All Posts tagged AAHA

Spinal Cord Injuries – Veterinary Research Helping People and Pets

Experts estimate that more than 12,000 spinal cord injuries (SCI) occur every year in people and that more than a quarter of a million Americans are now living with some form of SCI.  These injuries are not limited to humans, but happen frequently in our pets as well.

In people, damage to the spine often occurs due to a traumatic event, such as a car accidents, severe falls or even sports activities.  Such injuries happen most often to younger men.

In dogs, not only are there a variety of accidents that cause SCI, but many breeds of dogs, can develop a bulging or full prolapse of the discs that are located between the vertebrae.  This bulge puts damaging pressure on the spinal cord, causing pain and even paralysis.  Any sort of pressure, trauma or tearing of the spinal cord is truly an emergency situation.

In both human and veterinary medicine new treatments are focused in an attempt to block certain biochemical pathways after injury to save mobility. But, until now, many of these treatments have been unsuccessful.  Consequently, the human may spend the rest of their life in a wheelchair while many pets are euthanized due to costs or the owner’s inability to care for a pet who is unable to walk.

Two dachshunds by poolDr. Jonathon Levine, a veterinarian and resident in neurology at Texas A & M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says “about 3% of all hospitalized cases in veterinary medicine were due to disc related spinal cord injuries.”  In certain breeds, especially dachshunds and other long bodied, short legged dogs, the incidence of SCI due to disc problems approaches 25%.

In some situations, especially traumatic events, like a dog being struck by a car, the onset is sudden and easily recognizable.  But in other cases, the signs are much more subtle.  Dogs with slow developing disc problems often show weakness in the limbs, abnormal gait, incoordination and pain across the back.  Without treatment, these pets may eventually lose the ability to walk.

Close up of MRI image, dog spineNew advances in diagnostic technology, including increased availability of even more powerful MRI units for pets, have enabled veterinarians to more accurately pinpoint the cause of spinal injuries.  But, the fact still remains that far too many dogs and people suffering lasting serious consequences, from spinal cord injuries.

In conjunction with the University of California Medical School, Dr. Levine and the team at Texas A & M are exploring a new drug that may protect the nervous system after spinal cord injury.  Certain enzymes in the nervous system can actually destroy vital components of the blood-spinal cord barrier and of myelin, the protective covering over nerves.  This current research looks at a new compound that may block these destructive enzymes.  “We are hoping that this new drug will protect the nervous system shortly after injury, improve the outcome and help more dogs walk in these cases.” says Levine.

The importance of this study cannot be overstated.  This is the first veterinary clinical trial that has been funded by the National Institutes of Health.  In addition, because of the potential benefits to both dogs and people, the Department of Defense has also provided grant money to continue the research.  Many of the quarter of a million people living with spinal cord injuries are soldiers wounded while in war zones.

Pet owners, especially those with specific breeds prone to back problems need to be aware of the subtitle signs of potential problems.  A veterinarian should see any dog that cries out during play, has difficulty navigating stairs or that has any sort of uncoordinated gait.  Pets that are overweight are more prone to spinal issues, so keeping your pet trim is one way to minimize the risks.  In some cases, owners may receive a referral to a veterinary neurologist or surgeon for advanced care.

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Does your pet suffer from secondhand smoke?

The history of smoking tobacco may reach back many hundreds of years, but research in the 20th century has made it clear how harmful this habit is.  Furthermore, secondhand smoke has been implicated in the illnesses and even deaths of non-smokers.  What’s even more disturbing is that smokers may have unknowingly contributed to severe disease in dogs and cats.

Most people understand that secondhand smoke from cigarettes contains an incredible number of hazardous substances and many of them are carcinogenic.  These chemicals are found in high concentrations in carpets and on furniture around the home.  Pets sharing this environment will get these toxins on their fur and then ingest them during normal grooming.

Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a board certified specialist in veterinary internal medicine and certified veterinary journalist, has written that increased numbers of smokers and smoking in households corresponds with higher levels of the by-products of nicotine metabolism in pets sharing that home.  She further describes how carbon deposits are often seen in the lungs of these animals.

Research is now showing that our pets’ health is affected in ways similar to what is seen in humans.

X-ray of dog with lung cancerIn the early 1990s, researchers found correlations between nasal cancers in dogs and the presence of smokers in the home.  There is also a concern that environmental tobacco smoke may increase the incidence of lung cancer in our canine friends as well.

Cats may actually be at higher risk for serious disease when they live in a smoking environment.  As mentioned above, many cigarette smoke toxins settle to low levels in the home and cats will pick up these substances on their fur.  Because of their fastidious grooming habits, cats end up ingesting a higher level of chemicals and this leads to a greater chance of several types of cancer.

Lymphoma is a cancer of white blood cells and is one of the most common cancers seen in our pet cats.  When smokers are present in the cat’s household, the risk for this killer is increased by two or three times over cats living in non-smoking homes.  Sadly, when our feline friends are diagnosed with lymphoma, the prognosis is very poor and many won’t survive another six months.

Another serious cancer with links to secondhand smoke is a cancer of the mouth known as squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC.   Studies have linked a higher risk for SCC in cats living in smoking homes.  Again, the prognosis is very grave and most pets won’t survive another year.

An unpublished study has also found that the levels of nicotine found in the hair of dogs exposed to second hand smoke is similar to levels found in children living with parents who smoke.

With more than 46 million smokers in North America and about 60% of the population owning dogs or cats, the risk for the animals is substantial.  Pets are often good at hiding signs of illness, so many smoking owners fail to realize the damage that their habit is causing to the four legged family member.

Of course, the best course of action is to give up the tobacco habit entirely.  It’s not only best for the health of the smoker, it will also greatly reduce risks for pets.  Understanding that it’s not easy to quit this addictive habit, people who smoke and have pets should attempt to minimize their pets’ exposure by smoking outdoors.

Lit cigaretteAnother important thing to remember is that smoking in the car with pets can create a toxic environment, even with the windows open.  Some states and Canadian provinces even ban smoking in cars when children are passengers because of the chance for serious exposures.  If you must smoke when you drive, leave your pets and kids at home!

Pets who are developing illnesses from secondhand smoke may exhibit symptoms ranging from lethargy to coughing to the appearance of masses in the mouth.  It’s important to have your pet seen by a veterinarian if any of these signs are noted.

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Who Cleans Your Teeth?

Non-anesthetic dental scalings (NADS) or “anesthesia free pet dentals” involve removing tartar from an animal’s teeth by simply holding the pet and not using any sort of sedation or anesthetic.  Many of the websites promoting this service tout their “proprietary restraint techniques” as the reason they are able to work in your pet’s mouth while he or she is awake.

Videos advocating this practice show well-behaved pets sitting quietly on the floor or on laps while individuals scrape their teeth with sharp dental instruments.  Is this how it happens or is this simply marketing hype?

Businesses that encourage these types of procedures claim that their methods are safer, healthier for the pet and less costly for the owner.  However, understanding the risks of these supposedly safer options might offer an opposing view.

First, these methods should not be called “pet dentistry”.  Dentistry involves much more than a simple scaling of the teeth.  In fact, the term dentistry is defined as the branch of medical science concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the teeth and gums.  The American Veterinary Dental College prefers the term “non-anesthetic dental scalings”, or NADS, as this more accurately describes these procedures.  Individuals doing these scalings are rarely trained in dentistry.

Next, the marketing of these services focuses on the fact that the providers don’t use any sort of anesthetic or sedation.  Several sites quote a single scientific article and claim that one out of every 253 pets dies from an anesthetic procedure.  For people who have lost pets under anesthesia, these services seem heavenly and for others, it simply scares them.

What they DON’T tell you is that particular study was done at a veterinary teaching hospital where the vast majority of their surgical patients were severely ill or injured.  Other studies show a much lower risk of anesthetic related deaths.

To be fair, anesthesia, like any medical practice, has risks.  But, your veterinarian has the appropriate knowledge, skills, equipment and trained staff to help minimize adverse reactions.

Proponents of NADS also claim that it is healthier for the pet since the pet doesn’t need to undergo multiple anesthetic events.  Again, this fiction is not borne out in reality as the vast majority of pets only need professional teeth cleanings once or twice annually.

Perhaps the biggest myth perpetrated by these unlicensed people is that a dental scaling will promote long term oral health for your pet.  Dr. Brett Beckman, a veterinary dentist, has seen the effects of NADS on pets over time.  He says, “these ‘cleanings’ actually do much more harm than good.  The pitting of the enamel by the scalers allows for more hiding places for the plaque causing bacteria.”  The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) agrees.  In a statement on their website, AAHA says that these scalings “make the teeth whiter, but not healthier!”

Even the aspect of saving money that is highly publicized may not be accurate.  A search of pricing showed a range between $125 and a $165 for these procedures.  While this might be less expensive than the veterinarian, these companies and individuals are recommending that their clients return, on average, once every three months.  That’s $500 to more than $650 per year!  Dr. Beckman elaborates that “the damage done by the scaling encourages plaque growth and then, of course, return visits.  This might be good for business, but it’s certainly not good for the pet.”

Remember, many of the people who encourage and provide these sorts of services are unlicensed, often unsupervised and unregulated.  This means that you have no official recourse if your pet is injured during the scaling.  Cuts of the gums, neck strains and even long term anxiety have been reported.

If you are concerned about your pet’s dental health, the best resource for you is your veterinarian.  He or she will have the right equipment to fully assess the whole mouth, not just the outer surfaces of the teeth.  With dental x-rays and effective dental probing done on an anesthetized pet, your veterinarian can get the entire picture of the health of your pet’s mouth.

Ask questions if you are concerned about anesthetic safety.  Other options for sedation may exist, based on the overall health of your animal.  You should also proactively brush your pet’s teeth or ask about home care products that help minimize plaque accumulation.

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Consider A Trust Fund for your Pet

Pets have become integral and beloved members of millions of families across North America.  We provide them with special diets, unique toys and even grieve heavily when they pass away.  Unfortunately, many dedicated owners fail to consider what might happen to their pets if they are suddenly unable to care for them.

Historically, this was never much of a concern.  Pets have always been considered “property” by state and national governments and so when a person died, their possessions, along with the animals they owned, were disposed of as directed by the person’s will or by the probate court handling the estate.

In today’s society though, pets are thought of as much more than property.  Although they still don’t have a different legal standing, most people will agree that their pets should be handled differently than their car, furniture or other material items.  It’s a sad fact that many senior citizens who might benefit from the companionship of a pet actually avoid bringing an animal home over concerns of care should the pet survive them.

Over the ages, many people have tried to incorporate special provisions into their wills for their pets.  English Common Law actually began to recognize pet trusts as far back as 1842.  But it’s only been in recent years that true strides have been accomplished.

The first problem to overcome was that of the legal hurdle that “property cannot legally own property”.  This means that the animal (property) cannot receive money (more property) in a will for its continued care.  In a similar manner, a pet cannot be named a beneficiary of a trust.  But, in the 1990s, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws saw the need and changed the Uniform Probate Code to actually permit pet trusts.  To date, 45 of the 50 U.S. states allow an owner to create a trust for their animals.

Dog in shelterThe next, and probably bigger issue, is to educate pet owners about their options.  Failing to consider what to do with your pet in the event you are unable to care for him or her could lead to your dog, cat or other pet ending up in a shelter or with a new pet owner.  While these situations could work out just fine, some relatives or individuals may not be willing or able to provide proper care.  In addition, the pet itself may not adjust well to the new environment, leading to behavior issues or even early euthanasia.

Pet trusts actually provide many benefits.  First, since trusts are valid even while the owner is still alive, even if he or she is disabled or incapacitated.  This simple fact allows the pet’s care to continue without the necessity of going through probate.  Leaving money to your pet in a will might provide some resources, but the amount is subject to interpretation by the courts.

In addition, if the owner needs to move to an assisted care facility or nursing home, a pet trust is valuable in helping to keep the pet and owner together.  This alone is a powerful reason to consider setting up a trust for your beloved animal.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a pet trust is administered by a trustee (separate from the pet’s carVeterinarian and client with poodleetaker) who has a legal obligation to follow the guidelines set forth by the owner.  This helps insure that your wishes for your pet are carried out and helps minimize the potential for fraud.  You will want to make sure you have selected a willing and trusted person as the caretaker before the time for one is needed.

As with any legal matter, you should discuss the potential for creating a pet trust with your attorney.  He or she can guide you through the legal ramifications and tax situations and help you draft a document that is enforceable and allows your pet to receive the right type of care in a safe environment.  Your veterinarian may know of attorneys who specialize in these sorts of trusts or even resources that will help you provide for your pet after you are gone.

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FDA Cautions Dog Owners

Questions continue to be raised over the safety of chicken jerky products that are marketed as chicken tenders, strips or treats for dogs in the US.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued cautionary warnings to consumers in September of 2007, 2008, and again in November of 2011.  After seeing the initial number of complaints decrease in 2009 and 2010, the FDA is receiving complaints levels again, prompting a re-release of earlier warnings.

Year                                       Cases Reported

2006                                                       6

2007                                                    156

2008                                                       41

2010                                                       54

2011                                                       70

If you have been feeding these treats to your dog, you should watch closely for the following clinical signs:  decreased appetite; decreased activity; vomiting; diarrhea, sometimes with blood; increased water consumption and/or increased urination.   If you see any of these signs in your pet, stop feeding the treats immediately and contact your veterinarian if the clinical signs persist for more than 24 hours.

The FDA continues to actively investigate the problem and its origin. To date, with extensive chemical and microbial testing, food scientists have been unable to determine the exact cause of illness.  The FDA’s Veterinary Laboratory Response Network (VLRN) and several animal health diagnostic laboratories are working towards a direct association of the illness and the consumption of the treats thought to be manufactured in China.

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