It might be the look on the person’s face or maybe the way they are carrying the bag, but staff at a veterinary office can always tell when their clients arrive with a stool sample for testing. Dozens of specimens arrive each day, some in Ziploc baggies, others triple wrapped in aluminum foil and some are tucked neatly in plastic containers. The clients may not realize it, but that smelly sample brought in for testing may help prevent an illness in their pet…or in them!
Why does your veterinarian have such an interest in your pet’s stool?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that 3,000 to 4,000 human serum samples are sent to their labs every year with a presumptive diagnosis of toxocariasis, or, infection with roundworms or hookworms. The illnesses caused by these parasites are not reportable in the United States, so true numbers of human cases are not known. What is known is that 36% of dogs across the country and 52% in the southeastern states carry these zoonotic worms. Many pet owners are unaware that their furry family members are capable of harboring these parasites.
Some clients don’t believe that their pet could have worms. But, pets can come into contact with these parasites in the yard, in potting soil, at the dog park or even on our hands or feet after we come inside from working in the garden or after taking a walk. The larva and eggs of these parasites are simply abundant in many places.
In fact, a single female worm can shed more than 100,000 eggs per day and most puppies and kittens are infected with more than just one worm! That’s millions of eggs spreading through areas where dogs and cats go to defecate. Pets infected with a protozoan parasite, like coccidia or giardia, can shed over a billion cysts each and every day!
So, what does your veterinarian do with the sample you brought Most people understand that veterinarians are checking fecals as a means to find intestinal parasites, more commonly known as “worms”. What is less well known is that the veterinarian is not looking for whole adult parasites. They are looking for microscopic eggs and protozoans that may inhabit your pet.
First, the feces are mixed with a sugar or salt solution, a liquid that is slightly denser than regular tap water. Breaking up the stool allows any infective eggs to enter the solution. Next, the mixture is carefully poured into conical tubes that are placed in a centrifuge. The spinning action helps separate the organic debris of the feces from the parasites and the parasite eggs.
After about 10 minutes, the suspension is then allowed to sit with a microscope coverslip placed on top. The eggs and most parasites will float to the top and adhere to the coverslip. A veterinary technician or assistant can then take this sample and review it under a microscope. Any positive specimens are discussed with the veterinarian and an appropriate deworming medication can be prescribed.
This process may not sound appetizing to most readers, but these tests are an important part of a veterinarian’s dedication to your pets, but also to public health as a whole. The CDC, the Companion Animal Parasite Council and the American Animal Hospital Association all recommend regular fecal testing for all pets. This means you can expect to package up a stool sample once or twice each year per pet. If your pets aren’t on monthly heartworm prevention, your veterinarian may ask for a sample every 1-2 months! More
As a society, we have become very concerned about our diet and a number of health issues related to our consumption of various foods. Gluten sensitivity in people is just one example and it has lead to many looking at “whole food” diets or even eating only foods that our Paleolithic ancestors consumed. Naturally, pet owners will translate these concerns to their cats and dogs and look for more natural diets for their four legged friends.
Pet food marketers have been quick to respond to the public’s desire for grain free options in their lines of food. Catchy brand names like “Taste of the Wild”, “Natural Balance” or “Earthborn” tempt the human shoppers. But, are these pet owners choosing a diet simply based on marketing hype and the sales pitch in the store?
Many believe that the gluten sensitivities common in people are also a widespread problem in pets and chose a diet based on a lack of specific ingredients, such as wheat. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that these particular problems occur regularly in dogs or cats. Gluten-sensitive intolerances are documented in Irish Setters, but, to date, we simply don’t know if other breeds are affected and the problem has not proven to be widespread.
Another frequent reason for choosing a grain free pet food is that the owner believes that wheat, corn or some other grain is highly allergenic and causes food allergies for their pets. The fallacy here is that many dogs are actually allergic to the proteins in the food. In a review of 267 cases, wheat actually was responsible for fewer canine allergy cases than beef and dairy and corn comes in at a distant 8th, behind chicken, egg and lamb.
Some owners mistakenly believe that “grain-free” equates to low, or even no, carbohydrates. Dr. Susan Wynn, a well-known speaker on clinical nutrition and integrative medicine, remarks that “if the pet food is a dry kibble, it contains carbohydrates.” The manufacturing process to produce the dry diets (known as extrusion) won’t work unless a minimal level of starch is present.
Dr. Lori Huston, a Certified Veterinary Journalist and author of the Pet Health Care Gazette blog concurs. She even mentions that many of the popular replacements for grains, like potatoes, can actually increase the carbohydrate content of the food.
Finally, a common myth is that our pets are unable to effectively digest the grains present in commercial diets. The reality is that dogs do quite well digesting grains and starches. Not only has decades of research proven this, but new genetic information shows our domesticated canine friends have many more copies of a gene for amylase than their wolf cousins. This important enzyme helps cut starch molecules and enables dogs to effectively use grains as an energy source.
All of the above reasons aside, is there a downside to feeding grain free foods? Overall, the consensus from veterinary experts is that these foods are generally safe and will also provide a complete and balanced diet for your pet. In some cases, the levels of fat or protein may be higher than necessary for some pets and that could cause health issues. To quote Dr. Wynn, since “excess protein is not stored by the body, high protein diets are often simply good for producing expensive urine.”
If grain free is an option that interests you for your pet’s diet, talk with your veterinarian. We can help you sort through the myths and misconceptions that so often abound when it comes to pet foods. This is especially important when it comes to food allergies. Over the counter (OTC) “hypoallergenic” foods can often confound a food allergy diagnosis. Studies have shown that these OTC foods may often contain the very allergens the owner is trying to avoid and cross contamination in the manufacturing process is a common occurrence. In addition, one well known OTC pet food manufacturer was reprimanded by the FDA after lab analysis showed their lamb diet contained no lamb, but beef instead! More
Many pets, especially our dogs, love to go for car rides. Whether it’s a quick trip to the local market or even a cross country excursion, hearing their owners say “go for a ride” or “go bye-bye” will set many dogs’ tails wagging.
Unfortunately, this favored activity can turn deadly when warmer temperatures arrive and when owners misjudge the amount of time they will be away from the car. Each year, dozens, if not hundreds, of stories of dogs dying in hot cars are reported by local media.
When confronted with the fact that their pet’s death was likely preventable, most owners will respond with statements like “I didn’t think I would be gone that long” or that they “didn’t know it was THAT warm outside”. When looking at the facts, the reality of just how quickly the inside of a car can heat up, even in mild temperatures, can produce some startling revelations for pet lovers.
It’s probably common sense to most people that hotter days cause the inside of a car to heat up faster, but few people realize that even with outside temperatures as low as 65 or 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the inside of the vehicle will warm uncomfortably in just 30 minutes. In fact, on a 75 degree day, your car’s interior will be at 100 degrees in just about 10 minutes and a blistering 120 degrees in a half hour! Despite urban myths, cracking the windows has little effect on the rate of heating inside the car.
An excellent demonstration of the effect a warm day can have on the interior of a car can be found in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbOcCQ-y3OY.
But, it’s not just the heat of the day that is an issue. Your pet’s overall health status and behavior can also contribute to how quickly he will overheat in the car. Veterinarians across the country have posted stories online about cases in which dogs have died when left in cars on days where the temperature never exceeded 60 degrees. Short faced breeds, like Pugs and Bulldogs, as well as obese pets, heavy coated breeds and senior animals will have less tolerance for extreme temperatures. In addition, excitable animals and those with separation anxiety issues may work themselves into frenzy, raising their body temperature to dangerous levels.
When in doubt, it’s probably best to leave your pet at home. It’s far too easy for a quick trip to become complicated and take more time than you intended.
Across the Internet, many well-intentioned people and groups will post pictures and posters that highlight the dangers of leaving pets in cars and education is a great thing. Sadly, though, the discussions on these sites about what individuals will do if they find a pet locked in a car can often turn into dangerous arenas of mis-information. People will recommend breaking into cars to save the dogs or even taking the pets away from the owner.
Currently, 14 states specifically have laws that prohibit leaving animals “unattended and confined” in a motor vehicle when physical injury or death is likely to result. While that is a great thing, it does NOT give ordinary citizens the right to smash windshields or take the pet from the car. Most of these states have included rescue provisions that empower police, peace officers, fire and rescue workers or animal control officers to use reasonable force to remove an animal in distress.
So, what should you, as an animal lover and Good Samaritan do if you come across a pet confined in a car?
First, if you are in a store parking lot, consider contacting the management of the store or even security. It may be possible to page the pet’s owner and have them return to the vehicle.
Next, call 911 and try to get the local authorities involved. This action will help lessen your liability if the pet is injured during the rescue attempt or happens to escape. Allow the police or legally designated person open the vehicle.
Finally, realize that not every animal in a car is actually in distress. As mentioned above, some pets may appear frantic, but others will lie quietly while waiting for their owners. It’s important to stay calm and not over-react – in some cases, the pet is not in danger! More
When national surveys are done, pharmacists continually rank high when it comes to trust, honesty and ethics. Whether it’s your pharmacy professional at the locally owned corner store or the one at the corporate big box store, this profession consistently out ranks doctors, engineers and even the clergy! Like veterinarians, pharmacists are viewed as compassionate and caring by the general public.
However, increasing numbers of news reports detailing mistakes made by human pharmacies dispensing pet medications has both professions concerned. In some cases, there was no noticeable effect and the pets were fine, but serious illnesses, severe complications and even deaths have occurred. How widespread is this issue?
Thankfully, in the vast majority of prescriptions sent to pharmacists from veterinarians, the dosage and medication is delivered as expected and the pet gets exactly what is needed. It’s only when drugs are changed, generics substituted or dosing altered that problems occur.
In a recent survey completed by the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA), more than 1/3 of the veterinarians surveyed reported incidents of pharmacists from either retail or online pharmacies changing the prescription. In a highly publicized case from Los Angeles, an 8 year old Labrador was euthanized after the drug store altered the dose of a veterinarian’s prescription, changing the “cubic centimeters” (or “cc”) to teaspoons. This pet ended up receiving almost 4 times the amount of medication needed which compounded his other, already serious health issues.
In the Oregon survey, veterinarians also reported that insulin brands were changed, dosages for anti-seizure medications were altered and antibiotics substituted for chemotherapy drugs. Other news reports have shown that pet owners were told to give human pain relievers, such as Tylenol® or Ibuprofen®, to their pets. This seemingly harmless advice can lead to serious liver damage in dogs or even death in cats.
Executive Director of the OVMA, Mr. Glenn Kolb said that ““Together, veterinarians and pharmacists work hand in hand to meet the needs of the client and the best interests of the patient. The bad news is the rare occurrence when a pharmacy steps out of its scope of practice by making determinations and adjustments.”
Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken notice. In a 2012 Consumer Update, the FDA mentions how veterinarians and pharmacists are taught different systems of medication dosing abbreviations, leading to confusion. In addition, transcription errors and product selection mistakes can lead to the wrong drug or the incorrect amount being given to your pet.
Both professions and the FDA are taking these reports very seriously. Carmen Catizone of the National Association Boards of Pharmacy says that pet owners “”primary concern should always be whether or not the pharmacist is knowledgeable in the area of veterinary medications” and cautions that price should be a secondary consideration when looking for pet or human drugs.
In the FDA alert, consumers are urged to ask questions of both the pharmacist and the veterinarian if your pet’s prescription is filled at an online or retail pharmacy. Glenn Kolb takes it one step further and flatly states that “veterinarians need to raise awareness among pet owners by telling them, “If a pharmacist suggests changing to a different drug or different dosage, please contact me right away.’”
Be familiar with your pet’s regular medications and take time to review any written prescription. If what you receive doesn’t match your expectations, do not give the drug and contact your veterinarian.
Veterinary experts also recommend that pet owners shopping for the best price on pet medications have an open conversation with their primary veterinarian. In many cases, the veterinary hospital will have the right medication available at a price that matches or is close to the online costs once you figure shipping and convenience. Plus, you get the added peace of mind that your veterinary team understands your pet’s unique needs.
Just like in human medicine, prescription errors happen with our pets too. The important thing to remember is that both your veterinarian and your local pharmacist are interested in what’s best for your four legged friend. More
Whether it’s rising floodwaters, raging wildfires or even acts of terrorism, catastrophic events require all kinds of professionals to respond. Even though most people know about police and firefighters, veterinarians are also often called to disaster scenes to help save lives and reunite families.
As we have all seen, tragic events like hurricanes, earthquakes or bombings take their toll on human lives. But, it’s not unusual to see animal victims of these disasters as well. Animals can be injured or lost and in the case of large scale calamities, local animal control resources are quickly overwhelmed.
Although our first thoughts often go to our companion animals, like dogs and cats, large animals, from horses to sheep and pigs to cattle are also at risk. In fact, horses will often panic and run in the face of danger while cattle will quickly scatter through downed fence lines.
What can local agencies do when animals are in need of help in addition to the local population of people?
Veterinary Emergency Teams (VET) are often called upon by local first responders when a disaster situation gets beyond their control. These well-equipped and well trained groups of volunteer veterinary professionals will bring in vital supplies, needed medications and even state of the art mobile facilities designed to provide a safe work environment as well resting quarters for the crew.
It’s obvious that these teams can function to help injured animals, but they actually can provide invaluable aid to local veterinarians who have suffered damage to their hospitals. In addition, these specialized emergency response units can also help triage animal cases, provide additional assistance to local animal control agencies by searching for microchips among lost pets and care for the many search and rescue or working dogs that aid in disaster relief.
Veterinary emergency teams also provide vital public health monitoring in the aftermath of catastrophes, give technical assistance to assure food and water safety and help prevent zoonotic and other disease outbreaks.
Although a National Veterinary Response Team (NVRT) has been established and operates within the National Disaster Medical System, many states will also field their own veterinary medical assistance teams. Colleges, such as Texas A&M, the University of California at Davis and others have also developed volunteer groups that have responded to a multitude of local emergency situations.
With the passage of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Safety Act (“PETS Act”) in 2006, a greater emphasis has been placed on the care of our pets and animals in the event of large scale disasters. States must include animals in sheltering and evacuation plans and also provide means of tracking those animals throughout the event. Veterinary emergency teams are crucial to insuring that these standards are met.
Veterinarians, veterinary technicians, animal control officials, pharmacists and many others, including concerned citizens who aren’t in the animal health field, are eligible to volunteer for veterinary teams. Interested individuals should become familiar with the National Incident Command Structure as working in disaster zones requires a strict adherence to details and an organized system of communications. This means that even though you might have a strong passion for helping our four legged friends, you can’t just run into a danger zone and start trying to save pets. That type of action will not only endanger yourself, but also pull resources from where they may be needed if you get in trouble.
So, when disaster strikes, don’t be surprised to see volunteer veterinarians and technicians working with police and firefighters, saving lives and getting life back to normal and animals and families back together!
Develop a disaster preparedness plan for your pet at http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/disaster-preparedness. More