Saturday, February 28, 2015

FDA Issues Update on Pet Treat Causes of Animal Death and Illness


One thousand dogs dead. Another 5,800 sick, along with 25 cats and 3 people. That was the count on Sept. 30, 2014, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tallied the number of illnesses and deaths from animals who ate chicken, duck, or sweet potato jerky treats, most of which were imported from China. Last week, on Feb. 19, the FDA issued an update on the investigation.

From October 2013 to May 2014, the FDA received 1800 complaints. Since its last update in May 2014, however, the number of reports has dropped to approximately 280 complaints. As a result of the significant decrease, the FDA is tentatively planning to issue annual, rather than biannual, reports.
"Although we have not been able to conclusively identify a cause for the illnesses," noted the FDA, "we have identified a correlation between the consumption of jerky pet treats and Fanconi-like syndrome in dogs. Previously this was a disease that was thought to be primarily genetic in origin and specific to certain breeds. However, acquired Fanconi in dogs has been reported across numerous different breeds after consumption of the treats."

Does this mean dog treats are unhealthy for animals? Not historically.

In 1860, when James Spratt, an Ohio electrician, developed the precursor to the modern-day treat, it was a mix of grains, beetroot, vegetables and bison parts, notes The New York Times in "Who Made the Dog Biscuit?" Spratt’s dog biscuits were fashioned after the dry biscuits sailors consumed on long trips to keep them fed. They also weren’t cheap—a 50-pound bag cost a day’s wages—but Spratt targeted country gentlemen who could afford them. They were also, by 1895, the principal food of show dogs.

It wasn’t until 1907, The New York Times reported, that Carleton Ellis, the inventor of margarine, had the ingenuous idea to shape the dog biscuit as a bone, an idea that occurred to him when his own dog wouldn’t eat the milk-based dog biscuit he had developed.

The dog treat industry has more than doubled since 1975 (from $1.1 to $2.6 billion), spurring such holidays as today’s National Dog Biscuit Day (origins unknown).

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The 10 Most Searched Questions About Dogs

From DVM 360 Magazine

The 10 most-searched questions about dogs
We know you’ve “Googled” when it comes to your pet. In fact, Google released the 10 most-searched questions pet owners asked about their dogs last year. So, instead of leaving the answers to a Google algorithm, here are some veterinary experts to answer your queries so you can get to the bottom of questions like, “Why are dogs’ noses wet?” Google is a great tool, but if you ever have a question regarding your pet, never hesitate to contact us. We’re here to answer the serious to merely curious questions—we’re happy to do it! In the meantime, see how Drs. John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB, and Ernie Ward, DVM, answer your most pressing questions about Fido.

1. Why do dogs eat grass? 
Most veterinarians agree grass eating seems to be a way for dogs to relieve gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, parasites or possibly infections. Another theory is that dogs are craving micronutrients found in leafy plants. Finally, dogs may eat grass simply because they like it. —Dr. Ward

2. Do dogs dream?
We’ve discovered that dogs and humans share many similar characteristics when sleeping and possibly dreaming. For most dogs, dreaming should occur about 20 minutes after they begin to doze. You’ll notice shallow, irregular breathing followed by muscle twitching and eye movements behind closed eyelids. The real question is what do dogs dream about? —Dr. Ward

3. Why do dogs howl? 
Howling is a non-specific behavior. Howling can occur when a dog is distressed, feeling territorial, stressed in a situation that they cannot get out of, or responding to persistent noises such as the sound of a siren. Finally, I imagine it is a fun activity for some dogs—kind of like singing in the shower. —Dr. Ciribassi

Wolves primarily howl to alert an enemy pack they’re ready to rumble or guide a lost member home. Dogs howling when you leave may be an attempt to get you to return. Howling at other dogs may signal, “Get lost!” or “I’m over here!” —Dr. Ward

4. Why do dogs have whiskers? 
Whiskers function as sensory organs. Touch, air currents and vibrations can stimulate the whiskers. They also can function as communication in that dogs that are emotionally aroused can move their whiskers forward or backward to signal to another dog either fear or confidence during encounters. —Dr. Ciribassi

Most dogs have these long, stiff hairs projecting from their jaw, muzzle and above their eyes. Whiskers are highly sensitive and help inform the dog about surrounding objects, air movements and more. You can also tell a dog is nervous or scared if the whiskers are pointing forward at a potential threat. Whatever you do, don’t trim or pluck whiskers because they serve an important information source for dogs. —Dr. Ward

5. Why do dogs chase their tails? 
Other than for grooming or injury reasons, it is abnormal for dogs to consistently chase their tails. It can occur as an attention-getting activity or can escalate to a compulsive behavior that interferes with normal activities. Compulsive behaviors are similar to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in people and one theory is that it results in an increase in endorphins in the brain thus acting to reinforce pleasure for the behavior. —Dr. Ciribassi

6. How do you clean dogs’ ears? 
Cleaning ears regularly can help minimize infection since dry, clean ears are less likely to become infected. Place a small amount of a quality cleaning agent in the ear and massage the base of the ear. Allow your pet to shake its head then wipe out the discharge using cotton or tissue on your finger. Do not place anything into the ear unless directed by your veterinarian. I recommend cleaning a normal ear (not complicated by allergies or infections) about one to two times per week or after baths. —Dr. Ciribassi

Start by gently cleaning the outer ear with a clean cotton ball and veterinary-approved ear cleaning solution. Be sure to remove any debris and dead skin from crevices and folds. Using a clean cotton ball, push as far into the ear canal as you can comfortably reach with your small finger. Be sure not to stuff the cotton ball so deep you can’t retrieve it. Remove the cotton ball and repeat until there is no more dirt or debris observed. —Dr. Ward

7. Why Are Dog Noses Wet?
Dogs’ noses act as sweat glands and can become wet as a means of discharging heat. In addition, nasal cavity discharge will accumulate on the nose. Clear discharge can occur with temperature changes and also with some allergies. Discolored discharges usually indicate possible infection, neoplasia, foreign body or bleeding disorder in the nasal cavity and should be evaluated as soon as possible. —Dr. Ciribassi

Wet noses increase a dog’s ability to smell. Scientists believe the thin layer of mucous on a “wet nose” helps trap scent chemicals that are then licked off and processed by a dog’s special olfactory (smelling) glands located in the roof of its mouth. Wet noses are also the result of specialized sweat glands. Dogs can only perspire from the pads of their feet and noses. —Dr. Ward

8. How do you stop dogs from digging?
Dogs dig because it is fun or for exploration. This is a normal behavior, but will escalate if unmanaged. Don’t allow dogs in areas unsupervised where they have dug before, block off problem areas, be in the yard to prevent digging and engage your dog with activities. You can provide a digging box or area with sand or dirt that your dog can easily dig in. You can encourage its use by burying favorite toys (first shallow then more deeply) in the box. —Dr. Ciribassi

9. How do you introduce dogs to … (babies, cats, etc.)?
The first rule of introducing dogs to babies or new pets is supervision. Next, take it slow. Keep the parties separated and allow them to see, hear and smell the visitor. Back off at any sign of anxiety, fear or threats. If a new baby is at the hospital, try bringing home a blanket with the newborn’s smell for your pet. Make sure to keep food and prized possessions away during introduction. Once everyone is acclimated to each other, carefully allow direct contact. After a short period, take a break and start over in five to 15 minutes. Regardless of how long you’ve had your pet or how nice it is, never allow unsupervised interaction between an animal and baby. —Dr. Ward

10. Why do dogs bury bones?
Animals frequently create food caches (hiding spots for valuables they can later access when safe or normal food supplies are no longer available). Even though you may supply all the food your dog may want, it is difficult to break a natural, instinctual behavior. —Dr. Ciribassi

When dogs bury bones, they’re making an instinctual deposit to protect a future meal or prized possession. Thousands of years ago, scavenging dogs weren’t certain where or when their next meal would be. If they scored a big find, they’d hide leftovers for leaner times. Burying food kept it dark and cool, an early version of refrigeration. —Dr. Ward
Dr. John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB, founded the animal behavior specialty practice Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Consultants with locations in Buffalo Grove, Bensenville and Chicago, Illinois. Ciribassi is a board certified veterinary behaviorist.

Dr. Ernie Ward, DVM, a veterinarian, author, speaker and media personality, has dedicated his life and career to promoting a healthier lifestyle for people and pets.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Prevention Better Than Cure for Leptospirosis

 Prevention better than cure for canine leptospirosis

By Dr. Ruth MacPete, DVM


Leptospirosis can be an expensive disease to treat with a moderately high mortality rate, yet it is often not included in the differential diagnosis when veterinarians are presented with a dog with sudden onset of fever, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, or respiratory distress.

These clinical signs are not pathognomonic and suggest many more common conditions, such as gastrointestinal upset due to other bacterial infections, parasites, dietary changes, and toxins. Therefore, leptospirosis is often underdiagnosed. By the time some veterinarians decide to do a diagnostic test for leptospirosis, the clinical course may have already progressed to hepatic or renal failure, and it may be too late for effective antibiotic therapy.

"This is really unfortunate," says Larry Glickman, VMD, MPH, DrPH, "because leptospirosis can often be treated successfully with a tetracycline or a penicillinase antibiotic and supportive care in its early stages."

“The earlier the infected dog is treated with antibiotics, the more likely it is to survive,” adds Dr. Glickman, adjunct professor in the department of epidemiology in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and chief scientist at One Epi in Pittsboro, NC.

Even more important, leptospirosis can be prevented with yearly administration of a canine Leptospira vaccine (bacterin). LeptoVax® by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., protects against the 4 most common Leptospira serovars that cause canine disease.

Zoonotic potential

Leptospira, a bacterial spirochete that is prevalent in animals worldwide, is the causative organism of leptospirosis, a zoonotic disease. Worldwide, about 300,000 to 500,000 severe human cases are recognized yearly, and the disease may be fatal in about 5% to 30% of human cases, according to Pedro Paulo Diniz, DVM, PhD, assistant professor in small animal internal medicine at Western University of Health Sciences in California.

Numerous Leptospira serovars have been isolated from companion animals (dogs, horses) and livestock (cattle, swine), and a wide variety of wild mammals, including mice, rats, moles, raccoons, opossum, deer, and skunks. Even marine animals, such as sea lions, have been found to be infected with Leptospira spp.

“In the United States, one of the biggest threats to dogs in terms of carriers of Leptospira is the raccoon,” Dr. Glickman says. “A very large percentage of raccoons may shed Leptospira in their urine despite appearing healthy. Such animals are often referred to as natural reservoirs of Leptospira infection. Rats are also an important carrier of Leptospira, particularly in more urban areas.”

The infection is typically transmitted when contaminated urine of a reservoir or clinically ill animal contaminates the environment, particularly water or wet soil. Canine infection can occur when a dog comes into contact with contaminated grass or soil or drinks from a puddle, pond, or other body of water.

People similarly can be infected by contact with a contaminated environment because the organism can enter the bloodstream through a break in the skin or can penetrate through mucous membranes. Cleaning up the urine of an infected dog, handling an infected pet, gardening, or swimming in a contaminated lake or pond can put a person at risk of infection. In one famous incident, more than 100 athletes participating in a triathlon became infected by swimming in a contaminated lake, according to Dr. Glickman.

Rainfall and flooding elevate the risk of Leptospira transmission, and the organism can persist in water and in wet environments for many months.

Some occupations, such as veterinarians and veterinary hospital employees, increase a person’s risk of leptospirosis. In a recent example, a small animal veterinarian in Washington state developed a high fever, pneumonitis, renal failure, and septic shock after a pet rat urinated on his ungloved hands, according to Dr. Diniz. “Twelve days of intensive care were required to save his life, and it took 2 months for him to recover and return to work,” he says.

Dogs are considered maintenance hosts for the L. canicola serovar and incidental hosts for other serovars. Dogs living in rural and suburban areas near agricultural land, bodies of water, and wetlands, as well as wooded areas, are at particular risk of disease. However, urban dogs are not without risk. According to a 2011 study in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, dogs living in urban areas are also at risk of infection. Even the pampered pooch living in an urban high rise can encounter an infected mouse or contaminated puddle on the street.

“It is a challenge for veterinarians to diagnose a dog with leptospirosis,” Dr. Diniz says. “Leptospirosis is not the first illness that comes to mind for most dogs with signs of refusal to eat, weight loss, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, stiffness, muscle pain, dyspnea, and weakness. To make it even more challenging, animals do not necessarily present with all of these signs at the same time. Some dogs present with increased drinking and urination due to kidney failure. Others may develop jaundice due to the liver failure.

“All of these signs can be associated with a large list of diseases,” Dr. Diniz adds.

Leptospira infection must be in the differential, because the veterinarian must request the laboratory to test the blood sample for it. The gold standard of diagnosis depends on the microscopic agglutination test (MAT), which detects IgM antibodies that typically appear about 6 to 12 days after infection, and some IgG antibodies, which appear much later, about 3 to 4 weeks after infection. Initial titers of 800 or higher suggest infection, which is confirmed if a 4-fold increase in titers is detected from the convalescent sample, according to Dr. Diniz. However, the magnitude of the titer does not correlate with disease severity.

PCR is a sensitive and specific test for Leptospira and can produce results in as little as 2 days post infection. However, a negative PCR does not rule out infection.

The MAT accurately determines the serovar in fewer than 50% of cases and PCR assays are unable to differentiate serovars; therefore Leptospira culture remains the most reliable technique to determine the serovar. However, knowing the serovar does not affect the therapeutic management of most canine patients, Dr. Diniz adds, because all serovars are sensitive to tetracycline or a penicillinase antibiotic.


To prevent the spread of the disease from an infected pet to family members, owners of a dog with leptospirosis should always be told to contact their physician for advice. In the meantime, they should be informed by the veterinarian of the zoonotic potential and advised to wear gloves when cleaning up after their dog. It would also be a good idea to leash walk the animal and to wash its bedding using bleach.

Despite a veterinarian’s best efforts, up to 20% of dogs that develop leptospirosis will die from this disease, according to Dr. Glickman. Therefore, both veterinarians recommend yearly vaccination as the best way to protect a beloved pet and its family. Puppies should receive 2 immunizations initially and then a yearly booster. The available vaccines are efficacious and have proven safe in clinical trials. They protect against the 4 most common serovars that cause leptospirosis in dogs.

“We know that vaccination for leptospirosis is protective when administered as directed,” Dr. Glickman explains.

“I recommend vaccinating for leptospirosis because the consequences of the disease in an unvaccinated dog are far more severe and life-threatening than the low risk of adverse reactions associated with vaccination,” Dr. Diniz adds.


Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease and the number of dogs diagnosed is increasing. About 20% of canine cases can be fatal despite aggressive treatment. Therefore, it is good medicine, to vaccinate all dogs, since it is nearly impossible to identify any who are not at risk of becoming infected given the widespread nature of the organism in reservoir animal hosts in both urban and rural areas.