Archive for the ‘Medical Issues’ Category

Breaking: Taurine might not be behind heart disease from kibble

Monday, December 30th, 2019

From Dogs Naturally Magazine

By:  –

They alerted pet owners about the potential for heart disease in dogs on certain diets … diets that may be deficient in taurine.

Everyone panicked … but was this panic warranted?

The Tale Of Taurine

Taurine is an amino acid found mainly in meat. Unlike other amino acids, which are used mainly to build proteins, taurine is a loner. It has many special functions, including:

  • It’s a component of bile, which breaks down dietary fat.
  • It’s vital for the proper function of muscles (especially the heart), eyes, brain, and the immune system.
  • It has beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Dogs manufacture their own taurine from the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine.  But, with advancing age, taurine production decreases.

The first inkling about taurine’s importance came in the 1980s. Researchers at UC Davis discovered that taurine deficiency was impacting cats. Thousands of cats were going blind. Some were even dying from a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

This happened because pet food companies were making ingredient substitutions. They substituted more and more plant proteins, such as soybeans or corn gluten meal, in place of real meat.

The trouble is … soybeans and corn are poor sources of sulfur-containing amino acids. They also contain zero taurine.

Unlike dogs, cats (and ferrets) must consume taurine in the diet and cannot produce their own.

So the manufacturers started supplementing all cat foods with taurine. The epidemic then faded away (although DCM can still occur, unrelated to diet). Pet food makers saw no reason to add taurine to dog foods, so they chose not to incur the added expense.

However, DCM is common in dogs, especially large breeds. And there is such a thing as taurine-deficiency DCM in dogs; it was discovered in the 1990s.

Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands … and a handful of other breeds … appear to be genetically predisposed to DCM. It’s also recognized that big dogs produce taurine more slowly than small dogs. This increases their risk of DCM.

[Related: NEWS: FDA Reports Some Dog Foods May Cause Heart Disease]

What The Research Has To Say

Recent research suggests that diet is a factor in less than 20 to 30 percent of dogs with DCM. Some (but not all) of these dogs will improve with taurine supplementation. And that raises even more questions about it!

For one thing, taurine may not even be the real culprit. Taurine production relies on adequate methionine and cysteine in the diet. So the problem may be a deficiency of those amino acids, rather than a lack of taurine itself.

The microbiome may also play a major role in taurine deficiency. This turned out to be the primary factor in cats.  The taurine from bile is reabsorbed in the colon … but bacteria can “steal” taurine and prevent this crucial recycling.

Processing may also play a significant role in dogs as well as cats. This has not, to date, been considered or investigated.

Grain-Free And “Boutique” Foods

The FDA reported a link between DCM and “grain-free” dog foods with large amounts of:

  • Potatoes
  • Legumes
  • Exotic proteins

One expert called these “BEG” (Boutique, Exotic and Grain-Free) diets.

The increase in reported taurine-DCM cases caught the FDA’s attention. Not because it was a new concern … but because the dogs weren’t breeds previously known to develop taurine-deficiency DCM. 

These included:

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Whippets
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Shih Tzu
  • A Bulldog and an unspecified number of mixed-breed dogs (and 7 cats).

The FDA said, “potatoes or multiple legumes such as peas, lentils, other pulses (seeds of legumes), and their protein, starch, and fiber,” were the main ingredients of the food in several cases of DCM reported to the agency.

In practical terms, this means that a pet food containing related ingredients … such as “peas, potatoes, pea starch, pea protein, potato protein” could be problematic. This is a common label trick known as “splitting.”

Listing ingredient fractions separately helps a small amount of meat rise to the top … as the ingredients are listed by weight. But, in reality, if they totaled all the plant products, they’d outweigh the meat. This means the food is primarily plant-based.

If the meat is itself is low in taurine, as it is in …

  • Beef
  • Venison
  • Lamb
  • Rabbit
  • Kangaroo

…  that exacerbates the problem in diets with these ingredients.

Interestingly, most vegetarian and vegan dog foods already contain added taurine and carnitine. Evidently, this issue was not hard to anticipate in low- or zero-meat diets.

Manufacturers whose products have been implicated quickly retuned to add supplemental taurine to their foods … but even that may not be enough to correct the problem.

The link between canine DCM and diet is not restricted to exotic meats, potatoes or legumes. Current and past research notes that any of these ingredients may be correlated with DCM:

Animal Products

  • Bison
  • Duck
  • Lamb
  • Kangaroo
  • Salmon
  • Venison

Plant Products

  • Barley
  • Beet pulp*
  • Chickpeas
  • Fava beans
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Rice/rice bran**
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tapioca

* While it was not named by FDA in this situation … beet pulp is known to decrease taurine status in dogs under some conditions. 

** Previous studies found taurine deficiency from eating diets containing rice or rice bran. 

[Related: The Truth About Grain-Free Dog Foods And DCM]

Consider All Factors

It’s important to remember that correlation does not equal causation. Just because taurine is a common factor in a bunch of dogs with DCM … it does not mean that taurine deficiency is the sole cause.

Taurine may just be an innocent bystander! Moreover, this list is counter-intuitive, because salmon and duck are high in taurine. Therefore, processing, bioavailability or other factors are also playing a role. 

For example, taurine from fish is diminished by heat processing; the loss is about 30 percent.

The FDA claims … food made by small “boutique” manufacturers is more likely to be problematic.

However, in one set of 18 cases, 15 were from foods with “boutique” brand labels … but those brands are owned and produced by some of the world’s biggest pet food manufacturers …

  • Purina
  • Mars
  • Champion

It appears that the size of the pet food company is largely irrelevant. And now the FDA has done irreparable damage to small brands’ reputations … with its premature and inaccurate assessment.

DCM occurs in all kinds of dogs eating all kinds of foods …

  • Foods with a simple ingredient list
  • Food with a very complex ingredient list
  • Homemade diets
  • Commercial raw foods.

And while the FDA listed ingredients that have at some point been associated with DCM in dogs … they seem to only be concerned with potatoes and legumes.

It’s very important to note this: Not all dogs with DCM … and not all dogs with very low blood levels of taurine … respond to taurine supplementation. 

Many dogs with DCM have perfectly normal taurine levels. A few dogs with low taurine levels can develop DCM …  but so can dogs who are eating high-taurine foods.

This implies that taurine itself isn’t the problem (at least in those cases). It could be a lack of methionine, cysteine or any number of completely different factor(s).

One study on taurine in dogs concluded, “there was no clear relationship between low (whole blood taurine) and presence of DCM.”

The Bottom Line

Grain-free dog foods have been safely fed to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dogs for many years. The relationship to DCM is far from clear.

The FDA is not recommending a diet change for any dog, as their investigation is ongoing.

The link between diet and DCM is much more complicated than blaming a few ingredients. It’s clear that we need to consider genetics and diet ingredients combined.

Or perhaps the food’s overall content of …

  • Methionine
  • Cysteine
  • L-carnitine
  • Taurine

… And other factors like processing are at the root of DCM in these cases.

But at this point, no one – the FDA or anyone else … has any idea which factors are actually problematic. Nor do they know in what amounts or combinations.

Unfortunately, many veterinarians are now recommending grain-based foods … even though there haven’t been all that many cases.

And the chance of a dog developing taurine-related DCM  is extremely small.

Grain-based foods have their own (significant) set of problems including:

  • Pesticide residues
  • Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
  • Toxic byproducts of processing
  • Mycotoxins from mold

They also tend to use less expensive, poorer quality animal proteins. You’ll see ingredients like poultry by-products, meat meal and bone meal.

So, what should you do?

Ideally, feed your dog a fresh diet that’s high in animal protein. But at the very least, make sure the food you’re feeding has more meat proteins than plant substitutes.

Don’t forget, you can call the manufacturer and ask questions if you’re uncertain! 

Symptoms Of DCM In Dogs

Symptoms of DCM in dogs include:

  • Tiring easily
  • Excessive panting
  • Coughing
  • Weakness
  • Ataxia (being unsteady on the feet)

If you have any concerns about your dog or the food you’re feeding, talk with your vet about testing. Your veterinarian can submit blood and plasma samples to UC Davis for analysis.

However, as expected, their laboratory has been overwhelmed since the FDA’s announcement. So it could take weeks to get your dog’s results.

Keep Yourself Up To Date

The best place for up-to-date information on brands can be found on Facebook, in the Taurine DCM group.

While there is a great deal of speculation and misinformation in the posted comments … you’ll find a few helpful items. They have a current chart of cases, including breeds, as well as specific brand names. You’ll find these in their Files Section. 

It’s way too early to hit the panic button, but it’s certainly good to be aware of this ongoing issue.

The Invisible Emotional Burden of Caring for a Sick Pet

Wednesday, December 18th, 2019
from: https://www.thecut.com/2017/10/the-invisible-emotional-burden-of-caring-for-a-sick-pet.html
Earlier this year, kindergarten teacher Jessica Wiles, 35, found herself faced with a choice: her boyfriend or her dog, Mia. The problem had been brewing for some time: Two years into Wiles’s relationship, Mia was diagnosed with Cushing syndrome, an endocrine disorder that can cause lethargy, weakness, and frequent infections. Wiles began staying home more often to take care of her; as time wore on, she says, her boyfriend became frustrated, accusing her of neglecting him to be with her dog. This past June, he reached a breaking point: “He actually ended the relationship because he said the dog took precedence over him,” Wiles says. “He didn’t understand that it’s not just a piece of property. They are living, breathing things.”

When Wiles told other people about her situation, she says, she was often met with bafflement and scorn rather than sympathy, and questions about why she didn’t just put Mia down. But Cushing, while chronic, is manageable. “I have a problem deciding to kill my dog just because of health issues. I don’t understand the mind-set of, ‘She’s got a health problem, we’re going to put her down,’” Wiles says. “If the dog was suffering, it would be one thing, but she is still interested in life.”

There’s no question, though, that caring for her has made Wiles’s own life more difficult — emotionally, socially, financially. It’s well known that people caring for ill relatives can suffer from caregiver burden, negatively impacting the health and well-being of the caregiver, but the toll of taking care of a sick pet is often minimized or overlooked. According to a new study, that’s a mistake.

“I wouldn’t equate pet caregiving with human, and certainly don’t want to minimize what family caregivers go through,” said lead author Mary Beth Spitznagel, a clinical neuropsychologist at Kent State University, but “we are seeing similar patterns in terms of a greater level of burden, higher level of stress, depressive symptoms, and a lower quality of life.”

Spitznagel, who had previously worked with caregivers of relatives with dementia, says she got the idea for the study while caring for her dog Allo, who had recently been diagnosed with bladder cancer. “It was a daily challenge trying to fix the problems that sprang up.
And that was kind of when I realized the similarity,” she says. “When we see a burdened caregiver, oftentimes the burden is kind of the constant problem solving, because new problems are always emerging when you are caring for someone who is sick.”

Compared to participants with healthy pets, study subjects caring for chronic or terminally ill animals scored higher on scales of depression, anxiety and lower on well-being, and a psychometric test called the Zarit Burden Interview used to measure burden in human caregivers (the study authors adapted the test by replacing the word “relative” with “pet”). In itself, the finding that people with sick pets feel more of a burden isn’t surprising — but the intensity of that burden was. “It’s meeting this threshold for what we would consider to be concerning if someone were in a human caregiving relationship,” Spitznagel says.

In humans, a score of 20 or higher on the Zarit — which contains items related to feeling strained about your pet, having your social life suffer, and financial stress — indicates “significant burden.” Caregivers of sick pets scored 25.42 on average, compared to 13.96 for owners of healthy pets.

A few caveats: Participants in the current study were almost exclusively educated, wealthy, white women, with an average age of 48. The skewed sampling is likely a limitation — but “at the same time, this might be exactly who the population is,” Spitznagel says. After all, caregiving in humans typically falls to women, and veterinary care, which typically comes out of pocket, is unaffordable to many. Beyond replicating the results in a more diverse group, Spitznahel adds, the next step in her research would be to investigate the “ramifications of burden and the impact on the pet.”

Pet owners go into more detail, describing serious negative impacts to their finances, mental and physical health, social and employment status, and relationships. Wiles, who works two side jobs to help pay for vet treatments, says she has become physically ill from the stress of caring for Mia, compounded by the fact that she now helps her mother care for her grandmother as well.

Emotionally, caring for Mia and caring for her grandmother didn’t feel very different, Wiles says. “The biggest difference is with my grandma there was someone to relieve me,” Wiles said. “Other family members would come and help, but when it’s a dog people aren’t willing to do that.”

“I felt really trapped, ” said Petra Lee, 40, who at one point last year was caring for blind dog, a dog with allergies, an epileptic dog, and a cat with cancer. “I’ve lost a lot of sleep. There was a point where I was really stressed out just having to function with all this and I was having to take a lot of time off of work. I had a hard time making food for myself.” Lee’s caregiving also caused fights with her ex-girlfriend, she says, although overall her ex was very helpful.

But “the biggest thing for me,” Lee says, “is financial.” She felt a lot of guilt last year when she had to balance caring for her cat against her other animals, and also encountered a lot of people who question her choices. “I think I have a lot of privilege, I can afford it,” Lee explains. “I don’t make a lot of money, but I have pretty good salary. And I don’t have children and my dogs are my life.”

“We have our good days, our bad days, and our horrible days,” says Ana Sakuta, 37, whose dog, Roxy, became paralyzed a few years ago. Surgery fixed the problem — Roxy recovered and things went back to normal for a while. But soon, new issues emerged: Roxy stopped eating, became lethargic, and wouldn’t take her medicine.

At that point, Sakuta, who has been the main caregiver for the dogs, brought up euthanasia to her husband, which caused a fight — an added stressor she didn’t need. “It’s really rough. I’m crying, calling the vet all the time,” Sakuta says. “You try to talk to somebody about it and they don’t understand.” Sakuta has asked others in her family for help looking after Roxy, she says, but people tell her they don’t feel comfortable watching the dog due to the amount of work involved.

Although Spitznagel’s is the first study to formally document pet caregiver burden, veterinary social workers have long been aware of the issue. Susan Cohen, a support group facilitator at the ASPCA, estimates she has counseled thousands of pet owners over the years.
The most common issues she hears are “constant vigilance, isolation, and guilt,” she says, and the never-ending problem solving also take a toll: “They’re trying to decide all the time whether the pet is getting worse or getting better, and they often don’t have anyone to talk to about it,” she explains.

“I am so pleased that that study was done,” Cohen adds, noting that she’s tried to get vets to recognize caregiver burden and set up systems to address it. A few large veterinary practices have counselors on staff and offer support groups, but the practice isn’t widespread, and she often gets pushback about the lack of research.

In the meantime, Cohen works with pet owners to ease the decision-making load as much as possible, helping them establish boundaries and a treatment plan early on. Most people say that they will care for their pet so long as they have the means. “I want to figure out what their limits are,” Cohen says, which often involves naming a dollar amount or cap. Whether it’s money or quality of life, it’s helpful for pet owners to be able to answer one simple, and painful, question: “What are you trading it for?”

The New No-Grain Ingredient Coming to Your Pet Food Aisle

Monday, November 18th, 2019

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance

  • Despite growing concerns about the connection between grain-free formulas containing pulse crops and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, the processed pet food industry continues to talk up the use of fava beans in grain-free pet food
  • In addition to the DCM connection, there are many other reasons pulse crops such as fava beans don’t belong in dog and cat food, e.g., they contain substances pets’ bodies can’t digest, that also interfere with mineral absorption

Despite the much-publicized suspected link between grain-free diets high in legumes and diet-related dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs, the processed pet food industry remains very committed to searching out biologically inappropriate pulse crops for potential use in dog and cat food.

A recent favorite is fava beans (also called faba and broad beans), which “may be the next new grain-free ingredient in the pet food aisle,” according to a recent article in a pet food industry publication.1 Last year the same publication promoted a 2017 study that suggests fava beans are an “effective ingredient for use in a commercial dog diet.”2

“It appears fava beans were well tolerated at all levels tested and only influenced digestibility at higher levels,” reported study co-author Greg Aldrich, PhD. “The dehulled fava beans in our study processed well in extrusion. They would be a solid contributor as an ingredient choice in modern pet foods.”3

This study is typical of pet food industry scientific research designed to see how much of a biologically inappropriate ingredient pets can ingest before it interferes with their digestion in an immediately measurable way. The dogs in the study didn’t develop noticeable digestive issues until they were subjected to higher levels of fava beans.

This is a considered a win by the industry, because they now have yet another inexpensive, plentiful, plant-based (i.e., biologically inappropriate) ingredient they can use to inflate the protein percentage in their formulas, and also potentially use to replace meat protein in vegetarian or vegan pet foods.

Why Pulse Crops Don’t Belong in Pet Food

Pulse crops, also called pulses or legumes, are plants with a pod. “Pulse” is the term used to identify the edible seeds of legumes, and is derived from the Latin word puls, meaning thick soup. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)4 recognizes 11 primary pulses:5

Dry beans (kidney, lima, azuki, mung, black gram, scarlet runner, ricebean, moth, and tepary) Lentil
Dry broad beans (fava, horse, broad, field) Bambara groundnut
Dry peas (garden, protein) Vetch
Chickpea Lupins
Dry cowpea Minor pulses (lablab, jack, winged, velvet, and yam beans)
Pigeon pea

Because they are high in fiber, folate, iron (when eaten with a source of vitamin C), and complex carbohydrates, and are also low in fat, pulse crops are considered nutritious for humans by some nutritionists, and not by others. Some experts advise keeping legume intake minimal for the same reason I recommend avoiding feeding these foods to pets — the presence of phytates and lectins that are naturally found in legumes.

Phytates are substances that carnivores can’t break down because they lack phytase, the enzyme necessary to process phytic acid. Phytates bind minerals (including zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium), leeching them out of your pet’s body. Lectins are sticky proteins that when consumed in large quantities may contribute to gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances and leaky gut.

Pet food producers and their ingredient suppliers are aware that many pet parents tend to believe foods that are healthy for humans are also healthy for dogs and cats. In fact, they use pet owners’ lack of knowledge about pet food ingredients to create and market biologically inappropriate diets. For example, one of the marketing approaches used to promote pet foods containing bean meal is weight loss.

The nutrient profile in beans may benefit some humans and other omnivores and herbivores, but carnivores thrive on animal — not plant — protein, and they don’t benefit physiologically from starch or high levels of dietary fiber. Cats are true carnivores and dogs are facultative carnivores, not omnivores or herbivores, but that pesky little fact certainly hasn’t diminished the pet food industry’s love affair with ingredients nature didn’t design dogs and cats to eat.

Most Pet Food Research is Conducted for the Benefit of Pet Food Companies, Not Dogs and Cats

Also good news for pet food producers is that fava beans “processed well in extrusion.” Extrusion, as we know, is a manufacturing method that has been used by the pet food industry for decades. About 95% of dry pet diets are produced using the extrusion process.

Batches of raw ingredients are mixed, sheared and heated under high pressure, forced through a spiral shaped screw and then through the die of the extruder machine. Extrudate is the result — a ribbon-like product that is then knife-cut and dried.

The high temperature used in extrusion (nearly 400°F) and the short time frame to process (under 5 minutes) creates continuous chemical and physical alterations to the ingredient mixture. This not only changes the molecular activity of the food, but also potentially contributes to a heavier carcinogenic load and profound levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). So, to review, the pet food industry’s takeaways from the study are:

  • Fava beans hold up well in the extrusion process
  • Fava beans in moderate amounts can be tolerated by dogs
  • Fava beans can be used to boost the protein percentages (misleadingly, in my opinion) in pet food formulas

Honestly, the simple fact that an ingredient such as fava beans must be tested in pets to see how much they can tolerate before they become ill is all the proof anyone should need that they didn’t evolve to eat that ingredient. Therefore, the intent and result of this study is 100% for the benefit of big pet food, and 0% for the benefit of the dogs and cats who will at some point be fed processed diets containing fava beans.

Legumes and Grain-Free Pet Food

As I mentioned earlier, there’s also cause for concern now that a link has been established between grain-free dog food containing legumes and a growing number of cases of the heart disease dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. Of the DCM cases the FDA reviewed for its report published in June, 91% of the diets were grain-free and 93% contained peas and/or lentils.

It’s important to note that while legumes are being singled out as a potential problematic ingredient, no definitive test results have been released. However, grain-free kibble is often much higher in both whole carbohydrates and purified starches (e.g., pea starch, potato starch and tapioca starch) than grain-based dry dog food.

The higher the starch level in any pet food, the less protein is included (hence my suggestion to avoid both grains and other sources of unnecessary starch in all pet food). You can find my most recent update on the grain-free kibble/DCM issue, including feeding recommendations, here.

Dementia in Senior Dogs

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019

Stages of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

From www.dogdementia.com

More Pet Insurance Policies Are Being Sold. But Are They Worth the Cost?

Monday, January 7th, 2019
FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES, JANUARY 4, 2019

YOUR MONEY ADVISER

The New York Times

By Ann Carrns Jan. 4, 2019

Americans are increasingly treating their pets as members of the family, feeding them gourmet food, paying for day care and throwing them birthday parties. Family sleepwear sets sold on PajamaGram.com even include matching jammies for the dog.

So it’s not surprising that an increasing number of “pet parents,” as they are known in the pet care industry, are seeking sophisticated medical treatments for their animals.

Enter pet health insurance, marketed as a way to help defray rising veterinary expenses and avoid “economic euthanasia” — the necessity of putting a pet down because the owner can’t afford treatment. More than two million pets in the United States and Canada (most of them in the United States) were insured at the end of 2017, up about 17 percent from the year before, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.

But consumer advocates say that pet owners should make sure they understand how the policies work before buying them.

More than two-thirds of households in the United States own a pet, according to the American Pet Products Association. Americans spent about $70 billion on pets in 2017, including purchases of animals, food, veterinary care, medicines and other services.

“People are much more inclined to think of their animals like children, and treat them accordingly,” said James Serpell, a professor of ethics and animal welfare at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance with the Consumer Federation of America, said pet owners should bring a healthy skepticism when shopping for pet insurance. Purchase of the product is “often motivated by a combination of love and fear,” he said. “So the buyer may be particularly vulnerable.”

Details vary by insurer and policy, but premiums for pet insurance typically depend on factors like the cost of veterinary care where you live and the age and breed of the pet. The average annual premium for “accident and illness” coverage was $516 per pet in 2017, while the average claim paid was $278, according to the pet health insurance association.

Jeff Blyskal, a senior writer with Consumers’ Checkbook, a nonprofit group that rates services in major urban markets, said pet owners should compare policies with a critical eye. When years of payments are taken into account, he said, buying insurance could end up being more expensive for some pet owners than going without it, if their animal doesn’t require much care.

Pet policies typically don’t cover pre-existing conditions, Mr. Blyskal said, so premiums are generally lower when your pet is young and healthy. Even if you start early, though, you may end up paying more over time, he said, because some policies raise premiums as pets get older. This can increase costs substantially, he said, and cause owners to drop their policies as the animals get older — just when they are more likely to need the coverage. Industrywide, the average pet policy is maintained for three years or less, according to an insurer regulatory filing in 2016 in Washington State.

The expenses tied to pet health coverage usually include not only a regular premium but also other out-of-pocket costs, like a deductible — an amount that you must pay before insurance begins paying. Insurance may cover less than 100 percent of costs after the deductible, so you’ll still have to pay for part of the treatment. Some policies may cap payments, so ask if there’s a limit.

Rob Jackson, chief executive of Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, said insurance could protect against budget-busting events costing thousands of dollars. (Healthy Paws said a pet’s age affects premiums at initial enrollment, and also as the pet ages.) The Healthy Paws website cites examples like Fridgey the Bengal cat, who had a $4,600 hip replacement, and Lupa the German shepherd, who needed $52,000 in treatment for tetanus exposure.

One way to pay lower premiums, and possibly get broader coverage, is to buy pet insurance through your employer. Eleven percent of employers in the United States offer pet health insurance benefits, according to a 2018 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, up from 6 percent in 2014. Typically, companies offer pet insurance as a “voluntary” benefit. It’s uncommon for employers to contribute to the cost of premiums, as they do with human health insurance. But insurers may give employees a break on premiums, or offer better coverage, because their marketing costs are lower.

Employees at Ollie, a specialty dog food company, receive a 15 percent discount on premiums from the insurer Healthy Paws, said Gabby Slome, a co-founder of Ollie. (Ollie also offers workers benefits like “pawternity” leave when they take a new dog home.)

“We had a strong belief that pets are a part of one’s family,” she said.

Scott Liles, president and chief pet insurance officer with Nationwide, said half of Fortune 500 companies offer their employees pet insurance from his company. Nationwide’s employer-based plans now underwrite by species — canines vs. felines — but not by age or breed, Mr. Liles said. That means, he said, you won’t pay a higher premium if your pet is older, or if its breed is prone to certain illnesses, unlike policies sold in the open market.

Here are some questions and answers about pet health insurance:

Do some animals cost more to insure than others?

Cats are generally less expensive to insure than dogs. The average accident and illness premium in 2017 was about $45 a month for dogs and $28 a month for cats, according to the pet health insurance association. Because some purebred animals are prone to certain health problems, some insurers may charge higher premiums for them.

What if I can’t afford pet insurance?

Local animal shelters may offer basic services, like rabies vaccinations or spaying and neutering operations, at a discounted rate. The Humane Society of the United States lists groups that can help owners who can’t afford medical care for their pets.

Another option is to put money away each month — perhaps the amount of the premium you would pay — into a dedicated savings account so you will have some funds available for pet care if you need it.

What if I’m unhappy with my pet insurance policy?

Insurance products are generally regulated by state governments, so you may want to contact your state insurance commissioner about your concern. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners offers information about pet insurance and links to regulatorsin each state.

Correction: 

An earlier version of this article, using information supplied by Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, misstated how a pet’s age affects premiums for the company’s policies. The pet’s age affects the premium at the time of enrollment and as the pet gets older, not just at enrollment.

Bloating in Dogs Treatable with Gastropexy

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

Courtesy of the Whole Dog Journal

If you have a bloat-prone breed, consider a gastropexy, a surgical procedure that can prevent stomach torsion.

[Updated December 26, 2018]

It was a beautiful fall day, and I was at a dog show. In the ring was a gorgeous veteran Greyhound – strutting his stuff in one of those peacock moments that transport gray-faced show dogs back to their youthful selves, with nothing but time and promise before them. A short time later, I heard a commotion from the parking area, and then the awful news: The handsome old dog was bloating.

Thankfully, this was a group of highly experienced dog people, and the dog’s handler immediately ran to her van to procure the bloat kit that she always traveled with. As several people helped hold the dog, she inserted a tube down his esophagus to help expel the trapped gas that was causing his ribs to expand like barrel hoops, taped the tube in place, and sped off to the nearest emergency vet. I heard through the grapevine later that the dog had, mercifully, survived.

old great dane

There’s good reason why veterinarians call bloat “the mother of all emergencies.” It can come on suddenly and, if left untreated for only a handful of hours, can spell a death sentence for a dog.

Symptoms of bloat, which is incredibly painful for the dog, include pacing and restlessness; a distended abdomen; turning to look at or bite at the flank area; rapid, shallow breathing; retching without actually vomiting up any food, and excessive drooling.

Bloat is a two-part disorder, telegraphed by its formal name: gastric dilatation and volvulus. The first part, gastric dilatation, refers to an expansion of the stomach due to the presence of gas and/or food. The second part, volvulus, is the fatal blow: The distended stomach begins to twist, cutting off the blood supply and causing its tissue to die off. As if that wasn’t trouble enough, the enlarged stomach may press on the blood vessels that transport blood back to the heart, slowing circulation, creating cardiac arrhythmia, and sending the dog into shock.

Once the stomach has torsioned, emergency surgery is required to restore it to its normal position, and to evaluate whether so much tissue has died off that the dog has any hope of surviving.

This was precisely the scenario that the quick-thinking Greyhound handler had sought to avoid: By inserting the bloat tube down the esophagus and into the stomach, she not only created an avenue of escape for the trapped stomach gases, but also ensured that the stomach could not twist while the tube was inserted. As you can imagine, this is not something that most dogs entertain willingly, and, indeed, on the ride to the veterinarian, the dog struggled and the tube was dislodged. Still, it bought enough time for his survival.

Many owners, however, don’t have the inclination or the fortitude to stick a tube down their dog’s throat, even if he is bloating. And for those who have breeds that are at a higher risk for bloat, the constant stress of worrying “Will she bloat?” after each meal is enough to prompt them to consider gastropexy, a preventive surgical procedure where the stomach is sutured to the body wall. While gastropexy won’t prevent a dog from dilating, it does greatly reduce the likelihood that the stomach will flip – which is the life-threatening “volvulus” part of gastric dilatation and volvulus.

Dog Bloat Risk Factors

Owners who are determined to prevent bloat nonetheless want to understand its causes before submitting their dogs to an elective surgery like gastropexy. The problem is, veterinary science is still unclear about precisely what triggers an episode, and instead can only offer a long and varied list of risk factors.

The mother of all bloat studies was done two decades ago by Dr. Lawrence T. Glickman and his colleagues at the Purdue University Research Group, and is still being discussed and quoted today. The 1996 study and its follow-up research found that many food-management practices that were initially believed to help reduce the risk of bloat – like feeding from a raised food bowl, moistening dry food before serving, and restricting water access before and after meals – actually increased the odds of a dog bloating.

Other risk factors include eating only one meal a day; having a close family member with a history of bloat; having a nervous or aggressive temperament; eating quickly; being thin or underweight; eating a dry-food diet with animal fat listed in the first four ingredients, and/or eating a moistened dog food, particularly with citric acid as a preservative.

Not surprisingly, certain breeds were found to be at high risk for bloat, particularly large or giant breeds. Topping the list were Great Danes, followed by St. Bernards and Weimaraners. The study found that breeds with deep and narrow chests – like the Greyhound that started this story – are also at higher risk for bloating, as are males and older dogs.

Also according to the Purdue study, the risk of bloat was more than twice as high in dogs seven to 10 years old compared to dogs two to four years old, and more than three times as high in dogs age 10 and older.

Reducing the Risk of Bloat

While not a guarantee that your dog will avoid experiencing an episode of bloat, these steps can help lower the risk.

1. Feed several smaller meals per day.

Feeding a large, once-a-day meal can extend the stomach and stretch the hepatogastric ligament, which keeps the stomach positioned in the abdominal cavity. Dogs that have bloated have been found to have longer ligaments, perhaps due to overstretching.

2. Slow down fast eaters.

Some theories suggest that air gulping can trigger bloat. To keep your dog from gobbling down his meals, invest in a slow-feeder bowl, which has compartments or grooves to require dogs to pace themselves; there are several brands available. For a low-tech version, try placing a large rock in the middle of your dog’s food bowl, which will force him to eat around it. (Of course, make sure the rock is large enough so it can’t be swallowed.)

3. If you feed kibble, add some variety.

Dogs that are fed canned food or table scraps have a lower incidence of bloat. If you feed kibble, try to avoid food with smaller-sized pieces, and opt for brands that have larger-sized pieces. While some raw feeders maintain that feeding a raw diet prevents bloat, there are no studies to support this, and raw-fed dogs are not immune to bloating.

4. Don’t go for lean and mean.

Studies show that thinner dogs are at greater risk for bloat; in fatter dogs, the extra fat takes up space in the abdomen and doesn’t give the stomach much room to move. While no one is advocating that you make your dog obese, keeping a bloat-prone dog on the slightly chunkier side might have some merit.

5. Reduce your dog’s stress.

Easier said than done, of course. But if at all possible, opt for a house sitter instead of taking your dog to a kennel. If you have multiple dogs, feed your bloat-prone dog separately, to avoid the stress (and resultant gulping) from worrying that his meal might be snagged by a housemate.

6. Don’t eat and run.

Veterinary experts recommend that you avoid giving your dog hard exercise one hour before and two hours after he eats. Many give the green light to walking, however, as it does not jostle the full stomach and in fact can help stimulate digestion.

Assembling a Bloat Kit

Because bloat strikes when you least expect it – often at night, when most veterinary practices are closed, and the nearest emergency vet might be a distance away – a bloat kit can be a literal lifesaver.

Some dog-care sites sell pre-assembled bloat kits. (One option is available from A Better Way Pet Care.) Most include clear vinyl tubing (the kind sold by aquarium stores); a wooden mouth block, to keep the mouth open while the tube is being inserted (a piece of PVC pipe can work in a pinch), and water-soluble lubricant.

Ask your vet to show you how to measure the tubing so that it is the correct length, how to insert it, and how to tell if you are passing the tube down the trachea rather than the esophagus.

Remember that a gastric tube is not a treatment for bloat; it is a first-aid measure. If you are unsure of how to use the kit, or if you are alone and don’t have someone to transport you while you work on the dog, make getting to the vet your first priority.

dog bloat emergency kit

Deciding on Surgery

If your dog bloats and her stomach has torsioned, surgery is the only recourse if you want her to survive. And if you get to the vet in time, the odds are with you: In a retrospective study of 166 cases between 1992 and 2003, researchers found that short-term mortality resulting from bloat surgery was a relatively low 16.2 percent.

Risk factors for a fatal outcome included having clinical signs more than six hours before surgery (i.e., the longer you wait, the worse your dog’s prognosis), hypotension during any time of the hospitalization, peritonitis, sepsis, and administration of blood or plasma transfusions. Dogs whose tissue damage was so advanced that they required part of their stomach or their spleen removed (partial gastrectomy or spleenectomy, respectively) also had worse prognoses.

But the decisions regarding a gastropexy – essentially, “tacking” the stomach so it cannot torsion – are not as clear-cut. If your dog has never bloated, you’ll need to weigh the risk factors: Is your dog’s breed prone to bloat? (Great Danes, for example, have a whopping 42.4 percent chance of bloating in their lifetime.) Do you know of any siblings, parents, or other close relatives who have bloated? Is your dog nervous, aggressive, or a super-fast eater?

And, most important, has your dog bloated before? Studies indicate that such dogs have a recurrence rate of more than 70 percent, and mortality rates of 80 percent.

Types of Tacks

There are several kinds of gastropexy surgery. Securing the bottom of the stomach to the right side of the body so it cannot rotate during an episode of bloat is the common goal of each type of surgery, but slightly different methods are used to accomplish this. There are no studies that compare the efficacy of the various types of gastropexy, but the general consensus is that there is not a huge difference between them. Most veterinarians will choose one over the others based on their own preference and amount of experience.

Incisional gastropexy is a straightforward procedure in which the bottom of the stomach (the antrum) is sutured to the body wall. It relies on only a few sutures until an adhesion forms.

Belt-loop gastropexy involves weaving a stomach flap through the abdominal wall. Though a relatively quick procedure, it requires more skill than an incisional gastropexy.

In a circumcostal gastropexy, a flap from the stomach is wrapped around the last rib on the right side and then secured to the stomach wall. Proponents of this approach note that the rib is a stronger and more secure anchor for the stomach. This type of gastropexy requires more time and skill to perform; risks include potential rib fracture and pneumothorax, in which air leaks into the space between the lung and chest wall.

Gastropexy is now being performed with minimally invasive approaches such as laparoscopy and endoscopy, which shorten surgery and anesthesia times, as well as the time needed for recovery. Though both use remote cameras to visualize the surgery area, the laparoscopic-assisted approach requires an extra incision through the navel, which allows the surgeon to directly visualize the position of the stomach and make any modifications necessary.

A 1996 study of eight male dogs compared those that had laparoscopic gastropexy with those that had belt-loop gastropexy, and concluded that the laparoscopic approach should be considered as a minimally invasive alternative to traditional open-surgery gastropexy.

Complications from gastropexy are relatively minor, especially for young, healthy dogs who are undergoing the surgery electively, before any incidence of bloat. As always, be sure that your dog has a complete pre-surgical work-up to ensure there are no chronic or underlying conditions that might compromise her ability to successful recover from surgery. And again, while gastropexy isn’t foolproof, Dr. Glickman has been quoted as saying that the risk of bloat and torsion after the procedure is less than five percent – not bad odds at all.

If you do elect to have a gastropexy performed on your dog, many veterinarians do the procedure at the same time as spaying or neutering. That way, the dog doesn’t have to go under anesthesia again, or, in the case of conventional surgery, be “opened up” another time.

In the end, the question of whether or not to have a gastropexy done is arguably tougher for those whose dogs who are not at very high risk: The owner of a Great Dane has a greater incentive for getting a gastropexy than, say, the owner of a Shih Tzu, whose bloat rates are not as comparably high.

A 2003 study that looked at the benefits of prophylactic gastropexy for at-risk dogs used a financial metric to assess the benefits of surgery: Working under the assumption that elective gastropexy surgeries cost about $400 and emergency bloat surgeries cost at least $1,500 – or as much as four times that – the study concluded that the procedure was cost effective when the lifetime risk of bloat with torsion was greater than or equal to 34 percent.

As with any complex decision, assess your dog’s risk factors, as well as your individual circumstances, and then make the choice that seems right for the both of you.

Denise Flaim raises 12-year-old triplets and Rhodesian Ridgebacks, on Long Island, NY.

Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

Pets, Asbestos Exposure, and Mesothelioma

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

From www.mesothelioma.net

For more information and to sign up to receive resources by mail, go to:

https://mesothelioma.net/pets-asbestos-exposure-mesothelioma/

Pets, like their human caretakers, are susceptible to becoming ill from asbestos exposure. Dogs, cats, and other animals can develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses, with devastating consequences. As with humans, mesothelioma in pets is an aggressive and deadly type of cancer. The treatment options are even more limited and the hope of survival minimal.

Pets may become exposed to asbestos in many of the same ways people are. Older homes with worn and exposed asbestos insulation, for instance, can send fibers into the air that humans and animals alike may inhale. If the owner works around asbestos and brings fibers home on clothing, this too can lead to exposure in pets. Mesothelioma in pets is rare, but it is possible. It is important to minimize exposure risks for people and animals in the household.
mesothelioma in pets

Asbestos Exposure Causes Mesothelioma in Pets

Evidence that points to asbestos as a cause of mesothelioma in humans is already overwhelming. Research into pets with mesothelioma is much more limited, but it does exist. One study, for instance, examined the tissues of dogs that died from mesothelioma. Researchers saw pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial mesothelioma in the population of dogs studied and even some that had cancerous tissues in more than one part of the mesothelium. Most of the dogs in the study were found to have asbestos in the affected tissues, providing a link between the cancer and exposure to asbestos. Dogs in a control group had far fewer fibers.

Stories of animals suffering and dying from mesothelioma are rare, but heartbreaking.  In the United Kingdom there was a case reported of a dog that died from mesothelioma. The devastated owners reported that their dog had sniffed asbestos-containing materials that had been dumped at old building sites in the woods where they regularly walked. After thousands of dollars in vet bills the dog could not be saved.

How Pets May Be Exposed to Asbestos

Although mesothelioma is rare, it is strongly linked to exposure to asbestos so pet owners need to be aware of the asbestos risks and should take steps to minimize any possibility of exposure. One of the most likely ways in which an animal may be exposed is through secondhand contact. If you come home from work with fibers of asbestos on your clothes, your pet is likely to inhale those fibers or even ingest them.

Pets may also be exposed to asbestos that is in the home. Homes built before the 1980s most likely contain asbestos in insulation, HVAC systems, flooring, siding, ceiling materials, and other areas of the house. If that asbestos is disturbed, worn down, or damaged, the fibers can become airborne where they can be inhaled by anyone in the house, including pets.

This risk is especially high during renovation or remodeling projects. This kind of work can disturb previously encapsulated asbestos. The best way to protect animals during home projects is to keep them temporarily out of the home, at someone else’s house or at a kennel or boarding facility. While humans can wear protective gear, animals cannot. Also, dogs may lick things on which asbestos dust has settled.
Like the dog in the United Kingdom that died after being exposed to asbestos on walks, exposure outside of the home is a rare but possible risk for pets, especially dogs. Dogs that go outdoors for walks or spend a lot of time out in the yard may be at risk for exposure from any nearby demolition, construction, or mining.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma in Pets

If your pet has been exposed to asbestos, you may see signs of illness. If you catch these early and have your dog or cat diagnosed and treated, you may be able to extend the life of your beloved pet. There is no way to cure mesothelioma in cats or dogs, but early detection can give you more treatment options and a better chance of giving him or her a better quality of life for as long as is left. Dogs are more likely to develop mesothelioma than cats.

With pleural mesothelioma, a pet may exhibit signs such as labored breathing, rapid breathing, or shortness of breath, and a cough. With peritoneal mesothelioma, an animal may display abdominal discomfort, abdominal swelling, or vomiting. Other symptoms of any type of mesothelioma may include fatigue and lethargy, an enlarged scrotum, and unusual sounds in the abdomen or chest.

Diagnosing and Treating Mesothelioma

If you see any unusual symptoms in your dog or cat, you should take your pet to the vet immediately. If you have any reason to believe your pet may have been exposed to asbestos, inform your veterinarian so that your animal will get a complete diagnosis. As with humans, diagnosing mesothelioma can be tricky. Your vet will begin with a physical exam and likely a blood and urine analysis. From there your vet will probably want to do imaging tests, like an X-ray, to look for tissue abnormalities. The next step would be a biopsy to remove fluid or tissue for examination.

Much of the treatment given to an animal for mesothelioma will be palliative, to keep the pet comfortable. However, there are some cancer treatments that may slow the progression of the disease and give you more time with your pet. In one small study, a specific combination of chemotherapy drugs allowed a dog to go into remission, although other animals in the study did not. Palliative treatments for an animal with mesothelioma include medications for pain and procedures to drain fluid from the abdomen or chest cavity.

Help Your Pet Live with Mesothelioma

A diagnosis of cancer in a pet is devastating news, especially when the prognosis is not favorable. There are things you can do to make sure your pet lives the rest of his or her days in the most comfort possible. Limiting activity is important, especially for a pet with pleural mesothelioma. Taking slower and shorter walks can give your dog a chance for exercise and fresh air without overexertion, for instance.

Your pet should also be given a quiet and comfortable place in the home to rest. Make this area easy to access, but out of the way of noise or disruption so that he or she can rest as needed. Regular visits to the vet are also important so you can be sure that you are doing the best for your animal and providing all the care that is necessary for maximum comfort. When the time is right you may need to make the difficult decision about letting your pet go, but your vet can help you make that choice. The loss of a pet to a disease like mesothelioma is terrible and the only way to prevent it is to keep your pet safe from asbestos.

 

What You Should Have in Your Pet’s First-Aid Kit

Friday, May 18th, 2018

From the Humane Society

Learn what supplies you’ll need to keep your cat, dog, or other pet safe and healthy

Everyone who shares a home with a pet should have a basic pet first-aid kit on hand.

Keep your pet’s first-aid kit in your home and take it with you if you are traveling with your pet.

One way to start your kit is to buy a first-aid kit designed for people and add pet-specific items to it. You can also purchase a pet first-aid kit from a pet-supply store or catalog. But you can easily assemble your own kit by gathering the items on our lists below.

Pet-specific supplies

  • Pet first-aid book
  • Phone numbers: your veterinarian, the nearest emergency-veterinary clinic (along with directions!) and a poison-control center or hotline (such as the ASPCA poison-control center, which can be reached at 1-800-426-4435)
  • Paperwork for your pet (in a waterproof container or bag): proof of rabies-vaccination status, copies of other important medical records and a current photo of your pet (in case he gets lost)
  • Nylon leash
  • Self-cling bandage (bandage that stretches and sticks to itself but not to fur—available at pet stores and from pet-supply catalogs)
  • Muzzle or strips of cloth to prevent biting (don’t use this if your pet is vomiting, choking, coughing or otherwise having difficulty breathing)

Basic first-aid supplies

  • Absorbent gauze pads
  • Adhesive tape
  • Antiseptic wipes, lotion, powder or spray
  • Blanket (a foil emergency blanket)
  • Cotton balls or swabs
  • Gauze rolls
  • Hydrogen peroxide (to induce vomiting—do this only when directed by a veterinarian or a poison-control expert)
  • Ice pack
  • Non-latex disposable gloves
  • Petroleum jelly (to lubricate the thermometer)
  • Rectal thermometer (your pet’s temperature should not rise above 103°F or fall below 100°F)
  • Scissors (with blunt ends)
  • Sterile non-stick gauze pads for bandages
  • Sterile saline solution (sold at pharmacies)
  • Tweezers
  • A pillowcase to confine your cat for treatment
  • A pet carrier

Pre-assembled first-aid kits

The hassle of creating a kit for your pet can be reduced by purchasing one pre-assembled.

Other useful items

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), if approved by a veterinarian for allergic reactions. A veterinarian must tell you the correct dosage for your pet’s size.
  • Ear-cleaning solution
  • Expired credit card or sample credit card (from direct-mail credit-card offers) to scrape away insect stingers
  • Glucose paste or corn syrup (for diabetic dogs or those with low blood sugar)
  • Nail clippers
  • Non-prescription antibiotic ointment
  • Penlight or flashlight
  • Plastic eyedropper or syringe
  • Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl) to clean the thermometer
  • Splints and tongue depressors
  • Styptic powder or pencil (sold at veterinary hospitals, pet-supply stores, and your local pharmacy)
  • Temporary identification tag (to put your local contact information on your pet’s collar when you travel)
  • Towels
  • Needle-nosed pliers

Common-sense advice

In addition to the items listed above, include anything your veterinarian has recommended specifically for your pet.

Check the supplies in your pet’s first-aid kit occasionally and replace any items that have expired.

For your family’s safety, keep all medical supplies and medications out of the reach of children and pets.