Meet and Greet?
You and your dog may want to make friends with others, but canine and human etiquette dictate a cautious approach
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
I was walking my dogs around our apartment complex when I saw the woman with the black pug approaching. I quickly turned around before my dogs saw hers — and vice versa — and created a ruckus. I was stunned when she ran after us, her dog barking and snarling all the way, stopped close to my now barking and snarling dogs, and asked, “Are they friendly?”
“No!” I replied, as I pulled my dogs away.
That’s not exactly true, but it worked to get us out of the situation. Outside our complex, my dogs ignore others because they aren’t patrolling “their” territory. Inside it, however, they view other dogs as unwelcome invaders, so I keep an eagle eye out for people walking their dogs and do my best to avoid them.
Lots of people, like my neighbor, want their dogs to meet and greet other people and dogs, but for many dog owners, that’s not a desirable event, for a number of reasons:
— Their dogs may be reactive to other dogs — even if they’re not on their own territory.
— Some dogs are fearful of people, especially quick-moving children or people in uniform, to name just two common fears.
— Dogs who are elderly or recovering from an illness could be stressed or even injured by an overenthusiastic greeting from a young or ill-mannered dog.
Just being on a leash and walking in an area with distractions such as traffic or other dogs can be stressful for even the best-behaved dog. He’s restrained by the leash and all his senses are on alert as he walks. Being approached by an off-leash dog or one on a retractable leash can set off his canine defense system, resulting in barking, snarling and lunging.
“Even very friendly dogs, when they know they’re on-leash, they’re not really in the mood to stop and make a new friend,” says veterinary behaviorist Karen van Haaften, DVM, at the British Columbia SPCA in Vancouver, Canada. “I wouldn’t want to stop and have a deep conversation with every person I walk by on the street. That’s exhausting.”
What’s a dog lover to do? If you’re the person approaching — because you love cavaliers or Labs or spotted dogs, or you want your dog to have some friendly canine interaction — stop! From a distance, call out and ask, “Does your dog want to meet another dog?”
If the answer is no, accept it and move on, keeping out of the other dog’s space. Don’t insist, saying “My dog’s friendly!” You’re likely to get the response “My dog’s not” — or “I’m not.”
Rule of paw? “Don’t let your dog approach another dog unless you’re specifically asked or given permission by the other person,” Dr. van Haaften says.
If you’re the person being approached and you want to avoid human or canine interaction with your dog, practice assertiveness and avoidance techniques. Body language is your friend, too. The simplest way to ward off people approaching with dogs or children is to hold your hand out, palm up, in the universal signal for “Stop!” Turn aside, avoiding eye contact, and ask your dog to sit or perform some other cue until the other person passes. Or simply turn around and go the other way.
When firmer measures are called for, tried-and-true responses include saying the following:
— “He’s contagious.” (You don’t have to say for what.)
— “We’re in training; please don’t pet her.”
— “She’s working.”
— “He bites.”
— “She is fearful of other dogs (or children or people in hats or uniforms).”
— “Reel your dog in now,” for uncontrolled dogs on extendable leashes.
— “He’s not dog-friendly.”
— “Back away.”
— “No,” or “Stop.”
Want to make friends with a cat? Read on to learn the secret
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
When we visited family in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a couple of years ago, we received two different receptions from their cats. Lucy struck up a friendship with us right away, but Lilu was more cautious. Maybe it was the lingering scent of dog clinging to our clothes. By the next morning, though, she sat next to me on the kitchen island while I prepared my tea.
Last month, I visited my mother, who had recently acquired a new cat. Tracy, a pretty but shy lynx-point Siamese, ran as soon as she saw me walk in the door. She continued to do so any time I made a move, but by the next evening, she was content to stay in my presence — and even jumped up on a chair and let me pet her.
What’s the secret to getting a cat’s attention and trust? Play hard to get.
That’s right. Ignoring a cat is the quickest way to gain his interest and display your expert-level knowledge of feline etiquette. People who dislike cats often wonder why cats seek them out. It’s because cats appreciate people who don’t approach them and instead let cats make the first move.
Wailani Sung, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist at San Francisco SPCA, explains why. She says that while cats are predators of small creatures, they are also prey to larger predators. To protect themselves, they prefer to wait and watch when strangers enter their territory.
“They like to take a step back and assess the newcomer to determine if the person exhibits any threatening body language toward them,” she says.
When I visit a home with cats, I’m careful to avoid eye contact with them. Feline body language is subtle. While humans consider a direct glance an indication of polite interest, in “felinese” it’s an act of aggression. Reaching toward a cat is also impolite. Whenever possible, I take a path through the house that won’t take me near the cat.
To improve Tracy’s opinion of me, I volunteered to set down her food bowl when it was mealtime, still careful not to look at her. I refilled her water dish and scooped her litter box. I turned on her favorite plaything, an electronic spinning toy that she enjoyed batting. The next evening, when I was standing by Mom’s recliner, Tracy jumped onto it, seemingly unconcerned by my proximity.
“When the cat decides to come over, I usually stick my index finger out and allow the cat to sniff,” Dr. Sung says. “The cat can get my scent and decide if he is going to be friendly or not.”
Cats that decide to be friendly may rub your finger with their cheek. If a cat allows you to pet him, stroke the side of the face, beneath the chin or along the side. Those are the areas cats focus on when they interact physically, greeting each other with nose touches and rubbing with the sides of the face and body. Cats that are still unsure about you may pull back or, if they’re especially uncomfortable, hiss before moving away. Give them more time.
There are other ways to attract a reluctant cat. It’s never a bad idea to offer treats to gain a cat’s favor, but be polite about it.
“Instead of expecting the cat to take the treat from your finger, allow the cat to sniff the treat and then place it on the ground,” Dr. Sung says.
Some cats require multiple visits before they become accustomed to your face, not to mention your scent and the sound of your voice. Be patient, and there’s a good chance that sooner rather than later they’ll favor you with their attention. But only on their terms, not yours.
You might think canine parvovirus is a disease of the past, but it’s still around
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Shannon Gillespie knew something was wrong when her 23-month-old border collie, Soda, didn’t want to eat and wasn’t energetic.
“She’s nonstop at home,” Gillespie says. “I took her to the vet because her not eating and being less active was just not normal.”
Soda had a fever and lab work showed that her white blood cell count was high, so she was clearly fighting off something. The veterinarian administered IV fluids and prescribed antibiotics to help ward off any infection.
The next night Soda had diarrhea, and when Gillespie took her back to the vet, they knew exactly what the problem was based on the distinctive odor of the diarrhea: Soda had parvovirus. An in-office test for the disease quickly confirmed the diagnosis.
Parvo first appeared 40 years ago, in 1978. There is a vaccine against it, but the disease is still seen frequently, says Colin R. Parrish, Ph.D., John M. Olin professor of virology at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
That can occur for several reasons. One is that no vaccine is 100 percent effective. In rare cases, some individuals fail to mount adequate antibody levels to routine vaccines. That may have been the case with Soda. Some puppies don’t receive vaccinations. And finally, maternal immunity — maternal antibodies passed from mother to pups — can interfere with a vaccine’s effectiveness.
“One of the things we’ve become aware of in the last few years is that the duration of maternal immunity is actually longer than people used to think it was,” Dr. Parrish says. “The old rule used to be that once the puppy was 12 weeks old, you could give the last vaccination and the puppy would be protected.”
Now, he says, in 20 to 30 percent of puppies, maternal immunity may persist until 16 to 20 weeks of age. The protection provided by maternal antibodies fades, but is still enough to prevent complete immunization by the vaccine.
To ensure adequate protection, puppies should receive a dose of canine parvovirus vaccine when they are 14 to 16 weeks old, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Dogs in a high-risk environment — such as a shelter or who have significant exposure to other dogs or contaminated environments — may benefit from a final dose when they are 18 to 20 weeks old.
Parvo is deadly. It usually strikes puppies but can occur at any age. Signs include lethargy, appetite loss, abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and severe, sometimes bloody, diarrhea. The virus attacks the intestines, and it’s the sloughing of the intestinal lining that causes the characteristic smell of the diarrhea.
There’s no cure — only supportive treatment such as IV fluids to help maintain hydration and antibiotics to ward off secondary bacterial infections. Soda was too weak to eat, and required a nasoesophageal feeding tube to receive nutrition. Her diarrhea was so frequent that she required 11 days of hospitalization so she could receive round-the-clock care. She developed skin rashes on her hips, so those areas had to be shaved and treated. She needed medication for nausea and pain.
That level of care is expensive. Depending on the length of time the dog is hospitalized, the cost can run into the thousands of dollars.
The virus can survive in an indoor environment for two months and outdoors for months or years. Gillespie treated her car, clothing, the inside of her home and her yard with disinfectant to kill the virus. She quarantined all four of her dogs at home to help prevent spreading the virus. It took three months for Soda to fully recover and be declared free of the disease.
DNA tells story behind blue eyes
• Siberian huskies are known for their striking blue eyes, and researchers may have discovered the source of the trait, thanks to dog DNA testing. A study published earlier this month in the open-access journal PLOS Genetics looked at a panel of more than 6,000 genetically tested dogs whose owners provided phenotypic (appearance) information such as eye color about their pets. They found that a duplication on canine chromosome 18 was strongly associated with blue eye color in Siberian huskies, as well as with blue eye color in non-merle Australian shepherds. Scientists at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine partnered with dog DNA company Embark to make the discovery. In a blog post, senior scientist Aaron Sams wrote, “While more work will need to be done to figure out exactly how this duplication leads to the development of blue eyes, we think that this duplication may disrupt the process by which pigment is deposited in the iris of the eye during development.”
• The demand for veterinary specialists such as radiologists, cardiologists and more is outstripping supply, according to a report earlier this month in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. In highest demand are internal medicine, surgery and emergency and critical care specialists, but more veterinary ophthalmologists, dermatologists and dentists are needed as well.
• It’s not too late to celebrate Adopt-A-Dog Month, sponsored by the American Humane Association; Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month, sponsored by the ASPCA; National Animal Safety and Protection Month; National Pet Wellness Month; National Pit Bull Awareness Month; National Service Dog Month; and on October 29, National Cat Day. Ways to mark the occasions include adopting a pet; volunteering time at a shelter; handing out information about pet care, health or adoptions to friends, family and neighbors; and sharing profiles of adoptable pets on social networks. — Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
Cats make themselves at home in graveyards for a variety of reasons, both practical and — maybe — supernatural
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
During a recent stroll through La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I spied one of the resting ground’s residents. Not a ghost or zombie, but clearly a permanent resident: a cat curled up in front of one of the mausoleums.
What is it about cats and cemeteries? Cats have made homes in them around the world. Cimetiere des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques (otherwise known as the Paris pet cemetery) isn’t just a resting place for deceased pets. Feral cats wend their way through tombstones or nap inside crypts, one of which has little cat-shaped entrances (or are they exits for kitty ghosts?). Inside a small building, living cats can find shelter and food, and water flows from a fountain.
At Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, feral cats snooze among the stars — movie stars, that is — enjoying food, water and shelter provided by cemetery management.
Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo is located in an area known as “cat town.” Community cats greet cemetery visitors and are cared for by volunteers.
Cats hang out at the graves of rock star Jim Morrison and French writer Colette — a noted cat lover — as well as at many other burial spots in Paris’ Pere Lachaise. They even have their own Facebook page, the Cats of Pere Lachaise.
Rome’s Non-Catholic Cemetery, also known as the Protestant Cemetery, has a managed colony of feral and stray cats. Perhaps they’re admirers of one of the cemetery’s other residents, English Romantic poet John Keats, who penned the sonnet “To Mrs. Reynolds’ Cat.”
Your own local cemeteries likely house a clowder of cats. When you think about it, cemeteries have a lot of appeal for felines: They’re quiet, with little traffic, and offer shelter from the elements. Tombs make a nice vantage point — it’s easy to see the approach of other animals or humans from the top of one — or serve as a launchpad into a tree. Grassy lawns or stone markers warmed by the sun are a pleasant place to catnap. If meals aren’t provided by volunteers, mice, squirrels and rabbits probably provide good hunting. There’s little risk from dogs or other predators, and plenty of hiding places if necessary.
“Cemeteries are quiet, and the cats are under no threat there,” says Luz Damron, author of the upcoming memoir “The Cat Lady of Baltimore,” the story of her struggles to help keep stray cats safe.
Veterinary behaviorist Wailani Sung, at San Francisco SPCA, agrees. “I would suspect it is due to lower risks from predators and disturbance from human population,” she says. “Most cemeteries are quiet and fenced off, so it is similar to being in a rural setting amid an urban environment.”
And who knows? Cats may feel at home in cemeteries because of their long association with transformation and the afterlife. In Finnish mythology, cats escorted the souls of the dead to the underworld. Celtic mythology has cats guarding the gates to the otherworld. Babylonians believed a benevolent cat accompanied the souls of priests to the afterlife. A Greek myth tells of a servant bold enough to trick the goddess Hera. She was punished by being turned into a cat and sent to the underworld to serve Hecate, goddess of restless spirits and entranceways. In Thailand, it was said that the souls of kings who died passed into the body of a Siamese cat so that the former king could appear at the coronation of his successor.
Whether cemetery cats are communing with the spirits, exercising their role as spirit guides, or simply enjoying the good life in surroundings populated by the dead, they are a living reminder of the millennia-old bond between cats and humans — even beyond the veil.
Keep Pets Safe this Halloween
Halloween isn’t just for humans; four-legged friends have plenty of opportunity to get in on the fun, too. However, it’s important to take some pet precautions that allow the whole family to enjoy the holiday safely, as the costumes and excitement can be overwhelming and some of the candy is even dangerous.
As you’re filling the candy buckets and assembling the perfect costumes, be sure to heed these tips from the experts at PetSmart for a Halloween filled with pet-friendly fun:
Out and about
Make sure pets have proper identification by microchipping and registering your pet’s microchip, and keeping identification and registration tags on their collars. This is especially important around Halloween, when open doors offer more opportunity for escape.
If your pet will be joining the family while trick-or-treating, be sure they are visible to motorists by using a reflective collar, harness or leash.
Just like with children, there are safety issues to consider when costuming your pets. Not all dogs like wearing clothes and some may become stressed or agitated while wearing a costume or sweater. However, many dogs just need a little coaxing and positive reinforcement.
• Start with a simple accessory, like a bandana, working your way up to a costume.
• Make sure costumes include eye and ear holes, and if they don’t, consider removing whole portions of the costume to ensure your pet’s ability to see, hear and breathe. Make sure there isn’t anything that could be a tripping hazard. Also, be sure to check the costume for little parts within biting or chewing distance.
• Dogs can overheat easily, so ensure your dog’s clothing is not too bulky or heavy if the weather is warm.
• In the end, the top priority should be your pet’s comfort level.
Hazardous food and decorations
“It’s fun to include our pets in our celebrations, but it’s also important to be aware of the dangers associated with Halloween to ensure their safety,” said Jennifer Freeman, DVM, PetSmart’s resident veterinarian and pet care expert. “Keep chocolate and candy out of paws’ reach. Xylitol, a sugar substitute found in candy, gum, mints and baked goods, is toxic to pets and can cause liver damage.”
Keep the Halloween fun going by establishing some rules for your family and any guests joining the festivities:
• Xylitol can be extremely dangerous to pets, even in small amounts. Just 1/8 teaspoon can cause dangerously low blood sugar in dogs and 1/2 teaspoon can cause liver damage. If xylitol is consumed by your pet, take him or her to a veterinarian immediately.
• Natural stimulants in chocolate can cause a range of symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea and abnormal heart rhythm.
• Raisins may cause a toxic reaction in dogs from vomiting to kidney failure.
• Cellophane, plastic and paper from candy wrappers and lollipop sticks can cause gastrointestinal upset.
• As an alternative to sharing dangerous snacks, stock up on some seasonal dog-friendly treats and set out a pet-specific bowl.
Seasonal decorations can also pose a threat:
• Fall decorations like jack-o’-lanterns can cause gastrointestinal upset.
• Glow sticks can cause irritation, agitation and vomiting.
• Hot wax and flames from candles can potentially burn your pet’s nose, tongue or tail.
Don’t forget the fun
Despite some concerns, Halloween can still provide fun moments for your pet:
• Take your dog along for trick-or-treating.
• Allow your four-legged friend to greet trick-or-treaters at the door.
• Encourage friends to dress up their pets and join the festivities.
Find more tips and tricks for keeping your pets safe this Halloween at PetSmart.com.
Dogs perform a variety of tasks on a working ranch in Patagonia, Chile
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
In Patagonia, the sheep are hardy, and the dogs are hardier. At Cerro Negro Estancia (Black Hill Ranch), halfway between Punta Arenas and Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, sheep are managed by a team of gauchos, herding dogs and flock guardian dogs. Together, they drive the sheep from winter to summer pastures and back again, direct them through chutes into stalls to be shorn of their heavy coats, and protect them from predators.
The current reigning member of the team is Manta, a cross between a border collie and a Patagonian dog called a barbucho, also known as a Magellan sheepdog. Barbuchos are typically used with cattle, but when crossed with border collies, they make good sheepdogs.
The cross combines the cleverness and trainability of the border collie with the endurance and weather-resistant coat of the barbucho. The goal is to create a working dog with traits suited to the climate and type of livestock worked.
Breed is less important than behavior. If a dog has good working ability, he or she is brought into the gene pool.
The result, in Manta’s case anyway, is a dog with the black-and-white coloring of a border collie but a wirier coat and an ability to do anything she’s asked — at least as long as it doesn’t require opposable thumbs or speech.
One dog can work up to 300 sheep. With about 4,000 sheep on the ranch, plus some 300 head of cattle, a number of dogs stay busy. At 7 years of age, Manta is still going strong, but younger dogs are in training to take over her job. Other puppies go to neighboring estancias, where they are in high demand.
Manta doesn’t work alone. She’s aided by Great Pyrenees dogs who act as enforcers against the region’s primary predator: the puma. The 3-year-old Great Pyrenees who greeted us at the estancia is a friendly family pet, but her relatives who guard flocks on the ranch don’t take any guff from the big cats, and they aren’t especially fond of people, either.
Brought up with lambs from an early age, the 80- to 120-pound dogs are fierce protectors of their woolly charges. They work independently, and a pair of them stay in the field with flocks for days at a time. Their presence alone is often enough to deter pumas and send them packing to seek easier prey. That’s good for the ranchers, the sheep and the pumas themselves, who otherwise risk being shot for killing livestock — money on the hoof.
The Great Pyrenees originated in France, where the breed was used to protect flocks from wolves. The Kusanovic family, the owners of Cerro Negro, traveled widely and became familiar with the majestic white dogs in other countries. When they needed a guardian breed for their sheep, the Great Pyrenees was a natural choice, with a weather-resistant coat that allows them to thrive in cold weather and a serious, protective nature.
Now they breed the dogs for themselves as well as selling them to other estancia owners, who appreciate the protection from puma predation. The pumas might not like it so much, but it protects them from being shot, and that’s an important boost to the local economy, where puma trekking by wildlife enthusiasts is taking off.
Visitors to Patagonia can see Manta and dogs like her demonstrate their abilities on estancias that offer tours, as well as at local shearing festivals, which usually run from October to the end of January (summer in the southern hemisphere).
FDA warning: Seizure risk from some flea, tick drugs
• Check the flea and tick preventives you’ve been giving to your dogs and cats. The United States Food and Drug Administration warned last month that products containing isoxazoline, including Bravecto, Nexgard and Simparica, have been linked to muscle tremors, ataxia and seizures in some animals. Another product in this class, Credelio, was recently approved by the FDA. Manufacturers and the FDA are working to provide new label information warning of potential neurological events to help veterinarians and pet owners decide if a product is appropriate. Seizures are most likely in pets with a prior history of them, according to the FDA.
• Fans around the world bid a sad farewell last month to Uno, the beagle who won hearts after his 2008 Best in Show win at Westminster, becoming the first of his breed to take the coveted title. The personable hound spent the next year and more touring the country as an “ambassadog,” visiting the White House, riding on the Peanuts float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and, as a registered therapy dog, visiting children at Ronald McDonald Houses around the country, accompanied by his biggest fan, David Frei, longtime co-host of USA Network’s Westminster telecast. The top-winning 15-inch beagle was 13 years old.
• You may have seen a photo on social media of a black cat with white spotting, giving him a marbled appearance. His owners believe the cat’s unusual-looking coat may be the result of a hereditary or familial pigmentary abnormality called vitiligo: depigmentation of the skin that can also affect coat color. No treatment is available, but fortunately the condition is not harmful. It is also seen in Arabian horses and some dog breeds, including Belgian Tervuren and Rottweilers, and can also affect the appearance of claws and hooves. — Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and
50 Years for Winn
Better health and care for cats is a lodestar for Winn Feline Foundation
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
When you feed your cat; purchase a Maine coon or ragdoll kitten who doesn’t have a mutation for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the most commonly diagnosed form of heart disease in cats; or have your cat’s diabetes reversed through a change in diet, you’re benefiting from research funded by the Winn Feline Foundation (winnfelinefoundation.org), which is celebrating its golden anniversary of helping cats.
The organization, founded in December 1968 with a $125 donation from the Cat Fanciers Association, has grown into an internationally recognized force for feline health research and education. More than $6 million later, Winn has supported scientists studying chronic kidney disease in cats, feline infectious peritonitis and stem cell therapy for managing inflammatory conditions such as chronic gingival stomatitis. Its successes are well-known to informed cat lovers.
“Their work on kidney atrophy and disease in Persians and exotics is important and gives me hope that there will be a cure someday for polycystic kidney disease (PKD),” says Dee Dee Drake, executive director of Calaveras Humane Society in California.
Discoveries by Winn-funded researchers now allow cat breeders to test for PKD and breed away from it in their lines. Testing also allows the disease to be identified earlier in a cat’s life. The disease can’t be halted, but early identification means cats can be treated for loss of kidney function at an earlier stage of disease. And because Persians have been used in breeding programs for other breeds, such as exotics — the Persian’s shorthaired cousin — those breeds benefit as well.
Cat breeder Lorraine Shelton cites evidence-based research showing that early-age spay and neuter surgery is safe in cats. While there is evidence in dogs that early-age spay and neuter poses health risks, studies in cats have not uncovered negative side effects.
But for many cat owners, the word most associated with Winn is “taurine.” In 1987, the organization took a chance on veterinary cardiologist Paul Pion’s hypothesis that a deficiency of taurine in cat foods was linked to the high incidence of dilated cardiomyopathy and funded his research on an emergency basis. He was correct, and now cat foods are formulated to meet the feline need for taurine. Today, most veterinarians don’t see cats with dilated cardiomyopathy except in unusual situations, says Vicki Thayer, DVM, Winn’s executive director.
Pain relief and the effects of stress on cats are also important to feline health and welfare. At Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Elena Contreras, DVM, and Michael Lappin, DVM, are studying whether concentrations of cortisol — one of the “stress” hormones — in fur and nails can provide veterinarians with a simple, accurate way to measure and diagnose chronic stress in cats.
And at North Carolina State University, Santosh Mishra, Ph.D., and Duncan Lascelles, Ph.D., MRCVS, are using a grant from Winn to study degenerative joint disease-associated pain and hypersensitivity in cats. Much of Dr. Lascelles’ research focuses on ways veterinarians can recognize and manage pain in cats.
“These types of studies are critical to veterinarians who want to reduce the stress cats experience in the exam room as well as provide better pain relief for cats with osteoarthritis, which is a more common problem than people realize,” says Marty Becker, DVM, founder of the Fear Free organization, which has the goal of reducing fear, anxiety and stress associated with pet health care.
Starting this month, Winn begins a focus on raising money for research into chronic kidney disease, a common problem in aging cats.
“A lot of people have shown that they are concerned about chronic kidney disease in cats, so we want to do a matching fund to see if we can support more kidney-disease research,” Dr. Thayer says.
Photo Caption: Cats are the No. 1 pet throughout the world, so feline health research is important to many people.
Mystery of the Heart
What’s causing unusual cases of dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs? Dietary ingredients, lack of taurine are potential culprits, but the answer remains elusive
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
For several months, the United States Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, in partnership with independent diagnostic laboratories and veterinary cardiologists and nutritionists, has been investigating reports of a trend that began at least two years ago: Some 150 or more dogs (and at least seven cats) that ate pet foods containing plant-based sources of protein among their main ingredients have developed dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).
Canine DCM is a disease of the heart muscle that causes the heart to enlarge and decreases its ability to pump blood, often leading to congestive heart failure. It has a number of possible causes, including genetic predisposition, infection or toxins, and diet — in particular, a lack of taurine. Here’s what is known so far.
The reported cases of DCM are unusual because they are occurring in breeds such as golden and Labrador retrievers, whippets, a Shih Tzu, a bulldog, miniature schnauzers and mixed breeds, none of which are typically prone to the genetic form of the disease. (Breeds genetically predisposed to DCM include Doberman pinschers, Great Danes and boxers. Cases of DCM responsive to taurine supplementation have been reported in cocker spaniels.)
Reported cases are also unusual because many of the dogs consistently ate what are popularly described as “grain-free” foods, with high levels of legumes such as peas, beans and lentils; legume seeds (known as pulses); potatoes; or foods with exotic protein sources such as kangaroo.
Investigators have so far been unable to determine why these ingredients might be linked to cases of DCM. In some cases, dogs had not eaten any other food for months or years before exhibiting signs of DCM.
At least four dogs in reported cases had low blood levels of taurine, an amino acid that helps power “excitable” tissues such as the brain, skeletal muscles, retina and heart. Taurine deficiency is documented as a potential cause of DCM.
That said, in four other cases, the dogs had normal blood taurine levels. In some cases seen by cardiologists, though, dogs who were not taurine deficient improved with taurine supplementation and diet change, according to an article by veterinary nutritionist Lisa M. Freeman, a member of the clinical nutrition service at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. It may be that individual dogs have different taurine requirements based on breed, size or some unknown factor.
The FDA notes that other factors could include nutritional composition of the main ingredients or how dogs process them, sourcing or processing of primary ingredients, and amount of the ingredients used. Various proteins, including meat proteins, have different nutritional profiles and digestibility. Studies have found that certain large dogs fed commercially available complete and balanced lamb and rice diets may have increased risk of developing taurine deficiency-induced DCM. A 2007 study found that giant dogs took in less taurine than small dogs, possibly because of a slower metabolic rate.
Because it is not yet understood how or if grain-free diets are linked to cases of DCM, the FDA recommends consulting a pet’s veterinarian about whether to change a diet. Dogs or cats with signs of DCM or other heart conditions — such as low energy, cough, difficulty breathing and collapse — should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Guidelines released by veterinary cardiologists and nutritionists advise testing blood taurine levels of dogs diagnosed with DCM and changing the diet based on consultation with a veterinary cardiologist. A taurine supplement may be recommended. Improvement after dietary change and supplementation can take up to six months. Report possible dietary cases of DCM to the FDA.
Cat lovers know that the right litter can be the key to living with a happy cat
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Remember when there was just one kind of cat litter? Before 1947, the rare cat who lived indoors might have a box filled with sand, ashes, sawdust or soil, which it then tracked through the house, no doubt to the dismay of fastidious housekeepers. In 1947, businessman Edward Lowe handed a bag of granulated clay to a woman who was complaining that her cat tracked ashes through the house. The clay worked, the woman came back for more and the cat litter industry was born.
Now cat lovers might feel as if they’re in a golden age of cat litter. Beyond granulated clay, which remains popular, there is sandlike clumping litter, silica gel crystals, and litter made from recycled newspaper, recycled pine scraps, corn, wheat, walnut shells and grass. For both humans and cats, there’s a litter type for every concern: low tracking, low dust, attractive scent, no scent, low odor, low price and environmental friendliness. Some litters even indicate that a cat may have a urinary tract infection or other condition.
The anonymous woman who sparked the development of granulated clay litter was concerned about tracking, and that remains an issue for many cat owners. While many litters are marketed as being low-tracking, sometimes a larger litter box can also help to solve the problem. Rosemary George of Falls Church, Virginia, says, “I have four cats, so I use cheap clay litter from the grocery store. There are two really large litter pans out on the enclosed sunporch. I scoop them once a day and change them entirely once a week. Once I got huge litter pans, there stopped being so much litter on the floor.”
Cats like what they like, though, and their preferences can win out over an owner’s desire to not have litter tracked through the house. Tery McConville of Mount Vernon, Washington, uses a clumping pine litter. “It gets everywhere,” she says, “but it’s what Princess likes, and it smells nice.”
Humans and cats with asthma benefit from dust-free or low-dust litter. Dust irritates the respiratory tract and can contribute to coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing when cats kick it up as they dig in the litter box. Litters made from wheat, recycled paper, wood and silica gel crystals, as well as some clumping litters, tend to be low in dust. Unscented litters are also good choices when a person or pet in the home has asthma. Anna Wright uses a wheat-based litter, saying, “It’s expensive, but my health and happiness are worth it. It doesn’t give me headaches or trigger coughs for me like so many other products do. I think the cats like it for the same reasons.”
Older cats may have special needs when it comes to litter. When her cat Shadow was in renal failure, Gail Parker of Philadelphia found that replacing litter with newspaper helped prevent him from urinating outside the litter box. She believes the paper was softer on his paws and found that her other cats preferred it, too. Parker puts sections of newspaper in the cats’ boxes and removes them as soon as they are used.
No litter can replace a veterinary visit, but some litters are made to indicate the need to visit the vet. Coated with a safe, nontoxic pH detector, porous silica gel granules change color when acid, alkaline or bilirubin levels change, suggesting possible infection or illness.
But whatever you look for in cat litter, what your cat prefers is what counts. Offer an assortment of litters to see which one he likes best, and go with that. Provide an extra-large box, and fill it with three to five inches of litter for your cat’s digging pleasure. Scoop it once or twice a day, clean the box and change the litter every week or two, and you’ll have a happy cat.
Have pet care plan in case of disaster
• Got a disaster plan in the event of a wildfire, hurricane or other natural disaster? Work out a buddy system with friends, neighbors, relatives or your pet sitter. Set up a plan to collect and care for each other’s pets in the event that one of you is traveling or at work and can’t get home to rescue pets. Exchange house keys, and make sure you have contact information to facilitate a reunion. If you’re home and must evacuate, always bring pets with you. Never assume that you’ll be able to go back in and get them.
• With the help of a $2.8 million grant from Maddie’s Fund, researchers from the University of Tennessee’s colleges of veterinary medicine, social work, business and the department of public health are working together to develop a health care system that will improve access to veterinary care for families with limited financial resources. Ensuring that all pets have good health care not only benefits the animals and their families, but also improves public health. Called “AlignCare,” the one-health model will promote interprofessional collaboration that takes into account the influence of pets on family health and well-being and help to keep pets in homes while providing needed care.
• Does your cat love playing in water? Whether they dabble their paws beneath a running faucet, splash in their water dish, swim in your pool or join you in the shower, more cats than you might think are true water babies. Among the breeds known to play on the wet side are Turkish vans (nicknamed “swimming cats” in their homeland of Turkey), Turkish Angoras, Savannahs, American bobtails, Bengals, Japanese bobtails and Manx (both island cats), Abyssinian (which originated in Indian Ocean coastal areas), Norwegian forest cats (descended from viking cats) and Maine coons. — Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
The incidence of the spaghettilike parasites is up by more than 20 percent since 2013
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Climate change, failure to give preventive products, and the beginnings of resistance to preventives are among the reasons why veterinarians are seeing more cases of heartworm disease in dogs — and cats. When the American Heartworm Society performed its triennial incidence survey last year, it found that while the highest incidence remains in the southern United States, no state is free of the harmful internal parasites, spread by the bite of an infected mosquito or, in the case of states such as Alaska, arriving by way of already-infected dogs brought from out of state.
Dogs are natural hosts for heartworms. Once an infected mosquito injects microfilaria — microscopic baby heartworms — into a dog’s bloodstream, the worms begin to mature and reproduce. As they get larger — heartworms can achieve a length of 1 foot during their 5- to 7-year lifespan — and increase in numbers, they clog the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels, causing heart failure, lung disease and other organ damage.
Cats are more resistant to the parasites, but they can acquire them. Clinical signs include weight loss, exercise intolerance, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, gagging, difficulty breathing and wheezing. Even indoor cats are at risk. Approximately 25 percent of indoor cats are heartworm positive, according to the American Heartworm Society.
Heartworm disease is easy to prevent with a monthly pill or topical treatment, and it’s comparatively less expensive than treating a pet with heartworms. But people forget to give preventives, or they don’t give them year-round, giving infective mosquitoes a shot at spreading the parasites. Cool or dry weather slows transmission, but it doesn’t eliminate it.
“Most people think they don’t need to give it in the winter,” says Craig Prior, DVM, owner of Murphy Road Animal Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. For instance, he says, dogs should stay on preventives for two months after the last exposure to mosquitoes and go on them one month before mosquitoes become active again. With climate change, some species are staying active longer throughout the year and venturing into new areas.
For those reasons, parasitologists recommend treating pets with parasite preventives year-round.
An associated concern is the beginning of resistance to preventive products. Some populations of heartworms, primarily in the Mississippi Delta area so far, are becoming resistant. “By keeping pets on year-round preventives, we decrease the risk of developing more resistant populations and increase the effectiveness of the preventives,” says Leni K. Kaplan, DVM, community practice service lecturer at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York.
Adding a dog-safe mosquito repellent (avoid anything containing DEET) to your dog’s arsenal against mosquitoes can beef up his protection. Research published in 2016 found that the combination of a heartworm preventive with the mosquito repellent in the study, Vectra 3D, was 100 percent effective in blocking transmission of immature heartworms from dogs to mosquitoes — one of the stages of the heartworm lifecycle — and more than 95 percent effective in repelling and killing mosquitoes for 28 days after treatment.
“The addition of a topical product that prevents mosquito feeding adds a second element of protection to the pet,” says Byron Blagburn, Ph.D., a parasitologist at Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. “So not only do you prevent heartworm infection if the pet is on prevention, but you prevent the likelihood that the pet will see a mosquito.”
While Vectra 3D isn’t safe for cats, the good news is that if the repellent is used on a dog in the same household, the cat will share in protection because fewer mosquitoes will be present.