NIH Chimpanzee’s

I am delighted that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) decided to reduce their use of Chimpanzee’s in biomedical research!  Yes we share most of our human DNA with Chimps and they have made enormous contributions to advances in medicine.  But the cost is too high.  This decision inspires all of us in the scientific community to continue the quest for viable alternatives to using animals in research. It is not yet always possible to advance the field outside of using animal models, but we must keep working toward this goal.

Here is a link to a recent CNN article on the NIH announcement.

I applaud NIH for this decision.  As a cancer survivor, I am also deeply indebted to (and saddened by) all the animals who have suffered or died as part of medical research.  


Comment on Taming Feral Cats

Just thought I’d give you an update plus any advice would be great! Tuki disappeared which is a shame so I really don’t know what happened to her – she would turn up every night to be fed but one day never showed up and hasnt been seen since. Unfortunately the local councils animal control came in and destroyed the stray cats that where hanging around the local shops – so unfortunately I never had the chance to do anything more about them. The one cat I did trap from there I’ve had for nearly a year now. He is now called Klein and I had to take him out of the room I originally had him in because he was just going crazy in there and has been living an outside enclosure ever since (basically a small garden shed with a walk-in avairy flight attached and safety door). For the first couple of months he would hide in the shed during the day and only come outside at night when he thought nobody was around. Its taken me about 8 months just to be able to touch him but he is now coming up to me happily to be petted and stroked but picking him up is still out of the question. I want to move him into a larger enclosure though – I have a large planted 8x6meter avairy available. Would it be better to put him in there or leave him in the smaller one he is in and is comfortable with? My aim is to eventually take him inside and get him tame enough to be a pet but I already have the two other ferals Zambezi and Calypso Im still working with inside that I want to get 100% tame first and my Burmilla Cindy is already not impressed about those two – she hasnt got in any fights but certainly hisses and gives the others the odd swat if they get to close to her. She already hisses at Klein though the wire of his outside enclosure too. Is there anything I can do to help Cindy be happier about the other cats? Also when do you think I can let Calypso and Zambezi outside – I’m scared they will run away and never come back! They are now over a year old and are really friendly with me, follow me around and happily explore the whole house (except the kitchen) but they still run and hide with loud noises and guests. They will come to my partner too but Zambezi is still cautious around him and Calypso has developed the tendancy to smooch around his legs and then suddenly bite him! Zambezi still hides away during the day unless I call him out but his is fine at night. They will not go in the kitchen at all but I think thats because of all the noisy appliences and the fact that my 3 noisy dogs are always outside the kitchen window when they want inside. Ive had Calypso and Zambezi for over a year now though – do I risk letting them outside yet?

Dog Almost Loses Leg Because of Bandage

Bandages make me nervous.  When used properly, they help the patient heal by stabilizing the affected body part and protecting the injured area.  Unfortunately, bandages can also cause great harm if used improperly.  Pictured below is the leg of a dog who sprained his paw.  He was placed in a supportive wrap and released to his family with the following instructions: 

1) Keep the bandage dry by placing a freezer bag over it when outside.  If it gets wet, remove it immediately and bring the dog back as soon as possible for a new one.  
2) Check the toes for swelling several times a day. 
3) Restrict his exercise to leash walks only.
4) Return every seven days for a bandage change. (The time frame will vary greatly depending upon the patient and problem.)  

Unfortunately, this dog’s family ignored the instructions.  They let him play in the yard while the sprinklers were going, never checked his toes for swelling and decided to wait 2 weeks for bandage changes to save money.  When they finally brought him in, I knew from the smell that his paw was in bad shape before I removed the bandage.  Pictured below is what I found.  With intensive therapy, the dog made a complete recovery but I still get upset when I think of how needlessly and terribly he suffered.  If your pet comes home with a bandage, please follow the rules listed above to keep them safe.      

Warning:  This picture is not for the faint of heart.  Only look if you have a strong stomach. 

You Make The Diagnosis: Dental Disease

A month ago, I anesthetized my own cat for an oral evaluation and periodontal treatment.  This is also commonly referred to as a ‘dental’.  On visual examination, I noticed mild inflammation of the gums but no other problems in the crowns of the teeth.  The next step was to take x-rays of Tigre’s mouth.  Look at the image of the teeth on the right side of his lower jaw.  What is wrong with Tigre’s mouth?


Diagnosis:  Feline Oral Resorptive Lesion

Feline Oral Resorptive Lesions (FORL’s) are a common, painful problem in cats.  In this disease, the cat’s own body destroys their teeth by resorption. In the early stages, the gums are inflamed around the affected tooth as the outer layer of cementum is destroyed.  As the disease progresses, more layers of the tooth are destroyed all the way down to the pulp.  Eventually, the entire top or crown of the tooth is lost and the area will be covered with gingiva.  Look closely at the center of the first tooth.  See the large ‘hole’ in the tooth.  I removed the tooth and covered the area with a gingival flap.  Tigre recovered well and now has a pain free bite.   

You Make The Diagnosis: Name The Foreign Body

A dog presented for limping on its front leg.  It had been doing so for one week.  As an aside, please do not wait one week to seek medical attention when your dog is limping!  The area below the elbow was swollen and extremely painful.  The lightest touch caused the dog to scream.  The dog is fully vaccinated, on preventative for heartworms, fleas and ticks.  Once the dog was anesthetized, two sharp foreign bodies were felt under the skin in the area below the elbow.  Look at the picture and name the foreign body.

Diagnosis:  Cactus Thorns

Close inspection of the image reveals a long thorn in the jaws of the forceps.  If you look on the left side, you will see another incision where the other thorn was removed.  Below is a close-up of the thorns.  Ouch! 

Cutting Calories for Canines

Recently, I was asked to write a blog about how to help dogs lose weight.  Here are my recommendations:

1) Exercise – As my professor in veterinary college wisely noted; “If the dog is overweight, the owner needs more exercise.”  Start out slowly with low impact activities and add five minutes every week.  Before starting, check with your veterinarian to make sure it is safe for the pet.  

2) Set the maximum weight loss goal at 2% per month.  Cut the amount of food at meals by 10 to 25% depending upon the age, activity and existing health issues of the dog then monitor.  To help with the decrease in the amount of food, add green beans or carrots to the meal.  Fresh vegetables may be used as well as low salt frozen or canned ones.  Remember raisins, grapes and onions are toxic.  Also, some breeds of dogs are prone to developing calcium oxalate stones in the urinary system which will limit the kind of treats that can be fed.  Avoid fruits and/or vegetables high in vitamin C, spinach and peanuts. 
3) Measure the food carefully!  Coffee cans and scoops often hold more than one cup of food.  Use a measuring cup to insure accuracy.  Make sure all the food is within the cup – no heaping portions. 

4) Choose foods with higher concentrations of fiber and lower concentrations of fat and carbohydrates.  Remember to compare foods using Metabolizable Energy, not “as fed, dry matter or guaranteed analysis”.  Add a pinch of rosemary to the food to make it more appetizing for picky eaters.  

5) Replace high calorie treats with low calorie options.  Many of my patients are receiving the correct amount of food at each meal but still gain weight.  The treats are the problem.  Use vegetables instead.  My dog Susie loved cucumbers and carrots.  Toy breeds tend to like fresh peppers both green and Italian.  Although broccoli may cause gas, it is believed to decrease the occurrence of bladder cancer in Scottish Terriers. Avoid onion which is toxic because it causes anemia in dogs.  Besides vegetables, many dogs enjoy frozen chicken or beef bouillon.  Pour low or no salt bouillon into an ice cube tray and freeze.  This is a great treat for hot summer days.
6) Use the baggie system to prevent feeding duplicate meals.  Place the total amount of food for one day in a baggie.  Feed one third at breakfast, one third at dinner and leave the rest for treats.
7) If feeding dry food, try the water trick.  Presoak the kibble in water to increase the volume which will make the dog feel more satisfied.  Humans can also use this trick when trying to lose weight.  Models will often drink a large glass of water before eating to help them feel full.


Wild Toucans at Iguassu Falls

One of the highlights of my trip to South America, was Iguassu Falls.  This is one of our world’s most spectacular sites.  It is located on the borders of Brazil and Argentina and is near Paraguay too.  Fortunately, the falls are located in a large park system that protects the beauty of the falls, as well as, the surrounding ecosystem.  The area is home to a surprising number of plant species and animals.  We saw cavies nibbling grass around the visitor’s center, deer grazing along the roadways and coati mundi looking for handouts from the tourists.  But what struck me most from an animal perspective was seeing toucans in their natural home.  Before going to Iguassu Falls, I had only seen toucans in captivity.  Watching them fly with their characteristic wing flaps then glide, was breathtaking.  Especially, when you look at the size of the beak they carry. 

Here is a closeup of one species of toucan, the Toco Toucan, I met at Parque de Aves.  Toco’s are omnivores.  Their diets consist mainly of fruit and insects plus the occasional egg, lizard or even young birds.  While listening to NPR on my way to work last week, they quoted a study from the journal Science.  I learned that big-mouthed toucans play a vital role in preserving the rainforest.  The jucara palm tree is one of the foundational plants in the rainforest eco- system.  Toucans use their beaks to crack the large seeds and then disperse them through their droppings.  As the number of these big-mouthed toucans decreased, the palm started producing smaller seeds that could be eaten by smaller birds.  Unfortunately, these smaller seeds aren’t as hearty as the larger ones leading to a reduction in the number of jucara palms and accelerating deforestation.   

More information, including an audio recording of these noisy birds, is available at


-Joyce, Christopher. Big-Mouthed Toucans Key to Forest Evolution, NPR, Morning Edition,5/31/2013.