Archive for the ‘Other Pets’ Category

Canine cancer patients might one day help humans

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Veterinarians and other scientists have been studying canine cancer patients’ DNA to identify mutations involved in several types of cancer, many of which also affect humans, such as lymphoma and osteosarcoma. The findings will likely lead to better diagnostics and treatments for animals and humans alike. “The key to unlocking some of nature’s most perplexing puzzles in human health has actually stood right next to us, wagging its tail,” said Matthew Breen, a genomics professor at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Santa Cruz Sentinel (Calif.)

By Elizabeth Devitt

Jasper, a 7-year-old rescue dog from San Jose, has a personality that endears him to everyone — even to cats. He also has lymphoma, a cancer that sprouts from the body’s defense system and is similar to non-Hodgkin lymphoma in people.

Right now, Jasper’s treatment plan is based on laboratory tests, ultrasounds and the expertise of his veterinarian, Linda Fineman, a cancer specialist at the SAGE center in Campbell. Although he’s doing well after his first round of treatment, the hardest part is not knowing how long it will help him, said his owner, Catherine Jacobsen.

In the future, however, tests on Jasper’s DNA could determine the best medications for him and show how long they’ll work, according to scientists who study the DNA of dogs. And those researchers are increasingly discovering that cancer and other diseases are caused by the same genetic mutations in pooches and people.

So as scientists develop new therapies for canine cancers, they’re also finding more effective methods to treat similar problems in humans.

“The key to unlocking some of nature’s most perplexing puzzles in human health has actually stood right next to us, wagging its tail,” said Matthew Breen, a genomics professor at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Scientists got a huge new asset when the first national canine tumor bank opened at the end of October, Breen said. Researchers now have a one-stop shopping source of samples from the bank, developed as part of the Canine Comparative Oncology and Genomics Consortium in Bethesda, Md.


Good models

Our four-legged friends are good models for studying human disease because they share our environment, so they’re exposed to the same factors that may lead us to develop cancer, said geneticist Heidi Parker of the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda.

“They’re living life with us and getting old like the rest of us,” she said.

But the shorter lifespan of dogs means they get cancer faster, so scientists don’t have to wait decades to find out which treatments work better, said Michael Kent, co-director of the Comparative Cancer Center at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Centuries of close breeding in canines have made it easier to hunt for genetic links to disease. When breeders select for specific features in dogs — a curly coat or a stout body — they unwittingly choose other traits, Parker said. In time, certain maladies became linked with particular breeds: Dobermans frequently have blood clotting disorders, and dachshunds get day blindness.

Looking for faulty gene

Once scientists find the location of DNA that causes a disease in dogs, they also have a better idea of where to look for the faulty genes in people. With a common genetic basis for disease, researchers can use similar tools to fight cancer in canines and humans.

When Molly got a lump in her mouth, the biopsy for the 12-year-old beagle from Aptos determined it was a melanoma, the most common malignant cancer in a dog’s mouth. Fortunately, there’s now a vaccine to help fight this cancer, said Dr. Theresa Arteaga, Molly’s oncologist at Pacific Veterinary Specialists in Capitola.

Scientists knew that only melanoma cells make a protein called tyrosinase. So a team of researchers that included Arteaga tested a vaccine for dogs that tricked the immune system into attacking the cells with tyrosinase. The vaccine stopped tumor growth. In many cases, it also kept the cancer from spreading.

Same gene

People get melanomas, too. Unlike the cancer in dogs, tumors in humans tend to show up on the skin, but the cancer still uses the same gene for tyrosinase. So after the vaccine was successfully developed for dogs in 2007, those studies led to approval of similar vaccines for clinical trials in people.

Osteosarcoma is another disease in which canine research has already boosted treatment for people. This cancer is common in big breeds, such as great danes and Irish wolfhounds. It usually attacks the leg bones and then travels to the lungs. In people, it’s often a pediatric disease, afflicting fewer than 1,000 patients a year. It’s hard to study in children because so few get the disease, but more than 10,000 dogs are diagnosed with it annually.

Disease spreads

Even after surgery to remove the cancer, osteosarcoma still spreads to the lungs — in dogs and people. Researchers, however, discovered that this cancer changes the DNA of dogs in several ways. With that information, they found more effective cocktails of drugs and lowered the rate of the cancer spreading to the lungs. These findings led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fast-track approval for similar medications for people, leading to longer life expectancies, said veterinarian Cecile Siedlecki, a cancer specialist in San Leandro who also consults with physicians.

Dog vs. human

Although scientists have studied the similarity of health problems at both ends of the leash for decades, research exploded after the entire genome was sequenced for a boxer named Tasha in 2004 (about a year after the human genome was first sequenced), said Elaine Ostrander, chief of the cancer genetics branch at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. Results of the Dog Genome Project were stored at a group of institutions, including UC Santa Cruz, and made available to researchers around the world.

Gleaning links to disease from dog genes is like a long, long game of fetch. It’s played with short sequences of DNA. Each snippet of the genetic code is made with combinations of only four building blocks: A, T, G or C. The sequence of those combinations create orders that tell every cell exactly how to make everything the body needs.

If that sequence gets shuffled — mutated — then something gets built incorrectly. Sometimes, those errors cause disease.

Variation search

So scientists search for tiny variations in those building blocks of DNA, called SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms), which show up in dogs with specific traits. Any change at these key locations in the genome are compared with DNA samples from healthy dogs and samples from diseased dogs to find those SNPs linked with the disease. From then on, it’s a matter of finding the genes tagged to the SNPs, explained Breen, of the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

The more tumor samples from dogs that are available for scientists to study, the faster they’ll learn the genetic mechanisms that cause disease, Breen said.

Hundreds of owners have found the courage to get samples taken from their dogs and sent for studies, Breen said. “Their dog might make a difference for the next generation.”

And some of that next generation might walk on two legs instead of four.

To get involved

Registration just opened for the Canine Lifetime Health Project, managed by the Morris Animal Foundation in Denver. The long-term study follows dogs into their senior years. Researchers will gather information about everything from dogs’ daily eating and exercise routines to annual lab tests. Then scientists will sift through that data to link factors like health, genetics and environment to cancer and other diseases. The project is enrolling 3,000 pedigreed golden retrievers, younger than 2 years of age, but any dog owner can join the list for later studies, said project director Mike Guy. Even people without dogs can sign up for updates, he said. For information, go to

Veterinarian shares the toughest part of her job

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Veterinarian Julianne Miller writes that seeing the pain of pet owners who must euthanize a pet because they can’t afford emergency medical care is the toughest part of her job. Dr. Miller points out that good medical care inevitably carries a cost, and veterinarians can’t render services for free, so owners should be mentally and financially prepared for a pet before they commit to ownership. One way owners can be prepared is to purchase pet insurance, Dr. Miller writes. The Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff)

As I think about my life as a veterinarian here is Flagstaff, first and foremost, I feel incredibly lucky to be part of such a diverse and wonderful profession in which I get to meet terrific people who love animals. It is also fulfilling to be able to support the local animal charities.

The hardest part of my job is watching the emotional suffering of pet owners as they try to deal with an emergency with their pet. My clinic deals with a large number of animal emergencies and these are highly charged, emotional situations that no owner can possibly be mentally prepared for.

The hardest part of my job is watching the emotional suffering of pet owners as they try to deal with an emergency with their pet. My clinic deals with a large number of animal emergencies and these are highly charged, emotional situations that no owner can possibly be mentally prepared for.

It is the financial toll, however, of these situations that are the most devastating for most owners. Speaking for the profession, most of us did not enter this field to make money but rather to fulfill some deeper need to help and treat animals. Unfortunately, medical care is not free and we must charge for our services, and in an emergency situation, this can be devastating.

If I could give all pet owners one piece of advice it would be that when they adopt a pet they need to be mentally and monetarily prepared for the possibility of an emergency medical situation with their pet. This could mean getting pet insurance or putting money in their budget every month for pet expenses.

Emergencies never happen when you are expecting them and to have to euthanize a pet because of financial reasons is devastating. Trying to emotionally support an owner through this horrible decision is the worst part of my job.

Veterinary care is not free and good veterinary care is not cheap. Make sure you’re prepared for emergency care by budgeting or purchasing pet insurance now and not regretting it later when you need it. Contact your veterinarian to find out more about pet insurance.

At-home pet euthanasia becomes more common

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Veterinarian Linda Randall notes that at-home euthanasia of pets has steadily increased in recent years, and about 25% of the euthanasia procedures she performs are carried out at the owner’s home. Dr. Randall creates a quiet, soothing environment and gives the pet a sedative before the euthanasia injection. “It’s very painless and very peaceful,” Dr. Randall said. “We wish more people would do it at home.” However, it’s not for everyone, Dr. Randall says, because the cost is roughly twice that of in-office euthanasia and some people do not want their home associated with the pet’s death. The Medina County Gazette (Ohio) (1/16)

When Hotshot, a 12-year-old Labrador, became seriously ill in 2007, his owners realized they had a dilemma to face: Was it time?

“When he stopped eating, we decided he had had enough,” Robin Walker said.

But instead of putting Hotshot down at a clinic, Walker and her husband, Douglas, chose another way.

When the day came, Hotshot excitedly greeted their guest, Dr. Linda Randall, like it was any other day.

Randall, a veterinarian from Cloverleaf Animal Hospital in Westfield Township, came inside their home and set up a comfortable environment — blankets and soothing music. She gave Hotshot a sedative. Once it set in, she injected him with an anesthesia.

Within 90 seconds, Hotshot had fallen asleep for the last time.

Walker said the decision was tough to make, but she couldn’t see it happening any other way.

“I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again,” Walker said. “It was good for us, and it was good for the dog.”

Randall said Walker isn’t the only one who approves.

Although euthanizing pets is commonplace, Randall said opting to have it done at home is a growing trend.

“In the past couple years, we’ve seen in-home pet euthanasia upswing 50 percent,” Randall said.

Randall said her clinic, at 7777 Greenwich Road, euthanizes 100 to 150 pets per year, and a quarter of them are done at home.

While she always has offered home euthanasia, she believed it was becoming more common because pets are seen more and more as members of the family.

And just like end-of-life discussions about human family members, pets are subject to similar talks and practices, she said.

Home euthanasia can be calming for the animal because it avoids the anxiety of a trip to a foreign environment, Randall said.

“It’s very painless and very peaceful,” she said. “We wish more people would do it at home.”

Randal practices what she preaches: Her own pets were euthanized at home.

She said there are a couple downsides to the procedure.

Some families might not want to have a pet euthanized where they live, she said, much like some people don’t want to live in the home where a loved one died.

The cost also may deter some families.

Euthanizing a pet at the clinic usually costs between $50 and $150, she said, depending on the animal’s size.

“It’s about twice as expensive to euthanize at home,” she said. “We shut down shop while I’m out on call, and it takes longer than an in-house appointment.”

On average, the clinic euthanizes two animals per week.

She said it’s a tough job because she often gets to know the pets and the owners.

“It takes its toll,” Randall said. “It’s hard, but I have to separate myself a little bit. If I thought of every animal like my own, I’d be depressed all the time.”

To contact Randall at Cloverleaf Animal Hospital, call (330) 948-2002.

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or

Groups work to ensure owners’ estate plans include pets

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Legal Zoom and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have joined forces to make it easier for pet owners to provide instructions for the care and support of their pets if the owner should become incapacitated or die. Four out of five people have not established a plan for pet care, and half a million animal owners die or are rendered unable to physically care for their pet each year without having made plans for their animal friends, according to the ASPCA. WVLA-TV (Baton Rouge, La.)/NBC News (1/15)


NBC NATIONAL NEWS  — Some of you will be fine-tuning your estate plans and your will this month.

It’s important to make sure you’re not forgetting or leaving out someone special.

About one in five pet owners already have in writing what happens if their animals outlive them, because the consequences for not doing so can be so severe.

“If you haven’t made any arrangements there’s a good possibility that your pet could end up in a shelter, and there’s an even greater possibility that your pet could be euthanized for lack of finding a loving home,” warns Kim Bressant-Kibwe, a trust and estate counsel with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The ASPCA Recently teamed up with Legal Zoom to provide the pet protection agreement.

“It costs about $39 and what it allows you to do is to set out some very basic information about the care of your pet. You can name a guardian, a successive guardian,” Bressant-Kibwe explains.

She says you can’t leave your pet part of your estate, but you can establish a trust fund to pay for future care.

The ASPCA estimates a half million owners die or become incapacitated each year without leaving instructions on how to care for their pets

Reptiles, fish and pocket pets abound

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Species other than cats and dogs are taking center stage in many homes across the U.S., and their owners are paying for food, medical care and other commodities and services to keep their pets happy and healthy. Some 15.6 million U.S. adults own fish, 10.4 million have birds and 2.5 million live with rabbits, according to a report from the research firm Packaged Facts. Altogether, there are a staggering 116 million such pets in U.S. homes. MediaPost Communications/Marketing Daily (1/15)


It’s not just dogs and cats who rule the roost. American pet owners live in  the company of 116 million fish, birds, small animals and reptiles, according to  a report from market research firm Packaged Facts.

While research into the human-animal bond tends to focus on the special  relationship between people and dogs that has evolved over thousands of years,  today’s pet owners do not limit their connection with animals to dogs or cats  alone. A wide range of other animals have found their way into the  households and affections of pet lovers, according to “Pet Population and Pet  Owner Trends in the U.S.”

Fish tanks can be found in 7.2 million households and bird cages in 4.6  million households. Reptiles are pets in 1.8 million households. Tens of  millions of adults, as well as their children, enjoy the companionship of  non-canines and non-felines. The report finds that 15.6 million adults  reside in households with fish and 10.4 million own birds and 2.5 million have  rabbits.

These pet owners represent big business for the pet industry. They groom  and board their birds, buy toys for their iguanas, purchase medications for  their turtles, take their gerbils to the vet and light and decorate their fish  tanks. Food is bought for all of the tens of millions of pets that are owned in  addition to cats and dogs.

A recurring theme of the report is the critical role that parents and  children play in this segment of the pet market. Compared to pet owners who  have cats and dogs exclusively, owners of fish, reptiles and small animals are  much more likely to have children under the age of 18 in their households (57%  vs. 34%).  Nearly 90% of households with hamsters have children, and 87% of  these have children under the age of 12. Around 60% of households with  fish, rabbits and reptiles have children under the age of 18.

The spending power of owners of pets other than cats and dogs has a  significant impact on the bottom line of marketers and retailers of pet products  and services, said David Sprinkle, the research director for Packaged  Facts.

After a noticeable recessionary slump, ownership of fish, birds and small  animals is on the rebound. Marketers can take advantage of an improving market  by leveraging the connection that consumers have with their pets, Sprinkle  says.

Read more:

Israeli company trains mice to sniff out contraband

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Mice are effective at sniffing out explosives, drugs and other contraband, and they’re faster to train than dogs, according to Israel-based BioExplorers. The company has devised a system that directs a blast of air at a person and then into a chamber containing eight mice, who move into a second chamber when they smell contraband.

TEL AVIV — Israel has been using mice to detect explosives.

An Israeli company has developed a method that uses mice to detect hidden contraband at airports and other facilities. The company, BioExplorers, said the mice could identify anything from explosives, drugs and even cash.

Israeli researchers claim mice are more accurate than dogs or x-ray machines at detecting explosives.

“The mice can also be easily trained, and thanks to their small size, you can use a small group of them and have multiple sensors,” BioExplorers chief technology officer Eran Lumbroso said.

The system was unveiled at the Israel Homeland Security exhibition in Tel Aviv in mid-November 2012. Executives said BioExplorers was briefing governments, police and companies on the technology.

Executives said the portable system directs a blast of air toward somebody suspected of carrying contraband. The air that strikes the person is directed into a chamber of eight mice, who sniff and move into another compartment if they detect contraband.

Lumbroso, who also founded BioExplorers, said the technology stemmed from his service in the Israel Army in 2000. At the time, the Army sought to use small animals rather than dogs to detect and foil the numerous suicide bombings by such Palestinian groups as Fatah and Hamas.

Executives said the system envisions the mice working in shifts of four hours. They said the mice can be trained much quicker than dogs.

Pet hospice increases options for pets and owners

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Veterinary at-home hospice services provide end-of-life care for ill pets, improving quality of life for animals and potentially extending life, albeit only for a few days in some cases. Hospice care must be administered by a veterinarian who works in conjunction with the pet’s regular veterinarian to provide palliative treatment such as pain management and catheter placement. San Francisco Chronicle

Shea  Cox has spent her 11-year career as a veterinarian fighting to save  animals’ lives.

Now, as a provider of pet hospice, she shepherds her patients through death,  tending to their needs and those of their guardians, relieving animals’ pain so  they can live out their final days surrounded by loved ones, not in the sterile  confines of a veterinary clinic.

Modeled on human hospice, the growing field of pet hospice offers palliative  care to animals in their homes. It ushers in a profound shift in how people care  for dying and elderly pets, providing an option that falls between aggressive  medical intervention and immediate euthanasia.

For pet owners, in-home care gives solace as they make painful  end-of-life decisions.

Jeff  Aoki of Oakland was in Colorado for his father’s funeral when he got a call  that would only deepen his grief. His yellow Labrador, Sunny, had cancer that  had spread throughout her body.

“I was devastated,” Aoki said. “Sunny was my rock, my best friend and  constant companion.”

Aoki and his fiance, Sandy  Wong, arranged for Sunny to receive pet hospice care from Cox. The care,  which included a urinary catheter (a tumor had made it impossible for her to  urinate), gave her a few extra days at home.

Aoki flew home, and for several days the couple showered Sunny with love,  trips to the beach and park – and filet mignon.

When it was time to say goodbye, Cox put her to sleep in their backyard. “It  was a sad, sad time but this made it so much easier,” Aoki said.

Missing plans

Cox – who was a human hospice nurse before becoming a vet – got the  inspiration for her newly launched Bridge  Veterinary Services while working as an ER/critical care vet at Pet  Emergency Treatment and Specialty Referral Center, a Berkeley  animal hospital.

“Working in that setting, I kept seeing nothing about making a plan if a  patient had an incurable disease,” she said. “The choice was between either  being in the hospital to get better or having to euthanize. It seemed like a  disconnect; there had to be a way to offer something in between.”

With almost two-thirds of American households owning pets, it’s not  surprising that attitudes toward animals’ final days have evolved from the rural  past, when they were unceremoniously put down. The overwhelming majority of pet  owners consider their companion animals to be family members, according to a  2011 Harris poll. At the same time, more and more people have witnessed their  loved ones using human hospice.

Extending care

“We’ve decided as a culture to support human passing as compassionately as  we’re able to, with hospice and palliative care,” said Oakland resident Erika  Macs. As a hospital chaplain, she is intimately familiar with end-of-life  issues. “It’s a natural progression that we would extend that to the animals in  our lives that we’re caretakers for.”

When her 17-year-old cat, Mittens, became critically ill last year, Macs  turned to Dr. Anthony  Smith, a Hercules vet whose Rainbow  Bridge Vet Services has offered hospice and home euthanasia for a  dozen years.

“Dr. Smith was able to bring both a medical model and a sense of respectful,  compassionate presence,” Macs said.

“The beauty of human hospice is it gives time to have (final)  conversations,” Macs said. “With pets, it also gives time to say goodbye. The  better the closure, the more quickly a person is able to heal and  move on.”

Medical supervision

Pet hospice must be provided by a veterinarian because it involves medical  assessments and pain medicines. Pet hospice vets coordinate with the animal’s  regular vet. As in human hospice, if pets get better, they can transition back  to regular medical treatment.

The costs pencil out to be more than regular check-ups but much less than  invasive medical intervention. Bridge Veterinary Services, for instance, charges  $250 for an initial appointment that includes a two- or three-hour at-home  assessment and such initial care as inserting IV tubes or catheters.

Read more:

Owners and veterinarians concur: Preventive care is the best care

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Owners and veterinarians are similarly focused on preventive care, including vaccinations and parasite control, writes veterinarian Ann Hohenhaus, who discusses the results of a survey. Owners expressed concern over pet medication costs, but Dr. Hohenhaus endorses veterinary-grade medications, noting the medications are specifically designed for animals. WebMD/Tales from the Pet Clinic blog



By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM

A recent survey of both pet owners and veterinarians interrogated the pet health issues each group thought were most important. In last week’s post, I discussed the issues from the veterinarian’s point of view. In this blog I will write from the pet owner’s point of view.

Pet owners said they were primarily concerned with vaccinations, fleas and ticks, heartworms, intestinal parasites, and spending money on medications. This list appears to overlap with the veterinary list on the topic of intestinal parasites, and both owners and vets are squarely focused on preventive healthcare; care to keep their favorite furry, feathery, or scaly companion healthy.


Vaccinations float to the top of most pet owners’ lists because they save pets’ lives. Before vaccinations were available for common diseases like canine distemper and feline panleukopenia, these diseases spread through neighborhoods like wildfire, often resulting in the deaths of many pets. Decreases in the recommended frequency of some vaccines, coupled with the association between injections and tumors, has raised many questions in pet owners’ minds.

Intestinal parasites

Both pet owners and veterinarians agreed intestinal parasite control was an important issue for pets. How could it not be? Intestinal parasites are high in yuck factor, high in pet discomfort, and on the list of diseases people and pets can share.

Fleas and ticks

These critters are very similar to intestinal parasites with regard to yuck factor and pet discomfort. A pet with a flea infestation may mean you also have a house or apartment with a flea infestation since fleas spend more time off your pet than on. Pet owners want to avoid an expensive exterminator bill by preventing fleas on their pet. Pet owners also want to prevent fleas and ticks to protect their pet against diseases like Lyme disease and blood parasites.


Because heartworms are a serious health concern in both dogs and cats, they are an important medical issue for most pet owners. Nearly every state in the United States reports cases of heartworm in resident dogs and cats. This map shows heartworm cases by state.

Year-round heartworm preventative is a “two-fer” since most prevent both heartworms and some intestinal parasites.

Pet medications

Pet owners want the best for their pet. In my mind, the best are veterinary-specific products.  I prefer to prescribe medications developed specifically for veterinary patients rather than human or compounded medications. Veterinary-specific medications assure you, the pet owner, the product has been tested in dogs or cats and will be absorbed, metabolized, and effective in your pet. But, because most pets do not have insurance and medications are paid for “out of pocket,” many times pet owners can be surprised at the cost. As a pet owner myself, I believe that these veterinary-specific medications are worth paying for.

After looking carefully at the two lists of pet healthcare issues, one from pet owners and the other from veterinarians, are they really so different?  Both groups’ lists really have only one item and it’s the same one: healthy, happy pets.

Funeral home offers services for 4-legged family members

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

This ossuary is for Emma, the first pet to be cremated at D.O. McComb & Sons’ Tribute Center.D.O. McComb & Sons’ Tribute Center in Indiana includes services for deceased pets such as burial, cremation and a private room for viewing by owners, reflecting pets’ modern status in many homes as family members.

Memorials to pets prove it’s more than puppy love

An unusual item appeared in the newspaper the other day. It was an obituary – for a dog.

The death notice identified the dog’s owner and even included calling hours at D.O. McComb & Sons new Tribute Center on West Main Street near Lindenwood Cemetery.

While the obituary was, as far as I can recall, a first for the newspaper, the concept of special treatment for a deceased pet is nothing new.

People have been falling in love with their pets since long before Rin Tin Tin, Lassie or Old Yeller came along, sometimes with good reason. A pet will never tell you you’re ugly or overweight, and it will never ask you where you’ve been when you come home late. It will just be delighted to see you.

While your kids may prove to be crushing disappointments, a pet generally doesn’t have the wherewithal to ruin the family name, get busted for selling drugs or sell your jewelry while you’re out of town.

Truth be told, for many people, a pet is the most loyal – even the only truly loyal – creature in their lives.

That has become evident to the people at D.O. McComb. A lot of people want a respectful exit for their pets, so when the funeral home opened the Tribute Center in October it included something unusual: a separate crematorium for pets, and a separate room, now called Emma’s Room, where a deceased pet can be briefly laid out and the owner can enter and say hello and offer one last goodbye before cremation, Dave McComb says.

It’s just a sign of the times, he said. Pets have become more important as members of the traditional family move to far-flung places. Kids leave. Wives leave. But pets remain as faithful companions and, McComb said, their status has become elevated.

Other animals, such as service dogs and police dogs, have earned a higher status in the minds of many. Maybe they don’t rate a funeral, but a thoughtful sendoff is soothing for the owners.

McComb’s can either cremate a pet and put its ashes in an urn, or arrange a burial in a portion of Riverview Cemetery that has been set aside  for pets.

The funeral home hasn’t promoted the service yet, but at a Tribute Center open house, the concept drew a lot of attention and was well received, McComb said.

“We’ve had requests for even services for a while now,” McComb said.

While you won’t find preachers conducting funerals (don’t all dogs go to heaven anyway?) there can be services where an owner or friend might even eulogize an animal and friends or family members can show up and offer condolences.

“What we’ve learned is that people fall into two categories: pet owners and pet parents.”

To the pet parent, a pet becomes just as important as any other member of the family, somebody they will always remember.

The cost of a pet cremation? It varies depending on the size of the animal, which can obviously vary wildly, but the pet crematorium can handle animals up to 300 pounds.

Scientists work to crack Lyme disease’s genetic code

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston are working to identify the factors that explain the virulence of Borrelia burgdorferi, the spirochete that causes Lyme disease, which affects animals and an estimated 30,000 people in the U.S. per year. Using advanced technology, the team is testing the pathogen’s 1,739 genes in an effort to find the ones responsible for its ability to spread so readily. The findings are expected to help develop vaccines, diagnostic tools and treatments

ScienceDaily (Oct. 25, 2012) — Investigators at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have accelerated the search for the bacterial genes that make the Lyme disease bacterium so invasive and persistent. The discovery could advance the diagnosis and treatment of this disease, which affects an estimated 30,000 Americans each year.

The researchers have developed a new technique that allowed them to test 15 times more bacterial genes than had been evaluated in the previous 30 years to ascertain their roles in infection. Findings appeared Oct. 25 in the online journal PLOS ONE.

Scientists hope to use this information to unravel the mystery of how the spiral-shaped bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi causes Lyme disease. Ticks carry the bacterium and transfer it to animals and humans when the tiny spider-like creatures bite. The Lyme disease microorganism was discovered in 1981.

“We believe that this will be one of the most significant publications in Lyme disease in the next several years. This global approach will help ‘move the field forward’ and also serve as a model for other pathogens with similar properties,” said Steven Norris, Ph.D., the study’s senior author and the vice chair for research in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the UTHealth Medical School.

The bacterium can invade almost any tissue in humans or animals and trigger an infection that lasts from months to years. Its symptoms include a reddish rash that often resembles a bull’s eye and flu-like symptoms. The disease can lead to nervous system problems, joint inflammation and heart abnormalities. Most instances of Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics.

“Our long-term goals are to screen, identify and characterize the virulence determinants of the Lyme disease bacterium and thereby dissect the mechanism of pathogenesis in mammals and ticks,” said Tao Lin, D,V.M., the study’s lead author and assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the UTHealth Medical School. “With this information, we will have a clearer picture about the virulence determinants and virulence factors for this fascinating microorganism and the mechanism of pathogenesis behind this unique, invasive, persistent pathogen.”

Norris, the Robert Greer Professor of Biomedical Sciences at UTHealth, and Lin are running tests on the 1,739 genes in the bacterium to see which genes impact the microorganism’s ability to spread disease.

To do this, they mutated the bacterial genes and gauged the impact in a mouse infection model. Overall, 4,479 mutated bacteria were isolated and characterized. Whereas it took researchers about three decades to knock out less than 40 bacterial genes, Norris and Lin knocked out 790 genes in a comparatively short period of time; some genes were “hit” multiple times. A newly developed screening technique, which involves signature-tagged mutagenesis and Luminex®-based high-throughput screening technologies, can also be used to identify infection-related genes in other bacteria.

“This kind of study enables us to better understand the disease pathogenesis at the basic level,” said Charles Ericsson, M.D., head of clinical infectious diseases at the UTHealth Medical School. “In time, such understanding of virulence properties might enable us to develop vaccine candidates, better diagnostic tools and perhaps even targeted drug intervention.”

Norris and Lin are on the faculty of The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston.

Previously, Norris helped develop a method based on one of the bacterium’s proteins, called VlsE, for diagnosing Lyme disease. The test, which is now used worldwide, involves detection of VlsE-specific antibodies, which are often found in people and animals infected with Lyme disease.

Also participating in the study from UTHealth were Lihui Gao, D.V.M., Chuhua Zhang, Evelyn Odeh and Loic Coutte, Ph.D. Mary B. Jacobs and Mario Philipp, Ph.D., of the Tulane University Health Sciences Center collaborated on the study as did George Chaconas, Ph.D., of The University of Calgary in Canada. Mutated strains produced through this study are being made available to the scientific community through BEI Resources.

The study is titled “Analysis of an ordered comprehensive STM mutant library in infectious Borrelia burgdorferi: insights into the genes required for mouse infectivity.” The project described was supported by Award Number R01AI059048 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.