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Archives for March, 2012

The Human Side of Heartworm Disease

      A Millville cat suddenly faints and then dies in an upstairs hallway.  A nursing home mascot in Orangeville dies of cardiomyopathy.  A Bloomsburg Spaniel suddenly develops pneumonia.  All of these episodes might be the result of the silent deadly disease which involves a parasitic round worm!  Heartworm lives in the body and is carried by an infected mosquito; the bite can occur outside during a walk or in the livingroom, while the unwitting victim is taking a nap. 

      Heartworm has been counted in a positive number of cases of parasite activity in Columbia County–part of a county cluster which includes Union and Northumberland counties. In fact, .34% of all positive cases of heartworm in Pennsylvania occur in each of these counties. (Parasite Prevalence Maps).  It could be even higher.  The killer parasite can live seven or more years without detection in the heart and/or lungs, and/or in other blood vessels.   

      In a recent meeting of the American Heartworm Society monthly medications designed to prevent heartworms were questioned as being ineffective. Some believe mosquitoes have become immune to preventative drugs while others blame owners for not following dosing directions.  “Every month means every 30 days,” stresses Dr. Betsy Sigmon in an AKC Canine Health Foundation podcast. 

      But beware–the consequences of giving preventative medication when the dog or cat has heartworm can be deadly, too. Thus, American Heartworm Society president Dr. Wallace Graham suggests a heartworm test be part of the annual checkup.  Unfortunately, veterinarians  also note that there are false positives in testing.  And more extensive testing is expensive–as high as $1,000.  Owners are urged to compare and to weigh the risks and costs of all further testing and be aware that testing costs can vary from hospital to hospital.

      The human side of choices and decisions is made more agonizing since the drug used to treat heartworm is now in short supply if found at all and there is no treatment for cats. And so if a pet coughs, loses weight, and/or becomes lethargic, the possibility of it being a symptom of heartworm adds to health worries.  Could a diagnosis be death?  Unfortunately, here there are only grey areas since heartworm mimics other health problems which can involve not just the heart, but the liver and kidneys and of course–blood clots in the lungs–each symptom adding to owner stress.  Now is not the time to turn to the internet or to friends.  It is time to schedule an appointment with the veterinary hospital.

      And, it must also be remembered that this silent disease is a growing problem for shelters and rescues as well as those wanting to adopt and/or purchase a new pet. Who knows if the new pet has heartworm?  Conclusion: Sadly, there is a  human side to heartworm disease that involves not just cost but agonizing choices, the stress of an unknown future with a beloved companion and sometimes guilt. Pet owners must have a heartworm conversation with their pet’s veterinarian. 

Mar 25, 2012 | Comments are off | Uncategorized

Fish Meal Bait Could be Dangerous to Your Health

According to two authors writing in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association who cite a rabies vaccine report in Pennsylvania–the oral rabies bait spread into the habitat of wildlife can pose a danger to humans if touched.  The bait has an oblong shape about the size of three quarters placed side by side.  Those who find and touch the bait should wash the affected site and report exposure to the state health department.  “Immediate health care should be obtained to confirm a diagnosis and begin appropriate treatment if illness or lesions compatible with vaccinia develop”, the authors write. They also suggest that veterinarians educate clients about these baits. 

          Two kinds of bait are used in the oral vaccination of carnivores like raccoons, skunks, and feral cats and dogs.  One is a coated sachet and the other a fishmeal polymer bait.  The bait was developed for wildlife rabies prevention and control. 

      No serious adverse events have been reported after bait consumption but people should not try to remove a piece of the bait from a pet’s mouth, since doing so may result in a dog bite and the possibility of inoculation with vaccinia rabies -glycoprotein in the bait.

FELINE FRIENDLY. The AVMA is launching a new health prevention program for dog and cat owners in order to heighten clients’ awareness of the benefits of preventing illness.  It has been dubbed “Opportunity” by healthcare providers.  Opportunity guidelines give pet owners a heads-up in the prevention of illness, which can be expensive to treat and painful for the pet.  Since there are more cats than dogs and cats receive significantly less veterinary care, the emphasis is on making practices feline-friendly.  One suggestion involves the use of cat carriers with a removable top so that examinations can be conducted with a minimum of stress. 

ON THE HEALTH CARE HORIZON? Veterinarians are discussing changes to the practice act.  Under consideration is allowing veterinarians and technicians working in one state to practice in another state when invited in response to emergencies; allowing those working under a veterinarian to provide some care in shelters; and allowing some disclosure of information to third parties.  A waiver from mandatory rabies vaccination, if recommended by a veterinarian and accepted by the public health department, is also being considered.  And under Animal Abuse and Animal Neglect prompt reporting is being urged as the rule.  (This echos the Freed recommendation in the Sandusky case.)

CONTRIBUTE. In the current economy it is often difficult to continue to financially support animal organizations.  At the top of any list should be those groups that help local pets and the unseen organizations that help local pet owners, like food banks, and those in women’s shelters who may need pet foster homes, as well as pet owners who are temporarily homeless.  Some pet owners set up an anonymous fund to help hospital clients with bills, with the veterinarians as custodians (local veterinarians fund out of pocket when they can). At the national level my choice is the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).  Its CEO not only has lived and worked in shelters all over the country but has a network that cares for such programs as the Canine Good Citizen, dog bite and puppy kindergarten programs as well as child and elder abuse.  He is not just a “suit”.  ASPCA, 424 E 92nd St., New York, N.Y. 10128, tel. 212-876-7700; www.ASPCA.ORG

TOPPINGS. A recent issue of BARK contains an article on the sprinkling of toppings on the top of the usual ration for added interest.  Once at a dog show I watched a handler take a spoonful of Purina Mighty Dog and place it on top of the food.  She didn’t mix it into the rest of the contents.  Mighty Dog is formulated for small breeds and so is intense in smell and energy.  In many instances I have found it quite useful to jump-start an appetite using a similar “savory”, especially the varieties geared for older dogs and the pulled-style dinners.  A can tops 6 meals for my Springers.           

Mar 21, 2012 | Comments are off | Uncategorized

Cancer Diet, Tums, and Centrum, and Don’t Forget the Garlic and Olive Oil

Cancer research benefits both pets and people, whether the research is done by a veterinarian or a physician. Cancers such as osteosarcoma, melanoma and lymphoma are among those with common benefits. Dr. Max Lang, a Hershey Animal Research notable, used to call this “a two-way-street”; thus, it is not unusual to learn that drugs which help dog owners can also help their best friends.

Recently I read an article about a diet for dogs with cancer. The author is Jeff Grognet, DVM, who suggests adding a Centrum as a daily vitamin-mineral supplement and a Tums tablet to meet calcium requirements in daily diets. 

The ideal canine cancer diet should be low in carbohydrates, high in protein, and high in fat (and specifically omega-3 fatty acids). Grognet writes that commercial diets with these attributes are available but, alternatively, caregivers can prepare a home-cooked diet that meets these criteria. Centrum and Tums are the supplements in the home-cooked diets. (One Centrum tablet for every 20 pounds of weight with half a tablet for dogs under 20 pounds. A Tums tablet should be dosed at one for every 20 pounds body weight.)

Grognet recommends Hills Prescription Diet Canine n/d (moist) and Iams Eukanuba Maximum-Calorie/Canine (dry) as commercial diets for dogs with cancer. The home-cooked diet consists of 50 percent fish or poultry, 50 percent mixed frozen or fresh vegetables, olive oil for calories–one teaspoon per 20 pounds–Centrum and Tums. The ingredients should be mixed together and cooked in a crock-pot. Additional ingredients can be added for anti-tumor activity such as one capsule omega-3 fatty acid (300 milligrams)–inhibits tumor growth–for each l5 pounds of body weight as well as the spices garlic and tumeric. Also, antioxidants are considered to be essential supplements for cancer patients. These include vitamin C, vitamin E and the mineral selenium. 

There is a rule that you should be able to determine the breed of a dog by viewing his head alone. If you can’t determine the breed from the head alone, then the dog is not a recognizable breed. Some breeders also believe you should be able to determine the sex of the dog from the head. I have never found this to be reliable–either in people or pooches!

LESS STRESS AND ANXIETY. It has been determined that anxiety, as measured by a standard rating scale, dropped 24 percent for those visited by a dog in a nursing home compared to only 10 percent among patients visited only by a volunteer. Levels of epinephrine, a hormone the body makes when under stress, dropped about 17 percent in patients visited by a person and a dog and 2 percent in those visited by just a person. Heart pressure dropped 10 percent after the visit by the volunteer and dog and increased 3 percent when visited by a volunteer alone. Lung pressure declined 5 percent for those visited by a dog and a volunteer and rose when the dog was not present. 

It has been predicted that there will be a significant increase in death and illness after the meltdown of the nuclear reactors in Japan–not due to radiation, but to anxiety and stress.  More therapy dogs need to be trained and ready after a disaster to relieve anxiety and fear.  Therapy dogs today are undervalued compared to service dogs and they fill a vital and important function if we are to recover, to survive, and to progress. And, the difference between the service dog–who seems to be a headline maker–and the quieter but very effective working therapy dog needs to be drawn and appreciated.


Mar 14, 2012 | Comments are off | Uncategorized

Lions and Tigers and Dogs and Cats–Oh My! Protecting Both Wild and Companion Animals

      Sales of a new premium postage stamp are helping support international wildlife conservation projects for tigers, great apes and other species.  The U.S.  postal service began offering Save Vanishing Species stamps last September.  An illustration of an Amur tiger cub is featured on the first stamp and costs 55 cents.  A commitment to the stamp will demonstrate that Americans really care about wildlife conservation.  KEEPING DOGS SAFE JUST GOT HARDER.  Due to problems with Novartis–which one veterinarian calls possible “sloppiness”–some of our most effective medications will be on back order.  These include Interceptor, Sentinel, Program, MitebMite and Deramaxx.  My veterinarian informed me that the company did not believe they would be back on the shelves until June.  He will dispense Heartguard instead. But, remember Heartguard contains Ivermectin which is fatal for some breeds.  Do discuss this situation with your veterinarian.  Some veterinarians are holding supplies back for in-need patients.  This year’s weather makes it imperative to protect against heartworm–and since there is a shortage of immiticide, the drug used in heartworm treatment, prevention must be seriously considered.  Also Clomicalm–another Novartis product–may have a packaging issue that could be dangerous.  Again, this is something to discuss with your veterinarian since Clomicalm is commonly prescribed in cases of separation anxiety.  All these precautions have given us a new word–PHARMACOVIGELANCE.  And do be cautious with spot-on flea and tick prevention products.  Use as directed.  The label has been changed to include the information that a product may be used only on dogs or only on cats or may be used on both.  A spot-on product could be an undetected killer accidentally or on purpose. 

      I sometimes wonder if we care for pet medications as efficiently and safely as possible.  Unused medications may be discarded in the trash where they may become a danger to both humans and animals.  Pharmaceutical drugs also have been turning up in the environment–even in drinking water.  Pet medicines should be part of community collection programs.  So many of us own pets and we have these medications in our homes.  And, in fact–some of the same medications such as Lasix are used to treat both owner and pet.    

      Why not communicate your questions and concerns with e-mail.  Many veterinarians give clients the option of e-mailing them with questions.  Perhaps this would be a good time to urge your veterinarian to make this service available.  But, remember–there have to be ground rules when e-mail is an option.  No instant messaging, but a one- to two-day turn-around should be expected.  No urgent matters and no “what is your diagnosis questions”.  And, definitely, no photos, jokes and cutesy messages.  

SHOULD WE BRING BACK THE DRAIZE TEST?  There was a time when animal testing of drugs and other products was the rule.  This was exemplified by white rabbits confined while suffering eye problems caused by various cosmetics and other products.  This disappeared and many products now contain a disclaimer that no live animal testing was used.  (I suspect some products are still tested on animals in countries that do not have such a ban.) But, perhaps live animal testing should be permitted until we can fund the FDA to make sure our products are safe for all living things and not just computers. 





Mar 02, 2012 | Comments are off | Uncategorized
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