Cancer is the most common natural cause of death in dogs in the United States and Canada. And while the diagnosis is one that every pet lover dreads, the fact is that canine cancer is more treatable than ever before. Even better: Veterinarians now know more about what steps can be taken to help prevent the dreaded disease.
To reduce the risk of cancer in your pet:
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Degenerative joint disease is the number one cause of chronic pain in dogs and cats. The condition is the result of long-term stresses on a joint, either resulting from an old injury or from natural development of a poorly conformed joint. While surgery may be able to help in some situations, most of the time the degeneration of the joint cannot be reversed and treatment focuses on preventing progression of damage. Numerous products are available; some are best combined with others and some cannot be combined. What we do know is that arthritis pain is best addressed by what is called a multi-modal approach, meaning that several approaches combined yield better results than any single therapy. Here, we focus on medications.
Medications for arthritis pain are divided into two groups: Slow-acting drugs and fast-acting (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone-type drugs).
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Ruptured Anterior (Cranial) Cruciate Ligament
First, the Basics
The knee is a fairly complicated joint. It consists of the femur above, the tibia below, the kneecap (patella) in front, and the bean-like fabellae behind. Chunks of cartilage called the medial and lateral menisci fit between the femur and tibia like cushions. An assortment of ligaments holds everything together, allowing the knee to bend the way it should and keep it from bending the way it shouldn’t.
There are two cruciate ligaments that cross inside the knee joint: the anterior (or, more correctly in animals, cranial) cruciate and the posterior (in animals called the caudal) cruciate. They are named for the side of the knee (front or back) where their lower attachment is found. The anterior cruciate ligament prevents the tibia from slipping forward out from under the femur.
Finding the Rupture
The ruptured cruciate ligament is the most common knee injury of dogs; in fact, chances are that any dog with sudden rear leg lameness has a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament rather than something else. The history usually involves a rear leg suddenly so sore that the dog can hardly bear weight on it. If left alone, it will appear to improve over the course of a week or two but the knee will be notably swollen and arthritis will set in quickly. Dogs are often seen by the veterinarian in either the acute stage shortly after the injury or in the chronic stage weeks or months later.
The key to the diagnosis of the ruptured cruciate ligament is the demonstration of an abnormal knee motion called a drawer sign. It is not possible for a normal knee to show this sign.
The Drawer Sign
The veterinarian stabilizes the position of the femur with one hand and manipulates the tibia with the other hand. If the tibia moves forward (like a drawer being opened), the cruciate ligament is ruptured.
Another method is the tibial compression test where the veterinarian stabilizes the femur with one hand and flexes the ankle with the other hand. If the ligament is ruptured, again the tibia moves abnormally forward.
If the rupture occurred some time ago, there will be swelling on side of the knee joint that faces the other leg. This is called a medial buttress and is a sign that arthritis is well along.
It is not unusual for animals to be tense or frightened at the vet’s office. Tense muscles can temporarily stabilize the knee, preventing demonstration of the drawer sign during examination. Often sedation is needed to get a good evaluation of the knee. This is especially true with larger dogs. Eliciting a drawer sign can be difficult if the ligament is only partially ruptured so a second opinion may be a good idea if the initial examination is inconclusive.
Since arthritis can set in relatively quickly after a cruciate ligament rupture, radiographs to assess arthritis are helpful. Another reason for radiographs is that occasionally when the cruciate ligament tears, a piece of bone where the ligament attaches to the tibia breaks off as well. This will require surgical repair and the surgeon will need to know about it before beginning surgery. Arthritis present prior to surgery limits the extent of the recovery after surgery though surgery is still needed to slow or even curtail further arthritis development.
How Rupture Happens
Several clinical pictures are seen with ruptured cruciate ligaments. One is a young athletic dog playing roughly who takes a bad step and injures the knee. This is usually a sudden lameness in a young large-breed dog.
A recent study identified the following breeds as being particularly at risk for this phenomenon: Neapolitan mastiff, Newfoundland, Akita, St. Bernard, Rottweiler, Chesapeake Bay retriever, and American Staffordshire terrier.
On the other hand, an older large dog, especially if overweight, can have weakened ligaments and slowly stretch or partially tear them. The partial rupture may be detected or the problem may not become apparent until the ligament breaks completely. In this type of patient, stepping down off the bed or a small jump can be all it takes to break the ligament. The lameness may be acute but have features of more chronic joint disease or the lameness may simply be a more gradual/chronic problem.
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Seizures / Convulsions
Authored by: The VIN emergency medicine folder staff
A seizure is any sudden and uncontrolled movement of the animal’s body caused by abnormal brain activity. Seizures may be very severe and affect all of the body, or quite mild, affecting only a portion of the pet. The pet may or may not seem conscious or responsive, and may urinate or have a bowel movement.
Seizure activity that lasts longer than 3 to 5 minutes can cause severe side effects, such as fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or brain (cerebral edema). A dramatic rise in body temperature (hyperthermia) can also result, causing internal organ damage.
Seizures can be caused by epilepsy, toxins, low blood sugar, brain tumors and a host of other medical conditions. Your veterinarian can help you determine the cause of seizures in your pet, and if necessary can refer you to a specialist to help with the diagnosis or treatment of seizures. In general, animals less than one year of age typically have seizures due to a birth defect such as hydrocephalus (water on the brain) or a liver defect called a portosystemic shunt (among others). Animals that have their first seizure between 1 and 5 years of age typically suffer from epilepsy, while those over 5 years of age often have another medical condition causing the seizures such as a brain tumor, stroke or low blood sugar. These are general guidelines, however, and they may or may not apply to your pet.
All pets that have a seizure should have lab tests to help diagnose the underlying cause, and make sure their organs can tolerate any medications that may be needed to control seizures. Once underlying diseases are ruled out by your veterinarian, some pets require medications such as phenobarbital or potassium bromide, among others, to control seizures. These medications may require frequent dose adjustments and monitoring of blood levels, so it is best to have an open and honest discussion with your veterinarian about the effort and costs involved in treating your pet for seizures.
What to Do
What NOT to Do
Obesity has become an extremely important health problem in the Western world, not just for humans but for dogs and cats as well. Obesity in pets is associated with joint problems, diabetes mellitus, respiratory compromise, and decreased life span; recent estimations suggest that up to 35% of dogs and cats in the U.S. suffer from obesity.
Why Obesity is Bad
A common justification for over-feeding treats is that a pet deserves a higher quality of life as a trade off for longevity. While this might on some level makes sense (after all, a pet munching on a treat is certainly getting a great deal of satisfaction from doing so), the other consequences do not make for higher life quality in the big picture. Here are some of problems that obese animals must contend with while they are not enjoying their treats and table scraps.
The over-weight animal has extra unneeded stress on joints, including the discs of the vertebrae. This extra stress leads to the progression of joint degeneration and creates more pain. Weight management alone decreases and can even eliminate the need for arthritis medications. The problem is compounded as joint pain leads to poorer mobility, which in turn leads to greater obesity.
The obese pet has a good inch or two of fat forming a constricting jacket around the chest. This makes the pet less able to take deep breaths as more work is required to move the respiratory muscles. Areas of the lung cannot fully inflate, so coughing results. The pet also overheats more easily. Many cases of tracheal collapse can be managed with only weight loss.
Extra body fat leads to insulin resistance in cats just as it does in humans. In fact, obese cats have been found to have a 50% decrease in insulin sensitivity. Weight management is especially important in decreasing a cat’s risk for the development of diabetes mellitus.
When an overweight cat goes off food or partially off food because of illness or psychological stress, body fat is mobilized to provide calories. Unfortunately, the cat’s liver was not designed to process a large amount of body fat. The liver becomes infiltrated with fat and then fails. A stress that might have been relatively minor, such as a cold, becomes a life-threatening disaster.
Reduced Life Span
A study of age-matched Labrador retrievers found that dogs kept on the slender side of normal lived a median of 2.5 years longer than their overweight counterparts.
Unwillingness to Accept Therapeutic Diets
If the pet should develop a condition where a therapeutic diet is of great benefit, the pet that has been maintained primarily on a diet of table scraps may be unwilling to accept commercial pet food of any kind, much less a food modified to be beneficial for a specific disease process. This unwillingness will hamper treatment.
Increased Surgical/Anesthetic Risk
Obesity poses an extra anesthetic risk because drug dosing becomes less accurate. (It is hard to estimate a patient’s lean body mass for drug dosing if it is encased in a fat suit.) Furthermore, anesthesia is inherently suppressive to respiration and adding a constrictive jacket of fat only serves to make proper air exchange more challenging. And still further, surgery in the abdomen is hampered by the slippery nature of the extra fat as well as difficulty visualizing all the normal structures through the copious fat deposits. One never knows when a pet will require an emergency surgery (to say nothing of regular teeth cleanings).
So is the enjoyment of all those extra treats really worth it?
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What is a Seizure?
Any involuntary behavior that occurs abnormally may represent a seizure. Seizures are classified into several categories.
Generalized (Grand Mal) Seizures
This is the most common form of seizure in small animals. The entire body is involved in stiffness and possibly stiffness/contraction cycles (tonic/clonic action). The animal loses consciousness and may urinate or defecate.
This form of seizure originates from some specific area in the brain and thus involves the activity of a specific region of the body. Partial seizures may generalize to involve the whole body.
This type of seizure is predominantly behavioral with the animal involuntarily howling, snapping, circling, etc. The abnormal behavior may be followed by a generalized seizure.
Seizures (neurological events) are often difficult to differentiate from fainting spells (cardiovascular events). Classically, true seizures are preceded by an aura, or special feeling associated with a coming seizure. As animals cannot speak, we usually don’t notice any changes associated with the aura. The seizure is typically followed by a post-ictal period during which the animal appears disoriented, even blind. This period may last only a few minutes or may last several hours. Fainting animals are usually up and normal within seconds after the spell.
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What are the Health Benefits to the Dog?
There are several health benefits to neutering. One of the most important concerns the prostate gland, which under the influence of testosterone will gradually enlarge over the course of the dog’s life. In age, it is likely to become uncomfortable, possibly being large enough to interfere with defecation. The prostate under the influence of testosterone is also predisposed to infection, which is almost impossible to clear up without neutering. Neutering causes the prostate to shrink into insignificance, thus preventing both prostatitis as well as the uncomfortable benign hyperplasia (enlargement) that occurs with aging. It is often erroneously held that neutering prevents prostate cancer but this is not true.
Other health benefits of neutering include the prevention of certain types of hernias and tumors of the testicles and anus. Excessive preputial discharge is also reduced by neutering.
What Behavioral Changes can be Expected after Neutering?
The only behavior changes that are observed after neutering relate to behaviors influenced by male hormones. Playfulness, friendliness, and socialization with humans are not changed. The behaviors that change are far less desirable. The interest in roaming is eliminated in 90% of neutered dogs. Aggressive behavior against other male dogs is eliminated in 60% of neutered dogs. Urine marking is eliminated in 50% of neutered male dogs. Inappropriate mounting is eliminated in 70% of neutered dogs.
What Exactly is done Surgically?
An incision is made, generally just forward from the scrotum. The testicles are removed through this incision. The stalks are tied off and cut. Castration is achieved. If the testicles are not removed, the desirable benefits listed above cannot be realized. The skin incision may or may not have stitches.
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You know you need a dog first aid kit for hikes or camping trips you take with your canine, but do you know what should be in it? In this short video, Dr. Sarah Wooten covers basic first aid supplies — like butterfly bandages, tweezers and a muzzle — and how best to store them.
Before you go out with your pet on such an adventure, read up on basic first aid procedures, including when to induce vomiting and when not to. And, of course, if your dog has special needs, consult with your veterinarian for recommendations about additional supplies.
Cluck, cluck, cluck. You’ll hear these sounds in nearly every state these days.
Backyard chickens have become exceedingly popular and are popping up in suburban areas everywhere. There’s plenty that’s appealing about these feathered pets — and plenty to consider before you get them.
Believe it or not, chickens are extremely inquisitive and great fun to watch. They love to explore and investigate everything. Chickens also provide companionship, and nearly every chicken owner will tell you that these friendly birds recognize their owners and respond to their voices — they bond to their human families and can be devoted companions.
Chickens also provide fresh eggs to eat. This is perhaps the main reason so many people want chickens as pets these days. There is something very rewarding about being able to step out into your yard in the morning and bring breakfast directly to your table. Chickens can also teach children about responsible pet ownership. They need to be fed and watered daily, and their coop needs to be cleaned and swept, at a minimum, once a week. Nest boxes need to be checked daily for eggs and cleaned regularly. All family members, including children, can participate in chicken care, making it a fun family experience.
Unbeknownst to most people, there are over 400 varieties of chickens in the world. Standard chickens are the familiar large birds, while Bantams are much smaller, weighing only a couple of pounds. Standard chickens are kept mainly for their egg-laying abilities, as they generally produce larger eggs more frequently, while Bantams are kept more often as ornamental pets. In addition to size variation, different varieties of chickens come in different colors with varying feather length and pattern. And some chickens can also lay differently colored eggs, from the white and brown eggs you can find in the grocery store to those beautifully colored in pastel shades of pink, green or blue.
Chickens certainly are appealing as pets, yet they are not simple to care for. What many people don’t realize is that chickens actually require a fairly high level of care.
What should you know before getting a backyard chicken? Here are six things for you to think about:
1. They Can Be Backyard Outlaws.
Before obtaining one or more chickens, you should check your local ordinances to see whether chickens can be kept legally as pets in your area. Not all locations are zoned for chickens, and they may not be allowed, even in seemingly semi-rural areas or on large lots. The laws vary not only state to state, but also town to town. Some locations specify how many chickens you can have, whether you can have roosters and even what kind of coop is allowed. Many areas also require permits to have chickens.
2. Eggs: Eat at Your Own Risk.
Most people don’t realize that chickens may carry several parasites that can be transmitted to people through contact with their droppings and consumption of eggs. Commercially raised chickens are routinely monitored for parasites and other health problems before their eggs can be sold to consumers. Pet chicken owners should seek out a veterinarian who is familiar with chickens to ensure their birds are healthy and parasite-free. A knowledgeable poultry veterinarian also will not recommend any medications that might be passed on to humans who are eating the eggs. On the other hand, vets unfamiliar with chickens might not think about concepts like “antibiotic residues” in both eggs and chicken meat when they are medicating a sick chicken.
3. It’s a Lengthy Commitment.
People often don’t realize that while chickens typically lay eggs for only two to three years, they can live as long as 15 years. As a result, many unwanted chickens are dumped in shelters and rescue groups across the country. So, if you’re thinking of getting pet chickens, you may want to contact local shelters before ordering them through a hatchery or farm supply store.
4. Your Chicken Palace: Aim for Function, Not Flair.
Many people get backyard chickens because they look pretty in dollhouse-like coops in their suburban yards. Lots of popular stores also advertise coops like they are pieces of decorative furniture. The reality, though, is that many of these fancy coops lack features that are critical for good chicken health. For example, chickens housed in cold climates need heat when it’s very cold so that they don’t get frostbite, so the coop needs to accommodate a heat lamp or other heat source.
In addition, chickens that are housed inside for many days over cold winters lack exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, which is essential to helping them make vitamin D in their skin. Vitamin D enables chickens to absorb calcium from their food so that they can make hard-shelled eggs. Without adequate UV light exposure, they can lay soft or shell-less eggs or, even worse, have the eggs get stuck inside of them. This condition is called “egg-bound” and is a life-threatening emergency for which you need to contact a veterinarian. Your coop needs to provide adequate daylight or an artificial source of UV light. Cute coops are great to look at, but they also need to be large and airy enough to accommodate your flock size and to allow for easy access for feeding and cleaning as well as providing protection from wild predators.
Finally, coops must be placed in areas where the top layer of soil can be dug up and removed at least once a year. Otherwise, chickens can ingest parasite eggs that are passed into the soil in their droppings and continually reinfect themselves.
5. “Ixnay” on the Pet Play.
Chickens are prey species and are naturally stressed when they are around predators — including pets like cats and dogs. It’s the predators’ natural instinct to chase and catch chickens as the birds flap away from them. Even docile pets who mean well and may only want to pick up a chicken in play will use their mouths to do so. But keep in mind their sharp teeth can puncture and kill a chicken in an instant. So, no matter how gentle a dog or cat may be or how much you’d like to see all your pets gamboling together on the lawn, keep your birds and your “predator pets” apart for safety.
6. Chickens Carry Salmonella.
All chickens potentially carry this infectious bacteria. Chickens can harbor it in their gastrointestinal tracts and pass it into their stool without being affected by it themselves. People or other pets in contact with chicken droppings may accidentally ingest this bacteria and develop severe intestinal infections. In fact, it has been reported that an increasing number of people are becoming infected with Salmonella due to backyard chicken flocks. The best way to prevent accidental ingestion and infection is to wash your hands whenever you touch a chicken or anything potentially contaminated with chicken feces (nest boxes, soil, the coop, food dishes, etc.). Also, never bring pet chickens inside your home, especially in the kitchen, and don’t kiss your chicken, even when she’s a cute and fuzzy little chick.
Chickens can make terrific, charming and entertaining pets — as long as you know what you are getting into ahead of time and can take the proper precautions to ensure that both you and your new feathered friends stay healthy and happy.
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I live and work in one of the more densely populated cities in the world: New York City, home to more than 8.4 million residents. Although many would guess there’s not much room for pets, the New York City Economic Development Corporation estimated there were 1.1 million pets living in our metropolis in 2012.
The Big Apple is a wonderful place for both people and pets. We have five-star restaurants, gorgeous parks, world-class health care for both animals and humans, and other amenities such as spas and dog parks. But behind the glitz and glamour of the city, there are potential dangers unique to urban settings. Those risks are a concern for pet owners living in any metropolitan area. Let’s look at some of the more common dangers I worry about for my patients as a city-dwelling veterinarian.
No one knows for sure if cats jump on purpose or fall by accident, but every summer, veterinarians in cities with high-rise apartments treat cats and an occasional dog for injuries sustained when they fall to the ground from apartment windows, terraces and fire escapes. Make sure the screens are tightly installed in every window you open in your apartment — bars might be preferable if they are small enough to keep a pet from squeezing through — and do not let your pets onto unenclosed terraces where they might spy a bird and take a fall as they leap to capture the fluttering creature. Another tip: Don’t put bird feeders on your window sills or terraces, as they will encourage your pet to spend more time near windows.
Many suburban dogs have never been in an elevator. I can always recognize a country dog on a city visit by the startled look on her face and her crouched position when the elevator starts to move. Lots of city dogs, on the other hand, are pros at riding elevators, but this necessity for high-rise hounds poses a serious danger to any pet on a leash. If a dog darts into or out of the elevator just as the doors close, the leash may get trapped in the doors. As the elevator begins to move, the leash becomes a strangulating noose. To prevent this, control your dog as she enters and leaves an elevator, and don’t drop the leash and let her scamper into or out of the elevator car on her own, no matter how cute she looks when she does it.
City birds, especially the rock dove or pigeon, pose a danger to city cats beyond their ability to lure your feline onto the window sill or fire escape. Pigeon and other bird droppings contain the fungal organism Cryptococcus. Although related to mushrooms, Cryptococcus is microscopic and round rather than mushroom shaped. Pigeons in particular are an important avian carrier of this organism, and though it can be found in any rural and suburban environment, it is certainly more of a concern in urban areas where pigeons are plentiful. Cats exposed to pigeon droppings on the terrace or window sill inhale the organism. Because of this route of exposure, Cryptococcus infections are most common in the nose and eyes. Life-threatening systemic infections are especially serious and difficult to treat when they involve the brain. Cryptococcus initially resembles an upper-respiratory infection, with sneezing, nasal and ocular discharge, but worsens over time. Swelling over the bridge of the nose and scabby skin will clue your veterinarian in to a diagnosis of cryptococcosis. To prevent this, discourage pigeons from taking up residence on your terrace and keep your pets away from areas where they may congregate. Though dogs are likely to be exposed to Cryptococcus on their daily walks, they seem to be less susceptible to the infection than their feline counterparts.
The threat of a Leptospirosis infection in an urban environment typically flies under most dog owners’ radars. That’s because wild animals are generally considered reservoirs for the microscopic organism, and city dwellers often don’t worry about wildlife the way suburban or rural pet owners do. But it’s important for owners to realize that city dogs do share their urban home with lots of wildlife in the form of rats, mice and raccoons. All of these species can spread the Leptospira bacteria in their urine. Leptospirosis occurs worldwide, especially in warm, moist environments, and this disease can affect all mammals, not just dogs. Humans as well can contract this serious disease, so it’s important to understand the risks no matter where you live. Clinical signs of leptospirosis in pets may be as mild as vomiting and diarrhea or progress to full-blown liver and kidney failure. To help keep your dog from contracting leptospirosis, don’t let her drink from puddles or pools of standing water. You should also talk to your veterinarian about whether your dog should be vaccinated against this disease, based on your pet’s possible exposure.
The lucky suburban dog has her own door leading to a fenced yard, and the contents of that yard are (ideally) carefully monitored by the dog’s family. City dogs, on the other hand, share the streets with humans, cars, trash trucks and other dogs. With all those folks sharing the streets and all the great food available in cities, the concrete gets littered with doggie desirable leftovers: a chicken bone, a greasy hot dog, French fry papers or raisins dropped from a baby stroller. Each of these items can be dangerous to your dog. Dog walking time requires you to be hypervigilant in order to prevent your dog from snacking off the sidewalk.
Every summer, it seems that an enterprising young TV reporter fries an egg on the hot asphalt during an August heat wave. If the pavement will fry an egg, think what it is doing to your dog’s paw pads. Put your hand on the sidewalk and count one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, and if your hand is frying, so will the paw pads of your favorite fur friend. Though hot pavement can be a problem anywhere, in cities it can be much more difficult to find shaded or grassy areas to walk your dog. During warm weather, always walk your dog on the shady side of the street or head to a grassy area to play ball. Consider teaching your dog to wear boots if your daily walk includes more hot pavement than grass. If your city apartment lies in the middle of a concrete jungle, consider a dog stroller for a paw-safe ride to a lush green park.
Great food, modern high-rise living and emerald green parks for people and dogs give city life its pizzazz — and its perils. Be wise about the risks and take a few simple steps to help keep your city pets safe and comfortable.
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