Archive for the ‘Pet Health Issues’ Category

Ebola and Your Pets

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Questions and Answers about Ebola and Pets

The following questions and answers have been summarized from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website. For further questions please refer to the CDC website.
The ongoing epidemic of Ebola in West Africa has raised several questions about how the disease affects the animal population and the risk to household pets. While the information available suggests that the virus may be found in several kinds of animals, the CDC, the US Department of Agriculture, and the American Veterinary Medical Association do not believe that pets are at significant risk or Ebola in the United States.

How are animals involved in Ebola outbreaks?
Because the natural reservoir host of Ebola has not yet been confirmed, the way in which the virus first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak is unknown. However, scientists believe that the first patient becomes infected though contact with an infected animal, such as a fruit bat or primate, which is called a spillover event. Person-to-person transmission follows and can lead to large numbers of affected people. In some past Ebola outbreaks, primates were also affected by Ebola, and multiple spillover events occurred when people touched or ate infected primates. In the current West African epidemic, animals have not been found to be a factor in ongoing Ebola transmission.

How does Ebola spread?
When infection occurs in humans, the virus can be spread in several ways to others. Ebola is spread through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids, needles and syringes that have been contaminated with the virus, handling bush meat (like monkeys and apes), and contact with infected bats. Only a few mammals have shown the ability to become infected with and spread Ebola virus. There is no evidence that mosquitos or other insects can transmit Ebola virus.

Can dogs get infected or sick with Ebola?
At this time, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or other animals. Even in areas in Africa there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola. There is limited evidence that dogs become infected with Ebola virus, but there is no evidence that they develop disease.

Are our dogs and cats at risk of becoming sick with Ebola in the United States?
The risk of an Ebola outbreak affecting multiple people in the United States is very low. Therefore the risk to pets is also very low, as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a person with Ebola. Even in areas in Arica where Ebola is present, there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola.

Can I get Ebola from my dog or cat?
At this time, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or animals. The chances of a dog or cat being exposed to Ebola virus in the United States is very low as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a person infected with Ebola.

Can my pet’s body, fur, or paws spread Ebola to a person?
No one known yet whether or not a pet’s body, paws, or fur can pick up and spread Ebola to people or other animals.

What if there is a pet in the home of an Ebola patient?
The CDC recommends that public health officials in collaboration with a veterinarian evaluate the pet’s risk of exposure to the virus. Based on this evaluation as well as the specific situation, local and state human and animal health officials will determine how the pet should be handled.

Can my dog or cat be tested for Ebola?
Currently, no routine testing for Ebola is available for pets
What are the requirements for bringing pets or other animals into the United States from West Africa?
CDC regulations require that dogs and cats imported into the United States be healthy. Dogs must be vaccinated against rabies before arrival into the United States. Monkeys and African rodents are not allowed to be imported as pets under any circumstances.

Can monkeys spread Ebola?
Yes, monkeys are at risk for Ebola. Monkeys should not be allowed to have contact with anyone who may have Ebola. Healthy monkeys already living in the United States and without exposure to a person infected with Ebola are not at risk for spreading Ebola.

Can bats spread Ebola?
Fruit bats in Africa are considered to be a natural reservoir for Ebola. Bats in North America are not known to carry Ebola and so the CDC considers the risk of an Ebola outbreak from bats occurring in the United States to be very low. However, bats are known to carry rabies and other diseases. To reduce the risk of disease transmission, never attempt to touch a bat, living or dead.

M. H. Archer, DVM

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Blindness in Older Dogs

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Blindness in Older Dogs

As our pets age their sight begins to diminish, most of the time it is due to just getting older and cataracts slowly develop.  You might notice that they don’t see things that would normally catch their attention.  My dog no longer sees the squirrel taunting her from the bird bath, which at one point in her life would send her tearing across the lawn in hot pursuit.  Other more serious causes can come on suddenly and you will notice an abrupt change in their behavior like bumping into things that they would normally be able to navigate around.  Dogs can become far sighted like us but it rarely causes blindness

Cataracts have a genetic basis and are often breed and age specific. They can occur at any age but usually occur later in life and develop gradually.  Some signs to watch for are a progressive whitening of the lens, clumsy behavior, bumping into things, reluctance to move, and acting worse in dim light.  Most cataracts can be surgically removed by a veterinary ophthalmologist and your pet will be able to see again.

Cataracts that come on suddenly are commonly associated with diabetes.  You need to have your veterinarian draw blood and check their sugar level to determine if diabetes is a concern.  Cataracts do not develop in diabetic cats.

Glaucoma and uveitis (inflammation inside the eye) can cause blindness and are usually very painful.  You might observe redness, swelling, or changes in the appearance of the eye.  They can occur in one or both eyes.  These conditions can be treated depending on the cause but sometimes can result in permanent loss of vision.

The back of the eye is called the retina, if the retina is injured or has a disease it can cause blindness.  SARDS (sudden acquired retinal degeneration) is a disease that affects older dogs. The onset is quick, no one really knows what causes it, and there is no treatment.  Other diseases of the retina include retinal detachment or damage from an accidental overdose of ivermectin (the ingredient found in most heartworm preventions).

The optic nerve is the next place that can cause blindness.  They can get a tumor on the nerve which will cause loss of vision.  This type of blindness is usually in one eye so you might only notice vision loss on one side.  Lead toxicity can also cause damage to the optic nerve and cause blindness.  This type of toxicity usually damages both eyes.

If injury occurs somewhere on the pathway from the optic nerve up to the brain and back to the eye blindness can occur.  In an older dog a brain tumor would be the most likely cause.

The good news about blindness in animals is that most adapt to their condition much better than people, they do not have the emotions like we do to cause problems.  Their other senses are enhanced so they use their sense of smell, hearing, and touch to get around.  Keeping their environment as constant as possible also helps them move around better; don’t rearrange the furniture, unclutter the floor where they walk, and put up barriers so they can’t fall down the stairs or off something high like a landing or deck outside.

Some situations to be extra careful in are negotiating the stairs, being in an unfamiliar or busy environment, meeting other dogs, meeting children, or moving to a new home.  Using a harness at first or using treats to make a scent trail may help them to initially navigate their environment better.  Some dogs that are very dominant or very nervous may become more aggressive and potentially dangerous when blind.  Training and medications can help in some instances.  Blindness is an adjustment but most of the time can be managed with a little work and patients.

M. H. Archer, DVM

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Reproductive Problems in Dogs (Male and Female)

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Reproductive Problems in Dogs (Male and Female)

If you choose not to spay or neuter your pet you are putting out the welcome mat for a myriad of problems as your pet ages.  For example, females are prone to uterine infections that turn into an emergency surgery which is almost always fatal if not treated surgically.  Males are prone to prostate enlargement that can lead to difficulty urinating.  Both males and females are susceptible to reproductive cancers as they age.  On a non-age related note, one of the best reasons to spay or neuter you pet is to decrease the number of unwanted animals that are killed each year.

Female dogs still go into heat as they age but their body is less able to flush the uterus out during their cycle.  The cervix will still dilate but they don’t bleed anymore and bacteria can easily go upstream and get into the uterus.  Once the cervix closes the bacteria are now closed in and infection will fill up the uterus like a balloon full of pus.  The body is not able to fight off that type of infection and frequently the dogs are very sick by the time they make it to the clinic.  Almost every case requires emergency surgery, IV antibiotics, and hospitalization to save their life; not to mention a hefty bill.  There are multiple low cost spay/neuter programs all over the country so you can save your pet from getting sick and save a large amount of money in the process. 

Intact female dogs can have aggressive behavior when in heat or if they have puppies.  If there are multiple females in the same household they can have serious fights and do major damage to each other when before they may have gotten along well.  Older female dogs are much more likely to have problems delivering puppies even if they have had several successful litters in the past.  They may have dead puppies or the puppies may get stuck during delivery which would require a C-section, putting her and the puppy’s lives at risk. 

One common myth that I hear frequently from clients is that you need to let your dog or cat go through a few heat cycles or that they need to have one litter before you spay them to keep them healthy.  This is absolutely false, in fact, the more heat cycles they go through in their life the more likely they are to have mammary cancer when they are older.  Mammary cancer caries a poor prognosis in animals and can dramatically be decreased by spaying them before their first heat cycle. 

There are an estimated 3 to 4 million animals euthanized every year because they are unwanted or not suitable pets.  Thinking about that number just boggles the mind.  Pet reproduction should be left to the few responsible breeders out there who are educated about their breed’s health problems, the genetics involved, and making sure their puppies are taken care of and adopted to good homes.

Male dogs can have their own set of problems if not neutered.  As their testosterone levels rise you can run into issues with behavior problems.  They are more likely to have aggression towards other dogs, try to get out of the house or yard to find females in heat (which often leads to being hit by a car, dog fights, or ending up at the shelter), inappropriate urine marking, or humping.  If you neuter them when they are around 16-20 weeks old you are much less likely to encounter these problems.  If you have small children in the household they are more likely to be attacked by intact dog than a neutered dog.

As male dogs age they can have prostate enlargement just like humans.  This can cause trouble urinating and can even lead to complete blockage of urine.  They are also more likely to get an infection in the prostate if not neutered.  If a male dog has a retained testicle (cryptorchid) in their abdomen or under the skin it is at a higher body temperature that it should be.  If not removed it can cause cancer and/or hormonal problems.

A common reason why people don’t neuter their dogs is because the male owner has objections.  They feel like they are taking away their dog’s manhood.  I tell the owner that we are not neutering him and that the dog does not know or care but that does not seem to make any difference.  For men that are really hung up on the issue there are actual implants available so there is still the visual but not the problems that are associated with it.  There is a new injection called Zeuterin available through veterinarians that have been specially trained.  The injection selectively kills the cells that produce sperm but spares some of the testosterone producing cells; the testicles are still present but they do shrink in size.  You still have the testosterone associated medical problems but it will eliminate the reproductive part of the equation.

So if I haven’t convinced you it is a good idea to spay or neuter your pet so it doesn’t have health associated problems when it’s older, come spend a night at the emergency room with me and you can witness me euthanizing pets because the owners can’t afford the emergency surgery to correct the uterine infection.  Better yet spend a day at your local shelter and watch them euthanize several animals in a row and then tell me you shouldn’t spay or neuter your pet.

M. H. Archer, DVM


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Parvo Virus and Puppies!

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Parvovirus and Puppies

Spring is in full swing and summer is just around the corner, and so is parvo season. While it occurs all year round it is much worse in the warmer months.   Parvo virus mostly affects puppies and young unvaccinated dogs.  Since there are so many new strains that have mutated over the years even older dogs can get it.  The virus showed up the 70’s and has spread worldwide since then.  The way the virus is constructed makes it very hardy so it can live in almost any environment for a very long time.  The virus is shed in great numbers by infected dogs (some of which do not show symptoms) so parvo is always being put back into the environment and it is EVERYWHERE.  This means that parvo is in your house, it’s in your yard, it’s at the grocery store, and on the bottom of your shoes.  You can try and disinfect the environment to decrease its numbers but you can never completely get rid of it.

Puppies are especially prone to parvo virus because their immune systems are still developing and they have had no previous exposure.  Older dogs are less susceptible because at some point they have been exposed to it and their immune system have had a chance to react.  Hopefully though they have been vaccinated for parvo so they will not get sick when they do encounter the virus.  When a puppy is born they get colostrum from the mother’s milk.  If the puppy was not a good nurser or if did not get mother’s milk after it was first born it is more susceptible to infection.  The colostrum helps protect the puppies from viruses for a time but as the mother’s antibodies start to decline the puppy is now vulnerable to viruses.  This is why we don’t start vaccines until they are 6-8 weeks old because their mother’s antibodies are still protecting them.  Puppies need to start their vaccines at this age to help their immune system recognize and be able to mount a response against parvo.  Until they have all boosters at 3-4 week intervals until they are 16-18 weeks old they can still get parvo and get very sick.  Black and tan colored breeds are more susceptible to the virus and may require an additional booster to keep them protected. 

Once the virus is in the body it attacks rapidly dividing cells like the lining of the intestine, bone marrow, and lymph cells.  This means that the lining of the intestines are broken down causing anorexia, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea (usually with blood in it).  As the lining of the intestines break down it allows the bacteria that normally lives in the intestine to get into the bloodstream and cause what is called sepsis. Sepsis will kill the puppy.  The other part of the equation is the destruction of white blood cells;  these cells help fight off infection so now the puppy has this nasty virus that is not only destroying it’s GI tract but it is killing the very cells that help fight off infection.  Treatment is long and expensive and there is no guarantee that it will work.  There is no medication that kills the virus so treatment is aimed at supporting their body while it slowly fights off the infection.

It is so much easier and cheaper to try and prevent an infection than treat it.  While they are never 100% protected until they have had all their vaccines at the correct intervals, you can do a few things to decrease the chance of getting parvo.  The first thing you can do is pick a puppy from a reputable breeder and not purchase one from a puppy mill or pet store.  I can’t tell you how many people impulse by a puppy in a Walmart parking lot or pet store only to bring it home and it is sick.  You should go see the environment that the puppy has been brought up in and see if the parents and the puppies, if old enough, have been vaccinated.  If they cannot produce records from a veterinarian and there are multiple dogs and puppies running around in a dirty environment walk away!  Some breeders will buy their own vaccines but if the vaccine has not been properly handled and kept at the right temperature it will not work.

Another great way to keep exposure to a minimum is to not take your puppy anywhere until it has had all of its vaccines.  That means no fun trip to the pet supermarket or to the dog park.  These places are hot beds of virus and you are just asking for it if you are taking your puppy out in public before they are fully vaccinated.  Keep the puppy at home and don’t let other people bring dogs to your house unless they are fully vaccinated.  It is also a good idea to make sure that all dogs that are in the household are fully vaccinated before any new dogs or puppies are introduced. 

As with most things in life, a little preparation and education about what you are getting yourself into can prevent a very costly and deadly problem.  If you are thinking about getting a new dog make sure you have familiarized yourself with the breed and with possible health problems.  Any veterinarian worth their salt will be more than happy to sit down with you and educate you on what needs to be done and why.  Then hopefully getting a new puppy will be a happy experience and not an expensive and even sad story that ends before it got a chance to begin.

M. H. Archer, DVM


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Skin Problems in Older Pets

Monday, April 7th, 2014

The one good thing about skin problems in older pets is that they don’t have to worry about wrinkles like we do. I guess that is one advantage to being covered in fur! What they do have to worry about is thinning hair, endocrine disease, allergies, tumors, and menagerie of other problems.

As dogs or cats age, there is a decrease in the number of active hair follicles that leads to thinning of the hair coat.  They also experience a decrease in pigment produced leading to graying of the hair around the muzzle.  Their nails become longer, malformed, and more brittle so it is important to keep them trimmed so they don’t break.  You also may see thickening of the foot pads, pressure point calluses, and nose.  Altered oil production and cystic dilation of the sweat glands results in a dry, lack luster hair coat.  To help with some of these hair coat issue you can try increased grooming and brushing, less bathing, coat conditioners, topical oils and moisture sprays, and essential fatty acid nutritional supplements.

Endocrine diseases, which are diseases that affect various hormones produced by the body, include hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease.  Hypothyroidism is a decrease in activity of the thyroid gland that will cause premature graying of the muzzle, a thinning and brittle hair coat, and dandruff.  Cushing’s disease also affects the skin by causing, thinning of the skin, patterned hair loss that usually starts on the tail (referred to as rat tail) and belly and can progress to the rest of the body.  To diagnose both of these diseases you need specialized blood tests performed by your veterinarian.

Skin tumors may start popping up as the years go by.  About 35% of the time they are senile warts which are called sebaceous gland tumors.  They are benign and can be left alone, surgically removed, frozen off, or removed by topical chemotherapy agents.  Other more serious and malignant tumors include melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma.  Melanomas are commonly dark in color and can be found anywhere but are usually located at the lip or eye margins or inside the mouth. If your pet has a suspicious growth on the skin it is always a good idea to have it checked out by your veterinarian.  Your veterinarian should stick a needle in it and look at the cells under the microscope. You can’t always tell what it is by just looking at it and a serious skin tumor could be misdiagnosed as nothing to worry about.

Food allergies can also appear as your pet ages.  This can cause non-seasonal itching, ear infections, paw licking, thinning hair coat, skin infections, and redness.  This can be a frustrating problem to diagnose and treat because there are other causes that have to be ruled out as well.  The best way to know if your dog has food allergies is to place them on a prescription allergy diet or give them a novel protein diet (duck and potato is one of many examples) for at least 2 months with absolutely no other food, treats, or table scraps and see if the symptoms go away.  If they do you can leave them on that diet for the remainder of their life to prevent skin problems from occurring again.

M. H. Archer, DVM

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Dental Disease

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Dental Disease

Have you lifted up your pet’s lip lately and taken a good look at their teeth?  Almost every older dog and cat have some degree of dental disease that can cause foul breath, tooth discoloration, red and bleeding gums, loose teeth, pain, and loss of appetite.  It starts with gingivitis, and inflammation of the gums.  Gingivitis is reversible if treated promptly, but if left unchecked, the condition advances to periodontitis, which is painful and can cause teeth to become abscessed or fall out.  Having your veterinarian check your pet’s mouth is the first step in treating and finding ways to prevent dental disease.

Bad breath is often the first sign that an animal already has dental disease.  Because bad breath is so common, this sign of disease is often just accepted and causes no concern to owners.  Proliferating bacteria, food particles and saliva accumulate at the gum line, forming a slimy substance called plaque on the teeth.  If plaque is not removed, it mineralizes and hardens into tartar or calculus which is very hard to remove.  As the gums recede, gum structures detach from the root and pockets form, weakening the tooth’s support and exposing its roots.  Tartar build up further encourages bacterial deposits, and bacteria eventually invade the gums and the tooth’s root.  Ultimately, the tooth may loosen and fall out or a deep abscess will form. 

But what is dental disease exactly?  Stage 1 of dental disease is periodontal disease and is still reversible.  The gum tissue is pink, not inflamed, and adhered to the bone.  The tooth is fairly free of tartar or calculus buildup.  Stage 2 of dental disease is early signs of gingivitis which include inflamed gum tissue, noticeable buildup of tartar and calculus, no bone loss at this point, and bad breath begins.  Stage 3 of dental disease is advanced signs of gingivitis. The gum tissue is inflamed and possibly bleeding, severe calculus buildup, and bad breath is noticeably increased.  Stage 4 is severe dental disease.  Loss of gum tissue, possible ulcerated gums, root exposure, noticeable bleeding, severe calculus buildup, loose teeth, bone loss, decrease in appetite, severe bad breath, and painful mouth.  When bacteria is constantly present in the mouth it will enter the bloodstream and cause damage to vital organs like the heart, liver, and kidneys. These type of diseases are much harder to treat and can cause premature death of the pet.

Unfortunately, most pets do not show obvious signs when suffering from dental disease.  They are programmed like their wild Canid and Felid relatives to not show any signs of weakness.  If they do show weakness, they are moved down the ladder of seniority or singled out by a larger predator.  Our domestic canine and feline friends behave in the same manner.  They do not know that they can do anything about their dental problems, so they just learn to “live” with it.  The signs of pain come on very gradually, so the owner frequently associates the pet’s behavior with just getting older. By contrast, when you treat a dental problem correctly, owners frequently notice a rapid improvement in their pet’s demeanor.  In my opinion, dental disease is the most common reason for a pet to act older.

The only way to treat dental disease is to have your pet under general anesthesia and have a full oral exam with x-rays of every tooth performed.  80% of dental disease is below the gum line and cannot be seen by just looking in the mouth so if x-rays are not taken you have no idea of what is lurking beneath or how to treat it.  Once the cleaning and scaling has been performed each tooth is probed for pockets and exposed roots.  If deep pockets are present or if x-rays show signs of disease the teeth can be extracted at that time. 

Lately there have been a barrage of “anesthesia free” dental services popping up at feed stores and other places.  In no way is this a treatment for dental disease, all it is doing is temporarily removing tartar, it is not getting rid of the bacteria or addressing the problems below the gums.  It gives the owner a false sense of security and leaves the pet in the same boat as they were before.

After having a proper dental treatment, there are many products available to help slow down the accumulation of tartar, bacteria, and plaque on your pet’s teeth.  There are special diets, dental chews, and water additives that are available, they won’t do much about existing tartar but will help slow down the build-up.  The best treatment would to brush your dog or cat’s teeth twice a day with a pet tooth paste after they eat but this is hard for most pet owners to accomplish so any brushing is encouraged.

When you pro-actively treat dental problems by having a dental performed by your veterinarian once or twice a year everyone is a winner.  The pet benefits because they feel better, act better, and relate better to their owner.  The owner benefits because their pet acts better, their breath is not offensive, and so the human-animal bond is strengthened.

M. H. Archer, DVM

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Obesity in Pets

Saturday, March 1st, 2014


Last month we visited all the troubles that can plague our older animals.  This month we will talk about obesity.  Obesity is one of the most common problems I see with all pets.  In fact, the latest statistics say that about 40% of pets in America are obese.  It can cause worsening and early progression of arthritis, respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, liver disease, reduced life span, unwillingness to accept therapeutic diets, increase in surgical and anesthetic risk, and decreased quality of life. 
Obesity can also be one of the hardest conditions to talk with owners about.  The subject of obesity in people is complicated and charged with emotions – but in pets it shouldn’t be.  Pets cannot feed themselves and they cannot overeat unless you overfeed them.  Owners tend to be in denial about how much they are feeding their pets and how little they are providing exercise.  Once we have gotten over the hurdle of acknowledging that there is a problem, we can talk about how to fix it. 
First of all, a visit to your veterinarian is in order.  They should have record of your pet’s weight over the years and can track how much weight gain has occurred.  Your vet will assess their body score to see how overweight they are. To get a rough estimate at home if your pet is overweight, you can look at them from overhead and from the side.  If you cannot see a tuck in from the rib cage and cannot see a hint of ribs underneath a little padding- your pet is fat.  Next, your veterinarian will do basic diagnostic tests to rule out any underlying health problems like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease, and to make sure a weight loss plan is appropriate.
If your veterinarian decides that a weight loss program is the way to go they will probably prescribe a weight loss diet based on their current weight and how much they need to lose over a given amount of time.  Losing weight too fast can cause other health problems or rebound weight gain so make sure you feed them the recommended amount prescribed.  Many of the prescription weight loss diets increase fiber while still meeting their nutritional needs.
Increasing their activity level will help burn more calories and keep them from developing anxiety or OCD type conditions that can lead to overeating.  There are a plethora of toys out there that are interactive for pets and their owners, or toys that they can play with by themselves while you are away at work.  Get out of the habit of expressing love for your pet by constantly offering treats.  You can give them alternates like baby carrots for treats or learn to use playtime as a treat instead of food. 
There is a weight loss drug available for dogs by prescription.  If all the above ways of weight loss are not working your veterinarian may decide to try Slentrol. This is usually only used as a last resort and does have side effects that you would need to discuss with your veterinarian.
Above all, don’t ignore the problem.  Whatever regimen you and your veterinarian decide on, be determined to stick to it.  Keeping your pets weight down will increase their life span and increase their quality of life.  This also comes with the added bonus of saving money on veterinary care by not having to treat diseases associated with obesity!

M. H. Archer, DVM

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Heart Disease in Dogs

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Heart Disease

The heart is a two sided pump that sends blood around the body in a one-way direction through arteries that go away from the heart and veins that return to the heart.  The heart has a right side that pumps blood to the lungs to receive oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide (made when you used food). The left side of the heart then pumps the oxygenated blood and other nutrients to all the tissues and muscles in the body.  Because both sides of the heart are needed to keep the body healthy, if either side of the heart is unable to pump as much blood as the other side, there can be complications. This problem of unequal amounts of blood being pumped to either the lungs or the tissues is called congestive heart failure. There are many other types of heart problems as well as congestive heart failure. I will mention a few of the more common types that affect many different breeds of dogs. Some cats are predisposed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle. Heart disease often lacks symptoms to lay people and a yearly physical exam can detect murmurs or other signs that you may not recognize as symptoms of heart disease. Some more severe signs of potential heart disease are difficulty breathing or exercise intolerance.  Other signs are coughing and weight loss. Fainting in dogs or cats is a symptom that should not be ignored. This could indicate a life-threatening problem.

There are many possible causes of heart disease and many types of heart disease. Often heart disease can result in heart failure. Below I have mentioned a few of the more common causes of heart disease including damage to valves and problems with the muscle cells in the heart. These will be called valvular disease and cardiomyopathies.

Valvular disease is often associated with decreased blood flow to the body because the blood goes backwards (instead of only forward, one-way) and this may result in too few nutrients reaching tissues around the body. Murmurs are often associated with valvular disease. Often the blood pressure will elevate in animals with valvular disease and these animals are put onto one or more medications to help manage the condition. Some medications are used to decrease blood pressure and help prevent progression of the disease include ACE-inhibitors. Additional medications may be given to slow the heart rate and/or increase the efficiency of the heart when it pumps. 

There are also heart changes that are associated with disease of the heart muscle. These are types of cardiomyopathies. The  heart muscle can enlarge in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or become flabby and weak in dilated cardiomyopathy. These diseases are associated with eventual heart failure and death. They both result in the inability of blood to reach the tissues of the body. Hypertrophy of the heart decreases the amount of blood pumped around the body while dilated cardiomyopathy results in decreased pumping of the heart due to lack of muscle tissue. Medications may prolong the life your pet if diagnosed with either condition.

Often we hear about high blood pressure. Blood pressure is a measure of the force that the arteries feel with each heartbeat. The higher the pressure, the harder the heart must beat to send nutrients around the body. This is why high blood pressure is considered bad; it stresses the heart and causes changes in the size and shape of the heart if left untreated. In some cases, high blood pressure can be associated with heart failure, but it is associated with other diseases as well. In dogs and cats, high blood pressure as often associated with disease rather than occurring spontaneously like it does in people. High blood pressure in the lungs is called pulmonary hypertension and stresses the right side of the heart. Neither systemic or pulmonary hypertension should be left untreated as either can cause progression of heart disease or damage other organs in the body, especially systemic hypertension.

As with human medicine, there are many life-extending medications that can be prescribed for heart problems in pets. These medications can be used to decrease symptoms, prevent progression of the disease process and may help the body to compensate (work better) for the problem the heart is experiencing.. The best course of action with a heart problem is to get a full work up by your veterinarian including x-rays (radiographs), blood pressure measurement, an ultrasound of the heart and ECG as well as. blood work if recommended. Often medications can be given that decrease high blood pressure and help the heart to pump blood around the body. Sometimes diuretics are prescribed to decrease fluid build up in the body.  If your pet is found to have a heart problem, you should discuss any medications that could be prescribed for your pet with your veterinarian. For many clients, cost is often of concern. Fortunately, many medications are relatively cheap and can sometimes add years to the life of your pet, depending upon when diagnosis is made in the course of the heart disease.

Heart disease can be very scary,  An early diagnosis of the problem can often lead to a positive, preventative approach to the disease that allows your pet to maintain a good quality of life with few symptoms.  I have personally been involved with supporting several canine patients for over 3 years using 1 or more relatively inexpensive medications to decrease severity of murmurs and prevent progression of valvular heart disease. Some pets can live for years after a diagnosis. You should discuss any problems your pet is experiencing with your veterinarian. Remember, heart problems in pets are often hidden until later in the disease because our pets cannot tell us when they do not feel well. Yearly physical exams help to find these problems early and improve the life of our pets with affordable treatments when they are needed.

S. Mason, DVM

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Care and Needs of the Older Pet – a continuing series

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Care and Needs of the Older Pet

Beginning the new year my dog Cheyenne will be 13 years old. It’s hard to believe that the puppy that used to endlessly hunt for ground squirrels while camping is now reaching the end of her years. I thought this would be a good opportunity to discuss a topic that all pet owners will need to deal with eventually — the care and needs of the older pet. Aging is a slow and gradual process so it’s not hard for problems to sneak up. Animals are also good at hiding when they don’t feel good, it is an inherent trait not to show signs of weakness. Knowing what to look for and catching these problems early may increase the quality and quantity of your pets life.

1. Obesity - the extra weight due to inactivity, slow metabolism, or over feeding can stress the heart, joints, internal organs, and promote diseases like diabetes.

2. Dental disease - the is one of the most common problems I see on a daily basis. It’s an easy thing to ignore but you shouldn’t. Rotting teeth can cause severe pain and spread bacteria via the bloodstream and seed infections into other parts of the body

3. Skin problems - as the skin ages it loses its elasticity and can’t repair itself as quickly. Hair follicles become less active causing the hair to thin. Skin tumors and infection are also more common in the older pet

4. Reproductive problems - if a pet has not been spayed or neutered this can lead to life threatening infections or cancers. Females can develop an infection in their uterus that most of the time requires emergency surgery to correct and can be very expensive. Male dogs are more prone to prostate enlargement which can interfere with urination. Both intact male and female dogs are more susceptible to reproductive tract cancers as well.

5. Losing sight or hearing - many pets develop cataracts or become deaf as they age. This can be just a sign of aging or a marker of disease. Dogs that develop cataracts quickly could have diabetes.

6. Internal organ damage - your pets internal organs have been running for years and at some point may be slowing down. Diseases of the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver occur more commonly in the older pet. If the symptoms are detected early enough they may be managed by reducing stress on the affected organ either through medications or diet.

7. Behavior changes - Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is similar to dementia or Alzheimer’s in people. They can become disoriented, altered or decreased interaction with family, decrease in greeting behavior, changes in sleep cycle, changes in activity, and loss of house training.

8. Arthritis - this is a very common problem with our pets as well, they might slow down on walks, not want to jump up and down off the couch anymore, or be generally more grumpy because they hurt. Pain control has become a big issue in veterinary medicine over the past few years. Now there are may options to help; acupuncture, laser therapy, supplements, injections, pain medications, stem cell therapy, the list goes on…

Each forth coming article will address each of these topics in more detail. There are many things to watch for in your aging pet. Your veterinarian is the best person to talk to about these changes. The good news is that there are many special diets, medications, and other therapies out there that can help increase their quality of life and extend their years.

Happy New Year!
M. H. Archer, DVM

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Pet Toxins

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Common exposures

Exposure to toxins or unintended substances are a relatively common problem with household pets, both dogs and cats. To prevent exposures to chemicals, you should attempt to “animal-proof” your home. There are various products available at stores to secure cabinets and drawers. Websites and books also describe procedures to secure cabinets, outlets and doors. One major thing that should be done is to move toxic substances out of lower level cabinets or place cabinet locks on doors and drawers so that pets cannot get into these cabinets. Most animals typically will not get into items that taste bad, but antifreeze (with a sweet taste) and flavored medications will actually attract some pets to ingest them. Also, young animals are curious and may be more prone to get into things when bored.

Prevention is the best remedy and “animal-proofing” your house will decrease the chance of exposure to toxins. You can also move items except for medications that are taken daily to inaccessible places such as high shelves or out of the lowest cabinets to decrease exposure risk. Consider putting chemicals like antifreeze, motor oils, herbicides, household insecticides and rodenticides in a garage or outbuilding to which the animals do not have access. However, if your pet does get exposed to something, take your pet to your local veterinarian for monitoring and treatment. There are also various animal poison control lines including the Pet Poison Helpline (affiliated with the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota) and the National Animal Poison Control Center through the College of Veterinary Medicine in Illinois. The Pet Poison Helpline can be reached at 1-800-213-6680 for a $39 consultation fee with unlimited follow-up calls by you and/or your veterinarian while the National Animal Poison Control Center can be reached at 1-(888) 426-4435 for a $65 consultation fee. If you have already called one of these hotlines when you take your pet to your local veterinarian, make sure you give the case number so that you will not be charged again if your veterinarian does use either of these services for a consultation.

According to the Pet Poison Helpline, the most common calls about unintentional exposures are for human medications or vitamin/supplements (48.5%), human foods that are toxic to pets (16%), insecticides (7.5%) and rodenticides (6.5%). This list makes up over 75% of the calls that the Pet Poison Helpline received last year. In addition to these exposures, pets are susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning and exposure to toxic houseplants. The following paragraphs discuss each of these toxins in brief. Hopefully, this information can help you avoid an unintentional exposure to a food product or a life-threatening toxicity. If an exposure does occur, make sure to take the medication, supplement or a sample of the ingested item with you when you seek veterinary care.

For medicines and supplements or vitamins, the best way to prevent exposure is to keep these items in high cabinets or areas where pets cannot get to them. Some pets can jump onto or stand on their back legs to reach counter-tops or tables, so avoid leaving medications out in the open. You can ask your pharmacist for childproof caps for any prescription medications, which decreases the likelihood of unintentional exposures by children and pets. When it comes to some vitamins, remember that many, especially children’s vitamins and some pet supplements may be flavored to be sweet. This may attract your pet should they get access to the bottle, so make sure to put vitamins in an area your pet cannot reach. Exposure to excess vitamins can be dangerous when these supplements contain iron, zinc or vitamins such as D and E, all of which can be stored by the body. Medications are also sometimes accidentally ingested by pets. Due to the number of prescriptions, the Pet Poison Helpline identified one of the most common medication group that dogs ingest as antidepressants. Many of these are SSRIs (also known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) and may lead to seizures or be life-threatening if taken at a high enough dosages. If your pet is suffering from behavior problems such as separation anxiety or seizures and gets exposed to an antidepressant, please take both the medication the pet ingested and the prescription for your pet’s condition when you seek care. The dose of your medication may not be dangerous on its own, but if combined with a medication for a behavioral disorders in your pet, it could become life-threatening as many of these medications work in similar ways in the body. Common over the counter medications can also be dangerous. Please be aware that common “pain” medications like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be very dangerous to cats or dogs when ingested. Therefore, a pet should be taken in for treatment as soon as possible with exposure to these common human medications, even at low doses. Unlike people, dogs and cats lack the enzymes needed to process these medications fully and toxicity can occur rapidly.

Human food: In addition to these common medications, some foods can be unsafe for consumption by pets. Most people have heard of chocolate foods being dangerous to dogs (and cats). Dark chocolate or bakers chocolate is the most dangerous. An exposed pet should be taken to the veterinarian quickly in response to eating even a small portion of a these chocolates. Call your veterinarian about milk chocolates or any other chocolate exposure to determine if the amount ingested is likely to cause a problem and do it as soon as you know an ingestion has occurred. In some cases, decontamination (removal of the dangerous food) can be done with few side effects, while the toxicity reaction could be very expensive to monitor and treat. Some other dangerous items include diet products, grapes and seasonings or vegetables. Sugarless gum and diet products should also not ever be given to dogs because they may contain xylitol. This sweetener can quickly result in a diabetic coma in dogs, from a drop in the dog’s blood sugar. Also be aware that grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in some dogs. Garlic, leeks, chives and onions also should not be given to dogs due to their ability to damage red blood cells which carry oxygen to tissues. Other foods to be avoided include nuts in general – especially macadamia nuts in dogs.
When it comes to your animal receiving table scraps or human foods, be aware that portion sizes we typically eat are going to be too large for your pet’s smaller body size. Take for example a 75 lb lab, he should only get half as much of a lean meat or safe snack as a human. A shi tzu or other small dog should receive less than one-tenth of what you would eat of meat or a snack. Avoid giving pets fatty meats or foods that are very greasy as this can sometimes lead to pancreatitis.

Insecticides are commonly used to protect food, eliminate insect pests and keep our properties safe for pets and children. However, many of these products, even those we use on our pets (topical flea and tick medications), can be very dangerous if ingested. Always keep your flea and tick medications in a place where pets and children cannot reach them. The most dangerous of these insecticides are a group called organophosphates. If at all possible, organophosphate use should be avoided on your property and near your pets and children. I would suggest using fipronil, or pyrethrin or permethrin insecticides as they are less dangerous to pets and you. Organophosphates are so dangerous because they undergo a process of “aging” after ingestion and therefore their toxicity can last much longer than other insecticides. Any pet recently treated with a topical flea (and/or tick) medication should be taken to a veterinarian if they should start shaking, exhibiting abnormal behavior or stop responding normally to you. Cats are especially susceptible to these products when ingested so make sure that you do not use dog products on any of your cats. If you do suspect toxic reaction to a product, take the package you used or the container for an environmental insecticide with you to the veterinary clinic.
Although it is tempting to buy the generic brands of flea and tick medication because it is typically half the price of your veterinary brand of Comfortis (spinosad) or Frontline (or its generic Fiproguard), be aware that these cheaper products may contain organophosphates. Unfortunately, the $10 you save on the product may cost an expensive veterinary bill and potentially your cat or dog his life. I have personally seen this happen when pets have licked off part of these products off after treatment and the resultant seizures could not be controlled, leading to death of a beloved family pet.

Rodenticides are sometimes necessary to control rats or mice, especially on farms. However, the risk of toxicity is present from both a pet ingesting the product and from relay toxicity. Relay toxicity is when the pet eats a rodent that has been exposed to a rodenticide and the pet experiences toxicity from eating the rodent. This is more common in cats due to their relatively small body size compared to the rodents. Rodenticides have various methods of action, including thinning the blood (prevention of blood clotting); therefore they should be used with care around pets. There are other ways to handle rodents which include sticky (glue) traps, catch and release traps (for those who want to relocate rodents) and the traditional bait-snapping traps. With all of these traps, there is a small risk of injury to a pet, but the likelihood of severe toxicity is not possible.

Other possible toxins or exposures include gases and plant exposures
Most of our household pets are much smaller than we are and can experience toxicity from gas exposure more quickly than we can. They are closer to the ground, have a smaller body size with a higher breathing rate and so can quickly become intoxicated by gases such as carbon monoxide in an enclosed space such as a garage. Wood burning stoves with inadequate venting can also release carbon monoxide inside the home. The best way to avoid exposure is to never run a gasoline motor or gas operated appliance in a garage or other enclosed space. You can pick up a carbon monoxide detector at your local hardware store for less than $50 and it will protect the whole family. If you suspect your pet has been exposed, remove him from the area immediately to fresh air and check for breathing problems, disorientation or behavioral problems. If these do not improve quickly or they worsen, immediate medical attention by a veterinarian is necessary, including oxygen administration.

Finally, we sometimes unwittingly expose our pets to toxic plants by having them in our house. While we are likely to enjoy the plants for their scent, appearance and oxygen creation, our pets sometimes like to taste them as well. If you have pets that don’t ingest plants, congratulations; otherwise be aware of seasonal plants such as lilies around Easter or poinsettia or mistletoe in the winter because they are toxic and can lead to renal failure in cats (lilies) or irritation of the mouth, vomiting and salivation in dogs and cats (poinsettia). The following is an abridged list of houseplants that may cause toxicity in pets.


Common Name  Latin Name
Amaryllis                                 Hippeastrum spp.
Anthurium                               Anthurium spp.
Apricot kernels (seeds)           Prunus armeniaca
Azaleas                                    Rhododendron spp
Caladium                                 Caladium bicolor
Calla Lily                                Calla palustrus
Cathedral bell                          Kalanchoe spp.
Chinese Evergreen                  Aglaonema spp.
Crocus (Autumn)                    Colchicum autumnale
Daffodil                                  Narcissus spp.
Dumb Cane                             Dieffenbachia spp.
Elephant’s Ear                         Colocasia antiquorum
English Ivy                              Hedera helix
Fishtail Palm                           Caryota spp.
Holly Berries                           Ilex aquifolium
Hyacinth                                 Hyacinthus orientalis
Jerusalem Cherry                     Solanum pseudocapsicum
Lantana                                   Lantana camara
Mistletoe                                 Phoradendron spp.
Mountain laurel                       Kalmia spp.
Oleander                                 Nerium oleander
Philodendron                          Philodendron spp.
Ranunculus (buttercups)         Ranunculus spp.
Rosary Pea                              Abrus precatorius
Schefflera shrubs                    Schefflera actinophylla
Spath/ Peace Lilies                  Spathiphyllum spp.
Yew                                         Taxus spp.

For more information on these or other potentially toxic plants or exposures, you can use the alphabetical reference provided at the Pet Poison Helpline site:

Best of luck in keeping your pets safe.
SMason, DVM

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