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Tag: doctors

Take two dogs and call me in the morning

Call it an “aha” moment for the AHA: The American Heart Association has finally, officially, recognized that dogs are good for the ticker.

Last week, the organization issued a statement saying enough evidence now exists to make that assertion, and it didn’t even recommend dogs be taken in moderation, or consulting your doctor first.

Heartening as the news release was, the statement was overdue, or at least a few beats behind the thinking of those of us who already knew, and didn’t need studies to tell us, that our dogs are good for the heart, by which I mean the organ and more.

Dog owners are more likely to get exercise. Stroking a dog lowers blood pressure. Stress is handled better by dog owners — even when their dog isn’t with them. Studies have proven all those things.

But the mysteries of what dogs do for the heart, and the soul, have only begun to be unraveled. And on top of all the benefits to humans that can be scientifically confirmed and quantified, there’s much more dogs do for us — much of it undetectable by microscopes and double-blind studies, and part of me hopes it always will be.

Being humans, we can sometimes get so wrapped in measuring something that it interferes with treasuring that something. We can get so intent on delving into something’s complexities that we fail to savor its simplicity.

Dogs, could they speak, would tell us that, and they’d likely advise to look for the simple answer first.

How important, heart-wise, is the simple fact that a dog can give us reason to live, and love? While I am not a medical professional, or even a medical amateur, I think a heart that’s engaged and occupied is more likely to keep running smoothly than one sitting empty in the garage, getting dusty.

“Perhaps when one owns a pet one tends to be happier,” said Dr. Glenn Levine of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who led the committee that wrote the statement. “Pet owners might be more likely to take their medications and eat healthier meals.”

Pharmaceuticals and spinach, important as they may be, don’t make you happy to be alive, though, and want to continue in that state.

Dogs do.

The AHA isn’t saying everyone should go out and adopt a dog to lower their risk of heart disease. The statement emphasizes there’s much more involved in keeping your heart healthy, according to an NBC Today report.

“We did not want people to see this article and just go out and adopt or rescue or buy a dog …while they continue to just sit on the couch and smoke cigarettes,” said Levine, himself a dog owner.

In one study cited by the committee, researchers signed up 30 people with borderline high blood pressure who were about to adopt dogs from a shelter.

Then they persuaded half of them to wait — in the best interest of the study, if not the dogs.

Those allowed to adopt dogs right away had lower blood pressure two and five months later than those who had not adopted.

And once all the study participants had adopted dogs, systolic blood pressure was found to be lowered in the deferred-adoption group as well.

The study didn’t say whether those that adopted had lower blood pressure than those who bought dogs. Nevertheless, and even though I’m not a doctor, that’s what I’d prescribe.

(Photo: ohmidog!)

California man seeks vet insurance — for self

You can’t blame Hal Ziegler for trying — what was good enough for his golden doodle, he figured, would be good enough for him.

Facing exorbitant increases in his health insurance payments, Zeigler, a self-employed consultant, called up the pet insurance company that covers his dog Charlie — for $37 a month — and asked if he could get a policy for himself.

“They laughed,” Ziegler, 47, of Mission Viejo., told the Orange County Register. “I knew what the answer would be but in reality I wasn’t joking.”

Ziegler noted that his dog, Charlie, has seen his claims paid promptly and without dispute by Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) , including those for vaccinations and a trip to the veterinary emergency room.

Ziegler’s dealings with Anthem Blue Cross haven’t been nearly as simple and swift, and the price of his coverage keeps going up — a 34 percent jump this year alone.

And even then, it sounds like he lacks coverage for a major medical event. “One one of our greatest fears is to be in a catastrophic medical emergency,” he said.

Being without health insurance myself I can relate to the problem faced by Ziegler and so many others who have been priced out of the health market. So I’ll share my secret plan, if a major medical problem comes my way: I’m going to go to the vet, get him to give me a bacon-flavored treat, scratch me behind the ears and gently put me down.

Airlines should ban pets from cabin, docs say

Due to the allergy risks they pose, pets should be banned from airline passenger cabins, some Canadian doctors say.

In an editorial in The Canadian Medical Association Journal, the physicians called for restricting pets from airplane passenger cabins, warning that exposure to animals can lead to discomfort, asthma attacks or even life-threatening reactions in some.

The editorial was in response to Air Canada’s decision last summer to start allowing small pets, including cats, dogs and birds, to travel in the passenger cabin, the New York Times reports.

One in 10 people have allergies to animals, and for some, exposure to dogs and cats can set off an asthma attack or a life-threatening reaction like anaphylaxis, said Dr. Matthew B. Stanbrook, the journal’s deputy scientific editor and an asthma specialist.

“Pets can be accommodated comfortably and safely in airplane cargo holds, which is where they belong,” the doctors wrote.

I know all the airlines say that, but, in addition to the cases in which that has proved not to be the case, I have one more reason to doubt it: If it were true, I’m sure they would be squeezing us human passengers in there as well.

Smarty pants … and drools … and sheds

DSC05410

 
It’s official: We humans, according to the New York Times, have underestimated the intelligence of dogs (which, of course, was exactly their plan.)

“…(O)ver the last several years a growing body of evidence, culled from small scientific studies of dogs’ abilities to do things like detect cancer or seizures, solve complex problems … and learn language suggests that they may know more than we thought they did,” the article in Sunday’s “Week in Review” section noted. 

“Their apparent ability to tune in to the needs of psychiatric patients, turning on lights for trauma victims afraid of the dark, reminding their owners to take medication and interrupting behaviors like suicide attempts and self-mutilation, for example, has lately attracted the attention of researchers.”

While we humans still don’t understand exactly how they do it, dogs have proven they can detect not just our behavioral changes, not just pending seizures and diabetic attacks, but several types of cancer. (We, on the other hand, must rely on expensive doctors, intrusive tests and tight-fisted insurance companies to get our diseases diagnosed.)

In 2004, German researchers reported that a border collie named Rico could recognize  200 objects by name and remembered them all a month later. (I’m guessing that Rico’s vocabulary list was kept on one of those thingamajigs that have a clip to hold the papers in place.)

Dogs, with their incredible sensory powers, can recognize things in the distance. (We rely on the New York Times, sometimes mistakenly, to tell us what’s staring us in the face.) Dogs pretty much have us humans  pegged. (Most of us don’t begin to understand them.) At least now though, we’re trying a little harder.

“I believe that so much research has come out lately suggesting that we may have underestimated certain aspects of the mental ability of dogs that even the most hardened cynic has to think twice before rejecting the possibilities,” said Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and an author of several dog books.

Dr. Coren’s work on intelligence, along with other research suggesting that the canine brain processes information something like the way people do, has drawn criticism from those arguing that dogs are merely mimicking, or manipulating people into believing that they in fact grasped human concepts.

Clive D. L. Wynne, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Florida who specializes in canine cognition, argues that it is dogs’ deep sensitivity to the humans around them, their obedience under rigorous training, and their desire to please that can explain most of these capabilities, the Times article notes.

“I take the view that dogs have their own unique way of thinking,” Dr. Wynne said. “…We shouldn’t kid ourselves that dogs are viewing the world the way we do.”

Thank God, and dog, for that.

A dog in every doctor’s office? Why not?

With evidence both anecdotal and scientific showing dogs have the potential to sniff out diabetes — or at least detect the changes that occur when a person is about to have a hypoglycemic attack — a research center in southern England is training dogs to warn diabetic owners when their blood sugar levels fall to dangerously low levels.

As this 2007 video shows, some dogs already have the skill down, but the Cancer and Bio-Detection Dogs research center in Aylesbury, based on recent evidence suggesting a dog’s hyper-sensitive nose can detect impending attacks, is now working to train 17 dogs that will be paired up with diabetic owners.

A survey last December by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast found 65 percent of 212 people with insulin-dependent diabetes reported that their pets had reacted by whining, barking, licking or some other display when they had a hypoglycemic episode, according to Reuters.

“Dogs have been trained to detect certain odors down to parts per trillion, so we are talking tiny, tiny amounts. Their world is really very different to ours,” research center Chief Executive Claire Guest said.

The center is continuing work to perfect dogs’ ability in spotting signs of cancer. Guest said having a dog in every doctor’s office would be impractical, but the research could help lead to the invention of an electronic nose that will mimic a dog’s.

“At the moment electronic noses are not as advanced as the dogs’, they are about 15 years behind. But the work that we are doing and what we are finding out will help scientists advance quickly so that they can use electronic noses to do the same thing,” she said.

Pretty amazing stuff, but I think I’d rather be diagnosed by a dog than an electronic nose. And what’s so impractical about a dog in every doctor’s office? Seems entirely practical to me, and a good way — if shelter dogs could be trained to sniff out disease — to allow everyone to live a little longer.

Besides, it would make doctors’ offices far more inviting, and give us something to do in the waiting room.

Researchers warn of bite-related infections

Doctors treating people for dog and cat bites should be aware of an increasing risk of MRSA — Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — being transmitted from pets to humans, newly published research says.

MRSA, an uncommon strain of the bacteria in domestic animals, is being seen more often, according to research reported in the new issue The Lancet that focuses on infectious diseases.

“As community-acquired strains of MRSA increase in prevalence, a growing body of clinical evidence has documented MRSA colonisation in domestic animals, often implying direct infection from their human owners,” reports a team led by Dr Richard Oehler, of the University of South Florida. “MRSA colonisation has been documented in companion animals such as horses, dogs, and cats and these animals have been viewed as potential reservoirs of infection.”

“Pet owners are often unaware of the potential for transmission of life-threatening pathogens from their canine and feline companions,” the researchers said. “Clinicians must continue to promote loving pet ownership, take an adequate pet history, and be aware that associated diseases are preventable via recognition, education and simple precautions.”

Each year, dog and cat bites comprise around 1% of accident and emergency visits in the US and Europe. Severe infections occur in about 20% of bite cases, and are caused by bacteria in the animal’s mouth, plus other infectious agents from the person’s skin.

Live dogs used in trauma surgery class

The University of Michigan is coming under fire for a class in which doctors practice their emergency surgical procedures on live, otherwise healthy dogs.

The procedures so badly damage the animals — some of which are procured from animals shelters — that they must be euthanized — the Detroit Free Press reports.

According to the Free Press, one of the dogs used in the test was Koda, a male malamute that was surrendered at an animal shelter. Instead of being adopted, Koda was sold to R&R Research of Howard City, which resold it to the university for its Advanced Trauma Life Support class.

The University of Miichigan uses simulators for doctors in other courses, but Dr. Richard Burney, who directs the Advanced Trauma Life Support class, insists the dogs are the most realistic training tool and that the training will help save human lives. The dogs are anesthetized during before surgery.

“This is a fair and proper use of animals,” he said. “If you come … with a gunshot wound, without adequate training, you become the animal that is being learned upon.”

The University of Michigan course is one of 15 in the country — and the only one in Michigan — that uses animals, according to a survey from the animal welfare group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The group is to file a complaint today with the U.S. Department of Agriculture against Burney.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found in a survey of 198 Advanced Trauma Life Support courses nationwide that more than 90% use human cadavers or simulator dummies. The remaining courses use dogs, goats or pigs to teach these skills.

How to (ah) choose a hypoallergenic dog

Goldendoodle

Goldendoodle

Despite all the buzz about “hypoallergenic dogs” since the Obamas indicated they may get one, there are no breeds that are truly free of potential allergens, some medical experts say.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as a hypoallergenic dog,” allergy and asthma expert Corinna Bowser (really, BOWSER!) of Havertown, Pa. told WebMD.

While there are countless websites devoted to “hypoallergenic dogs,” the Obamas could find it difficult to find one to which their older daughter, Malia, won’t have an allergic reaction.

Bowser explains that the major allergen in dogs is a protein found in dog serum, and dogs excrete that allergen in sweat and shed it from their skin. “It also gets secreted into the saliva, and possibly a little bit in the urine,” Bowser says.

Since all dogs have that protein, no dog is completely allergy-free, according to Bowser.

She said a German study, published this year, tracked allergies among people exposed to various dog breeds and found that factors related to individual dogs seem to influence the “allergenicity” more than breed or gender.

Breeds commonly cited as hypoallergenic include the poodle, (and several poodle hybrids, like the goldendoodle), Bichon Frise, Maltese, Yorkshire Terrier, Portugese Water Dog, Schnauzer, West Highland Terrier, Basenji, Airedale Terrier, and our good friend, the Xoloitzcuintli.

Smaller dogs, and short-haired breeds might be less risky, Bowser said. “Hair length could have something to do with how it spreads in the house,” she said, explaining that shorter dog hairs may not stick as much as long hair to furniture, clothes, and other surfaces.

Bowser went on to say that if she was the Obama family doctor, “I would say it’s probably better not to get a dog.”

“Of course, now he made the promise and he kind of has to,” she said. Bowser recommends that before they get a dog of their own the Obama family dog-sit to see how Malia’s allergies fare, and set some rules about how they’ll handle any allergy issues.