Otitis in Dogs and Cats: The Ears Have It

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A good ear exam is necessary for diagnosing otitis in dogs and cats

Ask your average small animal vet what problem area they see the most, and you’ll probably hear, “Ears.” And, while dogs are most commonly treated for problem ears, similar problems affect cats, too. What is it about ears that make them so prone to disease and what can owners and their vets do about it?

First, it’s important to have some vocabulary so we can be precise about ear problems. The ear flap (which actually stands up on cats and some dogs) is called the “pinna.” The tube that leads from the pinna toward the eardrum is the “canal.” The eardrum is sometimes called a “tympanum” or “tympanic membrane.” Normal discharge from the ear is “cerumen.” An infection or inflammation on the pinna side of the tympanum is “otitis externa.” If it affects the little bones and nerves just on the other side of the tympanum, it’s “otitis media.” And, rarely, we see the infection move further toward the brain into the region responsible for balance; this is “otitis interna.” By far, otitis externa is the most frequently seen type of ear problem in the cat and dog. More

FIV Can be a Pain in the Mouth

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This type of snap test is used for diagnosing FIV

This week, we saw two cats, both of whom had been strays and both of whom have FIV. One has a terrible mouth: ulcerations, infection, and loose teeth; and the other one looked just like that two weeks ago, before several extractions and two weeks of antibiotics. So, what is it about FIV that leads to all these dental issues?

FIV is the feline immunodeficiency virus, which is quite prevalent in cats that have lived outside for a long while. It is estimated that 15% of sick cats and 2-3% of healthy cats in the US are FIV positive. The virus spreads among cats mainly through bites, as it is present in saliva and blood.  For those of you keeping track, FIV is a lentivirus, like the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The FIV virus becomes part of the host cat’s RNA and can never be cleared; so the diagnosis means a life-long infection. More

Watch Out for Moldy Walnuts!


Beware: moldy walnuts are toxic to dogs!

A colleague of mine recently noted that, “It’s moldy walnut season again.” So, I thought moldy walnut toxicity would be a great topic for a post: Why are these walnuts moldy and how does that affect you?

The walnuts of concern are those that fall from trees and remain on the ground during and after wet weather. As they sit there through the cool, wet winter season, a mold forms on them; and although they can turn a furry black color, they often appear completely normal. Once the mold has formed, they are very toxic to dogs, horses, and virtually any other mammal willing to chew on them. More

Adventures with Canine Osteosarcoma, Part II


Since my recent post about Brick’s Osteosarcoma diagnosis and treatment plan, we’ve met with some obstacles. Last Monday, a scheduled chest x-ray showed a single pulmonary nodule (lung metastasis). Because Osteosarcoma spreads most commonly to the lungs, we were disappointed but not entirely surprised by the findings. In light of the nodule, Brick’s oncologists proposed we trade out the original doxorubicin/carboplatin treatment plan for something more tailored to the current situation.

The new plan involves aerosolizing and inhaling a chemo drug called Gemcitabine and infusing a drug called ifosfamide. Gemcitabine is given in human medicine as an IV infusion for lung cancer. But inhaled Gemcitabine is currently being studied by the oncologists at UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital as a new means of stopping the growth of existing lung tumors. The goal of aerosolizing the drug is to provide direct access to any tumors that lie along major airways; in addition, the drug absorbs into the pulmonary tissue and reaches the tumors that are in the vicinity of those tissues. Once in contact with the tumor, it interferes with the tumor’s ability to synthesize DNA, thus arresting growth. In the UC Davis study, it is given twice a week using a nebulizer and mask.

Ifosfamide is a nitrogen mustard alkylating agent. In simpler terms, it’s a drug that’s related to mustard gas; and it interferes with the existing DNA in tumor cells, causing cell death. It’s used in human medicine for various sarcomas and Hodgkin’s disease. It is given every three weeks as an IV infusion over 6-8 hours with fluids.

For dogs with pulmonary metastases that do not pursue treatment, the median survival time (MST) is around 60 days. With treatment, we are hopeful we will have Brick closer to 8 months, which is the MST for this protocol. I will keep you posted.


[note: there is a follow up to this post, dated July 25, 2011]

What to Feed Your Pet, Part II: Cute Furry Things

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Quality hay is a staple for rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas.

This topic is less controversial than the dog/cat discussion. But it’s no less important. Inappropriate husbandry, especially nutrition, is the major contributor to illness in small pet mammals. So, here’s what we currently believe about diet in these species.

Rabbits. Nutritionally, they’re just little horses (without the hooves). They are obligate herbivores that rely heavily on long fibers in their diet to stimulate proper digestion. They obtain very little nutrition per pound of this high-fiber diet, so they must eat a very large volume compared to their body weight. Pelleted “rabbit food,” although an acceptable component of their diet, is very concentrated and should play a very minor role. Here’s the best formula for your typical adult rabbit: unlimited timothy hay kept elevated in a hay feeder, 1/4-1/3 cup of quality pellets (Oxbow makes a good one), and a large handful of mixed greens (collard greens, parsley, cilantro, mint, carrots tops, etc) per day. For a complete list of bunny greens, visit the House Rabbit Society website.


What to Feed Your Pet, Part I: Cats and Dogs

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What to feed your pet can be a daunting decision.

The question I get asked the most is, “What should I be feeding my cat/dog/rabbit/other?” Most owners want to provide the best for their pets – and nutrition is no exception. But this is a very complex issue. Pet food marketing messages, misinformation about various pet food manufacturers, the costs of commercial diets, recall alerts, and a new focus on alternative therapies in human nutrition all lead to confusion about the choices.

For cats and dogs, the two primary choices are commercial diets (bags or cans from the store or vet clinic) and home-prepared diets. Pet owners may opt for one, the other, or a combination of both.

Within these broad categories are several distinctions that need to be addressed. 


In Our Cats and Dogs – Size Matters!

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Keep your pet healthy, not round!

People are often surprised when I point out that their dog is a little “round.” I’m not sure what they think “healthy” looks like in a pet – but it looks surprisingly similar to markers of good health in people: lean body with good muscle tone. Yet people often fail to notice when one of these health indicators slips in their beloved pets.

Leanness = Health. Many studies, including a pioneering canine life span study by Purina, show that dogs that have controlled food intake and are maintained at lean body condition outlive their overweight siblings by an average of 20 months, with a similar delay in the onset of serious disease. Studies in mice support these findings, as well.


Adventures with Canine Osteosarcoma


Brick, two days after amputation.

Here’s another topic from my personal file: On Monday of this week, our dog Brick was diagnosed with a bone tumor in his right knee. On Tuesday, the leg was amputated. Even before he has a chance to adjust to being one leg short of a full set, we are making our appointments with the oncologist and the physical therapist. This whirlwind has reminded me of how sudden the diagnosis of bone tumors can be and how quickly the owners and their veterinarians must respond. More

What vaccines do my dog and cat need?

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I thought I’d address a common general question: What vaccines do our cats and dogs need? They are required by law to be vaccinated against rabies; after that, let the debate begin!

Just as in human medicine, there is usually some debate about which vaccines should be given. Some owners (like some parents) follow the less-is-more philosophy, while others are seeking immunity against any and all possible diseases. The vaccine manufacturers have a stake in making their products appear necessary. In each case, efficacy must be weighed against risk. And, ultimately, the lifestyle of the pet and its owners will play a key role in tailoring the right vaccine protocol.


Our dog is getting older… is now a good time to get another dog?

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Bringing home a new family member can be a joy

One of my fellow moms at our preschool was telling me about her family’s terrific dog. He’s a 10-year-old rescued lab who, once a nightmare, has become the perfect pet (after years of care and training, of course). The family has been considering getting a second dog and this mom wants to know if it’s a good idea.

There’s no easy answer to this question, as circumstances vary with each family. The best I can do is present the types of questions that should be asked and offer some suggestions for finding a good fit should the ultimate answer be, “Yes.” The first step is knowing the following:

  • Is your dog healthy? Before you start looking for a new addition to the family, make sure your dog is up to it by visiting the vet. Blood work will help rule out any expensive and time-intensive health problems that may be surfacing. A thorough physical exam can rule out arthritis or other painful condition that may make your dog touchy around other, younger dogs; there’s nothing worse than having a playful newcomer jump all over you when you hurt. More

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