Monday, November 12, 2018

Holiday Cheer

With the holidays coming up, it is always a good idea to review some good practices when it comes to your pets and decorations, food, and spirits.  Even the best behaved pets can be tempted by the holiday cheer, so taking preventative steps to avoid an unhealthy interaction is always a good idea. 

  • Christmas trees: Trees can pose multiple risks to pets.  For cats, tinsel on the tree can be tempting to chew on, along with the needles.  Trees can also pose a fall risk if a dog or cat gets too rambunctious and jumps on the tree.  In addition, for live trees the water in the holder/basin can become ripe with bacteria/molds that may cause stomach upset. 

  • Lights: Lights are pretty to look at, but can be too tempting for some pets.  If your pet is prone to chewing on things, make sure that the wires are hidden away or covered. Protective wire covers can be purchased to give some protection from pets chewing. 

  • Candles: Open flames and pets typically don’t mix, so it is best to leave these un-lit and consider a plug-in scent to get you in the holiday mood.

  • Candy: While most pets can handle a little milk chocolate, getting into a bag of candy can cause considerable stomach issues.  If baking, make sure that any Baker’s chocolate is stored away as this can cause life-threatening problems to dogs due to the high methylxanthine and caffeine content.  Also, make sure to avoid in foods with the sugar substitute xylitol, as this can cause severe liver issues in dogs, even with small amounts. 

  • Alcohol: Humans may not be the only mammal in the house that enjoys an adult beverage.  Make sure to pour out any half-empty cocktails to ensure your pet doesn’t sneak a drink.

  • Fatty foods: Make sure any left-overs are carefully stored away, so your dog doesn’t become a living garbage disposal.  Foods high in fat can cause significant gastrointestinal issues, so keeping these away from your animals will prevent you from cleaning up a different holiday mess. 

If your pet does happen to get into something they shouldn’t, you should contact your veterinarian immediately to see whether it is something to worry about.  If it is after hours, there are a couple good pet poison control resources available at either ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, (888) 426-4435, or the Pet Poison Helpline, (855) 764-7661.  There may be a fee associated with speaking to a veterinary technician or veterinarian if calling one of these poison control hotlines.

Have a fun and safe holiday season!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Arthritis in Pets

Just like with people, pets are prone to aches and pains as they get older.  Many times the underlying culprit is osteoarthritis.  With arthritis, the cartilage within the normal joint breaks down, leading to abnormal rubbing of bone resulting in inflammation and pain.  Sometimes this occurs early in life secondary to an underlying conformational problem like hip or elbow dysplasia, but many times it is a result of getting older.

In dogs, the common signs of arthritis are:
  • ·         Stiffness after rest, which tends to improve after activity
  • ·         Pain over a joint or “guarding” of a joint
  • ·         Muscle atrophy (loss)
  • ·         Crepitus (popping) of joints

Cats typically hide their pain better than dogs and you may not notice a lot of changes at home besides a decrease in jumping, a hunched appearance, or decreased grooming

A thorough physical examination can help pinpoint which joints may be causing a problem for a pet and then x-rays can be taken to confirm arthritis.

If your pet is diagnosed with arthritis, there are a wide variety of treatments ranging from weight loss to medications to physical therapy. 

A wide variety of medications are available to help ease the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis.  There are numerous over the counter supplements available that aid in arthritis relief.  The two most common supplements are omega fatty acids (fish oil) and glucosamine/chondroitin.  However, the mainstay of treatment typically revolves around non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS).

Fish Oil
Fish oil contains high amounts of omega fatty acids, which are beneficial in reducing inflammation associated with arthritis.  Specifically, the omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are the most helpful in arthritis.  Ideally, a pet should receive between 50-100 mg/kg of EPA to help with arthritis. 

Glucosamine/Chondrotin and other Disease Modifying Osteoarthritis Drugs (DMOAD)
Supplementing with glucosamine can give relief to some pets.  These medications help decrease the inflammation within the synovial fluid of the joint and can help decrease cartilage degradation.  There are numerous oral medications available like Cosequin and Dasqauin, along with an injectable form called Adaquan.  There are also prescription foods that have added glucosamine and omega fatty acids, so additional supplementation is not needed.  A couple examples of food are Science Diet J/D and Royal Canin Mobility Support.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications target an enzyme called cyclooxygenase that creates prostaglandins in the body, which leads to inflammation.  There are numerous drugs within this class including:
  • ·         Carprofen (brand names Rimadyl and Quellin)
  • ·         Meloxicam (brand names Metacam and Meloxidyl)
  • ·         Firocoxib (brand name Previcox)
  • ·         Deracoxib (brand name Deramaxx)

Which brand of NSAID that your pet is started on depends on your veterinarian, how often you can medicate, and what your pet tolerates.  Every pet is different and may respond to one NSAID over another.  These medications typically are tolerated well, but stomach upset or ulceration can happen and kidney and liver values should be checked every 3-6 months if your pet is taking them regularly.

NSAIDS are used very commonly with dogs, but the use in cats can be controversial.  In 2010, a black-box warning was added to metacam in the U.S. stating that it can cause acute kidney failure and death in cats.  It is only labeled for one time use with post-operatively pain in the U.S.; however, It can still be used off-label for chronic pain.  In the U.K. it is used very frequently in cats suffering from osteoarthritis without major complications and can be used successfully in cats by adjusting the dosage and monitoring kidney values.  Having a thorough discussion with your veterinarian prior to starting your cat on meloxicam is recommended.

Piprant Class
Recently, a new class of medications called the Piprant medications have become available to help with arthritis.  These medications target the receptors of prostaglandins instead of production to control arthritis pain.  Currently, only one medication (Grapiprant) is available from this class.

Other Pain Drugs:
  • ·         Gabapentin was originally used as an anti-seizure medication, but more recently has been found helpful in alleviating pain, specifically chronic neuropathic pain.  It can be used in both dogs and cats
  • ·         Tramadol is frequently added with an NSAID to help alleviate arthritis pain in dogs.  It is less frequently used in cats since it can be bitter tasting

Stem Cell Therapy
This is a regenerative therapy that uses fat from a patient and processes it to acquire stem cells.  To collect the fat, general anesthesia is required and the fat is then sent to a laboratory for treatment.  There are also some in-hospital kits that are available and allow for processing without sending the sample out.  This is a newer therapy and while it has been shown to benefit patients with arthritis, it hasn’t been compared head to head with other therapies.

As noted above, there are numerous options to help control arthritis pain in pets.  Having a discussion with your veterinarian about arthritis concerns in your pet is the first step in the road to arthritis pain control.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Toxic Blue Green Algae

It's finally warming up in the Midwest and with that the concern for algae blooms in lakes and streams is increasing.  While I don't want to cause undo alarm since toxic algae blooms are fairly rare, I do want to make people aware that a potential threat for your pet can be in your backyard.

What causes algae to be toxic?
Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, can reproduce rapidly in lakes and streams when they are exposed to the right temperature, sunlight, and nutrients.  A lake can go from clear to green in a matter of days when exposed to the right conditions.  Algae tends to form in warm, shallow, undisturbed water with lots of sunlight. 

Most algae are non-toxic, but some can produce toxins that can make pets seriously ill and lead to death.  The two most common types are toxins are neurotoxins and hepatotoxins.  Neurotoxins are quick acting toxins (within 15-30 minutes of exposure) that attack the nervous system and can cause muscle cramping, twitching, paralysis, and cardiac arrest in dogs.  Hepatotoxins typically take longer to act and symptoms may not show up until a couple weeks after exposure.  These damage the liver and can cause nausea, vomiting, and sudden liver failure. 

How do I to tell if algae is toxic?
Toxic and non-toxic algae can look very similar and may only be discernible using a microscope in some situations.  That being said, if algae is filamentous it is unlikely to be toxic.  Filamentous algae will cling to a stick if it is run through the algae.  If the algae is non-filamentous than it has the potential to be toxic.  This type of algae will look like blue, green, or even red or brown paint is spilled in the water.  Multiple types of algae can grow in the same lake, so don't assume that the algae is safe even if one area is filamentous. 

If you suspect that a lake or stream near you has toxic algae, contact your local environmental health section of your health department for them to come test the water. 

What if I suspect there is toxic algae near me?
If you are suspicious that there is toxic algae near you, then treat it as toxic until proven otherwise.  Keep pets away from the lake and do not allow them to swim or drink from the water under any circumstances.  Also, keep any humans (adult or children) away from the water as the toxins can also affect people causing skin rashes to serious sickness if ingested. 

If you have concerns about algae blooms in Illinois, contact the Surface Water Section of the Illinois EPA at 217-782-3362.

If your pet is exposed to toxic algae, treat it as an emergency and have them evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Heartworm disease

Heartworm Disease

Spring is finally upon us, so it is again time to refresh our understanding of Heartworm Disease (HWD).  As the name implies, HWD affects the heart.  It is caused by an infection with a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis, which is passed between animals by mosquitoes. 

What happens is mosquitoes will feed on an infected animal (typically a dog, but also coyotes, foxes, and cats); where they will pick up younger stages of the parasite called microfilaria.  Over the course of 2 weeks, these microfilaria will grow into young larval stages of the parasite, then the mosquito will feed on your pet and transfer these young stages into your pet.  During the next 6-7 months, these larva travel throughout the body growing into adult worms, which ultimately reside in the right side of the heart (pulmonary artery).  Here, the adult worms will mate and produce more microfilaria, completing the life cycle.

The worms in the heart cause problems by blocking the flow of blood through the vessels and by causing inflammation in the lungs when the body tries to clear the infection.  The infection can range from just a couple worms, which may not cause any clinical signs, to hundreds of worms, which prevent proper blood flow causing weakness, coughing, and difficulty breathing.

The best way to combat the disease is to prevent the infection in the first place.  There are two main ways of doing this: limiting exposure to mosquitoes and using heartworm prevention medications. 
Most species of mosquitoes are most active during the dusk hours, so limiting your dog from going outside during these times can help.  Also, there are topical products that can be applied to your dog’s skin that help repel mosquitoes (Vectra, Advantix), as well as environmental treatments and clean up (prevent standing water) that can be performed.

There are also many HWD prevention products.  The range from oral medications (Heartgard, Trifexis) to topical medications (Revolution, Advantage Multi) to injectable medications (ProHeart).  Most of the products are administered or applied monthly and work by killing the larval stage of the worm before it can grow up into an adult.  Although there have been reports of lack of efficiency in many products, by-and-large these products are very effective.  It is important to follow the label accordingly when giving these medications (with or without food, no bath before applying topical meds, etc) in order to make them the most effective. 

It is also recommended to test your dog for HWD yearly.  There are many bench-side tests that can be performed on a blood sample to check whether your pet is heartworm free.  Even if your pet is on continual heartworm prevention, it is recommended to screen them for infections since, even though rare, there have been reports of lack of effectiveness.  Some companies will help pay for heartworm treatment if your pet becomes infected while using their product.

If your pet does somehow become infected with heartworm disease, there is still a treatment available to clear the infection.  Most veterinarians will recommended treating with an injectable medication called Melarsomine.  A series of 3 injections are typically performed over the course of a month.  There can be serious complications associated with treatment, so it is important to prevent the disease if possible. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Dental Health in Pets

Dental disease

Periodontal disease is the most common disease in dogs and cats.  Since most pet’s teeth do not get brushed daily, plaque can accumulate quickly on the teeth.  Plaque contains bacteria, which can make its way under the gums and down the root of the tooth leading to periodontal disease.  Toxins released by bacteria cause destruction of the gums and bone surrounding the teeth which leads to oral pain, loose teeth, and bad breath.  In early stages (red, puffy gums) the affected teeth may be saved, but later stages of periodontitis can lead to extraction of teeth.

Clinical signs of periodontitis:
  1. Bad breath
  2. Oral pain
  3. Poor appetite / Dropping food
  4. Lethargy


The best way to prevent dental disease is routine dental care at home.  Just like with people, brushing your pet’s teeth is the best way to prevent plaque accumulation.  It can take some time training your pet to be comfortable with brushing his/her teeth.  If your pet is resistant to tooth brushing, start by rubbing around the muzzle and face while rewarding with treats and praise.  After a few days, move on to lifting the lip and rubbing the teeth with a soft rag; again, while rewarding with treats.  Once your pet is comfortable with this, then you can move on to using a tooth brush with an enzymatic tooth paste.  Brush the teeth in a circular motion focusing on the upper canine teeth and upper cheek teeth.

If your pet isn’t amenable to having their teeth brushed, then you can consider specialized treats or water additives that are designed to reduce plaque.  The Veterinary Oral Health Council has a list of treats at their website that can be used to combat dental disease

In-Clinic Dental Cleaning

Even with the best of care at home, most pets need a periodic cleaning in the clinic.  Dental cleanings for pets are similar to when humans go to the dentist.  One of the main differences, though, is that pets must be anesthetized to perform the cleaning.  This not only keeps the pet safe and allows a thorough cleaning, but also keeps the staff safe from a possible bite wound.

The teeth are first cleared of calculus and plaque using a scaler (typically an ultrasonic scaler).  Then, the teeth are probed along their gum surface to look for any large gingival pockets, which indicates periodontal disease. Dental x-rays may be performed as well.  If any teeth are unhealthy, then these teeth are treated appropriately or if the tooth is too far gone, it is extracted.  The teeth are then polished and fluoride or a sealant is applied to the teeth.

Depending on the amount of home care performed, pets may need in-clinic cleanings every 6 month to 2 years.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month, so in response we are offering 10% off dental cleaning in our clinics.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Cruciate disease

What is the cruciate ligament?
Like people, dog's have cruciate ligaments.  These are ligaments in the knee that prevent the thigh and skin bone from moving forward and backward independently of one another.  The one that causes particular problems in the dog is the cranial cruciate ligament.  This ligament spans from the back of the femur (thigh bone) to the front of the tibia (skin bone).

Unlike with people where most cruciate injuries occur during activity (sports in particular), dogs tend to tear their ligament due to chronic, degeneration of the ligament which leads to weakness.  When dogs do tear their ligament, an owner could notice signs ranging from a subtle lameness to holding the hind-limb up completely.

How is a cruciate tear diagnosed?
In most cases, a cruciate tear can be diagnosed with a thorough orthopedic exam of the knee.  In particular, a veterinarian is looking for either the "drawer" sign or tibial thrust. 

Drawer is when the tibia (shin) can be moved forward independently of the femur (thigh)

Thrust is when the ankle is flexed, which then moves the tibia forward
If a pet is particularly anxious, he/she may need to be sedated to fully evaluate the knee.  X-rays of the knee may also be performed, which can show swelling of the knee consistent with injury.  It is rare to perform an MRI to confirm a cruciate tear as many tears can be diagnosed with just the physical exam.

The ligament is torn, what now?
If the ligament is torn, then surgery to explore the joint and then stabalize the knee should be considered. 

Exploration of the knee joint can be done is one of two ways.  The first, less invasive way to explore the knee is through arthroscopy (camera in the knee).  Small incisions are made into the knee joint to allow for a camera and instruments to be inserted.  Once inside, the ligaments and meniscus can be evaluated.  If the cruciate ligament is torn, the remnants of the ligament are typically removed, as they can be a source of inflammation.  The meniscus (cartilage in the knee) is also evaluated because many times a meniscal tear is also found with cruciate tears.  If torn, that section of the menincus may be removed or a release of the meniscus is performed.  The benefits of arthroscopy are that it is less invasive than tradition arthrotomy (opening the knee joint completely) and the camera allows for magnification of the ligaments.  The cons are that not everyone has the equipment to perform this and it adds cost to the procedure.

The other way to explore the knee is to open the joint with a scapel, which is called arthrotomy.  Prior to arthroscopy cameras being available, this was the traditional way to evaluate the knee.  Since a larger incision is needed, it is more invasive.  Similar to athroscopy, the ligaments are evaluated, remnants are removed, and the meniscus is evaluated.  The con of this procedure is it is more invasive, however, no special equipment is needed for it.

Once the joint has been explored and the ligament is confirmed as torn, the knee must then be stabilized.  Unlike with people where the cruciate ligament is reconstructed using a tendon, in dogs veterinarians stabilize the knee in a different way.  The two most common procedures are either the lateral stabilization technique or the TPLO surgery.  There is a lot of information about these procedures at other websites, but this one from Colorado State does a good job of explaining things.

In some situations surgery may not be an option for a pet, whether it be due to financial restrictions or due to other health problems with the pet.  In these situations, the knee will start to develop arthritis which then can be managed in other ways.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Reuniting with a Lost Pet

We see it a lot at our clinic:  A family comes in with a picture of their lost pet and wants us to put up a flier trying to reunite them with their beloved animal.  We are happy to oblige, but unfortunately, many times the owner isn't able to recover their animal.  What can be done to increase the chances of finding their pet?  One word: MICROCHIP.  

 Microchipping pets has been around for a couple of decades, but is becoming more common in each passing year.  There are a number of companies that produce microchips, which is good and bad.  It is good as it gives many options and can keep costs low due to competition, but bad as not all companies use similar frequencies for their chips, so not every scanner will pick up every microchip.

The good news is that there are now scanners that pick up multiple frequencies of chips, so hopefully won't miss a pet who is microchipped.

How do the microchips work?
The chips are about the size of a grain of rice and are implanted under the skin using a needle.  Once implanted, the body will produce scar tissue around the chip that holds it in place.

The chips use RFID technology (radio-frequency), so do not require an internal battery source.  They are powered by the scanner when it is slide a few inches over the chip.  The chip is encoded with a unique number, which the scanner picks up and then can be matched to the owners information.  Using the website the number is matched to the microchip company and then the company can be contacted to recover the the owner's information.

The most important thing besides microchipping your pet is making sure that your information is registered to the microchip number and up to date.  If the pet owners information isn't linked to the number encoded in the chip, then the microchip is worthless.  At our clinic, we register the owner's information for them to ensure that this step isn't forgotten.

We use HomeAgain ( microchips at our clinic.  We typically try to implant them during a pet's spay or neuter, since the pet is asleep and won't feel the needle used during implantation.  However, we can also implant the chip when pets are awake, using treats to distract them while the injection takes place.

Once registered, the number is in the system for the life of the pet.  There is no additional charge unless your information changes.  Home Again does offer an annual renewal, which gives access to additional resources including producing fliers if your pet is lost, access to a poison control hotline, and help with transportation back home if your pet is found more than 500 miles away.

Bottom line is that a microchip will give you your best chance at finding your pet if it is lost.