News: Guest Posts
New York Times Bulldog story exposes serious health issues, deep denial
In 2008, the BBC documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed”—which revealed high levels of disability, deformity and disease among purebred dogs—dropped like a bomb on the world of dog shows and breeding in the United Kingdom. A year-and-a-half later, the UK’s Kennel Club initiated steps to reform its practices and standards.
Three years later, questions and calls for reform are finally gaining traction here. In April, the Humane Society of the United States convened “The Purebred Paradox” conference to explore issues like those being debated across the pond, and featuring some of those key players. In September, John Woestendiek presented the state of the debate in a feature for Bark (“Breeding Paradox: Can dog-breeding practices be changed?”)
And last Sunday, Benoit Denizet-Lewis added The New York Times’s high profile voice to the conversation with a Magazine cover story on the poor benighted Bulldog (“Can the Bulldog Be Saved?”). The mascot for the Marines and many college sports programs just might become the most enduring example of breeding gone wrong.
Is this a topic near and dear to your heart? Read up on the recent coverage and check back, we’ll be hosting an online conversation with experts soon.
Wellness: Health Care
What you need to know about this life-threatening condition for dogs
There is no quicker way to jump to the front of the ER line than if you walk into the hospital with a distended dog. Bloat is a life-threatening condition that I treat frequently, and a good outcome is time-dependent.
Last week, JoAnna Lou wrote about recognizing the signs of bloat and included an educational video of an Akita experiencing GDV (don’t worry, he survived!). This topic elicited excellent comments and questions, prompting me to want to expand upon it further. I hope to answer some of the questions put forth by readers as well as dispel misconceptions that could potentially harm your pet.
First, some vocabulary: Bloat is a condition when the stomach fills with air and/or fluid (dilatation). This can progress to a twisting of the stomach upon itself, called GDV (gastric dilatation volvulus). Bloat is often used to describe GDV, but there is a vast medical difference. We’ll get to the details of GDV in a moment, but let’s start with the most important take-home message:
If you even remotely suspect bloat or GDV, take your dog to a veterinary hospital IMMEDIATELY!
What NOT to do:
A note about the use of Gas X: This medication may help to reduce the amount of stomach gas in the case of “simple” bloat, but it will do nothing to help your pet in the case of GDV. The problem with GDV is not the gas, but the actual twisting of the stomach (think of a balloon being twisted in half, like when a clown makes an animal figure). It is the twist that kills, and a medication will not undo the deadly rotation of the stomach. Please do not waste valuable life-saving moments waiting to see if the medication helps! Taking an x-ray of your pet’s abdomen is the only way to tell the difference between bloat and GDV, allowing for appropriate intervention.
What is GDV and why is it so serious?
The twisted and bloated stomach presses on the major blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart, stopping normal circulation and sending the dog into shock. Making matters worse, the stomach tissue is literally dying because it is stretched tightly and blood cannot circulate through it. Intense pain is associated with this disease, causing the heart to race at such a high rate that heart failure will result.
There can be no recovery until the stomach is surgically untwisted and the gas is released. A dog with GDV will die in a matter of hours unless surgery is performed. For each hour that goes by, there is a greater risk for complications during surgery as well as during the recovery period.
What are the signs of GDV or bloat?
View some of these bloat symptoms in the video we posted last week.
What dogs are at risk?
Classically, this condition affects deep-chested breeds, and dogs with deep chests that weigh more than 99 pounds have a 20 percent risk of bloat. Although a rare occurrence, I have also treated three small-breed dogs for this condition in my ten-year career.
There are many theories regarding what triggers GDV, but truly, no one really knows—it remains a veterinary medical mystery. Risk factors, lifestyle and personality profiles that may increase a dog’s potential for developing GDV have been identified over the years and include:
On the flip side, the following factors may decrease the risk of GDV:
One day after treating Bauer for bloat, veterinarian Shea Cox scheduled him for surgery to prevent the more serious GDV.
What else can I do?
For breeds with a high risk of bloat, a preventive surgery called prophylactic gastropexy can be performed at the time of spay or neuter. Gastropexy involves surgically “tacking down” the stomach to the inside of the abdomen to prevent rotation. If your dog has already been spayed or neutered, the same procedure can be done laparoscopically, and is minimally invasive. I had this procedure performed on my own Dobie, Bauer. I saw him bloat (and thankfully not twist!) one day at the park, and treated him at work. The next day, I scheduled the laparoscopic procedure.
This is a same-day surgery with a quick and comfortable recovery. In the Bay Area, the cost is generally $1,500–$2,000, which is far cheaper than emergency surgery, and worth its weight in gold for peace of mind. One of my biggest fears was to have Bauer bloat while I was away for the day, only to return home to find I was too late.
It should be noted that gastropexy does not prevent future bloat, but it does prevent future twisting, which is the deadly component of the condition.
What is the prognosis?
Decades ago, a diagnosis of bloat was almost always a death sentence, and only 25 percent of pets with bloat survived. Today, the survival rate is better than 80 percent! Part of the reason for this is increased owner awareness (go, pet parents!) leading to rapid intervention and treatment. The earlier the veterinarian gets started with treatment, the better chance for survival. Extremely aggressive medical and surgical intervention early in the course of the disease has the most dramatic impact on overall success.
This is a condition I see much too frequently, but I have to say from personal experience, nearly all dogs return home (95 percent or greater) with early and appropriate treatment.
Being the doting mom of two Dobies, this is a subject that hits close to home, and one I have experienced personally. Thank you to JoAnna for helping raise awareness of this all-too-common condition in our large-breed babies. Feel free to ask questions; I am happy to further elaborate on any area. For now, I’m off to hug my boy, being especially thankful that he is with me today.
News: Guest Posts
A veterinarian with a potentially sick dog needed to know
Thanks to everyone who replied to my post, A Death in the Pack. Your stories and advice were both comforting and enlightening. Happily, Renzo dodged any long-term ill effects of his raisin binge and was back on stride within a few days.
But there was one aspect of Raisingate that was not satisfactory. When I first brought Renzo in, my veterinarian tried to assess how many raisins he may have ingested by eating approximately a half a box of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. She called Kellogg’s to ask and was told it was proprietary information the company couldn’t release.
She was trying to figure out if he’d consumed more than three ounces, which would make a big difference in toxicity and treatment strategy—essentially, one day of fluids versus three days.
Thanks to the Internet and a skeptical engineering student, my vet was able to crack this carefully guarded secret with a few strikes of the keyboard! Aspiring Polymath: Adrian Corscadden decided to challenge Kellogg’s two scoops claim and actually separated out the raisins and weighed them. (His judgment: Barely a cup, or 150 grams in the 475 gram box.)
While Adrian was bothered by the vague “2 scoops” claim, I was peeved by Kellogg’s disregard for my dog. My business-savvy friends tell me it’s the way business is done. Sick dog be damned! Companies need to protect their intellectual property. I get that. I understand why they might not want to reveal a secret recipe. But anyone—including Corscadden, spikebythesea and Chow.com—can eventually separate out and weigh the raisins, so it’s hardly top secret.
So thanks to all of you out there who like to count and measure and record your discoveries. I’m not the only dog mom who’s grateful you did (at least one commenter on Adrian’s blog mentioned needing the information for this same reason). As for Kellogg’s, count me unhappy.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
See what the symptoms look like in real life
Everyone with a large, deep chested dog is always worried about bloat (any breed can get bloat, but this demographic is disproportionally affected). Bloat is particularly scary because of how fast the condition becomes serious.
When bloat occurs, the dog’s stomach fills with air, fluid and/or food. The enlarged stomach puts pressure on other organs and can cause difficulty breathing and even damage to vital organs.
According to the ASPCA, even with immediate treatment, approximately 25 to 40 percent of dogs die from this condition. But certainly the odds are much better the sooner the dog can get emergency treatment.
I'm familiar with the signs of bloat, but the video below helped me learn what the symptoms look like in real life.
Roscoe, the dog in the clip, was adopted from Akita Rescue Mid-Atlantic Coast. The video was taken when he first got to his new home. No one present had ever seen bloat before. As soon as they realized Roscoe was sick, they rushed him to the emergency vet where he received life-saving treatment.
Thanks to this video, I feel much more confident that I could identify the symptoms of bloat.
Wellness: Health Care
Causes, risks and treatment of cataracts
When you look into your dog’s eyes, what should you see? If your pet is healthy, bright, shiny and clear eyes should be looking back at you. (Well, OK… those three qualities plus a pleading expression, begging for that last bite of whatever it is you are eating.) However, if your dog’s eyes begin to look a little cloudy or bluish-gray, it could indicate that cataracts are forming, which is a sign for you to take him or her to your veterinarian for further evaluation.
So, just what is a cataract?
Cataracts are characterized by the development of opacity in the lens of the eye. The lens is the normally clear structure that sits directly behind the iris (the colored part of the eye), and its job is to focus light as it moves toward the back part of the eye (the retina). Despite its clarity, the lens is in fact made of tissue fibers. As an animal ages, these fibers become more dense and compact, preventing the passage of light to the retina, leading to blindness.
What causes them to develop?
The most common cause of cataract formation is due to hereditary disease. Other causes include congenital (born with it), senile cataracts (age-related), diabetes, trauma, dietary deficiency (milk replacement formulas that are low in arginine or phenylalanine have been implicated as well as puppies fed strictly evaporated milk formulas or goats milk), electric shock or toxins.
Why is it bad to have a cataract?
A cataract by itself does not necessarily require treatment. If the only problem is blindness, and there is no associated inflammation or glaucoma, it is perfectly reasonable to have a blind pet, as dogs do not depend on vision the way humans do. Blind animals can have an excellent life quality and can adjust well to vision loss (though it is important not to move furniture around or leave any hazardous clutter in the home). Some dogs, however, do become anxious—or even aggressive—when they lose their vision.
Of bigger concern is the fact that a cataract can luxate, meaning it can slip from the tissue strands that hold it in place and end up floating around in the eye, causing damage. Furthermore, if a cataract settles in a place blocking the natural fluid drainage of the eye, a buildup in eye pressure (glaucoma) can result, leading to pain and permanent blindness.
Another problem is the fact that cataracts can begin to liquefy and dissolve after a long time. While this sounds like it should be a good thing, it is a highly inflammatory process, and creates a condition called uveitis. This is a very painful eye disease that can also lead to glaucoma.
How are cataracts treated?
Cataract treatment generally involves surgical removal or physical dissolution (“breaking up”) of the cataract under anesthesia. The ideal time for cataract surgery is the immature or early mature cataract stage.
Obviously, the pet must also be in good general health to undergo treatment. For example, a diabetic dog must be well regulated before cataract surgery. Also, in order for a pet to be a good surgical candidate, he or she must also have a temperament conducive to having eye drops administered at home. Lab work is performed prior to anesthesia and some ophthalmologists also request that pets have their teeth cleaned prior to surgery to minimize sources of infection for the eye.
Historically, removing the cataract meant surgically cutting into the eye and physically removing the lens. (This short video shows a cataract removal—not as daunting as one would think!) This is still done for older patients whose lenses are compact, but for younger patients where the lens is still soft, a technique called phacoemulsification is preferred.
This technique has become the most common method of removing cataracts in dogs. Here, the lens is broken apart by sound waves and sucked out with a gadget similar to a tiny—a few millimeters wide—vacuum cleaner. Artificial lenses are implanted at the time of surgery, restoring essentially normal vision. (Without the artificial lens, the dog’s vision will be approximately 20/800, and objects will appear to be reversed, as in a mirror.)
Cataract surgery is performed routinely with an overall 80 to 90 percent success rate. Long term prognosis following cataract surgery is very good to excellent. Overall, a 95 percent vision rate is reported immediately after cataract surgery, and once cataracts are removed, they cannot return!
What else could it be?
During exams, people often raise the concern that a cataract is developing in their pet’s eye. Generally, the vast majority of the time the pet does not have cataracts, but instead has the much more common condition known as nuclear sclerosis.
Nuclear sclerosis is a normal change that occurs in the lenses of older dogs and it appears as a slight graying of the lens. The older, denser lens begins to appear cloudy. It usually occurs in both eyes at the same time and occurs in most dogs over six years of age. The condition does not significantly affect vision and treatment is not needed.
How your veterinarian can tell the difference between a cataract and nuclear sclerosis is by shining a bright light into the eye. With a cataract, you are unable to see to the back of the eye (the retina); with nuclear sclerosis, you can still see the retina. In the pictures below, you can see how easily nuclear sclerosis (left) might be mistaken for a cataract (right).
If you observe cloudiness in one or both of your dog's eyes, you should bring him or her to see your veterinarian for further evaluation. Your veterinarian can perform a complete physical examination, focusing on the eyes, helping to determine the severity of the problem. Restoring vision for your pet can then be weighed against risk and expense, and it is a personal decision for each family to make.
Wellness: Health Care
The 411 on your dog’s anal glands and how to stop that scooting.
No butts about it, anal gland issues are not at the top of anyone’s conversation list. However, it is a fairly common problem that occurs in many of our pets.
Anal sac impaction most often results in only minor irritation (or, shall we say, “rear-itation”), but if left unchecked, an anal sac abscess can develop. This is a common complication that I see in the ER. Owners usually present their pet for “bleeding from the rectum,” when in reality, it is a ruptured anal sac that is draining blood-tinged fluid. It’s what I refer to as “anal sacs gone bad.”
What are they?
Anal sacs are two grape-sized glands just inside of your pet’s anus that contain a foul-smelling material. Prior to domestication, these glands served the purpose of marking an animal’s territory, and could be readily emptied voluntarily. Pets nowadays have largely lost their ability to empty their sacs on demand, and the process occurs naturally during normal defecation when firm feces are passed, lubricating the anal opening in the process. Glands can also “spontaneously empty” during times of stress or excitement; you can recognize this has happened if your dog suddenly develops a very unpleasant odor.
What is the anatomy?
The drawing (below, left) shows the location of normal-appearing anal glands in the dog. The glands lie beneath the surface of this skin and are not something that you can visibly see. The second image (below, right) shows both an inflamed anal gland as well as a ruptured anal gland (more on this below).
How does it happen?
Anal sacs become impacted when a blockage develops in the duct that leads from the gland to the anus. Main causes for the development of a blockage in the duct include having a softer stool or diarrhea, allergies that result in inflammation of the sac and duct, or just plain luck of the genetic draw. Surprisingly, worms are NOT a general cause. (It is a common misconception that a “dog scooting” means that your dog has worms.)
At this stage, the gland is generally swollen and not painful. However, if an infection develops the area can then become painful, swollen and sometimes result in the formation of an abscess. Infection develops because blockage of the duct results in inflammation of those local tissues. In general, when any tissue is inflamed it is no longer happy and healthy, making it easy for the bacteria that normally live in the area to get out of check and “take over,” causing an infection.
How can I tell if my pet’s anal sacs are causing a problem?
One of the first things owners often report is a “scooting” behavior; they observe their pets dragging their bottoms along the floor or carpeting in an attempt to empty the glands. Some dogs will also lick the anal area while others will nip and bite at their bottom or chase their tails.
How is it treated?
I bravely tackled the mission of watching a disturbing array of YouTube videos, trying to find one that best demonstrated the task properly. This video provides a good illustration of the task. It may be considered graphic by some, so please don’t click the link if you are easily queasy—some things are best left to professionals.
Can I express my pet’s anal glands at home?
Obviously, this is not for everyone, but if you feel comfortable doing so, this is a procedure that can be done at home. It is strongly recommended that you have your veterinarian or groomer demonstrate how to do this for you, for your first time. A second pair of hands up at the front of your dog or cat is helpful to give distracting rubs on the head and praise. A word of caution: Expressing incorrectly can cause irritation and lead to further problems so make sure you are able to perform the task correctly.
What if the scooting continues?
Your veterinarian should recheck the glands if the scooting behavior continues more than a couple of days following sac emptying. If left unattended, an abscess can develop in the gland and rupture through the skin of the rectal region. A ruptured anal sac abscess is oftentimes mistaken for rectal bleeding. Anal sac abscesses are generally treated with antibiotics, pain medications and warm compressing the area at home.
Another important reason to have your pet examined by your veterinarian if scooting continues is that there could also be other causes of this behavior such as allergies, parasites or even referred back pain.
What if my pet suffers from anal sac impaction on a regular basis?
If your pet’s anal sacs need to be emptied every month or more, you may opt to have the sacs surgically (and therefore permanently) removed. The procedure can be complicated as the sacs are located next to many important nerves—mainly those that control rectal sphincter function—and meaning, if improperly performed, your pet could permanently loose control of its bowel function. Despite how scary this sounds, anal sac removal is considered a relatively “simple” surgery by experienced surgeons.
While not the most pleasant of topics to cover, I hope you have found this information informative and helpful!
Wellness: Health Care
Diagnosis and treatment of marijuana ingestion
Marijuana ingestion is one of the most common toxicities in dogs that I see on an emergency basis, and the post-exam conversation generally starts with the owner asking, "Do you see this often?" I just smile and say, "Well, this is Berkeley..."
Pets are most frequently exposed to marijuana when they ingest “tasty” baked products, eat the remains of marijuana cigarettes, or get into somebody’s “stash.” Dogs can also get into mischief while out on hikes, finding and eating some abandoned drug.
What is marijuana toxicity?
Marijuana is the dried leaves and flowers from the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa) and the active chemical is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and signs of intoxication can be seen from within minutes up to 3 hours after exposure. The drug is eliminated quite quickly from the body and most pets will make a full recovery within 24 hours. However, mild clinical signs can last for up to three to four days because the chemical is absorbed into fat.
How is it diagnosed?
THC can be detected in blood or urine but diagnosis is generally based on unmistakable clinical signs as well as history from the owner. The signs are quite textbook, and this is such a common occurrence that our receptionists have learned to pick them out, bringing these pets to the treatment area saying, "looks like we have another pot dog." I myself treat several of these toxicities a month.
More than 95 percent of the veterinary patients seen for marijuana ingestion are dogs, and almost all exposed animals will exhibit neurological signs. The most common clinical signs we see are incoordination, urine dribbling, drooling, low body temperature and an increased response to stimulation. At higher doses, dogs can suffer from hallucinations with barking or agitation. Seizures, low or high heart rates, respiratory depression and possible progression to a coma can also occur.
How is it treated?
If a pet has recently ingested the marijuana (within 30 minutes) your veterinarian can attempt to induce vomiting to minimize the amount of toxin available to be absorbed. However, if it has been longer than 30 minutes since ingestion, the anti-nausea effects of marijuana usually make it an unsuccessful attempt.
Your veterinarian may also elect to administer activated charcoal, which will help reduce the amount of THC absorbed. Subcutaneous fluids are often given to help prevent dehydration during the recovery period.
If clinical signs are severe, the need for supportive care will be indicated and your pet may need to be hospitalized. Supportive care entails intravenous fluids, repeat administration of activated charcoal, general nursing care, and observation of temperature, heart rate and breathing. If higher doses are ingested, some animals require sedation with valium, and in very rare cases, may require mechanical assistance with breathing if respiration is severely depressed. This is uncommon, but I have personally treated one patient who required ventilator support (he went on to make a full recovery).
Will my pet recover?
Even in extreme cases, the vast majority of animals recover fully and death very rarely occurs.
The main take-away here: Do not withhold information from your veterinarian if you suspect or know that your dog may have ingested marijuana—even if you think that there is no possible way your pet could have gotten into it. Your veterinarian is not under any obligation to report these events, and this information is needed to appropriately treat your pet, as well as avoid unnecessary (and expensive) diagnostic tests.
News: Guest Posts
Mila comes through treatment with flying colors
Back in August, I wrote about a nine-year-old German Shepherd named Mila, who was undergoing heartworm treatment. She’s a foster dog being cared for by Jean, a volunteer for Big Hearts Big Dog Rescue in Western New York. Jean created a blog to report on Mila’s progress and more generally about heartworm prevention and treatment. Mila is Jean’s third heartworm-positive foster dog.
For months, Jean worked hard to keep Mila quiet, cool and comfortable—while the Immiticide killed off the dreaded heartworms. One of my favorite posts was about “Dr. Bruno,” a former therapy dog who comforted Mila and alerted Jean to changes in the patient’s recovery. What a wonderful idea to include a therapy dog for a canine patient.
I checked back in with Jean this week and she reported that Mila’s treatments are concluded and she is doing well, although she has lost muscle tone from her months of bed rest.
“We need to bring that back slowly and carefully because she has some pre-existing ortho issues,” Jean writes. “So we are starting with simply walking the yard, just like we did when she came into foster and had been kenneled for months.
“Mila is also a very smart girl who has a bit of a mind of her own, and for the time of her treatment she did not have any expectations for her behavior other than staying quiet, so we are doing some NILIF [nothing in life is free] to get that back in shape too! She remains upbeat and social and just needs everything in smaller doses for now as she gets back in the swing of things. She is still cute and funny—none of that lessened!”
She might even be heading for a forever home; someone has submitted an application to adopt her. There are still hoops to be jumped through—home visits and references, etc., but it’s “very exciting and I am keeping my fingers crossed that in the next month this will be how the blog will close,” Jean writes.
I’m awestruck by all that Jean has done to create a second chapter for Mila.
Meanwhile, on the heartworm front, it’s important to remember that although the weather is cooling around the country, heartworm remains a threat. “Unfortunately for our pets, mosquitoes are hardy and have proven their ability to survive year-round across the United States,” says American Heartworm Society president Wallace Graham DVM. “Warm microclimates, both outdoors and indoors, can foster mosquito survival and pets can facilitate the spread of heartworm.” Pets can also contract heartworms when their owners transport them from one area of the country to another.
Learn more about potentially lethal heartworm at Jean’s Big Dog, Big Heartworm blog and at the American Heartworm Society.
Wellness: Health Care
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, 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.
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.
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.
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
Foxtails are another source of the toxin
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!
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