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News: Guest Posts
Strong Medicine
An articulate case for dog's healing properties.

Every Tuesday, New York Times editor Dana Jennings writes with honesty, grace and humor about living with advanced prostate cancer for his newspaper’s health blog. I recommend reading his most recent post, Life Lessons from the Family Dog, which is centered around the failing health of a poodle named Bijou de Minuit. Jennings offers simple, clear insights into the gift of dogs in difficult times and draws an interesting parallel between sick people and pups.

I want to quote the final image—inspired by Bijou lapping from a dish—but, like so much in life, it’s better if you read the entire piece (it's short) and arrive there yourself.

News: Guest Posts
Speaking for Spot
Nancy Kay, DVM, on some of the hardest decisions we’ll ever make.

You don’t often hear canine talk on Fresh Air—apparently Terry Gross has a cat—but NPR’s distinguished interviewer gave most of the hour yesterday to a conversation with veterinarian and Bark contributor Nancy Kay, DVM. If you missed it, it’s worth an online listen.

Exploring issues from Kay’s new book, Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life, the interview was wide-ranging covering guardian guilt, the latest veterinary therapies (such as stem-cell treatments for arthritis) and treating pain in animals who can’t say how bad it hurts, but the topic of euthanasia was the centerpiece.

Kay offers practical, compassionate wisdom for tackling the question: when? Does your dog still respond with enthusiasm to the things that used to excite her? Do good days outnumber bad days? Kay advises: Get nose-to-nose, eye-to-eye, and look for that old spark. Everyone wants to make the decision at exactly the right time, Kays tells Gross, but in her experience the guardians who struggle the most are those who feel they waited too long.

It’s wonderful to hear Kay. She’s articulate and measured and her voice trembles with emotion when she describes an animal’s final moments. It makes you want to move to Marin County, California, where she practices. It's also easy to understand why she will receive the 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award at the annual conference of the American Animal Hospital Association next week.

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Peanut Butter Recall
Stop the spread of salmonella by taking stock of your pantry.

Now is the time to check the ingredients list of your dog's food and treats as the peanut butter recall has spread, so to speak. If you want to look up a particular item, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has created an exhaustive database. Click on the "Pet Food" category for specific brands. If you're like me and treat your dogs to a dollop of peanut butter from time to time, it's worth looking through the list for any other brands that might be on your shelves.

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PetSmart Recalls Treats
Salmonella outbreak traced to a small peanut manufacturing plant could now affect dogs

Time to check your pantry again! The recent salmonella outbreak traced to a small peanut manufacturing plant could now affect dogs and their owners. PetsMart is recalling Grreat Choice dog biscuits because of a link to Peanut Corp. of America in Blakely, Ga. Animals are at less risk than people, especially kids, who handle the treats. However, if your dog acts lethargic or has bloody diarrhea, seek immediate veterinary care. For more info, read "Pet Treats Recalled in Salmonella Outbreak."

News: Guest Posts
Updated Pet Food Warnings
Peanut butter treats and chicken jerky on the list

Citing concerns over a salmonella outbreak associated with peanut butter, PetSmart has removed seven types of Grreat Choice Dog Biscuits from its shelves. According the company, there have been no reports of illness from the biscuits, and the recall is a voluntary precaution. This appears to be the only pet product affected by the recall so far. Read the Food & Drug Administration's most recent information--with a list of affected products.

 

The Washington Post reports that the FDA has issued repeated warnings over chicken jerky products imported from China. There has been no recall. Symptoms from ingesting the unidentified poison include "decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood) and increased water consumption and urination." 

 

News: Guest Posts
Solid Gold Recalls Canned Turkey Formula
Quick, check your pantry!

Quick, check your pantry! Due to customer complaints about mold, Solid Gold is voluntarily recalling 13.2 oz. cans of its turkey, ocean fish, carrot, and sweet potatoes formula. The cans in question feature a purple label, a "pop-top," and 01/02/2010 expiration date on the bottom. Cans should be immediately returned to the point of purchase. For more info, go to Solid Gold.

News: Guest Posts
The Dangers of Street Shocks

A recent memorial service for a husky named Sebastion serves as a reminder of a danger many of us didn’t even realize was out there—stray electrical voltage. (Sebastian was electrocuted by a lamppost last May.) While the dangers are nothing like the days direct current before Nikola Tesla discovered alternating current, errant shocks and electrocution are not a thing of the past. The folks at Streetzaps.com, an online clearinghouse of information about stray voltage, track incidents and current research, and provide advice for keeping dogs safe, such as avoiding walking close to lampposts or service boxes or across manhole covers.

 

News: Guest Posts
The Myth of the Hypoallergenic Hound

The Obamas' quest for a hypoallergenic dog looks doomed. According to a story in today's Vancouver Sun, there is no such thing.

"It is a common misconception that people are allergic to a dog's hair, and it is falsely believed that dogs that shed less will not cause a reaction," the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology said.

"However, allergies to pets are caused by protein found in the animal's saliva and skin glands which gets deposited on the hair. These proteins are carried on microscopic particles through the air as an invisible aerosol. When inhaled, they trigger reactions in allergic people. As all dogs secrete these proteins, there is no allergy-free dog."

Will these tiny airborne truths dash our dreams of Tramp slurping spaghetti in the Oval kitchen?

Wellness: Healthy Living
Pain Patches
What are they and when are they used?

For dogs with short or long-term pain, pain patches can provide a real benefit, including avoiding the need to repeatedly give medication to a reluctant patient! The patch was developed for humans and delivers fentanyl, a narcotic or morphine-like drug. Veterinarians prescribe these patches as an “extralabel” pain medication. This means that the patch can be used safely by the veterinary community, but is not officially approved for pets.

The patches come in several strengths, containing different amounts of fentanyl. Dosage is indicated in micrograms (mcg) delivered through the skin—from 12.5 to 100 mcg per hour. This is both helpful, as we can use a patch on virtually any size dog, and convenient, since patches cannot be cut down (the liquid fentanyl would leak out of its container).

The patch is applied to shaved skin, and after a 12- to 24-hour delay, it begins to slowly and steadily deliver the medication through the skin and into the bloodstream. This delay allows us to put the patch on a dog the day before surgery so that it kicks in soon after the end of the procedure. If that isn’t possible, other drugs are used until the patch starts working.

We can also combine the patch with other painkillers. These have to be chosen wisely, as some medications may counteract the patch. A good combination is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug and the patch, each of which treats pain by a different mechanism. Since some patients seem to benefit more from the patch than others, this helps us tailor a pain management plan to each individual. After approximately three days, the patch will be empty and is replaced or removed. Fentanyl is a tightly regulated drug, and your veterinarian will likely ask that you return the patch to the clinic.

At our surgical practice, we’ve used pain patches following surgery of the spine (neck or back), jaw, ear or chest cavity. Repair of a really bad fracture, removal of some types of tumors and limb amputations are also likely situations.

Use of the patch is certainly not limited to surgery patients, however. It’s also appropriate for medical conditions that are especially painful, such as pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) or peritonitis (irritation or infection of the belly). Occasionally, a dog’s pain is managed at home with a patch that is replaced every few days; this typically includes cancer patients, who may experience ongoing or chronic pain.

Like most medications, fentanyl patches can have side effects. Among them are a slow heart rate or sedation, severe breathing difficulties or a very slow breathing pattern (this is rare), euphoria or abnormal excitement, or constipation and difficulty urinating. If such side effects occur, the patch should be removed immediately. Some dogs will develop a rash in reaction to the glue that keeps the patch stuck to the skin; these usually resolve quickly after the patch is peeled off (an ointment with cortisone often helps speed up healing). While most dogs tolerate the patches well, not all do; never hesitate to call your vet if you feel your dog is having a questionable reaction.

The pain patch may also interact with other drugs, such as medications to treat Cushing’s disease, senility and some parasites, so vets weigh the pros and cons on a case-by-case basis before prescribing its use.

Careful supervision is vital when pain patches are used. Fentanyl is highly addictive and there is a potential for abuse—intentional or accidental—by humans. Among the dangers to people is difficulty breathing to the point of suffocation. Children are especially at risk, and some veterinarians refuse to prescribe a pain patch if there is a young child in the family.

Overall, the pain patch is a very useful tool that has dramatically changed veterinarians’ pain protocols. Side effects are generally rare in dogs, and most benefit greatly from the pain relief.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Good Old Dog
Signs to watch for in your aging dog

There are changes a dog goes through that have nothing to do with disease processes but, rather, are simply normal physiologic shifts. To help you distinguish aging from illness, here is a rundown of those natural, expected modifications that occur as a dog enters and passes through her geriatric years. You’ll see that many of them are similar to changes that people undergo, but which do not grip them with fear of imminent death or disability. They simply require a little more attention on the part of those caring for canine loved ones, along with an appreciation that the dog may very well need your sensitivity with regard to exercise intensity, severe weather conditions and so forth.

Graying hair, particularly around the muzzle: We think it adds character—no Clairol needed.

Slower metabolism: Older dogs burn fewer calories than they did in their younger years. Most of the decrease in metabolic rate comes simply from dogs tending to become less physically active in old age. The less active they are, the more their muscle cells go unused and therefore atrophy and die off, increasing their fat-to-muscle ratio and paving the way for frailty. Slowed physical activity, incidentally, often comes not from age per se but from conditions like obesity and arthritis, which are more treatable than ever.

Difficulty adapting to hot and cold temperatures: Older dogs are less physiologically tolerant of very hot or very cold weather. Put her in a fuzzy bed with a blanket over her when it’s cold (especially important because your dog is close to the floor, and hot air rises while cold air in the room sinks). In hot weather, make sure your pal has plenty of water and is near a source of coolness or at least shade.

Decreased immunity: Older dogs need their vaccination shots even more than when they were young and middleaged. The immune system slows down in old age, making a dog more susceptible not only to diseases such as cancer but also to infections. She simply cannot mount a sufficient immune response to illnesses she might have been able to ward off in her younger years.

Decrease in heart and lung function: Aging dogs do not get coronary artery disease, and they do not get heart attacks. Rather, an older dog does not respond as efficiently to physiologic stress—she will experience an increase in heart rate resulting from exercise, for example. It’s the same for the lungs. As a dog grows older, some of the elastic fibers in the lungs are replaced by scar tissue, diminishing her ability to breathe as efficiently as possible.

Hormonal changes: While age-related changes vary from gland to gland, overall there tends to be some degeneration. Aging dogs have to be watched more carefully for hormone-mediated conditions such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, both of which affect the body cells’ ability to do what they have to do.

Changes in the reproductive system: There is no menopause in the canine world. But older male dogs who have not been neutered are prone to prostate problems resulting from enlargement.

Decrease in kidney and bladder function: The screenings most commonly used to assess kidney function don’t show any abnormality until a dog has already lost 75 percent of her kidney capacity, so dog companions have to partner with vets to identify signs of possible kidney disease. As far as the bladder, older females dogs, predominantly those who have been spayed, are the ones to end up afflicted with urinary incontinence.

Decrease in liver size: As a dog ages, she actually loses liver cells, which makes her liver smaller. The change translates into a decrease in liver function, which means a diminished capacity to detoxify harmful byproducts in the body.

Gastrointestinal slowdown: While GI function in older dogs remains pretty much intact in the stomach and intestines, there’s a decrease in gastrointestinal action in the mouth, which is the beginning of the GI tract. Specifically, there is a decreased production of saliva, which helps to clean the oral cavity. That in turn, contributes to the development of dental tartar and periodontal disease.

Bone loss: Dogs undergo a decrease in bone density, but they tend not to develop osteoporosis. Dogs do experience fractures but not because of decreased bone density throughout the body, like in older people.

Neurologic decline: Falloff in this area divides into two categories: a decline of the senses, including smell, sight, and hearing; and a decline in the function of brain cells. The longer dogs live, the more important it is to watch for signs of the canine version of Alzheimer’s, because the earlier it is detected, the more treatable it will be.

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