Friday, May 24, 2013


I think almost everyone knows about rabies virus and that it is just about 100% fatal - really scary stuff.  What you may not realize is how prevalent it is and that your pets have a real risk of exposure which is why vaccination is so critical in our companion animals.  In 2012 there were 60 animals that tested positive for rabies the District of Columbia.  That means in one year Animal Control confirmed 39 raccoons, 20 bats and 1 fox tested positive in the 68 square miles that make up DC. 

These critters aren't staying holed up in Rock Creek Park either, they are around our neighborhoods and in our backyards.  In April a raccoon ran up to a man in Georgetown while he was loading his car and bit him on the leg.  That raccoon was later captured by animal control and tested positive for rabies.  A few years ago we had clients bring their cat into the hospital after a raccoon climbed down their chimney, popped out of the fireplace and attacked their cat. 

This is as close as my cats get to the outdoors

I routinely have a conversation with owners of cats who are indoor only and never venture out into the world about why they need to be vaccinated for rabies.  The short answer here is that it is required by law; unfortunately that is not always a convincing argument for some people.  I then tell them that bats can worm their way into tiny spaces including a hole in a screened window.  These tiny bats have tiny teeth that don’t always leave a mark on the skin after a bite.  It is entirely possible that your indoor only cat could be exposed to a rabid animal without you knowing about it.

If that doesn't sway them I then refer to a recent story out of Georgia about a 15 year old, indoor only cat that had been vaccinated for rabies in the past but the vaccine was past due.  The cat bit the owner and ended up testing positive for rabies.  You can read the story by clicking here

Finally dog and cat owners need to keep in mind that if at any time their pet bites someone and is not up to date on the rabies vaccine the person who was bitten can request rabies testing.  Rabies testing is done by euthanizing the animal and taking sample of the brain.  In my opinion, unless there is a medical reason not to vaccinate it is much safer for everyone to just keep your pet up to date on the rabies vaccine.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Brachycephalic Airway Disease - what you need to know!

Frank the Pug

As the weather is heating up I want to send a special advisory out to my smushy-faced canine pals.  I am talking to the owners of those adorable Pugs, Frenchies, Boston terriers and bulldogs that need to be the most watchful for heat stroke as the temperatures rise.  You must know what Brachycephalic Syndrome is so you can keep your dog safe from heat stroke.

The anatomy of brachycephalic (fancy word for smushy-faced) breeds is not compatible with efficient breathing and when combined with high temperatures and humidity can be extremely dangerous.  Selecting individuals for breeding that had the most “smushed in” muzzles created these breeds.  This then resulted in dogs with highly abnormal airways and excessive soft tissue formation in the throat.

The components of Brachycephalic Airway Disease are as follows:

  • Elongated Soft Palate – Through evolution these breed’s noses got pushed back and the soft palpate went with it.  As a result the soft palpate is too long for the throat and will intermittently obstruct the windpipe making it difficult to breathe.  This causes the dog to struggles to suck in air and over time the soft palate gets even longer making the problem even worse.
  • Stenotic Nares – This refers to the size of the dog’s nostrils.  If you look at the nose of a brachycephalic dog you will usually see two slits rather than nice oval openings as in non-brachycephalic dogs.  To see why this is a problem, I will ask you to lightly pinch your own nostrils, obstructing them just a bit and breathe deeply.  You should notice how much more difficult it is inhaling than with normal wide open nostrils.   Once again this causes the dog to struggle to breathe in which creates increased negative pressure in the throat adding to the elongation of the soft palate. 
  • Everted Laryngeal Saccules – These are two meaty clumps of soft tissue that normally sit on either side of the windpipe tucked out of the way.  With the constant negative pressure created by the above two conditions these pop into the throat and can further obstruct the trachea.
  • Hypoplastic Trachea – The trachea, also know as your windpipe, is a hollow tube and the entrance to the lungs.  Brachycephalic breeds are born with a very narrow trachea, which serves to limit airflow into the lungs.  Think about the difference in breathing normally verse trying to suck in air through a straw.
Crash the French Bulldog

I hope you can see from the above descriptions that brachycephalic breeds are not designed to breathe easily.  If you then consider that the main way a dog dissipates body heat is by panting you can see how these breeds can so easily and so quickly overheat.

Here is where the cool part of preventative medicine comes in!  We can help minimize and at times even prevent Brachycephalic Airway Disease.  The best time to start is when your dog is young, before too much damage has occurred.  At Friendship we recommend that at the time of spay or neuter all brachycephalic breeds have their stenotic nares widened and their soft palate evaluated to see if it needs to be shortened.  

Stenotic nares before

After repair - note how much more open the nostrils are

These two simple procedures can go a long way to helping your adorable smushy-faced friend enjoy the warm weather AND live a longer, more comfortable life.  Sounds like a win-win to me!