Friday, February 1, 2008

TN Politicians and your dog

You should also know that Tennessee was one of the last states to make animal cruelty and dog fighting a felony, passed on legislation to make it illegal to ride around with your dog in the bed of your truck and specifically exempted veterinarians from the new law allowing people to sue for the wrongful death of your dog. But they are the first to scream if you show us as a bunch of hillbillies on the silver screen.

Banning Pit Bulls

Or, “How to try and Legislate Morality”
Or, “How the Rich make Rules only the Poor have to Follow”
Or, “Another way to Pander for Votes”
Or, “I’m paying my Senator for this?”

I could keep going all day with this. It seems Nashville and the State of Tennessee are again trying to ban Pit Bulls and other “dangerous” dogs. Like the war on drugs and prohibition, this approach never works. You can’t tell people something they want to do is wrong and just ban it. It doesn’t work.
For starters, let’s say you want to protect yourself. (I won’t say you are a drug dealer. This assumes that everyone who owns one of these dogs falls into a certain category: criminal and poor. In my example you are a country music singer who lives in a 1 million dollar Nashville home, has a wife, who volunteers at the local food bank and two kids in private school.) You don’t want a pit bull, those dogs are dangerous! You’re going to pay $2000 for a German-bred German Sheppard. Then, you’re going to spend $3000 for someone to train the dog, Schitzen-trained, of course. Life is good and you haven’t broken any laws. Until the neighbor who always comes over to borrow some tools in the garage comes over. See, he told you he was coming over a couple of days ago, but you were so busy you forgot. Now you hear a strange noise and give the dog the attack command. As you rush to follow the dog and find him on top of your neighbor, you forget the release command in your panic. Eventually you grab a 2x4 and beat the dog off the poor soul, but it’s too late, your neighbor is dead. Are you now a criminal? Would this scenario be any worse if the dog was a pit bull? Or, the owner of the dog was a black drug dealer?

People tend to fixate on the fact that most fatal dog-bite attacks are perpetrated by pit bulls. ( and ) But if you look closely at this study, it reports only fatal dog attacks and the incidents are culled from media reports of dog bites. If I get bit by a dog, it causes an abscess and die 3 days later, what are the chances of a reporter showing up to cover that story? Ok, I’m willing to concede that most dog bites that result in fatalities are covered by media, but you have to concede that “Pit Bull Bites Child” makes a much better story than “Yorkie Terrorizes Veterinary Office”. Of course more big dogs will be represented in the fatal bite statistics. The bite from a 100lb Rotti will always cause more damage than a 10lb Teacup Poodle, but which one occurs with more frequency? Come to my office and stick your hand out, see which one is more likely to come and get ya’. I’ll take my chances with the Rotti all day long.

Now I’m not saying that people shouldn’t take responsibility for their pets. But, most dog bites are from large breed dogs that are kept for protection. ( Banning one breed of dog will just make these people got out and get another dog that is not on the “banned list”. You would have to be an idiot not to see that coming. How about enforcing the laws already on the books? If you cause someone’s death, by gun, by car or by dog, you should be punished. That law already exists. Can’t handle your gun? We take it away from you. Can’t drive your car safely? We take away your right to drive. Can’t handle your dog? You shouldn’t own one. Period.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Foods Your Pet Should Never Eat

Two articles in a row on people food might seem to be a bit excessive, but at the emergency clinic we have a saying “if people fed their dogs pet food and walked them on a leash, we would be out of business”. Most of what we do involves dogs and cats that ate something they shouldn’t have. It’s easy to explain the toxins that most people know about: antifreeze (; rat poison (; chocolate ( But there are so many foods out there that are toxic that it’s difficult to keep up!

Here’s a PARTICIAL list of toxins:
Alcohol – fatal in very small quantities
Coffee – Contains the same toxins as chocolate
Macadamia nuts – as little as 4 or 5 nuts can be fatal to a 10lb dog
Garlic – can causes anemia over time
Grapes and raisins – can cause a fatal kidney failure
Onions – can damage a pet’s hemoglobin and impair the ability to use oxygen
Chewing gum – Xylitol (a sweetener) can cause a fatal low blood sugar

It’s important to remember that these are just foods that contain known toxins. Most fats can cause pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas, and any plant can cause irritation to gastrointestinal tract.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I was reading some of the recent articles on how diabetics who underwent radical surgery to lose weight went into remission ( and got to thinking about how many of our pets are overweight. It’s a difficult subject to broach as a veterinarian seeing as how so many of our clients are overweight as well ( However, the dangers of obesity are clear: higher blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and a shorter life span ( The same is true for pets. In a paper in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association (June 1, 1998:1725) the authors showed that overweight cats had twice the risk of developing skin disease, four times the risk of diabetes, and five times the risk of developing a lameness requiring veterinary attention. All of this just from being overweight. The worst offenders are usually the owners who care the most. They want their pet to be happy and when is your dog happier than when he is munching on a potato chip, or sharing your ice cream?

There is hope. It’s a three step program.

Step One: Take your pet to the veterinarian. Many dogs that are overweight actually have medical conditions. Thyroid Disease and Cushing’s disease can make a dog overweight. Treating the disease can return your dog to his proper weight. Dogs and cats with arthritis may be reluctant to exercise and this may be the sole cause of your pet’s overweight condition. Since we will be changing your pet’s diet you will want to make sure their liver and kidneys are functioning normally.

Step Two: Change his diet. We start with removing all the treats and snacks. Most of the treats we give to our pets are empty calories, nothing more than us eating Marshmallow Fluff. For cats I usually recommend a light or less active diet. Since cats have so many specific requirements, it’s difficult to manipulate their diet too much. Also, most cat owners rarely use treats and snacks, so just changing the diet is enough. For dogs, I generally recommend a “senior” diet. Most senior diets contain joint supplements ( such as glucosamine chondroitin) and extra antioxidants in addition to being lower calorie. These are extras that can help even middle aged dog feel better and lose weight.

Step Three: Exercise. For cats this may be a little tricky. Some cats don’t like to play. Some cats just don’t like people. However, they make many toys, which are available at any pet store, to entice cats to move. We had a blast last week with the pet store cat and a new laser pointer. Just be inventive. Dogs are a bit easier. Just 30 minutes of walking three times a week is all it takes. It’s not the speed of the walk, it’s the time. Studies in humans have shown that the number of calories burned is directly proportional to the time spent exercising, not the intensity. You can also buy the dog a toy (my favorite is the Kong toy, ). My dogs spend hours playing with their toys.

It’s clear that dogs that eat less, live longer (JAVMA May 1, 2002:1315). If you really want your pet to be around longer, you need to watch their weight too.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Update on Fleas

Fleas: This is one of my favorite topics. Nothing I come across on a daily basis is more misunderstood than these tiny little creatures of disease spreading vermin. That’s right I said “disease spreading”. They don’t just look bad on your dog and make pets itch, they pose a real hazard to humans. Although rare, fleas can pass The Plague ( and Cat Scratch Disease ( ). Now before you get all worked up, that’s the bad news. The good news is that they are very easy to treat.

First, though, let me give you a little (very little) history. When I started in veterinary medicine, fleas were a huge pain. There were powders, sprays, foggers, foams, shampoos and all sorts of crazy stuff that was toxic. And they all smelled bad and tasted worse. Put some flea powder on an angry cat and see how much you ingest! People looked for anything to feed their pets to keep the little pests away. Then came Frontline. By the time I graduated veterinary school, we had Frontline. No more fleas! Now we have at least 3 products that (Frontline, Advantage and Revolution) that have been tested to be both same and effective on dogs and cats. So why am I writing this column? These products should sell themselves.

Well, the reason for this column was an article in USAToday, dated December 19, 2007 that reviewed a study that shows that fleas can be killed by vacuuming. This is wonderful news. I have been telling people for years now that you don’t need powders, sprays, house foggers. I firmly believed that just putting the Frontline on your dog or cat would do the trick, now I can tell them to speed the process up with their vacuum cleaner. As it turns out vacuuming will kill most of the adult fleas (95%) and all of the juveniles (100%) that the machine picks up. So put your pets’s Frontline on and vacuum the carpet.

Some of the questions I get:

I don’t want to put chemicals on my pet. How much garlic or Brewer’s yeast can I use?

Brewer’s Yeast may or may not work (yes: Vet Med and Small Animal Clinician 1983; 78(7): 1042; 51; no: AVMA 1983; 183(2): 212-4), so no one knows the right amount. In my experience, most of the people who use this are also doing other things: bathing the dog, vacuuming, washing the bedding, etc.

Garlic is another story. I could find no studies either way on fleas. However there is evidence that garlic can be harmful. (Am J Vet Res 2000 Nov;61(11):1446-50; Hematologic changes associated with the appearance of eccentrocytes after intragastric administration of garlic extract to dogs) Once again, the people who use this are usually doing other things.

Frontline is too expensive. Isn’t the stuff in the store just as good?

Yes, the stuff in the store is cheaper and somewhat effective. However, I see cases all summer long of dogs and cats that are poisoned by overdoses of these medicines, even at the doses recommended on the label. There is even evidence that cats can be affected by pyrthroid products placed on another animal. I believe people should use these products at their own risk and spend the money they save on pet insurance because they'll need it.

I’ve used Frontline, Advantage, Revolution, etc. and it doesn’t work.

OK, I know that’s not a question, but there are multiple studies that show that these products have not lost their effectiveness. There are many possible explanations for apparent failure of a product. It’s possible you are putting it on wrong. It’s possible there are so many fleas in the environment that the product may become overwhelmed (remember each time a flea takes a bite of the product that’s less product on the dog!). It’s also possible that particular product doesn’t work on your dog, try another. I have put Frontline on THOUSANDS of dogs in shelter situations and I have never seen a failure.