All posts in Feline

Wildfires Rage in Colorado and New Mexico – Pet Safety

The massive plumes of smoke from wildfires can often reach hundreds of miles downwind, creating hazy skies and dangerous conditions for people or pets with respiratory issues.  For those living in the path of these fast-moving blazes though, danger can often come without warning.

According to National Geographic, more than 100,000 wildfires burn about 4-5 million acres of land each year.   These fires are often in remote wilderness areas, but still claim almost 1,000 human lives, kill untold numbers of animals and cause a half a billion dollars in property damage.  Reaching speeds of 14 miles per hour, the flames often out race the best containment efforts.

Faced with this sort of natural disaster, how are you going to keep your pets, your livestock and yourself safe?

As with any natural disaster, the best defense is having a plan and supplies at the ready.  Evacuation kits should include not only materials for the human members of your family, but also food, water, medications and vaccination records for your pets.  Livestock owners should have a means of transporting their animals and an emergency destination in the case of a mandatory evacuation.

But, fickle wind patterns and aggressive fires can often catch even the best-prepared person unaware.  Knowing how to handle a burned pet or an animal suffering from smoke inhalation could spell the difference between a life saved and one lost to the wildfire.  So, how can you help your pet in an emergency and then, of course, find good veterinary care as soon as you can.

Treating a pet with burns is not unlike treating a person with burns.  The goals are to stop the burning process, prevent infection or further injury and keep the pet from going into shock.  Even though you may know your animal very well, injured pets often react in unexpected ways.  Before attempting any sort of first aid, consider using a muzzle to prevent unintended bites.

Never use butter, creams or any other folk remedy on a burn.  For first and second degree burns, the best immediate remedy is to submerge the area in cool, not cold, water, pat the area dry and place a layer of sterile gauze lightly over the affected area.  For third degree burns (complete skin destruction, blackened skin, fur falling out), an important step is to prevent shock.

Pets with pale or white gums, a rapid heartbeat or even rapid breathing could be at risk for shock.  If your pet’s heart rate is in excess of 180 beats per minute, keep the head level with the rest of the body, loosely cover the burns and seek veterinary care immediately.

Outdoor pets in wildfire areas may be at risk for smoke inhalation as well.  Pets with rapid breathing, increased respiratory effort, reddened eyes or a hoarse cough could suffer from some degree of smoke inhalation.  If oxygen is available, delivering it via a mask could help speed recovery.  Thanks to veterinarians, many fire crews and first responders now carry pet specific oxygen masks as part of their equipment and may assist you until you can find veterinary help.

The destruction of wildfires could also mean the potential for injury to your pets from debris.  If you find a cut on your pet that is bleeding, try using a thick gauze pad and apply pressure to the wound for a minimum of three minutes.  For most mild to moderate cuts, this action will allow a stable clot to form and give you time to seek veterinary care.  In the case of severe bleeding on the legs, a tourniquet can be placed between the wound and the body along with a pressure bandage.  Since this sort of hemorrhage is life-threatening, you must find a veterinarian immediately.

Even if you think your pet is ok after your treatment, it’s important to have a veterinarian evaluate the burn or injury.  Since our pets can’t talk to us, we won’t know the true extent of his or her discomfort.

More

Generic Pet Drugs…Good or Bad for Your Pets?

According to data from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, consumers in the US spent almost $4 billion on retail prescriptions in 2010 and a large portion of that business was in the form of generic medications.  Generics now make up more than 80% of all prescriptions filled at human pharmacies.  In addition, pet owners are now asking about generic alternatives for their animals.

So, what is a generic drug and are there concerns about using them for our four legged family members?

Drugs that contain the same active ingredient as a brand name medication are known as generics.  These products become available after a pharmaceutical company loses their patent protection on the specific drug molecule.  Since the necessary clinical testing that is so important for new drugs does not need to be repeated for generics, these medications are sold at a much lower cost.  In addition, many consumers are already familiar with the drug and advertising costs can be greatly reduced.

Medicines that are brought to market as generics must contain the same active ingredients, have the same route of administration, same dosage or strength and the same conditions of use.  But, many people still have serious worries about how well these medications perform or their overall safety.  News reports about poor manufacturing standards and contaminated ingredients have raised alarm in the minds of many individuals.

FDA Generic Drug Review processHowever, the FDA has an extensive overview process that not only creates a system for evaluating quality standards for manufacturing, but also significant testing to show that the drug performs just like the original product.  This assessment of the generic’s performance is known as proving bioequivalence.

Still, it is important to remember that all people, and pets, are individuals and there is always the possibility that a unique response can occur to either the original drug or the generic equivalent.  In addition, inert ingredients used in the manufacturing of the generic product may differ from the brand name.  This could also lead to abnormal or adverse reactions to the medication.

Knowing all of this, does it make sense for pet owners to spend extra time at a retail pharmacy picking up pet medications or parasite preventives?

First and foremost, it is important to understand that your veterinarian is crucial to answering that question.  A physical examination of the pet and a veterinarian/client/patient relationship are necessary in order for the veterinarian to write any prescription.  In other words, don’t expect to get a prescription if your pet hasn’t seen their doctor in more than a year.

Next, lab work is often needed to keep your veterinarian up-to-date on your pet’s health status and to monitor any disease process.  For medications like heartworm preventives, it is vital that your dog have a negative heartworm test before continuing the medicine.

Finally, with many brands and alternatives on the market, it’s easy to become confused about the exact product that your pet requires.  Your veterinarian and his or her team can help you find the one that matches the medical needs of your pet as well as one that is safe and effective.

Be wary of online websites that promise absurdly low prices on pet medications.  Far too often, these are simply scams designed to take your money.

Many veterinarians keep a well-stocked pharmacy right in their hospital or allow their clients to order drugs online.  Getting the medications directly from your veterinarian could save you time and hassle.  But, in either case, your veterinarian will want to help you get the right drugs at a price that fits in your budget.  That is their commitment to you as their trusted client.

More

How Sweet Is Your Cat? Feline Diabetes

Almost everyone knows a friend or acquaintance who is diabetic.  What most people may not realize is that diabetes may be present in their own home, possibly in a feline friend.

Diabetes is a group of diseases that result from either inadequate insulin production or the inability of cells to respond to this hormone.  Insulin is necessary to help move glucose from the blood stream into tissue cells for use as energy.  The predominant characteristic of diabetes is the presence of high levels of glucose in the blood…this is known as hyperglycemia.

In humans, one type of this disease is known as Type I or insulin-dependent diabetes.  This illness results from the body’s immune system destroying the cells that make insulin.   This is the predominant form of diabetes in our canine companions and there is no known way to prevent it.

Type II, or non-insulin dependent diabetes, accounts for 90-95% of diabetes in people and 85-90% of cases in cats.  In this instance, the beta cells of the pancreas that produce insulin either become exhausted or they fail to respond to signals to produce the hormone.  The important aspect of this to remember is that it is possible for treatment to lead to a remission of the disease.

While the number of cases of diabetes in dogs has remained static for many years, some veterinarians feel that they are seeing an increasing number of diabetic cats.  Although the true incidence of feline diabetes is not precisely known, estimates for North America show that about 1 in every 200-400 cats develop this disease.  What is important to remember is that as our cats have developed a tendency towards obesity, diabetes cases have risen rapidly.

Being obese or overweight is a risk factor for Type II diabetes because of the chronic inflammatory state obesity produces.  This leads to a reduction in insulin sensitivity.  In addition, fat cells in overweight animals stop producing a certain hormone essential for proper insulin receptor function.

Cats with diabetes often go extended periods of time with no real sign that anything is wrong.   When signs do appear, the first indications are a cat who needs to use the litter box more frequently and who is drinking greater amounts of water.  Unfortunately, cat owners are not always aware of these signs, especially if their kitty often goes outdoors.  This means that many cats aren’t diagnosed for months after the onset of diabetes.


Without diagnosis and treatment, diabetes will eventually cause a metabolic condition known as ketoacidosis. This leads to dangerous changes in the blood chemistry, dehydration and eventually, death.

When cats are seen by a veterinarian, this disease is often diagnosed with a simple blood test.  Hyperglycemia or any glucose in the urine (glucosuria) is often indicative of diabetes.  Veterinarians can also use a blood test known as serum fructosamine to determine the average blood glucose values over the course of the last three weeks.

In some cases, cats don’t get into the veterinarian until the disease has progressed even further.  In these cases, the presence of ketones (a by-product of using fatty acids for energy) in the urine is a definitive indicator of complicated diabetes.

Unlike diabetic dogs who will be on insulin replacement for the rest of their lives, it is possible to treat cats and allow for remission.  The goal of treatment in cats is to restore the functionality of the beta cells and their ability to produce insulin.   In fact, new evidence is now showing that high protein, low carbohydrate diets are instrumental in helping cats defeat diabetes.  In short, although your feline friend may need insulin initially, you might be able to reduce or even eliminate this medication as you help the cat lose weight.

Owners of diabetic cats can also learn to monitor blood glucose levels at home, sparing the cat from frequent visits to the veterinarian.

As with any medical condition, the very best source of information will be your veterinarian.  He or she can steer you through the diagnosis and treatment process and then help you with monitoring your pet’s progress and potential recovery.

More

DNA Tests for Pets Help Us Understand Genetic Disease

For thousands of years, humans have selectively bred a variety of domesticated animals, creating many different breeds and unique types.  While these historic farmers and breeders were focused on producing the highest quality of wool from sheep or the muscular build of a Rottweiler, they were unaware of other, more destructive traits that were passed on as well.

Genetics is the science of heredity and how specific physical traits are passed from generation to generation in any organism.  Most everyone can relate to genetics from high school science courses showing color blindness in human males or if you have the ability to roll your tongue.   But, serious, life threatening diseases are also often governed by our genes and this holds true for pets and other animals as well.

Take Penny, for instance.   She was a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, a breed of dog known for excellent cattle herding skills and a love of family.   Sadly, these Corgis are also known for a genetic condition known as Degenerative Myelopathy, or DM.  This disease essentially causes damage along the spinal cord, leading to progressively worsening weakness in the rear legs.  Eventually, Penny was unable to move her rear legs due to paralysis.  She was humanely euthanized after a long life with a family she adored.

DM is not a treatable disease, but scientists have now pinpointed the mutation responsible for this illness.  Almost four dozen different dog breeds have this altered gene present.  Recent research has shown that only dogs who receive a copy of the mutated gene from both parents will develop the condition.  This is known as a “recessive trait”.  Other recessive conditions in animals include certain enzyme deficiencies in cats or some skin issues in horses.

Not all genetic diseases are this simple.  Some are passed as dominant traits, some are linked to specific physical attributes and still others have multiple genes affecting the eventual outcome.  Even the environment can influence the process of the disease or condition.  Hip dysplasia in dogs is an example of a multi-gene and environmentally impacted problem.

The entire sequence of the canine genome was published in 2005.  The genome of our feline friends was published around 2007 and just recently, the entire gene sequences of a Quarter Horse and a Thoroughbred have also been discovered.  The good news in all of this is that as scientists and veterinarians better understand the root causes of hereditary issues, tests to find the disease and even possible treatment options become available.

Dr. Gus Cothran, professor at Texas A & M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says that genetic testing will continue to prove to be of great value to veterinarians and even pet owners.  “Imagine doing blood tests to find animals that are carrying certain mutations that might lead to deleterious conditions or diseases.  Now, we can remove these animals from breeding programs before they are bred and help reduce the incidence of some very serious problems in our domesticated animals.”

Tests for degenerative myelopathy in dogs and polycystic kidney disease in cats are just two of the dozens of genetic screenings that are now available.  Facilities like Texas A&M’s Animal Genetics Lab and the University of California at Davis’ Veterinary Genetics Lab provide testing for animals ranging from our dogs and cats all the way up to horses, llamas, pigs and cattle.  Other private companies, for example, VetGen or DNA Diagnostics Center, have also started reaching out to veterinarians and pet owners interested in this sort of testing.

While these tests may not remove the possibility of genetic disease, they still can be very valuable.  Knowing the chance for disease exists can prompt pet owners and veterinarians to start intervention programs, such as swimming or increased exercise in the case of Corgis, which might delay the onset or progression of the condition.

Anyone interested in breeding domestic animals should familiarize themselves with the potential for genetic diseases.  Your veterinarian can be very helpful in determining what kind of conditions are considered hereditary and even help you find the resources to test the animals you want to breed.

More

Sleeping with Pets…Deadly Nightmare or Sweet Dreams?

Most pet owners don’t read or keep copies of the periodical, Emerging Infectious Diseases.  But, when a newspaper cited this journal in an article describing the dangers of sleeping with pets, people took notice.  When the same story was repeated hundreds of times, across all kinds of markets over 18 months, more and more individuals began to wonder of their pets should be on the floor instead of the bed.   Were these pet owners right to be worried?

It all started in 2010 when a veterinarian and professor at the University of California at Davis, Dr. Bruno Chomel, published an article stating that sleeping with your pets includes the possible risk of contracting zoonotic disease.  Zoonoses are illnesses that have the potential of spreading from animals to people.

Despite knowing that it would be an unpopular opinion, Dr. Chomel flatly stated that “pets don’t belong in your bed.”  News outlets across the country took the opportunity to share this information with their audiences, generating headlines like “Sleeping With Pets Can Endanger Your Health” or “Cuddling with Dying Pets Gives Owners Scary Infections”.

Make no mistake, the risks of contracting a disease or a parasite from your pet are very real.  Fungal diseases like ringworm, bacterial infections like the plague and even certain parasites are all capable of transmission from our dogs and cats directly to us.  The real questions, though, are just how common are these issues and what can pet owners do to prevent the diseases?

The good news is that it is not difficult to prevent or minimize the risks for zoonotic diseases.  Dr. Elizabeth Bradt, a veterinarian in Salem, MA says that “maintaining good hygiene practices and always washing your hands after interacting with your pet goes a long way to prevent these sorts of problems.”  In one of the cases outlined in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, an elderly man recovering from surgery allowed his dog in bed with him.  The dog licked the man’s incision site leading to a case of meningitis.

In other serious cases, three pet owners were hospitalized with rare respiratory illnesses after providing palliative care for their dying pets.  In each case, the owners developed an infection caused by a type of bacteria of the Pasturella species that are common in the mouths of our pets.   These owners shared utensils with their pets and allowed their animals to lick them for extended periods of time.  Thankfully, all three owners recovered with a short course of antibiotics.

All of these individuals put themselves at a higher risk for transmission of disease because of their actions.

Beyond routine hygiene, regular preventive care for your pets is another great safety precaution that any pet owner can take to avoid zoonotic diseases.  Pet owners should carefully consider their veterinarian’s recommendations in order to keep the whole family healthy.

As an example, fleas are the natural carriers of the bacteria causing the plague.  Keeping pets on safe and effective flea medications can help prevent this deadly illness from occurring as well as prevent other problems like tularemia (rabbit fever), cat-scratch disease or even tapeworms.  In another case listed in the Dr. Chomel’s article, he cites a young boy contracting plague because he slept with his flea infested cat.  If this cat had been on a flea preventive, the likelihood of the boy contracting this illness would have been greatly reduced.

Dr. Bradt also says that “the bottom line is that you can catch a disease from your pet whether you sleep with them or not.  There is nothing inherently dangerous about sleeping with a pet.”  Don’t let unfounded fears keep you from the unconditional love of a pet.  Ask your veterinarian how you can keep your pet healthy and a part of your family.

More