Echinacea for Animals

Echinacea is a common nutraceutical used to enhance immune function.  Also known as the purple coneflower, this plant is native to eastern North America.  E. purpurea is the most widely cultivated of the nine different species of echinacea.  Even though the plant contains three types of photochemicals, it is the alkamides that are thought to enhance the patient’s immune system by increasing phagocytosis. 

In veterinary medicine, Echinacea is given prior to stressful situations such as agility trials, flyball competitions or dog shows.  Another use is prior to situations where the patient is exposed to infections such as boarding to prevent infectious tracheobronchitis a.k.a. kennel cough.  It is important to remember that echinacea is not a substitute for antibiotics.  Antibiotics have a direct effect on the bacteria while echinacea works to enhance the patient’s immune system. 

Be very careful with Echinacea in animals that are prone to allergies.  I have seen several dogs react to echinacea.  Most had generalized inflammation of the skin but one developed full blown anaphylaxis.  Because of this risk, I rarely recommend this relative of the daisy for animals.

-Orosz, S. ‘Common Herbs and Their Use in Avian Practice’ A.A.V. 2006.
-Warren, E. ‘Nutraceuticals’ The VSPN notebook, 4/4/2007.


Causes of Increased Thirst and Urination in Animals

Increased thirst which is call polydypsia (PD) and increased urination which is called polyuria (PU) can be caused by many, many things. Sometimes PU/PD is the sign of something serious.  Here is a list of the most common causes of increased thirst and urination I see in my practice.  I have ranked them from most common to least common.  If you observe a sudden change in your pet’s drinking or urinating, please seek medical attention right away.  

-Urinary tract infections
-Drug induced.  Steroids commonly cause increased thirst and appetite.
-Renal disease or failure due to primary renal disease, toxins, drugs, infections causing pylonephritis and leptospirosis
-Diabetes melitis
-Diet especially those that are formulated to treat or prevent stone formation.
-Hyperadrenocorticism which is also called Cushings Disease
-Hypoadrenalcorticism which is also called Addisons Disease
-Increased calcium associated with cancer
-Diabetes insipidus
-Liver disease
-Congenital abnormalities including renal dysplasia

Other rare causes of increased thirst and urination include:
-Renal medullary solute washout
-Primary glucosuria
-Idiopathic which means the cause is undetermined

Celebrate the Human-Animal Bond

On December 2, 2012 please join me for an afternoon of fun at On A Wing And A Prayer Arabian Ranch.  Gather with other animal lovers for wine and light refreshments.  Peruse the silent auction filled with animal inspired artwork and photographs donated by notable Tucson artists.  Then I will talk about how animals improve our life, love & health.  I will also sign copies of Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life.  This is will be a great celebration of animals and books with people who love them both.  Proceeds benefit the Pima Library Foundation and Humane Society of Southern Arizona.  They are the winners of my 2012 Animal Charity Grant.  Look for the 2013 grant application soon. 

Tickets are required and more information available at the following links:

Garlic for Animals

Garlic or Allium sativum is one of the most popular nutraceuticals in use today. The American Veterinary Medical Association defines nutraceuticals as “. . . micronutrients, macronutrients and other nutritional supplements used as therapeutic agents.”  Besides flavoring food, garlic is reported to have the following effects:

-cancer prevention
-prevents blood clots
-lowers lipids
-inhibits bacterial growth
-increases circulation
-improves the function of the immune system
-supports liver function 

Unfortunately, garlic is toxic to animals of all kinds, if they eat enough.  In dogs, 5 grams/kg will cause toxicity.  Cats are even more sensitive than dogs.  Even small doses of garlic will cause Heinz bodies to form on the feline red blood cell.  Heinz bodies are clumps of damaged hemoglobin.  They make the walls of the red blood cell more rigid.  The damaged cell is destroyed while trying to circulate through small capillaries.  If enough red blood cells are damaged, anemia develops.  The cat may die if enough red blood cells are damaged.  

Over the years, I have had several clients tell me they give their pets garlic to prevent parasites of all kinds.  In my experience, it does not work well for either treating or preventing parasites.  I had one client refuse heartworm prevention telling me they would use garlic instead.  One year later, the dog tested positive for heartworm disease.  The dog almost died during treatment.  In the exam room, I find a lot of fleas and ticks on dogs who are getting garlic as a flea and tick prevention.  When I pointed the infestation out to one client, they increased the dose of garlic and almost killed their pet!    

Because garlic is toxic to animals, I do not recommend using it in animals. 

-Warren, E. ‘Nutraceuticals’ The VSPN notebook, 4/4/2007.
-Bhagnalashmi, N. et al, ‘Nutraceutical applications of garlic and the interventional biotechnology’ Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2005; 45(7-8):607-21.
-Kirk, C. ‘Top Nutraceuticals in Pet Food and Practice’ World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2011.
-Latimer, K. et al, ‘Duncan and Prasse’s Veterinary Laboratory Medicine Clinical Pathology’ Fourth Edition, Iowa State Publishing, 2003. 

Metabolic Bone Disease in Iguanas

Metabolic bone disease is a common problem in pet iguanas.  In captivity, it is difficult to provide these sun-loving lizards with enough exposure to sunlight.  Without sunlight and the vitamin D3 that comes with it, iguanas cannot properly absorb and metabolize calcium from their diets.  The body steals calcium from bones to make up for the discrepancy.  When I x-ray an iguana with metabolic bone disease, the bones are gray ghost-like images that don’t show up well instead of the normal dense white bones. 

The common clinical signs seen with metabolic bone disease are;
1) Fractures of the long bones and swelling around the fracture.
2) Swollen jaws that feel rubbery to the touch.  This condition is called ‘rubber jaw’.
3) The inability to move the rear legs because of fractures to the back or pelvis.  When these fractures heal, the spinal column is often distorted in shape causing the iguana back pain.
4) Constipation that may be caused by spinal or pelvic fractures.  I have also seen constipation in iguanas without fractures that resolves shortly after calcium therapy is started.  I believe the lack of calcium causes gut motility problems as well as interfering with skeletal muscle contractions.
5) Anorexia.
6) Muscle fasciculations or twitching that occurs when the level of calcium in the blood is low.  It almost looks like their skin is crawling.  Iguanas with muscle fasciculations with die without immediate treatment.

The basis of treatment is correcting the calcium deficiency as quickly as possible.  Initially, the iguana is hospitalized for injections, tube feedings and an enema.  Once the patient is eating again, the iguana may go home on oral supplements although frequent rechecks are needed to make sure they are getting adequate amounts of nutrition.  Unfortunately, few iguanas with advanced disease will survive.  If they do, they often suffer from chronic back pain and require specially designed cages with ramps to move around. 

The good news is that metabolic bone disease is preventable with good husbandry.  Here are my tips:
1) Change full spectrum light bulbs frequently to insure that the UV spectrum is working.  The UV spectrum burns out well before the visible light spectrum of radiation so the bulb ‘turning on’ does not mean it is working.
2) The iguana must be within 18 inches of the bulb to absorb the UV radiation. 
3) I recommend 12 hours of UV radiation a day.  Make sure the iguana actually stays under the bulb by placing it over their favorite perch or providing several bulbs to cover the entire cage. 
4) Feed a well balanced diet that has the proper ratio of calcium and phosphorous.