Categories
Dogs News

Socialization in a non-social time

At present many of our city’s residents are home much more than in the past due to social, or physical distancing. With several months of home-time, many of our clients have added a new puppy or adult dog to the family. While being available for most of the day makes for excellent house-training, care must be take to assure that you raise a well-adjusted and socially-amicable pup. Don’t let social distancing prevent you from having a social dog. Let’s dive in.

Don’t wait to socialize

Puppies learn how to play early in their lives. Lack of proper socialization during this early period may result in development of behavioral issues, including separation anxiety, aggression, leash reactivity, fears of objects and people, and other undesirable characteristics. For new adult dogs, the same applies: socialization is key to success.

Puppy playtime has been cancelled, and dog parks have been closed. But there are many other experiences you can work on aside from the regular dog-dog interactions (more later on introducing other dogs). Recall that the dog will go to the vet, be groomed, hear a thunderstorm, encounter a garbage truck, have their nails trimmed, and more. You can work on all of these stimuli right at home.

Introduction to our scary world inside your home

Dogs are naturally curious, but our built-up world is intimidating. Recall the first time you entered a big city and were surrounded by skyscrapers. Dogs feel the same way when rapidly introduced to new stimuli and uncertain scenarios. At home you can begin to show your dog objects and surfaces, which may be encountered in the outside world such as sheet metal or a baking sheet, different flooring surfaces, gravel in the back yard, grass, plastic bottles – you get the idea. The more objects and surfaces your dog interacts with in a positive manner, the better!

Sound phobia is a major behavioral problem with dogs, especially those that were sheltered in their youth or are from rural areas. The garbage truck is Satan. If you are not walking outside much, play audio of traffic sounds softly, slowly increasing the volume over time.

Discussed in prior articles in more detail, prepare your dog for a visit to the groomer or veterinarian’s office. Rub the nails and gently hold / pull on the feet 15 times per day for about five seconds at a time. Same with the ears, muzzle, and tail. Many dogs are head or foot-shy and by interacting with these areas routinely, you will desensitize him or her to nail trimming, grooming, application of ear medications, etc. This conditioning also helps prevent bites via making your dog not afraid of a child touching the feet or ears. Perform this type of desensitization until the dog is at least 6 months old.

Introduction to our scary world outside

Current recommendations by the CDC recommend physical distancing between people, but this does not mean that your dog should stay inside. Yes, maintain social distancing, but if you have friends with dogs who you feel safe interacting with, even at a moderate distance, arrange for puppy playtime.

Walking on the street is important for a dog to develop his or her nasal sensations. They sniff. A lot. This is normal dog behavior. If you are unable to go outside, you can use treats of different varieties to stimulate their brain. Hide them in different places and play scavenger hunt! You can even take treats outside to a field and hide them in the grass, encouraging your dog to sniff them out.

Introducing your dog to people

Here’s where it gets a bit tricky: you have been instructed to stay away from people. As unusual as this sounds, consider playing dress-up. Put on a pair of glasses, carry around a few boxes and enter as if you were a delivery person, pull a wheeling suitcase around inside and outside the house, ride a bicycle near the dog, show him or her a skateboard and ride it by their side, practice walks from the Ministry of Silly Walks. You get the idea.

Sitting outside on a porch or other safe area will allow your dog to see and hear the outside world. Granted everything is quiet now-a-days, but you cannot substitute for the real world.

The car

A car is a portal to a different dimension for many pups. Start by sitting in the car for a few minutes and once comfortable, go for short rides around the block. Increase the distance with time and go to areas where you can walk at a safe distance from others.

Simple training

Well you have the time, work on training and brain games. Sit. Stay. Down. use toys that stimulate the brain, such as food puzzles. The more the dog has to work with a toy, the more successful. Part of socialization involves thinking and problem-solving. Dogs that have confidence with such tasks are more apt to be better socially-rounded.

We are in a different world today, but we should not forget that we will resume our regular lives eventually. Working on setting your dog up to be social will lead to a more successful and comfortable relationship for everyone.

Dan Teich, DVM

Medical Director

District Veterinary Hospitals

Categories
Dogs News

Beware of the wrong green this season: Cannibis toxicity

Veterinary medicine is not static and as time goes on, we are presented with new challenges. Twenty years ago a cannabis intoxication was rare to encounter, but as laws and societal perceptions have changed, such toxicities are becoming increasingly common. At present thirty-three states and the District currently have passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form, while most others allow its medical use under certain circumstances. This has led to marijuana becoming much more widespread.

Marijuana contains many compounds, including cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is responsible for most of marijuana’s mind altering effects and is toxic to dogs and cats, whereas CBD is becoming more commonly used to treat dogs with anxiety, arthritis, seizures, inflammation, and other health ailments. Safely used, CBD should not have any significant negative impacts upon a dog or cat’s health. It is important to not confuse CBD with marijuana or products that contain both CBD and THC. If using CBD products, be certain of the ingredients, quality, use, and purity. Dogs will not become ‘high’ on only CBD.

The past few yers we have seen a number of dogs who have, or are suspected of ingesting cannabis (Cannabis sativa), either from raw product or from vape pens, edibles, etc. The first case I saw was in 1998, in New Jersey, but the numbers have increased rapidly of recent. In some of the newer cases, clients know that their dog ate the product, but in others, ingestion was never seen. Unseen ingestion in a household that does not carry THC products has been observed to occur outside on the street – the dog ate the remains of a blunt tossed on the sidewalk. Sadly, people in indiscriminately tossing their butts on the street have caused a moderate health crisis.

Dogs and cats seem to be attracted to the smell of marijuana, and being a small furry creature, they have no sense of portion control and will ingest whatever is in front of them. Being in edibles only enhances the chances it will be eaten. Inhalation toxicity is uncommon, but possible, therefore care should be taken when smoking around pets.

Mild cases of toxicity manifest with lethargy, confusion, barking indiscriminately or making unusual vocalizations (aka – being high), dilated pupils, altered responses to stimulation, redness of the whites of the eyes, and overall acting abnormally. In more severe intoxication, the pet may not be able to walk, seems drunk on their feet, has a slow heart rate, vomits excessively, drools, and / or is unable to hold urine. Coma and death are possible. About 25% of dogs will show excitement and stimulation with an increased heart rate instead of depression. Such clinical signs can be seen anywhere from minutes to hours post ingestion and may last for hours to days.

THC causes the release of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain’s frontal cortex and cerebellum. The increased release of these neurotransmitters leads to the various clinical signs observed.

The majority of cases I have treated presented with multiple clinical signs, leading to the top differential diagnosis of cannabis consumption. The diagnosis, however, may not necessarily be confirmed by the owner, who may be completely unaware that a pet was exposed to the drug.

it is important that a diagnosis be obtained, as many other toxins, medications, and disease can mimic the signs of marijuana toxication. When asked about potential ingestion, it is important that clients be honest with their veterinarian regarding their potential knowledge of cannabis ingestion. Having seen a number of cases of marijuana toxicity, with proper treatment, I feel confident that patients will make a full recovery with no lingering effects.

Treatment requires supportive care, baseline bloodwork to evaluate the liver and kidneys (and to rule out other problems), possibly abdominal X-rays to assess for any other ingested objects. In cases where the ingestion was within a few hours, emesis (vomiting) may be induced to try and clear the stomach of the toxic material. Once vomiting is under control, activated charcoal is administered to absorb as much of the toxin as possible. The charcoal also speeds up the intestines, decreasing the amount of time the toxins are inside the pet. Patients showing more clinical signs are hospitalized, intravenous fluids are given, sedation administered in certain cases, temperature supports, antacids, anti-nausea medications, and other supportive care. Once neurologically normal and able to walk and keep down food, the pet is usually released from the hospital.

Marijuana intoxication looks scary and is becoming ever more prevalent. With prompt and proper care, the dog or cat will usually make a full recovery. Remember that the best way to prevent intoxication is to take care to secure such substances in the home and to monitor what your pet ingests outside of the home.

Dan Teich, DVM
Medical Director
District Veterinary Hospitals

Categories
Cats Dogs News

Slow eating for a healthier lifestyle

It’s November and Thanksgiving is almost here. While we tend to frequently over-eat, and then feel bad about it, remember that dogs and cats over-eat almost every meal. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (there really is such an organization) estimates that more than half of dogs and cats are overweight. You have the willpower to pace yourself at the festive meal – your firmed friends usually do not and constantly demand more. Pacing eating can help with weight control, decrease unwanted vomiting, improve digestion, and increase overall quality of life.

Cats are famous for eating quickly, then regurgitating the food onto your rug. The food fills the esophagus but does not enter the stomach, thus they feel the need to expel this excess food, and it winds up some place unpleasant. Slower eating allows for the lower esophageal sphincter to open and permit food into the stomach. This is not unique to cats, as dogs can have the same problem, but it is less frequent.

Another advantage of slowing down eating, involves satiety – or the feeling of being full. This is better achieved with smaller, more frequent meals, instead of one or two large portions. Many cats are grazers by nature, but allowing free access to food often leads to obesity. And restricting meals to once or twice a day may lead tp their stomach being empty, resulting in hunger or vomiting yellow bile. This condition, called bilious vomiting, is also seen in dogs.In short, there’s too much acid in the stomach and no food to neutralize it, so the pet puts it somewhere – on your floor. By having frequent meals read across dawn until right before bed, this usually can be abated.

Even if you feed frequently, some pets will gorge themselves. For many, this is not a problem, but for others, let’s discuss ways to prevent this behavior. Using a standard bowl only allows for the rapid combustion of food. Feeding dishes with ridges or knobs make your pet work to get out the food, slowing eating. There are mats specifically designed with bumps and raised areas, providing much more space to spread out the food. And even more effective are toys where the pet must push around a ball-shaped object with a hole in it – as the toy is moved, food falls out bit by bit. It can take a dog or cat up to an hour to get all of the food out. This provides great transit time in the esophaguses and is great enrichment. Out in the great wild, food is not in a bowl, the animal has to work for it!

Puzzle games are fantastic, too. Generally these should not be used for main meals unless your pet has learned how to beat the game. Start off with using puzzles as a treat with only a small amount of food. Once proficient, consider changing the game up a bit.

We use a simple low-tech method at home: we spread the food around our apartment. When we remove it from the bag we shake off all loose crumbs and then throw kibbles around each room in our dwelling. It takes Brian T. Dog about 10 minutes to get each piece. Afterwards, he is a bit tired. For cats, try using a Ripple Rug or like product. The food can be hidden between the layers of the rug.

Remember that all bowls and toys need to be cleaned regularly. Running them through the dishwasher, so long as they are safe to do so, is a great idea. Most food bowls are amenable to such cleaning.

So as you are at your Thanksgiving table, stuffing yourself, remember that slow eating is a good thing for your pets.

Dan Teich, DVM

Categories
Dogs News

Ticks! How to prevent them.

A persistent threat to the health of dogs comes from organisms contained within ticks. These small arachnids are common in many landscapes – from forests, to tall grasses, and especially along the coast. While fleas may be a nuisance and most commonly cause itching and tapeworms, ticks spread much more potent and insidious pathogens.

What makes them so dangerous is that they are hard to find. They can be tiny – almost pin-head size up to about half an inch. Ticks can be anywhere on your dog – they have heat-seeking abilities, enabling them to locate your dog, and then they attach to warmer parts of the body. They are excellent at hide-and-seek. The head, neck, and ears are common attachment points. We have seen them between the toes frequently, along with being in the groin, or even on eyelids and lips. When looking for ticks, look, feel, and repeat several times. Don’t forget to inspect inside the ears, too! They are betting that you and the dog will miss them.

Ticks lay in wait on the ends of branches and grasses waiting for you or your dog to walk past. When the branch is disturbed, it lets go and attaches to the dog. This process is know as questing. While they are good at finding a warm body, they cannot jump (thankfully). Once on the dog, it attaches and begins to suck blood. They use blood proteins to grow and mature. Many species of tick can be waiting for the right animal to pass by for over a year and a half without eating. They are patient. And they are waiting.

A tick may feed on a dog for a number of days. When they bite ticks inject saliva into the area, causing mild swelling and increased blood flow. The injection of saliva is what we are most concerned about – living within the salivary glands of many species of tick are infectious organisms. These bugs flow into the dog with the saliva and it usually takes 24 hours for a tick to transmit most diseases, which provides us with time to identify and remove or kill the tick.

Common diseases carried by ticks in the Washington, Maryland, and Virginia areas include Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Ehrlichiosis, tick paralysis and others. These organisms can cause a variety of ailments, from arthritis-like signs, to fevers, clotting problems, and even death.

It is important to remove ticks when they are found. Transmission of most diseases does not happen until the tick has been attached to a dog for about a day. Gently grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it directly off. Try to not crush the tick and use tweezers, if available.

Check your dog after every walk, especially after strolling through the woods or grasslands. This is the first line of defense. Next, use an effective flea / tick preventive. Owing to our mid-Atlantic environment, appropriate preventives should be used year-round. Preventives include topical applications, collars, and oral chews. The preventives work to rapidly kill ticks that bite dogs, with the goal of killing them before they have the opportunity to transmit disease.

We recommend use of an oral chew such as Simparica or NexGard for several reasons. First is simplicity – you know the dog ate it and second they have beens down to be highly effective. The topicals can lose effectiveness if your dog is bathed often or if the dog swims frequently. Another option is a collar, such as Seresto. It is long-lasting and has been shown to be quite effective, as well. These preventives, although useful, are not 100% effective and you should always practice good tick hygiene and inspect your dog frequently.

Tick-borne disease is common in our area. Please use appropriate caution to prevent your pup from getting a tick-borne disease. And if you have any concerns about ticks, do not hesitate to contact us or your regular veterinarian.

Dan Teich, DVM
Medical Director
District Veterinary Hospitals

Categories
Cats Dogs News

How to prevent fleas

Warmth! Rain! Spring! Fleas! It is that time again, my friends, that time where fleas emerge from dormancy and become a nuisance. While fleas are active all year here in the District Metropolitan Area, they can become a menace when the temperatures are consistently above fifty degrees. Let’s understand the flea life cycle and how to prevent these buggers from annoying you and your furred friends.

The common cat flea, which also infests dogs, has been around for millenia. Be thankful you live now and not millions of years ago. We have fossils of fleas the size of golfballs. Seeing as they have been around long before humans or even dogs, they know what they are doing. Our main goal is to prevent flea infestations. We will discuss flea treatment in a bit.

A female flea is capable of laying over six hundred eggs during her lifetime. Fleas may live anywhere from two weeks to eight months, depending upon temperature, humidity, and food supply. Their lifecycle is rather fascinating (well, I think so) and is important to understand when trying to manage their control.

Adult fleas lay eggs on a host (in our case, a dog or cat) and feed on the animal. Feeding means biting and sucking blood. Think of them as tiny vampires. They digest the blood and then poop it out onto the pet. They also lay egg in the fur, too. When the pet lays down to sleep, the eggs and the feces from the adult fleas falls onto the ground, be it a bed, carpet, leaf litter. If the temperature is right, the eggs hatch into larvae (grubs) and eat the feces from the adults. They grow and shed their outer skin several times. This is called molting. After several molts, they spin a small cocoon similar to a caterpillar, where they turn into an adult flea. And here they can wait for months. They want for the perfect time – where a hatching is triggered by vibrations of an animal walking by. And they are hungry! They then jump onto the passing animal and begin the cycle all over again.

Flea bites are itchy – and remember, fleas eat blood, so they bite frequently. The saliva triggers an allergic reaction, leading to itching. It only takes a few bites to cause some dogs or cats to be extremely itchy. Aside from the itch, they can also transmit tapeworms (if the flea is eaten) and a host of other diseases. While itching and fleas are the most common sequela in our area, they can transmit a host of other diseases, too, including plague.

No one wants fleas on their pet or in their home! While we have effective oral and topical flea preventives (to be discussed later), a bit of home maintenance can help, too. Vacuum regularly, especially the areas where your pets sleep. Fleas love carpet and slightly moist areas, such as basements. These are prime areas for flea eggs to mature. Vacuum then wash pet bedding on a regular basis in hot water. Once young fleas turn into pupae, the only method to eliminate them is through mechanical means – or let then hatch.

Vacuuming helps, but is far from sufficient. An array of products have come to the market, which prevent infestations and / or kill fleas on pets. Capstar is an oral tablet that rapidly kills any flea on a dog or cat. Its drawback is that it is a one shot deal: fleas can reinfest the pet rapidly. It can be used in urgent situations. Topical preventives have existed for over two decades, with eh most popular brand being Frontline. The medication floats within the skin oils of the pet, killing fleas for a month. Its efficacy decreases if the pet is bathed frequently. Its main drawback is that it is topical and may not spread over the entire pet. Some pets also have a sensitivity to the alcohol which suspends the active ingredients.

Seresto collars are effective for flea control. The collar can last up to six months and is worn at all times. The drawbacks are that the collar is a topical medication and the collar can be lost.

Newer generation flea preventives are oral tablets. These are effective for one month (Simparica, NexGard) or three months (Bravecto). The oral preventives are District Vet’s preferred method of flea control as their administration is easy and you can confirm that the dog received the dose! They are also highly effective and take care of ticks, too. In rare cases the oral preventives can cause tremors (shakes) in dogs. If observed, please tell your veterinarian. These clinical signs wear off quickly, but a different flea control should be used if observed. There is an oral preventive for cats, too, but we prefer a topical called Revolution as it also prevents heart worm disease in cats.

Fleas are here, but they do not have to be part of your home. Understanding how to prevent them is key to having an itch-free dog or cat. Should you have questions, please feel free to ask us or your local veterinarian.

Dan Teich, DVM
Medical Director
District Veterinary Hospitals

Categories
Cats Dogs News

Identify your pet! Use a chip and a tag

Buster is lost in the woods. Felix ran out an open door. Blossom was spooked by fireworks. All are missing and their people are in panic mode. How do they get back home?

Countless pets go missing each year, ten million dogs annually, as estimated by the ASPCA. Fifteen percent of households in a large survey reported that a pet went missing within the past five years of the survey date. It was almost equal between dogs and cats. Most dogs made it home due to neighborhood searches, while fifteen percent of dogs were reunited with their people because of an identification tag or a microchip. Most cats returned on their own. Only six percent of dogs and two percent of cats were found at their local shelter.

When a pet goes missing, the best method for recovery is a neighborhood search, but there are tools that you can implement to increase the chance of recovering a pet. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks.

Most popular is having a tag on your dog or cat’s collar with a current phone number. It is easy, inexpensive, and very effective if your pet is found outside. Be certain that the tag is always on the collar and that the phone numbers are current. Many times the tag is old and does not reflect a recent move. An additional method of carrying a phone number is to have it embroidered on the pet’s collar. A number of companies provide this service. A tag and an embroidered collar can be stylish, too!

A drawback is if the collar is not on your pet when in the house – or if the collar breaks away, as in the case of cat collars. Dogs that are crated should not be wearing a collar. It is recommended to be collarless in a crate to prevent strangulation. Cat collars are designed to unsnap if a certain amount of pressure is placed on the collar. This is for strangulation and entanglement prevention.

A collar and tag is by far the most effective method for identification, but it should be combined with an implanted microchip. This is not space-age technology – it is similar to a key fob. The microchip, about the size of a large grain of rice, is encoded with a number (or combination of letters and numbers), which can be read with a hand-held scanner. When the scanner is waved over the area with the chip, the number appears on the scanner’s display. Once the number is obtained, it is entered into a web portal, which directs the user to the service which maintains the registry for the chip. These people then contact the pet’s owner, or if permission is granted during chip registration, the finder of the pet is given the owner’s information.

Microchips cannot be lost and are a permanent form of identification, but there are a few drawbacks, too. First, the chip must be registered. When a pet receives a chip, the owner must either have the veterinary hospital register the chip or do this themselves. The information is placed into a database and will be there forever. It is imperative that if you ever move, that the information in the database is updated. This usually only takes a few minutes and can be done online, in most cases. Last, a chip must be scanned in order to be effective! Almost all shelters and veterinarians have scanners.

New on the horizon are GPS-enabled collars. They are programmable and can indicate the position of your pet on an app. The drawbacks include the collar falling off, the battery running low, technology issues, and being out of satellite communication.

Being a former shelter veterinarian, I cannot stress enough the need to have a collar with a tag and a microchip on your pet. In our city people are so happy to assist with getting pets back home – give them the tools they need!

Categories
Dogs News

Knee injuries in dogs: The CCL tear

Dogs are prone to many orthopedic injuries, but none is as common as rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL). The knee is a complex joint, composed of a number of ligaments and cartilage padded areas. When there is damage to the CCL, the knee becomes unstable, leading to discomfort, damage to the cartilage, and eventual arthritis.

The CCL in dogs is analogous to the ACL in humans. This ligament is frequently torn in athletes during a traumatic episode (think football), but in dogs, the ligament begins to weaken when they are young, leading to possible rupture during mundane activities.

The CCL serves to stabilize the bones of the knee. The femur (long bone that extends from the hip joint to the knee) sits on top of the tibia (shin bone) and is prevented from sliding off the tibia by the CCL. The ligament also helps prevent twisting of the bones on top of each other. When the ligament is torn, the femur has excess mobility leading to possible damage of the protective coating of cartilage in the joint, inflammation, and pain. Walking becomes more difficult as well. As the inflammation and instability persist, the body reacts by producing scar tissue in an attempt to stabilize the joint. After some time, the joint develops arthritis, leading to chronic pain.

We frequently see dogs for CCL damage and the history may involve jumping playing, or nothing at all. Since the ligament weakens in many dogs at a young age, it may simply rupture when out for a walk. In working or highly active dogs, the damage may be secondary to trauma or a hard landing, but frequently, the dog is simply lame after a walk. Common breeds for CCL damage include all pit bull breeds and retrievers. Large breed dogs are also over-represented, but we do see problems in small dogs, too.

Diagnosis of a ruptured CCL is based upon history and an orthopedic examination. X-rays are useful, but do not show the ligament damage as most ligaments do not appear X-rays. During the examination, the veterinarian will assess if the joint is stable by flexing and extending the knee, along with testing if there is drawer or tibial thrust. The later two techniques show if the femur slides back and forth on top of the tibia.

Once a presumptive diagnosis of a CCL tear is made, X-rays are frequently taken of the knees and the hips. It is important to be certain that there are no other abnormalities within the knee and to ascertain if the hips are normal. If you fix a damaged knee, but the hip itself is problematic, you may not have made a positive difference in the walking or comfort of the dog – or the hip itself is the real problem, and not the knee!

Initially torn CCLs are managed with rest, an anti-inflammatory medication for pain and inflammation control, and a glucosamine supplement such as Dasuquin Advanced. Not all CCL tears are complete and with time, medications and rest, some may stabilize and not require further intervention. Regenerative medicine – including stem cells and platelet rich plasma, along with physical therapy and rest may greatly aid in recovery of dogs with less than 50% partial CCL tears. For those with a complete tear, surgical intervention is necessary to obtain the best outcome.

Several surgical techniques are employed to stabilize the knee joint, but the tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) is the most common procedure. For brevity we will only discuss the TPLO as we at District Vet believe it to have the best outcomes for our patients. The TPLO does not recreate the broken ligament, but changes the position of the top of the tibia bone so that the femur sit more flatly upon the tibia, eliminating the need for the CCL. This is performed via making a circular cut in the tibia, rotating it into position, and securing it with a steel plate and screws. Post operative the pup is placed on pain medications, joint supplements, omega-3 fatty acids (Welactin brand is most recommended), Adequan (an injectable joint supplement), rest, and given physical therapy. Dogs recover quite quickly and frequently resume their pre CCL rupture activities within three months.

Remember earlier where it was discussed that CCL rupture is usually a degeneration of the ligament? Well, in 50-60% of dogs that damage one CCL, the other will be damaged within 15-18 months. The best treatment is to repair a CCL when it ruptures and then repair the other, too.

CCL ruptures are common in dogs, but can be effectively treated in all sizes of dogs. If your pup is suddenly lame in a hind leg, the CCL may be to blame. We are here to help.

Dan Teich, DVM
District Veterinary Hospital

Categories
Cats Dogs News

Why we ask for poop!

“And please remember to bring a fecal sample.” Whenever a client schedules a wellness or sick pet visit, our front staff requests they bring a fresh stool sample. We are not fascinated by your pets’ poop, per se, but are concerned about your pets’ well-being and the potential for transmission of parasites to people. That being said, we are routinely amused by the containers in which people bring us their pets’ sample.

So what do we look for in a fecal sample? Mainly parasites, but we also want to see that the color is appropriate, assess if obvious blood is present, and evaluate consistency. What goes in must come out, they saying goes, but lots can happen in-between. Parasites can affect a whole host of organs, blood may indicate tumors or ulcers, color changes may indicate pancreatic or digestion issues, and consistency may be an indicator of allergies or inflammatory bowel disease. Poop is a valuable diagnostic tool.

Many parasites are passed through fecal material. Numerous parasites live within the intestines and colon and lay their eggs within the lumen of the intestines. When the pet defecates, the eggs of the parasites are shed into the environment, waiting for a new host to infect. Most parasites obtain entry into their new host via the fecal-oral route – aka the host eats the eggs in a small quantity of fecal matter. As for dogs this is very common, whether they eat feces off the sidewalk or simply clean their feet after a nice stroll through the park. Roundworms, one of the most common parasites in dogs, can even infect a host by penetrating through the skin of the their feet. Commonly transmitted parasites via the fecal-oral route include round and hookworms and giardia. Less common, but more concerning is toxoplasmosis (a conversation for another day).

Some other parasites take a bit of a more circuitous route, but still need to pass through the intestines of the pet. This includes tapeworms, flukes, and several other parasites. Tapeworm eggs are shed into the stool and ingested by fleas. When the dog or cat eats the flea, the tapeworm is released into the pet, starting the lifecycle over again. Other tapeworms and some flukes require a snail eat the feces, then the pet eats the snail and here we go again.

When you bring a fecal sample and we send it out to the lab, the technicians analyze the sample for the eggs of these parasites. This is performed either by the floatation method where they scan the feces for actual eggs, or via the ELISA method, where the sample is tested for chemical markers to the parasites. It is important to remember that parasites are like chickens: they do not lay eggs every day. Frequently we will ask for several samples from different times – this is especially true for puppies and kittens. We want to maximize our chances of catching any parasitic infections. If an infection is found, appropriate treatment is initiated.

Before the sample is sent out to the lab, it is inspected. Is the color correct? Is there blood present? Is the stool too soft? Is there a large amount of mucus present? If abnormalities are found, we then assess if further testing is needed or if there is a problem with the pet. A particular pancreatic dysfunction results in the stool being a very light cream color. Early in the disease, this is the only clinical sign. If treated dogs usually fully recover. Blood may also be the only sign of a tumor or a parasite. Extremely hard stool may indicate constipation, dehydration, kidney disease, or a lack of fiber. And loose stool may be a sign of a food allergy, parasitism, or an inflammatory process within the intestines.

Simply put, poop can tell us quite a bit about overall health. No one loves playing with a stool sample, so here are a few suggestions to make collection easier. We have stool collection vials that you can take home and then return to us – they have a small spoon and once sealed, contain all the odors. If you collect it in a plastic bag, please double bag the sample. You may also use a jar or other suitable container. We don’t need a large sample, either: about several pennies weight of sample is sufficient. Don’t bring a Great Dane’s worth, please. It is important that the stool be as fresh as possible. If there may be a lag between collection and bringing it to us, you may refrigerate (not freeze) the sample for a day. Don’t neglect bringing samples for cats, either, but do take care to not bring a sample that is old and dried out.

And most important, bring a sample to every annual exam, even if it is in a Tiffany’s box.

Dan Teich, DVM

Categories
Cats Dogs News

Diabetes Affects Dogs and Cats

Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes ranks high amongst chronic diseases in humans and pets. While most people know that diabetes concerns the amount of sugar within the blood, they are unaware of why it occurs and how it is treated. The disease in pets closely parallels that of humans and is treated in much the same manner.

So what is diabetes? Here’s the technical answer: Diabetes mellitus is a disorder of carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism caused by either an absence of insulin or an inability of the body to use insulin, leading to elevated blood sugar levels and a cascade of significant metabolic derangements.

Now let’s break that down a bit. When one eats they take in carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, and other nutrients. The stomach breaks down many of these substances into smaller components and the intestines selectively absorb nutrients, including sugars. These nutrients then cycle into the liver for further processing and then circulate in the blood to the body. Now that we have this down, let’s talk about sugar.

Sugar, known as glucose, is an essential fuel for many cells, especially those of the brain. But you see, glucose needs to get into the body’s cells order to be used. To do that the body produces a hormone called insulin. This chemical attaches to body cells and signals them to take in glucose. A simple analogy is to think of it as a key, allowing the glucose to flow into the cell.

When you eat and absorb sugars, the elevated levels of glucose trigger the beta cells within pancreas to produce and release insulin into the bloodstream. If there is a problem making insulin or for some reason the body does not adequately recognize or use insulin, the blood sugar levels can be elevated for prolonged periods. This is diabetes.

So what? Blood glucose levels are elevated. What happens? The body turns to other sources of energy, namely breaking down fats and proteins. Fat travels to the liver where it is turned into ketones, another energy source, but ketones themselves are toxic at high levels and the liver can only handle so much fat processing before it gives out. The excess fat leads to fatty liver disease and liver failure. Breaking down muscle proteins isn’t sustainable for long as there is not an unlimited source of muscle. Without energy the body fails to function, the brain and nerves start to shut down, other organs experience deleterious effects from using other energy sources and eventually death results.

What are the signs of diabetes? Can it be felt? Diabetes in itself is not painful and it is possible for a human or pet to have the disease and initially be unaware of its presence. The typical first signs involve increased drinking and urinating. High blood sugar levels lead to the kidneys relating large amounts of water and sugar into the urine. If you observe your pet, especially cats, drinking and urinating very frequently, diabetes may be a concern. Weight loss is seen in most pet diabetes cases. Usually the person notes that their overweight pet is suddenly losing weight and that the diet they placed the pet on is ‘working.” Be certain that diabetes is not a factor. Some pets will experience problems walking – this is caused by nerves not working properly secondary to not receiving enough glucose. Cataracts in the eyes may for. They are caused by excess water to flowing into the lens, potentially leading to blindness. Other pets may simply have a poor hair coat and not be thriving as in the past.

We know what diabetes is now, so what causes it? The answer depends as there are several pathways that lead to diabetes. First is the destruction of the beta cells. This can occur from certain infections, genetic traits, infections, and immune diseases. Simply, there aren’t enough beta cells to pull off the job. The second way involves the body not efficiently using the insulin produced by the pancreas – this is known as insulin resistance.

Ok, so how is it treated? In pets we use several different modalities to get the blood sugar level under control. The hallmark treatment is administering insulin via an injection once or twice per day. This depends upon the type of insulin being used and several other factors. Next we modify the pet’s diet to a higher fiber diet that releases sugars into the intestines at a slower, more sustained rate. Several prescription veterinary diets exist and in some cases, can control the disease by themselves. They prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. The last major component is weight loss in obese pets. Carrying many extra pounds can lead to diabetes and research as shown that it can be greatly improved with controlled weight loss.

What’s the prognosis? Generally pretty good. Diabetes tends to affect older cats and middle-aged dogs. Treatment is not complicated in most cases, but does require dedication. With proper care, may pets with diabetes will go on to lead happy lives.

The above is a simple overview of a complicated disease. When caught early, diabetes is very treatable. Should you have any questions about pet diabetes or any cat or dog health issue, please reach out.

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Dogs News

Lyme Disease – An Annual Invasion

Lyme disease

Be prepared for an invasion. Not from across the ocean, but from little critters hitching a ride on mice: ticks. Each year the territory of ticks carrying Lyme disease appears to be spreading, and urban and suburban environments are ripe for the reason they spread: mice. While traditionally people have blamed Lyme disease on deer, mice appear to play an even larger role in spreading Lyme infected ticks.

Research by ecologists has shown that the numbers of mice the previous year is correlates with the number of Lyme cases the following summer. Due to mild winters the past decade, the population of mice has increased and the range and severity of Lyme disease has increased as well.

The CDC tracks Lyme cases and the spread of Lyme has been startling. Lyme was originally confined to New England and some areas of Wisconsin. It now can be found from Maine down through Virginia, across Wisconsin and Minnesota and in smaller pockets throughout the country. The ecologists suspect this is due to larger populations of deer, increased fragmented forests (mice thrive in small patches of woodlands), decreased predators feeding upon mice and deer, and increased travel by people. DC has plenty of mice and great moue habitat: small gardens and small patches of woodlands.

Lyme is spread via an infected tick biting either you or your dog (it is possible in cats, too, but less frequent). Infected ticks carry the organism that transmits lyme, Borellia burdorferi, in their saliva and inject it into the animal while feeding. In general it takes over 24 hours for the tick to transfer Lyme to its host once it attaches. The disease is treatable in both humans and dogs, but prevention is key. For people routinely checking for ticks post any outdoor activity is key. Look in great places for a tick to hide: behind the ears, in the groin area, under the arms.

Therefore, if you note a tick on yourself or your pup, it is important to remove it as soon as possible. When removing a tick, grasp it with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull it off. Do not squeeze its body. Always check yourself and your dog after playing outside – simple walks in the neighborhood are sufficient to have ticks jump onto you and the pup.

For dogs, we have a three-fold method of prevention: removal of ticks, oral and topical tick preventives, and a vaccination against Lyme. The most effective preventives focus on killing ticks as soon as possible. Simparica, NexGard, and Bravecto work via causing uncontrolled neurologic issues in ticks and the ticks rapidly die. The medications have a very high affinity for the specific chemical in ticks (fleas, too), and usually cause no ill effects in dogs. When giving any of these three preventives, monitor your pup for any adverse reactions, such as vomiting, tremors, or simply not feeling well. Side effects are quite rare and pass with time. The risk from Lyme and other tick-borne disease is much greater than the risks from the preventives.

There are several Lyme vaccinations available as well. They prime the immune system to recognize the Borellia organism and mount a immune response its presence, thus decreasing the likelihood of clinical disease. Here in DC, the vaccine is recommended for most dogs.

Even with preventives and vaccination, Lyme can still be transmitted – these methods are not fool-proof. We recommend that your dog be tested for Lyme once per year as part of annual parasite testing. If positive for Lyme, treatment can help prevent problems from arising.
Tick and parasite control is complicated and requires several different paradigms. We veterinarians are here to help keep your pup (and to a degree you) safe from ticks and tick-borne diseases. As always, please let us know how we can help.

Dan Teich, DVM
District Veterinary Hospital