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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Causes of Death Vary by Breed
What’s your dog’s risk?

Most dog guardians have some idea what to look for in terms of health issues based on the breed of their dog. Those who have Pugs and Bulldogs know that respiratory problems may crop up, while those with Dachshunds and Bassett Hounds are aware that their dogs are more likely than many other breeds to have back issues.

A recent study of almost 75,000 dogs over a period of 20 years delved deeper into serious health concerns that are breed related. Dr. Daniel Promislow and Dr. Kate Creevy investigated the causes of death in 80 breeds from 1984 to 2004 and published their study in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Their findings include many expected results as well as some surprises.

As predicted, they found that small breeds such as the Chihuahua and Maltese have high rates of cardiovascular disease, but they learned that the Fox Terrier does, too. It was no surprise that Golden Retrievers and Boxers are at high risk for cancer, but the finding that Bouvier de Flandres die from cancer at an even higher rate was unexpected.

Understanding what the causes of death are across breeds is important for two different reasons. One, it may help explain a paradox within domestic dogs: Typically, larger mammals live longer than smaller ones, but in dogs, little dogs have longer life spans than bigger ones. Knowing the causes of death may help explain why this is so.

Two, knowing what diseases and health problems a dog is at risk for based on breed can help veterinarians screen for, diagnose and treat health problems earlier. This may result in better management and treatment of these issues, which can prolong life and improve the quality of life for dogs. For rare breeds especially, veterinarians may not see enough individuals in their practice to elucidate the patterns for risk that they notice in more common breeds, which makes studies with large numbers of dogs, such as this one, so valuable.

What health risks are you aware of based on the breed of your dog?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
CPR Saves Lives
It’s true for dogs and people

Firefighters saving lives—it’s a story that never gets old, especially when the story has a twist. In this case, the individual who was brought back from the brink of death was not human. Tammy Rodriguez performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a Pit Bull who was in a fire that destroyed several floors in two buildings. That CPR, along with the oxygen she administered, saved the dog’s life.

  Hours later, the once apparently lifeless dog was happily wagging his tail and licking Rodriguez’ face at the fire station. Rodriguez has three dogs herself and would want someone to do the same for them if the need arose. The understanding that dogs are part of our families fueled her deep desire to make sure that this dog survived.   Has your dog’s life been saved, either dramatically or not, by the efforts of someone in your community?

 

News: Guest Posts
Dogs and Wild Mushrooms Don’t Mix
Poisonous species are more common than you might think.

I remember the sad sinking feeling I experienced last August as I read an email from my friend Diana Gerba. Seeing her email in my inbox initially prompted excitement—oh goodie, more photos and stories about Donato, Diana’s adorable Bernese Mountain Dog. My excitement quickly morphed into utter disbelief as Diana described the death of her barely six-month-old pup caused by ingestion of a poisonous mushroom.      

  Diana’s heart was broken. As she wrote in her email:     “A special boy, Donato was a silver tipped puppy, a rarity in our breed. With his tail always wagging, he had boundless enthusiasm for life. He was a happy little chap and was my joy. He loved me and I him. We were a team ordained by the stars.” Every region of the country is different in terms of mushroom flora. Where I live in northern California, Amanita phalloides (aka Death Cap) is the most common poisonous species and grows year round particularly in soil surrounding oak trees. Ingestion of a Death Cap mushroom causes liver failure (in people and in dogs)—makes sense given the liver’s function as the “garbage disposal” of the body.   Symptoms typically include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite, delayed blood clotting, and neurological abnormalities. Every year at my busy hospital, we see at least a handful of dogs with liver failure clearly caused by mushroom ingestion. In spite our very best efforts, the individuals who survive mushroom poisoning are few and far between. Affected people can receive a liver transplant; no such technology available (yet) for dogs.             To learn more about poisonous mushrooms, visit the North American Mycological Association and Bay Area Mycological Society websites. If you suspect your dog has ingested a mushroom get to your veterinary clinic or the closest emergency care facility immediately (choose whichever is most quickly accessible). If possible, take along a sample of the mushroom so it can be professionally identified if need be.   

 

Fortunately, my friend Diana has managed to put a positive spin on the loss of her beloved Donato. Not only does she have Tesoro, a new little Berner boy in her life, she has made it her personal mission to warn people about the potential hazards of mushroom toxicity in dogs. She created an educational flyer (feel free to download and post it wherever dog-loving people congregate.) Diana sent a blast email out just a few days ago after finding a Death Cap mushroom in her yard. Coincidentally, today I discovered several mushrooms on my property while beginning the task of weeding my garden. They’re gone now, but given our current weather pattern, I’m quite sure there will be more tomorrow.       What can you do to prevent your dog from ingesting a poisonous mushroom? Clear any mushrooms from your dog’s immediate surroundings, and be super vigilant on your walks, particularly if you have a pup (youngsters love to put anything and everything in their mouths) or an adult dog who is a known indiscriminate eater.    Learn more about which poisonous mushrooms grow in your area and what they look like. And, please remember, if you see your dog ingest a mushroom—get yourselves to a veterinary hospital as quickly as possible (even if it is after hours). Ingestion of even a nibble of a toxic mushroom is life threatening, and the sooner treatment is started the greater the likelihood of saving your best buddy.        Are you aware of poisonous mushrooms in your neck of the woods? If so, please share where you live (city and state) and the name of the mushroom if you happen to know it.        Best wishes for good health.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Your Medicine Cabinet Could Be Deadly
A doctor learns the hard way not to mix human and canine drugs

 

A few weeks ago Dr. Randi Hutter Epstein wrote in the New York Times about almost killing her dog Dexter. Fortunately the German Shepherd is on the path to recovery now, but not before going through a harrowing ordeal. And one that could have been easily prevented.

In December, after a romp in Central Park, Dexter came home with a limp in his arthritic leg. In an effort to save money and a trip to the veterinarian, Dr. Epstein gave Dexter a dose of prescription ibuprofen left over from her son’s root canal.

After a day and a half of the medication, Dexter stopped eating and couldn’t control his bladder. Dr. Epstein soon found out that ibuprofen can be lethal to dogs (and many other animals, like cats). Poor Dexter ended up in at the veterinarian’s office for seven days. Over a month later, he’s still on antibiotics and needs to be walked every three hours.

It’s important to know that people medicine should not be given to your pet unless directed by a veterinarian. Even if you are a people doctor! Dr. Epstein learned the hard way that although some human medicines are prescribed to dogs, you can’t assume that for all drugs.

I know many people will jump to criticize Dr. Epstein, but despite what an embarrassing and dangerous mistake it was (even her 14-year old son made fun of her), I’m glad that she decided to share her story. Hopefully the millions of readers who read the New York Times will learn from her potentially deadly situation.

 

News: Guest Posts
Vet’s Generosity Saves Lives
Pet owners can work off bill with community service

Last year, my husband and I were forced to make a difficult decision regarding our 12-year-old Catahoula, Desoto. He needed back surgery, but at an estimate of $5,000-$7,000 plus post-operative care, we simply could not afford it. I remember crying and screaming in frustration that I could not provide whatever Desoto needed.

  After many weeks of deliberation, we ultimately decided that the combination of his advanced age and heart murmur made surgery too risky. That relieved some of the guilt and panic, but the experience got me thinking: How many other people are in the same situation? Here I had been so quick to judge anyone who euthanized their pet because they couldn’t afford the necessary treatment. That person could’ve easily been me.    Just imagine how veterinarians and their staff feel when delivering such horrible news and knowing that their clients can’t pay for it? Dr. Lori Pasternak decided she never wanted to take no for an answer again. If the pet needed life-saving emergency surgery or treatment, she would make it happen with the client’s help. Earlier this year, she and business partner Jacqueline Morasco opened Helping Hands Affordable Surgical and Dental in Richmond, VA.   The clinic’s sole focus is surgery and dental care at affordable prices. There is no office visit fee or general exam fee. Instead, there is a $5 fee per procedure that is collected for a Good Citizen Fund that goes toward others in need. Clients are asked to devote one hour of community service to Helping Hands or other local pet-related charities for every $10 of their bill. This gives pet owners a chance to pay it back and maintain their dignity.   Has a vet or other animal care professional ever gone out of their way to help you when times were tough?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Gift of Pet Care
Dear Abby letter expresses gratitude

In this morning’s Dear Abby column, a woman expressed her gratitude to her daughter and son-in-law for what she described as “the gift of a lifetime.” Knowing that their mother lives alone and on a fixed income, this couple gave her a promise to pay for all the veterinary bills for her dog and cat for the rest of those pets’ lives. Rather than little knickknacks for holidays and birthdays, they chose to pay for medical care for her animals. Her pets, and therefore this gift, mean so much to this woman.

  As the season of giving descends upon us, many people struggle to figure out what to choose for their elderly parents. Any gift that relieves financial worry is always welcome, and the care of pets is one such thoughtful gesture. Naturally, not everybody has the means to pay for all of someone’s veterinary bills, especially if a pet were to require extensive or emergency care because of an illness or accident. But helping out with the cost of caring for pets can be done on any scale, and is sure to be appreciated by anyone who worries about being able to pay for what their pets require.   Is anyone on your list the perfect recipient for a gift such as this?  

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Heartworm Superbug?
Should we be worried about resistance

Heartworm disease is a horrible and potentially deadly disease that is fortunately preventable with medication. However, in recent years, animals in the Gulf region have been testing positive for heartworm, despite being on a prevention medicine. This has many people worried about a potential resistant superbug.

In response to the growing cases, the American Heartworm Society and Companion Animal Parasite Council met earlier this year to "explore the potential relationships between resistance to heartworm products and veterinary and pet owner compliance, loss of product efficacy and heartworm testing and treatment protocols." 

For instance, 50 percent of people who buy heartworm preventative do not give the medication to their dogs as directed. The efficacy of heartworm preventative is greatly compromised if not given as intended.

The meeting concluded that more research is necessary, but that the investigation should not lead to dropping heartworm medicine, since year-round use is still the most effective way to prevent the deadly disease.

In human healthcare, there’s so much talk of antibiotic resistant supeprbugs that I avoid excessive medications and vaccines when possible, for both myself and my dogs. However, heartworm preventative is one medication I don’t skip with the pups. It’s such a serious disease and I hope that the possibility of a superbug is unfounded.

For more information on heartworm prevention, symptoms, and endemic areas, visit the American Heartworm Society website.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Low Stress Handling
Sophia Yin’s advice book available free online

Sophia Yin has written another great book to go along with her popular Small Animal Veterinary Nerdbook and How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves. Her latest book is called Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs & Cats. The ideas and techniques in this book can improve safety at veterinary clinics, decrease stress in the animals, and make life easier for veterinarians, guardians and their pets. And best of all, an abridged version is available online for free through December.

  This book is all about helping animals who are nervous when visiting the veterinarian, those who dislike grooming or handling, and even those who feel uncomfortable with visitors at home. Specific issues in the book include getting dogs in and out of kennels and putting them on leash, different methods of restraint necessary for procedures, picking dogs up, the principles of classical and operant conditioning, modifying behavior through a variety of techniques, recognizing fear and understanding dominance.   Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and behaviorist, is an expert in behavior modification. Her book is a product of her knowledge of learning theory combined with her practical experience. With clear text, more than 1,600 photos and 100 video clips with informative narration, this book can help improve the lives of our pets as well as our relationships with them. There are sections on helping pets who already have issues with handling, and the book also covers ways to help puppies (and kittens) learn at an early age to take being handled in stride throughout their lives.   So many dogs and cats struggle to deal with every day handling and care or completely freak out at the veterinarian. By modifying behavior—both that of humans and of dogs and cats, so much of the resulting stress can be eliminated or at least greatly decreased, and this book provides the sort of practical information needed to make it happen.
News: Guest Posts
Spay Plates
California joins spay/neuter initiative

I received my car tab renewal announcement in the mail on Friday, and decided that this year I’d take the opportunity to order one of Washington’s special We Love Our Pets plates, which supports grants to provide low-cost spay and neuter. My state is one of a couple dozen around the country, where a specialty license purchase supports these initiatives and helps spread the word about this important effort to reduce pet overpopulation.

  I was surprised to learn that California is late to the effort. Activists there launched the California Spay and Neuter Specialty License Plate Program only this past summer and they need to pre-sell commitments for 7,500 spay plates by June 2011, in order for the program to go forward. So there's probably not a better time to upgrade your plate in that state. And, if you're not a Golden State resident, when it's time to renew you may want to find out if your state has a pet plate.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Vets Without Borders
Web series focuses on rabies

Last month I wrote about the shock of finding out that 55,000 people die each year of rabies, a major health issue outside of the United States.  I couldn’t believe that so many people die each year form something that can be easily prevented with a simple vaccine.

Veterinarians without Borders/Vétérinaires sans Frontières (VWB/VSF) has been working since 2005 to get that number down to zero. This year, as part of their Make Rabies History campaign, they’ve created a documentary web series called Vets Without Borders to create more awareness around the cause.

Vets Without Borders follows VWB/VSF vets to a small mountain village in Guatemala where residents are dying of rabies from being infected by stray dogs. The vets spay/neuter and vaccinate the dogs, in addition to handling emergencies involving pigs and other wild animals. Animal hospitals don’t exist in this remote area, so the vets must rely on limited supplies and a little creativity.

Check out the first episode: 

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