Archive for the ‘Canine Symptoms’ Category

A Summertime Reminder

June 18, 2010

Tuffy, a scruffy and adorably sweet little terrier arrived at my hospital earlier this week in a state of collapse with profoundly labored breathing, purplish gums, and a temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit (the normal body temperature for a dog is 100-102 degrees).  Tuffy’s well-intentioned family let him accompany them on a brief outing and, while they were in the store for a mere ten minutes, Tuffy remained in the car.  The problem was, the outdoor temperature at the time was 92 degrees. The temperature within the car must have quickly soared to well above 100 degrees. Tuffy is one of the lucky ones.  He survived his episode of heatstroke without any lingering complications and has gone home to rejoin his grateful (and more knowledgeable) family.  Most patients with heatstroke don’t fare nearly so well.  Thank you Tuffy for reminding me that it’s time to rebroadcast a blog I posted last summer.  I encourage you to share this with anyone you know who loves a dog with hopes of preventing a needless tragedy.

 

Dog Days of Summer

Some of us take “dog days of summer” literally- we want to go everywhere accompanied by our beloved canine companions!  As tempting as this may be, keep in mind that when temperatures are soaring your dog is likely best served by staying home.  Heat has the potential to be hazardous to a dog’s health. 

Dogs are incapable of significant sweating- their only sweat glands are located on the undersides of their paws.   The major mechanism by which dogs dissipate heat is by panting, but this cooling system is easily overwhelmed when the temperatures climbs.  Panting becomes even less effective in humid conditions or for dogs with underlying respiratory tract ailments (collapsing trachea, laryngeal paralysis, lung diseases) or dogs that are overweight. Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, and others I lovingly refer to as “smoosh-faced” breeds readily overheat because of their unique upper respiratory tract anatomy. 

What happens when dogs get too hot?  The result can be heatstroke, a life threatening condition.  Symptoms of heatstroke tend to occur abruptly and can include increased heart rate, labored breathing, weakness, collapse, purplish gum color, and even seizures and coma. Of all the “summertime diseases,” veterinarians dread heatstroke the most because we know that, even with aggressive therapy, many heatstroke victims will succumb to organ damage and death.

Most cases of canine heatstroke are a result of confinement in cars.  Perhaps the vehicle was parked in the shade, but the sun shifted, or a well-intentioned person thought that leaving the windows cracked or returning to the car quickly would be a safe bet.  Overactivity in the heat is another common cause of heatstroke. The desire to chase the ball trumps all else, and the person throwing it doesn’t recognize when it’s time to quit. 

If you suspect your dog has or is on the verge of heatstroke, spend just a few minutes cooling him off with water from a hose or covering him with towels soaked in cool water.  Then get to the closest veterinary hospital as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence- the earlier heatstroke is detected and treated, the greater the likelihood of a positive outcome. 

Knowledge is power when it comes to preventing heatstroke.  Here are some pointers to help keep your best buddy safe during these hot summer months: 

-Never leave your dog inside the car on warm or hot days.  A panting dog in an enclosed space quickly creates a muggy greenhouse environment that can quickly cause heatstroke.  Even with the windows down, temperatures inside a car can rise to 120 degrees or more.  If you happen upon a dog confined in a car on a hot day, find the owner of the vehicle or contact a police officer- whichever will most rapidly liberate the dog from danger. 

-Exercise your dog early in the morning or during evening hours to avoid the heat of the day.  

-Allow for plenty of rest and water breaks during play activity and exercise. Your dog may not know his limits and will continue to enthusiastically chase the Frisbee even when his internal thermometer is getting ready to blow a fuse. 

-Keep your dog indoors, ideally in air conditioning, on very hot days. 

-If your dog is left outside, be sure he has plenty of shade and provide him with access to a sprinkler, wading pool, or sand pit soaked with water. 

-If flying with your dog during the summer months schedule your flight for nighttime or early morning.  Check with the airlines to find out whether or not the cargo hold is temperature controlled. 

Now, here’s wishing you and your four-legged best friend a most enjoyable and safe summer!

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

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Dogs, Chocolate, and Smart Phones

May 31, 2010

Here’s a little ditty I couldn’t resist sharing.  I’m such a sucker for upbeat stories that involve kids or animals, and this one happens to involve both. An ingenious seventh grader named Parker Stevens was featured in a recent issue of DOGliving, a wonderful magazine out of North Carolina.  This young man created an iPhone application called ChocoTox that determines whether or not the amount of chocolate ingested by a dog is toxic. The iPhone user plugs in the dog’s body weight, amount of chocolate ingested, and “strength” of the chocolate (i.e., dark chocolate contains more of the toxic principle called theobromine than milk chocolate).  The smart phone then determines if veterinary intervention is indicated (I don’t think it mentions the need for impending carpet cleaning).

 

Kudos to Parker for his clever App aptitude! I sense this kid will be accomplishing great things in the world of technogeekdom!  Keep in mind, there are a few chocolaty circumstances that definitely favor consultation with your vet rather than your iPhone:

-More than one dog was involved in the chocolate fest and it is impossible to know which dog ate how much.
-The container that contained the chocolate was also ingested and is now residing somewhere in the dog’s gastrointestinal tract.
-The ingested chocolate happened to contain other toxic substances- a leafy green substance seems to be a common ingredient in brownies baked by some of our hospital clients.

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health, 

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Those Frustrating Foxtails

May 18, 2010

My littlest dog Nellie came in the house tonight sneezing.  Any other time of year and I would be unconcerned, but in late spring and early summer an abrupt onset of sneezing after being outdoors is a “foxtail in the nose alarm bell”.  I’ll be watching Nellie like a hawk for the rest of the evening. Any crinkling of her nose, ongoing sneezing, or bloody nose and she’ll be my first patient tomorrow morning. 

If you are unfamiliar with foxtails, count your blessings! These pesky, bristly plant awns grow in abundance throughout California and are reported in most every state west of the Mississippi.  Once the plant heads dry, they become hell bent on finding their way into dogs’ noses, ears, eyes, mouths, and just about every other orifice.  They can dive deep into a dog’s nostril or ear canal (beyond sight) in the blink of an eye. And a foxtail camouflaged under a layer of hair can readily burrow through the skin (a favorite hiding place is between toes).  Foxtails can wind up virtually anywhere in the body and associated symptoms vary based on location.  For example, a foxtail within the ear canal causes head shaking, under the skin a draining tract, or within the lung labored breathing and coughing.  Not only is the dog’s body incapable of degrading or decomposing foxtails, these plant awns are barbed in such a way that they can only move in a “forward” direction.  Unless caught early, they and the bacteria they carry either become walled off to form an abscess or migrate through the body causing infection and tissue damage.  Once foxtails have moved internally, they become the proverbial needle in a haystack- notoriously difficult to find and remove. 

Take the example of Emma Louise, an undeniably adorable Brittany Spaniel mix whose family told me that her favorite pastime is running through fields with her nose to the ground. They described her as a “foxtail magnet” having accumulated several in her ears and nose over the years.  I was asked  to  help figure out the cause of Emma Louise’s hunched back and straining to urinate. With abdominal ultrasound I discovered a gigantic abscess tucked up under Emma Louise’s spine, extending into her pelvic canal.  Given this girl’s history, I just knew there had to be a foxtail in there somewhere.  The question was, would we be able to find it?  

As is my medical tradition before launching a foxtail search, I recited a prayer to the “god of foxtails.” I then turned Emma Louise over to one of my surgical colleagues for exploratory surgery. After two hours of nail biting and a barrage of expletives originating from the O.R., I heard a shout of,   “Got it!”   The foxtail had been located and removed, and sweet little Emma Louise made a rapid and complete recovery.  Not finding the foxtail would have meant a lifetime of antibiotics to treat her foxtail induced infection. 

If you suspect your dog has a foxtail related issue, contact your veterinarian right away to find out what steps can be taken (at home or in the veterinary hospital) to rid your dog of this unwanted plant material.  Whenever possible, avoidance of foxtail exposure is the best and only foolproof prevention. If your dog does have access to foxtails, carefully comb through his or her haircoat a couple of times daily- checking ears and toes, too- to remove any that are embedded and poised to wreak havoc!  Have you and your dog experienced any foxtail nightmares?  If so, please share your story.

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health, 

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Stop That Scratching!

April 22, 2010

If the sounds of a canine or feline “scratchfest” is interrupting your slumber, or you’re snarling, “Stop scratching!” several times a day, chances are you have an allergic pet on your hands. Just as with human hay fever, most dog and cat allergies are the result of an exaggerated immune system response to allergens in the environment such as plant pollens, tree pollens, and mold spores.  The scientific name for this inherited allergic condition is atopy or atopic dermatitis. Terriers of any type are notorious atopy sufferers along with Dalmatians, Lhasa Apsos, Shar-peis, Bulldogs, and Labrador Retrievers. 

Whereas people are prone to runny nose and eyes, dogs and cats with atopy develop itchy skin, often accompanied by skin and ear infections. Symptoms are initially mild and seasonal, but tend to progress year by year in terms of severity and duration.  Fortunately, there are many options for treating atopy including medicated shampoos, antihistamines, fatty acid supplements, and drugs that alter the immune system’s overzealous behavior (cyclosporine, cortisone).  Just as for people, desensitization injections can be administered after specific testing is done to determine which allergens are provoking the immune response. Elimination of exposure to the allergens may also be an option (a good excuse to move to Hawaii!). 

Some dogs and cats develop allergies to their food.  This can result in year round itchy skin, ear infections, and/or gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, gassiness).  If a food allergy is suspected, your veterinarian will recommend an “elimination food trial.”  This requires strict adherence (including elimination of your pet’s favorite treats) to feeding a novel protein diet for six to eight weeks. There are many such diets to choose from these days that contain duck, rabbit, venison, salmon, and even kangaroo! If the chronic symptoms disappear in response to the diet change, voila, the diagnosis of food allergy has been made. One must then hope that, over time, the animal doesn’t develop an allergy to the new diet! 

Lastly, some dogs and cats develop an allergy to fleas, more specifically, to the flea’s saliva.  Whereas many fleas are required to cause most animals to scratch like crazy, for those with a flea allergy, just one bite is all it takes to set off an intensely itchy reaction that can last for days. The best treatment for this allergy is stringent flea control, or relocation to Colorado; fleas don’t survive in high altitude locations! 

‘Tis the season for fleas and seasonal atopy.  Do you have an itchy dog or cat on your hands?  If so, what will your strategy be to soothe your pet’s itch and preserve your sanity? 

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health,   

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook   

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Stop That Scratching!

April 22, 2010

If the sounds of a canine or feline “scratchfest” is interrupting your slumber, or you’re snarling, “Stop scratching!” several times a day, chances are you have an allergic pet on your hands. Just as with human hay fever, most dog and cat allergies are the result of an exaggerated immune system response to allergens in the environment such as plant pollens, tree pollens, and mold spores.  The scientific name for this inherited allergic condition is atopy or atopic dermatitis. Terriers of any type are notorious atopy sufferers along with Dalmatians, Lhasa Apsos, Shar-peis, Bulldogs, and Labrador Retrievers. 

Whereas people are prone to runny nose and eyes, dogs and cats with atopy develop itchy skin, often accompanied by skin and ear infections. Symptoms are initially mild and seasonal, but tend to progress year by year in terms of severity and duration.  Fortunately, there are many options for treating atopy including medicated shampoos, antihistamines, fatty acid supplements, and drugs that alter the immune system’s overzealous behavior (cyclosporine, cortisone).  Just as for people, desensitization injections can be administered after specific testing is done to determine which allergens are provoking the immune response. Elimination of exposure to the allergens may also be an option (a good excuse to move to Hawaii!). 

Some dogs and cats develop allergies to their food.  This can result in year round itchy skin, ear infections, and/or gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, gassiness).  If a food allergy is suspected, your veterinarian will recommend an “elimination food trial.”  This requires strict adherence (including elimination of your pet’s favorite treats) to feeding a novel protein diet for six to eight weeks. There are many such diets to choose from these days that contain duck, rabbit, venison, salmon, and even kangaroo! If the chronic symptoms disappear in response to the diet change, voila, the diagnosis of food allergy has been made. One must then hope that, over time, the animal doesn’t develop an allergy to the new diet! 

Lastly, some dogs and cats develop an allergy to fleas, more specifically, to the flea’s saliva.  Whereas many fleas are required to cause most animals to scratch like crazy, for those with a flea allergy, just one bite is all it takes to set off an intensely itchy reaction that can last for days. The best treatment for this allergy is stringent flea control, or relocation to Colorado; fleas don’t survive in high altitude locations! 

‘Tis the season for fleas and seasonal atopy.  Do you have an itchy dog or cat on your hands?  If so, what will your strategy be to soothe your pet’s itch and preserve your sanity? 

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health,   

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook   

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Diarrhea Disclosures

April 2, 2010

A conversation earlier this week with one of my clients prompted this blog.  Jeanette, my client, and I debated whether or not her elderly and adorable shepherd mix named Jack had diarrhea.  I felt that Jack’s once daily, unformed bowel movement qualified as diarrhea (sorry if I am grossing you out here).  Jeanette’s thinking was that the term diarrhea should be reserved only for situations with increased frequency and urgency.  This got me to thinking about how many times I might be receiving inaccurate feedback to my standard question, “Have you observed any diarrhea?” I remember going round and round with one client who repeatedly answered “No” to this question.  When we discovered that, yes, her cat truly did have chronic diarrhea, she defended her responses by saying that it was her husband who always cleaned the litterbox (in truth, she had never “observed” any diarrhea!).

So, folks, here’s the scoop (no pun intended).  When a veterinarian asks if your dog or cat has been having diarrhea, please disclose any and all information about how his or her bowel movements appear abnormal.  Believe it or not, your description of stool appearance, number of bowel movements per day, urgency, and the presence or absence of blood, mucous, straining, and gassiness can provide your veterinarian with a wealth of useful information including whether the diarrhea is originating from the small (upper) or large (lower) intestine.

Boy oh boy is your veterinarian gonna get an earful next time he or she asks about your pet’s bowel movements! Please note, I purposefully refrained from including a photo with this blog.

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health, 

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Too Much of a Good Thing

March 7, 2010

We love when our animals are eating and drinking well.  After all, a hearty appetite and ample thirst are positive tangible affirmations about the quality of our pets’ lives.  I think this is the reason why so many people delay consulting with their veterinarian when they notice an obvious increase in their pet’s thirst or appetite.  They ascribe busting into the garbage pail, begging at the dinner table, and eating foreign objects to bad behavior rather than an underlying medical issue.  Filling the water bowl more frequently than normal may simply go unnoticed or may be viewed as simply “more of a good thing.” 

Well, I’m here to provide you with a wake up call! If your dog has recently turned into a major “chowhound” or your kitty has become obsessed with her water bowl, please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.  An overt increase in thirst or appetite is often a symptom of an underlying medical abnormality.  Increased thirst typically accompanies kidney disease, liver disease, and underlying hormonal imbalances such as diabetes, Addison’s disease (too little cortisone), Cushing’s disease (too much cortisone), and overproduction of thyroid hormone.  A dog or cat whose appetite is uncharacteristically insatiable may have pancreatic disease, gastrointestinal disease, diabetes or Cushing’s disease.  (More information about all of these diseases can be found in Speaking for Spot).    

The good news is that, when associated with disease, increased thirst and appetite tend to be early symptoms.  Paying attention to them sooner rather than later will give you and your vet a head start on making a diagnosis and initiating therapy.  And in most cases, the earlier the disease is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis.  Remember, our dogs and cats tend to be creatures of habit.  Anything that seems out of character is deserving of your attention and discussion with your veterinarian.

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Too Much of a Good Thing

March 6, 2010

We love when our animals are eating and drinking well.  After all, a hearty appetite and ample thirst are positive tangible affirmations about the quality of our pets’ lives.  I think this is the reason why so many people delay consulting with their veterinarian when they notice an obvious increase in their pet’s thirst or appetite.  They ascribe busting into the garbage pail, begging at the dinner table, and eating foreign objects to bad behavior rather than an underlying medical issue.  Filling the water bowl more frequently than normal may simply go unnoticed or may be viewed as simply “more of a good thing.” 

Well, I’m here to provide you with a wake up call! If your dog has recently turned into a major “chowhound” or your kitty has become obsessed with her water bowl, please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.  An overt increase in thirst or appetite is often a symptom of an underlying medical abnormality.  Increased thirst typically accompanies kidney disease, liver disease, and underlying hormonal imbalances such as diabetes, Addison’s disease (too little cortisone), Cushing’s disease (too much cortisone), and overproduction of thyroid hormone.  A dog or cat whose appetite is uncharacteristically insatiable may have pancreatic disease, gastrointestinal disease, diabetes or Cushing’s disease.  (More information about all of these diseases can be found in Speaking for Spot).    

The good news is that, when associated with disease, increased thirst and appetite tend to be early symptoms.  Paying attention to them sooner rather than later will give you and your vet a head start on making a diagnosis and initiating therapy.  And in most cases, the earlier the disease is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis.  Remember, our dogs and cats tend to be creatures of habit.  Anything that seems out of character is deserving of your attention and discussion with your veterinarian.

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Fish Oil (Omega-3 Fatty Acids): a Proven Treatment for Canine Arthritis

January 30, 2010

 I had the good fortune of receiving my veterinary school training at Cornell University.  Part of what made this education so fabulous was that the senior faculty spent a great deal of “face time” with their students.  I have fond memories of a seasoned clinician patiently holding a Dachshund for me while teaching this novice how to collect a blood sample from the jugular vein.  Another taught this city slicker how to collect a milk sample for mastitis testing from the teat of a cow.   A major “take home point” my classmates and I received from these icons in veterinary medicine was, “First, do no harm.”  In other words, before subjecting our patients to diagnostic testing or treatment, we should strive to be as confident as possible that the potential for benefit was far greater than the potential for harm.  “First do no harm” has always been my mantra and is the main reason I try to rely on “evidence based medicine” (facts substantiated by research) rather than anecdotal information to support what I do. 

Unfortunately, there is a paucity of evidence based medicine pertaining to the use of many commonly used supplements, nutraceuticals, and herbs for dogs and cats.  This is the reason a big smile appeared on my face when I opened a recent edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.  It contained two studies on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) for the treatment of osteoarthritis (also known as arthritis or degenerative joint disease) in dogs.  The study designs were excellent in that many dogs were included, there was a control group (some dogs received a placebo rather than the fatty acids), and the observers were “blinded”- neither the veterinarians nor the dogs’ families knew if the dogs were receiving the fatty acids or the placebo.  

Fish Oil (Omega-3 Fatty Acids)Here’s what the studies showed.  Compared to the placebo group, the dogs receiving omega-3 fatty acids had a significantly improved ability to rise from a resting position and play by six weeks after beginning supplementation, and improved ability to walk by 12 weeks.  Additionally, compared to the control group, dogs receiving the fish oil had improved weight bearing on the affected limbs as assessed by force-plate analysis (an extremely humane testing method).  No significant adverse side effects from the fish oil supplementation were reported. 

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time with dogs (especially large dogs), guaranteed you’ve known at least a few with arthritis.  It is estimated to affect up to twenty percent of dogs over one year of age. Dogs with arthritis resemble people with arthritis- they are often stiff and slow to rise when they first get up in the morning, as well as after vigorous exercise.  There are many ways to treat this common canine malady including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (the equivalent of ibuprofen for humans), acupuncture, rehabilitation therapy, and supplements that increase the production of normal joint fluid.  The effectiveness of all of these modalities, including fish oil, will vary from individual to individual.  The beauty of fish oil is that, likely the only potential significant risk is for you- your dog may develop fish breath! 

I love the fact that veterinarians now have evidence based support for recommending fish oil as a treatment for their canine patients with arthritis, and in doing so, they can abide by the mantra of, “First do no harm.”  If you suspect your dog has arthritis (if you have a large breed dog over eight years of age, chances are that you do), talk with your veterinarian about the pros and cons of all the treatment options.  And the next time you are dining on fish, don’t be surprised if your dog’s nose appears right beside your dinner plate.  Chances are, your dog clearly recognizes the benefits of fish oil supplementation!  Now, pass the salmon please. 

Wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health.

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller. 

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Everybody’s Gone Surfin’ (Part Two)

December 26, 2009

I happen to enjoy hearing about what my clients are learning online.  I sometimes come away with valuable new information, and I’m invariably amused by some of the extraordinary things they tell me- who knew that hip dysplasia is caused by global warming!  Surf to your heart’s content, but be forewarned, not all veterinarians feel as I do.  Some have a hard time not “rolling their eyes” or quickly interrupting the moment the conversation turns to Internet research.  Who can blame them- they’ve grown weary of spending valuable office visit or telephone time talking their clients out of crazy cyberspace notions and reining them in from online wild goose chases.  How unfortunate this is.  Nowadays, people rapidly and reflexively reach for their keyboards to learn more about their pet’s symptoms or disease diagnosis online.  It’s only natural (and in their pet’s best interest) that they will want to discuss what they’ve learned with their veterinarian.

Is there an effective way to communicate with your vet about your online research that is neither irritating to her nor intimidating for you?  I truly believe it is possible, but it involves some work and planning on your part!  Listed below are some secrets for success- things you can do to converse about your Internet research in a manner that is comfortable for you and your vet and, most importantly, beneficial for your pet’s health.

-I may be preaching to the choir, but I cannot overemphasize the importance of working with a vet who is happy and willing to participate in two-way, collaborative dialogue with you. Your opinions, feelings, and questions are held in high regard and enough time is allowed during the office visit to hear them. A veterinarian who practices this “relationship centered” style of communication is far more likely to want to hear about your online research than the veterinarian who practices “paternalistic care” (far more interested in telling you what to do than hearing about your thoughts, questions, or concerns).  Remember, when it comes to veterinarian/client communication styles, you have a choice. It’s up to you to make the right choice!

-Let your vet know that you appreciate her willingness and patience in helping you understand how best to utilize what you’ve learned online.

-Ask your veterinarian for her Web site recommendations- those that have already been “vetted”.  This is a collaborative approach that lets her know you intend to spend some time learning more, plus a respectful recognition of the fact that she is the one who has spent her career learning about your dog’s health issues. 

-Wait for the appropriate time during the office visit to discuss what you’ve learned on line.  Allow your veterinarian to ask questions of you and examine your precious poopsie rather than “tackling” her with questions and discussion about your Internet research questions the moment she sets foot in the exam room.

-Be brief and “to the point” with your questions.  Remember, most office visits are scheduled for 15 to 20 minutes, max. 

-Let your veterinarian know that you’ve learned how to be a discriminating surfer!  You know how to differentiate between valuable online resources and “cyber-fluff”. You ignore anecdotal vignettes and Web sites trying to sell their products in favor of credible information provided by veterinary college Web sites and forums that are hosted by well-educated moderators who provide cited research references that support their recommendations.  If you need a little refresher course on how to be a “selective surfer,” I encourage you to read Part One of this article (http://speakingforspot.com/blog/?p=654).

-When you begin conversation about your Internet research, I encourage you to choose your wording wisely.  Communicate in a respectful fashion that invites conversation as opposed to  “telling” your vet what you want to do. Most veterinarians don’t like being told what to do by their clients, and who can blame them?  After all, we expect veterinarians to provide a collaborative approach- it’s only fair that they expect the same from their clients.  Consider the following conversation starters about Internet research:

Approach one:  “I’m wondering what you think about mixing some canned pumpkin in with Sophie’s food.  I’ve been doing some Internet research about diarrhea and this suggestion seems to comes up frequently.”

Approach two:  “I’ve been doing some online research and learned about the benefits of canned pumpkin.  I want to begin mixing this in with Sophie’s food.”

Approach three:  “I’d like to give Sophie some canned pumpkin for her diarrhea.  A moderator from an online forum suggested I do this.”

Approach four:  “I’ve been following an online forum about canine diarrhea. One of the moderators suggested I consider adding canned pumpkin to Sophie’s diet.  How do you feel about this?”

Which of these approaches sound like invitations for discussion? Which are more likely to be a “turnoff” for your veterinarian? If you’ve selected approaches one and four as successful ways for broaching the topic of Internet research with your vet, well done!  Give your dog a hug and yourself a pat on the back!

In the Internet, we have an extraordinary tool at our fingertips. I encourage you to be critical when choosing which Web sites you intend to take seriously and which ones you wish to visit for a good chuckle.  Approach conversations with your vet about your Internet research thoughtfully and tactfully. These strategies are bound to create a win-win-win situation- for you, your veterinarian and your beloved best buddy! 

Wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller. 

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Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross