Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, A 2017 Update

The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study (GRLS) was launched five years ago with an impressive goal – to collect samples and data on 3000 plus golden retrievers throughout their lifetimes and use this data to identify the environmental, nutritional an genetic risk factors for cancer.

It started as a casual conversation between Bette Morris, the wife of the late Dr. Mark Morris, Jr, whose parents founded the Morris Animal Foundation and Dr. Rod Page, the director of the Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University. The idea quickly took off with the support from the scientific board of the Morris Animal Foundation and a pilot study launched to 2012, with the goal to enroll 3000 dogs across the continental U.S. The 3044 dogs originally enrolled in the study are called heroes and their canine counterparts at home are “study supporters”, many of whom are also Golden Retrievers. 

Full enrollment in the GRLS was reached by February of 2015 and 98 percent remain enrolled in the study, a feat in and of itself for a study of this magnitude. It is the largest, and longest, observational study ever attempted to date on veterinary subjects. 

As the study celebrates its five year anniversary, the GRLS team as begun early data analysis, presenting preliminary results and gearing up for scientific papers and additional studies as well as tangential research that may evolve from the original data.

The preliminary evidence suggests there is an association between the age of neuter and certain health outcomes, particularly obesity and orthopedic disease. Dr. Missy Simpson, Study Epidemiologist, has conducted analyses and the early data suggests a possible link between the age of spay/neuter and non-traumatic rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament (a common orthopedic disease). As the 3000 plus cohort ages, there will be additional data points observed to clarify these possible associations.

A nested study has begun within the larger study to examine the microbiomes (the bacterial communities) that reside in the gut. In humans, these intestinal microbiomes can be associated with obesity, diabetes and allergies. The initial findings suggest that there may be some differences in the ratios of bacteria when overweight dogs and normal weight dogs are compared. The team plans to study additional samples within the cohort to improve our understanding of the microbiomes and health in dogs.

We can anticipate large amounts of data analysis over the next five years with far more clarity regarding the links between certain conditions and disease. While some of the data may be particularly relevant to the Golden Retriever breed, it is expected that many of the associations and conclusions drawn will help us better understand the environmental, nutritional, lifestyle and genetic risk factors in all breeds of dogs, particularly in the association of these risk factors and cancer.

Quick Facts about the GRLS heroes

Average age >> 4.2 years

Youngest >> 2 years old

Oldest >> 7 years old

10% Urban, 30% Rural, 60% Suburban

Mortalities >> 52

Cancer Deaths >> 19

While it was inevitable that a lifetime study would involve loss and sorrow, we did not expect it quite so early in this journey. 
We have already lost over 50 young, beloved heroes - many to cancer. 
The study participants, the GRLS staff, and the many supporters of this seminal work share our sympathy and the grief of the owners who lost their heroes far too soon. From Cali to Peaches to Gatsby and all the others, we send our love over the Rainbow Bridge and thank you and your families for helping with this important study. Hopefully we will learn how to prevent such untimely deaths in your friends and those who will follow. A special hug for your families comes from us -  Keeva Rue, hero #707, and her father and study supporter, Stitch, send their Golden best.

You may help support this ground breaking study by donating to the Morris Animal Foundation and the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. To learn more, please visit

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Almost Four Years Ago....... The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study Introduction

This initial article regarding the Morris Animal Foundation's Golden Retriever Lifetime Study was authored in May of 2014, a little over a year after the study's inception.

The original content follows.....

The Morris Animal Foundation’s Canine Lifetime Health Project is seeking young, healthy Golden Retrievers and their owners as participants for a long term research study - the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study (GRLS) - to study the occurrence of cancer and other serious diseases in the Golden Retriever. The study results are expected to provide insights that could ultimately affect the health of many, if not all, breeds of dogs. The study needs committed owners to provide detailed information about their Golden Retriever including details such as diet, amount of exercise and environment. The study required the collection of various biological samples at least yearly accompanied by environmental data about each canine participant. The dog's only commitment is to provide samples such as hair trimmings, nail clippings, urine and blood samples. Should the participating Golden later develop a mass or tumor, a sample of that will be included in the study along with any samples sent in for pathology evaluation by the owner's veterinarian.
The Morris Animal Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 1948 to help improve the health and welfare of animals. In keeping with that mission, the Morris Animal Foundation has established the Canine Lifetime Health Project, a long term project to research important health issues of dogs. The first project under this umbrella is the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study and this will be the largest and longest observational study ever attempted to date. The goal is to recruit 3000 healthy young Golden Retrievers and monitor them for 10 to 14 years to identify genetic, environmental and nutritional risk factors for the development of cancer and other diseases. As an observational study, this will be a massive collection of data and critical evaluation of that data rather than any invasive action involving any individual.

Dr. Mark Morris founded the fledgling non-profit Morris Animal Foundation using monies earned from his revolutionary diet that he designed to help a seeing eye dog named Buddy. Buddy was one of the very first guide dogs and he suffered from kidney disease. Dr. Morris designed a food that helped improve his quality of life, the first of many specialized diets that became the foundation of the Hill's Prescription Diet® food line. Dr. Morris envisioned an organization that would help fund scientific discoveries to improve the lives and future health of animals and that vision has been realized through the Morris Animal Foundation.

My personal interest in this research project stems from multiple sources. Firstly, I own two Golden Retrievers who are beloved members of our family. But even more compelling is the pain and suffering I see daily as a veterinarian. Cancer is rampant in our older pets, and some not so old. The Golden Retriever is a very popular breed because of their lovely personalities, but they do suffer a higher than average rate of cancer and other diseases. The GRLS goal is to better understand the causes of these problems and thereby hopefully develop preventive approaches, and perhaps some cures. It is expected that the knowledge gained from this massive study will impact all dog breeds. Having just lost one of my beloved Dobermans to bone cancer, my heart is crying for answers about how we can prevent these losses. I see clients agonizing with their pets with cancer and chronic disease every day and so wish we had more solutions. I know as an owner of Golden Retrievers, I will likely wrestle with cancer again in the not too distant future. As a result, I am committed to do what I can to help find these desperately needed answers.
My golden youngster, Keeva Rue, is only fourteen months old now and a perfect candidate for the Lifetime Study. The study requires dogs enroll while they are under the age of two so that they can be followed throughout their lifetimes to gain the most data possible. There are some requirements of the study other than age. They do require a three generation pedigree as the inheritance pattern and familial predisposition to certain cancers and diseases will be evaluated also. Any AKC registered Golden should have adequate information on lineage in their database. If the dog isn't actually registered, but their parents are, the data can be pulled from the parent's records. Although the dogs enrolled in the GRLS must live in the continental United States, I had no difficulty enrolling Keeva Rue, whose mother is a registered Canadian beauty.

So, having heard of this study at a veterinary conference, I felt compelled to participate and I enrolled Keeva Rue shortly after she turned a year. The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study (GRLS) sent me all the information I needed as her owner along with a box filled with collection and sample materials. As her veterinarian, I also enrolled myself to participate in the study and comply with the strict collection guidelines. As a veterinarian, it's a bit of a labor intensive process handling all the samples and requirements and the participating veterinarian must register with the GRLS in advance. As for Keeva, it wasn't too big an ordeal and her biggest complaint was going without breakfast the morning we collected her samples! We collected her blood samples, fecal and urine samples and hair and nail clippings. We measured her weight and height and answered many detailed questions regarding her physical exam and medical history. As her owner, I also completed another questionnaire regarding the details of her diet, environment, activity level and behavior. Between the two, the study collect  s a massive amount of data.

As for those lab samples we couriered out, the GRLS did email a variety of lab results back to my hospital within a few days so we could include that data in Keeva's medical record. Thankfully, she is the picture of health thus far. But I know, one day, she may develop a simple mass or a serious cancer. As a study participant, I've agreed to send them a portion of any tumors we might remove, even if they are benign and to keep them informed of any health problems along the way. As long as there are no tumors or cancers, I simply repeat of the collection of samples and data once every year.

The veterinary team has a pretty labor intensive job collecting and sorting the various samples for shipping and preparing the many documents and completing the health questionnaires. The GRLS does reimburse the participating owners $75 to defray some of the cost of this service. Or, the owner may choose to cover the collection and participation costs and decline the $75 stipend, which puts it right back into the study coffers.  The study is largely funded by the Morris Family Foundation, but is also supported by the Golden Retriever Foundation, Hill's, Petco, Antech, Zoetis (pka Pfizer Animal Health) and the Blue Buffalo Foundation for Canine Research.

About a month after Keeva Rue's generous donation of samples and data, she received a nice unexpected package containing a new leash and collar, a notebook with study information and sections to collect her information over the years (for me) and a tote bag for her toys and treats when she travels. It was a thoughtful gesture in return for our efforts. But trust that we will continue to participate in this critical study expecting nothing in return in the years to come. I fervently hope that the committed owners of 3000 Golden Retrievers can make this effort to help scientists find solutions to some of our most pressing problems in canine health, most especially cancer.

An addendum with a 2017 update on this critical study will follow shortly....

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Leptospirosis - Potentially Deadly Pee

Leptospirosis, a disease common to many mammals, is caused by a type of bacterium called Leptospira. It seems to be on the rise in dogs the last few decades and has shifted from a rural disease to a suburban and even urban problem. 
Dr. Carsen Brandt of the Emergency and Critical Care Service at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicines has reported a tenfold increase in cases since 2013. There have been fairly recent outbreaks in Fresno, California and Denver, Colorado. Dr. Richard Goldstein of the Animal Medical Center in New York City says he sees cases of Lepto every week, including dogs that have never left Manhattan. So much for the image of this as a rural disease!

A typical scenario goes something like this….. a raccoon urinates in the grass in a suburban yard or a puddle in a park during the night. A dog then sniffs or licks at that curious odor while out for a walk the next day. Bingo, the dog has now been exposed to one of the eight strains of Leptospira bacteria that cause Leptospirosis in the dog. The bacteria quickly begin to replicate and move into various target tissues such as the kidneys, liver, spleen and central nervous system. The infected dog typically begins to show signs of illness within 7 days of exposure. The severity of the illness can vary considerably – from mild and vague symptoms to acute kidney failure to fairly sudden death.

 So, what other wildlife carry these Leptospira bacteria in their urine? In addition to the ever present raccoon, mice and rats are common carriers of Leptospira and this includes the ubiquitous wood rats and citrus rats that populate most of Florida. The opossum, skunk, deer, cow and pig can carry other infectious strains of Leptospira bacteria. There is some question as to whether squirrels are also carriers for Leptospira.

If a dog contracts Leptospirosis, what happens next? Unfortunately, the clinical symptoms of the disease are not very distinctive, making diagnosis trickier. The affected pet will usually be lethargic and have a poor appetite – they may or may not have a fever. The majority of affected animals will have some vomiting and about a third will have diarrhea and weight loss. None of this is terribly specific and it sounds like many other illnesses. Routine lab tests may show significant abnormalities in the urinalysis, as well as the kidney and liver values. None of these are terrifically specific either, but it does start to help narrow the diagnosis list. At this stage, the veterinarian is likely looking to test for Leptospirosis. The older Lepto test can take up to a week and won’t catch every patient. A newer type of test, an Elisa test, can be run right in the hospital in under 30 minutes. It’s still not perfect, but it will detect many patients right away.  A patient with these symptoms is likely already on intravenous fluids and medication to help with the vomiting and discomfort. A diagnosis of Leptospirosis indicates a need for very specific antibiotics as not all antibiotics will do the trick. If IV fluid support and the appropriate antibiotics are started in a timely manner, the prognosis is good and most patients (80 plus percent) will recover. If it takes longer to make the diagnosis due to the vague symptoms or a delay in seeking medical care, the dog may suffer kidney failure, but many can still be saved with dialysis. Not all will survive.

Did I mention that you can catch Leptospirosis too? Yes, it is actually one of the most common infectious diseases in humans worldwide. Thankfully, it is not common in humans in the U.S., at least outside of Hawaii. The odds of catching it directly from your dog are pretty slim, but if your dog has been diagnosed with Leptospirosis, your vet will give you detailed instructions on methods to protect yourself and family. You are far more likely to catch it from swimming in rivers, streams or walking through swampy water. In 2005, 44 out of 192 adventure racers in Tampa (23% of the participants) caught Leptospirosis from running through swampy water. There was an earlier outbreak in Illinois in Triathlon runners. Dogs can contract it directly from contaminated water as well.

Leptospirosis Bacteria - Scanning Microscope
Given the large population of potential wildlife carriers and the difficulty in diagnosing the disease early, prevention is a more prudent approach in the areas where Leptospirosis is a risk. The older vaccines (1970’s and 80’s) carried a higher risk of vaccine reaction and only covered two strains. Because of this, they had fallen out of favor in that era and were used only in the higher risk rural areas. Leptospirosis was labeled a non-core vaccine to use only for “at risk” populations. But the definition of which dogs are at risk seems to have shifted significantly in the last decade or two. The rural outdoor large breed dog that was the poster child for Leptospirosis in 1985 is now a fluffy suburban or urban Shih Tzu or Cocker Spaniel. We currently have Leptospirosis vaccines that protect for four strains and have a much lower risk of vaccine reaction than the older vaccines – they are more highly purified as vaccine manufacturing technology has evolved over the last 30 years.  Some internists believe that even though our current vaccines only include four of the Leptospira serovars, there may be cross reactivity and some protection from the other infective strains as well. Leptospirosis is very uncommon in vaccinated dogs, regardless of the strain or serovar of Leptospira bacteria involved. It is a series of two doses given 3-4 weeks apart and then yearly boosters.

If your pet tends to be sensitive to vaccines and you’re worried they may react, have this administered separate from any other injectable vaccines – the more vaccines given in one day, the higher the risk of a vaccine reaction, regardless of which specific vaccinations are given.

Given the changes in Leptopsirosis over the last few decades, from the shifts in which strains are causing disease and the populations of dogs being affected, it is time to rethink our approach to managing this dangerous disease. The vaccines are more protective and less reactive than ever before and our suburban house dogs are at a higher risk than we believed possible even twenty years ago. If your dog is not already protected from Leptospirosis, it may be time for a conversation with your veterinarian about the risk factors in your specific area and whether vaccination is appropriate for your beloved dogs. I can assure you that my dogs are vaccinated against this potentially deadly disease – raccoons, opossums and citrus rats are rampant in my suburban neighborhood and the risk of potential exposure is real, and all too scary to ignore.

Friday, March 10, 2017

International Veterinary Volunteerism with World Vets

World Vets is a young,  non-governmental U.S. based organization (NGO) that provides veterinary care and disaster relief throughout the world. Established in 2006, World Vets provides services through multiple programs such as veterinary field service projects, civil-military humanitarian aid, training programs and disaster relief.  Their mission statement is simple and direct: “To improve the health and well-being of animals, people and communities by providing veterinary aid and training in developing countries and by providing disaster relief worldwide.”

As a veteran of four overseas field service projects, I am impressed both with the breadth of the veterinary services World Vets provides and the dedication of the many volunteers who participate in these projects.

Field service projects are typically oriented towards a small animal or large animal focus and occasionally a mix of both.  Volunteers join these projects based on their experience, interests and the skills needed for the specific project. The field service projects are most often located in underdeveloped areas with limited veterinary resources and most are in communities that suffer from animal over-population. World Vets currently serves South and Central America, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, and Africa. North America has many resources and organizations to provide veterinary services, so World Vets limits its activity to disaster relief here.

The Albania Team
I recently participated in a World Vets pilot project to Shkodër, Albania. This was a typical small animal field service project providing spay/neuter clinics and medical care to dogs and cats. This was World Vets first trip to Albania, but likely not their last. The local rescue group, Animals Need Me, applied to World Vets for assistance and helped organize the project locally.

The World Vets team traveling to Albania was fairly typical for a pilot trip and consisted of a field service vet or leader, five veterinarians, three veterinary technicians, several veterinary students and vet-tech assistants from all over the world. Most of us had never met before, although a few of us were already acquainted from prior trips with World Vets.

We flew into the capital of Albania, Tirana, and then drove a few hours north to Shkodër, near the border to Montenegro. The driving in Albania is interesting as many drivers are relatively inexperienced and dodging bicycles, goats, and pedestrians is quite a sport. We stayed at a historic hotel, Hotel Tradita Geg & Tosk, first established in the 1600's. We spent the first day recovering from the lengthy travel and exploring Shkodër a bit. We visited the ancient Rozafa Castle which rises imposingly above the city between the rivers Bojana and Drin. Past communist government outlawed religion in 1967 and Albania was declared an atheist state. Following the decline of communism, religion has resurfaced including Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic faiths, which all seem to coexist quite peacefully. 
We enjoyed a lovely lunch our second day, during which we found a terribly injured, fragile kitten with an infected partially amputated limb. He obviously had suffered some horrific injury days earlier and appeared to be starving. Of course, we captured him, christened him Odie and acquired antibiotics from a local pharmacy for him.  We fed him baby food and tinned tuna - there was no cat food at the local grocery at all and we only saw a few small bags of dog kibble for sale anywhere. Two other volunteers found several stray dogs that also needed care and they spent the night with them in the parking area so they could bring them to the clinic the next day.

Waiting for Surgery & Vaccinations
The local rescue group, Animals Need Me, obtained access to an abandoned laboratory for our use, and we set up two surgery suites with five operating tables, an anesthesia induction area, and a post-op recovery room.  Amazingly, within just a few hours of starting the clinic, the group of 15 volunteers with very diverse backgrounds coalesced into an organized, efficient spay/neuter team. Volunteers from Animals Need Me and the Peace Corps helped us run the clinic and keep organized – a much appreciated addition of manpower. Speaking no Albanian ourselves, we were also very dependent upon them for translation skills!  While the World Vets team spoke at least five different languages between us, none of them shared any similarity to Albanian (also known as Shqip). We were fortunate that the Peace Corps volunteers received language training before starting their official tours and were tremendously helpful - as was the leader of Animals Need Me, Oli Pero.

Kitties Snoozing after Surgery
For three days we spayed and neutered dogs and cats, more than 200 in total. We also performed other surgeries such as tumor removals and wound treatment. Many of the dogs and cats we treated were owned but there was little to reflect that. Few had collars of any sort although one kitty had an adorable handmade necklace of wooden beads. Unfortunately, several of the dogs had mange and most had fleas and ticks - all received treatment for these parasites. We did have to remove a few ticks from ourselves between surgeries! Following surgery, the animals all received appropriate vaccinations, de-worming, topical parasite control and antibiotics. All of the medical and surgical care was provided at no cost to the pet owners or to the rescue group.
A Mom & Her Pups after Surgery

Canine population control in Albania consists of shooting strays that walk the streets or gather in the roundabouts, so most all of our canine patients were provided yellow ear tags to help identify them as animals of value and to reduce the risk of them being shot. Tolerance for cats is much higher than dogs and they seem to wander freely without such risk. In fact, there was quite an array of cats and kittens hanging out at our hotel. The hotel owner was grateful that we spayed, neutered, and immunized all of them as well.

Our Day Off in Montenegro
We all enjoyed relaxing after the final day of clinics and many of us spent our last day in country visiting the gorgeous coastal town of Montenegro to the north. Montenegro also seems to have a significant stray population so perhaps that will be the site of a future World Vets project. World Vets will be back in the Balkans next month with another pilot trip, this one to Romania. I wish I could join that one too!

World Vets is a wonderful non-profit organization doing fabulous work to help many animals in underdeveloped areas. Over 90 percent of donations received to help fund World Vets go directly toward animal care and service. While a young organization, they have already received much recognition and several awards including being a top rated charity by Great Non-Profits. 

If you are interested in supporting such work, just visit the World Vets site at If you are interested in information on volunteering for a project, see their volunteer opportunities page on the website for upcoming projects. Special training is not required to volunteer as an assistant.  You need only fortitude, the ability to travel and a desire to help animals. Volunteering with World Vets is tremendously rewarding and the experience is life changing for many participants. Perhaps I’ll see you on a future trip!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Good, the Bad and the Lumpy

Lumps and bumps seem to crop up everywhere on our middle-aged and older pups. You hear about these fatty lumps, but don’t know whether to worry or not. The most common masses we find on our dogs are lipomas. Lipomas are benign tumors comprised of a discrete collection of fat cells beneath the skin. The majority feel soft and squishy although some will feel harder if they are beneath muscle or other tissue. Lipomas are benign in that they do not spread to distant places, like metastasis to the lungs as so many cancers do. They typically will not recur when removed unless they are an unusual form referred to as an infiltrative lipoma. In those cases, the lipoma has actually infiltrated into the local tissue and is difficult to impossible to fully remove. Malignant fatty tumors, called liposarcomas, are thankfully rare as they are quite nasty and invasive.

The typical lipoma is round to oval and soft beneath the skin. They occur most often on the trunk of the body and less often on the legs or head. Although they are not malignant, they can still cause a fair bit of trouble. They are capable of growing to impressive sizes and often appear in awkward spots like beneath the foreleg (the dog version of an armpit). In some locations they can disrupt the dog’s gait or change the angle of the limb which affects joints and movement. Others simply grow to pretty amazing size and cause discomfort and mobility problems due to their sheer size. They can easily weight 3 to 5 pounds and cause a dog to list to one side! When lipomas create these sorts of problems, removal is mandatory even though they are officially “benign”. Of course, it’s easier to do this before they reach such size, but because they are benign, we are often tempted to ignore them. If sudden growth is noted or if the location affects limb movement, it’s ideal to get them off before they get too sizable.

The other problem we can encounter is mistakenly thinking a lump is a benign lipoma based on how it feels when it is really something else altogether. The safest bet is to have a small aspirate taken from every subcutaneous mass when they first appear (or if they suddenly start to grow quickly) to determine if the contents are fat or not. It’s a simple in-office procedure for your veterinarian to draw a bit of material into a very small needle (think injection in reverse) and then put that sample on a slide for the pathologist to review. Anything that is not clearly fat should be examined by a pathologist as there are some really dangerous subcutaneous masses than can appear on our dogs. And unfortunately, they often don’t look particularly scary on the outside. The pathologist can generally guide us regarding the cell type of the mass and whether it is benign or malignant from that fine needle aspirate sample although occasionally they need a full tissue biopsy to make the diagnosis. As you might expect, the earlier the mass removal is performed (and the smaller the mass), the easier the surgery is for the dog and the better the prognosis will be for tumors that are malignant 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Acupuncture and Animals

Acupuncture is a therapeutic option for many veterinary health problems, most especially pain. It was originally believed to be based on energy flow through the body and has been practiced for thousands of years.

The science is now pretty clear and much of the benefit of acupuncture can be verified with functional MRI. During acupuncture, very thin needles are carefully inserted to stimulate nerves in specific locations – this impacts correlating organs or areas of the body based on the specific acupuncture point. Acupuncture points are located at places where nerves are accessible and quite often are where nerve bundles and blood vessels come together. At a physiologic level, a great deal happens when those skinny little needles are inserted. The effect of acupuncture is often referred to as neuromodulation because of the impact on the nerves and the entire neurological system during the process. The primary goal of acupuncture is to promote the body to heal itself. Many things occur during acupuncture to make this happen and neuromodulation is a complex series of events that occur with appropriate acupuncture point stimulation.

·        Acupuncture stimulates the release of the body's own pain relieving substances such as endorphins.
·        Acupuncture can stimulate the release of anti-inflammatory substances to facilitate pain relief and healing.
·        Muscle spasms and myofascial trigger points in the muscles can be released at the site of needle insertion.
·        Acupuncture stimulates tissue blood flow, oxygenation and removal of metabolic wastes and toxins.

Acupuncture probably does even more than this and research is continuing in an attempt to fully characterize all the benefits of acupuncture. How can these complex physiologic responses to acupuncture be used to help our pets?

·        Pain Management is one of the most common indications for acupuncture, in humans and animals. It can be used alone or in combination with traditional techniques for pain associated with arthritis, hip dysplasia, surgery, cancer, trauma or injury and intervertebral disk disease, a common and very painful condition of the spine. It can also be used for pain not associated with the musculoskeletal system such as pain associated with the bladder, pancreas and other organs.
·        Neurological problems such as loss of motor function due to a ruptured disk or trauma to a nerve can respond very well to acupuncture.
·        Skin problems such as lick granulomas or hot spots may respond well to acupuncture.
·        Gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, diarrhea and digestive imbalances can respond to the increased blood flow and stimulation of acupuncture.
·        Respiratory problems such as asthma can benefit from the neuromodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture.
·        Elimination disorders such as fecal and urinary incontinence can be addressed with acupuncture & electroacupuncture.
·        Acupuncture can be used as part of a preventive care program (as is common in China) including helping athletes (agility, dock diving, lure coursing) stay in top physical condition.

Most pets do remarkably well with acupuncture. We generally start with calming points that promote relaxation followed by the specific acupuncture points indicated by the treatment plan. Some animals actually start to fall asleep during treatment! Acupuncture has been used in virtually every species from dogs and cats to rabbits, lizards, snakes, horses, goats and many exotic species.

Acupuncture is very safe and side effects are quite uncommon. It can be used alone or in combination with supplements and drug therapy without any fear of a negative interaction with those compounds.

For an acute injury or problem, acupuncture may be performed only once or twice. For a chronic issue such as osteoarthritis or spinal pain, the treatment will typically start with frequent sessions (2-3 per week) followed by a gradual reduction in frequency as the pet improves. Neurological issues may require an aggressive schedule initially with a rapid decrease if the response is favorable. Some patients will receive electroacupuncture, often abbreviated as E-stim. The additional of electrical stimulation to the acupuncture points can amplify the body's response to acupuncture and is especially helpful in neurologic problems such as paralysis. Acupuncture is also often combined with therapeutic laser for many of the conditions listed above.

Acupuncture in animals must be performed by a licensed veterinarian as understanding the specific anatomy of the species is critical to successful acupuncture as well as to prevent harm. Ideally, it should be performed by individuals with extensive post-graduate training in veterinary acupuncture, preferably those certified to perform acupuncture by one of the small number of internationally recognized veterinary acupuncture training programs.

Acupuncture can open new doors to treating our animals by allowing us to harness and direct their own healing powers to facilitate pain control and recovery from a variety of health problems. It can provide additional treatment options for those patients who don’t tolerate certain medications and can also be used in combination with medications and other therapies to optimize patient care and facilitate successful outcomes for our pets.

Acupuncture - when ancient art meets modern science - giving us the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Beneful dog food, is it dangerous or not??

Ah, Purina's Beneful brand of dog food is in the news again. It appears some folks in California have decided to sue Purina claiming that Beneful killed their dogs. It is officially a class action suit with attorneys encouraging others to join in the lawsuit. So, what's the real scoop?
After you remove all of the hype and hoopla, there's not much left. That is evidence, at least. Thus far, there has been no scientific or laboratory evidence produced to indicate that the pet food was in any way toxic or harmful or actually caused any pet's death. One claimant had fed Beneful for 3 years before his dog died, supposedly as a result of the food. I'm not clear why the first three years of Beneful were supposedly fine and then suddenly it wasn't. But remember, one doesn't have to provide any proof to file a lawsuit - you just need an attorney willing to file the lawsuit. And Purina has very deep pockets that may look inviting to some.

Meanwhile, part of the accusation is that Beneful contains antifreeze. Hmm, not hardly or every pet would die from eating it as antifreeze is very toxic to all mammals. It does contain minute amounts of propylene glycol, which is FDA approved as a food additive.

Propylene glycol is closely related to ethylene glycol, or antifreeze, but so is ethanol, which does not make them interchangeable. There is a brand of antifreeze made from propylene glycol, but it's nearly pure, not trace amounts added to a food product.You might actually be surprised to know how many food products do contain small amounts of propylene glycol as it is regarded as a safe food additive. Some examples include certain salad dressings, packaged frosting, flavored iced teas, food colorings, cake mixes and some ice creams, including several flavors from Cold Stone Creamery. Hmmm, this doesn't sound terribly toxic now, does it?

So why sue Purina? The cynic in me wonders if it's just the perceived deep pockets and the hope that they'll pay people off to stop the bad publicity. More likely, this may just be anger and frustration over losing a beloved pet and a hurting human seeking a rational reason for their loss. Anger is a normal phase of grief and blame is not an unusual part of the grieving process. The folks who've lost their pets deserve our sympathy while I can't say the same for the attorneys facilitating these nuisance suits.

So, as a veterinarian, would I stop feeding Beneful? Nope, but to be truthful, I've never fed it anyway. Beneful is not an especially healthful food compared to many of the excellent dog food options available, so it's never been in my pantry. The package looks like healthy food and  is appealing to consumers, but the food itself is not so impressive. It has, however, passed an AAFCO feeding trial as being nutritionally complete and adequate for adult dogs. So, it's not a food I recommend to my clients, but is it killing dogs? There's nothing to indicate that it is harming any animals and an awful of of people are looking for anything in the way of evidence. We'll continue to watch this closely, but thus far, it appears to be all smoke and no substance.

And do keep in mind the undeniable truth... most dogs did eat some brand of food in the day or days before they died. Sad as their passing is for each of us, that doesn't mean the food caused their death anymore than drinking water or chewing on a toy or walking on the grass was the cause of their demise. Grief does strange things to people and this lawsuit may just be the result of those painful feelings that many animal lovers have experienced themselves.