Can My Dog’s Diet Cause Heart Disease?

Over the last few decades there has been a real change in the quality of pet food available to pet owners. We now have many choices of ingredients in these diets. There is a lot of opinion out there on what protein and carbohydrate types are the most optimal for dogs.  Grain-free diets have been quite popular over the last few years and are a reaction to concerns focused on food allergy. Recently, it has been discovered that some dogs have developed a form of heart muscle disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy related to being fed boutique grain-free diets that are rich in legume based carbohydrates (e.g. Lentils, peas, etc.).  Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disorder which reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood. It can lead to Congestive Heart Failure as well as clots forming in the circulatory system.  The underlying cause of DCM is not fully understood, but a genetic link is suspected. The most common breeds that are affected by DCM include:  Great Danes, Doberman Pinschers, Newfoundlands, Boxers, and Saint Bernards. It is infrequently seen in smaller breeds with American and English Cocker Spaniels being exceptions. Dogs with DCM may tire easily, cough and may have trouble breathing.  More dramatically, they might even exhibit sudden weakness, collapse, faint or die with no warning. If your dog is showing any of these signs, they need to be seen by a veterinarian. There has been a long standing link between some forms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) and Taurine deficiency.  Taurine is an important amino acid that is instrumental to multiple functions in the body.  Taurine deficiency in small animal medicine is usually seen with home cooked diets where the owner has created a diet without the counsel of a boarded nutritionist.  Often times, if the nutritional deficiency is caught early enough, the […]

Inappropriate Urination In Cats

If you have spent much time living with a cat you may have experienced the displeasure one does when they realize that “Fluffy” decided to skip the litter box and instead urinate on the bed, or in a pile of clothes, someone’s suitcase, or the bath tub. Although this can be a common feline behavior problem it is important to make sure there aren’t any underlying medical issues. Inappropriate urination is often a symptom of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), which is the most common cause for feline veterinary visits. Other symptoms include frequent trips to the litter box, producing smaller clumps of urine in the litter, blood in the urine, licking the genitals, and straining to urinate. In some cases a cat may develop a urethral obstruction and is therefore unable to urinate (“blocked”); this is a medical emergency. Although male cats are much more likely to develop an obstruction due to their smaller urethras, female cats are equally represented when discussing FLUTD. So what is “FLUTD”? It is a collective term used to describe a number of frequently diagnosed pathologies of the feline urinary system. These include the development of crystals in the urine, which can subsequently aggregate to form urinary stones, urinary tract infections, and Feline Interstitial Cystitis (FIC). FIC is a medical condition where a cat’s bladder becomes inflamed and painful secondary to environmental stress. All of these diseases can cause the symptoms listed above, however treatment may vary depending on the underlying cause. Treatments will often include pain medication, muscle relaxers, fluid therapy, and a long-term diet change. In older cats bladder tumors are another potential cause for inappropriate urination. In order to help diagnose the underlying issue your veterinarian will want to analyze a urine sample, and depending on those results may recommend […]

Medication Warning

Occasionally, well-intentioned owners are tempted to treat an ailing pet by using over the counter medications or medications prescribed for another animal without first consulting a veterinarian. This choice can cause unintended harm to a beloved pet. One may understandably choose to research treatments on the internet or phone a friend for an opinion due to decreased cost and increased convenience.  But, bear in mind that if your pet ends up needing medical care due to drug toxicity, this can be exponentially more expensive and can result in illness, long term organ damage, or even death.  Mistakes can be easily made with respect to appropriateness of treatment, dosage, frequency, or duration of therapy.  Even if toxicity does not result, it may limit your veterinarian’s ability to prescribe superior treatments when at-home remedies fail. Over the counter medication may seem like a safe, cheap, immediate fix to whatever is ailing your favorite furry friend.  However, medications available for purchase on the drug store shelf were formulated for use in humans. Because these medications have not been tested and certified as safe for animals in FDA safety trials, their use in pets is termed “off-label.”  Off-label use does occur commonly in both human and animal medicine, but means that it is being used in a non-approved way.  Veterinarians have extensive training and access to resources not available to the general public that help them know which medication and doses are safe and appropriate for pets and which are not. One of the important things to know in choosing medications is that while humans, cats, and dogs are all mammals they do not metabolize drugs in exactly the same ways.  For example, cats are deficient in a number of drug metabolism pathways that can slow drug clearance and result in increased risk of […]

Chronic Kidney Disease and Your Cat

A large part of my job as a veterinarian is practicing preventive medicine. As pets age, they are prone to a variety of different diseases, many of which can be diagnosed early through a simple blood test. One of the most common diseases diagnosed in our feline patients is chronic kidney disease (CKD). Cats with CKD may demonstrate the following: increase thirst, urination, weight loss, decrease in appetite, and vomiting. If you feel that your cat may have any of these signs, it is important to discuss your concerns with your veterinarian. CKD is a progressive disease where the underlying cause of the kidney insult is often not determined. Patients usually have elevated kidney values on blood tests and poorly concentrated urine. More advanced cases can develop increases in blood pressure, anemia, and imbalance of potassium, phosphorous, and calcium. It is important to realize that not every cat with CKD has all these imbalances, so therapy may differ from one affected cat to the other. There are four stages of CKD, one being the mildest and four being the most advanced. Intervention is routinely instituted in stage two or three. The main goal of therapy is to help slow progression of CKD. This is often attained through diet change, increasing water intake, treatment of high blood pressure and correcting electrolyte abnormalities. Diet alteration is a mainstay of treatment for cats with CKD. As kidney disease advances, cats often have difficulty with phosphorous balance. Kidney diets are restricted in protein which reduces the amount of phosphorous the cat is eating. Prescription kidney diets are strongly recommended and are fed for life. When selecting a diet, it is important to provide the cat with a variety of different options to find one that the cat will enjoy. Cats with kidney disease are […]

Preparing For A Rodent Invasion

  As the ambient temperature cools, our rodent brethren may seek to join us indoors in our warm homes.  Here are some of the more common concerns regarding your pets coming into contact with these pesky squatters: Intestinal parasites such as hookworms and roundworms Our pets can contract intestinal parasites from rodents by having direct contact with their sometimes interesting (to our pets) feces (i.e. ingestion of at least a microscopic amount of the rodent’s stool) and through hunting.  Heartworm prevention usually keeps intestinal parasites under control as most of these medications also contain an ingredient that treats hookworms and roundworms.  Since most of the pets in Seattle do not receive heartworm prevention (pets who have not left the Seattle area are extremely unlikely to contract heartworm disease), we see a higher incidence of intestinal parasites than other parts of the country.  Please remember to have your pet’s stool checked at least every 6 months, more often if there are any episodes of diarrhea or worm-shedding.  Some households especially those with young children or immunocompromised adults, elect to keep their pets on heartworm prevention in order to reduce the risk of contact with intestinal parasites as they can have an effect on humans, too.   Fleas Even if your pet doesn’t have direct contact with a flea-infested rodent, their frequenting any space that is visited by one puts them at risk for contracting fleas.  Adult fleas live and feed on animals but their eggs, after being laid onto the hair coat, fall to the environment.  The egg hatches and a larva emerges and develops, feeding on adult flea feces, which is also shed from the flea carrier’s hair coat.  Larvae spin cocoons and become pupae.  After developing from pupae (which can lay dormant for several months), new fleas soon find […]

Ticks In Seattle?

  Who likes ticks? I sure don’t.  And I’m unhappy seeing more and more of them in and around our Seattle neighborhoods where I practice.  But I am taking action to prevent the little bloodsuckers from creating problems for my patients and clients.  Thankfully, there are some excellent new options for safe tick control currently available for our dogs and cats. It’s Getting Warmer What seems to be a rising number of ticks on pets may be a sign of inevitable changes in our local climate and the environmental factors that favor their spread. We in the Pacific NW have long been favored with a relative lack of ticks affecting our dogs and cats.  When I moved her nearly 25 years ago from Florida, I was so excited to learn of the paucity of these disgusting creatures around Puget Sound!  I’d seen few cases until the past 3 years.  Now I’ve heard many more clients reporting or presenting with ticks on their dogs. Not all of these afflicted dogs have been out hiking in the woods.  I had even pulled a tick off of the forehead of a cat last fall.  Unheard of in the decades past! Ticks are parasitic arthropods (actually arachnids and related to spiders) that feed on the blood of their hosts. They can carry a variety of diseases that can affect dogs and humans alike.  We have all heard of Lyme disease, which is relatively rare here, but other conditions transmitted by ticks are more common in WA State, such as Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Babesiosis, and Tularemia. Spreading Disease In all of these diseases, the tick transmits pathogenic bacteria via its mouth during feeding.  Ticks usually bite and attach their mouthparts first, then about 20-24hrs later begin to feed on the blood of their host. This is […]

Warning to owners who use pill splitters for pet medications.

Our doctors have become aware of a dangerous accident that can happen when using a pill splitter to prepare your pet’s medications. Pill splitters use a razor to cut tablets. It may be possible for the razor to become dislodged during normal use resulting in accidental ingestion of the razor depending on how your pet’s medication is administered. We recommend careful inspection of your pill splitter before and after each use. Never use a pill splitter that is worn or damaged and if damage is discovered after use make sure to inspect your pet’s medication before administration. Your pet’s safety is important to us. Take an extra moment to check, for their sake.

Cat Vomit: What is Normal and What is Not?

During every routine annual exam we veterinarians do, there is a question we ask: have you noticed any vomiting or diarrhea? Often for our feline patients, we hear “Well, they’ve always been a vomiter” or “two to three times a week, but that’s normal for them”. So, how much vomiting is too much? When does that puddle of vomit stop being just an annoyance and turn into a concern? Long-haired cats may produce a hairball one to two times a month. Short haired cats should vomit less than once every two months. Any higher frequency then this can be an early indicator of underlying disease and should be mentioned to your veterinarian during a regular exam. Any sudden or noticeable increase in vomiting frequency, diarrhea, or concerns of weight loss should indicate a need for a more immediate examination. Vomiting or Regurgitation Your vet will start by asking a lot of questions: firstly to determine whether your cat is vomiting or regurgitating. Vomiting and regurgitation can look very similar in pets, but are actually very different processes. Vomiting involves nausea: you may see drooling, lip-licking, vocalizing prior to the actual vomit. Once it starts, look for abdominal contractions and often rather loud sound effects. Regurgitation is often very passive in comparison: the animal will simply open its mouth and almost spit out water or food in varying states of digestion. Regurgitation does not always happen immediately after eating. Once that is determined, the focus turns to whether the vomiting is because of a primary gastrointestinal issue or secondary to illness elsewhere in the body. To help with this, your veterinarian will perform a thorough exam including an abdominal palpation. This often looks like an unusual upside down belly massage, but they’re actually isolating different organs in the abdomen and feeling […]

What’s My Pet’s Genetic Blueprint?

Canis familiaris originated from wolves close to 100,000 years ago. This canine was domesticated by humans and as a result of centuries of selective breeding, the modern canine species has become quite diverse. From 4 pound Yorkshire terriers to 200 pound English mastiffs, snorting bulldogs to snoozing basset hounds, and from the herding instincts of Australian shepherds to retrieving sporting breeds, humans have bred dogs for certain traits. These breeding practices have focused on preserving  the preferred traits of one generation to the next, but they also manifested in many unforeseen genetic disorders, such as, cancer,  cataracts, epilepsy, hip dysplasia, heart disease, and deafness. The notion of genetic based medicine has been present for years in the veterinary profession. We have known for decades that certain breeds are predisposed to certain diseases and some recommendations can be made based on the breed or genetic mix of the animal. For example, Doberman pinschers are predisposed to a bleeding disorder known as Von Willebrand’s disease, while Maine coon cats and some large breed dogs are predisposed to a heart condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy.   From glaucoma to urinary stones, there are literally hundreds of diseases that have a genetic link and many of these diseases can be treated if diagnosed at an early age. In 2005, researchers at the Broad Institute (Harvard and MIT) completed the genomic sequence of the dog. Subsequently, in 2007, scientists at the National Cancer Center in Maryland released the first fully mapped feline genome. This monumental research has provided the veterinary profession with the tools to develop genetic tests for a vast number of diseases. The preventative value of such testing can be extremely helpful for patients with these genetic predispositions. It is even more valuable as we look at the potential for objective screening of breeding […]