Looking for the Right Pet Food

Nutrition is a very important aspect of our pet’s overall health, but how many of us actually think about what food we choose for our dogs and cats. Is there really a difference in pet foods and are they ways to determine whether a company is making a good food or just good at marketing? Your veterinarian can help you understand what to look for when picking out your pet’s next bag of food!

Birth Control for Dogs and Cats

Innovative Approaches

This weekend I’ll be the keynote speaker at the 5th International Symposium on Non-Surgical Contraceptive Methods of Pet Population Control. The conference title is a bit of a mouthful, but the basic idea is this: Can scientists develop a drug that will permanently sterilize dogs and cats? Or, put even more simply, can we make “the pill” for pets?tags: blogeventsnewshumanescience

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Registry helps pet owners find clinical trials for cancer treatment

Cancer is the foremost killer of older dogs and cats, but pets stricken with the disease are gaining new options from clinica -More-

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How to … Treat Diarrhea at Home

Up next in our “How to” series, treating diarrhea in dogs and cats at home and when it’s best to seek immediate veterinary attention.

Diarrhea in pets has a way of getting an owner’s attention. From the standpoint of the mess involved and the disruption to the household’s normal routine it certainly is a crisis, but in many cases diarrhea is not a real emergency and is amenable to home treatment. There are times, however, when pets should see a veterinarian without delay.

If any of the following …

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Do Geriatric Pets Need Special Food? Part 2

Today we continue to examine the other health issues targeted by the makers of senior pet food formulas.

Foods for Joint Health

While it is true that most dogs and cats with arthritic joint changes are old, it is not true that old dogs and cats are necessarily arthritic. Geriatric changes are known to occur to the cartilage tissue of joints. Age related decreases in cartilage cells also results in decreased production and secretion of certain chemicals, namely glycosaminoglycans and chondroitin …

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Can Secondhand Smoke Harm Your Pet?

In thDr. Jim Humphries, Founder of the Veterinary News Networke past 45 years, the number of smokers in the United States has decreased to less than 20% of the population and almost 70% of those current smokers want to kick the habit.  Could an understanding of how secondhand smoke affects our pets help encourage more people to quit?

By: Dr. Jim Humphries, Certified Veterinary Journalist, Veterinary News Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pets who are developing illnesses from secondhand smoke may exhibit symptoms ranging from lethargy to coughing to the appearance of masses in the mouth.  It’s important to have your pet seen by a veterinarian if any of these signs are noted.  To keep up to date with accurate animal health news, visit www.MyVNN.com or www.VetNewsOnline.com.

What are Tapeworms?

tapewormTapeworms are flat intestinal worms that are made up of many small segments, each about ¼ – ½” (3-5 mm) long. Unlike roundworms that live freely in the intestinal tract, tapeworms attach to the wall of the small intestine using hook-like mouthparts.

Tapeworms belong to the cestode family of intestinal worms. The most common tapeworm of dogs and cats is Dipylidium caninum.
The adult worms may reach up to 8 inches (20 cm) in length. The
individual segments begin to develop starting behind the head and move down the tapeworm as they gradually mature, finally being shed at the opposite end, either singly or in short chains. These segments, called proglottids, are passed in the feces when an infected dog defecates. They are about 1/8″ (3 mm) long and look like grains of rice or cucumber seeds.
Occasionally they can be seen moving on the hairs around the anus or on the surface of freshly passed feces. As the tapeworm segment dries, it becomes a golden color and eventually breaks open, releasing the fertilized eggs into the environment.

Unlike roundworms, dogs cannot become infected by eating fertilized tapeworm eggs.

Tapeworms must first pass through an intermediate host (a flea) before they can infect a dog.

tapeworm infection 2 TapewormsHow do dogs get tapeworms?

When the infected eggs are released into the environment, they have
to be swallowed by immature flea larvae in the environment. Once inside
the larval flea, the tapeworm egg continues to develop as the flea
matures into an adult flea. During grooming or in response to a flea
bite, a dog can ingest the tapeworm infected flea and complete the life

Are tapeworms dangerous for my dog?

Tapeworms do not normally cause serious health problems in dogs. Occasionally dogs will drag their bottoms on the ground, a behavior known as scooting, in order to allay this irritation. Note that scooting can also occur for other reasons such as impacted anal sacs.


In puppies, heavy tapeworm infestation can be more serious. Lack of growth, anemia and intestinal blockages can occur. Occasionally, the head of the tapeworm or scolex detaches from the intestinal wall; the entire adult tapeworm will then be passed in the feces or vomited up.

How is a diagnosis made?

Clinical diagnosis is usually made by observing the white mobile tapeworm segments in the feces or crawling around the anus. They often look like grains of rice.

Tapeworm segments are only passed intermittently and therefore are often not diagnosed on routine fecal examination. If you find any segments, white or golden color, bring them to your veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis.

What is the treatment?

With today’s drugs, treatment is simple and effective. The parasiticide may be given either in the form of tablets or by injection. It causes the parasite to dissolve in the intestines so you normally will not see tapeworms passed in the stool. These drugs are very safe and should not cause any side effects.


Is there anything else I should do?tapeworm infection Tapeworms

“Flea control is critical in the management and prevention of tapeworm infection.”

Flea control is critical in the management and prevention of tapeworm
infection. Flea control involves treating the dog and the environment
.Your veterinarian can recommend a safe and effective flea control for
your pet. If your dog lives in a flea-infested environment,
re-infection with tapeworms may occur in as little as two weeks. Since
tapeworm medication is so effective, recurrent tapeworm infections are
almost always due to re-infection from fleas and not failure of the

Can I get tapeworms from my dog?

You cannot get tapeworms directly from your dog. Dipylidium caninum,
the most common canine tapeworm, depends on the flea as the
intermediate host. A person must swallow an infected flea to become
infected. A few cases of tapeworm infection have been reported in
children. Vigorous flea control will also eliminate any risk of children
becoming infected.

Although Dipylidium species are the most common tapeworms in dogs, other cestodes are also important in certain areas.

Taenia species – These are tapeworms that are acquired by eating prey or waste containing the infective larval
stage. These are much larger tapeworms, often up to one yard (one meter) in length. Intermediate hosts include rodents, rabbits, hares and sheep. The intermediate stages develop hydatid cysts in various organs in the intermediate host. There are effective medications that will eliminate Taenia infections in dogs. If your dog eats prey such as rodents or rabbits, re-infection can occur with passage of tapeworm segments in 6-8 weeks.

Echinococcus species – These are very small tapeworms, consisting of only three or four segments, and are usually
less than 3/8″ (1 cm) in length. Intermediate hosts can be sheep, horses and occasionally man. In humans the disease is called
hydatidosis, hydatid disease, or hydatid cyst disease, and results in cysts being formed in the liver. The disease is very rare in the United States, but has been reported in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Humans are infected by eating contaminated meat or by accidentally ingesting eggs that have originated from the feces of dogs, coyotes or foxes harboring the adult tapeworm. Fortunately, de-worming preparations, particularly those containing praziquantel, are effective for eliminating this cestode from infected dogs.

Prevention of cestode tapeworm infection involves avoidance of uncooked or partially cooked meat or meat by-products.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Ernest Ward, DVM
© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Raw Food Diet for Pets

For a majority of pet owners, a quick trip to the local grocery or even pet superstore is the easiest way to pick up their pets’ food.  People might debate favorite brands, but most will use some sort of commercial dry or canned diet for their four legged friends.  For a few pet owners though, preparing a meal for the family dog involves a little more work and a lot of raw meat.  Are homemade or raw diets a good idea?

Take a stroll down the pet food aisle of your favorite store and your eyes will take in every imaginable color, a few cartoon characters and a lot of claims stating the food is “improved”, “natural” or even “organic”.  It’s truly a marketing bonanza!  More than 3,000 brands of pet food fill the aisles and pet owners will spend about $18 billion to feed their pets each and every year.

But, high profile recalls, sick pets and corporate mistrust has moved a small number of pet owners to consider making their pets’ food at home, instead of buying it in a bag.  An Internet search for “raw diets” brings up almost 3 million different results, many of which claim that this sort of food is nutritionally superior to the commercially prepared diets.

The raw food diet trend began in 1993 with the publication of “Give Your Dog A Bone” written by Australian veterinarian, Dr. Ian Billinghurst.  Building on the close evolutionary relationship between our dogs and their wolf cousins, Dr. Billinghurst claims that in domesticating the dog we “changed the wolf’s appearance and mind…but not the basic internal workings or physiology”.  Many pet owners agree with this theory and have flocked to a raw meat type of diet for their animals.

Proponents of raw diets claim the foods give their pets more energy, provide more nutrition and overall, their dogs and cats are healthier than animals fed a typical dry or commercial diet.  During the massive pet food recall of 2007, the number of people opting for homemade diets increased dramatically and many have continued to prepare their pet’s food at home.

Adding more fuel to the fire, advocates of homemade foods persist in claims that commercial diets, especially those with a high percentage of grain, are actually shortening the life span of our animals.

How many of these arguments are valid and which ones lack evidence?

First, it is important to understand that all of the reports of increased energy and healthier pets are simply observations by the owners.  Actual scientific and verifiable evidence supporting these claims is non-existent.  To be fair, there is no evidence to refute these statements either.

Many of Dr. Billinghurst’s basic arguments are answered by veterinarians, both in the clinic with clients and in the media.  For example, the claim that dogs must eat meat because they are related to wolves is discussed and usually dismissed.  As a well respected blog, Skeptvet.com, states dogs are omnivores and will often eat a wide variety, including some fruits and vegetables.  Not to mention that there has been more than 100,000 years of divergence between dogs and wolves as well as intense selective breeding, especially in the last 3,000 years.

Another claim that is used by raw food advocates is that dogs and cats can’t digest grains, especially the corn and wheat ingredients found in many commercial diets.  This contention is also refuted by scientific studies showing dogs use these cooked grains as effectively as other carbohydrate sources.

But, perhaps the biggest reason many pet owners opt for preparing their pets’ meals is a mistrust of the corporations formulating the dry foods.  Recalls due to contamination, excessive or deficient nutrients and bacterial contamination seem all too commonplace.  Although these recalls have happened occasionally and pets have become sick, the reality of the situation is that the vast majority of commercial diets are not only safe for our pets, they also provide an optimum level of nutrition, helping out pets live full and healthy lives.

So, is one type of diet actually better than another?

The answer to that question is complex and should always involve a discussion with your veterinarian.  Raw diets, for all their purported benefits, do come with significant risks.  Bacterial contamination is more prevalent with these diets and the potential for an imbalance of nutrients is very high.  If you do choose to use a homemade or raw diet, talk with your veterinarian and use an approved veterinary nutritional site, like BalanceIt.com to insure that your pet does benefit from your extra work.

Also, remember that many pet food companies have decades of experience, research and testing proving the effectiveness and safety of their diets.  It’s true that occasional recalls have happened, but these unfortunate events have also helped determine how to effectively handle this sort of crisis.  Lessons learned from past situations will help to prevent future issues.

Looking forward, science may give us an answer to this on-going and very passionate debate.  But, for now, your best source of advice is not an online forum or manufacturer’s website with products to sell, but rather you should put your trust in your veterinarian.
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Dr. Debra Garrison is a veterinarian at the Treaschwig Veterinary Clinic

Avoiding House Fires Caused by your Pet

Everyone is familiar with many of the common causes of house fires…smoking in bed, unattended candles, or even kitchen mishaps.  But, are you aware of another leading cause of fires in the home?  This one has four legs, a tail and might be your best friend!

Like many dogs, Lucy had a passion for chocolate.  She doesn’t know it’s not good for her – the Labrador/Basset mix only knows that it tastes yummy and she will do anything to get some!  So, when owner Kay was at work one day, she had no idea that Lucy’s passion and energy would lead to a near disaster!

Kay left some chocolate cake up on the counter and Lucy was determined to make it her own.   In doing so, she ignited the burner on the stove.  The heat melted the plastic cover of the cake pan, filling the home with light smoke.

The US Fire Administration (usfa.dhs.gov) states more than 500,000 structural fires occur annually, taking more than 3,000 lives, including about 100 firefighters.  Top causes of home fires include open flames and accidents in the kitchen.  What’s even more interesting is that more than 900 fires each year can be attributed to pets!

Dogs and cats are very inquisitive creatures by nature and, like Lucy, will often persist in attempts to reach some sort of favored food item.  These two attributes can lead to problems when combined with unattended candles, or open heat sources, like kerosene lanterns.  Pets can easily knock these items over or ignite nearby material, causing a fire to spread.

All across North America, headlines show stories similar to Lucy’s.  From dogs locking owners out of the house while fish is frying to many displaced candles, our pets are implicated in fires more often than people realize.  Sadly, it is estimated that more than 500,000 pets are affected by fire each year and many of these will lose their lives.

Although a few pets wake the family and end up as heroes in these stories, many become fearful and try to hide.  Others are left home alone and no one is there to rescue them, despite shrieking smoke alarms.  For our cats, the excessive noise may even provoke a flight response to a hiding place where they feel safe and may not easily be found.

Thankfully, you can reduce the risk of a fire and injury or death of your pet by taking a few common sense precautions.

First, never leave any open flame unattended.  If you are leaving the house for any reason, extinguish all candles and turn off open flame space heaters and/or stoves.

Next, consider keeping your pet confined when you are gone.  A dog in a cage is unlikely to create a situation like Lucy’s near disaster.  Walk through your home with an eye towards “pet proofing” and preventing accidental fires.

Invest in a home monitoring system that can alert the fire department, even when you aren’t home.  Thankfully, in Lucy’s case, her owners had added monitoring protection to their alarm system.  Firefighters were dispatched and arrived at the home quickly, only to find the heavy smoke indicative of a large fire.  The captain of the engine called for two more fire trucks, fearing that the fire was beyond what his team could handle.

Upon entry to the home, Lucy was immediately rescued and the firefighters were able to extinguish the fire without the use of hoses.  The fire was contained to the kitchen because of the quick response of fire fighters, due in part to the monitoring system.

Experts at the National Volunteer Fire Council (nvfc.org) also recommend the use of window clings that can help alert rescuers to the presence of pets in the home.  Some people will even go as far as to place their pet’s cage within site of the front door to make rescue even easier.

Each year on July 15th, the American Kennel Club (akc.org) along with the National Volunteer Fire Council and ADT Security Services work to raise awareness to help prevent needless pet suffering from house fires.  Check with your veterinarian and/or local fire department to find out how to obtain the window clings or visit www.adt.com to get a free one.

Thankfully, in Lucy’s case, damage was minimal and Lucy is just fine.  But, many pets aren’t so lucky, suffering from smoke inhalation, burns or much worse.  Learn to keep your pets safe by following the above guidelines.  To see how Lucy fared during her ordeal, visit www.MyVNN.com to watch a video.

Heartworm Disease Continues to Plague our Pets

Every year, veterinarians brace for a disease that has plagued our pets for decades. Yet this disease is easily preventable with affordable and safe medications. Cases of  Heartworms in both dogs and cats continue to increase and the cost to treat (if detected early enough) is far greater that the cost to prevent. So, how can you protect your pet from the deadly consequences of this now common parasite?

Flash back to 150 years ago when a scientist first discovered the heartworm parasite in a dog. Then the parasite evolved and was then detected in our cats 80 years ago. With heartworm prevention available for both cats and dogs you would think that we would see a reduction in the number of cases, yet each year hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats are diagnosed and often die too soon from this dreaded parasite. Some experts estimate that in North America alone, cases of heartworms in our pets may actually be in the millions.

The disease caused by this heartworm living inside your pet’s heart is devastating. Your pet can be infected by the single bite of  just one mosquito. The worm can then migrate through your pet’s body finally taking up residence in your pet’s heart chamber and the blood vessels leading to the lungs. This results in your pet’s heart having to pump harder to circulate the blood through his tiny body. The effects on the lungs is even more severe with some pet’s gasping for breath as the lungs fill with fluid and tiny blood clots. Early signs include coughing and exercise intolerance that some owners just attribute to the dog being lazy. Oftentimes, signs do not appear until the disease is well advanced and the dog is suffering from heart failure, fluid accumulation in the lungs and belly which can eventually lead to death.

In cats, it only takes one heartworm to cause damage. The early signs are asthma like symptoms and sometimes vomiting that the owners will attribute to hairballs. When that heartworm lodges in the lungs, it can result in a sudden death of the cat.

Treatment for heartworms is expensive ranging from $500 for the smaller dogs, to upwards of $1500 for the larger breeds. Complicated heartworm disease with cardiac failure is even more expensive and oftentimes there is only a 10% chance of recovery in the severely afflicted pets. As of yet, there is no treatment for cat heartworm disease, just supportive care.

Amazingly, veterinarians do have an answer to this problem. Safe, effective heartworm preventatives are available in a variety of easy to use applications. What is even more incredible is that the cost of a lifetime of prevention for most pets is significantly less that a single treatment for the disease. So, why do pets continue to suffer and die from such a preventable disease?

With all internet myths, two radical theories suggest that either the heartworm medications are failing or that the parasites are developing a resistance to the drugs. While conspiracy theorists love these ideas, scientific evidence for either theory is lacking. Heartworm preventives have a failure rate of less than 1 in 1 million doses. Likewise, the complex life cycle of the heartworm does not lend itself to developing a natural resistance to the medications. The truth probably lies in the memory of the owner to administer the dose in a timely fashion and the climate.

Increasing temperatures in our climate has resulted in a longer mosquito season and a larger potential for transmission to our pets. Here in Houston, our mosquito season is all year round. We are now seeing more mosquitoes in previously mosquito-free areas. Irrigation of dry areas and increased plantings of trees in certain areas can actually increase mosquito population. With a larger number of mosquitoes, there is a greater chance of transmission of heartworm disease.

Once all the facts are reviewed, the simplest reason for our failure to control this deadly parasite falls on the humans themselves. We simply do not give the preventive as we should. It may be due to forgetfulness, or perhaps one spouse thought the other one gave it or it may be due to the economy and the financial constraints imposed on the family. Whatever the reason may be, it can result in dire consequences for the health of our pets.

Thankfully, as pet owners, you do have powerful allies to help combat the war against heartworms. With the help of your veterinarian, you can pick the best heartworm medication for your pet and your budget. Oral medications, such as Heartgard, Sentinel, and Iverhart are available. There are also topical medications such as Advantage-Multi and Revolution that are formulated to also protect your pet from both heartworms and fleas. Proheart 6 is also available as a long lasting injection. The prevention of this disease rests solely on the pet’s owners to make sure the pet receives the prevention before the pet is exposed to the parasite. That means that the prevention must begin in puppy-hood and be given every month, all year long.

Do not waste time searching for “natural” or organic ways to prevent heartworms; they simply do not exist. Many people think they can formulate ivermectin to give to their pets, but improper dilution and storage can lead to overdosing or underdosing. Follow recommendations by your veterinarian and the American Heartworm Society (www.heartwormsociety.org). Your pet is counting on you and prevention is far better and cheaper than the treatment.