pose a risk for infectious diseases such as Campylobacter diarrhea or bite injuries.
  • Select an indoor pet. Indoor pets have less exposure to wild animals and other sources of infectious diseases.
  • Choose a cat that tests negative for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus. Since these are the feline versions of AIDS, infected cats may harbor infections which can be transmitted to humans. 
  • Avoid pet birds, reptiles and rodents. These make wonderful pets for some, but the diseases they can transmit to immunocompromised patients cannot be prevented by vaccination like many of the diseases transmitted by dogs and cats. 

Healthcare and monitoring

  • Tell your veterinarian about your immunocompromised status. Details are not important. Just knowing a patient is immunocompromised is enough for me to better manage your pet’s healthcare.
  • If your pet is not neutered, talk to your veterinarian about neutering. Neutered pets are less likely to roam and bring home infectious diseases.
  • Have your pet examined by a veterinarian at least once a year.
  • Follow your veterinarian’s recommendation regarding vaccinations and fecal analysis.
  • Ask about preventive medications to keep yourself and your pet free from diseases transmitted by fleas and ticks.
  • Feed a cooked diet. Raw pet food may contain microorganisms which can make you and your pet sick.

For more information about keeping yourself healthy if you have a pet, read the Centers for Disease Control’s FAQ on pets and HIV/AIDS. Note the first line of this document says “You do not have to give up your pet.”


Flu Season 2013 is Upon Us

November 20, 2013

sick dogInfluenza was in the news and on my mind last week. First a new strain of avian influenza was reported to have infected humans. Then, I got my annual flu shot and finally reader comments on an article about canine influenza clearly showed the article was misconstrued by its readers, making me think it was time to write the hard facts about influenza.

Not like avian influenza
Canine influenza is significantly different than avian influenza. Compared to avian influenza virus, the canine influenza virus is relatively new. It was identified in 2004 by researchers in Florida who were studying an outbreak of respiratory disease and pneumonia in greyhounds. Based on research published, the virus appears to have emerged in racing greyhounds in approximately 1999. Subsequently, all dogs, greyhound or not, have been shown to be susceptible to infection by the canine influenza virus. But don’t worry, Fido’s virus does not appear to affect you or the family parrot.

Not like human influenza
Canine influenza is also very different than the human flu virus. I (and millions of other Americans) get a flu shot in the fall because flu infections predictably spike in the fall and peter out in the spring, only to return again in the fall. Canine influenza is non-seasonal, occurring anytime of the year. Check with your veterinarian to see if your dog is at risk for the flu and should be vaccinated against it.

Flu virus similarities
Flu viruses are usually contagious and spread rapidly in a susceptible population. Children typically bring the flu home from school and infect their parents. Dogs tend to contract the flu in places where there are many dogs in close contact. In a dog’s world, places of close contact include puppy kindergarten, dog parks, doggie day care, shelters and boarding kennels. If your dog visits any of these types of facilities, check on their vaccination policy.

We cover our face when we sneeze to protect others from our viruses and we wash our hands to prevent transmitting viruses on door knobs and other surfaces. As clever as dogs are, they do neither of these things to prevent transmitting canine influenza to their dog friends. If your dog is coughing or sneezing, keep her away from other dogs until your veterinarian gives the all clear sign.

Be flu safe
Right now, flu activity is low in the United States. To keep track of human flu, check the Centers for Disease Control’s flu map.

Get your flu shot today! If you are sick, who will take care of your dog or cat?


World Rabies Day: September 28, 2013

September 25, 2013

world rabies dayWorld Rabies Day takes place each year on September 28, the anniversary of the death of Louis Pasteur who, with the collaboration of his colleagues, developed the first efficacious rabies vaccine. The promotion of World Rabies Day aims to raise awareness about the impact of rabies on humans and animals, provide information and advice on how to prevent the disease, and inform us of ways individuals and organizations can help eliminate global sources (World Rabies Day website, 2010).

A recent article in the Palm Beach Post sets the tone for this year’s World Rabies Day blog. Four people, trying to help a sick kitten, have been exposed to rabies and have undergone rabies post exposure prophylaxis.

Feline rabies rising
This story helps underscore the importance of rabies vaccination in cats. Depending on the laws in your town and the type of vaccination used, cats may need to be vaccinated for rabies every one, two or three years by your primary care veterinarian. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports feline rabies is on the rise.

For the last three decades, the animal causing the most human exposure to rabies is the cat. According to New York State’s Wadsworth Laboratory, which performs statewide rabies testing, between 2003 and 2009 in New York State, there were about 25-30 feline cases of rabies per year. That number jumped to about 40 cases in 2010-2011, decreased to the usual level in 2012, and hopefully will continue to decrease. The Wadsworth Laboratory also reports cats are the number two animal tested (behind bats) and the number one domestic species tested for rabies. In 2012, 22 New York State cats tested positive for rabies, but no dogs tested positive for the rabies virus. Dog rabies occurs infrequently due to the successful vaccination programs in place.

Veterinarians are concerned the number of feline rabies cases will not decrease, since cats see their doctors less often than dogs see theirs. Fewer veterinary visits mean fewer opportunities to vaccinate cats against rabies, resulting in more unvaccinated cats at risk of developing rabies.

Feral cat reservoir? 
Since feral cats live at the intersection between humans and wild animals, some suggest feral cats serve as a reservoir for rabies. The rabid kitten of the Palm Beach Post article was believed to have come from a feral cat colony. Some colonies of feral cats are managed to facilitate population control and rabies prevention, but the Palm Beach colony was not managed in any way, causing some to call for removal of the entire colony.

Protecting your cat against rabies

  • Vaccination is the best method for preventing rabies. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations.
  • Keep your cat indoors and away from wild animals that may harbor rabies.
  • Don’t feed wild animals in your yard; you may be attracting trouble and putting your pets and family at risk.

Check out the Worms & Germs Blog for more information about rabies.

 


Sidney the Cat Goes “Red” to Educate Owners About Feline Heart Disease

February 27, 2012

February is American Heart Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the most common form of heart disease in humans is coronary artery disease. This disease causes the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle to become blocked, resulting in a heart attack. To raise awareness of heart disease in women, the Go Red for Women campaign works to wipe out heart disease and stroke in women.

Both dogs and cats suffer from heart disease, but neither have heart attacks like we do. Dogs most commonly develop thickened heart valves. The thickening prevents normal value function. Although he is a cat, Sidney, a patient of The Animal Medical Center’s Cardiology Service, has agreed to “Go Red “ and be the AMC’s spokescat for feline heart disease.

Meet Sidney. In addition to being a handsome, 10-year-old white cat with black trim, Sidney is a tough nut to crack from a medical perspective. Before Christmas, Sidney started having episodes of falling over without losing consciousness and sometimes he would curl his feet under himself and act woozy.

First steps

Sidney’s owner took him to his regular veterinarian, whose first step was to obtain routine blood tests looking for metabolic causes of episodes like an overactive thyroid gland, low blood sugar, or anemia. But the answer was not going to come easily; the tests were normal.

A neurology c consultation

Was it his brain malfunctioning causing a strange kind of seizure? Sidney first came to The AMC and saw board certified neurologist, Dr. Chad West.

After assessing Sidney, Dr. West determined Sydney’s problem was not neurological. But he did detect an abnormal heart rhythm and a murmur. Because episodes in cats can be caused by an abnormal heart, a cardiac evaluation was recommended for Sidney.

Finally an answer

Sidney came back to The AMC to see board certified cardiologist, Dr. Philip Fox. An electrocardiogram (EKG) showed enlargement of the right heart and he confirmed the abnormal heart rhythm and murmur. Dr. Fox then used a non-invasive echocardiogram to evaluate Sidney’s heart and found the muscle of the heart walls to be thickened. View Sidney’s echocardiogram:

The diagnosis was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), or an abnormally thickened heart muscle. The thick muscle prevents the heart from normally filling with blood and is likely the cause of Sidney’s collapsing episodes. Enalapril, an ACE inhibitor, was prescribed for its beneficial effects and high level of safety in cats with heart disease, but if it does not correct Sidney’s collapsing episodes, different medications will be prescribed.

Feline heart disease

The most common disorders of the feline heart are abnormalities of the heart muscle itself. Thick heart muscles, like Sidney’s, are the most common; less frequently veterinary cardiologists diagnose thin, flabby heart muscles. Either form can lead to heart failure which is a backup of fluid into the lungs due to decreased heart muscle function.

Tips for the cat owner

Like Sidney, cats with feline cardiomyopathy can be successfully treated.

Early treatment of feline heart disease is critical, since cats without heart failure live longer than those developing heart failure. If your veterinarian detects a heart murmur or abnormal heart rhythm during your cat’s annual physical examination, ask if a further evaluation by a veterinary cardiologist is required.

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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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