Thursday, October 29, 2009

A cautionary tale of chocolate toxicity for Halloween

With Halloween this weekend and the holiday season just around the corner everyone will have more candy around the house than usual which is an invitation for curious pups to steal a snack. Dr. Dana Begnoche’s dogs Lola and Widget have volunteered to be used as an example for what can happen if your dog eats too many chocolates.

Lola and Widget came in after breaking into the Halloween candy stash one afternoon. Milk chocolate, which consists mostly of cream and sugar, is generally not a huge concern unless massive amounts are consumed but dark chocolate is another story. Among other treats there was a bag of dark chocolate M&M’s missing and we were not sure how much each dog consumed.

An injectable medication was used to induce vomiting in both dogs so we could empty their system of as much chocolate as possible. Lola was the prime suspect as her heart rate was in the 200 beats per minute range which is too fast and she was very agitated. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are both classified as methylxanthines. Unfortunately, dogs are sensitive to the effects of methylxanthines which can cause hyperactivity, increased heart rate, gastrointestinal upset, tremors, seizures and potentially death when ingested at a toxic dose.

Widget vomited a moderate amount of chocolate but was not showing any clinical signs of chocolate toxicity. He was given activated charcoal by mouth, fluids under the skin and an injection of Pepcid to help settle his stomach. The fluids would help flush out his bladder which is important since the methylxanthines are excreted through the urine and can actually be reabsorbed if allowed to collect in the bladder. Widget was sent home with instructions to take out frequently to urinate and monitor for any vomiting or diarrhea.

Lola vomited slightly more chocolate than Widget but she was showing clinical signs of chocolate toxicity which required more aggressive treatment. We started her on IV fluids and gave her a medication to help slow down her heart rate. Overnight we checked her heart rate every hour in case it crept back up again and she needed an additional dose. Lola was also given oral activated charcoal to bind any of the chocolate that wasn’t expelled when she vomited. Other than being anxious and whining all night Lola did great and was sent home the next morning.

There are a few take home messages in this tale. First keep the candy far away from nosey dogs, even if you don’t think they are interested in eating it. Second, know what kind of chocolate your dog has been exposed to. The higher the cocoa content or more bittersweet, the smaller amount it takes to reach a toxic dose. Finally if your dog does eat chocolate bring them in to see us immediately so we can induce vomiting to remove as much as possible from their system. Most of the time they do not need to stay in the hospital and can go home with you immediately.

Happy Halloween from Friendship! We hope you won’t have a chocolate toxicity story of your own this holiday season but if you do we will be here to help your dog vomit.

As a side note Lilly will be dressed as a bumble bee and Sparkle as a pig on Saturday. Poppy is refusing to keep on the costume I got for her, so instead she will be going as a very bad dog.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Baxter's itchy ears

Baxter is a nine month old Westie who presented for scratching his ears and shaking his head. A quick peak at his ears revealed the skin was very red and there was a waxy, dark brown discharge. It was clear he had a significant ear infection. The most common causes of these are allergies or when water gets in the ear canal either from swimming or getting a bath.

I obtained a swab of both ears to look at under the microscope and whisked Baxter off for a thorough ear cleaning. On the microscope slide there was a sea of yeast, which look like little purple bowling pins (see picture below). Bacteria in the shape of spheres or tubes can also be present which is why determining what organisms are causing the infection is critical to the treatment plan. In Baxter’s case I suspect this started with a bath as yeast infections are most commonly seen when water gets into the ear canal. The moisture becomes trapped in the ear and this creates the perfect environment for yeast and bacteria to flourish.
Poor Baxter’s ears were so uncomfortable he did not appreciate the ear cleaning but we were able to remove a large amount of discharge which would help him clear the infection. Once we were through he was sent home with a cleanser and topical medication for his owners to apply at home.

Some dogs struggle with chronic ear infections but hopefully this will not be the case with Baxter. By using the cleanser weekly and/or after bathing his owners should be able to prevent future infections from forming. Ear infections are very common and knowing the clinical signs and causes will go a long way in keeping your dog comfortable and preventing a trip to the vet.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Exciting things to come!

There are many new things in the works at Friendship Tails these days and I am very excited to share them with you. My two special interests in veterinary medicine are shelter animals and canine cancer; recently I have been given the opportunity to become more involved with both.

Even before Westin was diagnosed I have always been interested in oncology. Unfortunately it is a huge part of treating companion animals and I have seen countless times how devastating it can be for owners. When 2 Dogs, 2000 Miles came through DC I realized that there was so much more I could be doing on top of just diagnosing and treating animals with cancer.

This led me to consider the idea of starting a non-profit, which was a little overwhelming. I was then thrilled to discover that the National Canine Cancer Foundation had just started a DC chapter. So look forward to upcoming events where we can raise awareness and funds to further canine cancer research.

One of my favorite things about Friendship is how closely we work with the Washington Humane Society and the Washington Animal Rescue League. Helping shelter animals has long been a passion of mine, hence the reason I have six animals living with me. Recently I was honored to be invited to participate in WHS’s Fashion for Paws program.
Fashion for Paws is a series of events that raises money throughout the year culminating in April with a fashion show featuring people and their dogs. It is a genius way to create awareness for all that WHS does for the community as well as save the lives of many shelter animals. I had a great time last year attending as a guest and I am very excited to be participating this year.

In addition to what I am directly involved with, Friendship also donates proceeds from some of our online stores to the Humane Education Fund and supports the Marshall Legacy Institute. Not to mention we are open twenty four hours a day, every day for you and your pet. Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am that I get to work at such an amazing place.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Benefits of a raw food diet

I have recently started an experiment with my own dogs to see if feeding raw food is really better than giving them commercial dog food. People ask me all the time what they should be feeding their dogs, and I have a difficult time answering this as I can't decide what to feed my own dogs. Just like in people, nutrition is an essential component to a long, healthy life for our pets.

I do think that Science Diet makes an excellent food. They spend massive amounts of time and money on research to provide a fully balanced, top-of-the-line food. They also use a technique called nutro-genomics, meaning that they design the food based on what genes are activated in specific disease processes. However, these diets are processed and preserved with chemicals, and have grain as the first ingredient. Part of my debate is whether or not this is such a bad thing.

Proponents of raw food, also called B.A.R.F (biologically appropriate raw food) claim these diets are significantly healthier than prepared commercial foods. The diets are made of meat, bones, vegetables and organ meats with very little carbohydrates. The theory is that domesticated animals have evolved to eat this type of food over hundreds of years. Compare this to the past 50-70 years when commercial pet food became popular and it does make sense.

In addition, advocates of the B.A.R.F. diet feel the large amounts of carbohydrates in commercial foods cause excessive inflammation, which in turn leads to common degenerative diseases such as arthritis, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, thyroid disease, and hormonal imbalances such as Cushing's disease. It is also felt that commercial foods are packed with harmful chemicals and animal by-products, and have excessive levels of salt and sugar.

So on one hand it makes sense to feed the B.A.R.F diet, especially if it is organic. I know that when it comes to my own eating habits, I would be healthier if my own diet consisted of lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables while avoiding processed sugars and too much salt (though I personally lack the self-control for follow-through). Why should I not feed my beloved pets the same type of diet?

The flip side to this argument is that, other than sushi, I don't eat my food raw, so why would I feed it to my animals? With uncooked foods, there is an increased risk of illness from bacteria or other food-borne pathogens. However I will say we don't see very many, if any, cases of this at Friendship.

And of course raw food diets are time-consuming to prepare, which can be challenging given our busy schedules. Plus, just like shopping exclusively at Whole Foods, raw diets are significantly more expensive then a bag of Science Diet Adult.

My initial experience with the B.A.R.F diet has been very positive. I started feeding my Chihuahua Lilly a raw diet two years ago when she developed allergies and was licking her feet so much that they became infected and ulcerated. After trying all the conventional therapies for food allergies I decided to try raw food. Within two weeks of feeding prepared frozen patties of raw venison, the lesions cleared and Lilly stopped licking her feet. At one point I ran out of the raw diet so started feeding Lilly Iams Low Residue, which I happened to have in the house. The lesions on Lilly’s paws returned almost immediately, only to clear again once I started her back on the raw food.

So, I will see how my dogs respond and keep you posted. I'm not quite sure what it will take to convince me to continue feeding raw food, but at this point the potential benefits seem to outweigh the risks. In general, my dogs are not very picky when it comes to food but they seem to really LOVE the new diet.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Trooper is on her way!

After many weeks of intensive care and recuperation Trooper left Friendship today for the next step in her recovery. She will be headed to a rescue group that specializes in rehabilitation of dogs used for fighting. When she arrived in August she was near death and had probably never heard a kind word from anyone. She still has a long road ahead of her until she has healed the emotional scars from her previous life but I am very proud of the kindness and care she was given at Friendship which allowed her to experience what it is like to be loved. Every member of our staff contributed to Trooper's recovery in some way and I know we will all miss spending time with her. I know I will miss seeing her prance by my desk to get a treat before heading out for a walk. On behalf of everyone at Friendship we wish Trooper the very best in the new life ahead of her!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Keep on with those preventatives

Even though the weather is cooling down and fall has arrived you must still be vigilant in using monthly heartworm, flea and tick prevention for your pets. I recommend that owners use these once monthly medications year round because here in DC mosquitoes, fleas and ticks are just waiting for a warm day to emerge and attack our dogs and cats.

Everyone knows how annoying those relentless mosquitoes are when you are trying to enjoy your yard or back porch. But these pests are more than just irritating – they can endanger your pet’s health by transmitting heartworm disease. Heartworm disease is a parasitic infection transmitted when an infected mosquito bites your dog or cat.
Monthly heartworm prevention is essential year round for both dogs and cats, even indoor kitties. There is NO treatment for heartworm in cats, and sudden death is a common result of heartworm infections. While it’s true that infected dogs can be treated, the treatment itself is very dangerous—and can even be fatal. Left untreated, heartworm disease will kill a dog.
Protecting your dogs and cats against fleas and ticks is important as well. Tick borne infections such as Lyme disease, Erlichia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are transmitted when an infected tick bites your dog. As you can see in the picture to the right, the deer tick that is responsible for transmitting Lyme disease is tiny and may be difficult to find on your dog. The best way to ward these infections off is with topical flea and tick preventatives like Frontline, Advantix, Revolution, or Advantage Multi. In a temperate climate like ours, these should be applied once a month, every month.
Although a Lyme disease vaccination is available, we do not recommend using it because there is no concrete evidence that it prevents the disease. Plus, some specialists believe that vaccinating an infected dog can make the disease worse.

Feas can be extremely itching and irritating to both you and your pets. Some animals are allergic to fleas and one bite can lead to a significant skin infection. Once a flea infestation invades your home it can be very difficult to clear it out. The best bet is to prevent that from happening by applying the same topical medications that protect against ticks.

Luckily, prevention is easy: just a pill and a topical medication once a month. If only everything were that simple.