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Wellness: Health Care
Trick or Treat or Trip to the ER?
Keep All-Hallows-Eve safe and fun for pups

Halloween is just around the corner—and as surely as fairies, witches and ghosts will scramble up to front doors, at least a handful of pups will arrive at my ER to be treated for a variety of frightening follies. In an effort to take some of the scare out of your holiday, keep an eye out for these typical trick-or-treat night dangers.

Chocolate

Chocolate, especially dark or baking chocolate, can be very dangerous. The compounds in chocolate that cause toxicity are caffeine and theobromine. The rule of thumb with chocolate is: The darker it is, the more dangerous it is. Depending on the type and amount of chocolate ingested, the symptoms can range from vomiting, increased thirst, belly discomfort and restlessness to severe agitation, muscle tremors, irregular heart rhythm, high body temperature, seizures and death.

Call your veterinarian or local animal emergency if your pet has ingested any chocolate; calculations can be made, based on your pet’s body weight, to determine if it nears a toxic dose that requires treatment.

Xylitol

Candies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can also cause problems, and even small amounts of it can be highly toxic to your dog. Xylitol is a non-caloric sweetener that is widely used in sugar-free gum, as well as in sugar-free baked products. In people, xylitol does not affect blood sugar levels, but in dogs, ingestion can lead to a rapid and severe drop in blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia).

The hypoglycemic dose for dogs is considered to be approximately 0.1 grams per kilogram of body weight. A typical stick of gum contains 0.3 to 0.4 grams of xylitol, which means that a 10-pound dog could be poisoned by as little as a stick and a half of gum! Dogs may develop disorientation and seizures within 30 minutes of ingesting xylitol-containing products, or signs may be delayed for several hours.

Some dogs who ingest large amounts of xylitol develop liver failure, which can be fatal. The dose to cause liver failure is 1 gram per kilogram of body weight, which is about ten times more than the dose for low blood sugar. A 10-pound dog could go into liver failure if he found and ingested an unopened package of gum, and sadly, this is not such an uncommon occurrence. Any dog who has ingested a xylitol-containing product should be examined by a veterinarian immediately!

Decorative pumpkins and corn

Decorative pumpkins are considered to be relatively nontoxic, but they can produce stomach upset in pets who nibble on them. Decorative corn is of a higher concern as the cobs can pose a risk for obstruction in the intestines if ingested. Luckily, corncob pieces can be seen on radiographs, making the diagnosis of an accidental ingestion relatively easy.

Costumes

Even though our dogs can look smashing in a pumpkin or pirate costume, many pets can have adverse reactions to a constrictive outfit or its irritating materials.

If your pet is a real ham and loves to partake in the festivities, make sure the costume isn't annoying or unsafe by scheduling a dress rehearsal well before the big night. Take a close look at your pet’s costume and make sure it does not have small, dangling or easily chewed-off pieces that they could choke on. Also, ill-fitting outfits can get twisted on external objects, or your pet, leading to injury. It should not constrict your dog’s movement or hearing, or impede its ability to breathe or bark. 

Does your pet have sensitive skin? Even those with hearty coats can have allergic reactions to the synthetic materials found in many costumes. If your pet seems distressed, allergic or shows any abnormal behavior, consider letting them go au naturale in his or her birthday suit or donning a festive bandana.

Door dangers!

During trick-or-treating hours, it is best to keep pets in a room away from all the excitement at the front door during peak hours, as too many strangers can be scary and stressful for pets. When opening the door for trick-or-treaters, take care that your pup doesn’t dart outside.

Always make sure your dog has proper identification. If your pet escapes and becomes lost, a collar and tags and/or a microchip can be a lifesaver, increasing the chances that he or she will be returned to you. Please ensure that your pet’s microchip truly has been registered, and just as important, that your address and phone numbers are current!

Sadly, many animals that have been microchipped are not actually registered in the system and we are sometimes unable to reunite families. If you are in question as to whether your pet’s microchip is active and properly registered, you can see your veterinarian or stop by PETS Referral Center if you’re in the Berkeley area to have your pet scanned at no cost—we are open 24/7 365 days a year.

Keeping pets safe on Halloween shouldn’t be a scary endeavor, and I hope this blog has helped prepare you for the upcoming Halloween night!  Boo!

 

Wellness: Health Care
Tetanus: Not Just from Bites and Rusty Nails
Foxtails are another source of the toxin
Dog Yawning

We have all heard of tetanus shots and have some sense that we are supposed to periodically get them, especially after a dirty cut, scratch with a piece of metal or some sort of bite wound. Some of us may even know that tetanus is often referred to as lockjaw, but the general knowledge of tetanus generally does not extend much beyond that, and many people are not aware that tetanus can be a problem for animals as well as people.

Different animal species have different sensitivity to the tetanus toxin. On the spectrum of tetanus sensitivity, horses, humans and livestock are most sensitive and dogs are less sensitive. And then there are cats: They are quite resistant and almost never get infected (as we all know, cats have a different rule book than the rest of us). We will, of course, focus on our favorite, dogs.

How does exposure occur?

Tetanus is a disease caused by a toxin that is secreted by a bacterium known as Clostridium tetani. These bacteria are anaerobic, meaning that they grow in conditions where there is no oxygen, such as a deep bite wound or puncture. Clostridia are soil bacteria and they live in dirt, so it is easy to see how a puncture contaminated with dirt would be the classical tetanus-yielding wound. Such wounds are particularly common on farms where there might be nails on the ground, ready to pierce a pet in the foot. A fight involving a bite wound and rolling around in dirt might also offer an opportunity for tetanus.

Another interesting source of exposure are foxtails. A study performed at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine looked at 35 cases of canine tetanus and found the initial wound for 27 percent of the dogs treated was a foxtail tract, and an additional 50 percent of wounds were suspicious of foxtail tract! An important take away of this study: The wound does not need to be a bite or traumatic puncture. Yet one more reason to fear the foxtail! [See Protecting Your Dog Against Foxtails by Nancy Kay, DVM.]

What is the toxin and how does it work?

The tetanus toxin is called tetanospasmin and it is produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani in a wound. Here comes the nerdy part: The toxin binds to local nerves and moves up into the central nervous system where it interferes with the release of glycine, an amino acid that also acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. The result of this loss of inhibition is painful muscle over-activity, spasms and rigidity. In severe cases, the pet cannot breathe because of the rigid paralysis of the respiratory muscles and a mechanical ventilator is required.

Initial signs seem to pertain to the eyes and can easily be mistaken for eye disease in the early stages. Classically, the pet loses the ability to blink and must flash the third eyelid to moisten the eye. The patient becomes so sensitive to light and sound that clapping your hands can create spasms or seizures. In this phase of disease, these signs may be attributed to other toxins, such as snail bait or moldy toxins, resulting in a misdiagnosis.

Dogs with ears that hang down may develop ears that stand up straight, and the facial muscles pull back in such a way as to create what is called risus sardonicus, or the sardonic grin. In more advanced stages, the patient can no longer walk and will stand stiffly in what is called a sawhorse stance.

This video on tetanus shows the characteristics symptoms (don’t worry, happy ending!).

How is this diagnosed?

Unfortunately, there is not an easy diagnostic test that can be performed to give us the “ah-ha!” answer. The diagnosis is generally made based on the appearance of the pet and history of a wound. Classically, there is a history of a wound in a tetanus case (generally in the preceding 1 to 2 weeks) but sometimes the wound has gone unnoticed by the owner and this important clue is not available.

It is possible to measure antibody levels against the tetanus toxin, but this has not been widely used in the clinical setting. Also, attempting to culture Clostridium tetani from the wound, as a way to support a diagnosis, is generally not successful.

How is it treated?

The first step in treatment is antibiotics to kill the Clostridia. Happily, exotic antibiotics are not needed: Good ol’ fashioned penicillin does the trick. Sedation and anti-seizure medications are necessary to control the muscle spasms and/or seizures. Nursing care is a cornerstone of treatment and requires a darkened room with minimal stimulation.

Clenched jaws can be problematic for feeding, and a liquid diet or slurry is needed. Soft bedding to prevent bedsores is a must. The decision on whether or not to include tetanus antitoxin is more controversial. Antitoxin is an antibody solution (a blood product) generated by either a horse or human to bind and destroy the tetanus toxin.

Improvement is generally noted within the first week of therapy but complete recovery can easily take a month.

What about a tetanus shot?

Tetanus toxoid is the tetanus shot most of us have had at one time or another. It is a vaccine against the tetanus toxin and it is part of our own human vaccination set. Because dogs are much more resistant to tetanus than humans, regular vaccination against tetanus is not recommended for them.

I’ll end this topic by saying that luckily this is not a common occurrence; I have only witnessed one case of this in my 10 years of practice. However, the potential does exist and it is always good to have this kind of knowledge sitting on the back burners of our brains… you never know what kind of medical mischief our pets will get in to!

Wellness: Health Care
Second Opinion: Balancing Act
A Vet’s Perspective

Gilberto had it bad. when I asked, “When did you get Carly?” he recited the exact date he had adopted his beloved Pointer cross from a shelter two years earlier.

“They told me she only had a couple of months to live — cancer — and, for that reason alone, no one was going to take her. Not to mention her problem with other dogs.”

Gilberto and Carly had been sequestered in a private room, isolated from the waiting-room hubbub. She seemed like a perfectly socialized, gentle, malleable creature, though the swelling around her hock gave me pause.

“She was found wandering the New Jersey Turnpike. Her body was covered with scars and there were deep indentations over the bridge of her nose from wearing a muzzle. The shelter thought she had been used as a bait dog.”

“I’m not sure what you mean by ‘bait dog,’” I said.

“Among other awful things, an intact female dog to excite and wind up male dogs before a dog fight.”

Appalled, I shook my head. I didn’t know what to say. No wonder Carly demonstrated fear aggression around other dogs.

“My mother was visiting for the summer from Brazil,” said Gilberto, “so I thought, why not; I’ll give Carly a home and some quality time. It felt like a winwin for both of us, and Carly’s fantastic with people. Naturally, I spoiled her — she got to sleep with me on my bed, she always got the last slice of pizza and where was the harm in taking her out for ice cream? But summer came and went and Carly seemed absolutely fine.”

“What kind of cancer are we talking about?” I asked.

“Breast cancer. The pathology report said it had already spread to her lymph nodes.”

I frowned into a slow nod. This certainly sounded grim. “My friends started ribbing me, telling me I’d been suckered into taking her because of her aggression. But look at her — she’s great.”

Carly was investigating the room, sniffing the air, somehow catching the aroma of low-fat dog treats high on a shelf and out of sight. She seemed as affable a creature as one would ever want to meet.

“I arranged for pet-sitters when I was away from home, and started Carly on a more civilized diet. We also tried working with a behaviorist, with limited success. And here I am, two years later, with a dog who jumps off a bed and comes up lame.”

As touching and miraculous as Carly’s story was, alarm bells were ringing inside my head. The cancer diagnosis was detailed and specific. Shelters do not try to con to secure an adoption.

Carly was toe-touching lame on her right hind leg and, given the high risk of a canine encounter, I figured nothing would be gained by a “best in show” stroll up and down the corridor. Jump off the bed, roll an ankle and hey presto, lameness and joint swelling. But this swelling was all wrong: firm, focal and slightly above the joint. Was the cancer finally back? And if so, was the man who had taken on a death-row dog and treated her to a wonderful stay of execution, now — after all this extra time — in denial?

“There’s something not right with Carly’s ankle. I’d like to take an X-ray.”

Gilberto agreed and we hurried Carly into radiology like we were smuggling a rock star into a building full of restless fans. The films confirmed my suspicion: subtle boney changes suggestive of metastatic spread of a cancer.

“Can I get a copy of the image?” asked Gilberto. “My wife is a pathologist. I’d like her to take a look at the films.”

“Absolutely,” I said, wondering if perhaps he didn’t believe me. For a guy who took on a dog knowing she was going to break his heart, he seemed completely broadsided.

“I would also suggest that we take a series of chest X-rays to see if it has spread to the lungs.” Gilberto agreed. Sadly, the X-rays confirmed the presence of golfball- size masses within the lungs.

I offered the possibility of a biopsy, set him up for a consultation with oncology and, most of all, encouraged him to go home, absorb the information, speak with his wife and then give me a call. In the end, Gilberto chose to manage Carly’s pain with medications at home.

Some weeks later, I checked in with him.

“I almost wish you’d never taken those X-rays,” said Gilberto.

“You were doing your best, but sometimes I feel as though it would have been better not to know.”

I said nothing, but was reminded of the delicate tightrope act we veterinarians constantly perform. Some dog owners seek a diagnosis and treatment at all cost. Others simply seek assurance and support that they are doing the right thing. It’s never easy to find a balance. Gilberto was the kind of pet owner most of us can only aspire to be — selfless, invested and humbled by how much we get back for how relatively little we put in.

“These days, I’m mainly working from home, which is great. I’ve always been into cooking, and recently, I made a big batch of fettuccine Alfredo; Carly loved it. She sleeps beside me every night, and I know she’s doing okay because she still freaks out when she hears a motorcycle.” I hope Gilberto knew that on the other side of the phone line, I was smiling. This remarkable man was being forced to anticipate the loss of his dog for a second time, and he was still awed by how much he stood to lose.

Wellness: Health Care
The Dangers of Gorilla Glue
Great for handicrafts, terrible for dogs

We all have one—that bottomless black hole known as the “catch all” drawer, and it is not uncommon to find a bottle of Gorilla Glue tucked away in this vortex of odds and ends. People who do a lot of handiwork or crafts love this stuff, but unfortunately, so do our dogs; they find it to be a sweet, appetizing treat.

Why is it bad?

Gorilla Glue and Elmer’s ProBond are popular polyurethane-based adhesives that when ingested can cause serious problems, including death, if not properly diagnosed and treated. While classified as ‘nontoxic,’ these glues contain a catalyzing agent called Diphenylmethane Diisocyanate (MDI). When MDI-based adhesives come in contact with water they expand rapidly and create a hard foam material. The rate of this reaction is enhanced in warm and acidic environments, such as the stomach, and ingestion most commonly results in an obstruction. The reaction also produces heat, which can result in secondary complications such as thermal burns to the esophagus and stomach, which can also be life threatening.

What are the signs of ingestion?

Animals who have ingested these adhesives may present with a variety of nonspecific clinical signs including loss of appetite, restlessness, difficulty breathing, vomiting or a change in behavior. Signs generally develop within 15 minutes, but can occur up to 20 hours following ingestion.

What should I do if my pet ingests a polyurethane-based adhesive?

If ingestion is suspected, it is important that your pet see a veterinarian as soon as possible. A point to stress: Do not attempt to induce vomiting at home! The glue can expand and harden within minutes, and obstruction or injury to the esophagus (swallowing tube) can occur while your pet is in the process of vomiting. It should also be noted that ingestion of as little as 2 ounces will likely cause obstruction in a medium-size (50 pound) dog!

How is the diagnosis made?

Radiographs of the abdomen often show evidence of the glue mass. An important side note is that this radiographic finding can sometimes be mistaken for “food bloat,” which is when your pet ingests a large amount of food resulting in distention of the stomach— one is deadly and the other is not. History is a critical part of arriving at a diagnosis, and it’s important to mention if you have this type of glue in your home, even if you think your pet cannot get into the area where it is stored. 

How is it treated?

In cases where an obstruction develops, surgery is needed to remove the glue mass. Prompt identification of the problem and medical care greatly improve your pet’s chances of a successful outcome.

As always, the best treatment is prevention: If you use MDI-based glues, please take extra precaution to keep away from pets. 

I have personally treated three cases of glue ingestion in the past couple of years, and it is my hope that this information will prevent me from seeing case number four! As always, please feel free to leave comments or questions. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Does Your Dog Need a Flu Shot?
The facts about canine influenza

As the weather gets cooler, it's just about flu shot time—for the humans anyway. I never get the canine influenza shot for my furry crew, but an outbreak at a local shelter had me rethinking my decision. Adoptions have been suspended at the Bergen County Animal Shelter in New Jersey while they battle a flu outbreak.

Generally the virus isn't serious, if caught early, but it can cause complications like pneumonia, which increases the risk. Since flu symptoms resemble other respiratory diseases, canine influenza is often mistaken for kennel cough.

The first canine influenza vaccine was approved two years ago and initial tests showed no side effects. Because it contains inactivated virus, the vaccine won't cause illness. It's important to note that the vaccine doesn't prevent the flu, but it significantly reduces the severity and duration.

The vaccine is intended for dogs at risk of exposure to the virus, such as those who participate in activities with other dogs or those who go to doggy daycare. The risk groups are the same for dogs who are recommended to receive the kennel cough vaccine.

My dogs are at a moderate risk since they regularly go to a training club and attend dog shows. However, I decided to pass on the vaccine for my crew since I don't board them or bring them to doggy day care. If you're considering the vaccine for your pups, consult your vet.

Wellness: Health Care
Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine
The Eastern approach to caring for our pets

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) is one of the cornerstones of treatment in our referral hospital setting, and I wholeheartedly believe that it is an integral part of an all-embracing approach to therapy. I have observed its remarkable benefits countless times, especially in our surgery, oncology and aging internal medicine patients. I am frequently asked about the overall concept of holistic medicine, and I hope this post will help answer questions regarding this fascinating and emerging area of veterinary medicine, including how these practices can augment a Western approach.

What is it?

TCVM aims to diagnose and treat animals as a whole, rather than focusing on individual organ systems, as with Western medicine. The basic concept is the belief that illness can develop when the body is out of balance. Ultimately, the goal of TCVM is to put the body back into its natural equilibrium, as a way to help to treat and rid the body of disease. This can be achieved with a combination of acupuncture, herbs, nutrition and massage.

Acupuncture is the stimulation of a specific point on the body (acupoint), resulting in a “balancing” effect. Acupuncture has been practiced in both animals and humans for thousands of years in China. The ancient Chinese practitioners have discovered 361 acupoints in humans and 173 acupoints in animals! Stimulation of these acupoints induces the release of natural chemicals such as beta-endorphins, serotonin and other neurotransmitters. These chemicals, in turn, have positive effects on pain control and can generate the feeling of general well-being.

All those needles! Does it hurt?

Acupuncture treatments can cause the sensation of pressure, tingling or aching. For most animals, placing the acupuncture needles is painless. Some animals occasionally feel the initial insertion of the needle, but once in place, there is no pain. In fact, many animals become relaxed and some even fall asleep. This is a desired response and is a representation of Qi (energy) in the body. Acupuncture needles are sterile, single-use needles that are very fine and are not expected to cause discomfort.

How many treatments are needed?

The number of treatments depends on the nature, severity and duration of the disease. One or two treatments may be enough for a suddenly developed condition, whereas chronic conditions will often require 3 to 6 treatments to obtain results. Some degenerative conditions may need monthly treatments over time. Treatments may be given once a week to once every few months, depending on the specific problem. Each treatment can take 20 to 60 minutes, and an average of 10 to 20 acupuncture needles are typically used.

What are Chinese herbs and are they safe?

Chinese herbal therapy is another method of treatment in TCVM, and can be safely used in conjunction with other Western medications. The use of Chinese herbs in conjunction with other modalities (acupuncture and food therapy) can be a very useful and safe method to treat illnesses. Whereas acupuncture affects the movement of Qi, Chinese herbs improve the quality of Qi. This treatment combination can be very effective in bringing the body back to a balanced state. The individual herbs are often derived from portions of plants (root, bark, flower, seed), but they can also be mineral- (such as shell) or animal- (such as earthworm) based.

When is acupuncture indicated?

Acupuncture therapy can be effective with many medical conditions including:

  • Musculoskeletal problems: arthritis, muscle soreness, back problems and degenerative joint disease
  • Gastrointestinal disorders: diarrhea, vomiting and constipation
  • Neurological disorders: seizures and weakness of limbs
  • Chronic conditions: asthma, kidney disease, liver disease, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, skin disease, allergies and heart disease
  • Cancers and immune-mediated diseases: Benefits include improvement in the immune system, decreased symptoms of cancer (loss of appetite, pain, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness), alleviation of side effects of chemotherapy, and primary therapy for the cancer itself.
  • Following surgery: Surgery is considered an “acute trauma” and acupuncture is wonderful at treating associated pain and inflammation.

The marriage of Eastern and Western medicine reflects advancement in care, and I am truly excited to be practicing medicine in a time when so much can be done for our pets to help improve their quality of life!  Feel free to post any questions, comments or just share with us your personal experiences with holistic care.

News: Guest Posts
One in Four Dogs Will Develop Cancer
Early detection is key

Here’s some sobering news: One in four dogs will develop some type of cancerous tumor. The news can wreak havoc on a pet owners’ emotions. The cost to diagnose and treat cancer-related diseases can also take a huge bite out their bank account.

“It’s not uncommon to have a $2,000 to $3,000 veterinary bill,” said Dr. Carol McConnell, vice-president and chief veterinary medical officer for Veterinary Pet Insurance Company (VPI).

The California-based provider of pet insurance recently released its 2010 cancer statistics to educate pet owners about this malady—the number one disease-related killer in dogs and cats—and the costs associated with the illness.

VPI said it received nearly 40,000 claims last year for cancer diagnosis and treatment in pets. Eighty-five percent of the company’s policies are written for dogs, 14 percent for cats, and the remaining one percent for avian and exotic pocket pets, Dr. McConnell said.

The ten most common cancer-related claims VPI received were for:

  • Lymphosarcoma
  • Mast cell tumor
  • Cancer of the spleen
  • Cancer of the eyelid
  • Liver cancer
  • Bone cancer
  • Cancer of the thorax
  • Cancer of the bladder;
  • Cancer of the brain or spinal cord
  • Oral cancer
  • Dr. McConnell wasn’t surprised that lymphosarcoma—cancer of the lymphatic system—topped the list as the most common cancer-related claim filed.

    “Lymphosarcoma is consistently the number one [cancer-related] claim we receive,” she said. “I went back and checked the lists for 2005 and 2006 to see how the different cancers compared to 2010. Lymphosarcoma was number one in 2005 and 2006. And it’s number one again in 2010—by a lot. We received nearly 9,000 claims for Lymphosarcoma in 2010.”

    The good news about this type of cancer is that it responds well to chemotherapy, Dr. McConnell said. “Lymphosarcoma is one of the most responsive cancers,” she said. “There are other types of cancers that are death knells.”

    The company’s 2010 data revealed that mast cell tumors were the second most common cancer-related claims it received, Dr. McConnell said.

     “We see about 5,000 claims a year for this type of cancer,” she said, adding the company receives approximately 1.1 million claims a year for all pets.

    VPI’s statistics also uncovered another trend: the number of claims for bone cancer dropped from recent years.

    But the decline is nothing to bark about—yet.

    “Bone cancer was number three and now it’s number six,” Dr. McConnell said. “But I have actuaries who keep telling me not to over-interpret the data. It’s not a statistically significant difference and it’s not an indicator that the rates of bone cancer have dropped.”

    She added: “Bone cancer is one of those diseases that by the time it’s diagnosed, the disease is pretty far along. Dogs are stoic. They put up with a lot and by the time the dog is limping and you go in for an x-ray, the disease is pretty advanced.”

    Asked about cancer of the eyelids, Dr. McConnell said: “These are like skin masses on the linings of the eyes and they (masses) can cause an abrasive type of effect on the eyes. Whether they’re malignant or benign, these masses need to be removed. They can cause ulcers on the eyes.”

    Treating cancer in dogs and cat is expensive.

    VPI’s policyholders spent $12.8 million last year on pet with these top 10 cancer-related illnesses. Cancer of the brain or spinal cord was the most expensive to diagnose and treat, the company said. Policyholders spent an average of $752 to diagnose and non-surgically treat those cancers. Pet owners who pursued surgical treatments spent an average of $2,410, VPI said.

    Dr. McConnell said it’s vital for pet owners to learn the signs and symptoms of cancer in their dogs and cats, Dr. McConnell said. “They are the front lines of defense.”

    Symptoms pet owners need to watch include:

    • Growing lumps or sores that don’t heal;
    • Drastic changes in a pet’s appetite or weight;
    • Offensive odors;
    • Bleeding or discharge from any opening in the body;
    • Difficulty chewing or swallowing;
    • Unwillingness to exercise;
    • Persistent lameness or stiffness
    • Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating

    In the battle against pet-related cancers, Dr. McConnell said it’s also important for dogs, cats, and other animals to receive regular veterinary exams. Early detection and treatment are keys to a pet’s chance for survival, she said.

    Pet owners also need to be financially prepared in case their four-legged or winged companions are diagnosed with cancer or other illness, Dr. McConnell said. “Financial preparation is key.”

    VPI created a special website to give pet owners an idea about how much it will cost to treat the most common health problems in dogs and cats. The “Cost of Care Planner” breaks down those prices according to specific breeds.

    VPI said cancer-related diseases were the fourth most common medical claim it received in 2010. Ear infections, skin allergies and skin infections/hot spots were the top three diseases in pets last year, the company said.

    More information about cancer and other pet-related diseases is available on VPI’s website.

    Wellness: Health Care
    60-Second Pup Check-Up
    [VIDEO]

    When it comes to taking care of your dog, and insuring your canine friend’s health—it’s often the little things that count. A simple daily check-up will help detect problems that can be easily remedied before they grow into serious afflictions. Checking your dog’s coat, ears and paws should become part of your daily routine—your dog with thank you for it! Join My Dog author Michael J. Rosen as he guides you through a 60-second pup check-up. For other youth-oriented activities, check out more videos from My Dog.

    Wellness: Health Care
    Why Is My Dog Honking?
    The strange but usually benign case of reverse sneezing

    Reverse sneezing is a disconcerting event in which a dog makes an alarming respiratory sound, similar to a honking noise. This understandably leads pet owners to think that their dog is having trouble breathing and in grave danger. These episodes are followed by a warp-speed drive to the ER where we generally assess a happy dog wagging his or her tail and giving us the look of, “Not sure what all the fuss is about, but boy, that sure was a fun car ride!”

    Reverse sneezing is a condition that usually does not need any treatment. It is called reverse sneezing because it sounds a bit like a dog “inhaling sneezes” or “snorting backwards.” These episodes are short-lived and usually resolved by the time of presentation, leaving us veterinarians to (embarrassingly) try to mimic the noise in the exam room. This video shows a typical reverse sneezing episode. 

    What is the cause and what is my pet experiencing when this happens?

    The most common cause of reverse sneezing is an irritation of the soft palate and throat that results in a spasm. The dog’s neck will stretch outward and the chest will expand during the spasm as it tries harder to inhale. The trachea narrows during this time, and it’s hard to get the normal amount of air into the lungs. All of these actions together result in the disturbing display.

    What are some other causes?

    Anything that irritates the throat can cause this spasm, and subsequent reverse sneezing, including:

    • excitement
    • eating or drinking
    • exercise intolerance
    • pulling on a leash
    • mites
    • foreign bodies caught in the throat
    • perfumes and environmental irritants such as household chemicals
    • viruses
    • pollen, allergies and post-nasal drip

    Further evaluation should be pursued if reverse sneezing becomes a frequent occurrence, as there may be a treatable underlying cause of the episodes, such as mites or allergies. In many cases, however, the cause cannot be identified.

    What can I do?

    Reverse sneezing itself rarely requires treatment. When the sneezing stops, the spasm is over. If the episode continues beyond a few seconds, sometimes massaging your dog’s throat can help stop the spasm. Also, it is sometimes effective to cover the nostrils for quick moment, which makes the dog swallow and helps to “clear out the irritation.”

    Some dogs have these episodes their entire lives; while others develop the condition only as they age. In most dogs, however, the spasm is an occasional and temporary problem that goes away on its own, needing no treatment and leaving the dog with no aftereffects.

    Are some dogs more prone to reverse sneezing?

    This commonly happens to brachycephalic dogs (flat-faced babies such as Pugs or Boxers) that by nature have elongated soft palates. These breeds will occasionally suck the elongated palate into the throat while inhaling, causing reverse sneezing. Beagles, Yorkies and other small dogs are also particularly prone to it, possibly because they have smaller throats. Cats are very rarely prone to reverse sneezing, and if these signs are noted, veterinary attention is needed.

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Best X-Rays of 2011
    Vets submit their most surprising x-ray finds

    One of my dogs is a master thief. Despite my best efforts to keep the house eternally “puppy proofed,” every now and then I'll find Nemo shredding a sock or sponge--or I'll find out later when it comes out the other end.

    Fortunately nothing has ever gotten stuck, but it's something that's always in the back of my mind. Now, Veterinary Practice News' X-ray Contest has me thinking that there could be something in there that I don't know about!

    The magazine asked veterinarians to submit their best x-ray finds of the year. The winning submission was taken by Dr. Vanessa Hawkins at Bayshore Animal Hospital in Oregon when she was examining a dog with a lame hind leg. To her surprise, Dr. Hawksin found nine handballs inside of the dog's stomach! It was an incidental finding that she would've never discovered had he not been x-rayed for the lameness.

    What is the strangest thing that your dog has ingested?

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