Arizona Humane Society Releases Distemper Alert

I was going to write about food bowls in this post until I received a pet health alert from the Arizona Humane Society regarding distemper in dogs.  Normally, the virus affects young, unvaccinated puppies every spring.  But this year, the Arizona Humane Society has noticed a difference in the disease.  Both puppies and adult dogs with questionable vaccination histories are getting the disease.  Clinical signs include lethargy, runny nose and eyes, anorexia, coughing, vomiting and diarrhea.  After the initial phase, affected dogs often develop hyperkeratosis of the pads on their paws and seizures.  Georgia, Florida and Ohio are also seeing this phenomenon.  According to the news release, “There is also evidence to suggest that two new strains of distemper indigenous to Europe have made their way to the U.S. and while the typical incubation period for distemper is one to two weeks the new stains may have even longer incubation periods.” 

Since there is no treatment for distemper, prevention is a must.  Keep your dog up-to-date on their distemper vaccination or blood titer checks.  Remember, it takes time for immunity to build in response to a vaccine.  Avoid dog parks, pet stores and other dog places for at least two weeks.  Also, the virus can be spread by physical contact so wash your hands and change your clothes after contacting dogs with unknown vaccination histories.  More information is available at

Plastic Allergy In Dogs And Cats

It will surprise many people to learn that animals may become allergic to plastic.  Areas of skin that contact the plastic become inflamed and often bleed.  Once the normal dermal barrier is damaged, bacteria and fungi often develop secondary infections.  Pictured below is the chin of a dog who received an automatic plastic feeder for Christmas.  The lesions often start on the chin and spread to the lips and nose. 

Treatment involves removing the plastic exposure and treating the secondary infections.  In this case, I recommended placing a metal or ceramic pan in the automatic feeder.  Given appropriate therapy, most patients will recover within two weeks. 

Unfortunately, there can also be problems associated with metal bowls (shocks from static electricity) and ceramic bowls (easily broken and lead paint).  Please see my next blog for the pros and cons of the different materials used in food and water bowls.     

Fecal Mats On Dogs And Cats

Dogs and cats with long, furry coats are prone to a condition called ‘fecal mats’.  The term is a polite way of stating that feces are stuck in the hair over the anus.  With time, the feces cause a terrible infection that actually destroys the skin and underlying tissues.  A few years ago, I removed a fecal mat on a dog and found maggots.  Yikes, I hate maggots!  

The following pictures are of a long haired cat with a fecal mat. If you have a squeamish stomach, I recommend skipping the pictures.  Please remember to perform regular hygienic shaves on all hairy animals to prevent fecal mats.  I commonly see this condition in Old English sheepdogs, Collies, Shetland sheepdogs, Shih- tzus, Poodles and Lhasa apsos, Bichon frises, and Samoyeds.  In cats, Persians, Himalayans and their mixes are most commonly affected.  If you live with a hairy animal, check their rear ends daily and keep them groomed to prevent fecal mats.

Photo 1)  This is what the cat’s rear end looked like before treatment.  Please note that you cannot see the anus because it is covered by the fecal mat.  Although the picture is gross, trust me, the smell was even worse. 


Photo 2)  After treating the cat with fluids, antibiotics and medication to block pain, he allowed us to shave off the fecal mat.  Note the inflamed skin surrounding the anus.

Photo 3)  Here is the cat all nice and clean.  The picture isn’t great because the cat was tired of having his rear end treated.  After a rest break, he was a good boy for a bath and brush.  He went home purring and smelling great.  I wish I could say the same for our bath tub. 

Photo 4)  For the really brave people, the next picture is of the mat.  This is the underside of what you saw in photo 1.  


Sunburn, Cancer & Pets

I find people are often surprised when they learn that animals can get cancer from sun exposure just as we can.  Pink skin is much more susceptible to developing squamous cell carcinoma than pigmented skin.  Pictured below is a Jack Russel Terrier mix named Chewie who has an area of pink skin on the bridge of his nose.  Although Chewie’s markings are really cute, I worry about the pink area getting sunburned and eventually developing cancer.  Other breeds that share this problem are Brittanys, Collies, Shetland sheepdogs, German shepherds, German shorthaired pointers and Siberian huskies. 

Squamous cell carcinomas may develop in species other than dogs.  I have personally diagnosed this condition in cats, rabbits and an albino ferret.  In all of these cases, the ears where effected. 

To prevent this aggressive cancer, protect pink skinned pets from the sun.  Avoidance is the best approach if possible.  Limit sun exposure from 10am to 4pm.  Watch sun loving pets who look for sunbeams for a nap.  When outdoors, pets may wear protective hats and t-shirts or sunscreen.  Use zinc-free sunscreen with a high SPF.  I do not recommend sunscreen in cats because most contain salicylates which is toxic if ingested chronically or in high doses.   

National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week

Last November I announced a contest for National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week.  I am pleased to announce the honorees of the donations to the Animal Humane Society in Minnesota, the Humane Society of Seattle/King County and the Arizona Humane Society.  I was born and raised in Minnesota, graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and it is the site of my book.  My undergraduate degree is from Seattle Pacific University.  I now reside in Arizona.  Hence, the three humane societies receiving a check.

Animal Shelters provide a (regrettably) essential service both to the animals and to our communities.  Most of the time, animals are there because of the people who initially took them home.  Seldom is a shelter animal in that situation due to their own temperament.  In fact, I always counsel people to consider adoption from a shelter.  In my experience, these are the most grateful animals – they seem to know they’ve received a second chance.  They are generally also quite healthy.  I typically only see them for annual physicals.  

Volunteers and donors at shelters are special people.  It is a privilege for me to support them just as the employees and retirees of the following firms supported me and the book Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life.  First are the honorees and then the humane society who will receive a check in their names:

3M Company                             Animal Humane Society in Minnesota
Microsoft                                   The Humane Society of Seattle/King County
US Airways                                Arizona Humane Society


You Make The Diagnosis: Is This A Wild Or Domestic Cat?

Pictured below is a handsome cat named Cheetah.  He was a little shy at first but awfully nice.  It turns out he is a very sweet fellow.  Although to some he might look like a wild feline, his family tree includes only domestic cats.  According to the Cat Fanciers Association, this breed is a mix of Abyssinian, Siamese and American Shorthair.  The CFA recognizes twelve different color varieties.  Name this rare breed of cat.

Diagnosis:  Ocicat

Ocicats have beautiful, wild markings that make them look like ocelots . . . hence the name.  But don’t let this name fool you.  They make wonderful pets and can be taught to fetch, walk on a leash and respond to verbal commands.  In my experience, ocicats like company from humans, cats and even dogs.  If you work from home, this is a good breed for you.


Treatment of Hyperthyroidism in Cats

There are several options for treating hyperthyroidism in cats.  Since each treatment has its own set of benefits and drawbacks, it is vital to match the treatment to the individual cat.  Please discuss these options with your veterinarian before deciding on a course of therapy. 

1)  Thyroidectomy:  Surgical removal of the diseased tissue was the treatment of choice for cats with hyperthyroidism until radioiodine was discovered.  The procedure requires a skilled surgeon to avoid damaging the parathyroid gland which rests adjacent to the thyroid gland.  It is also very difficult to find and remove ectopic tissue (tissue outside the normal gland) that is often found inside the chest cavity.   

2)  Radioiodine:  Radioiodine or I-131 is injected into the cat’s blood stream, absorbed by the thyroid glands and then destroys the thyroid tissue.  The advantage of this procedure is that it gets the ectopic tissue as well as the thyroid glands.  It does not require anesthesia which is another benefit.  Thyroid function usually returns to normal within 30 days.  Before using this treatment option, make sure the cat has good kidney function.  As I discussed in the prior posts, hyperthyroidism may mask kidney disease.  More information is available at

3)  Anti-thyroid Drug Therapy:  Methimazole which goes by the trade name of Tapazole is an anti-thyroid drug commonly used in veterinary medicine.  It is important to note that this medicine does not cure hyperthyroidism.  It just blocks the synthesis of thyroid hormone.  The drug is dosed in one of two ways, oral or transdermal in cats who are difficult to pill.  Unfortunately, there may be many unwanted effects associated with methimazole including hepatopathy (liver disease), blood disorders and auto immune disease.  I had one patient develop dermatitis on his face.  The poor guy rubbed his cheek into a bloody mess.  Most of these problems occur within the first three months of treatment.  It is important to perform blood work every two to three weeks in newly treated cats to catch these problems early. 

4)  Hill’s YD: YD is an iodine deficient diet that is the newest treatment for hyperthyroidism.  Without enough iodine in the diet, the thyroid gland cannot make as much thyroid hormone and blood levels fall.  According to Hill’s, thyroid health will be restored in three weeks as long as no other foods are given.  I know Hill’s to be a wonderfully responsible firm.  They do a great deal to assist us as veterinarians in caring for animals.  That said, this new diet leaves me with a few questions.  Since cats are obligate carnivores meaning they must eat animal protein in order to maintain good health, I am concerned about this diet.  Most of the protein, especially in the dry form, is from plants.  In addition, I am concerned about the carbohydrate level which I worry could potentially lead to diabetes mellitus and/or pancreatitis. Here is the company’s website for more information,  I hope Hill’s is able to satisfactorily answer these questions as it is exciting to have food as an option for this condition. 

After Effects of CODOX-M/IVAC Plus Rituxan

I am taking one more break from animal related topics to help people who are recovering from the CODOX-M/IVAC plus Rituxan protocol (Modified MaGrath).  As a patient, I was frustrated by the lack of information regarding this protocol.  I didn’t know what to expect.  This post will cover what I experienced the year after finishing chemo.   Please remember, every person will react differently.  Just because I experienced it, does not mean you will. 

1) The First Six Weeks:  It took two weeks for my bone marrow to kick in after the last chemo treatment.  I finished chemo on December 6th and had my last transfusion on December 24th, 2010.  Thank you again to everyone who donates blood.  You saved my life!  Once I was done with blood and platelet transfusions, my strength improved and the nausea disappeared.  Although I was still weak and needed to sleep a lot, I felt so much better.  My appetite returned although I had to eat small portions.  Against my oncologist’s advice, I made plans to return to work in February part time.  Little did I know, what was to come. 

2) Neuropathy of Feet:  In February, my feet started to tingle.  The tingling progressed until I felt sharp pain with every step.  I put cushions in my shoes which helped a little.  Eventually, I bought a new pair of New Balance running shoes.  The cushion built into these shoes made the pain tolerable.  The discomfort peaked at the end of February and then slowly diminished until it was gone by April.

3) Abdominal Pain:  In mid-February, the pain returned in my abdomen.  It started small with slight discomfort in the evening and progressed.  By late March, the pain was overwhelming.  I was back in the hospital for diagnostics but the cause was never identified.  I think I had neuropathy in my intestines that disrupted the flow of ingesta through my body.  The pain slowly diminished and was gone by the end of June.

4) Fatigue:  I greatly underestimated how tired I would be after the CODOX-M/IVAC or Modified MaGrath protocol.  For months, I napped in the morning and afternoon when not working.  Even with those naps, I was exhausted by 7 pm.  By April, I was only taking a two hour nap in the afternoon.  My energy was improving until Arizona summer hit.  The extreme heat really wiped me out.  I felt like I took two steps backward in my recovery.  I began to worry about recurrence until I spoke with a wonderful chemo nurse named Debbie.  She told me that was normal and I would feel better when the temperatures broke.  Thank goodness, she was right.  Thank you Debbie for your care and support throughout this journey.  You are an awesome nurse! 

I am a year out now and my naps only last for thirty minutes.  My energy isn’t quite back to normal but it is much, much better. On days when I can’t nap, I need to go to bed early.  Debbie told me that rest is the key to recovery from chemo.  My personal experience backs up her statement.  Give your body time to rest.  It has been through a lot and needs time to recover. 

5) Hair:  When my hair was gone, my husband said “Don’t worry, I’m suddenly into bald chicks!”  I highly doubt it. He seemed particularly excited when my hair started to grow back at the end of January.  The first growth was a few course pieces of hair that felt like whiskers.  It hurt to put my head on a pillow.  Thank goodness, all of that fell out in about two weeks.  By the end of February, a shadow of gray and black hair covered my entire scalp.  By May, I had an inch of curly hair.  Faint traces of brown appeared in July.  A year later, my hair is still full of curls.  Since I had straight hair before, I am enjoying the new look.  They told me hair grows about 1/2 inch per month and that seems about how it went for me.  

6) Skin:  My skin, especially on my feet, was what I would term ‘fragile’ for months after chemo.  Shoes that normally felt great would cause blisters after an hour of wear.  Be particularly careful of heals.  I had to give an hour and one-half speech at a convention in March and thought my feet would be mush when I took off those shoes.  Heals three months after chemo were a very bad idea. 

7) Chemo Brain:  For many months after chemo, I felt like my brain was in a fog.  My memory wasn’t normal and I seemed to process information more slowly.  One year later, my memory has returned and I am thinking quickly again.  However, I still use the ‘chemo brain’ excuse when it’s helpful:) 

In closing, I would like to emphasize the importance of rest in the process of recovery.  After I finished chemo, my oncologist wanted me to take three to six months off before returning to work.  In retrospect, he was correct.  I could not have handled a full time schedule for at least six months.  Working part time was perfect for me during those early months because it gave me a chance to do what I like best . . . interacting with animals.  For me, it was the perfect therapy and way to celebrate life.  But, it took a toll as well.  

I sincerely hope these two posts are helpful.  You can beat cancer!  Keep the faith, be kind to your caregivers and embrace animals throughout the journey!


2012 Animal Charity Grant

I’m happy to announce the 2012 Animal Charity Grant.  It is open to animal and wildlife nonprofits in all 50 of the United States.  Details are at on the Animal Charity Grant tab on the left hand side.   Please let the director of your favorite nonprofit know about this opportunity. 

Congratulations again to the 2011 winner – Spay Neuter Project of Los Angeles!