Bufo Toad Toxicity (Envenomation) in Dogs

 

Overview of Bufo Toad Toxicity in Dogs

Toads of the genus Bufo, live in many parts of the world and, unbeknownst to many pet owners, can be toxic to dogs. The Bufus marinus toad species is especially common in southern Florida. Many thousands of dogs are exposed to these poisonous toads every year in places like this.

Although toads cannot sting or bite dogs, they can nonetheless evenomate them via their skin glands (parotid glands). These glands secrete a venom of variable toxicity, depending on the species of toad, which covers their body in a protective film.

Any breed of dog is susceptible to the effects of the Bufo toad toxin. Some dogs, however, are more likely to have a high drive to attack these animals. Dogs with high prey drives, especially breeds with a special interest in small animals (such as rats) may be more inclined to receive a higher dose of Bufo toxin. As such, terrier breeds may be more predisposed than others.

What to Watch For

Dogs typically present with signs that occur as a result of local irritation to the oral mucous membranes or systemic signs of gastrointestinal toxicity, neurotoxicity and cardiotoxicity.

Signs usually manifest within minutes of contact with the venom.

  • Local irritation: Hypersalivation, bright pink oral mucous membranes
  • Gastrointestinal toxicity: Vomiting, diarrhea, fecal incontinence
  • Neurotoxicity: Ataxia (loss of balance), seizures, depression, walking in a circle, papillary changes, and collapse. Less common clinical signs include excitement, progressive muscular paralysis, blindness and vocalization.
  • Cardiotoxicity: Abnormal heart rhythms

 

Diagnosis of Bufo Toad Toxicity in Dogs

Knowledge of contact with a Bufo toad is the typical means of diagnosis. But in many cases, the diagnosis can be made presumptively depending on the history (being out of doors at night during the wetter seasons of the year), geographic location, and the dog’s clinical signs.

Treatment of Bufo Toad Toxicity in Dogs

  • Treatment of Bufo toad envenomation usually depends on the dose an animal has received and their specific clinical signs. All dogs should be taken to a veterinary facility after exposure, but those who begin to show neurological signs should be rushed there immediately.
  • In all cases, dogs should have their mouths rinsed out with water immediately upon suspicion of toad envenomation. A hose or bath nozzle may be used to rinse out the oral cavity, taking care not to allow aspiration.
  • Supportive care, including intravenous fluid and anti-seizure medication (such as diazepam or propofol) administration is the mainstay of treatment. Symptomatic treatment of any gastrointestinal signs is also undertaken at this time.
  • For patients who have received a large dose of Bufo toad toxin, intensive care may be required to keep recurrent seizures at bay and to monitor the heart for signs of cardiotoxicity.

 

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Veterinary Cost Associated with Bufo Toad Toxicity

The cost of Bufo toad envenomation depends to a large extent on the degree to which a dog is exposed and, consequently, to the dose of toxin he or she received. If was a simple lick or quick bite, resulting in minimal toxin absorption, dogs are likely to fare well – sometimes even without any veterinary intervention at all (though it’s strongly recommended all dogs be examined by a veterinarian after any Bufo toad toxin exposure).

Others, however, may require rapid emergency intervention and intensive care after long bouts of seizuring. Depending on the dose of toxin and length of time elapsed before treatment, dogs may require one or more days of intensive care. Each day of care can amount to $1,000 or more. This will vary depending on the geographic locale and level of care elected (general practice vs. specialty center).

 

Prevention

Preventing exposure to the Bufo toad is the only sure means of preventing envenomation.

  • Dog owners who live in Bufo toad-specific locales are urged to keep a watchful eye out during the wetter seasons of the year. This is when toads are more active and likely to find itself in a dog’s path.
  • Since toads are attracted to pet foods, keeping bowls out of doors is not recommended. Removing toads from a dog’s yard is considered helpful but it’s no sure means of prevention if the yard is otherwise hospitable to them.
  • Some dog owners have attempted to shore up fencing with chicken wire or predator fencing with mixed results.

    References for Bufo Toad Toxicity

    • Barbosa CM; Medeiros MS; Riani Costa CCM; Camplesi AC; Sakate M.J. Toad poisoning in three dogs: case reports. Venom. Anim. Toxins incl. Trop. Dis vol.15 no.4 Botucatu 2009.
    • M. Sakate, P.C. Lucas de Oliveira. Toad envenoming in dogs: effects and treatment. J. Venom. Anim. Toxins vol.6 n.1 Botucatu 2000.


Arthritis in Cats: Does Your Cat Have Arthritis?

Osteoarthritis in Cats

If you have an older, overweight, or large-breed kitty, please read on. In fact, if you have a cat of any age, weight, and size, you should take the time to become familiarized with a topic that's too often ignored in cats: osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis (aka “arthritis”) may be slowing your cat down or worse. In some cases, it may even be the one thing that leads your kitty down a row of collapsing healthcare dominoes, speeding her demise faster than almost any other process she may be suffering.

Most cat owners haven't been properly educated on the role of arthritis in their cats' lives because it doesn't tend to present in an obvious manner, as with dogs. In addition, veterinarians don't tend to discuss it with as much vigor as they do for dogs and cat owners tend to dismiss the telltale signs as simple aging.

Arthritis is much more common than conventional feline wisdom would have you believe – especially in the aged and the overweight. So now that our cats are living longer and feline obesity is on the rise, it makes sense that we'd be talking more about this disease.

Overview of Arthritis in Cats

Osteoarthritis is a disease that affects the joints, usually after a lifetime's worth of wear and tear. With all the jumping and scampering our healthy housecats do, it's no wonder vets see a lot of arthritis blooming as they reach their sunset years.

But because cats are marvels at hiding their pain, and because limping and struggling to rise are not common (as we see in people and dogs, for example), arthritis may easily go undetected for years in cats.

Diagnosis of Arthritis in Cats

An X-ray is the surest way to see the telltale signs of arthritis. The most common joints affected? The spine, hips, knees and elbows. These are the joints we'll typically include in our radiographs.

How do veterinarians decide it's time to talk about arthritis?

We ask: How is he moving? Is he jumping much less? Does he miss the counter when he tries to jump up? Does he walk much slower? And we observe: Is his spine hunched or stiff? Has he lost muscle along his spine and over his limbs? Is the fur on his back greasy because he can't reach to groom it? Does he resent manipulation of key joints?

Sure, it might be just “old age.” But it could be arthritis too.

So what can you do?

First, recognize when your kitty slows down. Between ages ten and fifteen is the most common time for this. Consider an X-ray right about now. If your cat is fat, even six or seven is not an unusual time to develop some arthritis. And some cats, like dogs, are genetically predisposed to arthritis.

Treatment of Arthritis in Cats

Arthritis treatment in cats is a complicated, controversial topic. That's because cats are not like people or dogs in their ability to tolerate the standard medical treatment for arthritis: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Here are some basic guidelines for treatment of arthritis in cats:

  • For all the good they do in dogs and humans, these medications are more likely to do harm in too many of our feline cases. Although we have a much wider variety of drugs at our disposal than ever before, cats still suffer a limited menu of options. In fact, there are only two arthritis medications approved by the FDA for use in cats: Metacam (an NSAID for which long-term use is considered controversial) and Onsior, another NSAID approved for only three days' use.
  • IMPORTANT: Cats shouldn't get Tylenol, Aleve or Advil-like drugs. They're toxic. Even Metacam and Onsior can have nasty side effects – especially when used on a regular basis to treat chronic conditions like arthritis.
  • Other drugs, like amitryptilline, corticosteroids, gabapentin, injectable glycosaminoglycans and opiates, though not specifically approved for use in cats with arthritis, have been used with some success depending on your cat's unique needs and individual response to these meds.
  • Additionally, plenty of veterinarians recommend the nutritional supplement glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, readily available in a cat-dosed format at most veterinary hospitals and pet supply stores.
  • Then there are the “alternative” medicine treatments, so named typically because the lack of evidence in support of their efficacy keeps them out of the mainstream. But that doesn't mean they're duds. Consider acupuncture, for example. Some cats do appear to respond positively to this modality.
  • Weight loss is recommended for overweight cats.
  • New therapies are on the horizon including hip replacements for cats. New feline pain medications are also in development.

Antibiotics: 5 Things Cat Owners Should Know

Some cat owners turn to antibiotics as the treatment of choice to treat a variety of problems. After all, it’s a scary world out there with all those superbugs, antibiotic resistance issues and drug reactions.

Treating infections is a perennially confounding and controversial topic in both human and animal medicine.

Let’s review the key concerns antibiotics pose to both human and animal health.

Why?

Because antibiotics are NOT just like any other drugs.

After all, fighting infections from foreign invaders is fundamental to our ability to stave off the most obvious threats to both human and animal health. Historically high infectious disease death rates pre-antibiotics should be enough to impress anyone on that score.

Unfortunately, the preponderance of scientific evidence demonstrates that the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in both human and animal medicine (in animal agriculture, in particular) has led to the emerging risk of antibiotic resistance. In other words, because of their increased exposure to these important drugs in inappropriate ways, bacteria have become extra-adept at coming up with ways to evade their effects.

Hence, why so many veterinarians and physicians are becoming super-cautious when it comes to prescribing antibiotics. And given that bacteria can cross the species divide, that’s a problem for everyone – not just for the individual humans or animals taking these drugs. After all, even the scariest multi-drug resistant, flesh-eating bacteria are equal-opportunity invaders. Most could care less whether they’re munching on you, a cow, your cat, or your kid.

Here’s my list detailing the top five things cat owners really need to know about antibiotics if we’re to do right by both the humans and animals who need them:

#1 Antibiotics are for bacterial infections …

… and that means they won’t work for every kind of infection. For example, colds and flus are caused by viruses and, as such, will NOT respond to antibiotics. Offering them in these cases only exposes a wider range of bacteria to these drugs, thereby increasing the chances for the development of resistant strains of bacteria.

#2 Making sure it’s the right antibiotic for your cat’s problem

This is crucially important when it comes to treating most bacterial infections. But how to tell …?

Increasingly, veterinarians are testing the site of infection (ears, urine, skin, airways, wounds, etc.) to see what kinds of bacteria are affecting the area and which antibiotics will kill them best. This test is called a “culture and sensitivity” and it’s by far the best way to know we’re using antibiotics appropriately.

This is especially crucial if we’re not sure there’s a bacterial infection at play or not. For example, 95% of feline lower urinary tract disease patients are NOT suffering from bacterial infections and yet a huge proportion of these patients receive antibiotics unnecessarily. If we applied this test more frequently we’d be much more likely to use antibiotics more judiciously.

#3 Antibiotics aren’t without their risks to cats

Historically, both human medical and veterinary professions have been too quick on the draw when it comes to antibiotics. Indeed, in too many cases we still elect to shoot first and ask questions later, which not only means we’re using antibiotics in ways that court antibiotic resistance, but we’re making our patients sick in the process.

Ever heard the old quip suggesting that the disease is sometimes worse than the cure? Because antibiotics are fraught with side effects ranging from mild gastrointestinal upset to deadly autoimmune diseases, it’s especially important to take the use of these drugs very seriously and only when absolutely necessary.

#4 Three crucial words: “Take as directed!”

In other words…

  • DON’T skip doses or fail to use the entire course of antibiotics as prescribed to your cat. Giving an antibiotic willy nilly or stopping short of the whole course can prove far worse than not using antibiotics at all.
  • DON’T start using an antibiotic you happen to have “left over from the last time.” This is a really bad idea not only because of what I’ve explained in #1, #2, and #3 above, but also because you should never have any antibiotics ever “left over” to begin with. (That is, unless you have to suddenly stop an antibiotic for a legitimate, doctor-directed reason.)

#5 Not so sure your veterinarian (or physician) is on board with these by-now well-accepted tenets of appropriate antibiotic use?

Get a second opinion. It’s never OK to live with uncertainty on this crucial issue. And just in case you’re the kind that likes to be more self-reliant than most, consider getting even better educated on the subject.

Is Vasectomy a Good Alternative to Traditional Castration for Dogs?

Understanding Vasectomy in Dogs

To prevent a male dog from breeding, the most commonly performed procedure by veterinarians is a traditional castration. A castration involves removal of the testicles in dogs.

The question is – is a vasectomy procedure a good alternative to castration? What are the pros and cons? Why isn't it routinely performed?

In general, vasectomy is currently not considered an alternative to traditional castration of dogs. Not by the vast majority of veterinarians, anyway. And we will tell you why.

First – why consider vasectomy? Research has suggested that castration of male dogs might not necessarily be ideal for every single patient. 

Both procedures – castration and vasectomy leave a dog sterile (unable to breed) which helps population control.

Is rendering a dog sterile and not removing the entirety of his gonadal apparatus might not be a rational substitute?

Based on these musings, I decided to ask a few board-certified veterinary surgeons to weigh in: How hard is a vasectomy to perform? Is this a really fiddly procedure with a steep learning curve? What can go wrong? Have you done one? Would you?

In the end, they all assured me there's no surgical reason why we don't routinely perform what amounts to an easier, quicker, less invasive procedure than traditional castration.

Indeed, the only issues that hold any of us back from performing vasectomies on a routine basis include the following:

Issues Holding Vets Back From Performing Vasectomy's on Dogs

 # 1 Behavior issues

Castration alters a dog's behavior along with his ability to pass on his genetic material. Removing the entirety of the testicular tissue permanently eliminates the vast majority of his testosterone production. And since testosterone influences unwanted behaviors like aggression, roaming, marking, and humping, those who don't have their testes out risk higher rates of these troubles.

But here's the thing: Plenty of dogs never show any signs of behavior problems that might be influenced by testosterone. May we be throwing the baby out with the bath water?

# 2 Medical concerns

High levels of testosterone are associated with all kinds of ailments. Though preventing reproduction and unwanted behaviors rank higher on our list of issues, medical issues come in third. Indeed, removing the testes means there's no testicular cancer to worry about, fewer perineal hernias, low rates of perianal adenomas, and no benign prostatic enlargement to fuss over.

Despite these advantages, the truth is that castration can always be undertaken in the event these diseases do occur. While some of these problems can be expensive, they're typically treatable and/or reversible upon castration (even very late in life).

Moreover, we're starting to find that certain diseases might be more prevalent in castrated males. Some studies strongly suggest that cruciate ligament disease and the rate of certain cancers are elevated in castrated males.


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# 3 History and politics

What can I say? We're people, so politics and history will inevitably play a role. After all, castration is the way we've been doing things for hundreds of years now. And it's understandably difficult to get everyone thinking about a new way of doing things when dogs are still being killed in shelters at rates that would doubtless make you cry if you allowed your thoughts to stray there.

# 4 Teaching the technique

To a large extent, vasectomization isn't on the average veterinarian's radar screen because we weren't taught anything about it in school.

By design, those at the forefront of clinical change in our profession have traditionally been those who teach in university settings. They influence all of us through the papers they write and the students they teach. But these professors have little incentive to teach vasectomies or even ponder their significance. They don't live and work in the real world, after all.

Homeowners Insurance Policies – What Pet Owners Should Know

There are things pet owners should know and understand about their homeowners insurance policy as it relates to their pets.

Why?

Pet owners are at risk of exposure to serious liability issues should your pet injure someone – regardless of whose “fault” it was.

Dog owners are at greatest risk which kind of makes sense. After all, dog bites are expensive…  and common. According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites account for a third of all homeowners insurance liability claims – more than half of which occur on the dog owner’s property.

Dog Bite Claims on Homeowner Policies

Consider that dog bite claims totaled $479 million in 2011. That’s BIG money. More so when you consider that the average payout was about $29,000 per claim. In fact, the cost of dog bite claims rose a whopping 53.4 percent between 2003 and 2011. And they’re still rising. Bites are serious business!

No one’s disputing that dogs can do serious personal damage and we all know human healthcare is pricey, but most of us don’t really stop to think about how our beloved companions’ potential to do harm might impact our daily lives should the unthinkable occur. Much less do we pause to consider how best to mitigate these risks.

Which is how homeowners insurance happened. Coverage for things you never had the imagination to plan for –  like when your dog bites the mail carrier’s backside – was devised to help you keep hold of your home in a crisis. In fact, it was so successful as a financial product that it’s currently considered a fundamental accoutrement to American dreaming.

Excluding Dangerous Breeds and “Bad Dogs”

But here’s where the issue starts to get interesting. Starting in about the 1980s, insurance carriers began to get a little squirrely about the issue of pets. Pet ownership was on the rise, “bad dogs” were in the press, human healthcare costs were skyrocketing, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report on dog bites that implicated certain breeds.

Hence, a perfect storm for the nascent breed-specific legislative movement in the US. In the wake of this cultural shift and CDC report, Pit Bulls were banned in many municipalities and entities as diverse as insurance carriers and airlines seized the opportunity to limit their own exposure by excluding certain breeds of dogs.

Since then, insurance carriers offering umbrella-style homeowners policies have almost uniformly adopted breed-specific exclusion policies that target so-called “dangerous” breeds.

The list includes the usual suspects. Which means Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Doberman Pinschers, Presa Canario, Akitas, Great Danes, and Wolf-hybrids are typically excluded. Which means you might end up paying someone $29,000 of your own hard-earned cash if something untoward happens and – let’s say – your normally well-behaved dobie bites one of your daughter’s friends while she’s over for a play date.

The fact that most “dangerous breed” owning homeowners don’t know they’re exposed is bad enough. What’s worse is that these represent only the tip of the iceberg. What most dog owners don’t know is that a great many of them are also exposed because they own mixed breeds that might resemble one or more of the dogs on the list of exclusions. That’s because most policies pointedly exclude “all crosses of the above-mentioned breeds” as well.

But that’s not all. Digging a little more, I found that some carriers excluded breeds like Boxers and English Bulldogs – not exactly your quintessentially heavy biters. Others excluded any animal deemed “exotic,” in one case taking care to mention that it excluded, “Any exotic pet including but not limited to a lion, tiger or alligator.” Of course, pets with any history of violence are similarly excluded.

While I can get behind any company that feels the need to include known biters – not to mention alligators – on its list of exclusions, I must protest. After all, “exotic animal” technically refers to every single parrot, too. And a “cross?” Do they not know that a solid half of all brown crosses could arguably be deemed a “Shepherd mix” by the average veterinarian?

(Actually, they probably do.) 

And at what point is it a mix of X, Y or Z breed anyway? Do we head on over to the Wisdom Panel people for a $99 mutt test? Where do we draw the line? What percent of our dog’s DNA will they cover? I mean, there’s plenty of wolf in most every dog.

Confusing, right? That’s why plenty of insurance carriers haven’t lingered long over the writing on the wall. In fact, a great many in my state (Florida) cut their losses early on and pulled dogs out from under their umbrella of coverage – years ago in some cases. Dogs are just too unpredictable, they decided. They’re just not worth the risk.

So What’s a Responsible Pet Owner To Do?

For starters, figure out what your policy does and does not cover. Ask your agent to do the vetting for you, if you can’t find it on your policy. If your dog isn’t on the list of breeds but isn’t registered as a purebred and could possibly be considered a mix of any of the excluded breeds, call your insurance company to ask what you need to do to be sure your dog will not be confused for a “dangerous dog cross.” Will your veterinarian’s say-so be enough? A mutt test? A temperament test?

Dangerous Home Care Remedies to Cats!

Every so often I find myself treated to an interesting story about someone's grandma's "famous" home remedy or some culture or another's preferred unguent, balm, salve or snake oil. Though not invariably dangerous, the bulk of these cures and creams suffer from the questionable status that arises from being wholly untested.

Which is why – at best – the most we veterinarians can tell you about their use on your cat is that they're unlikely to do any harm.

Some, however, don't even deserve such detached endorsement. In fact, when you ask your vet about them, we're more likely to offer you a look of alarm consistent with the dangers some of these pseudo-medical approaches pose.

NEVER Do Home Cat Remedies

Consider the following five so-called "remedies" I've run across by way of example of what NOT to do:

1. Essential oils

Never a week goes by that I don't have to explain to owners that some essential oils can be toxic to cats' livers. Oils of cinnamon, citrus, clove, eucalyptus, oregano, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, tea tree (melaleuca), thyme, wintergreen, and ylang ylang (among others) are all poisonous to cats.

But because owners are often instructed to apply them to themselves for minor ailments, many assume it's also safe for use on cats. Dogs may also be adversely affected, but cats' livers seem especially ill-equipped to handle the compounds found in many of these oils. Local irritation, vomiting, and weakness are early signs. Liver failure and death may later result.

2. Imodium for Diarrhea

Well, it's not exactly toxic, but continued dosing of Imodium (as in, more than once) can potentiate more severe infections in the intestines and usually does more harm than good. In some sensitive pets, this home remedy may even lead to a life-threatening pancreatitis. One dose is usually okay (check with your vet first), but, if you need more than one, that's a pretty good sign you need to see a professional. Want a safer option? Reach for probiotics and prebiotics instead.

3. Inducing vomiting after ingestion of caustic or sharp substances

This might seem obvious to you. But it's amazing how often I get calls from owners asking if it's a good idea to use ipecac or stick their fingers down their cat's throat to induce a gag reflex after their cat's eaten something sharp. One owner actually called to ask how to make her cat throw up after she's eaten a needle! Can you imagine what a sharp object might do to a heaving esophagus? Caustic and sharp materials have a way of damaging the stomach, esophagus, and mouth when they come back up. See your veterinarian instead!

4. Advil, Tylenol, and other OTC Pain and Fever Relievers

The most common issue is with Tylenol in cats (they can't metabolize it and their blood turns a sickening chocolaty color, indicating that it's not able to carry oxygen well). Unless administered an antidote relatively quickly, most cats will die after ingesting even small amounts.

The next most common is the stomach ulcer-inducing use of NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) in dogs. Dogs are frequently dosed with these drugs by well-meaning owners who are unwilling or unable to wait for medical advice after assuming their cats have pain or a fever. Even a day or two of receiving these medications is enough to occasion a life-threatening esophageal or gastric ulcer.

5. Milk and Oil for Seizures

This may be a typically Miami home remedy, but it's not without a national presence. New York, California, and Texas vets report some of the same. Hispanics seem to favor it but Anglos in my community seem to consider its use too, especially when it comes to Bufo toad intoxication (and the seizures that often result).

Not only does it do no good for seizures or issues related to toad intoxication, a seizing animal can easily aspirate volumes of this mixture into its lungs. The result is pneumonia of an often-fatal variety.


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Necropsy for Dogs: Should YOU Consent?

Understanding the Canine Necropsy

Have you ever heard the word “necropsy?” According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, here's the correct definition:
nec•rop•sy: noun 'ne-kräp-se autopsy; especially: an autopsy performed on an animals.

According to veterinarians, however, a necropsy is any post-mortem examination conducted on an animal (as opposed to a human). Which makes sense seeing as the prefix, “auto,” as used in the word “autopsy,” means “self,” as in humans performing post mortem examinations on other humans.

This is a brief explanation by way of intro to the subject of necropsy in veterinary medicine. Which, as some of you might already know, is among the most stressful topics we veterinarians sometimes feel compelled to discuss with our clients. After all, asking owners for permission to investigate their dog's remains is an emotional situation that requires extreme sensitivity and an agile way with words.

In case you're wondering why we'd ever have cause to raise such a fraught issue, here is an explanation:

A necropsy can be important for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because knowing what led to an dog's death can be critical to a veterinarian's understanding of the disease(s) at hand. Indeed, to investigate after death is to advance our skills for the betterment of animal medicine as a whole. And yet, the lowly necropsy is uncommonly undertaken in a general practice setting.

Here are three examples explaining when a necropsy might be in order:

  • Medical curiosity: Your dog's been sick for weeks and your veterinarians were stumped. They'd requested several expensive tests to help tease out the cause but things looked bleak so you elected euthanasia. She may be gone, but they still want to know why. In this case, consenting to a necropsy might well help future dogs who suffer from similar signs.
  • Foul play: One of my clients had a seven-year-old Golden Retriever. His neighbor had threatened to “do away with her” as a result of her barking behavior. So when she died unexpectedly in the yard, they suspected foul play. A necropsy was instrumental in establishing that she died of bloat (gastric dilatation volvulus) and not by the neighbor's hand.
  • Welfare issues: In a recent high profile case, a dog in Ohio was exhumed and a necropsy performed after his owner was accused of having abused and neglected him. Veterinarians positively identified the dog (via microchip) and determined that the dog was seriously underweight relative to a previous weight.

But it's not always as easy as all that. In example #1, the veterinarian has to broach a difficult subject with a grieving dog owner. Nice as I thought I was about it, in one case I was accused of extreme insensitivity after asking if I could perform a necropsy.

In examples #2 and #3, it's even more complicated due to the legal issues potentially in play. That's because conducting a forensic necropsy puts us at the mercy of the judicial system's often stressful workings. This can be especially trying for general practitioner veterinarians unaccustomed to a career in which depositions and other legal machinations are considered a necessary evil.

Which is why, for forensic cases, we'll often refer you to a board certified pathologist for a necropsy. These veterinary specialists are not only uniquely trained to weather the onslaught of such legal issues, they're far better equipped to perform the necropsy itself.

But here's where the issue of necropsy expense is worth noting. In forensic cases (as in any where a definitive cause of death is sought), multiple sophisticated laboratory tests are performed (toxicology, histopathology, etc.) and the expense of a necropsy can sometimes prove extreme – unaffordable, even.

On the other hand, when your veterinarian asks you for permission to perform a necropsy in the interest of her own knowledge base, she'll typically waive the fee altogether.


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Dog Marijuana Controversy – Pot for Dogs

Dog Marijuana Controversy – Pot for Dogs

Could marijuana aid your senior or ailing dog? Take our poll and tell us what you think.

Two years ago, a small company out of Washington State received a patent on a patch designed to deliver therapeutic amounts of medication into the bloodstream. It wasn’t a big deal and might well have gone unnoticed except for the fact that the medication in question was marijuana and the company planned to market its patch for use in pets.

Yes, a pot delivery system designed specifically for pets. Well … not just for pets, but the veterinary angle doubtless helped spread the word of the company’s novel technology. In so doing, it also raised marijuana’s profile as a drug with therapeutic benefits that might extend to pets as well.

But Does Marijuana really work for Dogs? Is it Safe?

According to the company’s press release, its goal is to bring the patch to humans and animals in need of “… a holistic, therapeutic adjunctive for management of chronic pain due to arthritis, the side effects of chemotherapy, multiple sclerosis and other chronic conditions.”

Which makes sense … for people.

As it stands, marijuana’s risks and benefits are fairly well understood in the human arena. In people, we know it helps control nausea, improve appetite, and even reduce pain. We also know it gets low marks when it comes to cognitive function – among other long-term risks.

When it comes to pets, though, marijuana is mostly considered one big black box labeled “who knows?”

Indeed, as far as reports show, controlled research on the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana in pets has never been undertaken. One 2009 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology did, however, highlight the ability of cannabinoid compounds to relax the lower esophageal sphincter in ten Labrador Retrievers  – a finding that led to additional research into its ability to reduce esophageal reflux in humans.

Esophageal reflux may not be a huge issue in dogs, but medical marijuana for pets is a hot topic these days, nonetheless. And why not? If there’s a legitimate therapeutic use for any given drug for one mammal, it stands to reason that many others may find it beneficial, too.

Problem is, it’s tough enough to tease out the differences between medicinal vs. recreational use when it comes to humans. This has been a thorny spike of contention for as long as pot has been on our national radar –  some 80-odd years now, at least.

So too are the same issues likely to plague pot in veterinary practice. This, despite the fact that marijuana seems likely to help pets weather the effects of nausea, vomiting, and chronic pain. That’s because cannabis naysayers still outweigh its champions. Some cite the higher sensitivity of marijuana in dogs (a dose issue) but most claim the risk for abuse is too high in humans who might use their pets as pretext for their own drug abuse.

But then there’s this to consider: If a drug has a medical purpose, it should be fully exploited for that use. Risk of abuse – at least to marijuana’s degree – is insufficient justification for barring access to a therapeutic option of such high potential (pardon the pun).

After all, legal drugs kill hundreds of people daily in this country – typically when they’re abused. Yet few clamor for the elimination of these otherwise life-saving meds – usually drugs designed to alleviate pain and anxiety. I mean, if the drug works, why do we need to be hampered by a skewed cultural sensibility that leads us to believe drugs must come foil-topped off an assembly line to qualify as safe and effective?

Because if we’re honest, it’s clear that marijuana’s long history of recreational use, outright abuse, and subsequent cultural intolerance is the only thing that keeps us from accepting its ability to heal. This becomes especially obvious when we consider that pot’s clinical successes have been consistently ratified via several decades worth of legitimate research.

I got to thinking about this recently after reading about one California veterinarian’s crusade to make marijuana more acceptable in veterinary circles. Though his quirky campaign style seems unlikely to alter the status quo significantly, his message resonates in wider circles – more so now that even recreational use of marijuana is making legal inroads in the US.

So when a friend confessed she’d been having a hard time getting her vet to prescribe medicinal marijuana for one of her pets (she lives in a state in which this is legal), I had more than a little sympathy. His downward spiral of muscle loss, anemia and weakness in the course of chronic renal failure made him a good candidate. But her veterinarian wouldn’t relent.

The Pros and Cons of Early Spays and Neuters In Dogs and Cats

Understanding the Pros and Cons of Early Spays and Neuters 

Could an earlier spay or neuter benefit our canine & feline friends?

Ever heard the term "prepubertal gonadectomy?" This mouthful of terminology was brought to you by veterinarians who theorized it would be easier to spay and neuter puppies and kittens before they reached sexual maturity.

It seems that waiting until puberty – the traditional approach – has a downside they sought to circumvent by getting the deed out of the way early on. If it's performed sooner, these veterinarians reasoned, surgical gonadectomy (aka, spaying and neutering) might just be faster, easier, safer, and cheaper. What's more, they were dead sure that sterilizing these pets earlier meant they'd never add to the pet overpopulation problem by procreating.

If we waited until puberty (at about six months of age) to sterilize all puppies and kittens, they correctly reasoned, some pets would doubtless slip through the cracks, thereby compounding the crisis we've worked so hard to combat since the near-dawn of US pet keeping.

Support for Early Spays and Neuters

Lots of veterinarians seem to agree. In fact, US shelter veterinarians seem united in their advocacy of prepubertal gonadectomy (also referred to as “prepuberal gonadectomy”) as an effective weapon in the war against pet overpopulation. In fact, even the leading veterinary organization, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) agrees it's a worthy approach:

"The AVMA supports the concept of early (prepubertal, 8 to 16 weeks of age) spay/neuter in dogs and cats in an effort to reduce the number of unwanted animals of these species. Just as for other veterinary medical and surgical procedures, veterinarians should use their best medical judgment in deciding at what age spay/neuter should be performed on individual animals."

Are Early Spays and Neuters Safe?

There's the rub. While the AVMA pointedly supports the procedure specifically within the context of the goal of preventing pet overpopulation, it deftly skirts the issue of safety altogether, stopping well short of advocating its application in all instances.

And that's exactly how most practicing small animal veterinarians feel about it: “Go ahead and use it in a shelter setting but I'm not about to start spaying and neutering eight week-old puppies and kittens. Not in my OR.”

Nonetheless, prepubertal gonadectomy in the US has increased dramatically in popularity over the past twenty years. Although the anesthetic and surgical procedures appear to be safe in the short-term, the truth is that we have only limited research to go on. More work is needed to establish the long-term effects on health and behavior.

According to a 2001 paper on the subject, “Early-age neutering does not stunt growth in dogs or cats (a once-held belief), but may alter metabolic rates in cats. The anaesthetic and surgical procedures are apparently safe for young puppies and kittens; morbidity is lower and recovery is faster than in adult animals. To date, adverse side effects are apparently no greater in animals neutered at early ages (7 weeks) than in those neutered at the conventional age (7 months).” Pretty impressive support.

Here are some more papers on Early Spays and Neuters:

Short-term results and complications of prepubertal gonadectomy in cats and dogs: In this 1997 study of 775 cats and 1,213 dogs, “prepubertal gonadectomy did not increase morbidity or mortality on a short-term basis, compared with gonadectomy performed on animals at the traditional age. These procedures may be performed safely in prepubertal animals, provided that appropriate attention is given to anesthetic and surgical techniques.”

Early Spay-Neuter Clinical Considerations: After listing the many considerations due a prepuberal patient, this 2002 article concludes that, “No significant short-term or long-term effects have been reported. Prepuberal gonadectomy is most useful for humane organizations and conscientious breeders wishing to preclude reproduction of pet dogs and cats while placing animals at a young enough age to optimize socialization and training.”

Despite general praise for the basic safety of early spays and neuters, pet owners and veterinarians throughout the world continue to question the optimal age for these procedures. Turns out we have very little to go on when it comes to working out the long-term risks for very early spays and neuters.

In fact, recent research has raised questions about traditional age sterilization. And plenty of really smart veterinarians even wonder whether spays and neuters in dogs should even be performed as elective surgeries at all.

Explaining Suicidal Tendencies Among Veterinarians

Understanding Why Suicidal Tendencies are High in Veterinarians

This is a fact – Suicide rates are high amongst veterinarians.

Caution: Important but depressing information ahead. Read at your own risk but know that doing so means you care about your veterinarian's mental health.

A few years ago, the global veterinary population sat up and took notice of a scholarly paper out of the UK.

Confirming the findings of previous UK research into high suicide rates among veterinarians, this new paper confirmed a two-fold increase in suicide when compared with human health care workers. (Six out of 16,000 every year.)

Distinguishing itself from previous work, this paper delved deeper by attempting to determine the cause of the human-animal discrepancy.

So why exactly is it that UK veterinarians kill themselves at such alarming rates relative to human health workers? And can the same figures be extrapolated to US veterinarians, or might we be somewhat more immune to the lifestyle stressors and psychological makeup that seems to predispose us to suicidal behavior?

Turns out UK and US veterinary issues are pretty similar.

Here's what the paper proposes as an explanation for why veterinarians suffer increased suicidal tendencies:

  • Veterinary medicine is considered a highly competitive career path. Entrance to veterinary schools is typically limited to high achievers whose personality traits might include risk factors for suicidal behaviors.
  • Our working environment can be stressful. It's marked by long hours, impressive psychological demands, low levels of support from our peers, and high expectations from clients.
  • Many of us work in practices in which we're the sole practitioners. This can leave us feeling professionally and socially isolated, which means we may be more vulnerable to depression and suicide.
  • Ready access to lethal drugs and knowledge of how to use them undeniably puts us at a greater risk for suicide. And since thoughts of suicide tend to be impulsive, our immediate access to drugs puts us at especially high risk. Note: At least half of the male veterinarians who committed suicide between 1982 and 1996 in England and Wales used barbiturates. In fact, deliberate poisoning accounted for eighty to ninety percent of all veterinarian suicides during this period.
  • We veterinarians tend to consider euthanasia to be a highly effective way of alleviating suffering. Consequently, we may come to regard it as a positive solution to our own troubles.
  • Suicide “contagion" is a well-known phenomenon. Knowledge of suicides among colleagues may leave other veterinarians more vulnerable to taking our own lives.

It remains to be seen whether US vets will succumb to the same high rates, but current reports suggest we're not too far off.

Given the higher financial stresses of being a veterinarian in the US (the high debt to income ratio among younger veterinarians is absolutely staggering!), it only makes sense that we'd suffer rates of suicide on par with our UK cousins.

In any case, it's clear that the veterinary profession needs to take steps to address the suicide triggers all veterinarians appear to be laboring under.

Unfortunately, however, precious little has been done to intervene to better understand, identify, and prevent suicide in veterinarians. Here's hoping the global veterinary community does more than gawk at findings that deserve more than mere acknowledgement.


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