NYC Rat Patrol Finds Plethora of Disease: Is Your Pet at Risk?

October 22, 2014

ratHistorians believe rats arrived in the new world as stowaways on the sailing ships of explorers like Christopher Columbus.  These “colonist” rats brought diseases such a plague and typhus. A recently published study of rats in New York City “rats” on the veritable Noah’s Ark of organisms infecting these ubiquitous pests.

Scientists ratting on the rat
One hundred and thirty three NYC rats were collected for study. Samples of urine, feces and blood obtained from these rats were tested for the genetic material of bacteria, viruses and protozoa. For those organisms like E. coli, known to infect rats, humans and pets, very specific tests were performed to identify these pathogens. Several intestinal pathogens were found in the rats, in addition to E. coli, Clostridium and  Salmonella.

Another concerning, but not surprising bacteria found in the rats was LeptospiraLeptospira bacteria spreads to humans and dogs through the urine of infected rats. At The Animal Medical Center, we see a couple of canine patients a year with severe, life-threatening kidney failure from Ieptospirosis.

What wasn’t found
Nearly as interesting as the list of organisms that were identified, was the list of organisms not identified. One of the most deadly diseases carried by rats and having the ability to infect people and their pets is the plague. Reassuringly, not a single rat was infected with the plague causing bug, Yersinia pestis. Ditto for Listeria, a food borne illness, and Toxoplasma, a serious disease in pregnant women.

Some surprises
The Seoul hantavirus was identified in some of the study rats. This is a different version of the virus than the one carried by mice that caused the hantavirus outbreak in Yosemite National Park a couple of years ago. According to the recently published paper, the Seoul hantavirus has been identified in rats residing in other urban areas, but this is the first documented report of this virus in the Big Apple. Hantavirus appears to be a disease not spread to pets, and only to humans in rare cases.

The scientists screened the rat samples for previously unidentified viruses and found the genetic material of 18 new viral species. Most of these novel viruses are related to known viruses, but their clinical significance remains to be elucidated.

Why study rats?
Some might question why the despised rat is studied. Rat health and disease have important implications for our health and the health of our pets. In urban areas, rats live in close proximity to us, our pets and our food. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 75% of emerging diseases start in animals, so our future health and that of our pets may lie in the study of creatures like the rat.


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.


The New Dog Virus: Circovirus

September 11, 2013
dog with circovirus

Photo: WRGT-TV FOX 45 News

The internet has been buzzing with talk of an emerging and possibly deadly virus occurring in dogs. Concern about this virus is significant enough that even during a webinar I attended yesterday on using social media in veterinary medicine, dog circovirus received a mention. The Animal Medical Center’s Facebook friends have been discussing the virus and their concerns about their dogs, as well.

Circovirus?
I had actually not heard of the circovirus group until recently, probably because the majority of circoviruses infect birds. Until this new virus was isolated from sick dogs in April, pigs were the only mammal known to be infected with a circovirus, which causes pneumonia, gastrointestinal signs, and systemic inflammation. The genome of a dog circovirus was reported back in 2012, but the authors of that paper do not report where the virus was found or if the virus made dogs sick.

Sick dogs in California
In April of this year, Emerging Infectious Diseases published an article, “Circovirus in Tissues of Dogs with Vasculitis and Hemorrhage.” In California, a young dog, sick with signs of vomiting and bloody diarrhea, died and was autopsied. Tests for typical diseases causing bloody diarrhea, parvovirusSalmonella and Giardia, were negative. Researchers performed additional testing on the tissues, leading to the identification of a strain of dog circovirus. Fecal analysis of samples from both healthy dogs and sick dogs with signs similar to the dog in California found about 10% of fecal samples were positive for circovirus, but many dogs had other pathogens in their stool including coronavirus, Giardia and Salmonella. One common historical feature of these cases was group housing, such as a shelter or boarding kennel.

Sick dogs in Ohio
Last month, an astute veterinarian in Ohio treated several dogs, all with a history of staying at the same boarding kennel, and reported this cluster of cases to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The dogs had strikingly similar signs to one another and to the dogs reported in Emerging Infectious Diseases: bloody diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, lethargy and inflammation of the blood vessels. One dog had circovirus isolated from a fecal sample, and further testing is underway in one of the dogs that died to determine the cause of death.

Treat with common sense
Medical caution is indicated in this situation. Finding a virus in a sick patient does not automatically determine causality and much more research is necessary before circovirus infection can be added to the list of potential diagnoses for sick dogs. Our friends at the Veterinary Network News urge caution in attributing too many illnesses to this newly found virus.

The unknown can be scary. Since so little is known about dog circovirus, making rational recommendations is a hard task.

  1. Use common sense. Keep your dog away from sick dogs.
  2. Wash your hands after petting someone else’s dog and before you pet your dog.
  3. Report all illnesses to your veterinarian.
  4. Still nervous? Check for updates on the virus on The AMC website. We will recommend if it might be best to forgo the dog park, boarding kennel and doggie day care if the risks become more evident.

Reflections from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show 2013

February 18, 2013

AMC boothEvery year when the Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) dog show comes to New York City, The AMC goes to the dogs. The Animal Medical Center sets up a vendor booth in the middle of the benching area, which was held this year at Pier 92/94 overlooking the Hudson River, instead of the usual location in the outer ring basement of Madison Square Garden. The new space was so much more spacious than the old space and everyone I talked to hope this new location would be the start of a new tradition.

Only a few cat questions

Not surprisingly, the majority of veterinary questions were asked about dogs. A few slightly embarrassed people walked up to the booth and sheepishly asked permission to have a cat question answered. This reluctance of cat owners to ask cat health questions mirrors one of the current feline healthcare issues: cat owners are providing less healthcare for their cats than dog owners provide for their dogs.

Food, food, food

One of the most frequent topics discussed with pet owners at The AMC booth was pet food which has also been a common topic here at Fur the Love of Pets.

At the dog show, several pet owners asked, Which is better, dry or canned food?” Some cat owners had heard the myth: dry food is bad for your cat and others heard dogs should have a mixture of dry and canned food. Both of these are pet food mythsIf you have a healthy dog, cat, puppy or kitten, my guidelines for choosing a pet food include:

  • Food that carries the AAFCO nutritional adequacy label
  • Matching your pets life-stage and species, (i.e. puppy food for a puppy)
  • Food that is easy for you to obtain
  • Food that your pet likes

The choice between canned and dry belongs to you and your pet; however, dogs and cats with medical conditions may benefit from a particular type of food.

Intersection of animal and human health

One of the visitors at our booth was a physician. We chatted a bit about the similarities between veterinary and human medicine. This too has been a common theme in my blogs. Pets and their people share infections like Salmonellaget similar cancers, such as melanomaand everyone gets sick with the flu. The physician was surprised to find out The AMC staff consists of 92 veterinarians, 30 who are board certified specialists and five who hold two certifications.

Thanks

Possibly the best part of staffing The AMC booth was talking with the grateful pet owners who came to say thank you to The AMC. Those kind words and smiling faces are what makes my job, and the job of every veterinarian worthwhile – every day.


Your Child and Animals: Advice to Parents

October 22, 2012

As parents, we want to raise children who have a reverence for all living things, and what better way to educate them about animals than to spend a day at a petting zoo, a country fair, or a natural science museum featuring live animal displays? Animal events are fun and educational for the entire family, but before you attend an animal event, your children need a bit of advance preparation to protect themselves. Animals in public setting have been associated with some preventable health issues such as infection, injury, and allergic reactions.

Infection connection

Rodents, reptiles, livestock, pocket pets, and even wild mammals visit schools and are displayed at county fairs and science museums. The potential dangers vary from animal to animal. Livestock can carry the bacteria E. coli, which causes gastrointestinal upset in humans. Just last week I read a report of an E. coli outbreak linked to a fair in North Carolina.

Reptiles commonly shed another bacterium causing gastrointestinal upset: Salmonella. This organism is the reason turtles less than 4 inches in size have been banned from sale. Most experts consider turtles appropriate pets for children over five years of age.

Approach animals cautiously

Parents take their children to visit animal displays because they want their children to be comfortable around animals and to appreciate the natural world. Before you go, make sure your child understands if the animals can be touched and, if so, how to approach one safely. If your child is bitten during one of these events, you risk dampening your child’s enthusiasm for animals and simultaneously exposing him to a serious injury or infection.

Even iguanas can cause allergies

If you have a child with animal allergies, check with her allergist about how best to handle an animal visitation. Most children allergic to dogs and cats are likely to be allergic to other furry critters such as guinea pigs, chinchillas, and rodents. Some people even have allergies to iguana scales.

Take home messages

  1. Teach children how to safely interact with an animal before visiting a petting zoo, county fair, or school event featuring animals.
  2. Wash hands after every animal interaction or use hand sanitizer.
  3. Children should not kiss animals or put their hands in their mouth after handling an animal.
  4. Children too young to follow directions about hand washing and keeping their hands out of their mouths should not handle animals in public displays.
  5. Because of the risk of transmitting an infection, hands should be washed after petting animals and before snack time.
  6. Wild animals do not make good pets.

If you are an early childhood educator, guidelines for animals in schools have been developed by the Centers for Disease Control.


Salmonella in Pets and Humans

May 17, 2012

On April 6, 2012, the United States Food and Drug Administration announced a voluntary recall of Diamond Naturals Lamb Meal and Rice dry dog food. Since the initial recall, several other brands of food manufactured in a South Carolina plant have been voluntarily recalled for possible Salmonella contamination. Voluntary recalls of pet food are not uncommon, but this recall is unusual. Illness in humans, not dogs, prompted the recall.

Outbreak investigation

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control checked the genetic fingerprint of the Salmonella found in the dog food against a national database of foodborne infections and found people infected with an identical bacterium. Because the Salmonella isolated from the dog food and the people is a rare type, the humans were interviewed to determine if there was a common source of infection. These interviews revealed many of the infected people had been exposed to dogs and the brand of dog food included in the initial recall. Subsequent recalls have all involved food manufactured in the same facility.

Why did people get sick?

This medical mystery seemed backwards to me. I could understand if my dog and I both got sick from some food I slipped her at the table, but I would suspect hardly any of us grab a handful of tan nuggets from our dog’s bowl as a quick snack.

So to help me understand, I called my sister, Mary Hohenhaus, MD, FACP, who is also a board certified internist (but for people) with Brigham and Women’s Physicians Organization in Boston.

The other Dr. Hohenhaus says:

Salmonella bacteria are a leading cause of infectious gastroenteritis in humans – more than a million cases in the U.S. each year. Symptoms include diarrhea, cramping, and fever starting anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after exposure.

Catching Salmonella is easy only if the bacteria can find their way into your mouth. I use a scoop to measure out dry food for my cat, but I could just as easily grab a handful of kibble for Sam’s bowl – and if the next thing I did was grab a handful of grapes for my breakfast, I could be in trouble.

Food and water contaminated with animal feces are a common source of Salmonella infection. Outbreaks have been associated with meat, eggs, dairy products, and fresh produce, as well as processed foods. Pet birds and reptiles can carry Salmonella without appearing ill. Feces from infected humans are another source.

Many infections are mild and don’t come to medical attention. Most people get better within a week just with extra fluids and rest. Children, the elderly, and people whose immune systems don’t work well are more likely to have severe cases of Salmonella, where the bacteria enter the bloodstream. These people need intravenous fluids, antibiotics and close monitoring in a hospital.

This current outbreak is a good reminder that Salmonella can show up in some surprising and unexpected places. It also reminds us that contaminated foods look, smell, and taste perfectly normal. The best protection against Salmonella and many other infections is common sense: keep your hands clean (and out of your mouth) and practice food safety.

When should you wash? After using the toilet, before preparing food, and any time your hands are visibly soiled are a must. Don’t forget to wash after playing with pets, not just after poop-scooping. A pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitizer is a great addition to your daily walk with Fido.

In the kitchen, wash utensils and work surfaces thoroughly after handling raw meat and eggs and before preparing produce – especially important if fruits and vegetables will be served raw. Thoroughly cook meat and eggs, and be sure to serve hot foods hot and cold foods cold. For more information click here.

This Dr. Hohenhaus is worried about dogs

Although the Salmonella cases making the news are human, dogs can also contract Salmonella after eating tainted food. Veterinarians in New York City are required to report certain diseases to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene just like physicians are. We report zoonotic diseases, diseases transmitted between animal and humans, which include: Salmonellosis, tuberculosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and leptospirosis.

I contacted one of my colleagues at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Dr. Sally Slavinski, Assistant Director Zoonotic, Influenza and Vector-borne Disease Unit, and she says no canine cases associated with this recall have been reported to the DHMH. I do have veterinary colleagues out of state who have seen a smattering of dogs they believe contracted Salmonellosis from the recalled foods.

Prevention in pets

For tips on preventing foodborne infections in your pets, click here.


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.

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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.


Salmonella Poisoning in Pets

July 6, 2010

Salmonella is a bacteria we associate with food poisoning from consumption of undercooked chicken or poorly refrigerated picnic food. It is also a zoonotic disease, meaning it is a disease that affects both animals and humans.

You may have heard something about Salmonella in the news recently. Late in May, Salmonella caused the nationwide recall of alfalfa sprouts which made people sick in 10 different states. In the last three weeks there have been three voluntary dog and cat food recalls because of potential Salmonella contamination. Salmonella enters the pet food chain when it contaminates meat processing plants, eggs and, in one recent pet food recall, a vitamin supplement.

Salmonella infection in dogs and cats can be asymptomatic, cause a mild gastrointestinal illness or be severe and life threatening. In severe cases, your pet will stop eating, develop a fever, vomiting or bloody diarrhea. Your veterinarian may find an elevated white blood cell count and will do a test on the feces to determine if Salmonella organisms are present.

The most recent cat food recalled for potential Salmonella contamination was a raw food diet. Transmission of microorganisms is one significant downside to feeding a raw food diet. Some reports indicate up to 20% of raw food diets are contaminated with Salmonella. For this reason, many veterinarians are nervous about the health of their patients fed a raw food diet.

In addition to threatening the health of pets, Salmonella contaminated pet food poses risk to the human family members, especially small children and immunocompromised adults. Handling Salmonella contaminated pet food without proper hand washing could result in a human becoming infected with Salmonella. For tips on safe handling of pet food, read our previous blog on pet food recalls.

The Animal Medical Center
For 100 years, 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.


Pet Food Recalls

June 10, 2010

Yesterday, the Iams Company voluntarily recalled Iams ProActive Health canned cat and kitten food – all varieties of 3 oz & 5.5 oz cans (date on the bottom of the can is 09/2011 to 06/2012). The Iams Company quality assurance team identified a deficiency of vitamin B1, also called thiamine, in this line of cat food. Cats can easily become thiamine deficient. If your cat is eating any of the recalled foods and appears sick in any way, please see your veterinarian immediately. Thiamine deficiency can easily be treated if recognized early. For more information, visit the Iams website.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates pet food. Regulations indicate pet food should be sanitary, safe for consumption and truthfully labeled. Unlike FDA approved medications for your pet, food does not have to undergo a pre-market approval process. The FDA regulates pet food labels in two ways. First, pet food must be correctly identified: what’s in it, who makes it, where is it made. Second, the FDA reviews specific health claims of pet food such as “promotes urinary tract health” or “prevents dental tartar.”

A recall can be one of three different types. The most common is a voluntary recall, and this recall is just that type. During a voluntary recall, the manufacturer realizes the food or medication is in some way unsafe and issues a recall. Distributors are alerted to remove unsold product from stores. As a service to consumers, a press release is posted on the FDA website. Less commonly, the FDA can request a recall if their investigation identifies a safety issue with a food or medication. And finally, the FDA has statutory power to mandate a recall.

Pets and humans share a common environment, food and often the same diseases. A human food recall could affect our pets if they were sharing our hamburger that gets recalled. A pet food recall can directly affect us as well. Recalled food can be risky for those handling the food, not just those eating it. For example, pet foods are at risk for being contaminated by a bacterium called Salmonella. Pets eating the food can get sick, and humans who prepare the food for their pet without properly washing their hands after handling the contaminated food could contract Salmonellosis too. Since humans are not eating this food, this particular recall is of consequence only to our cats. The recalled cat food poses no safety issues for the humans in the family.

Here are some suggestions to protect yourself and your pet against food-borne illnesses. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling any food, especially raw meat. Wash your pet’s food and water bowls daily in hot, soapy water to remove any microorganisms. If your pet’s food smells strange or looks different than it usually does, discard it. Proper storage will protect food against spoiling. Opened wet food should be refrigerated and dry food should be stored in a tightly closed container at less than 80oF to preserve freshness. And finally, always save the label from the food you are feeding as a resource in case the food your pet is eating undergoes a recall.

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For nearly 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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