Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Nonprofit seeks to keep families together by giving out kibble
The downturn in the economy has meant difficult decisions for many people, including pet lovers. Animal shelters have been inundated with relinquished dogs and cats, while families worry about how they will put food on the table.
In recent years, food banks have realized this struggle and many have added pet food to their shelves. There’s even been a rise in dedicated pet food pantries. But unfortunately many people don’t live near any of these resources.
That problem inspired Marc Okon to create Pet Food Stamps earlier this month, so that people wouldn’t have to give up their pets or choose between feeding their families or their beloved animals.
There’s clearly a real need for the new organization. In the first two weeks, the nonprofit got more than 12,000 requests for pet food. To qualify, families must prove they’re receiving assistance from the state. If approved, they’ll get a monthly allotment to spend at Pet Food Direct.
Pet Food Stamps will be looking for federal funds and grants, but in the meantime they’re in need of monetary donations to carry out their mission. Marc's organization is a great way to reach people across the country, no matter where they live, and will hopefully help keep families together in these tough economic times.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Veterinarians divided when it comes to immunity
For years people suspected that pet vaccines didn't need to be administered annually and that immunity was more similar to human shots. Fortunately in the last ten years, veterinary colleges and organizations, such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), revisited their guidelines and now recommend administering core vaccines every three years. It's even becoming more common to find veterinarians who measure antibody levels through blood titers instead of defaulting to regular booster shots (this is one of my requirements when choosing a vet).
But even with the AVMA and AAHA constantly revisiting their guidelines, pet vaccines remain a tricky topic. It's further complicated by the fact that many studies are sponsored by vaccine manufacturers, which creates a potential bias. Dr. Richard Ford, a 2003 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines Task Force member, has said that the decision to recommend a three year re-vaccination schedule was an arbitrary compromise that was not based on science.
And frequency isn't the only controversy. Earlier this month, a Connecticut veterinarian had his practice taken away from him after Banfield found out that he had been administering half-dose vaccinations. Dr. John Robb believes that it's not safe to use the same dose for all dogs and cats, particularly for the smaller breeds.
Dr. Robb bought his Stamford, Conn. Banfield franchise in 2008, a year after the veterinary hospital chain was acquired by Mars and PetSmart. He believes that the corporations are not only unfairly targeting him because they want to ultimately cease franchise ownership for their hospitals, but are jeopardizing the health of his clients' pets.
There are definitely arguments for both sides of the issue, but I can see where profits and insurance risk could create a conflict for a medical organization owned by two big corporations.
AAHA President Dr. Mark Russak believes that Robb is putting pets at risk and creating a potential public health concern with incorrectly administered rabies shots. He says that vaccines are manufactured through scientific trials to determine the correct amount of antigens needed to stimulate the immune system.
But while many veterinarians disagree with Dr. Robb's vaccine protocol, Jean Dodds, a leading expert in this area, says that dosages can be adjusted safely. She has been vaccinating toy breeds with half doses for years and is currently spearheading a campaign to increase the rabies vaccination interval from three to five years with the hope of eventually changing it to seven.
A 2002 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association showed that there are potential problems with using a universal dosage. The research documented a higher incidence of vaccine-associated adverse events in dogs less than 22 pounds (27 percent versus 12 percent for dogs over 22 pounds with each subsequent shot).
The fact that there is so much division among veterinarians on this topic just goes to show that more work must be done in this area to develop guidelines we can trust.
Wellness: Health Care
A broken toe nail can be a painful and potentially expensive injury for our furry friends, and it is something that I often see in the ER. A common scenario is a pet suddenly begins to limp while out playing, and upon closer inspection, an injured nail is seen. Some nails have just a minor crack with some bleeding, while other injuries put a toenail at a 90-degree angle (ouch!). Because they can be painful or have bleeding, a cracked or broken nail may be best treated by a veterinarian. With that being said, it may not necessarily require an urgent trip to the emergency room. A broken nail may be something you can care for at home, or, depending on the degree of injury, it may be reasonable to wait to see your regular veterinarian in the morning.
So, what to do if your pet is suddenly favoring a paw and/or you see bleeding? First, get a good look at the paw—including in between the toes and webbing—to see if it is a cut, foxtail or other foreign object, insect stinger, or (you guessed it) possibly a broken nail. When doing so, be sure to look closely at the nail bed, as I have seen cracks and injuries in the nail that were actually hidden underneath the fur line, where the base of the nail goes into the toe. There are 3 general “types” of nail injuries: one where the nail has been completely broken off and is bleeding, one where the nail is cracked or broken but is loosely attached, and one where the nail is cracked or broken but remains firmly attached.
Usually, the best case scenario is when the nail is fully broken off and some bleeding is noted. In these cases, bleeding is usually mild but can be worrisome if it continues. These are the easiest types of injuries to treat at home as you generally only need to apply pressure with a gauze or clean cloth to the nail to stop the bleeding. The key is to hold pressure for at least 5 to 10 minutes with no “peeking to see” if the bleeding has stopped before this time is up. It is important to keep your pet calm during this time, as excitement increases blood pressure and works against a good clot forming. If bleeding continues despite applied pressure, you can apply styptic powder (such as Kwik Stop) and resume applying pressure for another 5 minutes or so. If you do not have styptic powder at home, sometimes a little baking soda can do the trick. If the bleeding continues despite these measures, then I would go to the ER rather than wait.
If you do happen to find a nail that is very loose and dangling, then you can attempt to remove it at home. It is important to have someone help restrain your pet safely while you gently try to remove the nearly broken off nail with a quick pull motion. Caution: only attempt removal if the nail is very loose! Think “loose wiggly tooth” like when you were a kid. Also, be careful during your inspection or attempt to remove a loose nail as this can cause a sudden and unpleasant pain sensation in which some dogs may nip or bite in surprise. If bleeding is noted following the removal, you can then use some gauze and light pressure, and/or Kwik Stop, as previously discussed.
Lastly, there is the type of broken nail that would ideally be treated by a veterinarian. These are nails that are cracked, continually painful, may be bleeding, and are still firmly attached. Treatment for these stubborn injured nails is typically some form of sedation with pain medication followed by cutting off the damaged nail just above the level of the crack. Sedation is needed because you are cutting through the very thick part of the nail with a live blood vessel and nerve, which is very painful. This is usually followed by styptic powder application and a bandage that is left in place for about 24 hours. The bandage promotes a day of rest so that a solid clot forms and the minor wound does not continue to bleed if it gets bumped on something. Although these types of injuries require professional care, it is something that can wait to be seen the following day if you are unable to get an immediate appointment with your veterinarian (unless your dog seems excessively painful, then I would not wait).
Whatever the type of nail injury, dogs are very good at keeping the area clean all on their own with licking, and antibiotics are not needed. A little licking is OK, and it is what a dog would do “in the wild” to keep it clean. With that being said, some of our babies get a little obsessed, and their good intentions can actually make the area more irritated by their constant worrying at it. Because of this, you should continue to monitor the area for any signs of redness, increased swelling, cloudy discharge, or increasing discomfort. The development of these complications is rare in my experience, but if noted, then an e-collar, pain medications and possibly some antibiotics may be indicated. No matter what kind of damage has occurred to the nail, it will generally regrow normally in all but a few situations. Sometimes the nail will regrow with a slight curve or different pigment, but usually returns to its normal appearance over several months - kind of like when us humans lose a nail.
As always, it is best to seek veterinary care if you are uncertain about the severity of any injury, but hopefully this may save you an unnecessary trip to the ER if this happens to your dog during a weekend while you are out having fun!
Another jerky recall hits home
There has been another large-scale recall of pet treats, including jerky. But this time it isn’t products manufactured in China, rather it affects treats made at a Kasel Associated Industries facility in Denver, Colorado. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella, both animals and humans are at risk. The treats have been distributed widely from April 20 to September 19, 2012. We are trying to find out why it took them so long to identify this threat, although this is a voluntary recall.
A number of brands have been affected by this recall, including the new “No Junk… More Jump” BIXBI out of Boulder, Colorado. I am disappointed to learn this because I have been giving my dogs their Hip & Joint Chicken Breast Jerky (100% USA Sourced), not knowing that it was manufactured along with other brands, including treats for Petco. Luckily for my dogs, the lot/expiration date does not seem to be among those in this recall.
The recall covers the brands, Boots & Barkley, BIXBI, Nature’s Deli, Colorado Naturals, Petco, and Best Bully Stick items. Lot numbers as shown in 1 Year Best By Date Table and 2 Year Best By Date Table, which follows.
Consumers who have purchased any listed products are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact Kasel Associated Industries at 800.218.4417 Monday thru Friday from 7am to 5pm MDT.
UPDATE: We just read about another recall involving chicken jerky, this one involves Nurti-Vet's Chicken Jerky Treats distributed nationwide through online sales and in retail stores from April 2012 through February 2013 with Best By Dates ranging from April 20, 2014, through October 3, 2014.For a more complete listing, see the FDA site.
2 Year Best By Date UPC Lot/Best By Date 085239043165 Boots&Barkley American Beef Bully Stick 12″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239403495 Boots&Barkley American Smoked Beef Femur Bone 3″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043103 Boots&Barkley American Flossie 6-8″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239403440 Boots&Barkley American Pig Ear Strips 8oz 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043202 Boots&Barkley American Chicken Stuffed Beef Femur Bone 6″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043110 Boots&Barkley American Braided Bully Stick 5″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043325 Boots&Barkley American Chicken Jerky 16oz 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043400 Boots&Barkley American Chicken Jerky 8oz 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 490830400086 Boots&Barkley American Variety Pack 32oz 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899196 Boots&Barkley American Beef Ribs 2ct 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899172 Boots&Barkley American Beef Knuckle 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899158 Boots&Barkley American Pig Ears 12ct 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899189 Boots&Barkley American Beef Bully Sticks 6ct 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899165 Boots&Barkley American Pork Femur 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 681131857246 Roasted Pig Ear Dog Treats 28oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092903 25 PK Natural Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092910 12 PK Natural Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092927 12 PK Smoked Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092934 7 PK Natural Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092941 7 PK Smoked Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263800291 16oz Chicken Chips 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263900151 16oz Salmon Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263800178 4oz Chicken Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263510176 4oz Lamb Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263900175 4 oz Salmon Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263801175 4oz Beef Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263800291 16oz Chicken Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263700157 16oz Pork Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018021 BIXBI Skin & Coat Beef Liver Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018045 BIXBI Skin & Coat Lamb Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018007 BIXBI Skin & Coat Chicken Breast Jerky Treats 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018069 BIXBI Skin & Coat Pork Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018144 BIXBI Hip And Joint Pork Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018120 BIXBI Hip And Joint Lamb Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018083 BIXBI Hip And Joint Chicken Breast Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018106 BIXBI Hip And Joint Beef Liver Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Bulk TDBBS, Inc Buffalo Hearts Sliced 3 lbs 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Bulk TDBBS, Inc Knee Caps 25 Ct 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Pork Jerky Strips 16oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Chicken Jerky 16oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Turkey Cubes 4.5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Bulk TDBBS, Inc Pig Snouts 25ct 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Bulk TDBBS, Inc Beef Lobster Tails 1ct 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Turkey Jerky Sticks 6ct 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Hearts of Lamb 4oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Lamb Jerky 4oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN
1 Year Best By Date UPC Lot/Best By Date 647263800215 Nature’s Deli Chicken Jerky 3lbs 04202013 DEN-10032013 DEN 647263800208 Nature’s Deli Chicken Jerky 2.5lbs 04202013 DEN-10032013 DEN
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
I recently read an article about a study from UC Davis, showing an increase in some cancers and joint problems in Golden Retrievers that are spayed or neutered as opposed to intact. As a shelter worker, this is so concerning. There are endless studies showing many health and behavioral benefits to spaying and neutering. It’s critical to look at the overall benefits to neutering before deciding to keep a dog intact based only on a limited study of one breed. As a shelter worker I have seen Intact dogs who are relentless in their pursuit of a mate. Digging out, jumping fences, chewing through walls, I've seen it all. Unaltered dogs roam more, get hit by cars more, fight more, bite more, and cause more human injuries and even fatalities. Intact females are prone to mammary tumors and pyometra and intact males can get testicular and perianal tumors. According to one veterinary study, 80% of unaltered males will develop prostate disease. Urine marking is a common problem in unaltered dogs.
My champion Borzoi was un-spayed because she was a show dog. She developed a pyometra at 6 years of age, had to have emergency surgery at great expense and was ill with a nasty pseudomonas bacterial infection for a long time afterwards. She didn’t fully recover her former health for nearly a year. She also got along wonderfully with our spayed female dog except when she was in season. Twice yearly, they had to be separated as they were prone to fight. After she was spayed, they never had another issue. Another un-spayed show bitch that I owned was so snappy and difficult for several months at a time around her seasons that I actually considered euthanasia. Thankfully I decided to spay her to see if it would help. It ended her show career but she was a delightful happy girl after that and lived to a ripe old age as a beloved pet.
The article mentioned that neutered dogs are more likely to be overweight causing stress on the joints. While it is true that intact dogs may burn more calories fretting and looking for a mate, this is a feeding issue, not a neutering issue. All dogs should be kept trim and fed properly for their needs regardless of altering status. Excess weight is also a cancer risk. Ethical breeders are going to neuter dogs with joint problems and keep those with good joints for breeding which may result in a skewed study.
I would be interested in knowing more about the way the study was conducted. As shelter workers, we often see dogs surrendered to the shelter to be euthanized when they become sick or infirm with issues including cancer and hip dysplasia. Often these dogs are unaltered. The level of responsibility that goes along with extensive veterinary care often includes neutering, so of course neutered dogs will see the vet more for other issues as well. Unaltered dogs are commonly surrendered to shelters for behavior problems such as roaming, barking, urine marking etc. Many of these issues can be improved on by neutering. The article mentioned the fact that service dogs were affected. Unaltered dogs are not suitable for service work as they become distracted by potential mates. Could the work they do assisting people be a factor in causing stress on the joints?
The number one cause of preventable, premature death in companion animals in this country is euthanasia due to overpopulation. If people decline to alter their pets, this number will certainly climb. I have the greatest respect for those highly dedicated and ethical breeders out there, but for the rest of us there are endless, well-documented veterinary studies showing many health and behavioral reasons to neuter our pets.
For more information on the study see Joanna Lou's post.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New study looks at the health implications of spay/neuter
I affectionately call Nemo my "monster Sheltie" since he measures 19.5 inches at the shoulder, three and a half inches over the breed standard. Due to his big size, he often gets mistaken for a small Collie. On the recommendation of my veterinarian, I had Nemo neutered at 16 weeks old, which I later suspected may have contributed to his extra large stature. Canine sports medicine specialist Dr. Chris Zink DVM has compiled a lot of research showing that neutering a dog before their growth plates close may cause extra growth and, more importantly, possible health implications.
Researchers at the University of California Davis recently published a study that highlights the need for more work in this area. The team looked at the health records of 759 Golden Retrievers, examining the relationship between neutering and two joint disorders and three cancers (hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tear, lymphosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma and mast cell tumor). The dogs were classified as intact (not neutered), neutered early (before 12 months age), or neutered late (at or after 12 months age).
Joint disorders and cancer are of particular interest because neutering interrupts the production of certain hormones that influence the closure of bone growth plates and regulation of the estrous cycle in female dogs.
The University of California study found that the rates for all five diseases analyzed were significantly higher in neutered males and females (whether they were neutered early or late) as compared to intact dogs.
Specifically, early neutering was associated with an increase in the occurrence of hip dysplasia (a 100 percent increase!), cranial cruciate ligament tear and lymphosarcoma in males and of cranial cruciate ligament tear in females. Late neutering was associated with the occurrence of mast cell tumors and hemangiosarcoma in females.
The lead investigator, Benjamin Hart, says that it's important to remember that the effects of early and late neutering may vary from breed to breed, since vulnerabilities to various diseases differ.
Knowing this information, it makes a compelling case to get a vasectomy for male dogs (eliminates sperm without effecting testosterone levels) instead of a standard neuter. Unfortunately female dogs don't have an easy alternative.
No matter what, considering how many dogs are neutered early in this country, it's important that more research is done in this area. However, I hope that this study doesn't discourage people from neutering dogs all together. I think we've come a long way in promoting spay/neuter to help control the overpopulation problem (and still have a long way to go). But more research in this area would help us come up with a birth control solution that limits adverse effects on health.
For another view on this study, from a shelter worker, see Shirley Zindler's post.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Even though I work mostly out in the field as an animal control officer, and love it, the animal shelter is still my baby. Almost every day I walk through at the beginning and end of my shift to check on the animals. As I passed through one of the small dog areas recently, I noticed an adorable terrier mix puppy in a cage. The puppy begins to growl as soon as he sees me. Teeth showing, eyes dilated, body tense, the pup makes no secret of the fact that he will bite. I open the cage and he growls louder. I talk softly to him, then offer a cookie that I always have in my uniform pockets. He threatens to make mincemeat out of my face but finally leans forward and sniffs the treat cautiously.
He continues to glare at me as he reaches for the tidbit. “That’s a good boy, you’re such a good boy” I croon as he chews. The body visibly relaxes and I scratch him under the chin. He licks my fingers and wiggles closer. A moment later, the puppy crawls into my arms, snuggling as close as he possibly can while his tail whips in delight and he covers me with kisses. In less than two minutes, we’ve gone from “Get away, I hate you, I’m going to bite you” to “I love you, I trust you, don’t ever leave me”. I’ve seen it a thousand times and yet it never fails to move me. I cuddle him close and promise him a better life, swallowing the lump in my throat and marveling again at what a gift dogs are.
Of course, sometimes it takes hours, days or even weeks for a scared dog to come around, and a few never do, but most improve quickly with patient handling. My own Great Dane, Tyra, took longer than most to trust, but now she’s the happiest girl around. It always warms my heart to watch a dog blossom into a confident pet.
The puppy’s initial behavior is so understandable. Abandoned, terrified and in a strange place, his response was completely based on fear. As soon as he felt safe, his reaction changed. Over the following days of his stray hold period, I visited with the pup daily. He greeted me happily each time, with a wagging tail and soft, wiggly posture. The pup had been vaccinated, wormed and flea treated on intake and as soon as his stray hold was up, he was vet checked and neutered. Once on the adoption floor, it only took a few days for him to be adopted by a loving family. This is what it’s all about, I thought, as I watched him go out the door in the arms of his new adopters.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
All British dogs must be microchipped by 2016
I’m a huge fan of microchipping. Identification tags fall off, collars get snagged, and unfortunately bad people steal pets. A microchip, typically implanted between a dog’s shoulder blades, can help dogs find their way back home. I’m a proponent of microchip education and low cost clinics, but I wasn’t initially sure how I felt about a microchip law.
Earlier this month, Britain announced that all dogs in England must be microchipped by 2016. The Environment Department is hoping that the requirement will be a simple solution for reuniting more lost or stolen pets with their families, promoting animal welfare, and taking the pressure off animal shelters. In the past, Britain has also proposed mandatory microchips to help in prosecuting dog bite cases.
According to the Environment Department, 60 percent of Britain’s 8 million dogs are already microchipped. Closing the gap would put England in good company with countries like Portugal, Italy, and Switzerland who already require microchips. Interestingly horses have had to be microchipped in England since 2009. After 2016, dogs without a microchip would face a hefty fine of up to 500 pounds (about $800).
I think this law is generally a good idea because it will increase awareness about microchiping. But given that the process involves injecting a foreign body into our pups, it seems better to keep the process optional.
What do you think about mandatory microchipping?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Living life with greater joy
Nobody illustrates living in the moment better than dogs, and it was immediately apparent that this dog was a role model in this regard. Bear is a chocolate lab who stayed with us over this past weekend while his guardian was out of town. We loved every minute of it, in large part because Bear himself is so happy. This is a dog who is sucking the marrow out of life, so to speak.
On my first walk with Bear around the neighborhood, I was reminded that though I try to carpe diem as much as the next person, I have room for improvement. Within minutes, I saw that this dog with large bones and a big heart to match was living the good life and that if I just followed his lead, my happiness would increase. I took in a few lessons from Bear.
Do everything with enthusiasm. Whatever Bear was doing, he gave it his all. If he was sniffing snow, he was up to his ears in it. When he was running, he was doing it at full speed. When my kids were petting or brushing him, he surrendered completely and relaxed under their skilled hands.
Find your purpose. Everyone should have things that drive them, and in Bear’s case, it’s fetching. Sticks, toys, socks that were tossed in the laundry basket, snowballs and any other flying object were toys to him and his purpose was to retrieve them. He is very thorough in his work, and never, NEVER tires of playing fetch. He knows it’s what he loves best (not counting his guardian!), and he’s eager to play anytime. He often initiates the game with anyone who looks like a willing partner. He has found his passion in life, and that’s a great part of happiness.
Accept things as they come. He was so at ease with whatever the days brought. Staying at a new place with new people? No problem. A long walk with a couple of friends and their dogs? Great. Running around in the backyard catching snowballs? Excellent. Massage time? Perfect. Time for rest and a snooze. Fine. Outside for one last chance to pee and then bedtime? Okay. He is so agreeable, so well adjusted, and comfortable with so many situations. His middle name could definitely be Go-With-The–Flow.
I thought we were making an even trade—the fun of a canine visitor for us, the opportunity to travel without the constraints of a dog for his guardian. It turns out that we came out way ahead because of Bear’s philosophy lesson about enjoying life. I don’t know what my neighbors thought as they saw me running and playing with him as we frolicked near our house, laughing constantly as we went up and down the local streets. I’m hoping they understood that I was just living in the moment, finding joy with a dog who spreads it everywhere.
Of course all dogs tend to bring us joy, but can you share a story about a dog who was absolutely brimming over with contagious enthusiasm for life?
Wellness: Health Care
Excessive levels of steroids in the body leading to disease
Hyperadrenocorticism, known as Cushing's disease, is a hormone imbalance that results from excessive cortisol in the bloodstream over a long period of time. Cortisol is produced and stored in the adrenal glands, which are two little glands that “sit” on top of the kidneys and is what is released in times of stress, preparing for a “flight or fight” response. However, if this system goes awry, and a dog's body is exposed to this hormone for a majority of the time instead of just in times of stress, it can become chronically debilitating.
There are 3 main ways that a dog can get Cushing's Disease. The first way is from a tumor forming on the pituitary gland, and is known as Pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism (PDH). These tumors are generally small and non-cancerous, although rarely a cancerous tumor can occur. The pituitary gland is located in the brain and is the “master gland” of the body. One of its jobs is to detect when cortisol levels are declining, and in response, secrete a stimulating substance, called ACTH, that kicks the adrenal gland into gear causing it to secrete more cortisol. When the body reaches normal levels of cortisol, the pituitary gland stops this message from being sent, and production is halted. In the case of PDH, a tumor causes the pituitary gland to go into overdrive, telling the adrenals to produce excessive amounts of cortisol, despite there already being too much in the body. This is the most common form of Cushing's and accounts for about 85% of dogs with disease.
Adrenal gland tumors are the next common cause, account for approximately 15% of dogs affected. This is a situation where a tumor is on the adrenal gland instead of the pituitary, and puts the gland into overdrive. The adrenals begin making excessive steroids all on their own, no longer “listening” to the pituitary when it tells the adrenals to shut off. These tumors are generally larger in size (usually detectable on ultrasound) and both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors are possible. Another problem that can happen with this type of tumor is that the pituitary “sees” that there is enough cortisol in the body, and subsequently stops producing ACTH. As a result, the other adrenal gland (the one without the tumor) becomes shrunken due to nonuse.
The last major cause is what is known as Iatrogenic Cushing's and is the result of the long-term use of steroids, or medications containing steroids. This is not from any inherent disease in the pet's system, but from the effects of the hormones given over the long term. Over time, the pituitary gland perceives that the body is getting enough steroids (thinking it is being produced from the adrenal glands-not knowing it is coming from medications) and quits sending its signal to produce more. In turn, the adrenal glands stop doing their job and also begin to shrink, temporarily loosing their ability to release cortisone on their own should their body require it to do so. This inability to produce steroids naturally in the body can last for several months following the stopping of medication. This is why your veterinarian will instruct tapering doses of steroids instead of an abrupt stop: this gives these important glands time to recover and begin working on their own again.
There are a multitude of clinical signs that can be seen, and as always, can mimic many other disease processes. Signs are generally gradual, and because of this, they are often attributed to “normal aging” and disregarded. The most common signs that are easily observed in pets by their owners are increased drinking and urination, increased appetite (a good reminder that eating well is not always a sign of normal health), a “pot-bellied” appearance, thin skin and sparse hair coat, blackheads and/or darkening of the skin, and loss of muscle mass or muscle weakness. Aside from these symptoms described, advanced or untreated Cushing's disease can also put a dog at risk for the development of bladder stones, diabetes and blood clots to the lungs.
If you notice any of these signs in your pet, a veterinary exam is in order. Your veterinarian can begin the process of testing for the disease, ensuring your pet is appropriately treated. If your veterinarian has reason to suspect Cushing's (based on history, physical exam and initial blood work), it will then be necessary to perform confirming blood tests and ideally, an ultrasound. This is not an easy diagnosis to make, and it requires several specific tests to positively identify not only the presence of Cushing's, but whether the problem is in the pet's pituitary or adrenal glands, as there is a different treatment for each form of disease.
The expected course of disease depends on which type of Cushing's is present, as well as response to treatment. PDH generally carries a good prognosis, and survival time for a dog treated with appropriate therapy is 2 years, with at least 10% of dogs surviving 4 years (this is better than it sounds, as dogs are generally diagnosed at an older age, usually 10-12 years old). Dogs with non-cancerous adrenal gland tumors usually have a good to excellent prognosis; those with cancerous tumors that have not spread can have a fair to good prognosis, making early detection important.
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