Bladder Stones: Now You See Them, Now You Don’t

March 4, 2015

The two x-rays seen below are from the same canine patient, taken one month apart. The one on the left shows two bladder stones. On the right you can see the stones are no longer present in the bladder. How did this magic happen? Surgery? Laser therapy? Antibiotics? Food? Magic wand?

canine bladder stones

Canine x-rays. Left image indicates 2 bladder stones. (Click to enlarge.)

Surgery?
Nope. Surgery may be the fastest and most common treatment for bladder stones, but for this lucky duck dog surgery was not necessary. Bladder surgery is performed under general anesthesia. The surgeon makes an incision in the abdomen near the back legs and finds the bladder just inside the body wall. Because the bladder is a hollow organ, it will collapse when the surgeon makes an incision in the bladder wall. Special sutures are placed in the bladder to hold it up and keep it open while the stones are scooped out of the bladder with a bladder stone spoon.

Bladder spoons

Bladder spoons (click to enlarge)

PCCL?
Huh? This acronym stands for per cutaneous cystolithotomy. Using laparoscopy equipment, a pinhole incision is made in the bladder. A small camera is threaded into the bladder and its magnifying properties are used to visualize the tiniest stones. Using this non-invasive method, stones are busted up using the laser and then easily removed.

Laser therapy?
Guess again. For dogs of the right size with not too many stones, non-invasive bladder stone removal is possible. Stones can be fragmented using a special laser which is passed up the urethra and into the bladder. Once the stones are broken into small enough pieces, they are either flushed out of the bladder or removed with a special stone-removing basket which is passed up the urethra and into the bladder to gather up the stone fragments.

Antibiotics?
Yes, but only in part. I can hear you saying, “Wait a minute, this makes no sense. Stones are hard chunks of mineral. Antibiotics treat bacterial infections, they do not dissolve stone.” But, this dog’s urinalysis showed an infection in addition to the stones. The infection played a role in the development of the stones and without treating the infection, the stones will not disappear.

Diet?
Stones form in the bladder as a sequel to infection and also because there are too many minerals in the urine. Drinking more water dilutes the minerals and helps dissolve the stones. Taking advantage of that information, a diet was formulated to promote water drinking in dogs fed the special stone dissolving diet. The diet is also low in magnesium and phosphorus, the building blocks of a type of bladder stone called struvite. This diet does not work in every type of bladder stone, only the struvite ones. Antibiotics are necessary since as the stone dissolves, it releases bacteria, and thus the dog needs antibiotics until the stones are completely gone. Antibiotics alone will not dissolve the stone and diet won’t work unless the infection is controlled, so the correct answer for the magical disappearance of the bladder stones in this dog is diet AND antibiotics.

Signs of bladder stones
Dogs with bladder stones urinate more frequently than is normal, have accidents in the house and blood in their urine. If you see any signs like this, be sure to have your dog evaluated immediately by your veterinarian. View a prior blog post on bladder stones to see diagnostic images of stones.


What do Blood Tests Tell Your Veterinarian?

December 18, 2014

bloodwork vialsVeterinarians at The Animal Medical Center must say “Let’s send some blood to the lab” about 100 times a day. But what are we looking for in all those tubes of blood with the colorful stoppers?

CBC = Complete Blood Count
Your dog’s or cat’s blood contains at least four types of white blood cells, red blood cells and blood clotting cells, called platelets. A complete blood count analyzes what cells are present, how many cells of each type make up the blood sample, and identifies any unusual cells present. For example, the presence of increased numbers of immature white blood cells, called band neutrophils or bands for short, indicate a serious infection. Last week, one of my patients had an elevated total white blood cell count and 1,236 bands per microliter of blood; normal is less than 300. An abdominal ultrasound determined she had a gallbladder infection.

In addition to assessing the types and numbers of white blood cells, the CBC measures the number of red blood cells and several different features of them as well. A lack of red blood cells is called anemia, and too many red blood cells suggests a rare hematologic disorder called polycythemia. Size is a critical diagnostic feature of red blood cells – too big and we look for an increase in baby red blood cells responding to bleeding or anemia; too small and we worry about iron deficiency. The amount of hemoglobin (oxygen carrying protein) is measured as well. If there is too little hemoglobin, we worry about iron deficiency, and red blood cells are so smart they never synthesize too much hemoglobin. If the lab report indicates the hemoglobin is elevated, we scrutinize the sample for possible errors.

Chem Panel = Serum Biochemical Profile
The CBC looks at the whole blood sample in pretty much the same form as it circulates in the bloodstream. Serum is the liquid portion of the blood without the blood cells. Serum is produced in the lab by spinning the blood in a centrifuge and using a pipette to remove the liquid portion. The serum sample is used to run a serum biochemical profile, a series of 20 or so tests that come in a panel.

The chem panel can be divided up into several different organ systems. Some tests increase with liver disease like the alanine amino transferase, or bilirubin. When a patient has a kidney problem, we often see elevations in blood urea nitrogen and creatinine. Then there is a group of tests that analyzes the concentration of chemical elements like calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium and chloride in the blood. These analytes are important for cellular function and can be abnormal in a wide variety of diseases, like adrenal gland diseases, kidney disease and urinary blockage. Typically a chem panel includes measurement of the protein level in the blood. Protein is affected by a wide variety of conditions and is usually interpreted in concert with the other abnormalities found in the panel. Finally, the chem panel measures blood sugar when looking for diabetes or low blood sugar.

The Combination is Critical
Submission of a CBC and chem panel is so routine that it is test #1 in The AMC’s lab ordering system! When paired, these two tests become a powerful tool for veterinarians to assess the health of your pet or to direct further testing to identify the cause of your pet’s illness.

Fun Things Blood Tests Can Tell Us
Blood tests don’t only tell us about disease, but also can give us other little tidbits about your pet:

  • If you have a mixed breed dog, a blood test analyzing your dog’s DNA can tell you about his parents and what breeds are in his genetic makeup.
  • Avian specialists use a blood test to tell if your bird is a boy or girl.
  • A blood test can also be used to predict the birth of a litter of puppies. A rise in blood progesterone to 2-3 micrograms/ml occurs 63 to 65 days prior to whelping – the dog word for birth of puppies.

AAHA Certification: The AMC Takes the Test to Meet Veterinary Practice Standards of Excellence

July 30, 2014

AAHAlogoDedicatedThe Animal Medical Center undergoes a triennial accreditation evaluation by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). The AAHA is an industry leader that sets the standards for small animal hospitals in North America, standards which are often emulated internationally. For example, in Japan, the Japanese Animal Hospital Association (JAHA) serves a similar role to AAHA in the United States. Recently, AAHA has added new accreditation categories for referral hospitals and university hospitals.

The Benchmarks
Over 900 different standards are assessed during the accreditation evaluation. The standards focus on the quality of care in the areas of: anesthesia, contagious diseases, dentistry, pain management, patient care, surgery and emergency care. The standards are grouped into 20 large categories covering quality of care in diverse areas such as contagious disease, dentistry, diagnostic imaging, emergency and critical care, and pain management. Mandatory standards detail 46 critical/crucial hospital functions required of every AAHA accredited hospital. These “deal breaker” standards include the requirement that dentistry is performed under general anesthesia with tracheal intubation, and all patient care is provided under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. The standards require hospitals to provide diagnostic services (x-ray and laboratory) facilitating quick and accurate diagnosis of your pet’s illness. Accredited hospitals must dispense medications so treatment can begin immediately.

The focus of the benchmarks is not just on patient care, but on how the veterinary team interacts to achieve high quality patient care. Standards pet owners might not expect as part of the evaluation process include an assessment of confidentiality, security and integrity of medical records, fire safety, diagnostic image archiving, continuing education, and referral standards. While not exactly medical standards, these functions are clearly critical to an accredited hospital’s ability to provide top-notch patient care.

Exam Prep
The AMC is continuously prepping to meet the AAHA accreditation standards. Our accreditation team reviews the benchmarks and educates the staff regarding their responsibilities in implementing each standard. When a new standard is issued, the appropriate hospital team writes our policy to ensure the new standards are met. That policy is then distributed to the implementation teams. Each new standard improves the quality and safety of The AMC’s patient care.

A Pop Quiz
On-site examiners perform a full-day thorough and comprehensive review of the hospital. Preparing for an AAHA evaluation is like preparing for a pop quiz; they can ask questions about any of the 900+ standards and they don’t have to give you a heads-up as to which ones are on the quiz. The examiners speak with a variety of staff and review hospital policies to ensure standards are met. If any deficiencies are identified, they suggest methods of improvement.

Perfect Scores
The accreditation process is rigorous and encompasses all aspects of pet healthcare. Only 15% of all veterinary hospitals meet these stringent quality standards. The AMC is proud to say it has been an AAHA accredited hospital since 1976 and passed its most recent evaluation with flying colors. We achieved a perfect score in six of the 20 categories of standards. All of the standards ultimately affect the care pets receive at The AMC, but most important to pet owners are the A pluses The AMC received for management of contagious diseases and emergency and critical care medicine. Overall, we received a solid A, or 94%, which does not mean we got six questions wrong. We scored 30,250 out of a possible 32,310 points! No wonder it took weeks to prepare for this evaluation.

Standards Met
For over 100 years, The AMC has been a leader in veterinary teaching, research and exceptional clinical care. The AAHA is another leader in veterinary medicine whose opinions and stance are relied upon for setting high hospital standards. Achieving AAHA certification is just one way we continue to provide the highest quality of medicine and surgery to nearly 40,000 patients every year.


What Causes Bloat in Dogs?

July 16, 2014
An x-ray of a dog taken from the right side, showing the gas-filled stomach typical of a dog with bloat.

An x-ray of a dog taken from the right side, showing the gas-filled stomach typical of a dog with bloat.

A few weeks ago, social media couldn’t stop talking about the risks of giving ice water to dogs, based on a blog written by a pet owner. As the story goes, a dog owner gave a bowl of ice water to her overheated dog. When the dog later arrived at an emergency clinic, the ER veterinarian admonished her for giving ice water, blaming it for causing the dog’s bloated stomach. Multiple veterinarians took to Twitter, Facebook and traditional media to debunk this urban legend.

What is bloat?
Bloat is the colloquial name for one of two canine stomach disorders: gastric dilatation (GD), where the stomach fills with gas; and gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), where the gas-filled stomach then twists on itself. Both can cause shock because the distended, gas-filled stomach obstructs blood flow. Gastric dilatation can be relieved by pumping the stomach, but GDV requires emergency surgery to untwist the stomach and save the dog’s life.

So if ice water doesn’t cause bloat, what does?
Urban legend still prevails here. Hot food, cold food, big kibble, little kibble, too much food, too much exercise, too many carbohydrates, and stress have all been touted as causes of bloat, but remain unsubstantiated. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that breed is a risk factor for developing bloat. Large and giant breed dogs with deep chests and narrow waists, like the Weimaraner, St. Bernard, Gordon setter, Irish setter, Rottweiler and Standard poodle, but even Chihuahua’s can experience bloat. Dogs with a littermate that has experienced bloat also have an increased risk of developing the disorder themselves. The risk of bloat increases as a dog ages. One study showed the presence of a foreign object in the stomach predisposed dogs to bloat. Nervous dogs, food gulpers and dogs fed once daily also may have an increased likelihood of bloat, and dogs engaging in a moderate amount of exercise are less likely to bloat. More bloat cases seem to occur in November, December and January, but they occur all year round, so dog owners must always monitor their dog for abdominal distension and nonproductive retching, which are two of the common signs of bloat.

Can bloat be prevented?
Families with one of the at-risk breeds previously mentioned or other large or giant breed dogs should discuss prophylactic gastropexy with their veterinarian. I recommend my patients of these breeds have their stomachs tacked in place at the time of neutering. This surgery can be done using minimally invasive techniques. This surgery does not prevent gastric dilatation, but has been determined to be cost-effective in preventing GDV.

Since once daily feeding and gulping food have been associated with bloat, divide your dog’s food into two daily portions and feed the food in a feeding toy or a specially designed go slow bowl. Be sure your dog gets daily exercise and maintains a healthy body weight.

 


Making a Specialist Visit Special

April 2, 2014
A French bulldog is examined by AMC's Ophthalmologist

A French bulldog is examined by AMC’s Ophthalmologist

Your pet needs a second opinion from a board certified veterinary specialist and your veterinarian has helped you set up the appointment with the right specialist. You know this is going to be different than seeing the familiar veterinarian you have trusted with your pet’s care since you brought him home from the shelter in a cardboard carrier. How can you make this nerve-wracking experience efficient and affect the best possible outcome for you and your pet?

Look at a consultation with a veterinary specialist at The Animal Medical Center or another specialty hospital like you do any other meeting. If you are running a meeting at your office, you will be sure the right people are invited to attend the meeting; the meeting will have an agenda agreed upon in advance; it will have a start and stop time and meeting attendees will be assigned tasks to complete after the meeting is over. All of these points also describe your appointment with a veterinary specialist.

The Right Attendees
I am a veterinarian and my job is to take care of sick pets. To me, your pet is a critical participant in the specialist consultation. While your role of transporting your pet to the appointment and being its spokesperson is also crucial, I really need to examine your pet and see first-hand the problems that need correcting. You would be surprised at how many people come to see me without their pet. If you choose to leave your pet at home and fly solo at a consultation with me, I can guarantee one of your tasks after the meeting will be to bring your pet to The AMC for an examination.

Specialist Agenda
A veterinary specialist has been trained to approach patients with a basic agenda:

  • Ask about the past history and review any documentation from the primary care veterinarian
  • Perform a physical examination
  • Make a list of possible diagnoses
  • Create a list of tests to determine which diagnosis is the correct one
  • Interpret the test results once they become available

Pet owners can streamline that agenda by having medical records, x-rays and blood tests sent in advance of the scheduled consultation.

Pet Owner Agenda
Simply put, the pet owner agenda for a specialist consult revolves around one of three issues: making a diagnosis, treating a disease or improving the quality of life. For some pet owners there may be other issues that are equally important, such as having the pet attend a family function. If there is an important issue for you and your pet, be sure to let the specialist know what it is and how you feel this issue might impact the recommended diagnostic and therapeutic plan.

The To-Do List
At the end of the consultation, the specialist or a member of their team will explain the plan for your pet. It might be to give medications or schedule a follow up test at your veterinarian’s office. Following the plan exactly and scheduling tests or treatments on time will help get your pet back on its feet as soon as possible. And having a healthy pet is what makes any visit to the veterinarian’s office special.


Medicine By the Numbers

March 26, 2014
Dr. Ann Hohenhaus

Dr. Ann Hohenhaus

We all rely on numbers to help us make decisions. The stock market is above 16,000; time to sell. Your chance of winning the Powerball Jackpot with a two dollar ticket is one in 175 million, but it’s only two dollars so you buy yet another losing ticket. One in four Americans dies of heart disease every year; more exercise and less butter for you. In my line of work, veterinary medicine, quoting numbers is not nearly as easy.

I have been struggling with a particularly complicated cancer case the past few weeks. After hours of discussion and many more of pondering the options, a clear plan has emerged for this patient. And then the client asked the number one question: “What are the chances my pet will benefit from this procedure?” Having never been much of a math whiz or very successful at gambling, explaining the concept of odds is difficult. The odds of A versus B are calculated from a large group of patients with the same disease. But when I am talking about Fluffy or Fido, it becomes harder to predict the outcome for an individual patient. In some ways it’s a 50-50 coin toss. Your pet gets better or it doesn’t. Because medicine rarely has 100% certainty, no doctor, human or animal, will ever guarantee a 100% chance of success. Even with a 99.9% chance of success, there will be some patients who do not have the desired outcome after the test, treatment or surgery is completed.

An article in last week’s New York Times ‘Science Section’ written by a physician, numbers and their connection to disease appear again. Dr. Abigail Zuger writes about using a reasoned numerical approach (“30 percent of people with your problem of X will develop Y”). Yet, she writes, “many studies (and all casinos and lotteries) illustrate how abysmal is the average person’s understanding of risk when couched in mathematical terms.” Her patients have a hard time grasping the importance of risk factors on their future health or as she calls them “pre-diseases.”

If two medical professionals have difficulty using numbers in their daily practice, then how can people or pet owners make well-informed decisions on healthcare matters?

  1. Preventing disease is much easier (and cheaper) than correcting a problem. If your veterinarian gives you numbers on preventing disease, pay close attention. For example, obesity quadruples your dog’s risk of cruciate ligament rupture. Getting your dog’s weight down saves money two ways – you buy less food and your dog doesn’t need an expensive reconstructive knee surgery.
  2. There are actually some medical conditions that doctors can predict the outcome with reasonable certainty; for example, diabetes. Without administration of insulin, which is deficient in dogs and cats with diabetes, your pet will die of high blood sugar within days.
  3. Since not all diseases come with certainty of outcome like diabetes, think about quality of life. If your pet’s current problem is decreasing their quality of life, consider a treatment to improve it. Keep in mind this is where numbers can become overwhelming and sometimes a decision is made based on your heart rather than your head.

Adrenal Gland Yin and Yang

March 5, 2014

puppy-yinyangLast week was a big week for adrenal gland disorders at The Animal Medical Center. Not one, but three dogs were admitted by The Animal Medical Center’s 24-hour Emergency Service with a diagnosis of Addison’s disease, or hypoactivity of the adrenal gland. Additionally, I evaluated two of my patients for adrenal gland hyperactivity, or Cushing’s disease.

Small but Mighty
Adrenal glands are tiny organs, one sits atop of each kidney. The normal width of a dog’s adrenal gland is less than half an inch. In cats, adrenal glands are half that size. Small compared to the liver or kidneys, these glands are powerhouses pumping out an array of hormones critical to maintaining normal homeostasis. Because the adrenal glands produce so many different hormones, either condition hypo- or hyperactivity can cause a wide variety of serious clinical signs. The hormone most important in Cushing’s and Addison’s disease is cortisol.

Poodle Problem
Two of last week’s ER patients with Addison’s disease were poodles. This was no coincidence. Addison’s disease is inherited in the Standard Poodle and also the Portuguese Water Dog, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and the Bearded Collie. Cats very rarely develop Addison’s disease. What is strange about the dogs at AMC is the diagnosis of Addison’s disease in three dogs in one week, since the prevalence of the disease in dogs is thought to be 0.6-0.28% of all dogs. Dogs with Addison’s disease have vague, nonspecific clinical signs such as vomiting and diarrhea. One reason your veterinarian performs blood tests when your dog has vomiting and diarrhea is to identify the characteristically low blood concentrations of sodium and chloride and the high concentration of potassium, classic for a diagnosis of Addison’s disease. The consequences of missing a diagnosis of Addison’s disease are dire. Dogs become progressively dehydrated and the potassium climbs to levels which can stop the heart from beating. The AMC ER has a machine which can test blood concentrations of sodium and potassium in minutes, speeding the diagnosis of Addison’s disease.

Too Much Water; Too Much Pressure
The adrenal glands of dogs with Cushing’s disease produce too much of the hormone cortisol, either because of an adrenal tumor or because the pituitary gland in the brain forgets to tell the adrenal glands to stop producing cortisol. The two patients I evaluated for Cushing’s disease had different medical problems. One dog had an increased amount of protein in her urine, high blood pressure, and an elevated liver test. All three disorders are known to occur as a result of Cushing’s disease. The other dog was drinking too much water and having accidents in the house — two more signs of Cushing’s disease. Neither dog had hair loss, but it is another common problem we see in dogs with an overactive adrenal gland. Cushing’s disease, like Addison’s disease, is rare in cats.

Giving and Taking Away
Treatment for these two opposite diseases is opposite! For Addison’s disease we give hormones, and for Cushing’s disease we take the hormones away by suppressing the adrenal glands. Dogs with Addison’s disease respond rapidly to either oral or injectable forms of the missing adrenal hormones. Treatment of dogs with Cushing’s disease takes a month or two, while oral medications are adjusted to individualize the dose for each dog.

Recognizing the Yin and Yang of Adrenal Gland Disease in Your Dog
Even though Cushing’s disease is more commonly seen than Addison’s disease, both diseases can be readily diagnosed with blood tests. Your veterinarian will suggest testing if your dog is showing the following signs:

Cushing’s Disease

  • Excessive drinking and urinating
  • Hair loss on the trunk
  • Elevated liver tests
  • High blood pressure
  • Protein in the urine
  • Pot-bellied appearance

Addison’s Disease

  • Waxing/waning vomiting and diarrhea
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • High blood potassium
  • Low blood sodium and chloride

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