health care
Wellness: Health Care
Update on the Three-Year Rabies Booster for Dogs
Inching toward the three-year interval nationwide.

The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) asked its state legislature to extend the legally prescribed interval between canine rabies vaccines from one to three years, and on February 16, the extension passed. Act 159, as it’s now known, reads as follows: All dogs and cats shall be vaccinated against rabies annually or as required by the State Board of Health [italics added for emphasis].

Nothing’s simple, though. According to the ADH, “the Administrative Procedures Act for changing rules and regulations established by the State Board of Health will take some time. Until these rules and regulations are changed, the requirement will remain for dogs and cats to receive their rabies vaccinations annually.” (Alabama remains the only state with a formal one-year vaccination requirement, although across the country, some municipalities, such as Wichita, still have annual ordinances on the books.)

Arkansas’s public health veterinarian told the Associated Press the decision was based on research demonstrating that rabies immunity lasts at least three years. Proponents of extensions, such as Kris L. Christine, say the science actually reveals that boosters are not only redundant but carry risks for significant adverse reactions including autoimmune diseases, aggression and fibrosarcomas. Christine is the founder and of the Rabies Challenge Fund, which is currently helping to finance challenge studies to determine the long-term duration of the only canine vaccine required by law.


Wellness: Health Care
What Age is Your Dog in Dog Years?
Tips to help your oldster live long and prosper.

When it comes to figuring out when your dog’s officially a senior, the “7 human years to 1 dog year” ratio we’ve all heard about can’t be taken literally, since size, breed type and other factors influence the aging rate. However, with that in mind, many vets recommend beginning senior screenings around age seven to eight to establish baselines and catch potential health problems that may not yet have surfaced.

These baseline tests include complete blood counts (chronic inflammatory conditions, platelet problems, anemia and some cancers), serum chemistries (diabetes, liver conditions, kidney impairment, digestive problems, hormone imbalances) and urinalysis (kidney function and bladder health). Specialized screenings—EKGs; chest X-rays; and thyroid, glaucoma and blood pressure tests—are also available and are sometimes recommended, depending on your particular dog’s type and history. Establishing baselines helps your vet more easily detect potential problems as your dog ages.

Vets also recommend paying increased attention to the standard “maintenance” issues, including dental care, diet and nutrition, and weight and parasite control. If you haven’t already done so, talk to your vet about vaccinations. Depending on your dog’s lifestyle and local legal requirements, it might be time to reduce their number or frequency. As much as possible, keep your senior sweetie active and engaged in daily living. And finally, switch from an annual to a twice-a-year exam schedule—dogs can develop problems more quickly as they age, and a health issue that starts within a few weeks of a routine vet visit could develop into something more serious by the time the next annual exam rolls around.

Source: AAHA Senior Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats

Wellness: Healthy Living
Symptoms of Valley Fever in Dogs
Symptoms of this fungal disease are not always easy to recognize

Most of us who live with and love dogs have quite a list of things to make us prematurely gray: vaccinating vs. over-vaccinating, Lyme-disease–carrying ticks, providing safe food (with an ever-changing lineup of antioxidants, tocopherols, omegas and probiotics) for our furry companions. With all these day-to-day concerns, canine health problems caused by a fungus may not come immediately to mind. Especially if you live in the Southwest, though, it’s definitely something to keep on your radar screen.

Though we rarely think about it, we are surrounded by fungi. They decompose our dead organisms, brew our beer and help produce antibiotics. But some are not so helpful—for example, Coccidioides immitis, the fungus that found its way into our dog Hunter.

Coccidiodomycosis is the medical term for the systemic infection caused by this fungus; the more common name is valley fever, or desert rheumatism. The southwestern United States—from California to central Texas and into Mexico, particularly in the ecological niche known as the Lower Sonoran life zone—provides the fungus with the conditions it needs to survive. It grows several inches deep in the soil and spreads with the help of burrowing rodents. Add some wet weather, wind and dust storms, and this filamentous mold can travel great distances, right into some unsuspecting vertebrate’s lungs or open wound.

In fact, fewer than 10 inhaled arthrospores (fragments of the original fungus) are sufficient to cause the disease in susceptible animals, according to the authors of The 5-Minute Veterinary Consult. Many dogs who are exposed (up to about 60 percent) will be asymptomatic or develop self-limiting upper respiratory tract infections; in about 40 percent, the infection will develop in the lower respiratory tract. Rarely, in susceptible individuals, it may spread (disseminate) from the lungs to other organs. Diagnosis of the disseminate form can be tricky, as the symptoms range from bone swelling and joint enlargement to neurological dysfunction and ocular disease.

Hunter was in that small percentage of susceptible individuals. When we found him in the middle of traffic in the Mexican town of Rosarito, he had a large head wound and, as it turned out, would need more than a few bowls of healthy food and a bath to get back on his feet. He dragged his back legs, was obviously in pain and didn’t have much of an appetite. When our veterinarian suggested that he might be suffering from valley fever and showed me the radiographs, I was appalled: His bones were being consumed little by little—osteolytic lesions are typical of disseminate valley fever in dogs.

Hunter was helped by fluconazole, which we gave him for more than a year. Little by little, he regained function in his back legs. As he began to feel better, he also learned to swim in the glorious dog beaches of San Diego and eventually even learned to tolerate (well, most of the time) his canine “siblings.” Today, Hunter is a relatively happy, strong dog who is probably somewhere around five years old. He takes supplements daily to aid with pain and arthritis, loves to lie in the sunshine and adores people. He eats well and was declared at least temporarily fungus-free on our last trip to the vet. Of course, this is no guarantee that the fungus is gone; much of the literature on the disease warns that a negative test result may only mean a temporary abatement of the problem.

Certain breeds seem to be more susceptible than others to the disseminated form, and male dogs are more prone to it than females. Research into a vaccine that will protect both humans and animals from valley fever is in progress, and at the Valley Fever Center for Excellence in Tucson, Ariz., scientists are attempting to determine the natural incidence of the disease among dogs in that region. It appears hopeful that we will be able to control just how much this fungus remains among us. And then we can all get back to worrying about which tocopherols to sprinkle on our dogs’ food in the morning.

Wellness: Health Care
Holistic Treatments for Epilepsy in Dogs
A holistic approach to canine epilepsy

Question: My dog was just diagnosed with epilepsy. Are there holistic treatments that will prevent seizures while avoiding the use of harsh medications like Phenobarbital?

Answer: Seizure disorder and epilepsy are common ailments, seen in at least 1 percent of all dogs. Seizures, also known as convulsions, are precipitated by any process that alters normal brain function and causes inflammation. One of the difficulties in treating epilepsy is that your veterinarian may not be able to easily determine the cause of the seizures.

Veterinarians usually arrive at the diagnosis of idiopathic (cause unknown) epilepsy only after systematically eliminating all other causes of seizures, including low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), severe ear infection, head trauma, allergic reaction and reaction to environmental toxins or certain medications, severe vaccine reaction, and finally, brain tumor and liver disease. If your dog experiences a seizure and your vet suspects epilepsy, he or she will want to do a comprehensive blood panel and perhaps x-rays to rule out other possible causes. Once everything else is excluded and a diagnosis of epilepsy is made, most traditional veterinarians will prescribe anticonvulsant medications such as Phenobarbital and potassium bromide to control the symptoms.

Holistic veterinarians look for ways to treat illness on a deeper, constitutional level instead of temporarily palliating the symptoms, and can offer a variety of alternatives to anticonvulsant medication, which can have toxic side effects and cause over-sedation and personality changes when used on prolonged basis. Following is an overview of holistic approaches to treating epilepsy in your pet.

Integrative Options
Acupuncture: In my practice, acupuncture—the ancient Chinese art of inserting fine needles into specific points in the body to gently move energy, or “chi”—is the most effective treatment for canine epilepsy. Initially, I give 20 to 30 minutes of acupuncture once a week for four to six weeks, then every six to eight weeks as needed to prevent further seizures. I often prescribe Chinese herbs in addition to regular acupuncture sessions; additionally, gold-bead implants can be used once a long-term treatment plan is in place.

Diet: Depending on your dog’s specific situation, sometimes diet changes alone can be effective in treating seizures. Numerous case studies have shown a correlation between food allergies and epilepsy. Switching your dog to a hypoallergenic diet or transitioning from an over-the-counter commercial food to home-prepared meals with organic ingredients can prevent seizures and make a huge difference in your dog’s overall health.

Essential Fatty Acids (Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils): Many humans with epilepsy  have been helped by eating a ketogenic diet (high in fat, low in carbohydrates). High fat seems to decrease the excitability of the neurons in the brain, and the addition of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (both of which are found in wild-caught-salmon oil) can decrease seizure frequency and intensity in dogs.

Chiropractic Care: Regular chiropractic adjustments are especially effective in treating cases of epilepsy that follow head injuries or physical trauma, as well as chronic, recurrent ear infections that seem to trigger seizures. Make sure your pet’s chiropractor is a certified veterinary chiropractor with experience in canine epilepsy.

Nutraceuticals: The exact mechanism of action of each supplement is beyond the scope of this discussion, but a variety of vitamins and nutritional supplements have been highly effective in decreasing seizures in dogs. In my practice, we regularly recommend the following for our epileptic patients: DMG (n, n dimethyl-glycine); Choline; taurine; L-tryptophan; magnesium; melatonin; phosphatidylserine; and antioxidants such as vitamins C, A and B complex.

Western Herbs: Many over-the-counter Western herbs, in both capsule and tincture form—including chamomile, milk thistle, skullcap, valerian, oat straw and ginkgo biloba—are used to treat seizures. As with nutraceuticals, always discuss appropriate herbs and dosages with your veterinarian(s) before giving them to your dog.

Homeopathy: Homeopathic remedies work on the premise of “like cures like.” They contain tiny amounts of substances that, if given to a healthy animal, would cause symptoms similar to those you are treating. Choosing the perfect remedy for your pet’s illness is a complicated process and requires an experienced homeopath; however, once a proper remedy is given, it can stop a seizure in its tracks. Commonly prescribed remedies include Belladonna, Aconitum and, in cases of vaccine-related seizures, Thuja. It is always best to consult a homeopath before giving a remedy.

Flower Essences: The Bach flower essence Rescue Remedy can be used when you suspect your dog is about to have a seizure, or as an overall stress reducer to prevent future seizures.

An Ounce of Prevention
Avoid vaccinations once your pet has been diagnosed with epilepsy. Over-vaccination can aggravate the condition.

Avoid exposing your dog to toxins. A chemical-free environment helps protect your pet against contaminants—such as car exhaust, cigarette smoke, polluted drinking or swimming water, flea-control products, and food additives and preservatives—that can irritate brain tissue.

Create a happy, stress-free environment for your pet. Many cases of epilepsy follow a stressful event, such as a prolonged stay at a boarding kennel, moving to a new home, long periods of time alone and boredom. Keeping your dog happy, relaxed and well-exercised will help prevent stress.

Epilepsy can be a frightening and frustrating illness to diagnose and treat. Once a diagnosis has been made, however, there are many safe and easy holistic options that can be used to both treat and prevent seizures. In some cases of refractory cluster seizures (a more serious condition that can require hospitalization), low doses of medication may still be necessary to control episodes. Overall, however, the holistic approach can help you assist your dog to gently heal.

If you are interested in pursuing a more holistic, integrative approach, including any of the treatment options listed here, please consult your veterinarian, or seek out a holistic veterinarian who can help you make the best treatment choices for your special pet. Contact the AHVMA and IVAS to find veterinarian near you who offers acupuncture and holistic alternatives.