Sunday, November 14, 2010

Leptospirosis: Increased Incidents In Dogs

Leptospirosis is a severe zoonotic bacterial infection that is staging a comeback according to an expert at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.  Dr. Richard E. Goldstein has reported there is an increase in positive tests on small-breed dogs due to skipped vaccinations and the overlap of surbanan development and wildlife.  A zoonotic disease is one which affects both pets and people.

The Center for Disease Control defines leptospirosis as a disease  caused by a spiral shaped bacteria called leptospires. The disease can be serious for both humans and animals. In people, the symptoms are often like the flu, but sometimes leptospirosis can develop into a more severe, life-threatening illness with infections in the kidney, liver, brain, lung, and heart.

The bacteria are spread through the urine of infected animals, which can get into water or soil and can survive there for weeks to months. Humans and animals can become infected through contact with this contaminated urine (or other body fluids, except saliva), water, or soil. The bacteria can enter the body through skin or mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth), especially if the skin is broken from a cut or scratch. Drinking contaminated water can also cause infection.

The clinical signs of leptospirosis vary and are nonspecific. Sometimes pets do not have any symptoms. Common clinical signs reported in dogs include fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, refusal to eat, severe weakness and depression, stiffness, severe muscle pain, or inability to have puppies. Generally younger animals are more seriously affected than older animals.

If you suspect your pet has this disease, contact your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian can perform tests to detect the presence of leptospiral antibodies or organisms.
Leptospirosis is treatable with antibiotics. If an animal is treated early, it may recover more rapidly and any organ damage may be less severe. Other treatment methods, such as dialysis and hydration therapy may be required. The time between exposure to the bacteria and development of disease is usually 5 to 14 days, but can be as short as a few days or as long as 30 days or more.
If your pet has been confirmed by your veterinarian as having leptospirosis, the appropriate action to take will depend on the nature of contact with your pet. Normal daily activities with your pet will not put you at high risk for leptospirosis infection. Types of contacts that are considered to be high risk include direct or indirect contact with urine, blood, and tissues of your pet during its infection. Assisting in the delivery of newborns from an infected animal is also considered a high-risk activity for transmission of leptospirosis. If you have had these types of high-risk contacts with your pet during the time of its infection, inform your physician. If common symptoms, such as fever, muscle aches, and headaches, occur within 3 weeks after a high-risk exposure, see your physician. Tests can be performed to see if you have this disease.
Taking preventative measures can minimize the risks of this disease. I recommend an annual leptospirosis vaccination and attention to pest control. Mice and rats can spread the disease. The vaccine has been improved over the years as there are several strains of the leptospira bacteria that are now included. If you suspect any signs or symptoms of the disease contact your veterinarian for an exam and possible testing.  Include the leptospira vaccine in your pets annual exam if there is any potential for exposure.

Bloat In Dogs

When a dog’s stomach fills with gas, it bloats. The expansion of the stomach puts pressure on the muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen, which in turn makes it hard for the dog to breathe. The stomach will also twist or create what is called gastric torsion. This in turn can cause shock and rapid death. Therefore, bloating should always be treated as a dire emergency.

Bloating can happen to any breed of dog at any age. However, large breeds with deep chests, like Great Danes, Standard Poodles or the large Setters, are more likely to suffer from this type of emergency. In certain instances, bloating is noted when the dog exercises immediately after eating. The most obvious symptom is, of course, an enlarged abdomen. You may also observe labored breathing, excessive drooling, vomiting, a weak pulse, and paleness in the nose and mouth.

Although there are environmental and genetic factors that remain unknown, the chances of bloating are increased by overeating and excessive drinking. Allowing a dog to exercise or especially roll shortly after a meal can also cause problems.

If you should notice any of the above signs or symptoms take the dog to a veterinarian right away. There, she will be treated with drugs to counter-act shock, have the stomach dilation reduced by passing a stomach tube if possible, and have surgery performed to rotate the stomach back to a normal position and have the stomach wall attached to a side of the abdomen that should prevent re-occurrence of the twisting or torsion.
Provide dogs with a predisposition to gastric torsion with only normal-sized food portions and allow him time to digest after a meal and before any strenuous exercise. This can help prevent occurrences of bloating. Some veterinarians will recommend that breeds more commonly affected with bloating undergo a gastroplexy, a surgical procedure in which the stomach is attached to the body wall to prevent it from shifting or twisting. Many veterinary facilities are equipped to provide the care required to treat this emergency.  If you cannot contact your veterinarian immediately, transport him to a 24 hour emergency hospital as soon as possible.

Time is of the essence.  Do not delay!  In our geographic area there are 24 emergency clinics in Woburn and at the Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston.

Monday, September 13, 2010

10 Most Common Household Poisons

The home can be a serious source of poisons for our pets. In 2009, the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) handled more than 140,000 cases of pets exposed to toxic substances, many of which included everyday household products.  Below is the list of the top 10 poisons that affected pet dogs and cats.

Human Medications:
For several years, human medications have been number one on the ASPCA’s list of common hazards.  Last year, the ASPCA managed 45,816 calls involving prescription and over-the-counter drugs such as painkillers, cold medications, antidepressants and dietary supplements

One of the most common incidents involved the misuse of flea and tick products—such as applying the wrong topical treatment to the wrong species. Thus, it’s always important to talk to your pet’s veterinarian before beginning any flea and tick control program.

Human Food:
People food like grapes, raisins, avocado and products containing xylitol, like gum, can seriously disable animals. One of the worst offenders—chocolate—contains large amounts of methylxanthines, which, if ingested in significant amounts, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst, urination, hyperactivity, and in severe cases, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors and seizures.

Varieties such as azalea, rhododendron, sago palm, lilies, kalanchoe and schefflera are often found in homes and can be harmful to pets. Lilies are especially toxic to cats, and can cause life-threatening kidney failure even in small amounts.

Veterinary Products:
Even though veterinary medications are intended for pets, they’re often misapplied or improperly dispensed by well-meaning pet owners. In 2009, the ASPCA managed thousands of cases involving animal-related preparations such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, heartworm preventatives, de-wormers, antibiotics, vaccines and nutritional supplements.

Rat and Mouse Poisons:
Many baits used to attract rodents contain inactive ingredients that are attractive to pets as well. Depending on the type of rodenticide, ingestions can lead to potentially life-threatening problems for pets including bleeding, seizures or kidney damage. 

Household Cleaners:
Household cleaning supplies can be toxic to adults and children, but few take precautions to protect their pets from common agents such as bleaches, detergents and disinfectants.  These products, when inhaled by our pets can cause serious gastrointestinal distress and irritation to the respiratory tract.

Heavy Metals:
Heavy metals such as lead, zinc and mercury accounted for 3,304 cases of pet poisonings in 2009. Lead is especially pernicious, and pets are exposed to it through many sources, including consumer products, paint chips, linoleum, and lead dust produced when surfaces in older homes are scraped or sanded

Garden Products:
Certain types of fertilizer and garden products can cause problems for outdoor cats and dogs. Last year, the ASPCA fielded many calls related to fertilizer exposure, which can cause severe gastric upset and possibly gastrointestinal obstruction.

Chemical Hazards:
A category on the rise, chemical hazards—found in ethylene glycol antifreeze, paint thinner, drain cleaners and pool/spa chemicals—form a substantial danger to pets. Substances in this group can cause gastrointestinal upset, depression, respiratory difficulties and chemical burns.

Prevention is  the key to avoiding accidental exposure, but if you suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, please contact your veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center’s 24-hour hotline at (888) 426-4435.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

10 Diseases Pets to People

Zoonoses are defined as diseases that can spread from animals to people. Zoonoses can be caused by any number of different viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi.

This abbreviated list of nasty zoonoses that can be passed to people from dogs or cats range from the mildly annoying to serious life threatening diseases. Fortunately, following the recommendations at the end of this article can prevent them.

1. Lyme Disease
Technically this is not considered a zoonotic disease because it is not spread directly from animals to people; however, I am putting it on the top of my list because I believe it represents the greatest health hazard in our geographic area.  It is transmitted by tick bites.  Our pets are directed involved because they can carry ticks into the home environment.

2. Tapeworm
This parasite can be transmitted from accidentally ingesting a flea from a dog or cat. Symptoms if infected with a flea tapeworm include stomachaches, diarrhea, and an itchy anal area.

3. Ringworm
This is often confused with other zoonoses because of the “worm” part of its name. Ringworm is a fungus that is fairly common in dogs and cats. It usually leaves people with a skin rash that's uncomfortable.  Its name is derived from the fact that it leaves a circular rash in most instances.

4. Roundworm
This is a parasite found in almost every puppy and kitten. They usually get it from their mothers before they're born or from drinking mother's milk. It is spread through the bowel movements and people can accidentally ingest them if they handle dirt containing roundworm eggs and forget to wash their hands before eating. Most people don’t get symptoms, but for those that do, they include stomach problems, vision problems, and seizures.

5. Hookworm
This is another parasite that, like roundworm, can be spread through animal feces.  It can also infect people through direct skin contact, like when walking in bare feet outside on contaminated dirt or on a beach where animals are permitted to defecate.  Symptoms range from no symptoms to blood loss, mental retardation in children, and other maladies such as skin rash.

6. Cat scratch disease
Bacteria found in the claws of some cats cause this, or though a cat bite. Usually there’s a mild infection where the injury occurs, but can lead to swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, and a poor appetite.

7. Leptospira
This is a bacterium that can be found in the urine of dogs. People can develop many symptoms including fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, vomiting, and diarrhea. Some recover and then get sick again with severe kidney or liver disease, or infection of the brain. It can also lead to death.

8. Toxoplasma
This is caused by a parasite that can be found in contaminated kitty litter. It can also be found elsewhere,. Symptoms can include swollen glands and muscle aches as if like the "flu." Pregnant women should be especially careful because this disease can infect the developing baby and cause deformity or miscarriage.

9. Mange
A microscopic mite that is passed on to pets from undomesticated animals like fox causes sarcoptic mange.  It can infect humans although it tends to be self limiting after several weeks.  Symptoms include severe itchiness.

10. Rabies
It is caused by a bite from an infected animal, like a dog or cat. It is not common in dogs or cats because of successful rabies vaccination programs.

The good news is that you can easily prevent getting diseases from dogs and cats by following these recommendations;

1. Veterinary Care and Consultation:
Take your pet to a veterinarian at least once a year to get the vaccines, tests and medications needed to prevent disease. Have pets tested for intestinal paracites.  Annual worming is recommended.  Have your pet tested for tick born diseases. Use topical products that kill ticks and fleas on your pets.

2. Sanitation:
Pick up animal feces daily and dispose of it mindfully. Wear latex gloves when cleaning litter boxes (especially important for pregnant woman). Wash your hands frequently, especially before mealtime. Do not come in contact with skin disease of a pet.

3. Consult with your physician if you get a tick bite or a bite from your pet or any other animal. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Nomad's Gift

The description of “Pets and People” includes the experiences that humans share with domesticated animals. We are most familiar with our household pets that become part of our family and serve as faithful companions.  In certain cultures, animals can be cherished in different ways.  In the following true story, my experience with a nomadic family taught me about a culture that revered their animals for the shelter they provide, the sustenance they furnish and the status they bestow.

In several previous articles I described a journey I took from North to South Africa in a VW Campmobile with two other vehicles, transversing the Sahara desert and the jungles of Central Africa. The goal of this journey was to observe undomesticated animals in their natural environment and to learn more about the relationship that man shares with different kinds of domesticated animals.

On the southern fringes of the Sahara desert there is a geographic area called the Savanna. This is a place where the first signs of vegetation exist and is the area where nomadic peoples move to and fro with their cattle.  In an area that appears to be barren, there exists the largest density of various tribes in all of Africa.

At the end of an exhausting day of driving over corrugated sand trails, the group of two other vehicles in our “caravan” set up camp in what appeared to be a barren area of sparse vegetation.  Within forty-five minutes, three young girls appeared, each representing different sects of tribal people.  Dressed in various attire, some wore magnificent jewelry handcrafted for them.  We began to sense how little we understood about the mysterious cultures in this part of the world. These young girls stood shyly on the perimeter of our camp area and simply observed us from a distance.

One of our group had brought hospital scrub tops and gave them to the girls as gifts.  Overjoyed, they departed, to be joined shortly by tribal elders who appeared from the brush surrounding us. One of these men was dressed in a loincloth covered by a woven tunic, and had a hair style that included bangs and hair to his shoulders.  It was as if we were experiencing man as he may have appeared in prehistoric times. The other adult male wore blue robes and white headwear that covered his face. He was a Taureg, the fierce fighters of the Sahara known as “Blue Arabs” because of the indigo color of his dress.

In return for our gift to his daughter, the man in the tunic brought a vessel made from cattle skin filled with milk and offered us a drink. As a military public health officer in the Air Force, the idea of drinking unpasteurized milk was somewhat repulsive, however, rejecting this offer of good will was unimaginable.

The purpose of my journey was to experience life to the fullest, and I must admit that after having children of my own, I probably would not have accepted his sign language invitation to follow him into the bush. My traveling companions expressed anxiety and disapproval at my decision to follow him into the bush, however, for me this was a risk worth taking.

I trailed behind him as he swiftly blazed a trail over dunes and into brush.  I lost sight of my encampment and it was as if I was in a dream, following a prehistoric ancestor rather than a complete stranger. Eventually, we reached his homestead.  In a clearing stood several large tents made from the hides of his treasury of animals. He apparently had several wives and was wealthy based on the number of cattle he maintained.

He invited me, again through sign language, to eat with his family of wives and children and to spend the night.  I could only imagine what a night with this nomadic family would bring. One of my greatest regrets was not accepting that invitation. As my mind returned to the companion who shared my VW Van with me, concern for the anxiety my overnight absence would create forced me to accept the fact that staying would be unfair to her and the other members of my party of adventurers.

Dusk had arrived and the stars were beginning to appear.  Looking into the eyes of my nomadic friend, I pointed to the night sky and to my eyes, signaling my inability to find my way back to my camp. He understood and communicated his desire to guide me back to his wives.  At this time they became agitated that he would go back into the bush at night.  Perhaps there was a danger that I did not know about.  However, guide me back he did.   A perfect stranger was risking his well being for me.

I had come to learn about the relationship between man and animal, and to my great benefit I had learned about the potential for relationships between all men. This was the nomad’s gift.

Post Script:  I was later to learn that this was the beginning of one of the worst draughts in the recorded history of the sub-Sahara.  In several years time, most nomadic peoples lost their animals and perished and those who survived had to seek shelter and aid in more urban populated areas south of the Sahara.

The Nomad with a walking stick and his daughter who received a green scrub from our party.  The other men represent different tribes, one of which is called a “Blue Arab” because of the color of his dress (right).

A documentary DVD has been produced using the film I took on this trek through Africa.  I would be happy to share it with any interested groups. This is the final article on that journey.  Previous articles can be found on my website:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hot Spots in Dogs

One of the most common problems I see in the summer is a skin condition called “Hot Spots”.   Also known as pyoderma, acute moist dermatitis or summer eczema, hot spots are usually a disease of dogs with long hair or those with dense undercoats. It is often caused by a local allergic reaction to a specific irritation such as insect bites, ear infections or anything that disturbs the healthy integrity of skin. This summer is unusually warm and the occurrence of this condition has become more frequent.
Hot Spots can seemingly appear spontaneously anywhere on a dog's body and the area involved can rapidly spread. This moist, raw skin disorder has a variety of causes but the most consistent factor is bacteria. There are a number of kinds of bacteria that can be cultured from a "hot spot" and fortunately most respond to oral and topical antibiotics. Anything that irritates or breaks the skin can create the environment for bacterial contamination if the skin surface has just a bit of moisture on it. That moisture can be present from a recently given bath, from swimming or being out in the rain, from rolling in wet grass or even from a slightly oozing sore that provides nutrients for bacteria. For some reason, cats rarely acquire Hot Spots; dermatological problems in our feline friends are far less common than in the dog.

The causes of hot spots include: Allergies, ear infections, poor grooming (Thick matted haircoats),burs or plant awns, osteoarthritic conditions that cause immobilization, any condition that causes excessive licking or self utilization, and anal gland infections.
The mainstay of treatment is antibiotics to control the infection. These are usually given systemically but topical antibiotics can be used in localized infections. Topical antibacterial shampoos, washes, lotions and creams can be used to augment antibiotics and reduce bacterial populations once the infection is controlled. Pus and other debris should be flushed and cleaned out of ears, wounds, abscesses etc. Foreign bodies or implants should be removed. Most infections, however, will recur unless the underlying cause is diagnosed and treated.

On many occasions, the infection has advanced to the point that treatment requires light sedation or anesthesia.. If treated early enough this can be avoided.  The problem with this infection is that as it progresses, the desire to lick and scratch make it worse and progressively more severe.

More than 95% of superficial pyodermas are associated with Staphylococcus intermedius, which have a fairly predictable antibiotic sensitivity pattern. It is therefore not necessary to perform routine culture and antibiotic sensitivity testing on most cases as they will respond to a sensible choice of antibiotic.

I routinely treat these patients by clipping and cleaning the affected areas and determining the cause of the infection. If infected ears are causing the lesion under the ear, it must be treated also or the infection will reappear.

Antibiotics and steroids are often given at the same time.  The steroid is used to stop the desire to lick or scratch the affected skin. On many occasions an “Elizabethan” collar is attached to the collar. Your veterinarian will also prescribe a topical antibiotic/steroid crème which will be applied on the sore areas.

If  caught in the very early stages, sometimes over the counter medicines can provide relief.  A steroid called Cortaid Cream and an antibiotic ointment called Neosporin may effectively treat this condition. One must exercise extreme caution that this skin disease does not progress.  If left untreated the dog may continue to mutilate the affected area and cause a condition called acral pruritic granuloma (Lick Granuloma). When this occurs, the skin becomes pathologically thickened and can be very resistant to treatment.

Some pets are helped by clipping hair and good grooming during these times. Always monitor for ear infections and seek the help of your veterinarian when your pet experiences a condition that causes extreme itchiness and a sore that appears moist or shows evidence of pus.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Heatstroke In Dogs

Heatstroke In Dogs

This has been an unusually warm spring and early summer in Manchester. As I write this, the forecast is calling for a 90 degree day.   As we approach the July 4th holiday weekend many people will be taking pets on trips in cars or be going to the beach.  There are several important details that must be observed in order to protect our pets from a dangerous medical condition called hyperthermia or heatstroke.

Heatstroke can occur when normal body mechanisms cannot keep the body's temperature in a safe range. Animals do not have efficient cooling systems like humans who can cool their bodies by sweating and get overheated easily. A dog with moderate heatstroke (body temperature from 104º to 106ºF) can recover within an hour if given prompt first aid and veterinary care. The normal body temperature of a dog is 100-102.5°F. Severe heatstroke with a body temperature over 106ºF can be deadly and immediate veterinary assistance is needed.

A dog suffering from heatstroke will display some typical signs. They may include: rapid panting, bright red tongue, red or pale gums, thick  sticky saliva, depression, weakness, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, shock and coma.
Emergency Care:

Remove the dog from the hot area immediately. Prior to taking him to your veterinarian, lower his temperature by wetting him thoroughly with cool water (for very small dogs, use lukewarm water), then increase air movement around him with a fan. Be carefull: Using very cold water can actually be counterproductive. Cooling too quickly and especially allowing his body temperature to become too low can cause other life-threatening medical conditions. The rectal temperature should be checked every 5 minutes. Once the body temperature is 103ºF, the cooling measures should be stopped and the dog should be dried thoroughly and covered so he does not continue to lose heat. Even if the dog appears to be recovering, take him to your veterinarian as soon as possible. He should still be examined since he may be dehydrated or have other complications.
Allow free access to water or a children's rehydrating solution if the dog can drink on his own. Do not try to force-feed cold water; the dog may inhale it or choke.
Your veterinarian will lower your dog's body temperature to a safe range and continually monitor his temperature. Your dog will be given fluids, and possibly oxygen. He will be monitored for shock, respiratory distress, kidney failure, heart abnormalities, and other complications, and treated accordingly. Blood samples may be taken before and during the treatment. The clotting time of the blood will be monitored, since clotting problems are a common complication.
Dogs with moderate heatstroke often recover without complicating health problems. However, severe heatstroke can cause organ damage that might need ongoing care such as a special diet prescribed by your veterinarian. Dogs who suffer from heatstroke once have an increased risk for getting it again and steps must be taken to prevent it on hot, humid days.
Any pet that cannot cool himself off is at risk for heatstroke. Following these guidelines can help prevent serious problems.
1. Keep pets with predisposing conditions like heart disease, obesity, older age, or breathing problems cool and in the shade. Even normal activity for these pets can be harmful.
2. Provide access to water at all times.
3. Do not leave your pet in a hot parked car even if you're in the shade or will only be gone a short time. The temperature inside a parked car can quickly reach up to140 degrees.
4. Make sure outside dogs have access to shade.
5. On a hot day, restrict exercise and don't take your dog jogging with you. Too much exercise when the weather is very hot can be dangerous.
6. Do not muzzle your dog.
7. Avoid places like the beach and especially concrete or asphalt areas where heat is reflected and there is no access to shade.
8. Wetting down your dog with cool water or allowing him to swim can help maintain a normal body temperature.
9. Move your dog to a cool area of the house. Air conditioning is one of the best ways to keep a dog cool, however, it is not always available and there are several alternatives. To provide a cooler environment a pet owner can freeze water in plastic bottles, or place ice and a small amount of water in several resealable food storage bags, wrap them in a towel and put them on the floor for the dog to lay on.

If you suspect your dog may be suffering from heat stroke, contact your local veterinarian immediately.  Some veterinarians provide urgent care daily, all veterinarians provide a referral telephone number to an emergency facility.

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