health care
News: Guest Posts
Good News for Cavaliers
Top heart disease in dogs may not be an inevitable result of aging.

A discovery by a cardiac surgeon at Colorado State University refutes the accepted wisdom that mitral valve disease, the top heart disease in dogs, is an inevitable result of aging in pets. Dr. Chris Orton and his research team believe serotonin is driving the disease in dogs and humans.

“Serotonin is made in the brain and in cells in the gut. We previously thought that those were the only places it was made before it is circulated in the blood,” Orton explains, in a statement released by CSU. “But we found the local creation of serotonin in diseased heart valves. We think that drug-induced and naturally occurring heart valve disease share the same mechanism for creating the disease—the production of serotonin. The valve is making serotonin, which causes its own disease.”

The solution? Find a drug that inhibits the production of serotonin in the heart—which is exactly what Orton and his colleagues aim to do next. Why does this matter? Mitral valve disease, also often called mitral valve prolapse in humans, tends to impact smaller breed dogs and usually develops when they are middle aged or older. Chihuahuas, King Charles Spaniels, and other toy and small breeds tend to develop the disease more often than other breeds. According to CSU, of the dogs that develop heart disease, 40 percent develop mitral valve disease, and the disease is the eventual cause of about 70 percent of all heart failure in dogs.

Orton heads up Project CARE at Colorado State. The project focuses on researching the causes of and development of new treatments for mitral valve disease in dogs. The project is supported through grass roots funding. To learn more about the program or to support the research, visit Project CARE.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Animal Health Is A Booming Business
Pharmaceutical companies vie for a piece of the growing animal health industry.

For years animal health was a mere afterthought to pharmaceutical companies. Now with slowing growth in the human health field, and the proliferation of generic drugs, these companies are looking to animal health to diversify. The sector’s predictable cash flow, high margins and brand loyalty have made animal health a much more stable business than human pharmaceuticals. 

Merck and Pfizer’s animal health businesses have grown to $4.27 billion and $400 million in annual sales respectively. With both companies looking to sell part of their assets, several pharmaceutical companies are vying to own a piece of this rapidly expanding market.

According to U.K.-based research company, Vetnosis Ltd., animal drug sales grew 7.2 percent last year compared to 1.3 percent for human medicine. The sector has grown steadily despite economic cutbacks in veterinary care.

While much of the industry’s business stems from caring for the food we eat, our society’s changing view of pets is certainly making a large contribution. Merial’s Frontline flea and tick products alone account for about half of its $2.5 billion in sales.

With the recent development of ground breaking drugs like canine cancer treatment, Palladia, it’s clear that the pharmaceutical industry is finally taking pets seriously. While I’m a little worried about the potential cost of these new drugs (just look at our current health care debacle!), I’m always happy to see advances in the veterinary field that will improve the lives of our beloved pets.

News: Guest Posts
Spay/Neuter in Costa Rica
CSU students and veterinarians provide much-needed, free surgery.

The photos and the report are in from a January spay/neuter mission to Costa Rica. Early this year, 30 Colorado State University students helped spay and neuter more than 240 animals for free during a makeshift clinic in a school gymnasium in San Isidro.


“Students and veterinarians used baby cribs and school desks as surgery tables and soccer goalie boxes as IV carts. To reach the free clinic, residents who had few resources, carried cats in birdcages and cats and dogs in suitcases, coolers and boxes. Pet owners began lining up outside of the clinic at 4 a.m.

“‘One 14-year-old boy walked for two hours, starting at 5 a.m., with his three dogs,’ said Liz Georges, a CSU veterinary student who was on the trip. ‘When he reached the clinic and saw the line, he thought we wouldn’t be able to squeeze him in and began to cry. We got him in, and we made a difference to him, a big difference.’”

Read the full report and/or make a donation towards the next trip, contact the CSU student International Veterinary Medical Club at nokunaka@colostate.edu.


News: Guest Posts
Thank Your Vet
Do you have the best veterinarian in the country?

I love my vet. She’s smart, approachable, kind and thorough. She never seems rushed, even when the waiting room is full, and she listens carefully to all our stories and nagging concerns. But most of all, I appreciate her hands-on talents with my vet-phobic dogs. You don’t have to be a certified behaviorist to recognize that Lulu and Renzo want to be anywhere but the examination room (tucked tails and shivering) but my vet handles them with a reassuring blend of compassion and confidence to which they respond even when she discovers an ache or a pain.

If you’re never at a loss for words in singing the praises of your veterinarian, maybe it’s time to put a few of them down on paper in a nomination for America’s best veterinarian. “Thank Your Vet for A Healthy Pet,” a national short-essay contest, conducted by the Morris Animal Foundation, will be accepting nominations through Aug. 31, 2009. One national and five regional winners will be selected by honored at the January 2010 North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla. (Read about last year’s top vet.)

For rules or to submit your essay, visit www.ThankYourVet.org.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
First Canine Influenza Vaccine
U.S. Department of Agriculture approves protection against the contagious virus.

Lately the flu, specifically the swine variety, has been on everyone’s minds. While the H1N1 swine flu doesn’t pose much of a threat to our pets, there is a risk of contracting the H3N8 dog flu, a highly contagious respiratory illness. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it had approved the first vaccine for the canine influenza. The vaccine does not always prevent infection, but it decreases the severity and duration of the illness.

Canine influenza was first identified in 2004 when pneumonia killed a third of racing greyhounds in Florida. Today, the flu has been found in 30 states and the District of Columbia, mostly in close quarters like animal shelters and pet stores. The flu has hit Florida, New York, Philadelphia, and Colorado the hardest.

Dr. Cynda Crawford, one of the early researchers of the virus, estimates that over 10,000 dogs have been infected in the United States, a hefty number but small compared to the nation’s 70 million dogs. At one time there was a fear that the flu would kill one to ten percent of the nation’s dogs. 

Most dogs have no immunity to the dog flu, so it has the potential to spread quickly. The virus can be passed through a water bowl or person’s clothes, no direct dog-dog contact is necessary. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence that dogs can transmit the virus to humans.

Symptoms, which may not show up until several days after contracting the virus, include coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge. However, a laboratory test is the only conclusive way to know if you dog has canine influenza. Most pups make a full recovery, but if it progresses to pneumonia, it can be life-threatening. Unlike human influenza, the dog flu infections occur year round.

I try to minimize the number of vaccines that my pets receive. For instance, my crew gets blood titers instead of boosters at their annual checkup. My dogs seem to be in the moderate risk group -- I never board them, but they do have a lot of contact with other canines at obedience school and agility trials. I’m leaning towards not vaccinating since the overall risk doesn’t seem high, but I plan on consulting with my veterinarian to get his opinion before making a final decision. 

News: Guest Posts
Study Finds High Fluoride Levels in Dog Food
Linked to hormone disruption, thyroid problems and bone cancer in humans.

A new study by the Environmental Working Group in Washington D.C. found fluoride levels 2.5 times greater than permitted for human consumption in eight out of ten dog food brands tested by an independent lab.

“While scientists have not determined how much fluoride is safe for dogs,” the EWC report states, “they have found that people who consume excessive fluoride often develop mottled teeth (dental fluorosis) and weakened bones, leading to more fractures. High fluoride consumption is also associated with reproductive and developmental system damage, neurotoxicity, hormonal disruption, and bone cancer.”

Although the study does not identify the brands by name, the EWG recommends avoiding dog food that contains bone meal and meat byproducts.

Read the full report.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Losing Puppies to Disease
Canine distemper strikes close to home.

Some friends recently lost two puppies to canine distemper. During the time when first one puppy, and then the second was succumbing to the disease, they were caught up in a painful swirl of grief, loss, information-seeking, medication use, and continuous attempts to comfort the puppies, their children and each other.

Obviously, it is painful to lose a dog of any age, but there is a particular kind of unbearable heartbreak associated with the loss of a puppy.

Have you lost a dog prematurely to disease? What happened and what would you like other people to know to try to prevent it happening to them? Do you have any wise or comforting words if, despite all the best efforts, it happens anyway?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
FDA Approves the First Canine Cancer Drug
Palladia offers options for treating the second most common canine tumor.

Earlier this year, I attended an agility trial in New Jersey that was raising money for canine cancer research. Decorating the arena were pictures of dogs who had cancer at some point in their lives. There were more than 100 photo montages covering every inch of free space. 

During an intermission tribute, handlers were asked to raise their hand if they ever had a dog affected by cancer. I was shocked to see well more than half the audience with their hand up and soon learned that canine cancer effects one out of every three dogs.

Since then, two of my friends found tumors on their dogs, one benign and one malignant. Thankfully, both were successfully removed, but the topic has stayed on my mind. So I was excited to hear that this month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug developed specifically for the treatment of canine cancer. Palladia, an oral drug, works by cutting off the blood supply to mast cell tumors, the second most common tumor in dogs.

Palladia will be available next year through veterinary oncologists and internists. There are a number of side effects and, like any drug, will have its limitations. But Palladia is a huge step in the right direction for curing this horrible disease.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
WebMD for Dogs
DoggedHealth helps pet lovers diagnose canine health problems.

If you’re like me, there are certain websites that you don’t know how you ever lived without. One of the first that comes to mind is the popular medical diagnostic site, WebMD.

Finally, a similar resource has been created for canines. Earlier this year, DoggedHealth debuted the Diagnostic Dog as an information resource to empower pet lovers to make educated healthcare decisions for their four-legged family members. Users can click on a map of the canine body to access articles about related health problems. All content is written by a veterinarian or a dog trainer, depending on the topic. 

I’m looking forward to being able to refine searches by symptom (a WebMD feature), which DoggedHealth is in the process of developing. Diagnostic Dog certainly won’t replace my veterinarian, but it’s a great resource for increasing my knowledge before I step into the office. Of course like WebMD, Diagnostic Dog has the potential to make worried pet parents a bit paranoid, but it’s comforting to know that a wealth of information is only a few clicks away.

What are your favorite canine-related websites?

News: Guest Posts
Just Between Us
The Swine Flu outbreak should pose little risk to cats and dogs.

There is one worrisome scenario you can cross off your flu fear list. According to a recent statement from the ASPCA, the H1N1 virus—unfortunately known as “Swine Flu”—is not likely to jump the species barrier again and start infecting cats and dogs.
“At this time there is no data demonstrating any risk of dogs and cats contracting this strain of the virus,” says Dr. Louise Murray, the Director of Medicine at the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Hospital in New York City. For more information about swine flu and updated information on prevention, visit the Centers for Disease Control, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the World Health Organization.