Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Megapiranha

No fish story: Meet the 'Megapiranha'

  • Black piranha. Photo by Steve Huskey, Western Kentucky University
    Black piranha. Photo by Steve Huskey, Western Kentucky University0
A group of scientists has given a whole new meaning to the phrase "the fish are biting."
A scientific paper by the scientists, including one from the University of Washington, describes an ancient piranha whose bite was so powerful that it deserved to be in Superman's fish tank.

More fierce, the scientists say, than prehistoric whale-eating sharks, the four-ton armored fish Dunkleosteus terrelli or the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Don't worry, the fish lived about 10 million years ago.

Scientists say the appropriately named Megapiranha paranensis just didn't bite through flesh as modern day piranhas do. It also could pierce thick shells and crack bones and armoring.

"If our calculations are correct, Megapiranha was probably a bone-crushing predator taking bites of anything and everything," said Stephanie Crofts, a University of Washington doctoral student in biology. She is co-author of "Mega-Bites: Extreme jaw forces of living and extinct piranhas," published Dec. 13 in the online journal Scientific Reports.

The findings come from the first field tests of the biting force of the largest piranha around today: The black piranha.

One 2 1/2-pound black piranha can bite with the force of 320 newtons -- a measure of force -- or 72 pounds. That's about 30 times its body weight.

The Megapiranha, which weighed about 22 pounds, could have had a bite force of 1,240 newtons to 4,750 newtons, or 280 to 1,070 pounds.

The T. rex had quite a bite: 13,400 newtons or 3,000 pounds. But scientists say its bite was not close to 30 times its body weight.

So the paper can conclude: "For its relatively diminutive size, Megapiranha paranensis' bite dwarfs other extinct mega-predators."

Measuring the bite force of a piranha -- the beast we all remember in movies as turning some poor explorer into all bone and no flesh -- seems like no fun at all.

You catch one, hold the tail with one hand, the belly with the other and get the thing to bite a force gauge.
Scientists say the black piranha was built to bite. It has huge jaw muscles and tendons like ropes. Those two assets account for 2 percent of the fish's weight.

The jaw has evolved into a level that the scientists describe as "one of the highest jaw-closing mechanical advantages ever identified in fishes."

To borrow a phrase, it's not the size of the fish in the fight but the size of the fight in the fish.

Read more:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

An example of why you should microchip your pets.

From the AVMA Animal Health SmartBrief-

Stolen NYC dog returned to owners on Christmas

NEW YORK — A dog stolen on a New York City street while its owners shopped for Christmas provisions has been found in time for a holiday reunion.

The Cavalier King Charles spaniel is named Marley. He was returned Tuesday to 7-year-old Mia Bendrat and her family.

The family tied Marley up outside a grocery store while shopping Monday in upper Manhattan. Surveillance video showed a man carting Marley off.

Across town, a stranger later spotted a man offering a dog for sale near Union Square and thought the situation seemed fishy.

Tina Cohen told WINS-AM she bought Marley for $220 so she could take him to her veterinarian's office to be scanned for a microchip. It identified his rightful owners.

A 29-year-old suspect has been arrested on a grand larceny charge.
—Copyright 2012 Associated Press

(I was kind of disturbed that the owner tied the dog up outside the grocery store. Dr. Sakas)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

China responds to complaints about dog treats - Not our fault.

The problem still cautious. Use only products like this made in the USA!

China responds to complaints about dog treats

Wednesday, December 19, 2012
A number of dog owners around the nation have complained about their pets getting sick or even dying after eating chicken treats that were made in China. Now, the Chinese government has responded to these complaints in a letter addressed to a California congressman. 

Rachael Chambers of Morgan Hill lost her dog "Cali" last May. Her other dogs also became sick after eating chicken treats made in China. "It's been sad and hard on our family, but I think what's been harder is to understand why almost seven months later there's more dead dogs and nothing has changed," Chambers told ABC7 News. Since then, she has been relentlessly campaigning to have the treats recalled.

The Food and Drug Administration acknowledges it has received thousands of complaints. Most recently, Bay Area Congressman Jerry McNerney wrote to the Chinese government asking to "consider halting production of these chicken jerky treats until the FDA can determine whether or not the products contain tainted material."

The Chinese government finally wrote back slamming the FDA for putting an advisory alert on its website even though the exact cause of these deaths has not been determined. The Chinese government wrote, "From the perspective of the Chinese side, there might be something wrong with the FDA's investigation guidance."

Dr. Jaspal Harika at the Morgan Hill Animal Hospital performed the necropsy on Cali. "I don't believe that. They really know what they do. They're one of the top scientists and research workers," he said.

The letter from the People's Republic of China also warned not to influence public opinion and "to clear the name of Chinese pet food and eliminate the negative impact thereof on Chinese pet food trade and bilateral relationship."

Chambers shared a picture showing last year's Christmas stockings filled with the chicken treats that she says made her dogs sick. She fears that this year, other dog owners will give them to their pets as presents. In the letter, the Chinese government says it will not halt production and urges the FDA to find out the truth as soon as possible.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How to Protect Your Pet in Cold Weather

With the approaching storm and the return of winter, I felt re-posting this article was very topical.

How to Protect Your Pet in Cold Weather
Peter S. Sakas DVM
Niles Animal Hospital and Bird Medical Center
7278 N. Milwaukee Ave. Niles, IL 60714
(847)-647-9325  FAX (847)-647-8498
Protecting Your Pet from the Winter Weather
Most people believe since dogs and cats have a coat of fur they can tolerate winter cold very well and that they also possess the necessary instincts to protect themselves from the cold. Unfortunately these beliefs are not true. Dogs and cats are subject to the scourges of cold, wind and snow/rain during the winter as we are. Their haircoat does serve as insulation, reducing heat loss, but body heat is still lost, and through prolonged exposure to cold they will begin to demonstrate signs of hypothermia (lowered body temperature).
Some breeds are better suited to colder temperatures than others. Dogs that have a fluffy type hair coat with a thick undercoat are able to tolerate cold due to the insulative properties of this type of coat. Dogs with a short haired or smooth type coat with no undercoat cannot tolerate cold as well and will suffer its effect more rapidly. The age of the dog is a factor as a puppy will chill more rapidly than an adult dog due to its small size, thin hair coat and little or no body fat. Old dogs or dogs that are ill are also at a greater risk for chilling. Even the size of the dog plays a role as a large surface area to volume (as seen in toy or miniature breeds of dogs) leads to increased heat loss. Large breeds of dogs have less surface area to volume and thus lose heat less rapidly.
In addition to the effects of cold dogs and cats are also subject to the dangers of wind chill. Wind passing over the animal will rapidly draw heat from the body despite the insulation of the haircoat. Areas not protected by hair or with a thin covering of hair can suffer the same effects that exposed skin in people can during periods of severe wind chill.
The dangers of cold and wind are heightened if the dog or cat is wet. Wet hair is no longer an effective insulator so cold/wind will cause more rapid chilling. Even dogs with a thick undercoat will chill if both coats are wet. In addition the evaporation of water from the skin/hair leads to further heat loss, producing a further drop in temperature. If your pet is wet after being in the snow or rain dry them off with a towel or a hair dryer set on low. Drying them will minimize the lowering of body temperature through the evaporation of the water.
How do we protect our pets from these dangers? Most importantly-if it is dangerous for us to be outside, the same holds true for our pets. These periodic "Arctic blasts" that we have endured are extremely hazardous for our pets and they should remain indoors only venturing outdoors for necessary short trips. During our "normal" winter temperatures most dogs can do fairly well with short exposures. Dogs that are kept mainly in the house suffer minimal effects if they spend short periods outdoors. Dogs at a risk for chilling, such as shorthaired dogs, will do well if provided with a coat when outdoors. Sweaters provide even more complete protection as they cover the underside as well. Boots should also be used if the dog is to be outside for an extended period of time and especially if their paws show sensitivity to the cold.
Dogs that spend a great deal of time outdoors or are kept outside will be more adapted to the rigors of winter, but certain practices should be followed to insure their comfort. The biggest problem they face is exposure to the cold, wind and rain/snow. They need shelter from the elements. This shelter must be warm, out of the direct wind and raised off the ground. You can make your own shelter or buy commercially available doghouses. To help keep the dog warm the house should not be too large. If the house is too large the dog will not be able to produce enough heat to keep itself and the environment warm. The proper size should be just large enough for the dog to be able to move around inside and lay down comfortably. Keeping the house elevated a few inches off the ground will prevent moisture from entering through the floor. Proper positioning is important. Keeping the opening of the house away from the prevailing wind is a must. Another help is to provide a covering over the door or a "pet door" to further keep the wind and cold out.
Bedding should also be provided for the inside of the doghouse. Straw is commonly used for bedding, but it can harbor parasites and other organisms, and with long term use, loses its insulative properties. The type of bedding used should be cleaned and replaced frequently. Good choices include a blanket or towels. Make sure that they remain clean and dry.
A serious problem dogs kept outdoors face in the winter is dehydration. The water bowl should be constantly checked to be sure that an adequate fresh source is available. Dogs lose fluids in the winter and can dehydrate; it is not just a problem during the summer heat. Frequently check the water bowl to be sure that the water does not freeze. Ice and snow are inadequate to provide for the daily fluid needs and a cold animal is not going to lick or chew ice anyway. A real help would be a heated water bowl, through the usage of a special heater. Do not use metal bowls in the winter as in frigid temperatures the tongue of a dog could stick to the bowl. If this occurs (or if the tongue adheres to any frozen metal surface) do not try to pull the tongue away from the surface. Use lukewarm water to gently warm the surface until the tongue will easily separate.
Another tip is to groom your dog or cat regularly during the winter. Matted hair is a less effective insulator. Regular brushings will remove loose hairs and prevent matting. It will also enable you to dry your pet more easily if it becomes wet.
Take care when playing with your dog on snow and ice. They can fall just as you can and also suffer fractures or sprains of muscles/ligaments. They are not indestructible. Also be careful when you and your dog are near a frozen body of water. Dogs do not know that the ice may be too thin to support their body weight. Avoid getting too close to the edge of the ice as they may fall in or even unknowingly jump in. Practice good common sense with your pet as well as yourself.
Wintertime Hazards
In the previous section we discussed techniques on how to protect your pet from the winter weather. In this portion we will cover some particular problems associated with winter.
As mentioned earlier dogs/cats that are exposed to the elements can quite possibly develop hypothermia. Hypothermia is when the body temperature drops below normal. When this occurs the animal is too cold to produce enough heat to maintain their core (internal) body temperature. This leads to impaired function of the internal organs, eventually the loss of function and death.
Hypothermia may occur especially when a dog/cat is wet, cold and exposed to wind. Be careful if your dog is wet after running in the field with snow/rain, placed in the back of a truck and taken on the road. If wet, dry thoroughly before engaging in that activity. Puppies, older dogs and dogs suffering from illness are also more susceptible to hypothermia. It can also occur when a dog that is not accustomed to the cold is left outside for an extended period of time.
As hypothermia develops, the body temperature falls and metabolic processes (body functions) slow down. The skin and extremities are very susceptible to frostbite and freezing. Blood vessels in the skin contract to direct blood to the internal organs to maintain their function. The heart rate slows and the pulse weakens. Breathing becomes shallow and slow. The animal may begin to shiver. They become mentally slow and the pupils may dilate (widen). If the skin or extremities freeze they may turn bluish or pale and show little or no feeling. They may lapse into a coma. In the end the heart goes into ventricular fibrillation and stops.
Treatment begins by trying to return the internal temperature to normal. Bring the animal indoors, dry it if wet and wrap it in blankets/towels. They should be warmed slowly. A hypothermic dog may tend to burn easily if the heat is directly applied to the skin. Warming in blankets may help the mildly hypothermic animal but those that are more severely affected can be warmed with hot water bottles, placed in a tub of warm (not hot) water or on a heating pad/electric blanket. Do not place the hot water bottles or heating pad directly on the animal, wrap them in a towel or blanket to avoid burning the skin. If on a heating pad, turn periodically to prevent overheating or burning of the skin. A hair dryer could be used for warming but set it on the lowest setting. Periodically check the rectal temperature. Normal rectal temperature for a dog/cat ranges from between 100-102 degrees F. A hypothermic animal may have temperatures ranging from 86-90 degrees F to as low as 60 degrees F in severe cases.
As the animal begins to warm, wrap it in blankets or towels and go to your veterinarian for treatment. The doctor will be able to further aid the warming process and provide additional stabilization of the condition.
Frostbite occurs when the body tissue becomes so cold that it actually freezes. Severe cold can lead to lack of circulation to an area of the body. If this continues the tissue is destroyed. The extremities, such as the ears, feet, tail and in males, the scrotum, are susceptible to frostbite. Dogs are especially prone to the freezing of the pads of the feet if in long term contact with deep snow or cold surfaces. Frozen mud, snow or ice, which has accumulated between the toes, can lead to frostbite as well. Long eared dogs occasionally freeze the ends of their ears. However, short-eared dogs and cats can lose portions of their ears due to frostbite.
An animal that is suffering from frostbite should receive veterinary care immediately. Keep the animal warm and try to bring the body temperature back to normal. To thaw the frozen tissues wet heat, not dry heat, is preferred. Do not rub the frozen tissues as they can be easily damaged in this state. As the tissue thaws it will become red and swollen and blisters may develop on the skin. Quite often the animal will scratch or chew at the tissues. Severely damaged tissues may slough (fall) off or require surgical removal, leading to the loss of the tips of the ears, tail or toes. In severe cases of frostbite systemic antibiotics may be needed.
If the case of frostbite is mild recovery may be complete with no after effects. In severe cases tissue may be lost and the affected areas may not regrow hair or if it does regrow it may come in white. Previously frostbitten skin will be especially sensitive to cold due to the damage suffered to the circulatory system in that area.
As mentioned, snow/ice or mud adhering to the paws can lead to foot problems and frostbite. Try to keep the feet free from this material. Another hazard/irritant to the paws is salt used for clearing frozen roads and sidewalks. It is very irritating to the feet (just think what it does to your car!). Small grains may become embedded in the paw leading to the development of sores and infection. Animals may try to lick their paws in an effort to clean this material, leading to oral irritation and/or gastrointestinal disturbances.
To prevent such problems from developing keep your pet away from surfaces that have been heavily treated with salt or thawing chemicals. If these materials are used in your area get in the habit of cleaning (and drying) the feet, getting between the toes to remove any salt and packed snow/mud, after your pet has been outside. Boots may be helpful if your pet is especially sensitive to these products. Feet that have become irritated will benefit from topical or systemic antibiotics, if severe. Seek veterinary care if the feet develop sores or irritations.
Antifreeze (Ethylene Glycol) Toxicity
A serious winter danger is antifreeze poisoning. The problem is not limited only to the winter but most commonly occurs in winter, spring and fall when people are draining and flushing their radiators/coolant systems. Antifreeze has a sweet odor and pleasing taste for animals. However, it is extremely toxic and can produce severe, irreversible kidney damage. Only a small amount can be toxic. High blood levels can be reached in 1-3 hours after ingestion, illness develops within 24 hours and death can occur in less than 2 days. Signs of poisoning include, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, depression, incoordination and staggering. As the disease progresses they may show difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, lowered body temperature, muscle twitching, convulsions and acute renal failure. The animal becomes drowsy, can go into a coma and die.
If you believe that your pet has been exposed to antifreeze, seek veterinary care immediately. If you wait until symptoms develop irreversible damage may have already occurred and it may be too late. However, this is such a severe condition, that even with proper treatment some animals may not survive. Your veterinarian may have to treat the poisoning with intravenous fluids for 2-3 days and hopefully the treatment will be successful.
The best way to avoid this is to take precautions when using antifreeze and monitor your pet when outside to be sure that it is not lapping up any strange liquids. During the draining of your radiator collect the antifreeze in a container that can be sealed and follow the proper procedure in your community for its disposal. If after changing and filling your radiator check for the presence of antifreeze on the floor or street in your work area. Clean any spills that may have occurred. Such spills are a danger to your pets and any animals that come in contact with it, pet or wildlife. If your neighbor is not following safe practices bring their attention to this potential risk for animals and children. If you have partial containers of unused antifreeze, make sure that they are properly sealed and placed in an area away from pets and children. Antifreezes are now available that are non-toxic and if you are concerned about the potential hazard of antifreeze poisoning these should be used.
Space Heaters
During the winter months we hear of numerous unfortunate fires that are started by space heaters. Space heaters can be dangerous when used around pets. They may chew on the electrical cords causing electrical burns or fraying the cords so they pose a fire hazard. Always check the cords for any unusual signs of wear and tear. An even more serious danger is the possibility that your pets may accidentally knock over the heater leading to the development of a fire. If you are not around to monitor your pets or space heater do not leave it turned on.
Hopefully this discussion will prove helpful to you in the prevention of the unfortunate injuries and deaths that occur in pets during the winter. The sad fact is that these occurrences can be avoided with the implementation of proper precautions. The care of our pets is a great responsibility. They provide us with so much love and affection, we should take the proper steps to insure their health and safety.
Two of the references used for this article were A Dog for All Seasons and A Cat for All Seasons by Jane Leon. If you desire further information about seasonal hazards in dogs and cats these books are excellent sources.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I Am Adam Lanza's Mother Blog Goes Viral

Follow up to the "I am Adam Lanza's Mother" blog. (From Fox News)

“I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”: Mom Blogger Pleads for Help … And Calls for National Dialogue on Mental Illness





RidgeMentalIllnessMany questions and causes for action are coming out of the tragedy that occurred on December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. One of those questions is how can we as a country and as a society better address and respond to mental illness?

Former Pennsylvania Governor and Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge weighed in on this issue of mounting importance, saying that it’s very important that the discussion on what to do focuses not just on the Second Amendment, but on the profile of the individuals who have carried out the major mass shootings of recent memory, such as Jared Loughner, Seung-Hui Cho, James Holmes, and now, Adam Lanza. All of the men were under 25 years of age, all had previously had interventions from school psychologists and had taken medication intermittently.

Ridge continued, adding that many of them had talked about suicide or about killing people, in general.
One mother and blogger’s desperate plea for help has gone viral on the internet with the headline “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” … and its raw honesty has struck a chord with so many. She penned it directly following the Newtown shooting. In it, she describes the struggle she and other parents of children with mental illness face … and the lack of resources available to help them. She writes of a son whose mood and temper turn on a dime, saying that she has shown up at the hospital after her son has threatened to kill her and her other children, while then the next day the same son is docile, loving, and promising to be different:
“No one wants to send a 13-year-old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken health care system, does not provide us with other options. Then, another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, ‘Something must be done.’
I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.
God help me. God help Michael. God help us all. “
Ridge called her a hero. “She’s a heroine in my mind because she’s raised in a very public way a situation that frankly for a lot of parents would be very difficult for them to raise … which is that her son has a mental health challenge.” Ridge says that as a society, we stigmatize instead of reaching out and trying to help.
Something needs to be done, and be done soon, Ridge said.

Top Ten Holiday-Related Pet Conditions

Top 10 holiday-related pet conditions
According to VPI, these were the most common reasons pets visited the veterinarian during the holiday season last year.

From snacking on human treats to biting colorful light bulbs, as the winter holiday season draws closer, remind pet owners that they must keep a watchful eye on their four-legged friends. In 2011, Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) policyholders spent more than $22.8 million on medical conditions commonly associated with the holidays. The company recently sorted its database of more than 485,000 insured pets to determine the 10 most common holiday-related medical conditions last year. Here are the results:
  1. Gastritis (vomiting): ingesting “people” food, holiday plants (lilies, hollies and mistletoe) and Christmas tree water
  2. Enteritis (diarrhea): eating “people” food and scraps
  3. Colitis (loose or bloody stool): eating “people” food; holiday stress
  4. Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas): eating fatty “people” food such as roasts, gravy, nuts, egg nog, etc.
  5. Gastric foreign body (foreign object in the stomach): ingesting Christmas tree decorations, ribbon, small gifts, and bones from holiday meats
  6. Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (bloody vomiting and diarrhea): eating people food; holiday stress
  7. Intestinal foreign body (foreign object in the intestines): ingesting tinsel, other Christmas tree decorations, and bones from holiday meats
  8. Gastric foreign body, surgical (surgical removal of foreign object from the stomach): unable to pass Christmas tree decorations and bones
  9. Intestinal foreign body, surgical (surgical removal of foreign object from the intestines): unable to pass tinsel, ribbons, or bone fragments
  10. Methylaxanthine toxicity (chocolate toxicity): eating chocolate or other caffeinated products.
The most expensive condition on the list, intestinal foreign body, surgical, cost an average of $2,328 per pet, while enteritis, the least expensive condition on the list, cost an average of $105 per pet. The most common condition on the list, gastritis, cost an average of $279 per pet. In order to ensure a safe holiday season, remind pet owners should safeguard their homes and protect their furry friends from potential holiday dangers.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Disease Outbreaks in the United States 2012: A year in review

Once again not a specific animal related topic, but one that should be of great interest. A discussion of  the disease outbreaks in the United States in 2012. The link from the AVMA Pet Health SmartBrief.

(I have an interest in this type of information being a parent, of course, but as a veterinarian I try to keep abreast of various disease conditions occurring in the United States, as well as the potential to affect the animal population. My concentration for my Master's degree was parasitology, immunology, and medical entomology (study of bugs of medical significance).

Outbreaks in the United States 2012: A year in review

This was an active year for outbreaks in the United States, some more common than others. In this review, I will summarize what 2012 brought us in the world of infectious disease outbreaks (this list is by no means all inclusive).

Fungal Meningitis 
Photomicrograph showing fine branching tubes of Exserohilum rostratum/ CDC
Photomicrograph showing fine branching tubes of Exserohilum rostratum/ CDC
The United States was struck by a most unusual and preventable outbreak of fungal meningitis and related infections due to an injectable steroid called methylprednisolone acetate manufactured by the  Framingham, Massachusetts company, New England Compounding Center (NECC).

The outbreak, which started with a handful of cases in Tennessee in October, is now a 19 state outbreak that has infected 590 patients and killed at least 37 as of Dec. 10.

A variety of different molds were found to be contaminating the steroid including 112 cases of Exserohilum rostratum and 1 Aspergillus fumigatus, a variety of other fungi have also been identified in clinical specimens from fifteen case-patients: 5 otherAspergillus spp, 5 Cladosporium spp, 1 Bipolaris species, 1 coelomycete fungus, 1 Paecilomyces sp., 1 Penicillium sp, and 1 Stachybotrys chartarum.

As the investigation progressed, a whole host of events have happened–NECC recalled all their products, other companies were linked to the outbreak, a plethora of lawsuits, Congressional inquiries and  criticism of the FDA.

West Nile virus
Not since 2003 has the United States seen so many human cases of West Nile virus (WNV). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  there were 5,387 cases of West Nile virus disease in people, including 243 deaths, according to the preliminary data for this year.

Dallas County, Texas was referred to as the “epicenter” of the outbreak. Eighty percent of the cases have been reported from 13 states (Texas, California, Louisiana, Illinois, Mississippi, South Dakota, Michigan, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, Arizona, Ohio, and New York) and a third of all cases have been reported from Texas.

A hantavirus outbreak linked to staying at the Signature Tent Cabins in Curry Village in Yosemite National Park received a lot of media attention in 2012.

According to the National Park Service (NPS), received confirmations from national and state public health agencies of hantavirus infection in 10 individuals who stayed one night or more in Yosemite since June of this year. Nine of the confirmed cases developed hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS).

Three cases of HPS have resulted in fatality; the seven other individuals have recovered. The confirmed cases of hantavirus infection were in eight individuals from California, one from Pennsylvania, and one from West Virginia.

Although the focus of the outbreak was in the US, the NPS notified hundreds of thousands of visitors to the park worldwide of the risk.

H3N2v influenza “swine flu” 
This transmission electron micrograph (TEM) depicts some of the ultrastructural details displayed by H3N2 influenza virions. Image/CDC
Although the “new variant” of swine flu in the US did not get nearly the coverage as the above three outbreaks, it did infect some 309 people in 12 states. Indiana and Ohio saw the most cases.

The infection, mostly linked to exposure to pigs at county fairs this summer, killed one person and sent 16 to the hospital.

According to the CDC, there were at least a dozen Salmonella outbreaks, many multistate, investigated and reported on in 2012.

The source of the outbreaks covered a wide gamut to include small turtles, dry dog food, live poultry (chicks), ground beef, cantaloupe, hedgehogs and peanut butter this year.

In the 12 outbreaks investigated by the CDC, the bacterium resulted in 1,614 illnesses and 6 deaths.

A multistate outbreak of listeriosis resulted in 22 illnesses and four deaths in 2012. The outbreak was linked to Forever Cheese Frescolina Marte brand ricotta salata cheese.

The US was hit especially hard by pertussis or whooping cough this year. The latest provisional counts from the CDC reveals, as of Dec. 1, there were more than 38,000 cases of pertussis and 16 deaths in 2012.
Certain states saw marked increases in whooping cough in 2012 as compared to the year prior. For example, in Washington state, there have been 4,626 cases reported statewide through December 8, 2012, compared to 739 reported cases in 2011 during the same time period.

Minnesota was another one. As of November 29, 2012, 4,174 cases have been reported statewide. 661 pertussis cases were reported in 2011.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I am Adam Lanza’s Mother. It's time to talk about mental illness

I know this is not animal/pet related but I think in the light of what has been happening in our nation it deserves discussion.

I saw this post on facebook and wanted to share it. It is a piece written by Liza Long.

I am Adam Lanza’s Mother

It's time to talk about mental illness

Friday’s horrific national tragedy—the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in New Town, Connecticut—has ignited a new discussion on violence in America. In kitchens and coffee shops across the country, we tearfully debate the many faces of violence in America: gun culture, media violence, lack of mental health services, overt and covert wars abroad, religion, politics and the way we raise our children. Liza Long, a writer based in Boise, says it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

Three days before 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.

“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.

“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”

“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”

“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.

We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.

At the start of seventh grade, Michael was accepted to an accelerated program for highly gifted math and science students. His IQ is off the charts. When he’s in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who. He’s in a good mood most of the time. But when he’s not, watch out. And it’s impossible to predict what will set him off.

Several weeks into his new junior high school, Michael began exhibiting increasingly odd and threatening behaviors at school. We decided to transfer him to the district’s most restrictive behavioral program, a contained school environment where children who can’t function in normal classrooms can access their right to free public babysitting from 7:30-1:50 Monday through Friday until they turn 18.

The morning of the pants incident, Michael continued to argue with me on the drive. He would occasionally apologize and seem remorseful. Right before we turned into his school parking lot, he said, “Look, Mom, I’m really sorry. Can I have video games back today?”

“No way,” I told him. “You cannot act the way you acted this morning and think you can get your electronic privileges back that quickly.”

His face turned cold, and his eyes were full of calculated rage. “Then I’m going to kill myself,” he said. “I’m going to jump out of this car right now and kill myself.”

That was it. After the knife incident, I told him that if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital, no ifs, ands, or buts. I did not respond, except to pull the car into the opposite lane, turning left instead of right.

“Where are you taking me?” he said, suddenly worried. “Where are we going?”

“You know where we are going,” I replied.

“No! You can’t do that to me! You’re sending me to hell! You’re sending me straight to hell!”

I pulled up in front of the hospital, frantically waiving for one of the clinicians who happened to be standing outside. “Call the police,” I said. “Hurry.”

Michael was in a full-blown fit by then, screaming and hitting. I hugged him close so he couldn’t escape from the car. He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows into my rib cage. I’m still stronger than he is, but I won’t be for much longer.

The police came quickly and carried my son screaming and kicking into the bowels of the hospital. I started to shake, and tears filled my eyes as I filled out the paperwork—“Were there any difficulties with… at what age did your child… were there any problems with.. has your child ever experienced.. does your child have…”

At least we have health insurance now. I recently accepted a position with a local college, giving up my freelance career because when you have a kid like this, you need benefits. You’ll do anything for benefits. No individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing.

For days, my son insisted that I was lying—that I made the whole thing up so that I could get rid of him. The first day, when I called to check up on him, he said, “I hate you. And I’m going to get my revenge as soon as I get out of here.”

By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I’ve heard those promises for years. I don’t believe them anymore.

On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”
And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.

I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.

When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”

I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise—in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.

With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill—Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011.

No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”

I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.

God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.

(Originally published at The Anarchist Soccer Mom.)
Liza Long is an author, musician, and erstwhile classicist. She is also a single mother of four bright, loved children, one of whom has special needs.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Bucket List - For Dogs

I found an interesting post on the AVMA Pet Health SmartBrief. It was an article describing "bucket lists" clients made for their pets. I thought it was worth sharing. What would your pet's "bucket list" be?

 The Bucket List for Pets

By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM
Dog in Convertible
For me, one of the most charming movies ever is the 2007 release “The Bucket List,” starring two of my favorite actors, Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. In the film, two dying men team up to create their bucket lists – lists of adventures they hope to complete before they “kick the bucket.”
Last summer, a young boy named Cole created a bucket list, or as he called it, a “lick it list,” for his dying service dog, Bingo. The list went viral and the dog received treats from all over the world, which allowed him to tick off one item on his bucket list.
Since the Cole and Bingo story hit the news, several of my pet families have spent their pet’s last days treating them to adventures. I thought my readers would enjoy these stories and the wonderful memories they must have created for the dogs and their families.

Bicoastal Dottie
Always one of our favorites, Dottie the American Bulldog got a cross-country trip and her own backyard as part of her bucket list. Dottie loved the beach, and in this video clip you can see how much she enjoys the sand and surf despite the fact that her lymphoma is out of remission for the third time. She spent her last New York days at the beach while her family organized their westward move. Dottie’s cat flew economy class to California, but Dottie went in style on a cross-country road trip with her best friend, Henry. Dottie emailed me from exotic places along the way like Nebraska and Colorado! At the end of the long trip was a surprise – a new house with a backyard – something most New York City dogs can only imagine, but Dottie got to cross off her list.

The red convertible
Safety in the car is as important for dogs as it is for humans, and I recommend dogs ride with a restraint device and the windows rolled up. Although dogs love to ride with the wind in their muzzles, it is just not a safe way to travel. The bucket list of one dog, Rufus, included a ride in the family’s red convertible. Not the best vehicle for dog safety, but on one of his last days, the boys played hooky from school and took their beloved dog on the ride of his life with the top down and the wind in his face.

A can of Alpo
In her 2011 book, I Remember Nothing, Nora Ephron wrote two lists, one of which was a bucket list of sorts. Her “What I Will Miss” list includes everyday joys we take for granted: favorite foods, a walk in the park, and our own comfy bed.

I suspect simple things might be on your dog’s bucket list too. Louie, the standard poodle, got one of those simple things in life: a can of Alpo dog food. Louie’s family felt the enlargement of the lymph nodes, indicating the return of his cancer. Shocked by how quickly the lymph nodes increased in size and wanting to give his dog something he had never experienced before, his owner rushed to the store for a can of Alpo dog food. Louie enthusiastically responded by gulping down the entire can in one sitting. Simple and satisfying.

What would be on your dog’s bucket list? Write back and let us know.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Update on the Hoarded Birds / Now Available for Adoption

Update on the Hoarded Birds / Now Available for Adoption

Facility Visits, Examinations, and Disease Testing
In one of our previous blogs, I had written about the “Aurora Birds” which had been confiscated from a hoarding situation and were now being cared for by members of the Greater Chicago Cage Bird Club Adoption Committee until they could be adopted. I had gone to the facility where they were housing the nearly 400 birds for a prescribed thirty day quarantine period. I checked out the birds, performed some disease testing (which all turned out negative), and found them to be in good health.

I went to the facility yesterday (11/28/12) to check the birds so that they could be released from quarantine and put up for adoption. The birds were found to be in excellent condition and are now eligible to be adopted. Details on how to adopt these birds follow in one of the latter sections of this article.

In addition to the “Aurora Birds,” I was contacted by Dr. Lisa Lembke, from McHenry County Animal Control, two weeks ago to evaluate approximately 50 birds that were also removed from a hoarding situation, this case in Woodstock. There was a wide variety of birds, ranging from a macaw, large and small parrots, quakers, cockatiels, parakeets,  canaries, and others. In order to properly have these birds adopted, I enlisted the Greater Chicago Caged Bird Club Adoption Committee once again and A Refuge for Saving the Wildlife. Both these organizations are not-for-profits, dedicated to caring for as well as finding loving homes for pet birds. Diana and Nancy from the GCCBC, Rich and Karen from A Refuge, and Christopher from Niles Animal Hospital, aided in the examination as well as the disease testing of these birds. The tests were submitted for analysis and all came back negative, so they are also available for adoption.

Yesterday (11/28/12), the aforementioned members of GCCBC, with the addition of Bob, Karen from A Refuge, and Christopher, came out to remove the birds from McHenry County Animal Control and take them to the adoption facilities.

The Birds Up for Adoption
The final tally of the birds up for adoption are:

“Aurora Birds” (held by GCCBC)
340 parakeets
36 cockatiels
1 sun conure*
3 jenday conures*
1 pineapple conure*
1 green cheek conure*
2 black cap conures*
*Note: The starred birds are not currently available for adoption. The original owner wants them back, so the final decision will be made after the court date of 12/4/12.

“McHenry County Birds”
 (held by GCCBC)                                                                  (held by A Refuge )
9 canaries                                                                                 4 cockatiels
1 pineapple conure                                                                   2 pineapple conures
1 rose-breasted cockatoo                                                         1 rose-breasted cockatoo
1 blue and gold macaw                                                 2 eclectus parrots (M & F)
3 sun conures                                                                           2 sun conures
2 ring-necked parakeets                                                           1 African grey
1 Senegal parrot                                                                       2 caiques
2 quaker parrots                                                                       1 diamond dove
13 parakeets
2 lovebirds
1 finch
1 jenday conure

The Adoption Process
The reason that these two organizations were selected to be involved in the adoption of these birds is that they have long-standing excellent reputations in the placement of birds. Both organizations are not-for-profit. They have strict standards which are adhered to because they do not want the birds to go to just anyone, they want loving homes, with people who will provide proper care for these birds. The birds will not be placed with “collectors” or into another “hoarding” situation. For both organizations an application form must be filled out before being considered as an adoptive home. Following the application, a home inspection is required before an adoption can be completed. If the adopter/adoptive home meets the standards of GCCBC or A Refuge, then an adoption fee is required to cover the costs of housing and any medical care/disease testing completed.

Some particulars about each group and the adoption process:
Greater Chicago Cage Bird Club
Current members of the GCCBC will have first choice of the adopted birds. Only members in good standing can serve as a foster home for any of these birds. The rules for adoption are that there is a limit to the number of birds adopted per household; 4 parakeets or 2 parakeets/1 cockatiel or 2 cockatiels or 1 large bird.

Contact the GCCBC for more details and to obtain the adoption forms. If you are interested in adopting these birds and are not a member of the club, you can contact the club via email, or phone 630-640-4924. They have a waiting list of people who are interested in adopting. Strongly also consider applying for membership in the bird club as well in order to become an active supporter of aviculture. For the Greater Chicago Bird Club (GCBC) yearly dues are $20.00 for single memberships, $25.00 for family memberships, $15.00 for single seniors (62+), $17.50 for dual seniors, and $5.00 for juniors (18 and under). Check out their website for more membership information or to check out their various activities. The club website is

A Refuge for Saving the Wildlife
Visit their website at to obtain the adoption application form. In addition to the McHenry County Animal Control birds, there are many other parrots at A Refuge who are available for adoption and need a loving home.

Closing Comments
Some of you may be frustrated by having to fill out forms and be subjected to a home inspection; however, these steps are necessary to ensure that the birds will be placed in the proper homes. Birds are more than possessions or something to collect, they are living, loving, feeling, thinking individuals who need to be in a loving environment where they can get the attention they need/deserve.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Apes Can Suffer from a Mid-life Crisis Too!

Apes Have Midlife Crises Too

Reported by Dr. Nisha Nathan:

Sure, they may not be able to ditch their wives, buy a shiny red Ferrari, or pick up a 21-year-old at a bar. But apes have midlife crises too — at least according to a new study.

“The midlife crisis is real,” said Dr. Andrew Oswald, co-author of the study of 500 chimpanzees and orangutans published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Great apes go through it also, so it is inescapable for the average person.”

The term “midlife crisis” was coined in 1965 by psychologist Elliot Jacques to describe the time when  adults realize their own mortality, recognize that their existence is halfway over, and rush to make significant changes in core aspects of their day-to-day lives. And since the human species evolved from ancestors of modern apes, it would be reasonable to suspect that they have mood swings just as we do.

To see if this was actually the case, researchers asked zookeepers who had close relationships with their apes a series of questions to see whether the animals were happy or sad, if they enjoyed socializing, and how successful they were in achieving their “personal goals.”

As for what a personal goal might be for an orangutan or chimp, study coauthor Alexander Weiss of the University of Edinburgh said this included such lofty ambitions as climbing a rope, staking out territory, getting prized figs or bananas — or even hunting down and eating their distant monkey cousins.

Before you knock it, understand that these questions have been used before to assess ape aspiration.
“This questionnaire is a well-established method for assessing positive affect in captive nonhuman primates. There is considerable evidence for this measure’s objective validity,” the study says.

Finally, researchers asked the zookeepers the ultimate question: How happy would you be to switch roles with the apes for a week?

In other words, Weiss said, “How happy would the rater be to walk a week in the chimp’s shoes — even though chimps don’t have shoes?”

Looking at the zookeepers’ answers and the ages of the apes, the authors concluded that great apes have age and well-being highs and lows similar to those of humans — according to Oswald, a pattern that can best be described as a “U-shape,” with the high points early and late in life, and the nadir of existence in the middle. This U-shaped curve of human well-being as compared to age, in fact, has been well understood the world over.

As for exactly why this happens to be the case, who knows?

Oswald admits the study has limitations.

“It would be great if we could ask apes to fill out a questionnaire,” he said. “However this is a human’s assessment of an ape’s well-being and that’s what we are stuck with, being human.”

Despite the apes’ silence on the matter, psychological experts who were not involved with the research described the findings as “fascinating.”

“This is one more example showing that we may be more related to our non-human primates than we think,” said Dr. Nadine Kaslow, vice chair of the department of psychiatry at Emory University in Atlanta. “It’s quite fascinating that this U-shaped curve is across species.”

For years, researchers have speculated that this U-shape is secondary to social, psychological, or economic explanation. Dr. Redford Williams, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., said this study seems to point at something much more inherent.

“It’s got to be biological,” he said. “It’s not just that you’re depressed because your earning capacity goes down in mid-life, because I don’t imagine that apes living in the zoo would have to worry about those matters.”

Williams said the study shows there is hope for us humans.

“Don’t worry if you are having a mid-life slump,” he said. “Don’t feel too guilty; it has to have a genetic basis. It’s not that you screwed up to cause it, because apes are having it too.”

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Something to Reflect Upon this Thanksgiving

I received this as an email from a friend of mine. I felt it was worth sharing.

Never take anything for granted, life is short, so enjoy every day, and be thankful for what you have.

How's this story for a reminder that "We don't know we're alive".
Her name is Katie Kirkpatrick, 21 yrs old. Next to her is her fiancĂ©, Nick, 23. This picture was taken prior to their wedding January 11th, 2012.  Katie has terminal cancer and spends hours in chemotherapy. Here Nick awaits while she finishes one of the sessions...
Even in pain and dealing with her organs shutting down, with the help of morphine, Katie took care of every single part of the wedding planning.  Her dress had to be adjusted several times due to Katie's constant weight loss.
An expected guest was her oxygen tank. Katie had to use it during the ceremony and reception.  The other couple in this picture is Nick's parents, very emotional with the wedding and to see their son marrying the girl he fell in love when he was an adolescent.
Katie, in a wheel chair listening to her husband and friends singing to her. 
In the middle of the party, Katie had to rest for a bit and catch her breath. The pain does not allow her to stand a long period of time.
Katie died 5 days after her wedding. To see a fragile woman dress as a bride with a beautiful smile makes you think... Happiness is always there within reach, no matter how long it lasts.  Let's enjoy life. Life is too short.  Work as if it was your first day.  Forgive as soon as possible.  Love without boundaries.  Laugh without control and never stop smiling.  Please pray for those suffering from cancer.  Keep this going.

Monday, November 19, 2012

More Proof That Yawning is "Contagious."

Another article about yawns.....actually reinforcing what we already seem to know about yawning, that it is "contagious." Interesting to see that animals are affected as well.

  • Yawns Also Contagious in Bonobos

  • Analysis by Emily Sohn

  • Yawners-zoom
    For most people, witnessing a yawn -- or even thinking about yawning -- creates an irresistible urge to yawn, too. And contagious yawning, it turns out, is yet another feature we share in common with many species of primates.

    To investigate hypotheses about the cause of the phenomenon, Italian researchers looked at a group of 12 captive bonobos, which are highly social animals that cultivate strong relationships. Recent research also found that bonobo brains are relatively well developed in an area that detects distress in themselves and in others.

    NEWS: Why Is Yawning Contagious?
    Over three months of observation, the researchers recorded more than 1,100 yawns among the bonobo adults. After each yawn, observers recorded whether another animal yawned over the next three minutes. In total, the researchers recorded nearly 300 contagious yawns.

    Like in humans, the researchers report today in the journal PLoS One, most contagious yawns occurred within a minute after the original yawn.

    The closer two animals were to each other socially, the more likely they were to catch yawns from each other. And female bonobos produced more contagious yawns than males did. The results support the theory that contagious yawning is a form of empathy that is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history.

    BLOG: Yawning May Cool The Brain
    "Even though we are still far from a clear demonstration of a linkage between yawn contagion and empathy, the importance of social bonds in shaping bonobo yawn contagion seems to support the hypothesis that a basic form of empathy can play a role in the modulation of this phenomenon," the researchers wrote.
    "The higher frequency of yawn contagion in presence of a female as a triggering subject supports the hypothesis that adult females not only represent the relational and decisional nucleus of the bonobo society, but also that they play a key role in affecting the emotional states of others."

    Photo: Like humans, bonobos yawn contagiously, but yawns are only infectious between close friends or kin. Credit: Elisa Demuru

    Thursday, November 15, 2012

    Keeping Your Home Safe for Your Pets During the Holidays

    A very  pertinent discussion about making sure that your pets are safe this holiday season.

    Keeping Your Home Safe for Your Pets During the Holidays

    Peter S. Sakas DVM, MS
    Niles Animal Hospital and Bird Medical Center
    7278.N. Milwaukee Ave. Niles, IL 60714
    (847) 647-9325 FAX (847) 647-8498
    The holidays are joyous and active times for people and their pets. Our pets partake in many of the seasonal festivities with us which makes the holidays that much more special. However, many of the decorations and objects we have around the household during the holidays may be dangerous to our pets. By taking a few precautions, we can make this wonderful time of year a safe one for our pets.

    Holiday Food/Cooking

    Food is a very important aspect of our holiday celebrations as many human waistlines can attest. Unfortunately, many of these foods can cause serious problems in our pets and as any veterinarian will tell you, this is the time of year that we see numerous gastrointestinal problems in pets.
    Food Preparation -The preparation of food can be a problem, especially for pet birds. Birds have a very effective respiratory tract and coupled with their relatively small size are susceptible to toxic elements in the air. During cooking if food burns or smoke is produced, any birds nearby the kitchen could be at risk of fatal smoke inhalation. If non-stick cookware is used there is another risk for pet birds. Under normal cooking conditions, the cookware is safe but if polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coated products (such as Teflon, Silverstone, and Supra) are overheated (over 530 degrees F), they can emit toxic fumes which are fatal to birds. PTFE coated drip pans achieve high temperatures under normal usage so they should not be used around birds at all. If your bird has been exposed to smoke or fumes get them to an area of good ventilation and seek veterinary care.
    Holiday Food/Leftovers -Avoid the temptation to feed your pets leftovers from your holiday meals. Many of these foods are rich; especially those that are high in fat, and can often cause severe gastrointestinal disturbances in pets which could prove fatal. Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) is a very common disease of dogs and is frequently caused by the eating of table scraps. The pancreas plays a role in digestion of food but when an animal eats a rich or fatty meal, the pancreas is 'overstimulated' and the organ oversecretes enzymes leading to inflammation of the pancreas and surrounding tissues. Signs of pancreatitis include vomiting and abdominal pain, sometimes quite severe. The condition is very uncomfortable for the pet and sometimes can be fatal. If you notice these type of symptoms seek veterinary care.
    Be cautious with any bones provided to your pet. Sharp bones, especially from chicken or turkey, may become lodged in the mouth or throat of your pet. If the bones move further into the digestive tract, there is a risk that the bones could perforate the stomach or intestines. This situation may require surgical removal and if they do not receive veterinary attention, they may die. Provide your .pet with commercial chew toys to avoid any potential problems.
    Be cautious with guacamole around pet birds. Most bird owners know that avocado is extremely toxic for birds and severe reactions can lead to death. However, some people forget that avocado is the key ingredient in guacamole. When you are having holiday parties and with all kinds of appetizers available, such as chips and dips, be careful if there is guacamole around with your pet birds present. They may decide to sample some of the dip, or an unknowing houseguest may innocently provide a taste of the dip to one of the birds with potentially tragic results.
    Chocolate - Providing a piece of chocolate to a pet may seem like an act of kindness but there is a risk that this treat could have serious consequences. Chocolate may be fatal to your pet, especially dogs, because they are sensitive to theobromine, a compound in chocolate. Dark chocolate has the highest levels of theobromine. It may cause vomiting, diarrhea, heart irregularities, muscle tremors, seizures and coma, sometimes with fatal results. Cats are rarely poisoned due to their more 'discriminating' habits. Keep those chocolate goodies out of the reach of your dog. If your dog accidentally eats some chocolate, seek veterinary care immediately.

    The Christmas Tree

    Decorations go up once a year and for a brief period of time. Your pets will be very interested in new and unusual objects scattered around the house believing that these are special 'toys' for their own use. Often these playthings end up lodged in the intestinal tract causing a blockage. Many dangers lurk on the Christmas tree. Overzealous dogs or cats have felled numerous wonderfully decorated trees. Support the tree securely with a sturdy stand and wires.

    The Tree -There are several factors to consider with the tree. The trunk of a live tree is often coated with chemicals, such as fertilizer or insecticide. When the tree is placed in the stand and watered, the chemicals from the trunk contaminate the water. If your bird, dog or cat drinks it, they may become sick. The needles begin to fall out as the tree ages and dries. The needles are not poisonous but are very sharp, can puncture the skin and produce abscesses. If your pet tries to eat them, the needles can cut the tongue, lips and gums. If swallowed they are relatively undigestible and can actually pierce the lining of the stomach and intestines or cause a blockage.
    The branches from artificial trees can be easily pulled out. The artificial needles can be sharp and are always non-digestible. If you pet chews on the branches, they might take in some of the needles. Just like the needles from the live tree, they can cause gastrointestinal problems such as bleeding and blockage.
    Lights -The lights pose many dangers. They often get very hot after being on for a while and could burn your pet if they are touched. For some strange reason pets seem attracted to wires and like to chew on them. So keep a watch on your pets for this type of activity and check the lower strings of lights for evidence of chewing. You might want to ‘pet proof’ the tree by keeping objects, such as lights and ornaments, at heights that your pets cannot reach. If you want lights all over the tree, then string them on the lower branches, but place them away from the tip of the branches. The pets will have a more difficult time reaching them if they are placed on the inner portion of the branches.
    Electrical Cords -Electrical cords often seem delectable to many pets, especially cats and young puppies. Chewed cords can cause severe burns and sometimes fatal, electrical shocks. If your pet seems overly interested in electrical cords, string or tape them in a position that is inaccessible to your pet. If that does not work you can cover the cords with hot pepper sauce or use bitter tasting commercial products sold in most pet stores.
    Ornaments -Avoid using glass ornaments around pets. They are fragile, break easily and the shattered pieces are sharp. If any of the pieces are swallowed, the glass can puncture the intestines, which could lead to peritonitis and possibly death. Ornament hooks are also very sharp. They can be picked up and swallowed, resulting in gastrointestinal problems such as obstructions and punctures.
    Be cautious with 'edible' type ornaments. Sometimes the store-bought varieties may not be edible and contain hardening agents/preservatives that could be toxic. If you make your own edible ornaments, your pet may try to eat them. They may knock over the tree trying to get a string of homemade popcorn or a gingerbread ornament.
    The safest ornaments are one-piece, non-breakable and made of non-toxic material. They should be too big to swallow. Also, have them out of the reach of curious beaks, mouths and paws.
    Tinsel -One of the most dangerous materials to put on a Christmas tree is tinsel. Animals are attracted to its bright finish and flexibility. Cats are especially attracted to tinsel and if you have a cat, it is recommended that you do not use tinsel on your tree. If your pet eats tinsel, there is a good chance that it will become wrapped around the tongue. As the pet struggles to remove it, the tinsel gets stretched out and wraps even tighter. It can cut sensitive tissues in the mouth and stop the circulation of blood to the tongue. If a strand is swallowed it can bunch up and block the intestine. If this occurs, surgery is usually required to remove it. The best advice is, if you have pets, do not place tinsel on your tree. You may lose the aesthetics of the icicle effect, but your pets will be much safer.

    Holiday Decorations/Packages

    Many people place decorations throughout the house including lights, evergreen branches, holiday knickknacks and other assorted objects to provide a festive environment. We have discussed some of these dangers previously. Lit candles can burn a curious pet or could be knocked over and start a fire. Centerpieces of dangling streamers and feather fronds are enticing to the curious pet. If chewed and swallowed, these materials can cause an intestinal blockage. Icicles and tinsel draped on a mantle are as dangerous as tinsel on a tree. Monitor your pets and watch out for any evidence of chewing on these objects.

    Wrapped presents can pose a hazard to pets. They are attracted to the decorative bows, ribbons and other frills placed on the packages. If your pet would chew and swallow these materials, there is a risk of intestinal blockage. Food packages wrapped as gifts and left under a tree can entice a hungry animal. With their keen sense of smell they can sniff these out and decide to have a feast. Exercise caution with these types of presents around pets, especially dogs.

    Poisonous Plants

    Many homes are decorated each year during the holiday season with poinsettias and mistletoe. These plants do represent the season; unfortunately they are toxic for our pets and represent a problem for curious dogs, cats and birds. Poinsettias produce a milky sap that is irritating to the skin and eyes on contact and to the gastrointestinal tract if eaten. It may cause irritation and blistering of the mucous membranes of the mouth and stomach. Intake of large amounts of mistletoe may cause nausea, vomiting and gastroenteritis. Make sure that these plants are kept out of the reach of your pets. If you do catch you pet eating a poinsettia or a few loose mistletoe berries, seek veterinary care immediately.

    Relieve Pet Stress during the Holidays

    The holidays are stressful times for all of us. The commotion in decorating, purchasing gifts and entertaining friends/relatives can be overwhelming to many people. Our homes can be filled with people, especially young children. Many pets, even if not aggressive or territorial, are stressed by the increased numbers of strangers 'intruding' in their domain. The high activity level of children can be a new and stressful experience for many pets unaccustomed to this behavior. Birds can become especially upset during the holidays, particularly the larger varieties of birds. Routine is very important to birds and if that routine changes, they can become frustrated and engage in abnormal behavior. These types of behavior include, aggressiveness, screaming, biting or development of vices such as the picking off or chewing of their own feathers in frustration, which if allowed to continue can become a habit.
    If possible, try to provide your pets with a consistent level of interaction with you so they do not feel left out. This is especially important with parrots. Try not to let the pandemonium of the holidays lead to stress in your pets. If you feel that your pets are uncomfortable around new people, it may be best to separate them from the holiday activity. Provide your pets with an area where they can 'get away from it all' and be alone. Cats may enjoy an intricate 'kitty condo' set up or even a cardboard box or paper bags in which to hide. For pet birds that are nervous, you might have to place the cage in a quiet room or, if that is impossible, partially or completely cover the cage so that the bird has the ability to 'hide.' Make sure that your young guests understand that they must let the animals rest when they are put in their area of 'refuge.
    I hope that this discussion will assist you in keeping your home safe for your pets during the holidays. During all the activity, we must not forget the welfare of our pets and our responsibility to keep them free of danger. If you practice the proper preventative measures, the holiday season for your pet will be as happy as it is for you and your family.

    The preceding discussion was garnered from several excellent sources including:
    Your Healthy Pet by Amy Marder, VMD
    A Dog for All Seasons by Jane Leon,