Archive for June, 2012

Vomiting and diarrhea can be symptoms of many conditions

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Vomitus Doggy-Us

May 07, 2012|Jeffrey Vogl, DVM, South Bend, Ind.

I think I am old enough now that I can use the phrase, “You remember the good old days.”  If you listen to the “older than me timers” you could feed your dog scraps, bones, pork or anything else lying around. They wouldn’t get sick and still live forever. And that’s a long time.  I am not sure how true all this is, but I still hear it said by many of our charming senior clients.  These days, we get several calls about vomiting or diarrhea patients every single day.  Our patients compared to the past seem to have a much more “sensitive constitution,” as my grandma would have said.

There is good news and bad news with these symptoms, which often go hand in hand. Fortunately, the vast majority of our cases are nothing more than an upset stomach for some very simple reason. Unfortunately for us as veterinarians, vomiting and diarrhea are such vague signs that they can be associated with hundreds of diseases, from benign to deadly. Fortunately, we don’t have to work up every case with blood work, radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, ct scan, exploratory surgery, etc. to diagnose a cause.  Unfortunately, sometimes we do.  Fortunately, most vomiting and diarrhea cases are really easy to treat, oftentimes with things you can do at home and with over-the-counter medications you may already have.  Unfortunately it may take a few days to get things under control.  Fortunately, most of these cases will be normal very quickly.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure): A Common Problem in Cats

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Monday, June 18, 2012 – From the Animal Endocrine Clinic by Dr. Mark E. Peterson

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure, which is a common problem in older cats. In cats, hypertension is commonly found as a complication of other underlying medical conditions (so-called secondary hypertension). However, primary or essential hypertension (i.e., hypertension that develops without any underlying medical disorder) may also be seen in cats (1).

In contrast to people, where essential hypertension is most common, secondary hypertension is more common in cats. The most common cause of secondary hypertension in cats is chronic kidney disease (CKD). After CKD, the next 3 most common causes for hypertension in cats are all hormonal problems (1). These include the following:
  • Hyperthyroidism (caused by a tumor of the thyroid gland that oversecretes thyroid hormone).
  • Hyperaldosteronism or Conn’s syndrome (usually caused by a tumor of the adrenal gland that secretes too much of the hormone aldosterone)
  • Diabetes mellitus (caused by lack of sufficient insulin secretion by the pancreas, or resistance to the action of the body’s insulin)
  • Obesity (yes, fat tissue is the bodies largest endocrine gland, so obesity is a common endocrine disease)
Damaging Effects of Hypertension
Hypertension is damaging to the body. In general, hypertension becomes an issue when the blood pressure becomes too high for the vessels carrying the blood.
Imagine attaching a garden hose to a fire hydrant. The high pressure from the hydrant would cause the garden hose to explode. Hypertension is similar. When a blood vessel is too small for the pressure on it, it can “explode,” causing internal bleeding. Since the affected vessels are small, the bleeding may not be noticeable, but a lot of little bleeds and a lot of blood vessel destruction can create big problems long-term.
The effects are most serious in certain vulnerable organs, including the eye, brain, and kidneys.
Eyes: The retina (in the back of the eye) is especially at risk in cats with hypertension—sudden or gradual blindness is often the first sign of latent hypertension. Bleeding into the eye and retinal changes such as swelling and detachment can occur. This may result in damage to the cat’s vision which is often permanent. In some cats, bleeding into the front of the eye can be seen without the use of special ophthalmology equipment.
Brain and central nervous system: If a blood vessel ruptures in the brain, the cat may develop neurological signs such as changes in behavior, a wobbly or drunken gait, seizures, dementia, and even coma. In addition to hemorrhage, high blood pressure also increases the risk of embolism: tiny blood clots that form when blood flow is abnormal. These clots can lodge in dangerous locations, such as the brain.
Kidneys: The kidney can also be affected, as it relies on tiny vessels to filter toxins from the bloodstream. Not only is kidney disease the most important cause of hypertension in cats, but CKD also progresses much more rapidly in the presence of high blood pressure.
Even in cats that have hypertension from another cause, high blood pressure damages the kidneys and may increase the risk of kidney failure developing.
Clinical Findings in Feline Hypertension
In many cats, no specific clinical signs of hypertension will be seen until the condition advances to the point when blindness develops from spontaneous bleeding into the eye or retina.
As hypertension is often secondary to another disease, most cats with hypertension will be showing signs attributable to their underlying problem. For example, hyperthyroid cats will generally have weight loss (in spite of an increased appetite) and hyperactivity as the major clinical signs. Cats with CKD or diabetes will generally show an increase in thirst and urination.
Diagnosis of Hypertension in Cats
Early recognition of hypertension is important to minimize the damaging effects of persistently high blood pressure on the eyes and other organs (1,2). Without obvious signs of hypertension, such as blindness, we can diagnose hypertension through screening, as in humans.
If your cat has one of the disorders commonly associated with secondary hypertension, such as renal disease or hyperthyroidism, your veterinarian should check its blood pressure. I recommend that even healthy cats have their blood pressure checked annually, especially if they are over 10 years old. Measuring blood pressure only takes a few minutes, is completely pain-free and is extremely well tolerated by most cats.
A complete eye examination is also essential since ocular disease is common in hypertensive cats. In mildly affected cats, subtle changes to the appearance of the blood vessels at the back of the eye (retina) and to the retina itself may be seen. In more severely affected cats, the changes can be dramatic and include retinal detachment and bleeding into the eye.
Treatment of Feline Hypertension
For any cat diagnosed as having hypertension, our goal of treatment is 3-fold:
  1. To reduce the blood pressure using anti-hypertensive drugs
  2. To search for an underlying disease, such as kidney disease, which has caused the hypertension. In some cases, for example hyperthyroidism, treatment of the underlying disease may also resolve the high blood pressure.
  3. To assess what complications of hypertension are present (such as ocular disease)

Cats vary in their response to anti-hypertensive drugs and some will require dose adjustments to normalize their blood pressure. Once stabilized, hypertensive cats should have their blood pressure monitored every 2 to 4 months to ensure that the pressure remains normal.

  1. Jepson RE. Feline systemic hypertension: Classification and pathogenesis. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 2011;13:25-34.
  2. Stepien RL. Feline systemic hypertension: Diagnosis and management. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 2011;13:35-43.

As summer begins learn about heatstroke in dogs

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Even when it’s only moderately warm outdoors, the interior of a home or car can quickly become an oven.
Heatstroke, an excessively high body temperature, can cause brain damage, kidney failure and, in half its canine victims, death.
We dogs are particularly susceptible because we can’t regulate our body temperatures very well, especially if we’re young, old, overweight, have breathing difficulties or have heart disease or other medical problems.
Signs of heatstroke include rapid breathing and heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea and then collapse.
Treatment is aimed at lowering body temperature and preventing damage to the brain and other organs through intravenous fluids and medications.
If Eddie ever has a repeat episode, spray him with a garden hose or immerse him in cool water, but not ice water, before you transport him to the animal hospital. Once he’s in the car, position him by the air conditioner vents.

Pain leads to aggression in some dogs, study says

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Sudden changes in a dog’s temperament, for example episodes of aggression, could be related to some internal pain they are feeling, which sets them on edge if they are touched, new research indicates.

“If the pet is handled when in pain, it will quickly act aggressively to avoid more discomfort without the owner being able to prevent it,” study researcher Tomàs Camps, of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, in Spain, said in a statement. “Dogs that had never been aggressive before the onset of pain began to behave in this way in situations where an attempt is made to control them.”

Irritability from pain can make otherwise affectionate dogs violent and already aggressive dogs even more aggressive. As such, the researchers say, their findings support the importance of the diagnosis and treatment of pain in dogs.

Tips for addressing urination problems in cats

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

There are a number of reasons why a cat will not use a litter box when urinating  and there are a lot of cats out there who have this problem. Trying to find the  ultimate reason for each particular cat can be time-consuming and frustrating  for the owner, the cat and the veterinarian!

Some of the basic reasons that might cause this behavior revolve around the  litter pan itself. The placement of the litter box is very important. Litter  boxes should be in quiet, low traffic areas of the house. Also, you should have  one litter box per cat in the household. Sometimes cats do not like the texture  of the litter, so changing the litter can be helpful. If you have recently  changed the brand of litter you use, your cat may not agree with your  choice.

Also, make sure you are keeping the litter box as clean as possible because  most cats are very particular about not using a dirty litter box. If you have a  multiple-cat household, then making sure that one cat is not harassing the other  cat in or around the litter box is also important.

Stress can also cause a cat to quit using the litter box appropriately. If  there have been changes in your household, for example, if you are under stress,  your pet may be picking up that feeling from you. This kind of household stress  can often cause pets to exhibit inappropriate behavior as a release of the  tension they feel.

If you feel that you have addressed all these issues, then the next question  becomes Is this health-related? Does your cat have a disease that is causing  this behavior? It is essential to rule out other issues, such as a urinary tract  infection, metabolic disease, pain, etc., that might be inciting the  behavior.

If this has become an “ingrained” behavior then, once all medical issues have  been ruled out, your veterinarian might have you try some behavior modifying  drugs to see if that will help with curbing the inappropriate urinations.

You can reach at Dr. Miller at

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Age is not a disease

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Just a few days ago a client asked me how old my dog was, and I actually had to think about it.  My first impulsive answer was that he was four years old, but I instantly knew that this was not correct since we adopted him when my oldest son was still in elementary school, and now he is in college. After a few seconds passed, I realized that my dog, Zack, is 9 years old. My client said, “Oh, he’s getting old!” I was shaken a bit by her response. I never thought of him as “old.”

As a veterinarian, I am keenly aware that pets age much more rapidly than humans, and that we have to be proactive with their health care. That night I returned home to re-examine my “older” dog and was pleased to have found him in good health.

The misconception that 9 years of age is old for a dog brings me to a phrase that I frequently say in my examination room, “Age is not a disease.” In addition, age should not be a reason to decline health care advice or treatment.  My dog Zack may be older than he was one year ago, but he’s in great health, and I am not going to treat or think of him as a declining pet just because of his numerical age. He’s got a great spirit, good blood work and last year got a new left artificial hip to help his gait.

As a veterinarian, I would like to share with you some ideas on how to keep your aging pet as healthy as possible. Here’s my list of things that I do for my dog, two cats, and thousands of aging pet patients:

1. Keep their weight trim. Carrying extra weight around is a tremendous burden and a strain on joints, heart and blood sugar control. It is important to exercise your pet. For dogs, it’s walking 20 minutes a day, playing in the yard or park, and swimming if you have access to water. For cats, I recommend playing fetch with a foil ball, hiding food around the house for them to find, putting dry food in a “food-dispensing ball” and let them bat it around the house, and my favorite is laser tag with a penlight. Exercise is not only a great way to help keep down body fat, but it also is great for mental stimulation and maintaining good muscle mass.

2. Take them at least once, or best twice yearly, to your veterinarian for a complete health examination and blood work, called a CBC (Complete Blood Count) and Chemistry Profile (evaluates your pet’s organs). Be pro-active with your pet’s healthcare. It’s amazing what we discover each day when running yearly wellness blood work on our patients. It is best for all to uncover problems early so that we can try to correct or adjust our veterinary care as quickly as possible.  In addition, pets are extremely stoic and do not easily show pain or distress until they are fairly sick (especially cats). In fact yesterday a client came to see me with their 12-year-old dog for her yearly examination and vaccination appointment. During this yearly check up, I discovered a grapefruit-sized mass in her caudal abdomen. I asked the client if she noticed any changes in her pet’s behavior. She answered, “No, but for these last few months she does want to go outside to urinate more frequently. When she was younger she could hold her urine for eight-to-10 hours, now she wants to go outside every five-to-six hours. I just thought she was getting old.”

Dogs do get older when they age, but that does not mean that all changes in their activity or behavior are simply a result of their body naturally deteriorating and that there is nothing we can do to help them.  In this particular situation, this dog’s increased frequency of urination was due to the abdominal mass putting pressure on her bladder and not simply the fact that she was getting older and losing her ability to control her bladder function.  In this situation, surgical intervention could be potentially curative.

So, don’t think your pet is slowing down just because he or she is getting older, maybe there is something medically wrong that can be addressed by your veterinarian.  For the sake of your pet, don’t assume nothing can be done unless you speak to your veterinarian. You’ll be amazed at how advanced veterinary medical care has become and what we can offer you and your pet for a better quality of life.

3. Feed your aging pet a quality diet that is nutritious and balanced. For dogs, I like to see protein in the 30 percent range of daily caloric intake.  For cats, I like their protein to be in the 50 percent range of daily calories ingested. (You may want to read an earlier Huffington Post blog that I wrote about “Demystifying the Cat Diet” for more information on what to feed a cat.) I know clients feel good about giving their pets treats and food from the table, but those “table treats” add up in calories and are not necessary for pets’ well-being. In addition, clients like to buy pet food labeled “senior diet” for their older pets, which unfortunately has no consistent meaning in the pet food industry. Some senior food is low in calorie, and some is high in calorie. Some senior food is low in protein, and some is high in protein. Years ago, we would recommend feeding low protein formulated food to our senior pets thinking that this would help their kidneys. Regrettably, we were wrong. Low protein diets do not help senior pets, even those with early to moderate kidney disease. We actually discovered that restricting protein, especially in elderly cats, actually accelerates their muscle wasting. So don’t deprive your elderly pet protein unless directed by your veterinarian.

4. Help your pet move more gracefully and comfortably. There are a great number of anti-inflammatory drugs available for dogs and pain medications for both cats and dogs. If you see your dog having difficulties climbing up stairs or walking around the block, trembling, stiffness when getting up from rest, or slipping on the floors, go see your veterinarian. If your cat is having difficulties jumping onto countertops (I’m sure he/she is not supposed to be there anyways) or onto furniture, this is a sign that your pet may be suffering from arthritis.  Your veterinarian may recommend radiographs of problematic joints to document the pathology and then, dispense an anti-inflammatory drug and/or pain medication to make your pet feel better. There is no reason for pets to silently suffer in pain today.  In addition to anti-inflammatory and pain medication, we also have in our arsenal of care nutra-pharmaceutical products that can really increase your pet’s quality of life. Acupuncture and physical therapy is also available to help your pet’s pain management and increase their movement.

5. I recommend Omega 3 Supplements to all patients unless they have dietary intolerances to fish products. I believe fish oil supplementation is beneficial to the coat, it decreases inflammation in the joints by up to 20 percent, and it has a nice protective effect on the kidneys and liver.  Please consult with your veterinarian if he/she may think this is a good product for your pet to take.  Ask your veterinarian for the appropriate dose, too. For your information, all fish oil is the same — it does not need to be labeled for pets only. You can share your fish oil, which typically is lower priced than the fish oil supplement for pets, with your pet.

6. Brush your pet’s teeth. Dental disease is a tremendous source of pain and discomfort for your pet. In addition, the bacteria in the oral cavity can enter the blood stream and aggravate your pet’s heart, kidney or liver. Brushing your pet’s teeth can be quite simple. I always recommend to my client to first start with a moist gauze square and just massage your pet’s gums and outer tooth surfaces. Eventually, add pet appropriate toothpaste to the moistened gauze square and gently scrub teeth. The final step would be to try a toothbrush. To be honest, most of my cat clients use a gauze square or finger tooth brush — it’s almost impossible in some cats to use a small children’s sized tooth brush. We have a “How to brush your pet’s teeth” video on our Animal Medical Center of Chicago website that you may wish to watch to learn this technique. We recommend brushing your pet’s teeth at least three times per week.
Despite home dental care, I would anticipate, at least once yearly to have your pet’s teeth professionally cleaned and evaluated under general anesthesia by your veterinarian. Unfortunately, even the pets that let owners brush their teeth daily still do get dental pathology. Regrettably, 70 percent of all dental pathology is beneath the gum line and not visible to eye.

7. Watch for signs of pain — for pet’s it can be very difficult to assess. In fact, veterinarians themselves cannot agree on all the signs of pain in our patients. The obvious signs of pain are dull attitude, loss of appetite, decreased ambulation or limping and crying out. The more subtle signs may be restlessness — just unable to sleep or lay in one position for an extended time period-, decreased grooming (especially for cats), panting, quiet behavior, depressed appetite, salivation, less interactive, changes in water intake,  not interested in being petted or weight loss. If you think your pet is in pain, contact your veterinarian. Hopefully, together with your veterinarian, you will be able to uncover the source and potentially find a solution to your pet’s discomfort.

8. Pet your pet! Check for lumps and bumps that just don’t belong there. If you discover one, see your veterinarian. Hopefully it’s nothing significant, like a fatty tumor, called a Lipoma, which is quite common in older pets. If it is something significant, the good news is that you may have caught it early and it can be surgically or medically addressed as soon as possible giving your pet the greatest chance of a successful outcome.

I know my dog is 9 years of age and is not getting younger, but that doesn’t mean that I’m ready to put him in a wheel chair and push him around.  I believe in being proactive with his health and make his remaining years as enjoyable as possible. Yes, I will try to remember to brush his teeth daily. I will continue to watch his figure to keep him trim. He loves to swim in Lake Michigan on the weekends, and I look forward to years of throwing his tennis ball into the water for him to retrieve. He gets his daily Dasuquin with MSM (a glucosamine chondroitin supplement) and fish oil, along with an occasional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, and monthly Adequan injections (helps lubricate his joints and provides some anti-inflammatory benefit) for his bad hip.  It’s a little bit of extra work to keep him at the top of his game, but it’s worth it.

I believe that your pet’s senior days can be just as enjoyable as his/her younger days. Take active care of yourself and your pet, and enjoy the remaining days together. You’ll never regret it!

Veterinarian, Animal Medical Center of Chicago

from Huffington Post CHICAGO

Grading system helps form prognosis for cats with kidney failure

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM

Cat with Vet

An annual visit to your cat’s veterinarian will result in blood tests being submitted to a veterinary laboratory to test for a variety of diseases such as hyperthyroidism and chronic kidney disease. To the typical cat owner, a diagnosis of kidney disease sounds ominous, but it’s not always as bad as it sounds. Take for example my nephew cat BeeDee. He had a rough start in life, abandoned as a kitten at The Animal Medical Center following a head trauma incident. My sister adopted him and he lived a good life, twenty-one years to be exact, despite having been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease at age eighteen.

Kidney disease: The diagnosis

Estimates suggest one to three percent of cats will develop kidney disease during their lifetime and one in twelve geriatric cats has kidney disease. The diagnosis of chronic kidney disease in a cat like BeeDee is based on elevations in two blood tests: blood urea nitrogen, commonly abbreviated BUN, and creatinine plus evaluation of urine-specific gravity. In chronic kidney disease, the urine-specific gravity is neither concentrated nor dilute; it falls in a middle range known as isothenuric because the impaired kidneys no longer have the ability to concentrate or dilute the urine. Creatinine and BUN can be elevated in disorders other than chronic kidney disease such as a kidney infection or dehydration. Taking a urine sample from your cat to his annual examination will win you a gold star from your veterinarian and allow the urine to be tested to determine if chronic kidney disease is likely. For suggestions on how to collect feline urine, click here.

Severity scoring

The International Renal Interest Society (IRIS) developed guidelines to grade the severity of chronic kidney disease in cats and dogs. The IRIS guidelines rank kidney disease from stage I to stage IV as the creatinine increases. Since as many as twenty percent of cats with chronic kidney disease have hypertension, your cat’s veterinarian will recommend blood pressure monitoring. Blood pressure, urine protein level, and organ damage from hypertension all play a role in IRIS staging. As your cat’s stage increases, so does the need for treatment.

A low score wins!

A study of 211 cats with chronic kidney disease, performed at The AMC, showed IRIS stage based only on creatinine levels in the blood correlated with the cat’s longevity. Cats diagnosed with Stage IIb had a creatinine >2.3 mg/dl, stage III greater than 2.8 mg/dl and stage IV greater than 5 mg/dl. Those cats with IRIS stage II kidney disease survived on average over 1000 days, stage III cats nearly 800 days and stage IV cats only about 100 days.

If your cat’s diagnosis is low IRIS stage chronic kidney disease, try not to worry. Treatment can help keep your cat around for years to come. I can’t guarantee your cat will do as well as my nephew cat and live to the ripe old age of 21 – but you never know!

Causes of Ascites in a Cat

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Ascites is a fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity. Paracentesis , (the removal of the abdominal fluid) can be not only therapeutic but diagnostic. In many cases a fluid analysis can be done that may help determine the cause, but the ultrasound seemed to give some direction.

In the case of a cat, one possibility is feline infectious peritonitis, which is a viral disease. Often accompanied by high fever, it is usually fatal. Your cat’s age makes me think her ascites was probably not due to FIP but rather a liver condition, some kind of abdominal cancer or heart failure. Blood work may have been diagnostic but ultimately either a cardiac evaluation or abdominal biopsies would have most likely given answers. Had the cause been identified, treatment may have consisted of various medications starting with a diuretic, low-salt diet and periodic abdominal fluid removal.

The problem is that, despite getting answers, sometimes we can still do nothing to improve a situation and that may well have been the case with your cat.

John de Jong, D.V.M., is the owner/operator of Boston Mobile Veterinary Clinic and CEO/director at Boston Animal Hospital.

Keep Pets Parasite Free this Summer

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

When the school bell rings for the last time, many children have furry friends eagerly awaiting summertime outdoor adventures. Proper veterinary care and good hygiene can help keep pets and kids parasite-free.

“As we spend time outdoors, we expose ourselves to fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and internal parasites, such as hookworms, roundworms and tapeworms more frequently,” said Dr. Jody Ray, assistant clinical professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University.

Ray said as children play outside, they can contract parasites from contaminated soil.

“Infected animals that defecate on the beach or in the sandbox can leave behind parasites that can burrow into the skin or be ingested when a child eats dirt or gets sand in his or her mouth,” he said. “These intestinal parasites are easily controlled with most monthly heartworm preventives.”

Ray said children are at a higher risk for contracting zoonotic diseases — those that can be transmitted from animals to humans — because of their play habits and love for pets.

Giardiasis is a common parasitic disease with higher infection rates in the summer.

“It is spread by ingesting food or water contaminated by defecation from an infected animal or person – so campers, people who swim in ponds or kiddie pools accessible to animals, travelers and child-care workers are at a higher risk,” he said.

Ray said families can take several precautions against zoonotic diseases.

“Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them,” he said. “Cover the sand box when it is not in use. Remove feces from the home and backyard, and use proper hygiene when handling it. Wash hands properly. Do not allow pets to roam freely because they can come into contact with infected animals. In some areas, keep your pets on heartworm prevention as well as flea and tick control every 30 days year-round.

“Use insect repellant liberally when in flea- or tick-infested areas. Shower thoroughly and check for ticks after being outside. Keep grass cut short for better flea control,” he said.

Animals Help People in Interesting Ways

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

You’ve seen police on horseback or drug-sniffing dogs. But those aren’t the only animals with jobs that help their cities. From the most adorable lawn-mowers ever to man’s best bedbug hunters, here are five ways animals are helping address nagging urban problems.

As Brush Clearers

Photo courtesy of Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr

In Seattle, there are two constants: hills and blackberry bushes, the latter of which spread quickly through gardens and green spaces. Combine the two and you’ve got a real headache for the city’s public works department. But there’s one animal that thrives on hills and thorny bushes: goats.

The city’s department of transportation hired 60 goats to clear a hill of brush that was deemed too dangerous for humans to navigate. Seattle City Light, the city’s electric power utility, and the Seattle Parks and Recreation department have also hired the goats for brush clearing. One goat owner who rents them out to the city told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “They suck down blackberry vines like it was spaghetti. I don’t understand it, [but] the thorns don’t bother them at all.”

As Bedbug Finders

Bedbugs are a nightmare to get rid of and they thrive in urban environments. But many cities are finding success employing dogs to search out the elusive pests. City housing authorities from Seattle, Milwaukee, and New York have purchased bedbug-sniffing dogs. Just as dogs can be trained to sniff out drugs and bombs, certain dogs can be trained to find bedbugs.

But these specialized canines come at a high price. In 2009, Milwaukee purchased Gracie, a 12-pound Jack Russell terrier, to go on bedbug-hunting missions throughout the city’s 5,300 units of public housing. Gracie cost the city $10,000, but one city official explained to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel why she’s worth the money:

The advantage is that the animal can pinpoint bedbugs without having to go through all the units in a building, or trying to treat a whole building with various methods like raising the temperature in a building to 120 degrees.

And to stay off this list, we’re guessing it’s worth the cost.

As Natural Pesticides

In Thousand Oaks, California, native Modesto ash trees were being held captive by whiteflies and aphids (“plant lice”). Fortunately for the city, ladybugs have big appetites for these calamitous critters.

Last month, the city’s public works department deployed 720,000 hungry ladybugs to keep the plant destroyers in check. The beetles, which can consume about 5,000 of the insects throughout their two-year lifespan, cost the city about $2,000 per year. Much cheaper than the hundreds of dollars per vial of pesticide, according to the Ventura County Star.

As Lawn Mowers

Vacant lots have become a major problem in struggling cities during and even before the recession, costing taxpayers big money in maintenance and clean-up fees.

In Cleveland, officials came up with a cost-effective alternative: a flock of sheep (along with one llama). “We found that we could reduce the cost of mowing up to 50 percent and, of course, there is significantly less environmental impact,” Laura DeYoung of Urban Shepherds told The Plain Dealer.

As Mosquito Killers

Austin rather famously stumbled across its unlikely non-human ally: bats.

When the Congress Avenue Bridge was constructed in 1980, its crevices proved particularly hospitable to bats. Some Austinites wanted to see them gone, but the city decided to let them be. Today, the bridge is home to about 1.5 million bats, making it the largest urban bat colony in the world.

This has provided Austin a number of benefits. On a typical night flight the colony can consume 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects, including agricultural pests and mosquitoes. The bats have also become a popular tourist attraction. It’s the 21st ranked tourist attraction in the city and it’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of people visit the site each year.