Male dogs, like their human counterparts, can get prostate cancer. Fourteen percent of men will develop this type of cancer, but 99% will survive because of advances in available treatment options. Now clinical trials, performed by Dr. Bill Culp, VMD, DACVS, at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, are investigating similar treatments for dogs. One recent recipient of the innovative procedure is Kopper, a 14-year-old Belgian Malinois from Tennessee. Kopper, who worked to protect his community for the majority of his life, is a retired K-9 officer who was diagnosed with prostate issues by the University of Tennessee’s (UT) veterinary hospital. Veterinarians there were familiar with Dr. Culp’s clinical trial and referred Kopper’s family, Matt and Heather Thompson of Maryville, Tennessee, to UC Davis.
Matt, a corporal with the Blount County (TN) Sheriff's Department K-9 unit, along with Heather, traveled the 2,500 miles to California to see Dr. Culp. The treatment that was administered to Kopper is similar to a procedure in human medicine that has taken hold in the past few years for treatment of non-cancerous prostate enlargement. Known as prostatic transarterial embolization, the treatment is emerging as a minimally invasive alternative to other prostate cancer therapies.
Dr. Culp, along with a colleague who performs similar procedures on humans, Dr. Craig Glaiberman, MD, successfully performed Kopper’s procedure. Luckily, Kopper and his family returned home within a few days. To date, Kopper’s prostate has decreased in size, and he has been doing well. The hope for Kopper and all dogs undergoing this minimally invasive treatment, is that a decrease in tumor size will improve the quality and length of life for dogs with prostate cancer.
Dr. Culp continues this clinical trial. Recruitment of more dogs with naturally occurring prostate cancer is needed to help evaluate the effectiveness of prostatic transarterial embolization as an accepted standard-of-care procedure. To learn more about the trial, please see www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/clinicaltrials.
News: Guest Posts
A New Virus Hits Canines in the United States
If you keep tabs on dog-related news, you’re probably already aware of the recent outbreak of canine influenza in the Midwest. Chicago appears to be at the epicenter of the epidemic.
The first dogs affected by this virus were observed in mid-March of this year. Since then, more than 1,000 known cases have been reported in and around Chicago, and there have even been a few deaths.
New virus within the United States
Until a week ago, the virus responsible for this canine influenza outbreak was thought to be H398, a strain of Influenza A that has been present in the United States for some time. Cornell University (thumbs up to my alma mater) recently reported that scientists there have isolated a brand new influenza virus from affected dogs in the Midwest. This virus, referred to as H3N2, is closely related to strains of influenza affecting dog populations in South Korea and China. H3N2 is now making its debut appearance within the United States. How the virus was introduced here is anyone’s guess.
Dogs living within the United States have no natural protection against H3N2 because their immune systems have never been exposed to it before. For this reason, it will remain highly contagious until canine populations develop immunity, either through natural infection or vaccination.
The contagious stage of canine influenza begins a few days before symptoms arise. In other words, the healthy-appearing pup at the dog park or doggie daycare center may be on the verge of developing viral symptoms. Spread of the disease occurs via respiratory secretions (discharge from nose, mouth, and eyes). Both dogs and cats are susceptible to the H3N2 virus. It is not transmissible to humans.
The symptoms most commonly associated with influenza virus include: high fever, loss of appetite, coughing, nasal discharge, and lethargy. In the best-case scenario, an infected dog may show only mild symptoms or none at all. Worst-case scenario, pneumonia may develop. Pneumonia was the likely cause of death in five dogs who have reportedly succumbed to this disease.
Many infectious bacterial and viral diseases are capable of producing the symptoms described above. Knowing that H3N2 is the culprit requires specialized testing performed on a mouth or nose swab. Cornell reports that the development of a blood test capable of diagnosing this disease is in the works.
Treatment of influenza ideally involves supportive and symptomatic care until the dog’s immune system wins the battle against the virus (requires approximately two weeks for most dogs). Therapy may include supplemental fluids, special diets to entice appetite, anti-inflammatory medications, and cough suppressants. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent secondary bacterial infection.
If evidence of pneumonia is present, much more intensive therapy is indicated and may include hospitalization for intravenous fluids and antibiotics, supplemental oxygen, and 24-hour monitoring by a veterinarian.
At this time, it is not known if the vaccine currently available to prevent H3N8 is also protective against the newer H3N2 strain. There may be some cross over protection, but just how much is uncertain. I suspect that updated information about the effectiveness of the current vaccine and/or development of a new vaccine will be forthcoming in the near future. For now, I recommend discussing use of the current influenza vaccine with your veterinarian.
If you live in or around Chicago, or if you learn that influenza cases are beginning to pop up in your neck of the woods, know that the very best protection involves keeping your dog away from popular, public, canine venues such as dog parks, boarding kennels, grooming parlors, pet stores, and doggie daycare facilities.
Please know that there is no cause for panic. The vast majority of dogs affected by this new strain of influenza fully recover. Talk with your veterinarian about the incidence of canine influenza in your locale to help determine the level of concern for your dogs.
Have you had any experience with canine influenza? If you live in the Midwest, are you taking specific measures to protect your dog?
For about a year, I’ve been supplementing our dogs’ quality kibble with homemade turkey burgers (along with whole-wheat pasta and cooked vegetables). Our three dogs eat twice a day; at each meal, our largest dog (45 pounds) gets half a burger, while the two smaller ones (30 and 25 pounds) roughly share the other half.
I developed the recipe myself, and while I tried to cover the bases in terms of appropriate canine nutrition, I had no particular agenda in mind—I mostly just wanted to make our dogs’ meals a little more interesting for them. Curious about the burgers’ nutritional value, I turned to Roschelle Heuberger, PhD, RD, professor at Central Michigan University and devoted Akita person, to find out how my culinary experiment stacked up.The Recipe
Makes approx. 36 3-inch patties, each about 3.5 ounces
Total prep time: 20 minutes
Total cooking time: 1 hour
Preheat oven to 400°
Mix well, making sure all the ingredients are completely incorporated. Shape into 3-inch patties, place on lightly oiled (with spray oil), rimmed baking sheet(s). Optional: Spread little ketchup (about 1/8 tsp.) on top of each patty.
Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour. A longer baking time will produce a drier and easier-to-crumble burger.
Tip: Deglaze the baking sheet with water, which makes a great gravy that can be used to moisten the meal. This recipe makes around 1 1/2 to 2 cups of this gravy. It’s also an easy way to help clean the baking pan.The Analysis
By Roschelle Heuberger, PhD, RD
There is much controversy within the veterinary nutritionist community about commercial pet food and home cooking. And, since manufacturing standards for canine food are so much different than those we apply in our own kitchens, it’s difficult to make an “apples-to-apples” comparison. Nonetheless, using proprietary nutrition software, it’s possible to determine the relative values of the major food components of Claudia’s recipe with those found in commercially produced dog food (in parens).
Analysis (per patty)
Note: All measurements are given in terms of 100 kilocalories (kcals) against measurement standards used by commercial food manufacturers.
Protein: 7.5 grams (8 grams is considered high protein)
Calories: 5.3 kcals (5 or more kcals is considered high calorie)
Fat: 2 grams (a low-fat food contains less than 2 grams, so this is neither high nor low)
Sodium: 30 mg (anything less than 100 mg per serving is considered low-sodium)
Fiber: 0.75 grams (neither high nor low)
Moisture loss with one hour covered cooking time is approximately 10 to 15 percent. High heat and long cooking time will destroy 90 percent of the thiamin and up to 50 percent of some of the other B vitamins in the burgers. On the bright side, it will also kill pathogens, so you don’t have to worry about the contamination that’s a concern when it comes to undercooked meats.
Used as a “topper” to both to increase palatability and provide calories, protein and other nutrients, the turkey burger is a great addition to a complete commercial dog food. Feeding turkey burgers as toppers may also be helpful for older dogs, who often have poor appetites, or dogs who have been ill or malnourished. In those cases, the turkey burger need not replace the commercial food, but rather, could be fed in addition to it.
As the recipe is given, it would not be advisable to feed turkey burgers as the sole source of nutrition because they may be too high-calorie for some dogs, and also because they’re missing some of the other nutrients dogs need. Obesity is becoming an epidemic among dogs, as it is in humans. Caloric restriction and regular exercise are important for weight maintenance, particularly as a dog ages.
As always, choose the best commercial food you can afford. To educate yourself on the options and issues, try out one of the online dog food evaluators; Dogfoodadvisor.com is a good place to start.
The Background: Canine Nutrition
Dogs, who are omnivorous, require the same sorts of major nutrients—proteins, carbohydrates and fats, and vitamins and minerals—as human omnivores, but in different ratios. For example, they have an absolute requirement for linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid, and for nearly a dozen amino acids, the building blocks of protein. These amino acids range from the complex (arginine and phenylalanine) to simple (leucine and valine).
We and our four-legged companions get all 22 amino acids from protein sources such as eggs or meats, which contain varying percentages of each one. Some protein sources contain most of them, others only a fraction. Meats, eggs and fish are among the best sources of complete amino acids, and their proteins are highly digestible; this means that the amino acids are absorbed more readily from the gut.
Standards for minimal nutritional composition of food for dogs are based on percentages, which are determined by a dog’s physiological status; the percentages are higher for dogs during growth, reproduction and lactation stages, and increase as the weight of the animal increases. Usually, the amount fed to achieve the minimal percentages required for maintenance of normal physiological function in the dog is based on dry matter per kilogram of body weight. That is why labels that show the number of cups of food to be fed per day base the measurement on the size of the dog. Companies formulate their foods to provide a specific amount of protein, linoleic acid, and calcium-to-phosphorus ratio.
If you’re cooking for your dog and want to do your own analysis, a number of websites allow you to do that, but none can be considered foolproof. For example, there’s the USDA Nutrient Database. This is a food calculator only, and doesn’t contain information on ingredients that one might use in a dog-food recipe, such as eggshells (a free web calculator that includes eggshells can be found here: nutritiondata.self.com).
Wellness: Healthy Living
A Virus Worth Watching
It’s not new, but a member of the circovirus family, usually linked to diseases in pigs and some birds, is now showing up in dogs. Research data from the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine suggests that this emerging virus, either alone or as a co-infection, may be a contributing factor in canine illness in California.
Data collection is underway in multiple regions of the country to determine if exposure to circovirus is common and widespread. Dog-to-human infection has not been documented.
“We know from looking at dog samples that were stored in our archives that canine circovirus has been around for at least five years,” said Patricia Pesavento, DVM. PhD, associate professor, Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “We are seeing it in dogs now because we are looking for it, and we have the tools to diagnose it now. The canine virus is not a modified strain of porcine circovirus, but is a completely different virus from the same virus family.” The good news is that circovirus does not always result in illness, being found in the stool of 14 of 204 healthy dogs screened.
“From what we know now, circovirus is not a major cause for concern, and the cases we’ve identified post-mortem seem to be isolated,” said Dr. Pesavento.
Among dogs that were sick and had circovirus in their tissues, vomiting and bloody diarrhea were the common symptoms, said Dr Pesavento. “However, diarrhea isn’t necessarily predictable, since two dogs had clinical signs that were limited to the central nervous system, and in those cases blood vessels in the brain were most affected. This reflects the fact that the virus seems to affect the vascular system.”
A symptom as non-specific as diarrhea could come from wide variety of common causes including other infectious agents, ingestion of foreign bodies or toxins, overeating rich treats, and even stress. Dr. Pesavento added that, among infectious agents, parvovirus is very common and can cause vomiting and bloody diarrhea.
Circovirus is shed in feces, and transmission is presumably fecal-oral transmission. Doggie daycare and boarding facilities, where many dogs are gathered in one area, can be a prime source of infection for many illnesses, although the virus is not confined to boarding facilities.
To reduce the chance of any viral illness and to avoid infecting other dogs, apply the same simple measures that you would in a child attending daycare. Avoid contact with ill animals and contact with other dogs if your dog has symptoms of illness. Clean up your pet’s stool and avoid contact with other pet’s stool whenever possible.
“As you well know, dogs are not very picky about what they put in their mouths,” said Dr. Pesevento. “Monitor dogs carefully if they have ‘dietary indiscretion’ that causes vomiting or diarrhea that is mild and short-lasting. Blood in any vomit should be addressed quickly, said Dr. Pesavento.
Consult your veterinarian to get the correct diagnosis, including any laboratory testing. Prompt treatment, regardless of the cause, gives your dog a better chance of quick recovery and avoids infecting other animals.
“There is no circovirus-specific treatment, said Dr. Pesavento. “As with most viral infections, your veterinarian can treat symptoms with supportive fluid therapy or antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections.”
A healthy pet is more likely to have a fully functional immune system to fight infections, so good preventive care is also important.
More than anyone, you know when your dog is not behaving normally. Prompt veterinary treatment can be critical to a good outcome, so address all illnesses early for the overall health of your pet.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Animals swallow the weirdest things
A shish kabob skewer, almost 4 dozen socks, a light bulb, 5 rubber ducks, 9 needles, 104 pennies along with a quarter, a hacky sack and a pocket knife all showed up—literally!—as winners in Veterinary Practice News’ annual contest called “They Ate WHAT?”
It’s frightening what dogs can swallow, but it’s also reassuring how often dogs are either able to pass or vomit up a dangerous item without injuring themselves further, especially when they receive proper medical care. It’s also comforting to realize how well dogs can recover from surgeries to remove objects from their insides that should have stayed on the outside.
In this ninth annual radiograph contest, the winning X-rays really are impressive. Not all of them are from dogs, but our canine friends are certainly well represented. This is no surprise—dog and stories of ingesting strange objects are a natural pairing.
Has your dog’s X-ray ever revealed something really special inside?
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Feeding your dog for life
The modern dog food industry bears little resemblance to the dog food industry of 60 years ago. Rather than a handful of brands, a kaleidoscope of options is now available: preservative- and GMO-free, organic, raw, even some with varying degrees of “source to bowl” traceability. Many of the newer food companies were founded by people dissatisfied with the status quo—dog owners who wanted both the convenience of commercial food and the assurances of safety and quality that accompany food fit for human consumption.
For many, a high-quality commercial diet is an appropriate way to feed their dogs. Though this may sound blasphemous to home-feeding purists, when the number of contemporary foods that contain corn, wheat and far worse ingredients (for example, ethoxyquin, a preservative banned from food intended for human consumption in Australia and the European Union but still found in some dog foods) is taken into account, making a change to a healthier commercial diet could constitute a drastic improvement.
But as we have learned more about the marriage of food and disease, so too have we learned of the necessity to divorce ourselves from processed foods. Many a book has been written on the virtues of whole and natural foods in the human diet, and increasingly, science suggests that their benefits may apply to our canine companions.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than one-third of all human cancer deaths may be eliminated by a healthy diet, and while preventive or palliative canine cancer diets have been comparatively less studied, work done on the topic indicates that a similar effect may exist for our dogs. A Purdue University study found a significantly lower rate of bladder cancer among Scottish Terriers fed cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli and kale) three or more times weekly (JAVMA 2005, 227 (1): 94–100).
As dietary changes to ward off or combat numerous canine diseases become more widely accepted, it’s likely that many owners will feed their dogs a homemade diet at some point in their pets’ lifetime. A diet rich in antioxidants and whole foods—the same protocol physicians recommend we follow ourselves—does not have to be an exercise reserved for sick dogs but rather, an approach taken on behalf of stacking the odds in favor of our dogs’ longevity.
To some, this is a radical notion. Few remember a time during which the family dog’s meal did not come from a bag or can and contain ingredients of uncertain properties and dubious origins. But despite the fact that owners might wrinkle their noses at the smell of their dogs’ food and struggle to decipher the ingredients list, most who continue to feed commercial food do it for a single reason: the food is “complete and balanced.”
It is true that a balanced diet is essential, and that most traditional commercial dog foods provide the vitamins and nutrients that most dogs need to survive. However, there is a vast distinction between surviving and thriving, and the inclusion of fresh, whole foods in the canine diet may well be the catalyst that transforms good health to great.
For example, antioxidants play a vital role in clearing the bloodstream of free radicals, which can damage cells and are believed to speed up the progression of cancer as well as cardiovascular and age-related diseases. With this in mind, an increasing number of dog food brands have added blueberries, cranberries and other fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants to their recipes. However, some of these foods’ benefits can be destroyed in the manufacturing process, so their appearance on an ingredient list—frequently near the bottom—may not guarantee a positive effect. Merely incorporating a food is not beneficial if its nutritional quality is diminished or its quantity is not sufficient to be useful to the dog.
For many, the dog food recall of 2007 was a real (and rude) awakening. Even those unaffected by it became aware of the uncomfortable realities of the modern dog food industry, from the vagaries of food safety and sourcing to the ultimate question: what are we really feeding our dogs? The answers—at times limited—left owners wondering what aspect of canine nutrition was so complicated that it could only be understood by a rarified few and only met by a commercial product.
Following this landmark recall, many dog owners ventured into the world of home feeding, where they often encountered a thicket of contradictory information and complex formulas. While some were discouraged, others persevered, and discovered that home feeding need be neither costly nor complicated. It requires a primer on nutrition, a handful of decisions about cost and time, and finding a veterinary professional who can provide guidance on recipe formulation and how to create a balanced diet that optimizes the health of dogs over time.
Stepping into Home Feeding
The first choice is to decide between raw or cooked, which may require some research. There are many books and websites on the attendant benefits and drawbacks of the two approaches; a vet or vet nutritionist should be able to recommend reliable and useful resources.
The second consideration is whether to prepare the food from scratch or purchase a commercial product. While the latter may sound antithetical to the idea of home feeding, here, it refers to commercial diets that include the same whole, fresh ingredients as would be found in a “from scratch” meal, and that incorporate an appropriate nutrient balance. These come in raw, cooked, frozen or dehydrated forms and are manufactured without the harsh processing that can leach ingredients of nutritional value.
For owners who wish to pursue this option, a number of companies offer raw and/or cooked meals. Some provide information on the sourcing of their products, humane treatment of food animals and whether they utilize human-grade ingredients. Those who elect to feed their dogs commercially prepared raw food—pre-balanced, unprocessed raw diets and raw meaty bones—will usually find it in specialty pet-supply stores. (As a reminder, dogs should never be given cooked bones, which can splinter and cause serious problems, including the risk of internal damage.)
These options all offer convenience, sometimes at a price. Because their quality is generally quite high, commercial “homemade” diets can be a more expensive option. Some owners combine methods—for example, feeding a dehydrated food in the morning and preparing a meal from scratch in the evening.
Handmade at Home
Depending on the type of ingredients and where they’re purchased, preparing meals from scratch at home can be more or less expensive than purchasing premade options. Organic ingredients and a shortage of storage space can make it as expensive (or even slightly more expensive). On the other hand, buying in bulk, particularly at wholesale clubs, and being able to store and/or freeze ingredients make this type of home feeding much more affordable. For protein sources, an increasing number of reputable American farms offer individuals the option of purchasing bulk meats (including raw meaty bones) online at discounted prices, an excellent cost-saver.
Entirely homemade meals require attention to supplementation. In the aggregate, all elements need to be accounted for in proportions relative to a dog’s size, activity level, health status and tastes. Fish oil supplements can be an excellent addition, and canine multi-vitamins also can be useful, although they vary widely in quality; some are little more than treats, while others are a sound way to achieve balance. Consult your veterinary professional for guidance on selecting supplements that will meet your home-fed dog’s needs. Calcium is a particularly critical element, although dogs fed a raw diet usually get a large portion of the calcium they need from raw meaty bones.
Finding Your Way
For years, the holistic veterinary community has widely supported raw and cooked diets for dogs as a way to both prevent and manage disease. Veterinary nutritionists, who are fewer in number than holistic veterinarians, are also excellent resources. When looking for a holistic veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist, ask if he or she is familiar and comfortable with the type of diet you wish to feed. Regardless of the method you choose, work with a veterinarian to ensure that the diet is benefiting your dog. To find a holistic veterinarian, visit the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association website; find a veterinary nutritionist at the American College of Veterinary Nutrition site.
There are a number of online recipe sites as well as canine cookbooks designed for either raw or cooked home feeding. Be aware that their quality varies, and that even in combination, the meals may not afford balance over time. However, if you like the idea of incorporating certain ingredients, take your ideas to the vet professional you choose to assist you in developing a meal plan for your dog. Also, before feeding any new food, check with your veterinarian to be sure it’s safe; a number of foods (including chocolate, grapes and onions) can be toxic to dogs. The ASPCA website also has information on this subject (aspca.org; enter Foods That Are Hazardous for Dogs in the search box).
In recognition of the impact our culinary habits have on the planet, an increasing number of dog owners are applying the same eating ethos they incorporate into their own diets to their dogs’ food regimen. Feeding homemade food also has the benefit of helping reduce our carbon footprint when we choose locally grown, seasonal produce (preferably pesticide-free). You can take that benefit one step further by growing your own fruits and vegetables. Another avenue to consider is buying meat raised humanely; grass-fed beef contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. Improving the lives of our dogs can also translate into improving the lives of food animals.
Julie Mayer, an integrative veterinarian who has dedicated most of her 20-year career to holistic veterinary medicine, has a special interest in nutrition. She has seen firsthand the benefits of feeding dogs a homemade diet, and encourages all owners—even those who are not yet ready to feed homemade—to integrate safe, whole foods into their dogs’ meals. “Food is medicine, and what we feed our dogs can make a profound difference in their health,” she says. True for us, true for our dogs. And truly, there will never be a better time than the present for all of us to eat and live well.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The toxic ingredient is showing up in more household products.
It's widely known that xylitol, an ingredient in sugar-free gum, is toxic to dogs. Even small amounts can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia and liver failure. This has led me to be really careful about leaving packs of gum in handbags I leave around the house. I also keep gum packs (and chocolate) in a secure plastic bin in my pantry, just to be sure no hungry dogs get into the dangerous treats.
But I recently discovered that many more household products contain xylitol. In addition to other edible goods, like cookies, cough drops, and medications, the ingredient has been popping up in toothpaste, cosmetics, and mouthwash. The Pet Poison Hotline even found a line of clothing with xylitol embedded in it!
Clearly it's important to check the ingredients of the products you have lying around the house and keep them away from your pets. Xylitol is typically listed in the “Other ingredients” or “Inactive ingredients” section, but it's also been seen in the “Supplement Facts” box, so make sure you read the package closely. Sometimes the ingredients won't be listed as xylitol, but may be included as “sugar alcohols,” which encompasses many different sugar alcohols, like xylitol.
If your pet has ingested a product with xylitol in it, immediately call a veterinarian. The ingredient is so toxic that symptoms can show up within 10 minutes of ingestion. This includes weakness, lethargy, loss of coordination, seizures, vomiting, and rapid breathing. Fortunately dogs can recover if treated promptly.
This just shows how important it is to know what's in the products in your home.
News: Guest Posts
Are all fatty tumors benign?
Expanding on the topic of tumors discussed last week, this blog is devoted to lipomas, aka fatty tumors. Of all the benign growths dogs develop as they age, lipomas are one of the most common. They arise from fat (lipid) cells and their favorite sites to set up housekeeping are the subcutaneous tissue (just beneath the skin surface) of axillary regions (armpits) and alongside the chest and abdomen. Every once in awhile lipomas develop internally within the chest or abdominal cavity. Rarely does a dog develop only one lipoma. They tend to grow in multiples and I’ve examined individual dogs with more lipomas than I could count.
Should lipomas be treated in some fashion? In the vast majority of cases, the answer is a definite, “No!” This is based on their benign, slow-growing nature. The only issue most create is purely cosmetic, which the dog could care less about!
There are a few exceptions to the general recommendation to let sleeping lipomas lie. A fatty tumor is deserving of more attention in the following situations:
1. A lipoma is steadily growing in an area where it could ultimately interfere with mobility. The armpit is the classic spot where this happens. The emphasis here is on the phrase, “steadily growing.” Even in one of these critical areas there is no reason to surgically remove a lipoma that remains quiescent with no discernible growth.
2. Sudden growth and/or change in appearance of a fatty tumor (or any mass for that matter) warrant reassessment by a veterinarian to determine the best course of action.
3. Every once in a great while, a fatty tumor turns out to be an infiltrative liposarcoma rather than a lipoma. These are the malignant black sheep of the fatty tumor family. Your veterinarian will be suspicious of an infiltrative liposarcoma if the fine needle aspirate cytology reveals fat cells, yet the tumor feels fixed to underlying tissues. (Lipomas are normally freely moveable.) Liposarcomas should be aggressively surgically removed and/or treated with radiation therapy.
4. Occasionally a lipoma grows to truly mammoth proportions. If ever you’ve looked at a dog and thought, “Wow, there’s a dog attached to that tumor!” chances are you were looking at a lipoma. Such massive tumors have the potential to cause the dog discomfort. They can also outgrow their blood supply, resulting in possible infection and drainage from the mass. The key is to catch on to the mass’s rapid growth so as to surgically remove it before it becomes enormous in size and far more difficult to remove.
How can one prevent canine lipomas from occurring? No one knows. Anecdotally speaking, it is thought that overweight dogs are more predisposed to developing fatty tumors. While I’m not so sure I buy this, I’m certainly in favor of keeping your dog at a healthy body weight.
Does your dog have a lipoma, or two or three?
Wellness: Health Care
A new treatment holds promise
Weekend hikes gradually turn into strolls around the block. Joyful games of fetch or Frisbee are rare. Even standing up after a nap becomes a daunting task for your faithful friend.
Anyone who has had a lifelong canine companion has also had the difficult experience of watching that companion age, becoming increasingly stiff and less interested in play. The cause is usually osteoarthritis, which affects nearly one in every five dogs. The progressive, chronic degeneration of cartilage characteristic of this condition can occur in various joints and at almost any age, and the pain that results can be debilitating.
Geriatric pets most commonly develop it in the hip, stifle (knee) or elbow; however, it is also often seen in dogs with hip or elbow dysplasia as early as one to two years of age. Treatments range from supplements and antiinflammatory medications to surgical intervention and, increasingly, stem cell therapy.
Over the last decade, regenerative medicine, which has been around in the human sphere for nearly a quarter of a century, has become more common in veterinary medicine, and stem cell therapy is at the forefront. Stem cells are the body’s way of regenerating itself. Biological “blank slates,” they have the potential to specialize into one of many types of cells—skin, muscle, nerve, bone, tendon or ligament—and virtually any organ, and can be found in every organ in the body.
According to Dr. Samuel Franklin, assistant professor of small animal orthopedic surgery at the University of Georgia, a good candidate for the therapy “has failed treatment with less invasive and less expensive treatment and has arthritis that does not benefit from surgery.” Franklin also notes that while stem cell therapy helps modulate inflammation, “stem cells do not regenerate cartilage.”
In 2005, Dr. Brian Voynick of the American Animal Hospital in Randolph, N.J., was the first U.S. veterinarian to use stem cell therapy in dogs. He recommends it for young dogs with early signs of hip dysplasia and lameness because it is less invasive and more proactive than surgery.
“In cases of hip dysplasia, we see [improvement in] greater than 90 percent of cases—better mobility, less or no lameness, and increased quality of life. Sometimes, we see improvement on radiographs,” says Voynick. These results are typical when the therapy is used in conjunction with platelet rich plasma (PRP), a concentrated mix of platelets and growth factors taken from the patient’s own blood. According to Voynick, PRP turbocharges the cells’ activation. Once injected, stem cells have an anti-inflammatory effect within the joint and contribute to the reformation and architectural organization of the tissues.
Voynick recalls a case of a dog with severe hip osteoarthritis treated with stem cell therapy and PRP. “[Before treatment] she could not stand up from a lying position. Three days later, she was walking and wagging her tail.”
Normally, however, the response is not quite so dramatic. Though improvement in lameness and pain is sometimes seen within the first week, it more commonly comes within a period of about 90 days. The exact duration of the injection’s effectiveness is not known, but it is thought that, at least initially, monthly injections are most beneficial. Patients are rechecked at 30, 60 and 90 days post-treatment, and injections may be repeated if lameness returns.
Stem cell therapy is also being used for osteoarthritis resulting from cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injuries. This common injury of the canine knee is more often seen in large-breed dogs but can affect dogs of all sizes. CCL injuries may be treated medically with rest and medication, or they may require surgery.
“With a full [CCL] tear, we want the stabilization of surgery,” says Voynick, adding that stem cell therapy can be beneficial post-operatively during rehabilitation, especially if the injury is accompanied by muscle loss.
Franklin warns that more research is needed to support the results of stem cell therapy. “There is no evidence that [stem cell therapy] is any more beneficial than other treatments that are less invasive and less expensive.” Among these treatments are injections of hyaluronic acid, steroids or PRP. And, says Voynick, “Stem cell therapy should not be used in patients with infections or cancer. Stem cells target inflammation and can exacerbate disease in these cases.”
The process itself is relatively straightforward. Stem cells are either embryonic or somatic (adult), the latter of which can be retrieved from bone marrow or adipose tissue (fat). Due to the ease of collection, fat is usually the source of stem cells for use in companion animals. Fat-derived stem cells do not need to be cultured and can, therefore, be sent for processing and returned in as little as 48 hours.
Harvesting the fat is much less invasive than a spay. It is commonly taken from the shoulder, lumbar region or falciform ligament (a fatty ligament attaching the liver to the body wall). The 20-minute surgery is performed under general anesthesia and the fat is then sent to a laboratory, where it yields a product called stromal vascular fraction (SVF).
Once the SVF is in hand, the veterinarian will sedate the dog and inject SVF into the affected joint(s); it may also be injected into the bloodstream intravenously. Any remaining SVF is usually stored for future treatments. Although as with any surgery, there is risk when undergoing anesthesia to harvest the fat tissue, stem cell therapy is generally very safe. And, since SVF is derived from the dog’s own cells, the rate of immune reactions is extremely low.
Treatment with stem cell therapy isn’t easy on the wallet, however. Surgery, processing and the initial injection can range between $2,000 and $3,000, close to the cost of some surgical treatments. There are also no guarantees, and surgery may still be required if stem cell therapy fails. As Franklin, who recommends a case-by-case assessment on the value of stem cell therapy to an individual dog, notes, “It’s all about pros and cons—[deciding] what will be best for the patient.”
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The danger of foxtails grows
The season of ripgut and painful vet bills is here. Foxtails, a longtime scourge in the West, can now be a problem in every state. And climate change may add a twist. Studies find that weeds grow faster under elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide; will migrate northward and are less sensitive to herbicides. A botanist who researched their effects on dogs also warns about a deadly disease.
Sporting dog owners may know it best since field dogs routinely charge into thick brush, where they easily inhale or swallow foxtails, and spend hours in grassy hotspots. But dogs playing in the park or yard, hiking, at a roadside stop; any dog, wherever foxtails live, can develop grass awn migration disease.
It begins with a jagged seed. Of the many kinds of foxtails, both native and non-native, only some have harmful barbs. Among them: foxtail barley, found nationwide except in the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, according to the U.S. Forest Service; cheatgrass; giant foxtail, and ripgut brome, named for its effects on livestock. The spring through fall season often starts in May, when the green, bushy awns turn brown and seeds disperse. Their spikes help them burrow into soil or be spread by animals. They can also dig down in fur and puncture skin. The foxtail, which carries bacteria, may then keep tunneling into tissue, carving the dangerous path of infection that marks grass awn disease.
The disease is very difficult to diagnose, says University of Wyoming botanist William K. Lauenroth, who studied its occurrence in ten Midwestern states, where field dog owners believe there’s been a sharp rise in cases. One reason it’s hard to pinpoint is that the infection occurs behind the migrating seed.
Many infections show up as an acute illness, according to the findings of Wisconsin resident Cathy Lewis, whose website meanseeds.com provides case histories and information about foxtails and grass awn disease. In 2013, her Springer Spaniel “XL” developed a mysterious respiratory ailment that required draining fluid from his lungs. It began during an outing in January; not the time of year when foxtails come to mind. But the website of Atascadero Pet Hospital in California says they’ve seen pets with “a recurrent abscess that is ongoing for 2 years and once the foxtail is removed the abscess goes away.”
In fact, no plant material was found to confirm XL’s condition. But Lewis has had several other dogs with grass awn infections and recognized the signs, however vague. Today XL is “doing fine,” Lewis says. “He’s back to running field trials, and placing.” That may be due to how quickly she acted on his symptoms: labored breathing, high temperature and lethargy.
Vets say the dog’s body can’t break down the plant material. Sometimes, a foxtail lodges and causes a localized infection. But when it migrates, its barbs keep it moving on a one-way journey to almost anywhere, even the brain. Organs can be pierced, fungal infection can arise, and bacteria pack an extra punch deep inside the body. Head shaking or muscle movement propels it onward. Breathing can draw it further into nasal passages. Inhaled foxtails can travel from the nasal cavity to the lungs; a common site in working field dogs.
But what about the urban hound or beach bum pup? One study of grass awn migration found the most common site in all dogs was the external ear canal. Others were feet, eyes, nose, lumbar area, and thoracic cavity. Warning signs, if any, include extreme sneezing, head-shaking; coughing; excessive licking of a skin puncture, and a high temperature.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Horn’s veterinary blog, “foxtails are very hard to find due to their small size and because they’re covered with infection and scar tissue, and are completely invisible on X-Rays.”
Sporting dog owners hope to make it easier to diagnose and treat grass awn. Lauenroth, who trains retrievers, pursued the matter with a grant from the AKC and sporting dog groups. They suspect barbed grasses, especially Canada wild rye, planted in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program have caused more cases. The grasses occur on lands where field dogs train and trial. The program pays farmers to let idle cropland provide ecological services, such as erosion control and wildlife habitat. The farmers plant approved native grasses and comply with mowing restrictions.
Lauenroth found that plenty of Canada wild rye has been planted in the Midwest, and its sharp awn makes it dangerous for dogs. Canada wild rye is also common along the east coast, he says. But the study dried up due to a dearth of definitive diagnoses to draw on. For vets, finding a foxtail seed in a dog is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Lauenroth says he was unable to extract numbers of cases over the past 20 years from the records of veterinary hospitals.
What he found were many “foreign body” cases without resolution. Many of those may have been grass awn disease. A study in 1983 found that grass awn migration in dogs and cats accounted for 61 percent of all foreign body-related cases. Most involved dogs.
To make foxtails more visible, vets often suggest giving dogs a close shave called a foxtail haircut. Others swear by headgear that is truly a pup tent: foxtail hoodies, designed to keep mean seeds out of eyes, ears and mouths.
Lauenroth’s advice is to thoroughly brush and comb after outings. The seeds don’t instantly disappear into the body. Also, get to know the few dangerous grass plants in your area.
In foxtail zones like California, it can also mean getting to know other dog owners: many outings at park and beach end with a festive foxtail-pulling party.
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