Abandoned Pets – City of Gilbert Gets It Right

Congratulations to the Gilbert Town Council for their work on behalf of suffering animals.  Sadly, animals are still considered property under Arizona law.  Therefore, police officers are not supposed to help an abandoned or suffering animal without permission from the owner.  It has been reported that concerned residents reported animals abandoned in foreclosed homes, yet the police were unable to “officially” do anything about it.  Thankfully, the Town Council amended their animal control ordinance.  Now town employees in Gilbert may legally enter foreclosed properties, seize animals and provide necessary care.  

As a veterinarian, I wish to congratulate and thank the City of Gilbert for amending their law to protect abandoned animals.  We can only hope, more jurisdictions will adopt similarly enlightened ordinances.    

Help Them Arrive Alive – Buckle Your Pets

Last weekend, my husband and I drove North to Prescott, Arizona for an art fair.  As we left a rest stop, a large sign reminded us to buckle our own seat belts and place small children in restraint seats.  It occurred to me that the sign did not mention pets.   

During my twenty-one years as a veterinarian, many of my patients have been involved in car accidents.  Unfortunately, some of them were allowed to ride unrestrained in the car.  This led to horrible injuries.  One of my clients was involved in a rollover.  His two large breed dogs survived the crash but escaped through the shattered windshield.  One was then hit by a car and killed.  The other was found a week later with a broken leg.  Another client suffered a neck injury when her dog flew into the back of her head during a quick stop.  The dog was okay, but the owner required surgery.  

To prevent both injuries and escapes, I recommend the following:
1)  Keep pets in the back seat away from the air bags.  Like children, they are safer in back.
2)  For cats,  I recommend a carrier.  This will keep them restrained and out of the driver’s way.  I loop the seatbelt through the handle on top and around the front to keep the carrier in place. 
3)  For dogs, you may use a harness or a crate.  My dog wears a fleece lined harness with a slot for the seatbelt to slide through.  This system gives him enough room to sit or lie down.  I prefer a harness with buckle adjustments over velcro as they provide greater security for the pet.  
4)  Tie down all crates or carriers to make sure they do not become a projectile.  
5)  For birds and other small pets, remove toys and swings from the cage to prevent injury.

In 2006, I learned firsthand how seat belts prevent injury.  I was rear-ended on my way to work.  To make it worse, I was transporting a litter of foster kittens in the backseat!  Because of their small size, I placed the carrier on the seat backwards with the metal door facing into the seat.  I padded both ends of the carrier with a towel.  Those simple steps helped enormously.  None of the kittens were harmed.  Since this happened on a major Phoenix freeway during rush hour, the nice police office escorted us directly to the animal hospital where I was headed.  I was able to get the kittens right inside and examined by other staff.  I then returned to the parking lot to sort out the accident report with the officer and other driver.       

Bearded Dragons – Is This Color A Sign Of Yellow Fungal Disease?

This stunning lizard is a Bearded Dragon named Geek.  Notice the yellow coloration around his eyes and mouth.  Is this color normal or is it a sign of yellow fungal disease?  Look closely before scrolling down for the answer.                                   

                           

DIAGNOSIS:  NORMAL COLORATION – Geek does not have the disease.

Geek is an Inland Bearded Dragon, Pogona vitticeps.  Other names include Central or Yellow-headed Bearded Dragon.  This species is native to Australia where they live in arid, sandy areas.  Beardies, as many people refer to them, are a favorite pet because of their unusual appearance, relatively small size and outgoing personality.  Adult males may reach two feet in length.  I wish all my patients were as well-behaved as Geek.  He allowed me to examine him without any drama.         

Yellow fungal disease is caused by Chrysosporium anamorph of Nannizziopsis vriesii (CANV).  Quite a mouthful even for those of us conversant in scientific names.  CANV is a fungus that starts out as a skin infection and quickly spreads through the rest of the body.  Yellow colored skin tags are often the first sign of this disease.  As the fungus spreads into deeper tissues, it causes pain and swelling.  The animals stop eating and hides.  Eventually, the areas undergo necrosis and slough.

Unfortunately, the disease is becoming more and more common in Bearded Dragons.  Crowded conditions allow this highly contagious disease to spread quickly.  If you suspect yellow fungal disease in your pet seek veterinary attention immediately.  Since other problems may mimic this disease, it is important to obtain a biopsy for an accurate diagnosis before starting treatment.  ***A word of caution, topical therapy alone will not cure this disease!  Successful therapy usually requires systemic anti-fungal medication in addition to antibiotics, soaks and salves. 

As with so many diseases, good hygiene is the key to prevention.  Disinfect all surfaces with 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.  Allow fifteen minutes of contact before rinsing.  Disinfect everything including cages, feeding tongs, cleaning utensils and cage furniture.  Quarantine affected individuals in a separate area and work with them last.  Although airborne transmission has not been proven, I would not take any chances.  Protect yourself when working with infected individuals.  It is unclear at this point if the organism is zoonotic or not.

Behavior Changes in Geriatric Cats

Older cats are susceptible to a variety of diseases including chronic renal failure, diabetes mellitus, hypertension and hyperthyroidism.  Often the first sign of trouble is a change in the cat’s behavior.  Cats with arthritis may stop jumping or using their litter box.  As their hearing or vision diminish, some become fearful and avoid interaction.  Others become aggressive.  In cats with excessive thyroid production, their activity increases.  Owners report that the cat is running around again like it is a kitten.

Cats may also suffer from cognitive dysfunction.  I think of it as senility for felines.  Signs of cognitive dysfunction include:

1) Disorientation
2) Anxiety
3) Aggression
4) Change sleep cycles
5) Change in interactions with people and other pets
6) Failure to use the litter box for urine, feces or both
7) Cat withdraws to new, unusual resting places

LIke dogs, diagnosis of this condition is based on ruling out other disease processes.  I always recommend a full work-up including a complete blood count, blood chemistries, urinalysis, thyroid level, viral panel for FELV, FIV and FIP and x-rays.  In addition, I encourage owners to keep a diary of their pet’s life.  It is only through a comprehensive understanding and exploration of the animal’s health that the true cause of the patient’s abnormal behavior may be determined.  I would like to stress that many of these conditions are treatable.  It would be tragic to miss that for lack of having a complete work-up. 

Since there is no cure for cognitive dysfunction as of yet, the goal of treatment is to minimize the signs.  Here are some actions I recommend: 

1) Stimulate the cat with behavioral enrichment.  Schedule play times to get the cat going.  Rotate toys so the cat has new ones to play with.  Consider moving perches to new locations.
2) Establish a routine and stick to it.  If the cat knows what to expect it will decrease their anxiety.  Also, it will help them maintain normal sleep patterns.
3) Reward good behavior and ignore bad behavior.  For example, some older cats demand attention at night.  Shower the cat with attention and exercise before bed time.  Once you are in bed, ignore the behavior.  If you ignore for a few minutes and then give in and pet the cat, you are teaching the cat that persistence pays off!  You rewarded the bad behavior with attention.
4) Use Feliway in the cat’s rest areas. 
5) Supplement the cat’s diet with antioxidants.
6) Consider drug therapy in moderate to severe cases. 

Introducing Cats And Dogs

Many people like to have both cats and dogs in their house.  Introducing cats and dogs requires great care and patience.  Please take every precaution to insure the safety of the cat (and dog too). 

PHASE 1:  Establish a safe dog-free zone for the cat that contains food, water and a litter box.  The cat must be able to access this room at all times!  Cats need “safe rooms” and escape routes to get there.  Hardware stores sell a chain lock that works well for this.  Attach the device to the top of the door.  The chain allows the door to open wide enough for a cat to pass through but not wide enough for a larger dog.  

At the same time, work with the dog on their obedience skills.  In addition to down, sit and stay, teach them the ‘leave it’ command.  When the dog approaches something you do not want it to have say ‘leave it’.  Reward the dog when it backs off.  Make sure the dog responds to all of these commands without hesitation before moving on to the next phase.

PHASE 2:  Place the cat in a carrier for Phase 2.  Spray the inside with Feliway to make the cat more comfortable.  Position the carrier on a counter or table that is higher than the dog’s head.  Station one person by the cat during the introduction.    Attach a leash to the dog’s collar.  The second person brings the dog into the room with the cat.  Keep the dog several feet from the carrier and watch how it reacts.  If the dog stands with its tail and ears up, hair on end and whines, tell the dog to ‘leave it’ and reward it when it does.  After the reward, order the dog to lie down and stay.  Again reward it for calm behavior.  If the cat shows any signs of anxiety such as hissing, dilated pupils, increased respirations or cowering in the corner of the carrier, stop the introduction at once.  When both animals are comfortable, slowly let the dog move closer and closer to the carrier.  Stop immediately and back the dog up if either one becomes aggressive or fearful.  When they ignore each other, and only then, it is time to move onto phase 3.

PHASE 3:  For this phase, place a muzzle on the dog to protect the cat.  I also recommend a head collar (Halti or Gentle Leader) instead of a traditional collar to give the handler better control of the dog.  Place the dog on a down stay in the center of the room.  Allow the cat to enter.  I usually put a leash on them as well to make sure they do not wander too close to the dog.  Keep the dog and cat at least fifteen feet apart.  When both animals are calm, slowly decrease the distance between them over time until they sniff each other.  Reward both of them for calm behavior.  Repeat this step over many days and watch for signs of aggression.  There must be no inclination toward aggression prior to starting the next phase.

PHASE 4:  Allow the dog and cat supervised together time.  Muzzle the dog for extra protection.  Attach a leash to the dog’s collar and let it trail behind them.  Keep a broom, blanket and/or Super Soaker handy just in case a fight ensues.  Start with short periods of time and build-up based on their behavior.  Do not leave an unsupervised dog with a cat until you are absolutely sure that the dog will not hurt the cat.  Always keep the safe room available to the cat just in case the dog changes its mind!  

BONUS TIPS:  In veterinary school I was taught that a tired dog does not get into trouble.  Exercise your dog prior to working on the cat introduction to stack the odds in your favor.  If you want to introduce more than one dog to the cat, work with each dog individually to prevent pack behavior.  The best time to introduce a dog to a cat is during their formative years.  Introduce puppies to cats when they are young.  I know of many wonderful cat/dog relationships that started this way.  The most interesting was a Basset hound and a kitten who grew up together.  The cat taught the dog how to lay on the back of the sofa for a great view through the picture window.  They were a great, if somewhat odd couple.

Sadly, not all dogs and cats get along with each other.  But of course, the same is true of us humans.  I have seen some horrible injuries when a dog decides to go after the resident cat.  Although rules are seldom universal, some breeds are worse than others.  Be very careful with Australian Cattle dogs, Catahoulas, German Shepherds, Pit Bulls, Border Collies and Rottweilers.  In my experience, these are the most common breeds involved in cat maulings.  Although there are some individual exceptions, many will never live peacefully with a feline in their home.  Their high prey drive motivates many of them to attack.  

Again, I want to caution all pet owners to proceed with great care when introducing dogs and cats to each other.  Just because a dog will live with one cat does not mean it will tolerate another.  Please take every possible precaution to ensure the safety of the cat during introductions.  If a fight does occur, remember to use an inanimate object to break it up.  Never ever break up an altercation with your bare hands.  I have seen horrible injuries when people do this.  Remember, safety first for all involved.  Hopefully, your cat and dog will form a wonderful symbiotic relationship.  

Hereditary Eye Disease In Bullmastiffs

This handsome fellow is Bronson, a Bullmastiff.  The breed was created by crossing mastiffs and bulldogs.  They are a solid, stocky breed with a fun personality.  Because of their size and guarding ability, it is important to socialize them at an early age.  Females weight between 100 and 120 pounds.  The males are even larger.  The ones I see often weigh about 140 pounds.  Bronson is one of the most well-behaved dogs I have ever met.  He is a great ambassador for his breed. 

Unfortunately, Bullmastiffs are susceptible to a medical problem which eventually causes blindness.  Name the disease.  There is extra credit available if you know the mode of inheritance.

                              

DIAGNOSIS:  PROGRESSIVE RETINAL ATROPHY (PRA)

Progressive retinal atrophy is a condition which causes blindness.  In dogs that suffer from the disease, the retina degenerates.  Usually night vision is lost first.  People tell me their pet seems confused in the dark or does not want to go outside at night.  As the condition progresses, all vision is lost.  Blindness may occur at any age.  Unfortunately, there is no treatment for this condition. 

In Bullmastiffs, the disease is caused by an autosomal dominant gene.  That means all individuals with this gene will eventually suffer vision problems.  A company called Optigen (Ithaca, New York) developed a test for this condition.  I recommend testing all Bullmastiffs before purchase and/or breeding.  Further information on testing is available at www.optigen.com

 

Dementia In Older Dogs

As dogs age, some develop behavior problems.  I hear lots of stories about dogs who whine and pace at night.  Owner’s also complain about their dog ‘losing’ their house breaking.  These may be signs of a geriatric disease called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS).  I think of it as senility in dogs.  

Common signs of CDS are:

1) Anxiety- including separation anxiety.  It is not uncommon for separation anxiety to recur in dogs who suffered from it earlier in life.
2) Disorientation- Initially the periods of disorientation are short in duration.  As the dog ages, the periods increase in length and frequency.
3) Changes in sleep patterns.
4) Compulsive behaviors.  In my experience, pacing and licking are the two most common.  These behaviors increase in frequency and duration as the dog ages.
5) Increased vocalization.
6) House soiling- either urine and/or feces.  Many older females suffer from urinary incontinence caused by a lack of estrogen.  We can treat this with estrogen supplementation.  It is important to perform a thorough work-up to differentiate between CDS, urinary tract problems, estrogen related incontinence or other causes.
7) Phobias.
8) Aggressive behaviors- Older dogs may become aggressive for many reasons.  Some Dogs with arthritis snap at the grandkids because of pain.  The same thing happens in dogs with Lyme Disease. 

Unfortunately, there is no definitive test for CDS.  The diagnosis is made by excluding other medical problems and a thorough medical history.  I have people video their pet’s abnormal behavior at home and keep a diary as well.  I usually recommend blood work including a CBC, Complete Chemistries, Tick Disease Profile, urinalysis, x-rays and a Valley Fever test if the pet has been to Arizona or Saudi Arabia.  If the client wishes to pursue further diagnostics, I refer them to a neurologist for a CT scan or MRI.  

CDS is an incurable disease at this point in time.  It will progress despite therapy.  The goal of treatment is to make the dog and their family as comfortable as possible by minimizing the signs.  I recommend the following:

1) Establish a predictable routine.  If the dog knows what to expect, it helps decrease anxiety.
2) Make the environment as safe as possible.  Some dogs are worse at night.  Night lights and exercise before bed seem to lessen the signs.
3) DAP diffusers or collars- Dog Appeasing Pheromes help some dogs relax.  I prefer the collar because it travels with the pet wherever they roam.
4) Increase antioxidants in the diet.  I have had some patients improve on Hill’s b/d.
5) Try to enrich the dog’s environment.  Dogs who suffer with this disease tend to progress more slowly if they live with another dog.  I have also seen improvement in dogs that have regular play times.  My own dog was much better after a game of fetch in the pool.  She loved to swim after her toy.  
6) I reserve drug therapy for moderate to severe cases.  Selegiline (Anipryl by Pfizer Animal Health) is the most common drug used for this disease.  In my experience, the drug works best for the treatment of anxiety and phobias.   
  

Introducing Cats

Desensitization and counter-conditioning are the keys to introducing cats.  The first phase involves desensitizing the individual cats to each other.  Once that is accomplished, the cats are then counter-conditioned to view each other in a positive manner.  The entire process of introduction may take weeks to months.  As with all things related to animals, patience is required.  Cats move at their own pace, not ours. 
 
In my experience, cats of the same sex get along better then opposite sex pairs.  Make sure both cats are healthy and free of disease before introducing them.  Quarantine new additions for at least two weeks before starting phase one!   

PHASE 1:  DESENSITIZATION

Set up a safe room for the new cat with their own bowls, bed and litter box.  Give them plenty of time to acclimate to the new environment.  Make sure the new cat cannot see the resident cat and vice versa.  An accidental encounter might derail the entire introduction.  When all the cats feel comfortable with the new set-up begin the process of desensitization.  Rub each cat with their own towel or soft brush concentrating on the sides of the face.  Next, introduce the towel or brush to the other cat.  This allows them to smell each other in a non-threatening situation.  

When both cats accept the other’s scent without hissing, dilating their pupils or acting upset, then it is time to move to the next step.  Allow each cat to explore the other cat’s room on their own.  Make sure the cats do not see each other when they are moved.  Keep rotating the cats from room to room until the new cat is comfortable with the entire house.  This will take away the territorial advantage of the resident cat over the new one.  After the cats are comfortable with each other’s scent throughout the house, it is time to move to phase 2.

PHASE 2:  COUNTER-CONDITIONING

Now that the cats accept another cat in their environment, it is time to move into counter-conditioning them to like each other, or at least to tolerate each other.  Erect a barrier which allows the cats to see a small portion of the other.  The slit beneath a closed door works well for this.  Under supervision, feed each cat on their side of the door.  Put the bowls just close enough that they can see each other.  The idea is to teach each cat that good things happen, i.e. food, when they are in the presence of the other cat.  Slowly move the bowls closer to the door, until the cats are eating next to it.  After the meal, allow them to play ‘footsie’ under the door.  If either one shows any signs of aggression, stop the interaction immediately.  A thick towel works well for this.  Do not use your hand as the cat might redirect their aggression towards you and bite your hand.

When the cats lie on their sides and play with each other under the door, they are ready to move to the next step of counter- conditioning.  Allow them to see each other’s entire body through a screen door or by putting each cat in their own carrier.  Feed them while they can see each other.  Set up a Feliway diffuser in the area to help calm both cats.  If they eat the entire meal and seem relaxed, move the bowls closer to the screen or move the carriers closer to each other at the next meal.  If either cat seems upset, increase the distance between them.  When the cats eat next to each other, they are ready for the next step. 

Remove the barrier and feed them at a comfortable distance from each other.  Continue to use the Feliway Diffuser to spread calming pheromones in the area.  Have a back up restraint plan in place just in case one of the cats tries to attack the other.  A harness with a leash works best if the cats are acclimated to them.  You may also use a thick blanket, cat net or a Super Soaker to break up a fight.  A word of caution, never use your hands to break up a cat or dog fight.  I have seen many horrible injuries from that.  Slowly move the bowls closer together and increase the amount of time the cats see each other.  Always supervise their visits until both cats are comfortable with each other.  Reward good behavior with food, treats or toys. 

***I always try to desensitize and counter-condition the cats without resorting to drug therapy.  I save the drugs for the poor cats who were introduced improperly and now have additional problems that must be addressed.  It should also be clear that placing the cats together and hoping they figure it out on their own is neither appropriate nor likely to succeed.