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Tag: disease

Dogs and Ebola: Looking for answers

bubbledog

You’d think in a world preparing for Ebola — especially in a country as sophisticated, dog-crazy and health-oriented as ours — someone would have given it at least a moment’s thought.

You’d think — between all the agencies and organizations, protocols and precautions; between the National Institutes for Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Veterinary Medical Association — someone somewhere would have stood up and said, hey, what about our dogs?

Instead, with Ebola’s spread to countries outside Africa, public health officials find themselves scratching their heads and — even though there’s no proof yet that dogs can transmit the disease — considering options as drastic as incarceration and extermination for the pets of humans diagnosed with Ebola.

Caution, of course, is good, but planning would have been better.

Excalibur was the first one to come to light. The large mixed-breed dog belonged to a nurse in Madrid who contracted the disease from Spain’s first Ebola patient. Her dog, over the family’s objections, was killed and incinerated nearly immediately upon the order of government officials.

America, or at least Dallas, took a more compassionate approach when a local nurse was determined to have contracted Ebola from a patient being treated in a hospital there. Bentley, her Cavalier King Charles spaniel, was moved into a quarantined area at a decommissioned Naval base, where he’s being tended to by hazardous material crews in full protective garb.

bentley3

Bentley

The question arises, and should have arisen long ago: What are we going to do with the pets of Ebola victims?

Will we turn to extermination, as the number of cases, and our fears, increase?

Will we keep them isolated in crates, bubbles or decommissioned military bases?

For how long? At what costs? Under whose supervision? And is it even necessary?

No one knows the answers to any of those questions, and the fear and uncertainty that ignorance leads to is bound to take us to some bad places, if it hasn’t already.

In an ideal world, we’d have studies to turn to — proving, one way or the other, whether dogs can contract and transmit the virus. We’d be testing them, as we do humans, before quarantining them, or at least before releasing them from that quarantine. We’d know how long, if at all, they need to be sequestered and monitored.

Instead, we’re playing a messy game of catch-up, and the argument can be made that it’s because we were wearing blinders.

Even in this supposed era of increased awareness about the health issues that cross species lines, our planet seems to once again have gotten caught up in the view that only humans matter.

Perhaps too it could be argued that, among many in America, some strange disease in Africa didn’t strike us as a big concern, or as an opportunity to learn and prepare for what might be coming. (Maybe we humans don’t like to look at the big picture when the big picture is too big, and too scary.)

What is abundantly clear is that no one, up until now, gave much thought to how Ebola might affect our dogs — if not the disease itself, at least the fear of it.

No one knows whether dogs can get the full-fledged virus. One study during the 2001-02 Ebola outbreak in Gabon showed some exposed dogs carried signs of infection, and had an immune response — but that’s not the same as getting the disease.

“Studies have shown that dogs can have an immune response to Ebola, but there have been no reports of pet dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of passing the disease to other animals or people,” said Kristen Nordlund, a CDC health-communications specialist.

“In a situation where there is a dog or cat in the home of an Ebola patient, CDC recommends public-health officials evaluate the animal’s risk of exposure,” she added.

Given dogs are present in nearly half of American homes, given many of them share our beds and lick our faces, we’d like to see the CDC recommending something more than “risk evaluation.”

excalibur2

Excalibur

Between the lack of knowledge, and the lack of a clear-cut recommended response when it comes to the pets of Ebola victims, public fears will only snowball as questions go unanswered.

Why, given all our physiological similarities, can’t the dogs of Ebola patients be tested like humans are to confirm if they’ve been exposed? And if, as limited study suggests, dogs can have the virus without getting sick and dying, might there be something worth further studying in that?

“We know that you and your clients are looking for answers, and we’re working to get information for you,” the American Veterinary Medical Association says on its website.

“The AVMA is collaborating with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and USDA along with other agencies and experts and is tapping into the broad expertise of our member veterinarians to develop information for our members and the public. We will strive to ensure that veterinarians have a prominent voice as these issues are discussed and decided in the U.S.”

Up until now, the CDC has taken the line that the risk of Ebola to pets is low. Its website also says there is little risk of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S.

“The risk of an Ebola outbreak affecting multiple people in the United States is very low,” says a question and answer fact sheet on the CDC website.. “Therefore, the risk to pets is also very low, as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a person with Ebola. Even in areas in Africa where Ebola is present, there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola.”

And yet Excalibur is dead and Bentley is being treated as hazardous material, and with each new case there will be new fears and ripples.

In Madrid, a dog that often played with Excalibur was surrendered to a shelter by his owners because of fears he might have contracted the disease.

tronco

Tronco

Tronco was dropped off by his owners at the Spanish animal charity Escuela Canina Esga in Madrid, according to the New York Post.

“They were parents with young children and they just were not prepared to take the risk and so [they] handed him over to us,” said manager Esga Juan Esteban. “We did everything we could to reassure them that it was probably OK, but of course we couldn’t guarantee that the animal didn’t have Ebola, and so they were adamant that they didn’t want him any longer.”

The shelter, in its effort (successful) to find Tronco a new home, used only photos of him as a pup — so that, once he was adopted, he wouldn’t be recognized in public as a dog who once played with a dog whose owner has Ebola.

(Top photo: The image of Soviet Space dog Belka is from the distant past, but might we see something like it in the near future?)

Dog works in mysterious ways

Charles Sasser has Alzheimer’s, and over the past year he has all but stopped talking, according to his daughter.

The Albuquerque man will make some sounds when he’s with his two dogs, but he rarely utters more than a word or phrase.

So when he started talking — in full sentences — to his daughter’s dog, she made a video.

Abeyta, who writes often about her family’s struggles with Alzheimer’s on her blog, posted the video last week on YouTube — showing the moment Sasser, a Korean war veteran, began to speak to her dog, Roscoe.

Within a few days, it was nearing a million views, and generating comments — actual kind, caring, non-stupid and rational comments, many from strangers sharing their own stories.

Abeyta says her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,  a degenerative disease affecting memory, about four or five years ago. In the past year, he started to lose his ability to speak in sentences.

“I’m touched by the response to the video … They talked about how having a pet or connecting with music really gave them back a loved one with Alzheimer’s,” Abeyta told ABC News.

On her own blog, she wrote, “I had no idea the video would touch so many people or be shared so many times. The comments and emails – for the most part – have been a wonderfully moving procession of individuals sharing their own journey through Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is a cruel disease, and the kind words of others who have faced similar experiences has left me feeling not quite so alone in it all.”

Circovirus kills at least one dog in Ohio

circovirusState Department of Agriculture officials say they’ve confirmed a case of circovirus in one of the eight dogs who became mysteriously sick or died across Ohio in recent weeks.

The disease is common in pigs but has only recently been diagnosed in dogs.

Eight dogs from the Canton area to the Cincinnati area, have fallen ill with similar symptoms over the past three weeks.

Of those, four died, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

On Friday, one of those cases was confirmed as circovirus, said Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Erica Hawkins.

Testing continues on samples from the other seven dogs, and it’s too early to know if they all contracted the same disease, she added.

Pathologists sent samples from dogs to a lab at the University of California-Davis to test them for circovirus. A one-year-old beagle with circovirus died in California in the spring, and the school’s lab has the equipment to test for the virus. A study detailing the California case was released in April in the Centers for Disease Control’s online journal “Emerging Infectious Diseases.”

Symptoms of the virus included vasculitis (a destruction of the body’s blood vessels), severe vomiting, bloody diarrhea, fluid buildup around the lungs, as well as rapid heart rate and weakness.

In August, the state Department of Agriculture issued an alert after several dog deaths were reported in Norwood, just north of Cincinnati. Four dogs became sick with similar symptoms, and three of them died. All of the dogs had spent time at the same boarding kennel. The facility shut down temporarily and replaced its flooring and other equipment. But owners of the company say that was done as a precaution and that tests of the facility’s food, water and surfaces show no signs of anything that could have triggered the illnesses.

The other four suspected cases were all in the Akron area, but there are no indications that the dogs had spent time together.

Dr. Melanie Butera, a veterinarian at Elm Ridge Animal Hospital in Canal Fulton, treated all four of the Akron-area dogs. All became very ill with similar symptoms, and all were around 3 or four years old. One of the four died.

Health officials and veterinarians said that owners who suspect their dog has the illness should get the pet to a veterinarian right away.

Butera warned dog owners not to panic. There have only been a handful of cases so far, and even if circovirus is responsible for all the cases, it’s not the first time dogs have faced a new illness.

“Viruses mutate all the time, and we see that in human viruses, and sometimes mutations allow the virus to cross into a different species,” she said.

(Photo: Chris Gatsios’ five-year-old black lab Bella, from Canal Fulton, who is recovering from a virus; by Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)

Woof in Advertising: Trifexis

This ad for Trifexis depicts a dog living in a bubble — albeit it one that’s outside and has plenty of tubes to run around in.

It serves to protect him from heartworms, hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, flea infestations and all those other frightening hazards that exist in that place where dogs, for centuries, managed to survive:

Outside.

What we find most interesting about it, though, are the disclaimers, which seem to have risen with doggie prescription drugs to the same level they have with human ones, where three-fourths of the advertisement are devoted to a listing of potential scary side effects, quickly recited in monotone, in hopes you — or your dog — won’t really hear them.

With Trifexis, it goes like this: “Treatment with fewer than three monthly doses after the last exposure to mosoquitoes may not provide complete heartworm prevention. The most common adverse reactions were vomiting, itching and lethargy. Serious adverse reactions have been reported following concomitant extra-label use of ivermectin with spinosad alone, one of the components of Trifexis.”

On top of the warnings recited, more appear in small print during the ad:

“To ensure parasite protection, observe your dog for one hour after administration.”

“If vomiting occurs within an hour of administration, give another full dose.”

“Puppies less than 14 weeks of age may experience a higher rate of vomiting.”

In their print ads, the makers of Trifexis additionally advise the drug be used with caution in breeding females, and in dogs with epilepsy. Its use in breeding males has not been evaluated. Print ads also list lethargy, depression, decreased appetite and diarrhea as possible side effects.

The chewable, beef-flavored tablets — administered once a month – are a combination of spinosad and milbemycin oxime, and they serve to prevent heartworm disease, kill fleas and prevent infestations and treat hookworm, roundworm and whipworm infections.

The tagline for the ad is “You don’t have to go to extremes to protect your dog from parasites.”

Apparently you do, though, if you’re selling prescription drugs — for canines or humans — to protect your ass from lawsuits.

To see all our “Woof in Advertising” posts, click here.

Westminster Dog Show: An opposing view

Best in Show

Best in Show Pictures

If the following take on Westminster reads like its coming from some PETA hothead that’s because it is.

Then agains, hotheads are sometimes worth listening to.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a staff writer for The PETA Foundation, and her remarks appeared in the form of a guest column in the Sacramento Bee.

Pollard-Post recounts watching Westminster in her youth, usually with a bad case of strep throat, and with her dog Katie at her side…

“But had I known then that Westminster – and the dog-breeding industry that it props up – share the blame for the mutilation and deaths of millions of dogs each year, I would have changed the channel faster than you can say ‘Sesame Street.’

“Back then, I had no idea that the snub-nosed bulldogs and pugs prancing around the ring may have been gasping for breath the whole time because these breeds’ unnaturally shortened airways make exercise and sometimes even normal breathing difficult. I didn’t know that the “wiener dogs” that made me laugh as their little legs tried to keep up may have eventually suffered from disc disease or other back problems because dachshunds are bred for extremely long spinal columns. I didn’t learn until much later that because of inbreeding and breeding for distorted physical features, approximately one in four purebred dogs suffers from serious congenital disorders such as crippling hip dysplasia, blindness, deafness, heart defects, skin problems and epilepsy.

“I remember feeling shocked when I learned that Doberman pinschers’ ears naturally flop over, and that their ears only stand up because they are cut and bound with tape when the dogs are puppies. And I felt sick to my stomach when I discovered that cocker spaniels have beautiful, long, flowing tails, but American Kennel Club breed standards call for their tails to be amputated down to nubs. The American Veterinary Medical Association says that these procedures ‘are not medically indicated nor of benefit to the patient’ and they ’cause pain and distress.’

“… Like many people, I hadn’t made the connection that every time someone buys a purebred dog from a breeder or a pet store, a dog in a shelter – a loving animal whose life depends on being adopted – loses his or her chance at a home …

“Dog shows also encourage viewers to go out and buy purebred dogs like the ones they see on TV from breeders or pet stores. This impulse buying robs shelter dogs of homes, and even more dogs end up homeless when overwhelmed people discover that the adorable puppy they bought ruins carpets, needs expensive vaccinations and food and requires their constant attention.

“My own parents succumbed to the lure of purebreds: They purchased Katie from a breeder. Katie was an exceptional dog and my best friend, but it saddens me to think that other loving dogs waiting behind bars in shelters missed out on a good home because we thought we needed a certain breed of puppy.

“Thankfully, some things have changed. After Katie passed away, my parents adopted a lovable mutt from the local shelter. I haven’t had strep throat since I was a teenager. And if the dreaded illness strikes again, you’ll find me cuddling on the couch with my rescued dog, Pete, watching movies – not Westminster.”

Don’t tell me not to sleep with my dog

A researcher who I’m guessing doesn’t have a dog says pets don’t belong in the bed, and that allowing them to sleep with us can lead to infections, parasites and diseases.

He further advises that anyone who is licked by a dog wash the area immediately.

To me, a guy who has spent the last eight months with my dog nearly constantly at my side during our travels across America — including in whatever bed we happen to be sleeping in at night — that seems a massive over-reaction.

Bruno Chomel, a professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, says that, while such cases aren’t common, people have contracted infections from sleeping with, kissing and being licked by their pets. Chomel and fellow researcher Ben Sun, of the California Department of Public Health, express their views in the latest issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

I don’t subscribe to that publication, because my theory is the surest way to get a disease is not from sleeping with your dog, but from reading about that disease.

Though I sleep with my dog nightly, I’m not so much concerned about Zoonoses, or diseases transmitted to humans by animals, as I am about Merckitis, a chronic case of which I’ve suffered from since childhood.

It stemmed from a big blue book called The Merck Manual, on my mother’s bookshelf, which allowed you to, based on your symptoms, diagnose your medical issue, read about the treatment and determine, in my case, if I was going to live to see 13.

I must have diagnosed myself with a dozen different diseases, many of them fatal, in the course of matching up my symptoms — usually those of a common cold — with the worst  possible maladies.

I remember one night that — congested, unable to breathe through my nose and worried that my throat breathing pipe (non-medical term) might close up – I gathered the necessary supplies to perform an emergency tracheotomy (bic pen, with the ink part removed, pocket knife, duck tape) and kept them under my bed, alongside the book.

The Internet has made it much easier to wrongly self diagnose — just a few clicks and you can jump to the conclusion that you have the most dreaded disease imaginable. The key word there being imaginable. In a way, those medical self-help websites, rather than lessen the need for doctors, only create more of one as we, fueled by our fears, rush to confirm our faulty self diagnoses.

Pulled muscle? I was sure it was a heart attack.

Of course, such concerns are not always entirely baseless, and many of them should be checked out by professionals. But often, they’re only in our heads — having been placed there by WebMD, yourdiagnosis.com, familydoctor.org and the like. Often they are really far-fetched, instilling a fear out of all proportion with reality, which is the case with Chomel’s study, or at least his remarks:

“I think pets can be very nice in the home environment, but certainly, they don’t belong on the bed,” Chomel told LiveScience.

Chomel says humans can contract bubonic plague from flea-infested pets, bacterial infections resistant to multiple strains of antibiotics, and various parasitic worms.

Since 1974, Chomel says, multiple cases of plague have been associated with people in the southwestern U.S. who allowed flea-infested cats to sleep with them. And in a  2008 outbreak, a study found that people infected with bubonic plague were “more likely to have shared a bed with a dog than uninfected counterparts.” (Despite that, I still don’t recommend sharing a bed with uninfected counterparts.)

The authors cite surveys conducted in the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands that show up to 45 percent of dogs sleep in their owners’ bed.

Several reports of bacterial infections have been attributed to sharing a bed with pets, and in “multiple” cases, they report, patients acquired various infections after allowing their dogs or cats to lick wounds or damaged skin.

That’s the total opposite of my philosophy. Whenever I get a boo-boo, the first thing I do is let Ace lick it. Then it feels better. If thousands of microscopic parasites enter my bloodstream by doing so, so be it … join the party, fellas.

Don’t tell me not to sleep with my dog, especially when it’s this cold. That’s like saying, because there may be some impurities in the air, I should stop breathing. I’m going to continue to engage in both risky behaviors.

And if worse comes to worst I can always, after consulting my Merck Manual, perform an emergency tracheotomy.

OUR FAVORITE READER COMMENT: “Pity poor Chomel. He has obviously not enjoyed the delight of a canine companion…I’ve spent the past 50 years sleeping with dogs – most of the canine persuasion – and if anything it must have strengthened my immune system … The plague? Only a plague of comfort and love. Poor Chomel.”

(For all the comments on this post, click the comment button below, and scroll to the bottom to leave one of your own.)

Laboratory use of dogs on the upswing

Given the endlessly rising popularity of dogs, and our increasing emotional attachment to them, medical researchers who use them for experiments can expect stronger and growing opposition to the practice from the public, a leading expert in canine-human interaction told a conference at Johns Hopkins University this week.

James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, was the keynote speaker at a conference sponsored by the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The 30-year-old, non–profit center promotes humane science by supporting the creation, development and use of alternatives to animals in research, product safety testing, and education. It seeks ways to replace animals with non-animal methods, reduce the numbers of animals necessary, or refine methods to make them less painful or stressful to the animals involved

Serpell and other speakers both pointed out that after decades of declining, the use of dogs in medical research has increased in the last couple of years.

U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that the number of dogs used in medical research and testing dropped from 200,000 in 1973 to 66,000 in 2007, said Tanya Burkholder, chief of the Small Animal Section at the National Institutes of Health. Now, she said, the number has risen to about 75,000 a year.

Much of the increase is likely a result of advancements in, and the promise of, gene therapy.

Ivan Pavlov

Dogs have always been a valuable research model for scientists, going as far back as Aristotle’s day. Their size, physiology and cooperative behavior have made them convenient models for scientists, who, like Pavlov’s dog, grew conditioned to using them in experiments.

While public opposition to subjecting dogs to medical experiments resulted in the practice dwindling in recent decades, the use of dogs has crept up again in the last two years due to advances in molecular biology, genetics and the sequencing of the canine genome.

Because dogs get about 220 of the same inherited diseases and disorders that humans do — including Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia and retinal degeneration – medical researchers are able to study the underlying genetic defects and, through dogs, seek cures.

This means dogs are being bred to be born with the diseases in colonies at U.S. universities and research institutes and, in the case of South Korea, cloned to be born with the diseases.

No one at the conference went so far as to suggest a halt to using dogs in research, but Serpell warned that the practice does come with risks, and a price.

Dogs evoke protective and nurturing instincts in people, and those have grown stronger as the dog-human relationship has evolved — to the point that dogs are viewed more as family members than family pets. Public opposition to the laboratory use of dogs has continually grown in the last few decades.

Researchers need to be cognizant not just of society’s strong feelings about dogs, but also about dog’s strong feelings for humans, Serpell said.  “Many dogs undergo severe distress when contact with a human is limited or thwarted. We don’t give that regard sufficient credence,” he said.

The stronger attachment to dogs is in part due to breeders focusing on creating animals for purposes of human companionship, unlike in the past when they were bred for the work they could do. Serpell noted that baby-like features, for one thing, appeal to humans.

Showing photos of dogs, Serpell pointed to one and said, “This animal looks like it was invented by Walt Disney.”

Our attraction to dogs stems too from the fact that they make eye contact with humans more than any other species, and studies have shown that petting, or even looking, at a dog increases our levels of oxytocin.

“These dogs are turning us on by looking at us,” he said.

Our evolving closeness to dogs has implications for the laboratory, he noted, and perhaps all of society.

Serpell pointed to commentator Tucker Carlson’s recent statement that dogs are the social equals of humans, and that therefore Micheal Vick should have been executed for killing them.

“Lots of people feel the same way,” he said.