health care
News: Guest Posts
Bad Chemistry
What’s worse than fleas? Maybe flea collars.

Almost before I finished typing up a blog about a disturbing report on the canine health risks posed by over-the-counter, spot-on pesticides, I saw the latest news about flea collars. Last week, the National Resource Defense Council filed a lawsuit alleging that 16 retailers and manufacturers—we’re talking the big guys here—failed to warn consumers about exposure to unsafe levels of known carcinogens and neurotoxins in violation of California anti-toxics laws.

Once again we’re being warned: “Just because it’s sold in stores doesn’t mean it’s safe.”

The NRDC’s groundbreaking Poison on Pets II study found “that high levels of pesticide residue can remain on a dog’s or cat’s fur for weeks after a flea collar is put on an animal. Residue levels produced by some flea collars are so high that they pose a risk of cancer and damage to the neurological system of children up to 1,000 times higher than the EPA’s acceptable levels.” Something tells me the fact that this study identifies the risk to two-legged children will help the cause garner broader attention.

Meanwhile, it’s flea season across the nation and guardians need better, safer options right way. At Green Paws, the NRDC offers practical advice including a video (see below) on fighting fleas the old fashioned way, a product guide, and a wallet-sized primer on chemicals and herbal options.


News: Guest Posts
Good News for Dogs With Epilepsy
Veterinary clinical trial offers a chance for FREE medical treatment.

Discovering that your dog has epilepsy can be frightening. That the cause of the recurring seizures cannot be identified—known as idiopathic epilepsy—only makes matters worse. But there is some good news. A large, nationwide veterinary clinical trial for the purpose of evaluating a new medication for the treating idiopathic epilepsy is underway. The trial not only means a boost for research, it may be a boost for recession-strapped guardians.

Despite estimates that idiopathic epilepsy may affect up to 5.7 percent of the dog population in the United States, very little is known about this disease. This study, the largest-known trial of its kind, should provide the foundation for new insights and treatments. Regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the veterinary clinical trial is being conducted in multiple cities with hundreds of dogs.

Will your dog qualify? Participating dogs must be at least 4 months old, have not been previously treated with anti-seizure medication, weigh at least 11 pounds, and have no previous history of seizure clusters or status epilepticus. In addition, dogs cannot be pregnant or suspected to be pregnant and must be evaluated an investigator within seven days of the most recent seizure.

Here’s the bonus: Dogs that meet the initial qualifications for the study receive free medical evaluations, as well as in-depth diagnostic tests, which may include a CAT scan or MRI. If enrolled in the study, dogs also receive free medication (no placebo) and monthly exams. In addition to free study specific care, owners of enrolled dogs are also eligible to have funds credited to their accounts at their referring family veterinarian.

For more information, talk to your veterinarian, review these frequently asked questions, or call 1-888-598-7125, ext. 208.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
FDA Investigates Nutro Dog Food
Illnesses may be linked to food. UPDATED.

[Editor's Note: ConsumerAffairs.com has reported that the FDA is denying reports of an investigation into Nutro, contradicting individuals who say they have been contacted about Nutro by FDA investigators, as well as others in the FDA. We'll keep following this story. Meanwhile, readers have posted some interesting comments including an inside perspective from someone who claims to be a former employee.]


There has long been talk that Nutro Dog Food may be responsible for illnesses in many dogs, but the company has denied these claims and maintained that their food is safe. It may be some time before the truth is sorted out, but we do now know that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating the company.

Food safety continues to be a huge issue for both people and our pets, and we must be cautious about everything we feed our dogs. It may be a long time before we know whether or not Nutro Dog Food is causing these problems, but the fact that an investigation is underway to determine the truth is a good thing.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Survives Eating Underwear
Intimate issues Down Under

A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in Australia required an expensive life-saving surgery to remove a blockage. The culprit turned out to be a black lacy G-string; the elastic had gotten tied up in his intestines. Naturally, many folks are having a laugh over this embarrassing (to his guardian) discovery now that the dog is okay, but blockages caused by ingesting non-food items are serious and scary because they can be life threatening.

Dogs who like to eat items that are not food are common. Most go for socks and underwear, but ask the average veterinarian, and you are bound to hear stories of towels, ace bandages, stockings, carpets, gravel, pens, knives, spoons and, of course, the proverbial homework. Prevention is the safest path since few dogs give up this habit unless all temptation is removed, and it’s by far the least expensive. If you have a dog who is an “eater” you have excellent motivation to thoroughly dog-proof your home, which includes training all members of the household not to leave clothes or other items of interest to the dog within reach. With practice, the result is an exceptionally clean house and a safe, healthy dog.

News: Guest Posts
Must Read: Pesticide Report
Buyer beware of over-the-counter, spot-on pesticide products.

Reading between the corporate disclaimers and regulator hedging, my takeaway from the thorough and impressive investigation into over-the-counter, spot-on pesticide products for pets by The Center for Public Integrity is: Why risk it? And it’s beginning to look like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) might be asking the same question.

Based on an unprecedented review of 10 years’ worth of adverse-reaction reports filed with the EPA by pesticide manufacturers, The Center reported in December an alarming number of deaths had been linked to topical pesticide products with pyrethrins and pyretroids. These reports include chilling accounts of chemical burns, nerve damage, anorexia and 1,600 deaths over the past five years. On April 16, the EPA “announced that it would intensify its evaluation of these products ‘due to recent increases in the number of reported incidents.’”

I strongly urge anyone currently using over-the-counter, spot-on pesticide treatments to read the report through to the end. (If you’re wondering about the reporters’ angle: The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization dedicated to producing investigative journalism on a broad variety issues of public concern. Past stories have included an expose on the use of the Lincoln Bedroom for political contributors in the Clinton administration, publishing secret Patriot II Act draft legislation, and reporting that Halliburton was the largest private contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Certain details in the story jumped out at me, including the fact that the high concentrations of pyrethroid used in pet products range from between eight to 17 times stronger than the strongest pyrethroid product currently approved for use on humans. Plus, recent findings that pyrethroids in young rats “could result in detrimental effects on neurological function later in life” even when there are no immediate, acute symptoms.

The report also points out that EPA approval is no guarantee of safety. Since 2000, pet products with chlorpyrifos, diazinon and phosmet were successively “approved, defended aggressively by the chemical industry, and then yanked off the market.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Kindness of Pet Lovers
Web site raises money for a shelter dog’s vet bills.

The faltering economy has forced many people to make sacrifices. But what about their furry family members? I’ve heard stories of people eating Ramen noodles in order to buy pet food and forgoing gym memberships in favor of doggy daycare. However, unexpected vet bills can be the tipping point. Injuries often lead to thousands of dollars in surgery, leaving many pet owners with little choice but to choose what has been called “economic euthanasia.”

Marley, a terrier mix puppy in Florida, found himself in a similar situation when he was attacked by another dog. His owner couldn’t afford to fix his wounds, fractures and dislocated jaw, opting to end his suffering by putting him to sleep.

Luckily Marley was rescued by Heidi’s Legacy, but even a grant and discounted vet rates couldn’t cover his expensive surgeries. The rescue group then turned to fundraising web site, Fundable, to collect donations for the balance. So far, thanks to many generous pet lovers, they’ve already reached 38 percent of their $550 goal.

While there are plenty of rescue dogs, like Marley, who have fundraising web pages, Fundable is filled with regular pet owners who have lost their job or put their vet bill on a credit card hoping to pay it off during better times. Fundable currently has 67 ongoing collections that come up under a search for “dog,” each with its own heartbreaking story.

Personally, I’ve found the canine community to be incredibly supportive. From giving job advice to an unemployed obedience club member to supporting a fellow agility competitor’s cancer fund, I’ve seen dog people step up to the plate for one another time and time again. So it doesn’t surprise me that Fundable has been successful in reaching out to pet lovers all over the internet to help those in need.

News: Guest Posts
Report Dog Bites
One women learns a terrible lesson.

I never thought I'd say it, but you can go too far in "protecting" a dog. Last week in Alameda, Calif., an 80-year-old woman died from an infection three days after she was bitten by an unfamiliar dog. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, she lied to doctors about the cause of her injury to avoid having the dog quarantined. She paid the ultimate price, and the dog has not been found.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, and one in five dog bites results in injuries that require medical attention. But the CDC and the Humane Society of the United States view dog bites as largely preventable.

News: Guest Posts
Does Mandatory Spay/Neuter Work?
Some shelters and veterinarians don’t think so.

Last week, a proposed mandatory spay/neuter bill for Chicago was put on hold in the face of overwhelming opposition. Personally, I'm in favor of public education and encouraging people to choose spay/neuter for their pets, not forcing them to do so. What surprised me most about this hearing was who opposed it, including popular "Pet World" radio host Steve Dale, the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association, the Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago and others.

The Chicago Tribune published a letter to the editor submitted by a group of shelters and veterinarians; it read in part: "Perhaps most disturbing about the mandatory approach is that a proven, cost-effective, alternative model already exists. Unlike the failed mandatory measures that punish non-compliance, subsidized spay/neuter programs rewarding positive behavior are successful. Privately funded, large-scale, subsidized spay/neuter programs already exist in Chicago. Together these programs were responsible for nearly 20,000 low-cost or no-cost spay/neuters last year alone (along with the tens of thousands of sterilizations performed each year by private veterinarians). The success of the current voluntary approach calls into question the need for any new law."

As a positive dog trainer, that makes so much sense to me. Often, I see people in my beginner obedience class pushing down on their dog's rear to "get them to sit." Using a clicker and a treat, I can accomplish the same thing in less time and without touching them. Not to mention, the dog actually learns and isn't just being physically manipulated.

Just like dogs, people are motivated by positive reinforcement (which explains the cup of M&Ms on my desk). And if people or dogs are forced to do something, they'll react one of two ways - they'll either do it out of fear of the negative consequences or they'll find a way to avoid the situation. Is that a way to live? Or learn?

News: Guest Posts
Three-Year Rabies Requirement
UPDATED. Finally Arkansas. Alabama and Rhode Island next?

The only state in the union to require a rabies vaccination every year may be changing its tune. Weeks after Arkansas extended its rabies booster requirement from every year to every three years, Alabama Senator Larry Dixon introduced legislation to do the same in his state. In addition, Senate Bill 469 includes a medical exemption clause for animals whose health would be jeopardized by the vaccination. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Health Committee. [Editor's Note: Progress in Alabama. On March 26, the Senate Health Committee has sent the three-year rabies vaccination requirement to the senate for a vote.]

Proponents of less frequent vaccination argue that the booster provides immunity that lasts for years and carries risks for significant adverse reactions including autoimmune diseases. Leading the fight against over-vaccination and spearheading research to determine the long-term duration of the rabies vaccine is The Rabies Challenge Fund. After success in Arkansas, the Fund began nudging legislators in Alabama and also Rhode Island, which has a two-year requirement.

Finally, earlier this week, Wichita, Kansas, extended its municipal ordinance from one- to three-year rabies requirement. (Unfortunately, these revisions to the city animal ordinance also included restrictions on Pit Bull owners, although the City Council rejected an outright breed ban.)

News: Guest Posts
The Fido Fine Is Back! NOT.
Update: Animals won’t pay for the budget crunch.

Editor's Update: Good news. The nearly 10 percent tax on veterinary services was dropped from the California state budget.

The proposed tax on veterinary services in California is back. The dreadful idea to pitch the welfare of animals into the state’s budget sinkhole with a nearly 10 percent tariff will be in the budget plan presented by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in his annual “State of the State” today.

After we blogged about this potentially catastrophic idea in December, it looked like the Democrats in the Senate and Assembly saw the error of Arnie’s ways. They passed a plan without the tax on December 19. But the Governor and his legislators haven’t been able to agree, and he wants the “Fido Fine” back.

What’s the fuss? When the cost of health care services jumps nearly 10 percent, animal advocates and veterinarians predict a reduction in routine wellness visits—which means missing opportunities to treat problems early, and more affordably and effectively. They worry that recession-battered guardians already struggling to keep animals in the family will be forced to abandon them rather than pay for treatment. Aside from the humane consequences, there is also a practical matter: More abandoned animals will only add additional strain (and cost) to shelters and rescues—hardly a positive for the budget.

Learn more details and how to take action at the California Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States.