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Monday, October 20, 2008

Fleas: more than just annoying little critters

One clear difference between Toronto and NYC (only 480 miles south-east of the former) is the number of fleas per square inch of dog or cat. In Toronto, I simply did not see the huge numbers of pets with fleas that I see here in NYC. Holy smokes.
I'd say at least 50% of the patients I see have fleas - at least. What's more striking is the nonchalance in reaction of their pet owners - holy smokes. What I tell owners about fleas: 1) they will be on planet Earth when humans are long gone, possibly ruling it, 2) 5% of the flea population are the actual adult fleas - those critters we actually see with the naked eye; the other 95% percent are those stages like the eggs, larvae, and stubborn pupae, that just litter the pet's environment, waiting to emerge to just pop back onto the pet when it goes by, 3) a puppy or kitten can die from a severe flea infestation from the anemia the fleas cause (like vampires, they feed on blood), and 4) most importantly: fleas carry infectious diseases, like the larval stages of tapeworms (if your dog or cat has tapeworms, she swallowed a flea somewhere down the road); Bartonella henselae is a bacterial organism, responsible for cat-scratch disease in humans, that is carried by fleas (usually a self-limiting disease in healthy people, but can be life-threatening in immunocompromised patients); Hemobartonella (now called Mycoplasma haemofelis), a blood parasite, is transmitted by fleas - these blood parasites sit on the surface of the red blood cells and can cause the cat's immune system to start destroying these cells as the system no longer recognizes the cells as "self." Fleas are also responsible for carrying the bacterium Yersinia pestis - you've all heard of this one - responsible for causing bubonic plague in cats and people, the disease which virtually decimated the entire human population in the middle ages (the cute word "booboo" likely comes from "buboes," the lesions that were seen in people with plague - somebody corroborate this for me, please). Fleas aren't fun, folks.
Flea control involves treating the pet, and crucially, treating the environment. Flea collars do bubkiss on toast. Get your flea-control medications from your vet. NEVER purchase these products from a pet store as 1) they don't work and 2) most, if not all, are toxic to cats.
Whatever you do, DON'T use homeopathic or "natural" products (like diatomaceous earth) as the fleas will just be hysterical laughing behind your back.

Bubonic plague: if only they knew about flea control...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Chapter 2: a little off.....

I met a client whose dog had a mild to moderate intermittent lameness of a front limb. The dog was young and otherwise healthy. After a week of strict rest (those were my instructions), the lameness persisted. A few vets had seen this dog already, taken radiographs, used anti-inflammatory medication, and had not found the exact source of the dog's lameness. Nor could I. When I recommended she see an orthopedic specialist (a surgeon - not for surgery but at least to try to achieve a diagnosis), the owner said that she had visited with a "pet psychic", had spoken to her dog (you heard me), and that the dog asked to see an acupuncturist (note that I strongly believe in acupuncture, especially when used in conjunction with western medicine and diagnostics).
Millions of people on the planet believe in psychic phenomena - this doesn't irk me. But when your dog is lame you bring him/her to the vet, not to a psychic. In any case, shouldn't this psychic have predicted this dog's injury and prevented it?
I feel that imparting your own beliefs onto your dog is irresponsible, and potentially dangerous. A diagnosis can be missed if you're seeking help from people who have no business giving out medical/veterinary information. Trust your vet. This is exactly what we were trained for: not to be pill-pushers but to try to achieve diagnoses and institute appropriate treatments. And who knows? maybe the surgeon would have recommended acupuncture....

If your child were suddenly limping, would you take him/her to the ER or to a psychic?
Puh-lease people, enough.

At least she knows what he wants.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chapter 1 - Are pet owners... a little off?

This is an excerpt from a larger piece of work I am writing regarding veterinary medicine, and veterinary care in general in contemporary society. I don't mean to be presumptuous, but publishers feel free to contact me.

In 1994 Americans spent $17 billion (US) on their pets (1) . This climbed to just under $40 billion in 2006, equal to about 1/325th the United States’ GNP, half that of Romania, and nearly 20 times the GNP of Rwanda.
Today, there is at least one cat in 38 million homes, while a dog can be found in nearly 45 million homes. Six million American homes have a “small animal,” that is neither a fish nor a reptile. In the U.S. in 2008, an estimated $16.9 billion was spent on pet food while $10.9 billion was spent on veterinary care. The remaining $15 billion were spent on pet-related products and services, excluding food and vet care.
Pets are ever increasingly being considered a member of the family. This becomes more true when considering that the services and products that were hitherto catered solely to Homo sapiens are no longer: “Max” now has his gourmet raw food, his dog walkers who come in twice daily, a full wardrobe (lumberjacket, raincoat and matching boots, a backpack, and more) a canine sleep-away camp while his owners (2) are on vacation, acupuncture for his arthritis, chiropractic for his pinched nerve, a holistic veterinarian for his liver problem, a veterinary dentist to fix his canine that he broke chewing on the door of his massive crate (3), a veterinary oncologist to treat his skin cancer, and a pet cemetery where he can be interred and remembered by all, forever.
Today, in 2008, you might be amazed at the technology and level of care humans are providing to non-humans. One hundred years ago, a severely lame horse would be shot, ending its suffering. Today, we hear stories of teams of equine surgeons (yes, specialists in equine surgery) reassembling the leg bones of champion horses (4). The technology present is allowing veterinarians to ultrasound pregnant dolphins and camels, to replace a dog’s cataracts with artificial lenses in the exact same way yours were replaced, and to pin the broken wing of a barn owl, releasing it to the wild after its lengthy reha-bilitation. It does not stop there. A veterinarian can become specialized by completing a residency in a specialty field. Veterinary radiologists specialize in diagnostic imaging, while veterinary ophthalmologists have advanced training in diagnosing and treating diseases of the eye. Veterinary internists diagnose, manage and treat diseases such as diabetes, infectious diseases, and everything in between. Veterinarians often refer their patients to one or more of these specialists for confirmation of their diagnoses, if a diagnosis cannot be reached, or if advanced diagnostics are required. The list of veterinary specialists goes on...

Advanced veterinary care certainly has a place in today’s ever more technologically-advanced world, though one must concede that it caters almost exclusively to the upper-middle class, if not to the elite. How many on the planet can truly afford such services? Is it not ironic that our puppies and kitties are fed four-star gourmet cat food, have access to MRI within days (if that), and whose biopsy results require less than a week to be reported, while human beings are often denied these or must wait many months for diagnostic tests, results, and surgery? How would you feel if you heard that some pet owners have spent tens of thousands of dollars on advanced care for their pet? Should a dog with bone cancer be afforded this treatment, while his human counterpart without healthcare receives but palliative care for the same ailment? At this point in human civilization, does human health not trump that of pets? This is not to say that the fate of wild species and the world’s ecosystems are not of primordial importance (domestic pets have long been removed from their wild roots, yet are still strongly constrained by them through their genes).

So what makes a pet owner nuts? When does one become a crazy-cat-lady? How could dressing up your pug in a pumpkin suit be harmful for you and her? And why should you not take your Yorkshire Terriers out in a stroller? Many behaviors exhibited by pet owners that are seemingly cute and harmless can induce behavioral nightmares in our pets. Also, many of such behaviors alienate the pet owners from other human beings (pet owners and non-). Please don’t hesitate to take a step back, no matter how short a step, as you will undoubtedly be reading about situations that you could swear were written about you.
(more to come)
1 According to the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association, Inc. (AAPPM)
2 This term may be offensive to some: the term “guardian” is being used more and more.
3 I know some people whose bachelor apartments are smaller.
4 What would be the outcome were it not a champion?

Know anyone like her? I'll bet there's a little bit of crazy-cat-lady in all pet owners.... all (and that includes guys).

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

KIttens in garbage can

A client came in the other day with a plastic bag she found in a trash can. There were two screeching kittens in the bag, alive and kicking, and likely starving.
What does it take for a human being to drop a few newborn kittens in a plastic bag and throw it away in a garbage can, like a bag of used litter? Is this an act of desperation? Of sacrifice? Of stupidity? Of ignorance? All of the above? Did their mother belong to someone who did not have the savoir-faire to have her spayed, allowed her out, to discover one day that she had surprisingly given birth to a few kittens?
Or was this all a money issue? Could the person who found the kittens simply not afford to care for them?
Was the culprit simply devoid of neurons?

While it is true that there are millions of unwanted cats in the US, that they are considered vermin, like rats, in some parts of the world, they are indeed still living, breathing, animals. Surely a cat owner can tell you just how loving, caring, and affectionate they are... My cats are certainly not rats (and I don't mean to be speciest: I know that there are many who love rats like I love cats, and don't remind me how intelligent rats are...).

The good news is that our hospital will care for these newborns until they can be adopted out when they are older (their eyes have not yet opened!). For all the kitties found in baggies, can you imagine how few are saved? It would be far more responsible, and ethical, to have such kittens euthanized instead of their suffering a slow death from starvation or suffocation. I can't even imagine how horrible that would be.
Now let's be realistic: not all can be saved. Let's put our energy, financial and otherwise, into those that can be saved and most importantly, those we can place in a loving, caring, long-term home.

A little older than newborn, but I couldn't resist.