Monday, August 25, 2008

Hero Dog Saves Infant's Life

This past Saturday, CNN reported the story of a dog who sheltered a newborn baby that was abandoned by its 14 year old mother, in a field in rural Argentina until the boy was rescued. According to the story, a resident of rural La Plata had telephoned police indicating that he heard a baby crying in a field behind his house. The man then went outside and found the newborn infant lying beside the dog and her 6 newborn puppies.

The dog had apparently carried the baby 50 meters from the original area where the baby was abandoned by its mother, to the spot where her puppies were huddled together. Doctors remained convinced that, with an outside temperature a frigid 37 degrees, that the baby determined to be only a few hours old, would most certainly have died if not for the shelter provided by the dog and her puppies. Aside from a few superficial scratches, the baby, thanks to the shelter provided by a very dedicated canine mother, was otherwise in good shape.

As for the baby's human mother that originally abandoned the baby for dead, she was driven by a neighbor to the hospital where she admitted that the infant was hers. The teenage mother was then promptly hospitalized for psychological treatment.

Below is a photo of the hero of the day.

Apparently, the dog has become a local celebrity and is being hailed as a bonafide hero. However, what the future fate of hero mom and pups cannot be confirmed at this time, as CNN did not say and I was unable to find any information about this.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Breast Cancer Awareness (In Dogs and Cats!)

With the uncomfortably high incidence of breast cancer in women, there is a great deal of awareness regarding prevention and early detection. What many people do not realize is that mammary or breast tumor development is even higher in female dogs, as high as 1 in 4 unspayed female dogs. For cats, mammary tumors are also quite common, with mammary cancer being the third most common type of cancer affecting unspayed females. These are staggeringly high numbers, yet awareness among female dog and cat owners is overwhelmingly lacking.

Mammary Tumors In Dogs

The good news is that mammary tumors are very preventable in female dogs by having them spayed before their first heat cycle. One can expect virtually zero risk of the development of mammary tumors in a female dog that is spayed prior to experiencing the first heat cycle. If a female dog is allowed to experience one heat cycle prior to the spay procedure, then the risk of developing mammary tumors increases to about 5%, still quite low. However, if a female dog is allowed to have more than one heat cycle, then the risk of mammary tumors goes up to 1 in 4.

Since female dogs will come into heat the first time before the age of 1, and given the fact that it is not recommended to breed an immature female dog for a variety of reasons, people must often choose between having a litter of puppies and prevention of a very common cancer. On the other hand, since the development and growth of mammary tumors is promoted by the presence female hormones, spaying at any age is still beneficial in preventing mammary tumors.

About one half of all mammary tumors are benign (not cancerous), which would fall into the category of mammary fibroadenoma, tumors that form out of the glandular portion of the mammary gland. Mixed mammary tumors with both glandular and non-glandular components, can present as either benign or malignant (cancerous).

Maligant varieties of mammary tumors induce mammary adenocarcinoma and inflammatory carcinoma. Inflammatory carcinoma is an especially aggressive form that has a high metastatic index (tendency to spread to other tissues), carrying the most poor prognosis of all mammary tumors.

As with people, early detection of tumors is paramount in offering the best prognosis with treatment. The sooner the detection, the more surgically removable a tumor is, the lesser the likelihood of spread to other tissues. As such, the mammary glands of the dog should be inspected by feel often, especially if one’s female dog falls into a high risk category based on spay status.

Unlike women who only have 2 mammaries, dogs have 10, along the ventral (underneath) surface of the torso, spanning from the groin area to the chest forward to just behind the front limb armpits. Each mammary has its own nipple. If one ever feels a nodule, firmness, or unusual swelling in thee areas, one should have the dog checked by a vet ASAP.

Diagnosis of mammary cancer is sometimes achievable through a non-surgical technique known as fine needle aspirate of a mass, which offers a diagnosis about 68% of the time. If fine needle aspirate is found to be diagnostically lacking, then a tissue sample known as a biopsy is necessary to confirm the diagnosis. In order to help determine whether or not a malignant mammary tumor has spread to other tissues at the time of diagnosis, chest and abdominal x-rays, and abdominal ultrasound are recommended.

Depending on the nature of a mammary tumor, treatment may not be necessary, surgery alone, or surgery in combination with chemotherapy. Benign and/or minimally aggressive mammary tumors may be treated surgically by removing a portion of the mammary gland along with the tumor, a procedure known as lumpectomy. Benign to medium grade malignant tumor are often treated more aggressively with removal of the entire gland, known as mastectomy. High grade or highly aggressive malignant mammary tumors typically require removal of the entire mammary chain and lymph nodes, a procedure called radical mastectomy.

Prognosis with treatment depends on the aggressiveness of the tumor(s) involved and degree of spread to other tissues at the time of diagnosis.

Mammary Tumors In Cats

Like dogs, mammary tumors in cats are very common, with mammary cancer being the third most common cancer affecting felines. Unlike dogs with about 50% of mammary tumors being malignant, in cats, mammary tumors are malignant 90% of the time, making prevention of these tumors and awareness for early detection even more important.

Similar to the canine, early spay in the feline is the single most significant determining factor in the risk of the development of mammary tumors. Spaying prior to 6 months of age reduces the risk of mammary cancer in cats by about 90%, while spaying prior to 1 year of age reduces the risk by 85%. Spaying before 2 years of age reduces the risk of mammary cancer by 10%, with no apparent reduction is risk in cats spayed after 2 years of age.

The types of mammary tumors most commonly found in cats are mammary adenocarcinoma and inflammatory carcinoma (see the canine section for descriptions of each type). Given the high malignant potential of mammary tumors in cats, more aggressive surgical techniques such as mastectomy (removal of the entire mammary gland) and radical mastectomy (removal of the entire chain of mammary glands and lymph nodes) are more commonly utilized.

Prognosis with treatment depends on the aggressiveness of the tumor(s) involved and degree of spread to other tissues at the time of diagnosis. For more aggressive malignant mammary tumors, the disease free interval following surgery can be increased by 75 to 100 days with conventional chemotherapy.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Breeding Kennel Atrocity Prompts Pennsylvania Dog Law Reform

According to an ABC News article posted August 16, 2008, dog breeding kennel owners Elmer and Ammon Zimmerman of Maxatawny, Pennsylvania, shot 80 of their breeding dogs and closed their kennels in response to having been ordered by dog wardens to enact kennel repairs (their kennel was cited for extreme heat, insufficient bedding and floors the animal's feet could fall through), and veterinary checks for 39 dogs suffering flea and fly bites. Unfortunately, there is currently no law in the state of Pennsylvania that prohibits the killing of animals by firearm.

The fact that these kennel owners who exploited these animals for profit while providing no health care (not even flea prevention!) or humane conditions for them to live in is an example of greed at its worst. The fact that they would sooner murder each dog rather than comply with minimal standards of health and living conditions is a very troubling commentary on our citizen's attitude toward animals. Even more troubling, however, is the fact that in the eyes of the current laws of Pennsylvania (and I would not doubt, many other states as well), these individuals have done nothing wrong, however ghastly their actions.

The only positive note to some out of this very sad event, is that the incident gained the attention of Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, prompting him to urge the Pensylvania House of Representatives to pass his proposed reforms to the state dog law. According to, Governor Rendell made his appeal accompanied by Maggie, one of the two Golden Retrievers who were former breeding dogs that were rescued and adopted by the Rendell family. The new legislation would prohibit breeding dog euthanasia by anyone other than a state licensed veterinarian, along with other important animal welfare provisions. Quoted directly from, below is a list of other regulations proposed in the reform bill:

House Bill 2525 also:

-- Doubles the minimum floor space for cages.

-- Requires outdoor exercise. Current law does not require even that dogs be let out of cages, much less given access to outside exercise.

-- Requires solid flooring. Dogs now can spend their entire lives on wire floors, which damage their feet over time.

-- Prohibits the stacking of cages. Under existing law, cages can be stacked so high that inspectors can't see whether they have food or water, or even if they are still alive.

-- Requires veterinary checks annually or during each pregnancy. Many dogs now never see a vet throughout their entire lives.

I applaud Governor Rendell and his efforts in reaction to this cruel act that occurred in his state. It is my hope that politicians within other states with outdated and inadequate animal welfare laws, follow his example in making humane treatment of animals a priority. I encourage all my readers to check on the provisions their respective municipal and state laws have for breeding animals, and organize pressure on their local and state government to enact reform if the laws are less than adequate.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Arthritis Supplements Decoded

Arthritis refers to inflammation within a joint. There are many causes for arthritis, including trauma, injury, infection, or age. Age related degenerative arthritis is known as osteoarthritis, which is the type of arthritis addressed in this article.

Osteoarthritis is perhaps the most prevalent chronic disease that affects senior to geriatric aged dogs and cats. As such, it is not surprising that there is literally a sea of health supplements marketed for the treatment of arthritis, with each new one claiming to be better than the last. What complicates matters even further when deciding which supplements are best for our animals, is the reality the these products remain grossly unregulated by the FDA, meaning that quality control is suspect at best. In order to help pet owners make sense of what works regarding the management of arthritis, what doesn't work, and why, I will break down the most common ingredients provided in many of the supplements available in the small animal arthritis market.


Glucosamine is a precursor involved in the synthesis of glycosaminoglycans, which are major components of the cartilaginous articulating surfaces of joints. Given this correlation, glucosamine is believed to facilitate the rebuilding of joint surfaces, helping to treat osteoarthritis.

Unfortunately, the jury is still very much out on this substance's benefits, with success for the management of osteoarthritis in dogs and cats being at best anecdotal. At this time, there are no reputable scientific studies that prove a direct improvement of osteoarthritis cases by administration of glucosamine.

While I do not feel that glucosamine is by itself a very good supplement for osteoarthritis, I have been witness to case by case benefits in the treatment of osteoarthritis on several occasions, including one of my own pets. Although I am a big believer in non-biased scientific study and remain skeptical of its true benefits for osteoarthritis cases, there is enough case by case evidence for me to recommend glucosamine as part of any comprehensive osteoarthritis management program.


Chondroitin is a major component of extracellular matrix, and is important in maintaining the structural integrity of this and other tissues. The loss of chondroitin in cartilage is believed to be a major contributing cause for osteoarthritis, adding to the belief that supplementing the diet with chondroitin will strengthen cartilage and aid in the treatment of osteoarthritis.

Like glucosamine, however, the jury remains out on chondroitin, with no sound statistical evidence of any real benefit for canine and feline osteoarthritis patients. What's more, chondroitin absorbs poorly in the canine and feline gut, leading to most ingested product getting defecated out of the patient, and causing diarrhea in many patients.

Combined with the lack of any unbiased scientifically proven evidence of improvement for arthritis sufferers, poor absorption in the canine and feline gut, and a propensity to cause diarrhea, I have dismissed chondroitin as a beneficial arthritis health supplement.

Perna Canaliculus

Perna is a type of mussel found in New Zealand waters, called the Green-lipped mussel. These mussels have particularly high concentrations of glycosaminoglycans, major components of the articulating cartilaginous surfaces of joints.

Glycosaminoglycans are believed to provide relief for osteoarthritis patients by helping rebuild and maintain damaged cartilaginous surfaces within the joints, while also inceasing the amount of synovial fluid within the joints, and easing joint pain by providing more natural lubrication.

Research based on a technique called forced plate analysis has indicated a real benefit for arthritis patients when treated with glycosaminoglycans, offering credence to the use of perna in the management of osteoarthritis. This combined with my own positive experience with perna based products makes me a believer.

Omega-3-Fatty Acids

In addition to a huge number of other proven health benefits, omega-3-fatty acids have been conclusively found to provide relief for osteoarthritis patients (clinically and through forced plate analysis). It is believed that relief comes from the natural anti-inflammatory action of omega-3-fatty acids, whereby inflammatory pathways are diverted to pathways that are inert, non-reactive, and non-detrimental to tissues.

With so many other proven health benefits, I am undoubtedly an advocate of omega-3's as an integral part of any joint health supplementation program.

Given the evidence at hand, it is clear that a comprehensive osteoarthritis supplementation product should contain glucosamine (I know the jury is still out, but I think it has some benefits, and at the very least cannot hurt), perna canaliculus or isolated glycosaminoglycan, and omega-3-fatty acids. However, with virtually no FDA regulation on the myriad of products available for this purpose, pet owners must be very careful about selecting reputable supplements. A blind study reported by DVM News Magazine proved that 3 out of 4 randomly selected, pet store sold arthritis supplements were found to not have the ingredients that the labels claimed.

Therefore, it is best to select veterinary grade supplements available through your veterinarian, offering a guarantee of pharmaceutical companies with alot to lose should their products be found to not live up to their labelling. Also, pet owners should be careful about trying to save a buck by getting even reputable veterinary grade products online, as there is alot of knock off, garbage being peddled through even big name online pet med retailers.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Animals And Small Children

During my 7 week old boy's "wakey time" earlier today, I watched as both my little boy and my dogs (7 yr old, spayed female, border collie mix, and 2 yr old neutered male, Labrador) were thoroughly interacting and enjoying one another. Little Austin was completely enthralled with the mere presence of the two dogs, while the dogs were wholly intrigued by the the happy baby talk coming from the infant, as well as the random blissful movements of his arms and legs. The circumstances were ideal for baby and dogs alike, providing fulfilling stimulation for baby and dogs. It filled me with a sense of joy that my dogs, who have been with my wife and I long before Austin was ever conceived, could be part of the miracle of our new addition and not have to sit on the sidelines or take a back seat as we raise the boy through his most fragile and formative years. We have begun our life with our new addition as a family, and that includes the dogs and the cats (all that comprised our pre-Austin family for years) as well.

As fun as this interaction has continued to be, I have been a vet long enough to have been made aware of many occasions when this sort of pet inclusion has gone bad -in some cases, very bad. And while there are some animals that have a demeanor that does not make them candidates to be near small children under any circumstances, the majority of animal/small children cases that I have been made aware of, were very preventable.

The first mistake people make with small children and animals, is not understanding the inner workings of the animal's character. Dogs that are fearful or aggressive toward strangers, other dogs, or act territorial or exhibit dominance, are dogs that people need to be very careful with. Dogs like this may view small children as new pack members, ones that need to understand their place in the hierarchy of the canine pack dynamic. As such, dogs like this may exhibit aggression toward a small child when in close proximity, aggression that could have dangerous consequences to a fragile toddler or infant. For these types of animals, one should avoid interaction between the pet and the small child for months, as the animal adjusts to the presence of the child and all the changes associated with that (crying, Mommy's and Daddy's doting, feeding, etc.). Only after a significant adjustment period, should the child be allowed near the dog, but even then, this should be done under the most concentrated supervision. Of course, if the dog has a history of chronic and/or severe fear, dominance, or other types of aggression, then the dog should not be allowed any access to the child. For the safety of the child, it is sometimes best if a dog i found a new home, one without children or the possibility of children, such as with seniors or others not planning to have a family.

Whether or not a dog has a history of fear, dominance, or other types of aggression, one must look out for the telltale signs of canine anxiety, such as ears pinned back, showing of teeth, growling, or crying. If any signs of these signs arise in the animal, the interaction should be aborted immediately. Even in the absence of obvious problem postures, licking and close sniffing should be avoided before many safe distance encounters have passed without incident, and interactions always should occur under close supervision.

For my own dogs, the 6 pound Yorkie is not allowed access to the infant at all. In his youth and middle age, he had been known to show dog aggression even to canine members of his own household. Even though in his geriatric years, he has not shown dog aggression for years now, and despite the fact that he never once in his life ever showed aggression toward people, my wife and I are not prepared to take the chance. Besides, the Yorkie does not seem put out by our decision, as he really wants nothing to do with the boy anyway, preferring to curl up in his little bed most of the day.

The yellow lab never once showed aggression toward anyone or anything, even when dogs have shown aggression toward him. When dogs have snapped or growled at him, he has always simply back up and looked to me with confusion, not even seeming to understand aggression from the other dog or even perceiving the danger to himself. The border collie mix is also a very peaceful dog, choosing to expose her belly in a submissive posture when aggression is directed toward her.

Even given the gentle temperament of my big dogs, however, I still practiced what I preach, being every bit as careful as I have described in this post. However, even though my dogs are big gentle goof balls, it does not mean that they are not capable of accidentally harming little Austin. Smacks with excited tails, knocking over the infant chair with baby in it, tripping Mommy or Daddy while carrying the baby, etc., are all very dangerous potential incidents that could still occur with no ill intentions from the dogs. For this reason, it is important to train the dogs to act appropriately when the baby is in these positions, discouraging over-rambunctiousness or obstructive behavior in the presence of the baby. Thankfully, my wife and I have over 2 1/2 decades of small animal care experience between the two of, so we have been quite capable to handle the transition ourselves. However, for those with little canine experience or who lack of confidence in their canine training skills, do not be shy about asking your vet to suggest an animal behaviorist to help.

For those who are planning to adopt a dog for a family with small children, there are certain breeds to consider that are known to be gentle with small children, and many breeds that should be avoided. Having dedicated an entire chapter of my book, "Canine and Feline 101," to this topic, I leave pet owners to get the information from there rather the reiterate the chapter, or seek the guidance of a vet or animal behavioral specialist. However, no matter how a family selects the appropriate animal, aforementioned precaution must still always be taken, with determined supervision still essential.

With regard to cats and small children, most cats, even when outright agitated by a child's presence, will simply avoid the child. However, some may approach out of curiosity and if annoyed, could swat at the child with little warning. Again, concerted supervision can easily prevent a dangerous incident, but if a cat is known to have little tolerance, then contact should be avoided and discouraged until an age that the child can understand to be trained as well (child training is a whole other topic, to be addressed in a later post).

Sometimes cats can be very sweet to the point that they would happily crawl into the crib with an infant and sleep. While this may seem very adorable, let me caution that this is something that must be discouraged and avoided. The sweet cat intending no harm, could inadvertently lay across the infant and smother the little one. For this reason, leading up to the birth of our son, my wife and I layed scat mats in the crib, bassinet, infant seats, and stroller. The scat mats emit a static shock when a feline steps on or comes in contact with. The mats are gentle enough that they are acceptably humane (my wife and I tested them on ourselves), but just strong enough to get the point across. In addition, the cats are never allowed access to a room where the baby is sleeping.

A household with both animals and children is mutually beneficial when approached with the proper prudence. Children an animals stimulate one another, provide entertainment for one another, while providing amusement for the adults that supervise them. The animal/child interaction enables children expand their imagination and to grow up with a sense of animals as part of their families, ingraining a sense of respect, comradry, and love of animals that they can take into adulthood.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Shocking Violence By Animal Rights Extremists

The San Francisco Chronicle posted a story earlier today, reporting that recent firebombings of the homes of two biological researchers from University of California at Santa Cruz, seem to be the work of animal rights extremists. According to the article, Santa Cruz police Captain Steve Clark, an investigator involved in the case, noted that the deadly explosive devices were similar to ones used in the past by violent animal rights activists. In addition, unsigned pamphlets were found in a downtown Santa Cruz coffee shop, which printed 13 researchers' pictures and addresses, called them "murderers and torturers" and said, "Animal abusers everywhere beware."

Assistant Professor of biology Dr. David Feldheim (the other victim chose to remain anonymous), who uses mice in laboratory research on brain formation, told The Chronicle that he and his wife, along with their 7-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, had to drop a ladder from the window of a second-floor bedroom to escape after smoke filled the home's first floor, following the strike of a firebomb. The Chronicle also reported that both of Dr. Felheim's feet were injured during his escape. The investigation is ongoing.

This kind of violence is appalling and sociopathic. It is inconceivable that people can have such a proclaimed deep passion for the wellbeing of animals, yet carry no regard or regret for the harming of human life, even that of innocent children. The fact that acts of terrorism like this are performed under the banner of compassion make it all the more disturbing.

People that engage in terrorism as a means to advance ideals are people that live on the fringe of society. Their actions are not the result of passion for animals, but more the result of a need to fulfill an underlying desire to disrupt and damage society. People like this are a detriment to any cause at best, bringing both shame and decreased credibility to any movement.

The article highlighted the remarks in reaction to this incident, of Mr. Jerry Vlasak, a Los Angeles-based spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, which often posts on its Web site, communication from activists taking credit for attacks. He stated that the benefit of animal research did not justify its expense or the "exploitation of animals."

Vlasak further voice that the bombers likely were not trying to hurt Feldheim, but were instead, "trying to send a message to this guy, who won't listen to reason, that if he doesn't stop hurting animals more drastic measures will be taken ... it's certainly not an initial tactic, but a tactic of last resort."

Mr Vlasak, not condemning these actions and glorifying other reugnant acts on your website, you and your organization are no better than the wretched individuals who would wreak violence upon a family.