Dogs & Cats Eat Grass—Why? Now the Answer

It’s like “which came first, the chicken or the egg”? Does a dog or cat vomit because it eats grass, or does it eat grass to vomit because it has an upset stomach? The frequently asked question is “Why does my dog or cat eat grass or plants“? For many years it was thought that there was a nutritional deficiency in the diet, or that they eat grass to induce vomiting because they are sick. Now a recent  study of over 3000 pets revealed some interesting facts: 68% of the pet owners said their dogs eat grass or plants  on a regular daily or weekly basis, only 8% reported that their dogs showed signs of illness before ingesting grass or plants, and 22% reported that their dogs regularly vomit after ingesting grass or plants.  The study also found that  younger dogs eat plants and grass more frequently than older dogs and the young ones were less likely to appear ill before, or vomit afterward.  Cats, on the other hand, often eat grass or plants intentionally to induce vomiting because of hair balls.  However, a few cats can eat  grass and plants and do not show signs of illness before or vomit afterward. Regardless of the quality of the diet, eating these non nutritional members of the plant kingdom had little to no effect on the overall well being of the dog or cat. In the wild, cats, dogs, fox, wolves, etc. frequently eat grass and plants to vomit up worms. This definitely has a beneficial effect on their overall health, as worms are parasites and if the numbers get too high they can cause serious harm and even death.  But, this is not the case in the well cared-for domesticated pets in civilized countries.  The conclusion of the study was that this tendency of some dogs and cats to eat plants or grass is an inherited trait from their wild ancestors and is considered normal. Most importantly, keep your pets away from toxic plants and grass that has been treated with pesticides not listed as “pet friendly. If your dog or cat does not normally eat grass or plants and suddenly just started to do so, and is vomiting, your veterinarian should be consulted.

Fleas and Flea Allergy

Fleas season is upon us. Every day we are seeing dogs and cats with a flea problem, and it gets worse in the fall when the nights get cooler. Fleas are “heat seekers”, they are wingless, blood sucking parasites that can affect not only dogs, cats, horses, and most wildlife, but humans too. They are very prolific–a pregnant flea can lay hundreds of eggs. The eggs are resistant to most household products including alcohol and cleaning solutions. There are two types of flea problems: flea allergy, called flea bite dermatitis, and flea infestation (lots of fleas). Interestingly enough, some of the dogs and cats that have flea infestations suffer less that those with flea allergy. One flea bite can cause a dog or cat to have a serious reaction if they are allergic to the saliva of the flea. They bite and scratch intensely and can open their skin to secondary infection. In addition to hair loss, the skin is very irritated and sensitive to the touch. The dog or cat often can not sleep and become very irritable. You have to be very determined and diligent in the flea eradication process. The prescription flea products work better than the over the counter products. Topical flea products are applied to the skin (not the hair) 1 x each month. It is dispersed into the fatty layer under the skin and stored in the oil secreting glands. These products kill the parasites, inactivate the eggs, and kill the immature form of the parasites known as larvae. They break the life cycle of the flea. Vacuuming the entire house is a must, as it sucks up live and dead fleas, AND their eggs AND larvae. The bag should then be placed in the garbage where it will eventually be burned. Avoid the areas you have previously walked your dog and treat the outdoors with “pet friendly” insecticides. The allergy, if present, must also be treated. Don’t wait, see your veterinarian in the early stages and discuss the latest recommended products.

Another Pet Food Recall

This time the recall is for possible Salmonella contamination of nutritional supplement products used by dogs and cats. United Pet Group of Cincinnati, Ohio is recalling its line of Pro-Pet Adult Daily Vitamin Supplement tablets and powder for dogs and also the Excel brand of products for dogs AND cats. The recalled products are sold nationally at various retailers and the affected products are those with expiration dates of between Jan 2013 to June 2013. ALSO, Merrick Pet Care of Amarillo, Texas, recalled their 10 ounce bags of its Beef Filet Squares for Dogs with an expiration date of March 24, 2012 for possible salmonella contamination. The signs associated with salmonella infection include the following: lethargy, diarrhea with or without blood, fever, and vomiting. Some dogs and cats have abdominal pain and a lack of appetite. However, some animals can show no signs and become carriers. Humans are also susceptible to salmonella poisoning and have the same symptoms of infection as well. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling a possibly infected cat or dog OR suspected pet food or supplements. Also always wash your hands after preparing raw meat and vegetables for cooking. Don’t just rinse, use water AND soap. If you have been feeding any of these products to your dog or cat, contact your veterinarian immediately. You can also contact these companies directly: United Pet’s phone is 1-877-399-5226 and Merrick Pet Care’s phone is 1-800-664-7387.

How to Report a Problem

As of May 24, there is a new online pet and human adverse reaction reporting system available to all of us. It’s purpose is to improve the country’s national surveillance system and strengthen the ability of protecting the nations health. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) new web site is: www.SafetyReportingPortal. This web site gives the public, any pet owner or veterinarian the means of reporting a problem directly to the government. This includes  pet related products such as food, treats, toys and eventually it will include drugs.   This portal is designed to keep track of adverse reactions to a wide variety of products before it gets out of hand. It is not only designed for the public, but also for drug manufacturers and researchers in the human and animal medicine fields and public health officials. Included in the wide array of acceptable reportable issues are the human food industry, animal food industry, drug manufacturing and even biomedical researchers involved in human gene transfer. In the future it will also include clinical trials and safety problems from all manufacturers of products the public uses. Basically, it centralizes the reporting process so all governmental  agencies can see it and “strengthen our ability to protect the nations health,” as per the Commissioner of Food and Drugs, Margaret A. Hamberg.  This new portal will also redirect individuals who want to submit reports about other products regulated by the FDA, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency or the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The FDA states that this is a first step toward an electronic reporting system that will allow consumers as well as  professionals to file a single report to multiple agencies for the publics protection. While still in development, this portal will also direct the public to the correct reporting agency.

Proper Disposal of Drugs, etc.

Veterinarians have been asked to participate in a New York State supported campaign to protect our water supply. The NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation through the NYS Veterinary Medical Society advised us to display the notice in our waiting rooms and any other conspicuous location for our clients to read. Basically, we must all be aware of the proper disposal of unused medications. This includes over the counter drugs as well as prescriptions. It also includes expired medications such as hormones, steroids, antibiotics, vitamins, supplements, anti-depressants, beta-blockers, medicated shampoos, etc. We do not want any of these items to get into our lakes, rivers and streams. Not only does it affect the fish and other aquatic wildlife, but it can affect our drinking water. Researchers fear that antibiotics in our water supply will lead to more and more antibiotic resistant bacteria. So this important message is for all of us, to “Help Protect New York’s Waters.” The slogan is: “DON’T FLUSH Unwanted Household Medications or Pour Them Down the Drain.” However, it is ok to put them into your garbage can or mix them with something undesirable such as coffee grounds, dirt or even kitty litter. They recommend taping up all containers before you put them into the garbage. It is also recommended returning used insulin syringes and needles to your veterinarian for proper disposal in OSHA endorsed closed plastic containers. These containers are picked up by State Certified Disposal Companies. For more information call   518-402-8678  or go to www.dontflushyourdrugs.net.

Pet Health Insurance–An Update

Insurance for your pet is no longer considered to be a luxury, but more of a necessity.    Diagnostics, medicine and surgery for pets has become as high tech as human medicine. In clinical small animal practice, veterinarians deal routinely with many varied problems and many of them involve expensive laboratory tests, treatment, surgery, even chemo-therapy and/or radiation. Everything from hip replacements, MRI’s, pacemakers, Sonograms, etc. are becoming routine. But, before a comprehensive understanding of pet health insurance plans can be discussed a few more simple facts should be mentioned. 1. The far majority of claims processed by pet health insurance companies are the result of unexpected accidents or unexpected illness. This number exceeds 82%. They include auto accidents, lacerations, systemic diseases like Lyme disease, dental disease, allergic reactions, ear infections, skin infections, cancer, etc., etc. The list is voluminous. 2. Each year, in the U.S. alone, approximately 6 million dogs and 6 million cats are diagnosed with some form of cancer. 3. One out of every four dogs will die of cancer or be humanely euthanized because of it. Having an insurance plan will simply give you “piece of mind” that your pet will receive the best veterinary care possible, when they need it the most. Today, there are many diverse plans to fit all budgets and some even cover routine vaccinations, spaying, neutering, dental cleanings and flea/tick and heartworm preventatives.  However, in my opinion, you should look upon pet insurance as “major medical & surgery” coverage, as many treatments and/or surgery could catch you unexpectedly.  Every client of mine that has pet insurance are glad they do, and renew each year.  The insurance companies pay you directly, not the veterinarian, and often it is 90% of the total bill.  There are many good plans available and  recently a new plan known as Trupanion came out. They claim their plan offers lower premiums, higher payout, faster approval and payment, and higher maximum lifetime payouts. The plan is endorsed by the American Animal Hospital Association, (AAHA).   Trupanion even offers 30 day free coverage for new puppies and kittens. For more information go to: www.trupanion.com. Other insurance plans websites to investigate are: www.ASPCApetinsurance.com,www.PurinaCare.com,  and www. completepetcareinsurance.com.

Canine Influenza Surfaces Again

Once again, the relatively new disease known as Canine Influenza has been reported this past May in NYC.  In fact one dog died and several were severely  ill. Within the last year, as of April 23rd, 2010  Cornell University’s Animal Health Diagnostic Center has 384 positive cases throughout NY State. The disease manifests itself as an unusual form of “kennel cough” which is caused by the organisms known as the Bordetella bronchisepticum/parainfluenza viral complex.  As with any disease, the clinical signs of Canine Influenza can vary as well as the outcome of the disease. The most common symptom is a lingering cough of 2-3 weeks or even longer.  Some dogs have a purulent nasal discharge, are lethargic, have a lack of appetite, and run a high fever of 104-106 which often results in secondary viral or bacterial pneumonia. It is a highly contagious respiratory viral disease that is communicable from dog to dog but not to humans. Although this is sometimes referred to as “Canine Flu” it is in no way the same flu that can affect the human population. Because it is a relatively new disease, most if not all dogs are susceptible. High exposure dogs such as those  that accompany their owners on vacation, or board at a kennel are more susceptible than those isolated at home.  Also those dogs that frequent dog shows, grooming shops, pet food stores, dog parks, go for walks where other dogs go also are considered high exposure. These dogs should be vaccinated with the Canine Influenza Vaccine H3N8. It is a safe killed viral vaccine, came out over 1 year ago and has been used a lot in clinical small animal medical facilities with little to no side effects.  Many boarding kennels insist that all dogs be vaccinated with both the “Dog flu” vaccine as well as the “Kennel cough” vaccine 2 weeks before allowing them in their kennel. Check with your veterinarian for the recommended vaccination protocol and check with the kennel if you expect to board your dog.

New Test for Cancer Screening in Animals

Because of the many advances in medical science knowledge and nutrition, our pets are living longer. Although the researchers estimate that 25% of the pet population will die of some form of cancer, they are stepping up their efforts in finding early detection tests, treatments and hopefully cures, to bring that statistic down. The research being done on  animals will also help human medicine, as frequently the discoveries are found in animals first.  Soon there is a new test  becoming available to veterinarians in clinical small animal medicine for early cancer detection. A simple blood test called the OncoPet RECAF is very promising. The test utilizes a universal marker for malignant cell growth in animals AND people. Cancer cells reproduce more rapidly than the normal cells in the body, and it is this rapid cell growth this test picks up. Right now the test is for dogs only, but soon it will be available for cats too. The manufacturer claims that there are three main applications where the OncoPet RECAF  test will be useful in veterinary medical small animal practice. First is in the diagnostic process. In addition to the general examination, the veterinarian often must resort to laboratory testing, including biopsy, blood samples, radiographs, ultrasound and even  CT Scans and MRI’s to help diagnose the various type of cancer in dogs and cats.  Hopefully this test will be make it easier for the diagnostic process in the early stages of cancer cell development.  It is reported to have a “95% specificity level” for cancer cell detection.  The second application is in the follow-up process of dogs already diagnosed with cancer by monitoring the cancer therapy and the early detection of the possibility of metastatic cells (cancer cells that are spreading). The third use is in the screening process of the overall dog population as part of “Wellness” exams. The earlier cancer is detected the more likelihood of a successful treatment, whether it is surgery or therapy or both.

Summer Hazards

Our pets “get into trouble” more often in the spring, summer and fall, than in  the winter, when they are inside more. They encounter more hazards being outside, even when fenced in or being on a leash.  Everything from cat fights, dog fights, lacerations from sharp objects, fleas, ticks, intestinal parasites, infections, and of course avoidable accidents like being hit by a car. Here are some of the more frequently encountered conditions veterinarians see in the warmer weather 1. Heat Stroke & Burns: Dogs only have sweat glands in their paws and cool off by panting, so heat stroke  is common from      lack of shade, being left in a hot car, and/or not having fresh cool water available. Walk your dog early in the morning or late in the day when it’s cooler and avoid hot asphalt and sand. You’re wearing sneakers or sandals, your dog isn’t, and their feet can (and do) get burnt. 2. Drowning:  Swimming accidents occur from lack of use of life jackets made for dogs, and hypothermia from falling into a cold pool, lake, or from a boat. Secondary pneumonia often results.  3. GI Upsets: Stomach and intestinal problems occur from drinking salt water, algae laden ponds, eating dead fish, sea shells, bird droppings at the beach, and eating with guests at barbeques. Specifically avoid raisins, grapes, avocado, chocolate, fresh garlic and onions, and artificial sweeteners. Be careful what lawn products are used if your pet goes on the grass. There are “safe for pets” lawn fertilizers. Secure all garbage cans. Avoid pool chlorine spillage and muriatic acid.  4. Sunburn: Use sunscreen on the hairless sensitive areas, especially long snouts, and provide ample shade if left outside. 5. Parasites:  Apply flea and tick protection, but avoid DEET in repellents and use heartworm with intestinal parasite preventative. Lyme Disease is very prevalent, so vaccinate against it and apply tick protection.  6. Be Prepared: If you are traveling with your pet, make sure vaccinations are current and you have proof, and a current health certificate. Officials will prevent your entrance to state parks without it and some airlines demand the documents. If you need motion sickness medications or mild sedatives they are readily available from your veterinarian. Bring along a pet “First Aid Kit”. 7. Identification: Have your pet micro chipped  for permanent ID or at least put ID tags on the collar.  Most importantly, keep your dog on a leash and your cat properly contained.  8. Infections: Doggy play areas are notorious for spreading diseases such as Parvo or intestinal parasites and fleas. Protect your dog with appropriate vaccinations, flea/tick preventatives and have your dogs stool checked by your veterinarian 1-2 x yearly.

Allergy Testing in Pets

By definition, an allergic reaction is when an individual reacts to a normal substance in the environment. These substances are called “allergens” and include pollens, molds, animal hair/dander, household dust/mites, fleas, insect bites AND ingredients found in commercially prepared foods as well as table food. The symptoms manifest themselves differently in dogs and cats. In dogs, usually intense itching and scratching, paw licking/chewing and face rubbing are the primary symptoms, while in cats it is sneezing, coughing and watery eyes (like in humans), and less so scratching/licking. Because the only reliable drug to treat allergies in animals is cortisone or derivatives of cortisone, the long term use is dangerous and not recommended. Your veterinarian first must eliminate other causes of dermatological problems such as mange and skin infection, and then discuss with you allergy testing and treatments. In the past, only intradermal skin testing by injections was moderately reliable, but now a simple blood test is now considered the preferred way to diagnose inhalant, and contact sensitivities, and less so, food sensitivities. The blood is tested for everything, including trees, grasses, weeds, shrubs, fungi, and dust/mites, and food, etc. This blood test will indicate what substances in the environment and what ingredients in food the pet is allergic to. A list is provided indicating which allergens the pet must be desensitized from and which foods are free from those ingredients the animal tested positive too. Dogs and cats can not be hyposensitized to foods so elimination is the only form of treatment in the case of food allergies. All other allergies can be treated with a series of “allergy shots” customized for each pet, which, in essence, is a process of causing a hyposensitivity to the offending allergen, such as ragweed or oak tree leaves. This requires a series of injections which either the owner or veterinarian can do. Although none of the skin testing is 100% this test is simple, fast, and gives the veterinarian and owner the direction to follow in eliminating the offending substance(s) and/or food.