When Longtime Feline Friends Turn Enemies

If your formerly peaceable cats have started fighting, and things are looking serious, it’s probably not a situation that can be fixed.

That’s the news from board certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Debra F. Horwitz at the 2016 NAVC Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla.

What causes outbreaks of aggression between housemate cats? “Fights can occur between cats that have lived together for some time perhaps due to a change in social status or a traumatic event, fights may be the sequel to redirected aggressive behavior or another anxiety producing event, aggression may occur with the introduction of another cat, or due to illness or social changes within the home,” she said. “Fear, anxiety, and territorial responses all contribute to intercat aggression within a household.”

First, the bad news: Dr. Horwitz said that severe territorial aggression between cats in a household has a poor prognosis, and even drug therapy is rarely curative. These cats will probably need to live entirely separately at all times and permanently, or one of the cats will need to be rehomed.

In such cases, she said, “Cats may begin to fight when a young resident cat reaches social maturity (between 1 and 2 years of age), when an aging cat leaves the home or changes in their interactions with the other cats, another cat enters the home, or resident cats experience a shift is social relationships.”

Signs that suggest the dispute is about territory include:

  • The “aggressor” cat will usually chase the “victim” cat
  • One cat may restrict where they go to keep away from the aggressor
  • Vocalizing, hissing, growling, and yowling

Owners often think the cat who is vocalizing is the aggressor, she said, but “most often it is the victim who is doing the vocalization.”

Despite the poor prognosis in cases of extreme social and territorial aggression, there are steps that can be taken in less-severe situations.

“Immediately after a fight, owners must separate the cats until they both calm down. The best way to calm an agitated cat is to put the cat in a darkened room with food, water, and litter box and leave it there,” Dr. Horwitz said. “Keep the cat in the dark until it is calm, which can take hours to several days. The owner can go in only to turn on the light, feed the cat, and then leave.”


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The sign the cat may be ready to rejoin the rest of the household is when he or she approaches the owner in a calm manner with a relaxed body posture. Rushing this step can prolong the aggressive stage and may make the problem worse.

“Even after release of the aggressor cat, it may be necessary to create separate areas for food, resting places, and litter boxes for each cat,” Dr. Horwitz cautioned. “Do not cluster these materials together, but spread throughout the environment keeping in mind how the various cats access the space available to them. It also might be helpful for the aggressor to wear a quick release/elastic cat collar with a large bell that will forewarn the victim of their approach allowing escape.”

Additional management and behavior modification approaches may be helpful. Cat owners experiencing these problems are encouraged to seek the help of a board-certified veterinary behaviorist before the intercat aggression is so severe it cannot be remedied.

 


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What You Need to Know About Buying Veterinary Drugs

Internet pharmacies, 800 numbers, catalogs, big box stores, and retail chains have all, to one degree or another, gotten into the pet drug business. These changes have left both pet owners and veterinarians confused and a little worried: Will human pharmacists get pet prescriptions right? How can you tell if a website offering medications is legitimate?

People typically seek out alternate sources of medications in order to save money. Veterinarians often can’t compete with other suppliers because, like mom and pop human drugstores, they frequently have to pay more wholesale for drugs than chain pharmacies charge for them retail.

Making the situation even more complicated, there are plenty of unscrupulous businesses using the internet to sell mislabeled, expired, and outright fraudulent medications to consumers. But even if you’re using the same reputable human pharmacy that supplies your family’s medications, no human pharmacist is an expert in veterinary drugs – a reality that can come with a lot of risk.

So what’s a pet owner to do?  Here’s a guide to your options:

1. Your pet’s veterinarian. This is the traditional source of veterinary drugs and, in many ways, the most familiar and hassle-free for everyone involved. Your vet examines your pet, works out with you what testing will be done, and packages and dispenses any prescribed medications. You pay for everything on your way out the door.

But there are reasons other than habit and convenience to get your pet's medications from his vet. Unlike your local pharmacist, your vet is an expert in animal health. She can give you information on side effects, contraindications, and how to administer the drug that a human pharmacist is not likely to have. (If you've ever picked up a prescription for your pet from a human pharmacist and read the sticker warning about not operating heavy machinery or drinking alcohol while taking the medication, you'll know what I mean.)

Your pet's veterinarian will also be able to ensure that the drugs she's dispensing are properly stored, handled, and labeled, and that they're not expired. While that's certainly also true of a reputable human pharmacy, it's not something you can take for granted when shopping online, from an 800 number, or through a catalog.

2. A human pharmacy. The price difference between human and veterinary medications can be substantial, particularly if the medication is one of those available at loss-leader prices at a chain pharmacy, or if you have a discount card. I once paid a veterinarian $60 for a pain medication that, when I refilled it at my local pharmacy, cost me $8. Particularly with medication for chronic conditions, or even a one-time prescription for a large dog, the savings can be substantial.

Of course, you won't always save money at a human pharmacy, but for long term prescriptions, expensive drugs, and medications for which there is a less expensive human alternative, it's well worth discussing your options with your veterinarian.

Just be aware that some human pharmacists have made dangerous changes to pet prescriptions without consulting the prescribing veterinarian, simply because they lack veterinary training. 


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Internet pharmacies, catalogs, and 800 numbers. Blindly ordering prescription drugs off the internet without your veterinarian’s knowledge is a recipe for disaster. Even a veterinarian who is happy to write a prescription to be filled at the drugstore down the street may not feel the same if she knows her clients will be filling it through certain internet, catalog, or 800 number pharmacies — often with very good reason.

There are websites selling prescription human and veterinary drugs without requiring a prescription. While many human-drug sites offer their own online consultations with doctors who rubber-stamp the prescription, some veterinary drug sites don't even bother with that formality. They may be located in other countries which may or may not have the same standards as the United States, or they may be entirely fraudulent.

The bottom line is this: Pet owners need to do some research before buying medications online. If you're using a human pharmacy, make sure it has received Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) certification from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. These pharmacies "must comply with the licensing and inspection requirements of their state and each state to which they dispense pharmaceuticals." You can check if an internet pharmacy has this certification on the NABP website.

5 Differences Between Mediocre Veterinarians and Great Ones

People have very different relationships with their pets than with their cars, which is why a consumer magazine’s advice of a few years ago to focus on price when selecting a veterinarian doesn’t make much sense. After all, if a tree falls on your car and destroys it, and an insurance company picks up the tab for a new one, what are you out except some inconvenience?

That’s not the case with our pets. We love them not just as generic and interchangeable furry accessories, but as members of our family and beloved companions. We no more want mediocre health care for them than we do for ourselves.

The problem is, we rarely know how to judge whether a veterinarian is good, bad, or great at what she or he does. We fall back on things like cost, location, and bedside manner because we don’t know what else to consider. We also rely on word of mouth from friends and family who themselves don’t know how to evaluate a veterinarian’s ability to practice medicine.

Of course cost and location matter. It’s just that those are follow-up questions to the basic issue of a veterinarian’s medical skills. But how do you evaluate how well your veterinarian, or a new veterinarian you are considering, practices medicine? There’s no single formula or litmus test, but these five tips should get you as close to an answer as possible without actually going to veterinary school yourself:

1. Consideration for your Pet

Just because your pet likes your vet, and vice versa, doesn’t mean the vet is good at practicing medicine. The reverse is true, however: It’s impossible to practice great veterinary medicine without having both knowledge and concern for a pet’s emotional as well as physical well-being.

A stressed-out pet will have elevated heart and respiratory rates. His blood pressure will be high. Some of his blood values will be skewed. He may need higher doses of drugs for sedation or anesthesia. And it will be difficult for the veterinarian to examine the pet if he’s frightened, struggling, or showing fear-based aggression.

Frightened pets result in bad medicine, so look for a veterinarian who provides compassionate, individualized care that minimizes or eradicates stress and anxiety for your pet.

2. Experience

It would be nice if there was a hard and fast rule about how long a veterinarian should be in practice before being considered a great vet. The truth is, many mediocre or even poor vets have been in practice a long time, while some newer practitioners are more up-to-date and informed about medicine than their senior colleagues.

But the longer a good vet has been practicing, the more likely she is to become a great vet. Not only that, but she’ll have seen pets with the same symptoms as yours many times, and had the opportunity to see how other animals respond to different treatments. She’s also had years or decades to take continuing education and refine her communications skills. Experience really can make the difference.

3. Keeping Up

It doesn’t matter how long your vet has been practicing if he doesn't keep up with changes in veterinary medicine. That's why the best veterinarians continue to learn and educate themselves throughout their careers. They belong to professional groups such as regional or national veterinary associations, or the Veterinary Information Network (VIN). They attend veterinary conferences. They take online courses. They are familiar with new research published in the veterinary literature.

If you already have a veterinarian, the next time you’re there, try telling him you read an article about the use of computers in veterinary medicine, and you're wondering if he belongs to VIN. Ask if he's ever been to a veterinary conference, and what it was like. Ask if there are any new studies about a health problem your pet has, and see what he says.


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4. Communication Skills

A great veterinarian needs great communications skills. She needs to be able to tactfully steer you away from information she doesn't need while skillfully eliciting the information she does need to diagnose and treat your pets.

Why You Should Never Ignore Fear in a Puppy

Will your fearful puppy grow out of his behavior? Probably not, and ignoring it and hoping it will go away can spell disaster.

Few people would be surprised to be told that puppyhood is a time when young dogs learn what’s safe, normal, rewarding, and harmful – lessons that will shape the dog he’ll grow up to be. But many people would be very surprised to learn how hard it is to undo those lessons once learned.

This is particularly true with lessons about fear. It’s also particularly critical, because fearful dogs not only suffer a great deal, but can be much more likely to bite or show other kinds of aggression because they’re afraid.

At the 2016 NAVC Veterinary Conference, behavior specialist Dr. Clara Palestrini of the Department of Veterinary Science and Public Health at Italy’s University of Milan warned that puppy owners need to be on the lookout for signs of fearful behavior in their dogs.

“From a behavioral viewpoint, the most frequently observed signs of fear are avoidance, immobility, flight, and aggressive behaviors,” she said. “An animal's fearful posture depends on the behavior the animal is about to exhibit, but, in general, the body is lowered, the tail is down or tucked under the body, the ears are pinned back against the head, and the eyes are wide.”


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Additional signs may include:

  • Increased vigilance
  • Reactivity
  • Excessive demands for human attention and reassurance
  • Shyness
  • Freezing
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Self-grooming
  • Erect hairs

“In extreme cases, dogs show a real state of panic,” Dr. Palestrini said. “They are insensitive to pain and social stimuli and their reaction is immediate and extreme. In these cases, the flight behavior can be so violent that dogs may go to such extremes as breaking their own nails and teeth and jumping out of windows regardless of the height.”

These behavior problems, some of which frequently go unrecognized as being signs of fear and anxiety, can become firmly entrenched during puppyhood, and lead to fear-based aggression later on. Dr. Palestrini pointed out that dogs who are taken to behaviorists for aggression problems usually are motivated by fear or anxiety.

Complicating this picture is the fact that normal puppies go through a period when they’re particularly sensitive to fearful events and situations. This period often takes place just when they’re joining a new family, and being taken away from everything they know including their mother and littermates. This fearful response is normal, but steps should be taken to minimize the fearful reaction so it doesn’t develop into a more extreme, permanent response.

Differentiating between normal and extreme puppy response to new situations, as well as knowing how to provide the right response to a puppy’s natural display of anxiety during this period, can be tricky.

If your puppy shows signs of being anxious or fearful, and establishing an attentive, appropriate, loving routine doesn’t help with the transition, don’t ignore the problem. Seek the help of a board-certified veterinary behaviorist to reframe the dog’s fears before they’re so hard-wired they’ll be difficult if not impossible to reverse.


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How to Know if a Pet Crematory is Worthy of Your Trust

Losing a pet is one of the hardest emotional challenges an animal lover will ever experience. At the very moment we’re most distraught, we have to make end of life decisions that would be tough at the best of times. Along with medical decisions, including whether it’s time for euthanasia, we have to decide what to do with our beloved pet’s last remains.

For most of us, that decision will be cremation. But how can we know which cremation company to entrust with this task?

At the 2016 NAVC Veterinary Conference, Dr. Mary Gardner and Dr. Dani McVety advised their fellow veterinarians on how to tell the good from the bad in the pet crematory field – advice that will also help pet owners make their own choice or evaluate the recommendation of their veterinarian. For pet owners, if at all possible, do this in advance of any need.

Here are their tips:

  1. Call 4-5 large local clinics and find out what crematory they use.
  2. Use Google to identify the largest pet cremation services in your community.
  3. Contact some or all of the crematories and inquire as to available services as well as prices. Use this as an opportunity to judge their customer service.
  4. Visit the crematory. Many pet owners might want to skip this step, but it’s essential for veterinarians.

Their advice to veterinarians: “You should feel confident that once the pet has left your facility, they are treated with honor, respect, and that the private cremations are indeed the same pet.”

About 70 percent of pet owners choose cremation, with the remaining 30 percent opting for home burial. Depending on the time of year and whether the region is rural or urban, cremation numbers can hit 90 percent or higher.


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Cremations can be communal or private. When a crematory describes a cremation as “private,” this should mean that there is only one body at a time in the cremation chamber at a time. However, if this is important to you, be sure to ask them to define what they mean by “private,” as some services instead use a metal divider between individual pets in a single chamber.

Other questions to ask include what the price includes, such as a basic urn, and what upgrades are offered. Some cremation services will call a simple plastic box an “urn,” which may feel misleading to many people. Additional services can include paw prints, certificates, photo urns, and more.

Some crematories will offer viewings, visitations, and memorial services, and also offer witnessed cremations for pet owners who wish to be absolutely certain the remains are those of their pet.

What happens to your pet’s remains after cremation? They can be returned to the veterinary clinic for pickup, delivered to you at home by UPS, FedEx, or the postal service, or you can pick them up. Some offer burial in an on-site or other community pet cemetery, and others offer a service that spreads the ashes. In recent years there have been a number of scandals where human ashes have been stockpiled in storage instead of scattered, however, so this is a choice where trust has to be well and truly earned if the ceremony can’t be witnessed.

What if your pet passes away at home? If the pet is euthanized by a visiting veterinarian, they probably offer transport to the cremation facility. Other crematories offer pickup at private residences, or you may need to bring the deceased pet to your veterinarian’s office or even to the crematory. If you have a pet in hospice care, these are important questions to ask the supervising veterinarian as early in the process as possible, as not knowing what to do with your pet’s body, especially if he or she is a large dog, will only make a distressing time much more difficult.

There is not a lot that can ease our pain when a pet leaves this life, but there’s no reason that the worry you were ripped off, your pet’s remains were treated disrespectfully, or that you were forced to deal with difficult decisions in the midst of grief should add to your pain. Open a conversation with your veterinarian at your next visit, and do some research in advance of need. It will only be harder if you delay.

Can Medications And Supplements Help Your Pet Avoid Cognitive Decline?

Old age isn’t a disease, but it can come with some physical and mental challenges for senior pets. Can medication and supplements make the difference for cats and dogs suffering from the condition known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, or CDS?

In many cases, yes, said board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg at the 2016 NAVC Veterinary Conference. First, however, he reviewed the signs of cognitive problems in dogs and cats, some of which may surprise their owners.

The signs of CDS are known by the acronym DISHA, for:

  • Disorientation
  • Altered social interactions
  • Altered sleep-wake cycles
  • House-soiling
  • Altered activity levels

“These signs primarily arise from altered responses to stimuli, an increase in fear, anxiety and irritability, and deficits in learning and memory associated with cognitive decline,” he said. Other signs include clinginess, circling, pacing, wandering, forgetting obedience commands they once knew, lack of interest in walks, staring blankly, nighttime meowing or barking, and difficult finding their food or water. (Many of those may also be signs of physical illness.)

Unsurprisingly, CDS is more common with age, and its symptoms worsen over time. In one study, 50 percent of cats over the age of 15 showed signs of cognitive decline. In a 2010 survey, 41 percent of dogs over 14 showed signs.


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The problem is more common than most pet owners realize, and causes a number of symptoms most won’t associate with cognitive decline. But what can they do about it?

“When cognition is impaired, diet, drugs, or supplements might be useful in improving signs and slowing the progress of CDS,” Dr. Landsberg noted. “Canine studies have demonstrated that mental stimulation in the form of training, play, exercise, and manipulation toys can help to maintain quality of life as well as cognitive function.”

Prescription medications that might help with CDS and its effect on the brain include:

  • Selegiline. This monoamine oxidase B inhibitor has shown efficacy in improving cognitive signs in the dog. It is not licensed for use in cats, but some reports indicate it helps them as well.
  • Memantine. This drug is a NMDA receptor antagonist used to treat Alzheimer’s in humans.
  • Propentofylline. This medication xanthine-derivative is not licensed for dogs in North America but is used in Europe and Australia. It may be useful for cats, too.

These medications need to be prescribed by a veterinarian, and may require a consultation with a behavioral specialist, as they’re not in common use in veterinary practice.

What about supplements?  “A primary therapeutic strategy for cognitive dysfunction in dogs, cats, and humans is to reduce the risk factors that contribute to cognitive decline,” said Dr. Landsberg. “It is likely that an integrative approach is required such as with a Mediterranean diet or a diet fortified with antioxidants and polyunsaturated fatty acids.”

Supplements he reviewed included:

  • Senilife. This supplement contains phosphatidylserine, Gingko biloba, vitamins E and B6, and resveratrol.
  • Activait. Phosphatidylserine is also included in this supplement, along with, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins E and C, l-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q, and selenium.
  • S-adenosyl-l-methionine. Commonly known as SAM-E, this supplement has shown effectiveness in a placebo-controlled trial for both dogs and cats.
  • Apoaequorin. Derived from jellyfish, this protein may provide neuroprotection against aging and an improvement in attention and learning in dogs.

Medications may also help with the symptoms of CDS, such as anxiety. However, they can cause interactions with other drugs used for CDS or for other age-related conditions. A careful exploration of drug interactions and side effects is essential if multiple medications are used to treat symptoms of CDS.


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Is Your Cat’s Behavior Problem Really a Medical Problem?

Is your cat urinating outside the litterbox because she’s upset at changes in the household, or because she has a urinary tract infection? Is she clawing up the furniture because she’s upset, or because she’s sick?

Cats are incredibly sensitive to stress, and that sensitivity often translates into genuine medical problems such as urinary tract and respiratory infections. What’s more, cats often hide signs of illness as part of their evolutionary defense against predators. That’s why behavior changes are often the only sign even the most attentive owner can pick up on that something’s wrong.

On the other hand, sometimes a behavior problem actually is primarily a behavior problem. How can a pet owner know what’s really going on?

At the 2016 NAVC Veterinary Conference, board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Debra Horwitz and board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist Dr. Gary Oswald mapped out a path to guide veterinarians through that tangled terrain. Their advice will help frustrated cat owners too.

The most important message for pet owners and vets alike is this: The first step when behavior changes are noted by the owner is to rule out all likely medical causes. This goes for changes in eating habits, grooming, meowing or other vocalization, or litterbox usage, as well as the onset of aggression toward people or other pets.

That means the appropriate response to a cat who is urinating or defecating outside the litterbox is not to try to figure out what message the cat is sending you, but to visit the veterinarian to see if kidney disease or some other health condition is behind the change in behavior.

It means that if your cat suddenly turns on another cat in the home with whom he’s always gotten along in the past, you need to head to the vet to rule out medical causes first.

It means if your cat stops grooming herself, or starts grooming herself obsessively, you shouldn’t spend time wondering if it all traces back to some kittenhood trauma; you need to visit the veterinarian.


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In their presentation, Drs. Horwitz and Oswald cited neurological disorders as frequent causes of mood and behavior changes in cats. Cancer affecting the central nervous system, toxic exposure, seizures – the list of neurological conditions that can manifest as behavior changes is lengthy, and covers nearly any behavior problem that might occur.

Ditto for the endocrine system, which maintains and balances the complex system of communication by hormonal signals in the body. “Cats with endocrine disorders frequently manifest behavioral changes and clinical signs that can be confused with primary behavioral disorders,” noted the presenters in the conference proceedings. “Cats with clinical signs including aggression, withdrawn interaction with owner, weight loss or gain, poor grooming habits, and inappropriate urination should be evaluated for a variety of feline endocrine disorders.”

Gastrointestinal and skin or ear problems can be behind many behavior issues as well, but one of the biggest triggers is pain. Pain itself can be caused by any number of underlying medical conditions, including arthritis, and is something the cat will often try to hide. Those efforts to act as if nothing’s wrong can lead the cat to withdraw from the owner or from normal behaviors such as play, as well as change the cat’s relationship with other pets in the family.

“Physical examination may not always reveal pain,” cautioned the presenters. “The most common signs that indicate an animal is in pain tend to be behavioral: vocalizations, agitation, abnormal postures or gaits, and subtle signs such as loss of appetite, trembling, stupor, or biting.” They suggested veterinarians proactively encourage their clients to report behavior changes when they first occur, in order to identify pain or illness as early as possible.

This is important with all kinds of illness, but untreated pain carries a particular risk. When an animal is in pain for a long period of time, even when the cause is removed or the pain physically relieved, the behavior changes it caused can persist or become permanent.

Ring Around a Tumor: How Tiny Chemo Beads May Treat Your Pet’s Cancer

Often, when a veterinary surgeon removes a tumor, it’s followed up with chemotherapy and/or radiation. But there’s a new option that might protect your pet from a recurrence of the tumor, with fewer side effects and at a lower cost.

“After removing certain types of tumor surgically, we can implant a circle of tiny beads impregnated with a chemotherapy drug called cisplatin around the edges of the tumor,” said board-certified veterinary surgeon Dr. Phil Zeltzman. “These beads slowly release the drug and are then reabsorbed by the body.”

One of the major advantages of chemo beads is when they’re compared to the use of cisplatin in chemotherapy given intravenously (IV), which is the usual practice.

“Cisplatin given IV can cause severe kidney damage in dogs,” Dr. Zeltzman said. “But the beads administer a very small fraction of the dose you’d give IV, and greatly reduce that risk.” In fact, he said, the beads don’t seem to cause any of the general side effects common to IV chemotherapy, although they can cause local side effects such as skin irritation, swelling, and drainage.

The beads should ideally be implanted at the time the tumor is removed, because that’s when the margins are most obvious. Additionally, implanting the beads later in the course of the pet’s treatment, such as when a biopsy is back, means a second surgery under general anesthesia, with its associated risks and cost.

How effective are the beads? While they can stop the tumor from coming back, they do not protect against metastases. And they’re not the right choice for every kind of tumor, nor every patient. Dr. Zeltzman says he’s seen the best results in tumors such as anal gland carcinomas, soft tissue carcinomas, and thyroid tumors, among others.

One success story was Conan, a 9-year-old Lab with anal gland cancer. After Dr. Zeltzman removed the tumor and implanted the beads, Conan had a fast recovery and was soon back loving life – and the water!

“I call this a success story even though Conan did eventually pass away from cancer,” he said. “But he had an excellent quality of life, running, swimming and playing after his surgery. He passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family members, seven and a half months after his surgery. He was a very special dog, and I know his family treasured the many good months they had together.”


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One big negative of the beads: You’ll need to wear gloves if you’re going to clean or touch any drainage from the incision area. Additionally, your dog will need to be kept away from other dogs and in a plastic cone that prevents chewing the area until it’s healed.

Additionally, because they’re still not in wide use, be sure to discuss chemo beads with the veterinary surgeon well in advance of surgery, to give her time to obtain them before your pet’s tumor is removed.

Are chemo beads right for your pet? Talk to a veterinary surgeon and find out!


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Getting to the Outside of Your Itchy Dog’s Skin Condition

It’s like the classic laundry pre-treatment ad for ring around the collar: You’ve tried drugging it out, you’ve tried immune-boosting it out, but you’ve still got an insanely itchy dog. What are you doing wrong?

You may be tackling the problem from the inside, with anti-itch medications and antibiotics, instead of from the outside – which, for many dogs, is where the problem really lies.

Many dogs with itchy skin and recurrent bacterial infections have a weakness in their skin known as a "barrier defect."

In normal dogs, the skin's barrier keeps water inside the body and substances like bacteria, yeast and pollens out. In dogs with a barrier defect, those substances "leak" into the deeper layers of the skin. Because the body perceives them as invaders, the immune system revs itself up to destroy them, bringing local inflammation to the area as part of the immune response.

That inflammation causes the itching, redness, and irritation we know as an allergic reaction. Most dogs react to the discomfort by chewing and scratching their skin, which further damages the barrier, allowing more bacteria and yeast to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin, triggering more irritation, itching, and inflammation.

It gets worse: Dogs can eventually become allergic to the bacteria and yeast themselves, triggering an escalating cycle of infection, itching, chewing and licking that leaves the dogs hairless and in pain, and the owners broke from constant, often fruitless, visits to the veterinarian.

In the past, those skin infections have mostly been treated with antibiotics and steroids, plus or minus anti-fungal medications. In many dogs, that approach helped break the cycle by relieving pain, irritation, and infection, and even reducing itching by eliminating bacteria that were causing an allergic reaction in the dog.
Today, however, growing numbers of canine skin infections are by drug-resistant strains of staph, against which the antibiotics that used to control them are powerless.

Speaking at the recent NAVC Conference in Orlando, Fla., board-certified veterinary dermatologist Dr. Douglas J. DeBoer of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine said, “Over the past 10 years, there has been a substantial increase in the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in canine staphylococcal infections…. Many resistant strains are multidrug resistant, showing resistance to multiple classes of antibiotics, leaving the practitioner with few good options for treatment.”

The good news is that there’s a solution to this problem. The even better news is that it’s not costly, and the side effects are few to none. What is this miracle therapy?

“The new finding here is the effectiveness of topical therapy,” said Dr. DeBoer. “Although we’re used to thinking of topical products as adjunct treatments (used in addition to antibiotics), that thinking has changed, and dermatologists are now advocating that topicals be used instead of antibiotics wherever possible.”


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Not only do topical products kill even highly drug-resistant bacteria, he said, but reducing antibiotic use can help reduce the development of even more resistant bacteria.

That’s great for the public health and for clearing up a dog’s skin infections, but what about the itchy skin condition known as canine atopic dermatitis (AD) that’s the real culprit here? Are topical treatments the right approach for a dog with AD?

“Historically, AD was viewed as a disease that began on the ‘inside’ of the individual—the immune system,” Dr. DeBoer said. “More recently, this ‘inside-outside’ view has come into some question, and a different view is evolving.”

Research into AD now suggests that the “leakiness” of the dog’s skin is the initial problem that ultimately leads to changes in immune response and high levels of inflammation.

While there hasn’t been a great deal of research confirming this in dogs specifically, Dr. DeBoer said, “There is no question that the epidermal barrier functions are abnormal in atopic people… In fact, the more the concept of ‘barrier function’ is examined, the more it becomes obvious that barrier function is abnormal in AD, and this is a critical part of the pathogenesis of the disease.”

What Every Dog Owner Needs to Know About the New Canine Influenza

Was last year’s much-publicized canine influenza outbreak just media hype, or an emerging threat to canine health every dog owner should be paying attention to?

Unfortunately, this one isn’t hype. There really is a new strain of canine influenza virus (CIV), dubbed H3N2, in the U.S. While for most dogs it causes mild respiratory symptoms, it seems to be somewhat nastier and more contagious than its older viral cousin, CIV H3N8. Around 5 percent of the dogs who contract it will die from its complications.

The original canine influenza virus, H3N8, emerged on the veterinary scene in 2004 when it was identified as the cause of respiratory disease in racing greyhounds in Florida.

As the first influenza virus known to affect dogs, H3N8 captured the attention of human medicine researchers as well as veterinarians, but in terms of the day-to-day veterinary care of pet dogs, most dismissed it as just one more cause of what is commonly called kennel cough – more accurately called canine infectious respiratory disease complex – which is usually no more dangerous than the common cold in humans.

Later research suggested H3N8 was more serious than at first believed, but while those usually-mild respiratory infections sometimes turned into pneumonia, such complications were rare. A vaccine was eventually developed, and attention to the virus dwindled.

In March of 2015, however, Chicago veterinarians began to worry about a particularly devastating outbreak of canine respiratory infections that appeared to be centered around the city’s dog parks. The dogs’ symptoms were much more severe than they should have been, and some dogs died despite aggressive care. What was going on?

Researchers eventually identified the bug behind most of these cases as a strain of canine influenza previously found only in Asia. No one really knows how it arrived in Chicago, although in this age of jet travel, it’s an ocean-hop many human and animal diseases have been making more frequently.

At the 2016 NAVC Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Florida, boarded veterinary internal medicine specialist Dr. Katharine F. Lunn of the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine told attendees the virus is serious and requires awareness and caution, but panic isn’t necessary or helpful.

“Because this pathogen has only relatively recently emerged in the dog population there is little natural immunity,” she said. “When introduced into a group of susceptible dogs, CIV infection can spread rapidly and morbidity (illness) rates are typically high.”

Both strains of the virus are spread the same way, through the droplets released when affected dogs sneeze or cough. CIV can be transmitted through the air at a distance of several feet, as well as directly between dogs and on the surfaces of bowls, hands, clothing, and dog beds. Dr. Lunn said the virus can survive “up to 48 hours in the environment, up to 24 hours on clothes, and up to 12 hours on hands.”


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Signs of CIV are similar to other respiratory infections, and include lethargy, not eating, coughing, and sneezing. There is no specific treatment unless a secondary bacterial infection or pneumonia develops, or the dog becomes otherwise seriously ill.

Dog owners need to be especially aware of a few problems associated with CIV prevention and diagnosis. Dogs can spread the virus to other dogs even before they themselves display symptoms, and Dr. Lunn said most dogs are “no longer infectious by 10 to 14 days after initial exposure.”

However, she said, the fact that they shed the virus so early on, often before their owners have sought veterinary attention, makes it difficult for veterinarians to diagnose the disease later during its course.

Can CIV be prevented? There are vaccines available for both strains of CIV, however, while vaccinated dogs may have less severe symptoms and shed less virus, the vaccine doesn’t prevent the disease.

The best protection is to be aware of increased reports of respiratory symptoms in dogs in your area, and avoid taking your dog around other dogs at those times. Keep your dog away from dogs who are sneezing or coughing, and avoid sharing bowls, toys, or bedding. And just like with human flu, Dr. Lunn said, dog owners and people who work with dogs should “wash their hands regularly while handling their own or other dogs.”