Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Mars Veterinary Wisdom 3.0 Panel. Opinions are those of the author.
So, if I showed you a picture of a dog, you may be able to tell me a little about him or her.
You would often be able to make some generalizations about temperament-
Or adult size-
Or medical concerns, such as whether or not a dog can tolerate ivermectin.
But what about when it’s not entirely obvious, as is the case with my friend Karen’s adorable dog Ramone?
He’s been labelled everything from shar-pei to Bernese Mountain Dog to pit bull. Karen doesn’t care, because she evaluated him on an individual basis before deciding he was just perfect, which is what groups with extensive adoption experience like the ASPCA recommend anyway.
On the other hand, there are some good reasons to know the genetic history of a dog beyond the simple novelty of it all. Shelters who have used DNA testing such as the Wisdom panel have found potential adopters really like having a bit of extra information in front of them. For example, my friend adopted a pup about a year ago with a projected weight of 30 pounds who looked pretty similar to these guys:
As of his first birthday, he just topped 50 strapping pounds and still growing.
Or what if you have a dog who might be part Australian shepherd but you’re not sure and he has Demodex? It would be nice to know if he has the MDR1 mutation before taking your chances on a course of ivermectin treatment.
When Mars Veterinary Wisdom panels first came out a while back, people (myself included) had mixed reactions. What started out as a novelty has grown to have some real use. As our knowledge of the canine genome has evolved, so too has the role of DNA testing in dogs, everything from keeping dogs in homes when a misinformed landlord says, “but he LOOKS like a pit bull!” to increasing shelter adoption rates to helping HOAs bust the person who isn’t picking up after their dog’s business in the common area.
The latest version, Wisdom Panel 3.0, has the added benefit of screening for the MDR1 mutation, a test licensed for home use for the first time to Mars Veterinary by Washington State University. The MDR1 mutation is known to affect particular breeds and results in some very specific drug sensitivities.
Over the next six months, the Wisdom Panel Swab-a-thon Tour will be partnering with communities and shelters to swab the DNA of a number of their dogs, with the reports showcased to help match the pets to compatible homes. (I am really excited about the way this is helping shelter pets!) They will also be offering the product to consumers at the events.
The regular test runs $84.99, but the Swab-a-thons will offer discounts to pet owners during the events. On April 10, 11, & 12th Wisdom Panel will be hosting the first Swab-a-thon at the America’s Family Pet Expo in Costa Mesa, California. Visitors to the Wisdom Panel booth can take home a discounted kit for $49.99. 3 weeks later, you get a report and the results of the MDR1 test for you to discuss with your vet.
I’m sure you get fan letters all the time, from people who love your art: Clerks, Dogma, Chasing Amy. I think Chasing Amy was one of the first movies I watched with my boyfriend, who is now my husband. He thinks you’re the cheese.
I think you are a great writer, and like all great writers you have an amazing willingness to share things that other people hold close. Painful things, like a humiliating experience with an airline or, in this case, the terribly personal loss of a beloved dog. I am so very sorry Mulder died. I hope it is OK I am sharing the photo you posted because the love and the bond you share in this shot is there in a way I think others would be very comforted by.
To everyone: I encourage you to read Kevin’s words about Mulder here: They are beautiful.
I’m writing you today to thank you because I don’t know if you know just how special this is- not only your bond with Mulder but the fact that you are open to sharing this with the world. As a hospice veterinarian, I see people every day who are torn to shreds to have to say goodbye to their beloved companion. All kinds of people: women, kids, men, even big burly Marines and wrinkly faced Charlton Heston types. I worry about those men the most, because they have so often been taught not to express grief and sadness that they are as worried about my own reaction as they are just letting themselves experience the moment and admit, yes, I love this creature. Of course I am grieved.
I can speak all I want and tell people that they have permission to feel this way and let themselves cry and share and ask for camaraderie in a time that often feels incredibly isolating and lonely, but until more people like you- people with influence, whose words matter to so many- do what you’ve just done, it will continue to be a struggle for many more.
The conversation you opened up on your Facebook page- that matters. That’s huge. There are so many people starved for the opportunity to reach out and know it’s OK to drop your basket over this kind of loss, it’s like a dam breaking every time. What a testament to Mulder to have so many share in kind. It doesn’t lessen the pain, but I think the sharing the burden does help cushion the blow.
He was a beautiful dog and I know your heart must be broken into bits right now. For every idiot out there who called you an ‘attention whore’ for this, there are hundreds more moved to empathetic tears by your loss. You have fans who have your back. The average person out there who doesn’t have that support needs to see that.
And in the spirit of sharing, I’ll post a picture I never planned to share for all the reasons I just mentioned: I look horrible and tear streaked. It was a private moment. It is my dog Kekoa kissing me on the day she died. I was really annoyed with my husband for pulling out the camera that day, but in retrospect, I’m glad he did. You’d be surprised- at least I was- at how many people do the same when I am there to help them say goodbye. Maybe this will help others feel more permission to do the same.
I guess now I’m attention whore too. It’s all good.
Dr. V, your newest fangirl
P.S. Will have a pint to toast Mulder’s long and storied life tonight.
Vaccines are a complicated topic, let’s start with that. It’s impossible to break down the conversation into something so simplistic as “Vaccines: yes or no”. Some are more effective than others, some prevent more severe diseases than others. There are some vaccines I did not recommend (hello, FIP) and others I was adamant about (parvo!) when I was in general practice. This is why you should have a good relationship with a vet you trust, who is willing to have a dialogue.
On the other hand, when people are wading into the quagmire of what to vaccinate for and when to boost it versus titer it, one thing stands: ALL puppies should have ALL the core vaccines: parvo, distemper, adenovirus-2, and rabies. What you do after the one year booster is between you and your vet, but basic risk/benefit is indisputably on the side of vaccinating young dogs for the above vaccines on schedule.
I think sometimes people forget how awful some of these vaccine preventable illnesses are. If you’ve ever seen a puppy dying of parvo, you would never miss that vaccine for your pet again.
After the fifth time someone forwarded me “The Shocking Truth Your Vet Is Hiding” type articles in the past week, I had to take a stop from my scheduled 12 Days of Clinics to address it. I debated on a few clickbait titles for this post:
alt: “Why Magazines are Getting Away With Murder”
alt: “The Shocking Truth These Publishers Are Hiding”
It doesn’t really matter what the title is or if it related to the content anyway, but I imagine you already know that. But let’s step back a moment, and go back for a breath to 2011.
The most singularly amazing experience of my life took place in a forest in Tanzania. I had waited my whole life to visit the chimpanzees of Mahale, an experience I had anticipated with baited breath. Good, gentle, kind chimps.
And this is what I actually learned: chimps can be asses. Petty, sneaky, grumpy asses. Most everyone kind of knew that, though, right? They’re allowed bad days just like everyone else.
But I learned something else, which was also an eye opener not only for me but for the rest of the people there, for researchers who have spent their whole careers in the M community (by convention these communities are all lettered). Chimps, under pressure, can be vindictive.
The events I witnessed in my time, a Machiavellian soap opera of alliance forming, led to the never before witnessed assassination of the alpha chimp by his own community, an event so unexpected and rare it was written up in multiple journals. Pimu was a jerk, no doubt about it. He ruled with an iron fist. But no one expected the other males in his own community to kill him.
I was there. I saw it. I saw the way the pot-stirring chimp, third in line from the top, systematically groomed all the other males in the group, waiting for just the right moment to take advantage of their fears and frustrations with Pimu. Then- triggered by some small infraction that in other circumstances would have passed without comment, he lit off the powderkeg that resulted in an alpha getting his head smashed in by a rock.
The instigator didn’t even have to get his hands dirty. He was the Petyr Baelish of Mahale, climbing the ladder of the chaos he sowed.
The argument can be made that we are hard-wired for a black and white view of the world, to see people as friend or foe, with us or against us. Once someone’s a foe, there is nothing valuable, worthy, or meaningful in anything they say or do, ever, marinating in their evil fortress of pain or whatever it is enemies do.
It takes work to suppress that natural inclination and try to genuinely understand the actual truth of things- that most people, even those on the other side of the fence, usually have good intentions and may actually have a point about some things. But you can’t start a conversation when the guns are firing.
There’s always one person who benefits when two factions are fighting, and it’s rarely the ones out there actually getting bloodied.
Skull Smashing in Modern Veterinary Medicine
I am part of the V community of pet lovers: the veterinarians. This informs how I view the world and my place in it: as a pet lover, trusted advisor, someone who cares enough about the health of our companions that I chose this as my life’s work. I believe in the value of our work and our research and use that to make recommendations for my clients.
I am also part of the larger O community of pet lovers: the owners. I understand knowledge evolves. I attend hundreds of hours of continuing education, became certified in acupuncture, and I’m not afraid to change my advice based on evolving knowledge. I came out the gates of vet school ready to challenge old assumptions about vaccines, pain management, and nutrition, and over the last decade we have changed the way we practice medicine as a community.
I kind of assumed it was ok to be on both teams. So do you understand why it drives so many of us crazy to see this sort of thing?
These are Dogs Naturally Magazine’s most popular articles. Half the time the articles don’t even really correlate with the tone of the headline, but the damage is done. Clickbait is the equivalent of the pot stirring chimp sticking a rock in your hand and then shrugging and saying, “What? I didn’t tell you to hit anyone with it.”
I promise I never once looked a dog straight in the face with maniacal glee as I prime a syringe in front of their face, imagining the piles of money I get to roll in after work after wiping the blood of a thousand sickened pets of the floor with the research showing all these medications I recommend are actually totally unnecessary.
I’m not holding the V community blameless here. I understand there are vets who dig in their heels and refuse to admit that you have a valid interest in researching things and asking questions. There are those who look at everyone with a concern about DOI studies like this:
And they really wish you would just stop looking things up and just do what they tell you, no questions asked.
But that’s not most of us. If these types of publications (I’m picking on Dogs Naturally but that’s only because they’ve published about 10 pieces like this in the last month) really cared about the overall wellbeing of pets, they would be advocating for better ways to communicate with your veterinarian instead of just telling you we all want to kill your dog with Drano injections, euthanized horsemeat kibble and drugs we are prescribing solely because we were given a free pen, so you should just stay home and feed them coconut oil and canned pumpkin and whatever else their advertisers are selling you.
(I aced “Making Little Kids Cry in Terror”, which I took the same semester as “Why Sick Pets are Better for Business than Healthy Ones so Make Sure To Keep them Sick Through Recommended Shots and Foods.”)
So yes I’m irritated, not because the content in articles like “Why Vets Are Getting Away With Murder” has no merit despite the misleading headline, but because those clickbait pieces really just serve themselves. Information is good. Using it to sow discontent instead of discourse? Not so much.
Communication, not Coconut Oil: The True Key to Health
Concerns about vaccinations, sarcomas, immune system function, and nutrition are all perfectly valid. This should be able to be part of a discussion with a good veterinarian without bloodshed or Yelp. You are all smart people. A nice, polite, rational approach to collaboration may not sell magazines, but it does create better outcomes. I will talk to you about anything, even coconut oil, delayed neutering, titers, and raw food.
I understand the difference between your pet and the community as a whole, and if you ask why we have the recommendations we do, I’d be happy to go into all the boring public health theory and discussion of cell mediated immunity and why titers don’t prove definitive immunity and all those other things a drug rep with a burrito did not teach me in a one week course. This is communication, and it’s what two people who don’t want to kill each other do.
The Truth I Don’t Want You To Know
Is there one? I don’t know, maybe this:
the times I went home crying because I couldn’t save a pet.
The times I vomited in the parking lot because of the stress of the day or the person who threatened my receptionist with a gun.
The fact that on some days, I said to myself had I known the physical and emotional cost of this job, I might have chosen a different path. Especially on the days people tell me I’m only doing it for the money, or the glory, or the free pens.
I understand there are crummy vets out there. There are crummy whatever it is you do for a living, too. Just try not to be one of them.
You know what I’d really be doing if I was in this for the money? Looking for a pet with a genetic problem to exploit for fame and fortune. Alas.
I find it ironic that people are willing to believe, without question, the word of a person selling magazines, conference tickets and, I assume, advertising, and that this is done solely out of their benevolent desire to tell you the truth about the crapfest that is my profession and nothing else. There’s no room for nuanced discussion and benefit of the doubt when you’re trying to grow a brand in a world that thrives on conflict. I’d have a much larger site if I were willing to throw a few thousand colleagues under the bus for fun and clicks, but sadly, I’m plum out of rocks today.
You and I want the same thing, long and happy life for your pet. Bananas for everyone.
There was a time, back in a pre-internet era known as the Good Old Days, when two people who had different opinions on a topic could talk about it and, even if they did not come to an understanding, could at least part ways with a better grasp of the other person’s point of view. People with different opinions were still, at the end of the day, people.
I’m not entirely sure that is the case anymore.
Lest anyone doubt me, proof enough should be the fact that we’ve just come off an election cycle. I live in an area with one of the most hotly contested Congressional races in the country, better known to us locals subjected to the campaign ads as “Mouthbreathing Carbuncle-Having Satan Worshipping Slimeball” versus “Luciferous Mucusbucket Festering Wound.” (Definitions supplied by opposing parties.)
It was a close race. I think most of us voted for one or the other not based on deep unabiding adoration so much as we held our noses and selected the one we found less odiferous. Nonetheless, after the Slimeball defeated the Festering Wound by the narrowest of margins, the loser went on the air and graciously wished his opponent “all the best”, which is a strange thing to wish someone you truly thought was the Antichrist. If you truly thought he was the path to death and destruction, you think one would continue to rage against the injustice of it all and exhort people to do something to undo this miscarriage of justice.
But politicians know the truth that a lot us seem to have forgotten. All that bluster is just that, bluster. And at the end of the day they actually have a lot more in common than not:
both middle aged men of the same demographic savvy enough to be successful in local politics
Neither advocates overthrowing Congress and disbanding the Constitution
both against selling tanks to minors
Both for free sunlight
Both generally want to work for the constituents in order for people to live well in our beautiful city, though their ideas of how to get there might vary.
And now they will retreat to their corners to do whatever it is they do until they are again required by the tenor of American culture to again start yelling about how much the other person stinks.
Rumble In the Doghouse
We all know this about politics, we all roll our eyes with the silliness of it all, but don’t be mistaken- this “live and die by the sword”, “you’re with us or you’re worthy of a messy death” attitude has permeated many corners of our lives, and it’s not pretty.
The first time I met someone at a breeder’s event, I started talking to a person very involved with the dog fancy world. When she learned what I did, she looked at me a little sideways and said, “So you’re an animal rights person.”
PETA, protesting that abhorrent group of animal haters known as the American Veterinary Medical Association (true story).
“Not animal rights. Animal welfare,” I corrected her, as the person who introduced us (you know who you are, you rotten troublemaker) rubbed his palms together and waited in glee for us to start ripping each others’ hair out.
“What’s the difference?” she asked. So I called her a puppy mill, because all breeders are the same, right?
We looked at each other, hesitated a moment, then burst into laughter as she said, “Point taken.” We’ve been friends ever since.
I suppose in another world, maybe hidden behind an anonymous screen and keyboard, we could have become mortal enemies, but we’d spent too much time face to face to be able to call the other person demon spawn. We both knew we had too much in common, including:
a love of good wine
writing long and probably way too involved stories
thinking dogs are the absolute bee’s knees. We both totally adore and spend most of our free time thinking about, canines.
This friend recently began a Kickstarter campaign to create a website commemorating National Purebred Dog Day. Now, I’m not trying to convince anyone to go and support the campaign if it’s not your thing, no more than I would try and convince someone to donate to a political candidate they did not agree with. But the simple fact that she waited a long time to even begin the campaign because she was nervous about people targeting her for being an Evil Dog Person is honestly, pretty sad. I feel the same way about that as I do people who target pittie advocates trying to end BSL: why would you do that? We are not each other’s enemies here.
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece for Vetstreet about purebreds versus mutts. I wonder if perhaps the editor was wanting me to go for the easy kill, the one that would bring 5000 shares and bloodshed in the comments section: quote people talking about how wrong the other side was, how misguided. But I didn’t want to do that.
We want people to find the right dog for their family so they keep them forever.
They had different ideas about the best way to do that, but they’re both perfectly valid approaches, really, and people have been using both successfully for some time. Let me repeat: at the end of the day we all want the same thing. The rest is just window dressing.
Can you tell which dog is more worthy, loved, or better for my family? I can’t.
Who’s the real enemy here? Apathy. Ignorance. Greed. Say what you want about either the dog fancy or the rescue community (and indeed, the large numbers who belong to both): they are not apathetic people. They care, and they want what’s best. Instead of shaking your fingers at the other side’s perceived shortcomings, listen. There is much to be learned, on both sides. I know this from experience.
It’s very easy to continue to point and shoot at the easy target. Keep on doing it if it makes you happy. It certainly makes life easier for the people at CheapPuppyMillDog.com; whenever someone gets turned off by the antics they encounter at either end of the spectrum, guess who’s waiting with open arms?
We are not each other’s enemy. If you want someone to hate on who really deserves it, I suggest these idiots. Seriously, no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Can we talk about the fainting schnauzer video? We need to talk about it, because if there’s one thing I don’t get in this world, it’s the current trend for pets with a myriad of medical malfunctions or genetic issues becoming internet sensations.
You’ve seen the video, I imagine. A dog is surprised by the owner she hasn’t seen in a year or two, and after freaking out for a few seconds she loses consciousness briefly.
Attempting to head off criticism, Carson Daly helpfully interjects “CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH GUYS” into the video. No problem, dog is great, everyone can go home, right?
Syncope, Part 1
Now without knowing the dog or what went down at the veterinary clinic, I can’t really tell you what happened, but I can tell you in general that fainting episodes (what we term syncope) are not normal, no matter how excited a dog is. There is a pathology there, whether it’s cardiac or seizure activity or something, but “she just got the vapors” is not a diagnosis.
Let me share with you the general arc of a visit when a patient brings a dog like this- and I’m including both seizure activity and syncopal episodes here- to me. Because the episode itself is short lived, by the time the dog shows up to the clinic he or she often looks fine. After taking a history and keeping in mind things like the age and breed of the pet, we begin the examination.
“Well, the physical examination findings are normal,” I say.
We could end things right here, and you could read that as saying “The pet has a clean bill of health!” But that’s missing the fact that while physical examinations are wonderful tools, they are limited in what they can tell us. The causes of syncope are rarely evident based on physical examination alone.
Syncope, Part 2, 3, and 4
“If we want to figure out the underlying cause of the issue,” I will say, “We should begin with some bloodwork and a urinalysis.” The client may or may not agree, mentally calculating the cost.
“If that’s normal, and it often is, we could proceed next to a cardiac workup: an EKG/cardiac echo/24 hours on the Holter monitor and have a cardiologist review the results.” Now we’ve definitely ventured into “need to think about it” territory.
“If the heart is fine, and we’re more concerned about seizure activity being what’s going on here, a neurologist is your best bet. Unfortunately, diagnosis usually involves costly procedures like CSF taps or CT scans. Epilepsy? Well, we don’t have a definitive test for that at all, so we just have to make the diagnosis based on ruling everything else out first.”
Many owners, especially after a first time episode, go as far as the bloodwork and decide to wait and see if it gets worse before moving to the next step. I don’t blame them- it’s expensive, and you have no idea if the dog will have an event a day later or a year later- but I just want to emphasize that unless they actually performed all of those diagnostics I just listed, it’s hard to definitively say the pet truly has a clean bill of health.
There’s a reason “The dog’s fine!!” is in the Today show headline and Carson makes sure to tell you “the dog’s fine! Someone said so!” and that reason is, we all intuitively know things aren’t fine. Just because you haven’t found the problem doesn’t mean it’s not there. It just means you haven’t located it yet. And I imagine somewhere in that visit, between answering calls from the Today show and counting YouTube hits, the vet did say just that.
In the olden days, people used to turn to carnival medicine men or the back pages of Look Magazine for the latest way to solve all of their problems. People don’t change, just the technology. Now we have the internet to turn to. If the web is to be believed, and it always is for some reason, there is a new cure for all the world’s ills. That cure is coconut oil.
It’s good for your hair, your skin, your GI tract, your dog, your mental health, and your aura. It’s anti-inflammation and pro-synergy. You can rub it on your scalp, then scrape it off and use it to cook, or sit on the leather couch and make it more supple. I don’t think there is a single malady out there that someone has not suggested coconut oil can fix:
Dry skin? Coconut oil.
Dry face? Coconut oil.
Yeast infection? You guessed it.
Alzheimer’s? Eat up.
Athlete’s foot, acne, depression, hemorrhoids, anxiety, UTI, weight loss, heartburn, autism. I guess what I’m saying is you could nuke your local CVS and be just fine as long as there was a Whole Foods next door, because coconut oil’s got you covered.
I’ve done a Whole 30 challenge, which is a no-processed food crossed with a tinge of Paleo, so I’m no stranger to coconut oil. I’ve cooked brussels sprouts in it, stirred it in my coffee, used it to make paleo pancakes. They were good.
Sadly, at the end of a jar I have to say my life has not substantially changed. Everything broken in me before is still broken. Coconut oil, while delicious and no doubt healthier than, say, margarine, has not eliminated my need for my allergy inhaler. I asked my doctor if I could try shoving coconut oil up my nose instead, just for a little while. It’s way cheaper than Dymista. She didn’t think much of the idea. When I told her I was just joking, then she sighed and said, “I get that question a lot.”
While coconut oil is unsurprisingly gaining steam in veterinary medicine, we have an equivalent that already enjoys legendary status in the home remedy category: pumpkin.
Long treated as the pet pepto-bismol, pumpkin is the go-to far various GI maladies spanning the range from constipation to diarrhea. It’s a great thing for the colon. It’s a great source of fiber and most pets will eat it. Pumpkin is Metamucil in a more holistic package.
What pumpkin is not is everything else, like an anti-emetic or anti-inflammatory or something that will teach your dog to talk. Like, it’s no coconut oil or anything.
On a friend’s Facebook page, she recently asked if it was possible for a pet to develop an allergic reaction to a food they’ve been eating for years.
10 people chimed in (correctly) that yes, this happens. Then someone said, “Why do you ask?”
“Because my dog’s been throwing up every time he eats all of a sudden.”
As a veterinarian, my mind immediately collates a list of the differentials when I hear something like this. 3 year old pit bull, history of being a destructive chewer, clearly the problem is “pumpkin deficiency.”
Which is exactly where the comment thread went.
“OMG! You need to give your dog some pumpkin.”
“Seriously! My dog loves it.”
“Pumpkin cured my dog’s farts.”
“Pumpkin is a great source of electrolytes.” And so on and so forth.
Don’t get me wrong, I like pumpkin. As far as advice on the internet goes, it’s one of the more benign things I’ve read and unlikely to cause harm. My only concern is that people recommend this in lieu of something that might actually work, such as starting with a correct diagnosis. Fortunately this person has multiple veterinary professionals on the thread, and somewhere in between pumpkin recommendations she got some solid advice.
A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor came over with her adorable 6 month old Golden Retriever. She hopped back and forth on her toes before asking me if I had any thoughts about her dog’s diarrhea.
“How long has it been going on?” I asked.
“Go to the vet.”
“We’re going tomorrow,” she said, “but in the meantime……do you have any pumpkin I can borrow?”
I did. It’s on the shelf next to the coconut oil. Hope springs eternal.
PS The dog improved dramatically … once the vet diagnosed Giardia and started Flagyl.
You’re on a walk with your dog. He looks tired. You don’t know if he’s just tired from the walk or if he’s showing early signs of hyperthermia. What do you look for?
Unless you have a lot of experience with dogs or happen to have an emergency medicine textbook on you, you might not know. But thanks to increasingly cooler and better apps, you can get some immediate reassurance from your smartphone.
The latest must-have app for dog and cat owners just came out, and at $0.99 there’s no reason not to download it right now. The Pet First Aid app from the American Red Cross was developed in conjunction with the vets at Penn, and offers concise, easy to navigate info that you can access in seconds. It’s worth the price just for the 18 second CPR videos covering three sizes of dog and a separate one for cats. (There have been some awful CPR videos out there on YouTube, just sayin’.)
I just bought it and put it on all the smart apps in the house. The pictures (dog with bee sting!) and videos (bulldog in respiratory distress!) are ones you can use to educate yourself, or for the vets out there serves as a quick and easy resource to show clients in the exam room. And it has quizzes (thank goodness I passed all the ones I took, that would have been embarrassing.)
Thanks Red Cross for another great- and affordable- resource!
You have probably been hearing a lot about canine circovirus. So have I. You may have heard some conflicting things about this virus. So have I. Because I love you all and I want you to know what I know, I’ve spent the day trying to make sense of the information that’s out there. Here’s what I know so far and why I’m not recommending mass panic at this time.
Part 1: It’s the food
Here’s how the story evolved, as far as I can piece together.
1. In mid-August, P&G pet foods issues a voluntary recall of certain lots of dry food manufactured at an East Coast plant over a 10 day period because of the possibility of Salmonella.
2. Last week, The Pet Spot, a pet kennel in Ohio, learns that several dogs who had been at the facility in the last few weeks had become sickened with a severe hemorrhagic gastroenteritis/ vasculitis type disease. Three of those dogs died.
3. The kennel owner, trying to figure out what was going on, noted that his kennel’s stock food is Iams. He makes a “hey, we may want to look into this” sort of statement which gets digested, churned up in the bowels of social media and local media, and becomes
OMG EUKANUBA IS KILLING DOGS AGAIN (CHAOS/PITCHFORKS)
The only problem is, it wasn’t. By this time, P&G- which coincidentally is headquartered in Ohio- hears this story and of course they would like to know what happened to those dogs. I spoke with Jason Taylor over at P&G, who among many duties has the awesomely fun job of managing pet food recalls when and if they occur, to ask what happened next.
According to Taylor, despite the fact that the kennel owner did not have the lot codes of the food he was using, P&G was able to ascertain the lot numbers based on order history and shipping details, determining that the food being fed at the kennel was not part of the recall, and in fact was not even manufactured at the same factory.
But since they were there anyway with a group of microbiologists and toxicity experts and a small business owner who was under a lot of pressure to figure out what was going on, they figured they would add their resources to the investigation, crawling around with cotton swabs and all that science-y stuff and send it off to see if there was any identifiable pathogen in the environment. There was none. The facility was cleared to re-open.
Still with me?
Part 2: It’s circovirus
4. By now, the state veterinarian, the local veterinary community, and the Ohio State veterinary hospital are involved. People put their heads together. Someone says, “hey, I remember reading about a dog in California that died this April with similar symptoms; he had circovirus, which is weird and unusual because it’s normally a pig disease. We should test for that too.” The news, already paying attention after losing the whole pet food angle, is still interested. Under the tender editorial guidance of a click-happy news site, “we are investigating this possibility” becomes:
OMG A SCARY NEW VIRUS WILL KILL YOUR DOG
because if there’s one thing the spell check challenged online journalism teams at local newspapers like to do, it’s to drive traffic with leads like “It’s a scary new disease, that can kill your dog” then follow up with some man-on-the street interviews with statements such as “It can like, kill your dog, and that’s like bad for them.”
As anyone who has read any sort of newspaper or watched any news channel in the last decade will attest to, journalism has become less about accurate reporting and more about fast reporting. It’s the nature of the beast these days, but it’s why everything needs to be taken with a grain or bushel of salt because guess what?
According to a UC Davis professor who tested samples from three of the affected dogs, only one tested positive for circovirus. You may not have heard that yet because Ohio can’t test for circovirus; samples got sent to California and despite what CSI tells us, results are not instantaneous. It took this long for the official results to come in, which is about 4 days too slow for a news cycle that is moving on to the next disaster at midnight.
Part 3: It’s…a case in progress
So what do we know about circovirus and dogs, exactly? Not much. What caused these illnesses? Not sure.
Correlation does not imply causation. In the above referenced piece, Dr. Pesavento points to an academic article published in April that talks about the dog in California, then went looking for the presence of circovirus in other dogs. To sum up, it was found in some dogs with diarrhea. It was also found in some healthy dogs. Most of the sick dogs were co-infected with some other pathogen as well. Clear as mud.
So again, what do we know about circovirus in dogs? That it exists. It may or may not cause disease. That is all the scientists are willing to say at the moment. Wordier summary is in the Ohio Department of Agriculture press release.
That is soooo anticlimactic and unsexy and un-newsworthy, and as a person who likes exciting news as much as the next person I wish I had something more earth-shattering to report. But at the end of the day I am also a person that likes TL:DR summaries, so to put it all in one handy image:
Part 4: So now we torch the dog park, right?
I in no way want to minimize what happened to those affected dogs, who suffered from a rapid onset, devastating illness. It is entirely possible that circovirus will be identified as the cause, and in that case we can revisit this issue and talk more. I as much as anyone else hope the patient scientists who make this their life’s work will be rewarded for their diligence with a definitive cause. As of now, there is none. We live such stressful lives as it is, I like to wait until I’m forced to panic so I don’t spend my entire life wedged in the corner covered in Saran Wrap. While we wait to determine if this is necessary, here’s what you can do:
1. Remember the number of reported cases stands at ‘miniscule’. If you’re worrying about circovirus while your dog is running around a year late on his parvo booster, I would recommend re-focusing your attention, at least for the time being. That being said:
2. Call the vet immediately if your dog shows any signs of this disease. If your dog has bloody diarrhea, you should be at the vet ASAP anyway; this advice has not changed since before this virus emerged. The affected pets became rapidly, severely ill: rapid treatment was essential to positive outcome.
3. Avoid high risk environments. Consider the fact that all of the reported cases happened in dogs that had recently been to kennels or doggie daycares. High concentration of dogs in one place means higher likelihood of disease spread. I actually don’t recommend carte blanche avoiding these environments, but if you are really concerned or if your dog has a less than hardy immune system, dogs survive just fine without those facilities.
A grape. So benign. Frozen, so delicious. Dehydrated, so raisin-y. And in large quantities in dogs, the unassuming grape goes Breaking Bad and becomes a killer. Da da duuuuum…. so let’s talk toxic foods for a minute.
When my friend Lili Chin over at Doggie Drawings asked if I would look over a poster she was designing of toxic foods for canines, I was so excited, because her drawings rock and I couldn’t wait to see how she interpreted “bulb of garlic.” The idea was to create a simple, cute piece about toxic foods for dogs, and she wanted my thoughts.
As soon as I looked at the list, I realized this would be a challenge, because toxicity is not always linear. Sometimes a dog eats a bag of grapes and is fine and other times a dog eats one bite of pork fried rice and dies of pancreatitis. Sometimes only portions of a fruit are toxic and other parts are fine. Sometimes there are at least three variables that must be calculated before you know if a food was ingested at a toxic amount (chocolate, for example.)
There is a reason this poster does not have in-depth detail about toxicity doses, etc. Determining toxic likelihood on a case-by-case basis is exactly what veterinarians are for, so if you swear up and down onions have made your dog’s life better don’t email me complaining, talk to your vet and go forward in peace. Consider this a lighthearted PSA that you can do with what you will.
At the end of the day, the world will always be improved by more of Lili’s drawings. Macadamias packing heat will NEVER go out of style.
Source: Lili Chin, DoggieDrawings.net
What this is: a cute graphic with limited specifics intended to share knowledge about foods that might cause a problem for your dog, so that you can discuss it with your veterinarian if you are concerned.
What this is not: An exhaustive treatise with toxic dose approximations, a prediction of your dog’s demise if he eats a piece of cheese, an academic piece in a peer reviewed journal, a substitute for your vet’s opinion.
A week ago, I decided I was going to stop drinking caffeine. Now if you know me at all, you know I adore coffee, more than almost anything else in life. If you cut my arm, skinny vanilla latte would pour out. The decision to give up my biggest vice was not an easy one by any means, but at the end of the day, health trumps pleasure, and I figured there’s always decaf.
I did what everyone tells you not to do, and just stopped cold turkey. Big mistake, everyone.
8 am: I felt a little sluggish, but not too off. This is totally manageable.
10 am: I felt really sluggish, like I was about to fall off the kitchen barstool; a sober drunk. I am still mostly coherent, though, so I figure I can continue to tough it out. My children look on in confusion.
noon: I felt a little twinge in the back of my temple, just a tiny blip of a possible headache. I take 2 Advil. Ah yes, the infamous caffeine headache. It’s not too bad, though.
3 pm: An small but bloodthirsty miniature barbarian horde has invaded my head. They have taken microscopic pickaxes to my sinuses and are attempting to harvest my eyeballs through the back of my orbits. Paralyzed by exhaustion, I am unable to tell anyone of my predicament as I am systematically destroyed.
Here they come.
5 pm: My husband finds me slumped on the bed in the fetal position, moving centimeter by centimeter in slow motion because every time a wave of movement jolts the marauding horde in my cranium, they get angry again. He has no way to tell that this is what is going on; as far as he knows, I have the flu, or allergies, or I ate some bad Greek yogurt. In a feathery voice, I whisper: “Make me a cup of coffee, if you would.”
I admit defeat, and give the barbarians their drugs.
7 pm: Feel fine.
If you are not someone who experiences headaches, you have my complete and utter envy. While my caffeine withdrawal headache was nasty (I have since elected for a more subtle weaning-off process), I used to suffer migraines as well and those would pretty much put you out of commission in a blinding stroke of agony, nausea, and an unending mantra: please let me go unconscious please let me go unconscious. And despite the misery and despair you are experiencing, to the outside you simply look like someone who doesn’t feel that great.
But what about dogs?
At 11 pm, recovered but now fully awake from my late night caffeine jolt, I started thinking about dogs and headaches. As veterinarians, we aren’t really trained in the idea that dogs get headaches, so therefore they don’t exist. Well, pain in the head is not a disease, it’s a clinical sign of a disease process, such as dehydration, brain tumors, or any number of other problem that both dogs and humans do get, so it’s not unreasonable to think they might get head pain as well. They get other kinds of pain, after all. But objectively speaking, we have no idea whether or not a dog gets a headache because there’s no way for them to describe it as such.
I suspect they do get them. Have you ever seen a dog with a hangover? I have, sadly, in the ER. It’s not funny, it’s actually very sad that someone would knowingly intoxicate an animal, but the morning after they really do look like every college kid on a Sunday morning. Whatever it is they are feeling, it’s not super awesome.
At my first job, I worked with an old timer who always criticized how long it took my pets to wake up from anesthesia. “Look how quickly mine wake up!” he’d crow proudly. 20 minutes after a spay they were up and pacing. Mine were usually out for at least an hour or two. Eventually I decided to take a look at the differences in technique, and the main difference was this: I gave a lot more pain medications. My pain protocol back then was an eye-roller to many, but is now standard in many hospitals. My patients weren’t taking too long to recover, they were sleeping because their pain was being managed appropriately and they were comfortable.
If you could please stop playing the bongoes over there, that would be great.
If you talk to your typical veterinary anesthesiologist or oncologist, many of them will tell you that most people- vets included- tend to underestimate the amount of pain a pet experiences, assuming if a pet is not howling in pain they are OK. The more we learn, the more we are realizing the effect of pain on health, and how much more we can do to alleviate it. We are getting better about that as a profession, and I’m glad to see more and more vets adopting aggressive pain management protocols for everything from cancer to arthritis, but at the end of the day we can’t really manage a symptom we don’t know exists.
So to answer the question: Do dogs get headaches? I hope not, but I suspect they might. Poor dogs. Good thing Brody’s not hooked on caffeine.
Know your dog or cat. Know what is normal behavior and what is off. And if you suspect something is wrong, trust your instincts, and get them to a vet. Subtle signs can mean big things going on.
It says right there on my FAQ that I don’t do book reviews. Not because I don’t like doing it, but because approximately two seconds after the review book arrives I start to get emails: “didyougetitdidyoulikeitwhensthereview” from the publishing house interns whose job it is to do things like that. Which is completely fine, except for the fact that I don’t read very quickly and I just couldn’t handle the pressure.
I will do book reviews, just as long as no one cares when I get around to it. Which brings me to this rare moment: telling you about two books I like enough to have read and now share. (Neither author, by the by, requested a review, so take heart that I really just actually wanted to share these with you.)
Both books revolve around dog safety, which with the Fourth of July coming around is very apropos.
Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas is better known round these parts as “The Preventive Vet“, because as a vet with a strong background in emergency medicine he strongly believes in- wait for it- preventive care. For all those people who continue to be convinced vets are all about the buck, I present to you an ER vet who is now spending his days trying to keep your pet out of the ER.
What I love: Dr. Nicholas distills a world of information into 101 easily digestible bite sized paragraphs (ha), organized by topic: digestive, toxic, traumatic, etc. The tips are written in a way that emphasizes not only what the problem is, but how to prevent it. Also: Dr. Nicholas is donating 5% of book proceeds to charity.
Who else loves it: Andrea Arden, Dr Ann Hoenhaus, Dr. Karl Jandrey.
Bottom line: If this book makes it into every new puppy pack and gift basket, I’ll be a happy camper. A perfect ‘how to’ manual to keeping your pets safe.
Author: I met pet safety expert Melanie Monteiro last week when we were working on a piece for Sleepypod about car harness safety (and boy, talk about scary stuff there!) I asked her how she ended up in that line of work, and she told me after trip after trip to the ER while working as a puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence, she was inspired to learn more on the topic. Now that she’s mastered the field she teaches pet first aid and disaster response to pet owners.
What I love: Melanie talked to some of the best veterinarians in the field to research this book, and it shows. There’s not a page that doesn’t provide excellent, accurate information on how to recognize an emergency, and easy to follow first aid instructions. Also: easy to use index, beautiful color photographs, and spiral binding so it can lie flat while you’re looking up the well diagrammed safe restraint techniques. Oh, and the Boston on the cover doesn’t hurt either.
Who else loves it: VPI, Ellen Degeneres, Dean Koontz.
Bottom line: A thorough, easy to use, and beautiful book that provides life saving information as well as very helpful graphs, diagrams, and photos. I’ve never seen a reference book this usable.
Where to buy: Currently on sale at Amazon for $8.00.
Though the topics are the same, the approaches are very different and complement each other well. I debated offering them as a giveaway but after reading them I decided you will have to pry them out of my cold dead hands. Better yet, come to my house where they live side by side in harmony on my bookshelf, flip through them, and go buy your own.
If you have other must read summer books, please do let me know in the comments.