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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?

News: Guest Posts
Can I Make My Dog Sick?
Confirmed cases of H1N1 being passed from humans to dogs and cats

A couple weeks ago, my otherwise healthy 12-year-old Catahoula, Desoto, had a bad case of diarrhea--the kind that required running to the back door with him in the middle of the night. It lasted for 10 messy days (we couldn't always make it outside). I tried not to worry too much since his appetite was as big as ever. But it got me thinking about how the most wonderful time of the year overlaps with the sickest time of the year. Lately, I've had more students and their dogs call in sick to class. Is it possible for people to pass on their illness to pets?

 

When it comes to the H1N1 virus or “swine flu,” the answer is yes. Two Chinese dogs were confirmed to have contracted the infamous virus from humans. Closer to home, an indoor cat in Iowa caught H1N1 from its owner. Since then, four more American cats came down with the illness, two of whom died.

 

This is not to be confused with H3N8 or CIV (canine influenza virus), which was originally passed on to dogs from horses. The symptoms of both viruses are similar: loss of appetite, lethargy, fever, runny nose, coughing and labored breathing. There is a CIV vaccine that veterinarians recommend for dogs who spend a lot of time with other dogs, such as at doggie daycares or shows.

 

For the latest info on public health and your pets, go to the American Veterinary Medical Association website.

News: Guest Posts
In the ER: The Dog that Swallowed a Unicorn
Tales from a Colorado ER.

Frank loved to eat things. As a stout one-year-old Lab, eating is what he lived for. Sharing a home with a family that included six-year-old quadruplets supplied him with plenty of objects of his desire. His family reported finding lost clothing, toys and other random items in his stool. Frank avoided any serious issues with his indiscriminate eating habits until one night last month, when he decided to swallow a Beanie Baby unicorn.

After vomiting for 24 hours, and losing his famous appetite, Frank’s owners knew something was wrong. X-rays at our emergency hospital showed a strange bulge in his intestine, with a triangular object encircling it. Large pockets of gas upstream from the blockage confirmed that he had a surgical problem, and off to surgery he went.

Our emergency veterinarians opened up a piece of Frank’s intestines, and found the Beanie Baby unicorn without even a tooth mark on it. Frank must have wolfed it down as if it was a cocktail wiener. Wrapped around the unicorn—perhaps substituting for a piece of bacon—was a rubber band, which is what showed up as a triangle on the X-ray.

Frank had about a foot of his intestines removed, and then the remaining ends were sutured back together. The next day, as Frank recovered from his surgery, we discussed strategies for preventing future recurrences.

“How about a cage muzzle?” I suggested, and the owner agreed it would be a good idea, considering the chaos that usually ruled at his house. With five children running around, the availability of a pair of stray socks, underwear or even another Beanie Baby, was inevitable. The Frankster went home the next day with his owner, the intact Beanie Baby cutely enclosed in a plastic baggie, perhaps destined for display on the fireplace mantle.

We did not expect to see Frank back at our hospital, but one week later he was sick again. He was lethargic and not eating, and one look into his eyes would tell you he was not feeling well. He was clearly, please excuse the expression, “sick as a dog.” Repeat X-rays were suspicious for another blockage, and ultrasound confirmed it the next day. Frank went back to surgery at his regular veterinarian’s clinic, where a large wad of impacted grass and more intestines were removed. Apparently, he had been grazing in the yard, despite the cage muzzle.

Hopefully, we have seen the last of Frank. He doesn’t have much in the way of intestines to spare. Every time dogs undergo repeat surgery, adhesions can form on the surface of their intestines, causing them to stick together. Any previous surgery site can shrink down into a stricture, creating the risk of future blockages. Frank’s family will have to be diligent about keeping his cage muzzle on, and ensure that all he eats is dog food. This should help guarantee that the family’s remaining Beanie Bay collection remains intact. Maybe Frank’s owners could sell it to cover some veterinary bills.
 

News: Guest Posts
Another Recall
Pig ears and beef hooves recalled for salmonella.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a health alert, last week, warning consumers not to use pig ears or beef hooves pet treats manufactured by Pet Carousel because they may be contaminated with salmonella. It sounds like these treats could be for sale just about anywhere—they were distributed nationwide and to chain stores. Brands to look out for include Doggie Delight and Pet Carousel for ears and hooves, plus Choo Hooves and Dentley’s for hooves only.

According the FDA no illness has been associated with the products. The presence of salmonella was detected during routine testing by the agency in September 2009. Read more about the recall, handling and symptoms in humans and pets.

According to the PETCO Scoop, that company has removed all Pet Carousel hooves from its shelves and has issued a statement that it does not carry pigs ears from the company. As of yesterday, PetSmart has voluntarily pulled 14 hoof products off its shelves.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Salmon Poisoning Affects Dogs
Life-threatening illness requires treatment.

Salmon poisoning is a rare but serious condition in dogs. If not treated, around 90 percent of the dogs with this malady will not survive it. The cause of the disease is a bacteria that lives within a fluke that is a parasite of fish. Dogs ingest the fluke parasite and the bacteria inside it when they eat raw fish. The life cycle of the parasite involves both fish and snail hosts.

Salmon poisoning is not well known, perhaps because it only affects a few species, including dogs, and only salmon seem to be carriers of the parasite that contains the dangerous bacteria. In addition, the whole system of hosts, parasites, and bacteria occurs in a relatively isolated geographic area—west of the Cascade Mountain Range in Oregon, Washington, California and British Columbia.

Symptoms of the disease include severe intestinal upset, fever and swollen lymph nodes. If your dog has eaten raw fish in this region of the world, especially if any of these symptoms are present, veterinary treatment is essential. Be sure to tell your veterinarian if your dog may have been exposed to this disease.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An Alternative to Lab Testing
Family pets help test experimental cancer treatments.

A new alternative to traditional laboratory testing helps assess cancer treatments for humans, while providing options to dying pets. Dogs have become more favorable to researchers because they experience cancer in similar ways to humans. Like their two-legged counterparts, canines develop secondary cancers and become resistant to drugs over time.

Unlike studies of the past, scientists don’t induce illness in the subjects. The experimental treatments are made available to pets already diagnosed with cancer.

Participating dogs continue to live at home while their family collaborates on the research, keeping detailed records on quality of life and behavior. Maintaining a normal living arrangement contributes to a more realistic reaction to the illness and treatment as compared to the more traditional laboratory rat living in a controlled environment.

Some of the experimental treatments have undergone human testing and require animal testing for regulatory reasons, but most have not been tested in humans at all.

Currently 19 veterinary institutions in the U.S. have trials underway, while Europe is still evaluating whether they want to test drugs using this new method.

After writing about the history of animal testing in June, it’s heartbreaking to learn what we’ve subjected animals to in the name of medicine. While there are ethical implications with any kind of testing, I’m glad that scientists are exploring ways of developing treatments that consider the welfare of those who have advanced the medical breakthroughs that we rely on. 

News: Guest Posts
Hard Times
Funds that help strapped guardians are struggling.

Meet Marley, left. (Not that Marley, but just as cute.) He was injured in a dog attack and suffered a broken jaw. Being just a pup, he healed nicely, but he was bandaged and required intravenously feeding for two weeks. Marley’s veterinary team treated him with tender loving care, and when the cost of his care became too much for the family, found him a new, permanent home. He’s doing much better now and is once again playing the part of the mischievous pup. A grant from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Helping Pets Fund helped cover Marley’s expenses.

Regardless of all those stories about green shoots and the start of an economic recovery, increasing numbers of dog and cat guardians need help paying for everything from big vet bills to routine animal care—at precisely the same time resources for these programs is shrinking. Inquires for assistance from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Helping Pets Fund have tripled, and earlier this year the fund suspended grants, according to a story in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

JAVMA News also reports that the balance is decreasing at the Lucky Fund at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, which as been subsidizing veterinary bills for owners whose pets have a good chance at recovery and otherwise cannot afford the care or obtain credit to finance it since 1995. Due to limited funding, NY SAVE (Save Animals in Veterinary Emergency) has been turning away pets weekly, and could deny funds for 312 pets by the end of the year—without help. NY SAVE is a philanthropic program of the Veterinary Medical Association of New York City, serving the five boroughs since 1998.

 

News: Guest Posts
In the ER: Treating a Dog's Gunshot Wounds
Make My Day: What would you do?

Many emergency veterinarians enjoy the challenge of gunshot wound cases, especially when we have a good outcome. It’s not very often, however, that a dog comes into our ER in critical condition from a gunshot wound, and survives, and the dog’s owner ends up dead from the very same thing. That is exactly what happened on the afternoon of November 2, 2003.

Mojo was a three-year old Miniature Pinscher, but did not deserve the “land shark” label many MinPins end up with, as he normally was affectionate and friendly. He did like to bark, however, and that tendency would lead to the demise of his owner.

Just before Mojo arrived at our emergency room, his owners, Diane and Richard, found him collapsed in their yard, struggling to breathe. His gums were pale, and he had a wound on the left side of his chest. Oxygen helped him breathe; a quick X-ray showed two bullets in his chest. One bullet was lodged right next to his spine.

As soon as Richard, Mojo’s owner, realized what had happened, he left the emergency clinic and said he was going home. He appeared calm at the time, but his wife noted a look of determination in his eyes she had not seen before. After Richard left, our team of emergency vets and techs continued to work on Mojo, administering IV fluids, pain meds and more oxygen.

When Richard arrived back at his home in the rural town of Ault, Colo., he grabbed a stick of lumber and immediately went next door to confront his neighbor. He knew immediately where the bullet had come from, because his neighbor sometimes complained about Mojo’s barking. The neighbor also ran a jewelry business out of his home, and bragged about the collection of guns he kept for security.

Richard’s neighbor was waiting for him, apparently sitting in a chair in his living room with a shotgun across his lap. When Richard knocked on the door, he shouted at the neighbor to come outside. Threats were yelled back and forth. When the neighbor refused to come outside, Richard broke the small view window in the top of the door. A shotgun blast tore through the open window and hit Richard in the middle of his chest. The wounds proved to be fatal. The shooter was released from county jail nine days later under the Colorado “Make My Day” law, where deadly force can be used to protect one’s self, family and property if they are threatened. The issue of why he could shoot Mojo without penalty was never addressed.

Meanwhile, efforts to save Mojo continued, and proved successful. He was taken off oxygen, moved out of intensive care and started on oral pain meds and antibiotics. Our success in reviving him provided some solace to Diane, Richard’s widow.

Several months later, Diane moved with Mojo to another state to try and put their nightmare behind them. As far as I know, they are getting along OK.

Further investigation revealed that the second bullet in Mojo’s chest was from a previous gunshot, and multiple pellets were also found in the side of the house where Mojo used to roam the yard and bark. He had been used as target practice by the neighbor, whose intolerance of Mojo’s barking proved to test the limits of the law and human civility.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Saving at the Pharmacy
Pets are considered family with Walgreen’s Prescription Savings Club.

Recently I discovered that I could buy a generic version of Tapazole, my cat’s thyroid medication, through Walgreens’ Prescription Savings Club for a fraction of the branded version’s price. 

Through their savings club, Walgreens offers 400 generic medications priced at $12 for a 90-day supply. Membership is open to all those in the United States and Puerto Rico who are not enrolled in a publicly funded health care program, such as Medicare, Medicare, or TRICARE. 

Enrollment for an individual is $20 per year or $35 for an entire family, which includes a spouse, dependents under the age of 23, and pets.

Walgreens makes it easy to find out if a medication is covered with their online Drug Pricing Tool, as long as you know the generic name. In my case, a simple Google search revealed that the generic name of Tapazole is methimazole.

A 90-day supply of Tapazole costs $180 from my veterinarian and $70 ($50 when on sale) from online retailer, EntirelyPets.com. Buying methimazole through the Walgreens Prescription Savings Club is a significant savings at a mere $12. 

Before you sign up, be sure to talk to your veterinarian before switching to a generic drug. While non-branded drugs share the same active ingredient as their more expensive counterparts, the differences in inactive ingredients can alter the effects.

For more information on the Walgreens Prescription Savings Club or to enroll, visit the web site or one of their stores.

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