Preventative Care for Therapy Dogs Interacting with Young Children

Humans derive many health benefits from interacting with animals.  Unfortunately, animals carry a few diseases that can be transmitted to people.  These zoonotic diseases are most common in young children who haven’t learned the importance of good hygiene.  I worry the most about toddlers who seem to put everything into their mouths.  Here are my recommendations for dog care to minimize the risk of zoonotic disease.  As the Center for Disease Control, National Center for Infectious Diseases states, “Healthy pets, healthy people.”      

1) Physical examinations by a licensed veterinarian twice a year to make sure the pet is free of health problems. 
2) Twice a year fecal analysis to check for gastrointestinal parasites. 
3) Use a monthly heartworm preventative that also kills gastrointestinal parasites.  Larva from the round worm of dogs (Toxocara canis) may infect humans.  Infectious eggs are ingested, mature into larva that swim through the blood stream to various parts of the body.  If a few are ingested, the disease is mild and self-limiting.  If a large number are ingested, the larva may cause damage to the liver, heart, lungs, brain, muscle or eyes.  More info at
4) Practice good flea and tick prevention.  Insects may carry diseases such as Lyme Disease or Tick Fever. 
5) Bathe as often as necessary to keep the dog clean and free of debris. 
6) Exercise dogs in areas away from the playground and pick up feces right away.   

One last word of caution, raccoons are often infected with an internal parasite called Baylisascaris.  The larva of this round worm migrate to the eyes, brain or other internal organs often killing the victim.  During parasitology, the instructor told us a tragic story about a boy who was infected at the playground of his school.  The raccoons defecated on the roof of the building.  The rain washed their feces onto the grass of his playground.  He ate grass contaminated with infectious eggs that matured into larva in his body.  The larva migrated to his brain.  Thanks to a quick diagnosis by his pediatrician, the child survived but has suffered severe brain damage.  More info at

Veterinary, Medical & Dental College

One of my greatest joys the past several years has been assisting young people pursue their dream of professional school.  This is the time of year when college juniors who aspire to Veterinary College, Medical College and Dental College face the prospect of writing a personal statement (also called the personal comments essay).  This is a critical part of their application.  Most often, they are science majors not English majors, so the prospect of writing is not their first love. 

While this is a vital portion of the application, it is even more a chance to rise above other applicants with a thoughtful and moving essay.  So, I want young people to know of my guides to drafting these documents.  I can also review essays prior to submission.  Here are links to the websites.   These guides are also available at Amazon, Apple Ibooks and Barnes & Noble.

Aloe Vera for Animals

Aloe vera has been used to treat skin conditions in humans and animals for many years.  Although there are a lot of personal testimonies regarding its therapeutic effects, I have not found many controlled research studies to back up the claims – until now.  Dr. Mahsa Tarameshloo and colleagues conducted a study comparing aloe vera to thyroid hormone cream and silver sulfadiazine.  They compared the tensile strength of skin wounds in rats after 14 days of treatment and found that aloe vera had much better tensile strength than the other two compounds. 

Unfortunately, aloe can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested.  Therefore, licking must be prevented.  According to Pet Poison Control, “Aloes contain anthraquinone glycosides which are purgatives.  When ingested, these glycosides are metabolized by intestinal bacteria forming compounds that increase mucous production and water in the colon.”  Other rarely observed signs include tremors and a change in the color of urine. 

-Pet Poison Helpline, ‘Aloe Vera’, Posted on Categories NutraceuticalsLeave a comment on Aloe Vera for Animals

Ginger for Animals

When I hear the word ginger, I automatically think of gingersnaps and gingerbread houses.  But there is far more to ginger that simply using it as a spice.  Ginger may be used to treat nausea and promote digestion.  It is thought to act by reducing stimulation within the gastrointestinal tract thereby blocking nausea signals to the brain.  I recommend it for dogs who suffer from motion sickness when their owners want an alternative therapy.  I know an avian veterinarian who uses it to treat motion sickness in parrots.

Beside treating nausea, ginger extract is being studied as a treatment for gastric ulcers. In the past, the effects of ginger were limited because it transverses the stomach quickly, limiting contact time with stomach ulcers.  In a study conducted by Dr. Singh, ginger extract and probiotics were loaded into floating beads that attach to the mucosa of the stomach.  The beads stay in the stomach for approximately ten hours to increase exposure.  So far, the results look promising but more research is needed to verify this study.

Another potential use of ginger is to treat anemia.  Inadequate red blood cell production is a problem in mammals of all kinds.  The most common cause of chronic anemia I deal with is anemia secondary to kidney failure in cats.  When the kidneys fail, they stop producing an important hormone called erythropoietin.  A synthetic form of it is available but not without problems.  Erythropoietin is expensive, must be injected and the patient may develop resistance over time.  In 2012, Dr. Ferri-Langeau led a team of researchers who studied the effect of ginger in zebrafish embryos.  Ginger and the active ingredient, 10-gingerol, stimulated maturation of red blood cells,  They hope that their “results will provide the basis for future research into the effect of ginger during mammalian hematopoiesis to develop novel erythropoiesis promoting agents.”     

Before giving ginger or any other nutraceutical to your pet, please check with your veterinarian.  High doses should not be used during pregnancy or in patients on anticoagulants.   

-Ferri-Lagneau, K. F. et al, Ginger stimulates hematopoiesis via Bmp pathway in zebrafish. PLoS ONE. Jan. 2012;7(6):e39327.
-Mowrey, D. et al, Motion sickness, ginger and pyschophysics.  Lancet. 1982;1(8273):655-657.
-Orosz, S. Common Herbs and Their Use in Avian Practice (670) AAV. 2006.
– Singh, P. K., et al, Synbiotic (probiotic and ginger extract) loaded floating beads: a novel therapeutic option in an experimental paradigm of gastric ulcer.  J. Pharm Pharmacol. Feb. 2012; 64(2)207-17. 
-Warren, A. Nutraceuticals, VIN, April 4, 2007

Flamingos at Parque das Aves

In April, I had the privilege of visiting Parque das Aves, a bird park located in Iguassu Falls, Brasil.  This park is dedicated to four core principles:  1) Rescue and shelter  2) Reproduction of native species  3) Reforestation 4) Environmental education.  While touring the facilities, I encountered an exhibit of flamingos.  I was surprised to see mirrors surrounding the back of the exhibit.

The flamingos were brought to the park in the hope of breeding this endangered species and releasing their offspring back into the wild. Unfortunately, nothing happened.  Even though the enclosure had everything the birds needed, they refused to mate.  Flamigos in their natural habitat live in large flocks for protection from predators.  The park installed the mirrors hoping to make the birds feel like they were part of a larger flock.  The plan worked brilliantly.  Evidently, these birds are anything but modest!  More information can be found at

You Make The Diagnosis: Swelling In A Puppy With Parvo

Finn, is an 8 week old mixed breed puppy who presented for severe vomiting and diarrhea.  Testing revealed that he had parvovirus, a severe viral infection in dogs. Finn was hospitalized for intensive care including I.V. fluids, antibiotics, medication to help with the nausea and more medication to protect his gastrointestinal system.  Finn continued to vomit and had large amounts of bloody diarrhea.  His feces looked like raspberry jam.  Eventually, he required a blood tranfusion to counteract the loss.  A day after the transfusion, his entire body swelled up.  Look at the picture below and then answer the following questions:  Is this a reaction to the blood transfusion or something else?  How is this treated?  Is it fatal?

Diagnosis:  Edema Caused by Hypoproteinemia
(Low levels of protein in the blood stream)

Parvovirus destroys rapidly dividing cells in the bone marrow, lymph nodes and gastrointestinal tract.  The virus damaged the lining of Finn’s intestines causing blood to leak out.  Beside white and red blood cells, blood carries an important protein called albumin.  Finn’s albumin dropped so low that water diffused out of his blood vessels and accumulated under his skin.  It felt like jelly.  He was given a synthetic protein called Hetastarch to counteract this condition.  Left untreated, this condition is often fatal.  Most blood transfusion reactions occur during or within a few hours of treatment, not twenty-four hours later.  Another difference is the location of the swelling.  Finn’s entire body was swollen.  His swollen paws looked like something out of a cartoon.  In allergic reactions, the swelling is normally confined to the face.   The bandage around Finn’s neck is holding his I.V. catheter in place.  It is loose and not the cause of the swelling.    

Here is Finn’s picture a week later.  He had just eaten and wanted to take a nap.  He could barely keep his eyes open.  He was one of the lucky ones that survived.  Please vaccinate all puppies to prevent this deadly disease.