health care
News: Guest Posts
We Love Word Play
Low-cost spay/neuter effort in Michigan

Just when you think you’ve read or heard every possible dog pun, rhyme or wordplay (in my line of work, I’d begun to think so), some creative minds come along and cast the familiar in a shiny new way. In this case, I’m sending a word -play shout-out to a cooperative effort in Michigan. Nooters Club (how come this is the first time I’ve heard that?) and All About Animals Rescue are teaming up with Pet Supplies Plus of Bloomfield Hills for their, wait for it, “Prevent Littering” campaign in honor of Earth Day on April 22. Clever words for a good cause.
The details: From March 1 through April 16, pet owners who pre-pay can get their pet spayed or neutered on April 17 for only $50 for dogs and $30 for cats.

News: Guest Posts
Food Safety Watch
How to report problems to the FDA

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on a public outreach tear these days. A few days after announcing a Twitter feed, with regular updates on food and drug safety issues (pet food recalls among them), it has released a video primer on how to report concerns about and adverse reactions to food and drugs for people and/or animals. Hopefully, this campaign on the consumer side is matched by aggressive inspection and enforcement efforts to ensure products are safe before they come to market.

News: Guest Posts
FDA Now Tweeting
Stay on top of food safety news

Receive alerts about pet food recalls, medication updates and animal safety tips via tweet: The Food and Drug Adminisration's Center for Veterinary Medicine is now on Twitter. If you're wondering if you need the information, consider this: There were two food-safety tweets in the first two weeks.

News: Guest Posts
Dogs With No Bark
Why people pursue the controversial surgery

Another interesting read out of New York—this time a story about “debarking,” cutting a dog’s vocal chords, on the front page of today’s New York Times. It’s always seemed cruel to me to put a dog through surgery—never without risks—to address a behavioral issue (like de-clawing cats). Aside from health risks, I wonder how my barker would feel if he emitted only a rasp or a whisper with the UPS man on our stoop. It feels like a matter of convenience and lifestyle taking precedence for the owners. Still, the article raises the specter of animals being surrendered because of excessive barking. That’s a stickier wicket—I can’t imagine a dog is better off keeping his or her vocal chords intact but ending up in a shelter.

News: Guest Posts
ER X-Ray: Finding a Rubber Ducky Inside a Dog's Stomach
In the ER: Veterinarians are sleuths

Are you sure Dozer did not swallow any dog toys or clothing?” I asked.


“No, we keep the yard cleaned up so there is nothing for the dogs to get into,” Dozer’s owners replied. Thus began the search for the cause of vomiting in an 8-year-old Alaskan Malamute.


There are at least 63 causes of vomiting in dogs, which is probably why we see so many cases at our emergency hospital. If the cause is not apparent after a thorough physical exam and history-taking, sometimes we perform diagnostic tests, such as X-Rays and blood tests to narrowing down the possibilities. A few dogs need an even more sophisticated level of diagnostic workup, such as an adrenal gland function test or abdominal ultrasound.


At eight, it seemed unlikely that “dietary indiscretion” would cause of Dozer’s gastrointestinal problems. Much higher on the list were conditions, such as cancer, immune-system disease, pancreatitis, liver failure or kidney failure.


Dozer seemed uncomfortable and somewhat tense when I palpated his abdomen, but did not appear overtly pained. “Let’s do some radiographs to see what things look like,” I suggested. (My X-Ray vision was not up to par that day.)


When the digital images appeared on the screen, the nurses could tell something was abnormal. We all gathered around to throw our two cents in. Dozer’s intestines were very distended with gas in certain areas. There was a strange density in the cranial (toward the head) part of his abdomen. We kept looking.


In one of my finest moments of X-Ray reading history, I suddenly saw it: “It’s a rubber ducky!” I almost hollered. Squinting at the images and moving closer, we asked each other, “How (and why) does a dog swallow a rubber ducky whole?”


Two hours of surgery later, the naughty duck sat like a proud trophy outside Dozer’s run. It was somewhat blackened after the journey through his intestines, but probably still quite capable of floating, if required. The owners explained, “It used to be Dozer’s favorite toy. He probably buried it months or years ago. He may have been mad at us for leaving him behind for a few days when we went out of town last week, and decided to dig it up and swallow it to get back at us.” 


Would a dog do that?


News: Guest Posts
More Salmonella Contamination Feared
FDA issues a “health alert” for Merrick Beef Filet Squares Dog Treats

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to consumers not to use Merrick Beef Filet Squares for dogs distributed by Merrick Pet Care with a package date of “Best By 111911” because the product may be contaminated with Salmonella. This is not the same as a recall. The report says: “Although no illnesses associated with these products have been reported, the FDA is advising consumers in possession of these products not to handle or feed them to their pets.” Read the complete advisory for additional information on Salmonella infection.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What’s Next?
FDA takes months to notify vets about drug recall

Pet food recalls have been all too common in recent years, causing controversy with bad communication and lack of precedent. Unfortunately, this danger isn’t limited to the food industry.

Last July, the FDA shut down Teva Animal Health’s operations, the largest American producer of generic veterinary medications, after inspections found several manufacturing violations between 2007 and 2009. On September 4, two of Teva’s products were recalled, ketamine hydrochloride (an anesthetic agent used in spay/neuters, teeth clearning, and other everyday procedures) and butorphanol (a pain reducer).

These drugs are given to hundreds of animals each day, making the recall a potentially catastrophic situation. However, the recall notice was sent only to distributors and stated that there was no obligation to notify their customers (veterinarians) about the recall. 

Most veterinarians didn’t find out about the ketamine recall until the end of December, but by then it was too late. On December 21, the FDA finally issued a public recall notice following the questionable deaths of five cats while under undergoing anesthesia with ketamine. 

As if matters weren’t bad enough, a week later the FDA issued a second notice extending the recall to ketamine manufactured by Teva but sold under seven brand names. An article for SF Gate reports that “drugs made by Company A and sold under the label of Company B can legally bear the label ‘Manufactured for Company B,’” making it difficult for veterinarians to know whether a drug was made by Teva.

It’s alarming that it took almost four months to notify veterinarians about the drug recall, not to mention that there still has been no public notice sent about the second drug, butorphanol. There was also no information on the FDA’s Pet Health and Safety Widget. After this recall, how can veterinarians trust the medications that they prescribe? And how can we trust that our veterinarians have the right information? 

Hopefully this situation will prompt action to change the protocol for recalled veterinary drugs, but it only adds to a growing list of potential problems. Tainted pet food, toxic dog toys, unsafe medicine, what’s next?

News: Guest Posts
In the ER: What Happens When a Dog Eats Coffee
Tales from a Colorado ER

We used to have sign in our lobby that said “Any unsupervised children will get a cup of espresso and a free puppy.” We took it down after one of the clients asked what kind of puppy. We now have self-serve coffee in the lobby, and it’s not uncommon to see a kid trying to short-circuit the coffee maker.

Which brings us to the case of Tonsi, a seven-year-old, hyperactive Australian Shepherd who tore into the 50-pound sack of coffee beans his mom brought back from Nicaragua. Fortunately, he was discovered before he devoured the entire sack (which certainly would have resulted in his demise), but he did manage to scarf down several pounds.

Our staff has the routine down for toxin-ingestion cases: an injection of apomorphine to cause vomiting (it always works), followed by some charcoal to absorb any toxin from the intestines, then possibly IV fluids for 12 to 24 hours, depending on the ingested substance. To be honest, these indiscriminate dogs seem to keep our ER in business. Tonsi vomited up a large amount of undigested coffee beans soon after getting his apomorphine, but apparently there was a lot more caffeine on board, as we were soon to find out.

Tonsi’s heart continued to race at 180 to 200 beats per minute (normal should be around 80 to 90.) He was amped up and wired to the gills, jumping straight up in superman-like attempts to leap over the eight-foot tall run walls in a single bound. He gave all of us the jitters; it was almost as if Starbucks had spiked our water. I have to admit, equally enthused and irritated by Tonsi, I had been imbibing more than my share of coffee during the shift.

One of our nurses suggested giving Tonsi a beta blocker, which would help slow down his heart, but we did not have any stocked on the shelves. At this opportune time, enter (stage left) Corky, a six-year-old Cockapoo, who had just ingested his owner’s vial of medication, which included (guess what?) a beta blocker.

One more dose of apomorphine, and I found myself sifting through more vomitus. I spotted a small red tablet, perhaps the ingested beta blocker? Tonsi continued to wildly leap in his run, barking crazily. As I slid the red tablet out of the bilious slime with a tongue depressor, an idea crept into my over-caffeinated, somewhat deranged mind: Do I dare?

News: Guest Posts
Dog Tests Positive for H1N1 Flu
New York case is the first

A dog in New York has tested positive for the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, IDEXX Laboratories confirmed December 21, which is the first time a dog has been diagnosed with this strain of influenza in the United States.

According to IDEXX Laboratories, the 13-year-old mixed breed dog, who has recovered, was taken to an emergency veterinarian in Westchester County, New York, after not responding to of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories prescribed by his regular doc. The dog had a dry cough was lethargic and not eating. He is believed to have caught the virus from his owner, who tested positive with H1N1 earlier in the week. There are no indications that the dog passed the virus on to any other animals or people.

The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus has also been found in humans, cats, pigs, birds and ferrets. There have been no confirmed cases of pets passing the virus back to people. The AVMA is actively tracking all instances of H1N1 in animals and posting updates on its website.

News: Guest Posts
Buying Pet Insurance
Do you or don’t you?

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal ran a short piece on pet insurance. Mostly, it’s a primer on how to shop for policies. In a Bark story last summer, Nancy Kay, DVM, recommended considering pet health insurance as one of ten strategies for stretching your vet dollars (More Bark for Your Buck, May/Jun 2009). Everyone seems to think it’s the coming wave, even though only about one million pets in the U.S. are currently insured.

But I’m not onboard. I haven’t invested in pet insurance for my dogs, and I’m not entirely sure what’s stopping me since I figure I’d willingly mortgage the farm to treat anything that might ail them. Part of my problem is an uncomfortable feeling about pet insurance turning into the convoluted nightmare that is our current health insurance setup. As treatment for dogs and cats becomes more advanced, specialized and expensive, it’s easy to imagine that pet insurance will distort costs and decisions. If I only pay for 20 percent of my dogs’ treatment (a pretty common coverage level), won’t I demand more care? Won’t that drive up costs overall? And what will more treatment mean to my dogs, especially late in life? Medical interventions to extend a dog’s life, such as surgery and drugs, aren’t without risks, side effects and pain all born by an animal who can’t understand why he or she is being subjected to these measures. And I haven’t even raised the specter of HMOs—but once pet insurance is firmly entrenched, won’t the industry push back and attempt to dictate treatment? After all, there’s a precedent.

Of course, I know the argument on the other side—an unexpectedly sick or injured pet with a good prognosis, plenty of quality life ahead but owners’ with no money to pay for care. I haven’t stood in their shoes, and probably if I had, I’d be writing my check to VPI right this minute. How are Bark readers making this decision?