The Morris Animal Foundation Funds Many New Studies on Dog Diseases

The Morris Animal Foundation has a long history of funding studies that help diagnose, treat and prevent disease in dogs and cats. Since 1950, the foundation has funded many many projects that have led to significant discoveries including the first vaccine to prevent parvovirus enteritis in dogs. This infectious disease destroys rapidly dividing cells in the body causing severe vomiting, diarrhea and bone marrow suppression. Even with aggressive medical treatment, some of the pups will die. One of my own dogs came to me as a 10 week old pup infected with parvo. For a week, he was in isolation receiving intensive care before he turned the corner. He was one of the lucky ones.

The following is a list of the new studies funded by Morris in 2018.

  1. Hemangioscarcoma – This cancer is usually found on the spleen, heart and liver in large breed dogs. In most cases, it is diagnosed after the tumor ruptures and bleeds. The new studies will look at how the cancer cells use fat as energy to grow as well as other medications for chemotherapy.
  2. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) – Dogs with IBD suffer from severe gastrointestinal problems including vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, cramping and gas. New studies will look at what triggers this condition.
  3.  Stem Cell-Based Therapies  – A new stem cell will be tested as a potential treatment for IBD and other immune-mediated disease.
  4. Environmental Chemicals and Cancer – Research will focus on how dogs neutralize chemicals that have been linked to cancer in humans.
  5. Blood Transfusion – Blood for dogs is collected into bags containing additives and stored for use. Research will focus on how additives effect the function of platelets which clot blood.
  6. Spinal Cord Disease – Spinal cord problems including degenerative myelopathy can be difficult to diagnose and monitor. A new study will look at how advanced imaging can be used to monitor spinal cord disease.
  7. Osteosarcoma – Bone cancer is very difficult to treat in dogs requiring amputation of the affected limb. Research will look at what stimulates these abnormal cells to grow and methods to block it.
  8. Lymphocytic Leukemia – Like humans, leukemia and lymphoma are common cancers in dogs. New treatments will be explored for an especially aggressive type of leukemia called B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
  9. Severe Bleeding Disorders – Dogs with autoimmune hemolytic anemia (IAHA) produces antibodies against their own platelets leading to destruction. Without platelets, these dogs will bleed to death. Research will look at an enzyme called thrombopoietin, that stimulates the bone marrow to produce more platelets.

In addition to these new studies, The Morris Animal Foundation is funding many other ongoing studies in dogs. The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is following over 3,000 golden retrievers with the hope of learning more about their common health issues. Right now, the FDA has launched a review of taurine levels in grain-free diets with peas, lentils, other legume seeds or potatoes after participants in this study developed dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) at a higher rate than expected. Normally, DCM is a disease of giant breed dogs as well as American and English Cocker Spaniels. More information is available through the Food & Drug Administration Animal Veterinary News Service.

If you would like to support these vital research projects, please consider donating or volunteering with The Morris Animal Foundation. More information is at


-Dog Report 2018, Morris Animal

You Make The Diagnosis: Name This Dog Parasite Found On Skin

Last week I examined a dog for itching and wound up with a surprising diagnosis. This beautiful dog has a history of allergies which require constant treatment to keep her comfortable. I though she had another breakthrough of her allergies or maybe developed a secondary bacterial or fungal infection. This wasn’t the case at all. During her examination, I found little black specks all over her body that moved. She also had thick tan colored crusts on the edges of her ears, excoriations on her abdomen and generalized inflammation. This dog itched constantly. She was miserable. Examine the microscopic image of the black specks below and then answer the following questions: What parasite is this? How did this dog become infected? Is it transmissible to people?

Diagnosis: Lice

Unfortunately, my patient was suffering from pediculosis which means an infestation of lice. Lice are small parasites that are divided into two groups: 1) Chewing lice that feed on the skin (secretions, hair, fur) 2) Biting lice that pierce the skin to obtain blood. Pictured above is a biting lice.

Lice spend their entire life on their victim. The adults lay eggs (nits) on the shafts of hair. Nymphs hatch from the eggs and then begin feeding on the host. They molt three times before they become an adult capable of reproducing.

Lice are spread through close contact with an infested dog or contaminated objects like bedding. My patient started itching after going to the groomer. Most likely, the groomer transferred lice from an infected dog to my patient through their tools.

Unlike fleas, ticks and mites, lice are fairly easy to treat because they spend their entire life cycle on the dog. There are many topical treatments that work well killing the lice within a week. I recommend treating all the dogs in the household when lice are involved. I also recommend cleaning the environment including dog beds, blankets and brushes to prevent reinfection. Since most lice are species specific, the varieties found on dogs don’t infest humans and vice versa. That means that cats don’t have to be treated either unless the lice infestation is caused by a variety called Heterodoxus spriniger. I treated my patient with Vectra 3D and she is feeling much better now.

Source: Shell, Linda original author, Rothrock, Kari revision author, ‘Pediculosis’ Associate Database, VIN, last updated 6/8/2017.

‘S. zooepidemicus’ Infects Dogs at Maricopa County Animal Shelter

On January 21, 2018, Mary Martin, Director at Maricopa Animal Care Centers (MCACC), announced that Streptococcus equi subspecies zooepidemicus was found at their east valley shelter located at 2630 W. Rio Salado Parkway in Mesa, AZ. S. epidemicus is a serious bacterial disease that effects horses, dogs, cats and immune compromised people in rare circumstances. As of yet, there are no confirmed cases of human infection after direct contact with infected dogs. Most of the human cases occurred after consuming unpasteurized dairy products from infected cows or working with infected horses. Infected people developed pharyngitis, glomerulonephritis, meningitis and pneumonia.

S. epidemicus is a bacterium often found in the respiratory tract of horses and ruminants including goats and cows. When given the opportunity, it will invade other species. In dogs, it usually causes hemorrhagic pneumonia. Although MCACC has not declared this an outbreak, previous outbreaks at other facilities throughout the U.S. have been associated with crowded, kennel-like situations. At this time 30 dogs are showing clinical signs of illness in the Arizona facility.

Clinical signs of S. epidemicus  in dogs include:

  1. Coughing, sometimes bringing up a bloody material
  2. Nasal Discharge, sometimes bloody
  3. Anorexia
  4. Fever
  5. Bloody Urine
  6. Vomiting
  7. Labored Breathing
  8. Death

S. epidemicus is diagnosed by either culturing the bacteria or with a PCR test performed on samples taken from infected tissues. The advantage with PCR is a much faster turn around time as well as better accuracy. The advantage with culture is that antibiotic sensitivity can be performed to determine the best antibiotic for treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics is the key to saving effected dogs. Unfortunately, doxycycline resistance is starting to occur with S. epidemicus.

To prevent further infections, MCASS has shut down all playgroups and non-mandated services at the east location. They have held press conferences to warn local veterinarians about the disease. They are also adopting out animals for free in order to get them out of the shelter before contracting this disease. This last action step is surprising to many including me for fear of spreading the disease to dogs outside the shelter. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, ‘Streptococcus equi subspecies zooepidemicus is an extremely rare pathogen in dogs and typically limited to shelter settings. Unpublished observations suggest transmission of Streptococcus equi subspecies zooepidemicus from shelter dogs to other dogs following adoption is unlikely.’

Although I understand their decision is based on the above information, I still worry that this action may end up spreading the disease. I am especially worried about animals and people with compromised immune systems including chemotherapy patients and valley fever patients. Therefore, I recommend isolating newly adopted pets from this shelter from all other animals for a least 2 weeks. Do not bring your existing pets to this shelter. Clean all equipment including bowls, leashes and combs between animals. Last, wash hands well and change clothes after visiting the shelter.  In other words, I would not adopt pets from there right now and strongly feel the facility should be quarantined until the incubation period has passed.

For a more detailed discussion of this horrible disease, watch Dr. Cynda Crawford’s presentation at the UF Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Conference 2011 on Streptococcus zooepidemicus. 


-Slavinski, Sally. “2009 Veterinary Alert#1: Streptococcus equi subspecies zooepidemicus Identified in Shelter Dogs.” NYC Health:  NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND MENTAL HYGIENE, 1.12.2008.

-Tanabe, Morgan. “More than 30 dogs showing symptoms of ‘Strep Zoo’ at Maricopa County animal shleter.” ABC15news,com, posted 1.21.18.





Halloween Dangers for Dogs & Cats

Halloween is a fun holiday for people of all ages to dress up, trick or treat and maybe scare a friend or two. But the noises, decorations and costumes can frighten our pets. Here’s a few tips for keeping cats and dogs safe during Halloween:

  1. Pet costumes – Make sure pet costumes do not contain dyes or paints that are toxic if ingested. Costumes should fit the pet comfortably, allowing them to walk and lie down. Check around the neck and legs for elastic bands that may cut of circulation or make it difficult to breathe. Never use rubber bands! Also, make sure your pet can’t chew off and swallow their costume. Cats love to eat costume jewelry and ribbons while dogs favor the fake skeletons.
  2. Costumes – Pets often find costumes scary. People they know suddenly become monsters when wearing a costume with a mask over their face. A normally social pet may bite. As Dr. Kathleen Shaw wrote in her article, Halloween can be Spooky for Pets, “Remember, you are responsible for controlling your pet and insuring that he doesn’t bite any guests.”
  3. Decorations – Halloween decorations can be scary as well as dangerous for pets. Fake skeletons may be too realistic for some dogs to resist. Many cats find the fake cobwebs enticing. Eating these items may obstruct the animal’s gastrointestinal system leading to expensive surgery to remove the decorations.
  4. Jack-o-lanterns – Keep all pets away from jack-o-lanterns. Pets, especially cats, are drawn to the flickering light inside. After Halloween, I see many pets with singed whiskers. The battery operated candles don’t cause fires but are highly toxic if ingested. I saw a lab who suffered greatly after eating a pumpkin with a battery operated light inside.
  5. Electric cords – Keep pets away from cords to prevent electrocution.
  6. Accidental escape – The loud noises, scary costumes and open doors for trick-or-treaters lead to many lost pets during Halloween. I recommend letting your pet sit this holiday out with some treats in the back bedroom away from all the action. Play music to distract from unusual noises. Bring all animals indoors. Even when pets are in secure outdoor enclosures, there is a greater risk of theft with all the people coming and going. Please take extra care with black dogs and cats. Over my career, I have seen horrible animal abuse associated with this holiday – particularly with animals whose fur is black.
  7. Candy – Candy possesses a variety of dangers for pets. First, there is the danger of chocolate toxicity from having too many fun bars. Second, foil wrappers and lollipop sticks may causes intestinal obstruction. Third, many candies contain the artificial sweetener xylitol that causes life-threatening drops in blood sugar. One stick of sugar-free gum can kill.

With a little planning, Halloween can be fun for the entire family. Please follow these tips to make sure everyone has a good time. Happy Halloween!



Shaw, Kathleen. ‘Halloween can be Spooky for Pets’, Veterinary Partners,, 2013.

Viral Papillomas (Warts) in Young Dogs

Viral papillomatosis (warts) is a fairly common condition in young dogs. Irregular circular growths appear in the mouth and around the eyes. The growths can be fairly smooth like a human wart or possess tenticle like projections that remind me of tall blades of grass. In dogs, papillomatosis is most often caused by canine papilloma virus-1. The virus infects young dogs because of their immature immune systems and adult dogs who are immunosupressed. In young dogs, usually less than two years of age, papillomas are most common inside the mouth and around the eyes. On rare occasions, the papillomas may be found on the eyelids, between the toes and on the eyeball. In adults, the papillomas can be found anywhere. The first picture is of viral papillomas in the mouth of a young dog. The second picture is a papilloma on the neck of a adult dog. The papilloma developed after the adult dog was treated with steroids and cyclosporine which both suppress the immune system.


Canine papilloma virus-1 is transmitted by direct contact with an infective wart or by indirect contact by touching a contaminated surface. Most common sources are toys, bedding, collars, leashes, grooming tools and food bowls. The virus enters through damaged skin and papillomas appear within one to two months. People and other animals are not susceptible to this virus. CPV-1 only affects dogs.

Most young dogs will recover from this when their immune system matures and works to eradicate the virus. The papillomas will slowly degerate over about a two month period. Lesions that persist for longer periods of time should be biopsied to confirm the diagnosis of viral papillomatosis. Papillomas that interfere with eating or drinking may need removal. This is done with traditional surgery or cryotherapy. There is also a topical medication called imiquimod that can be applied to the papilloma or the drug azithromycin can be given orally for treatment. In really stubborn cases, papillomas can be removed and made into a vaccine to stimulate the dog’s immune system. This is a last resort because malignant tumors have occurred where the vaccine is injected.

In older dogs, the papillomas are surgically removed and sent in for analysis to confirm the diagnosis.


-Brooks, Wendy. ‘Viral Papillomas of Dogs’. Published 09/10/2001, Reviewed and Revised 06/09/2017.

The Effect of Smoking on Dogs and Cats

We all know that smoking tobacco products is harmful to the smoker as well as their family who are exposed through second and thirdhand smoke. But what about the pets? Unfortunately, the pets are effected as well when they breathe in the toxic fumes or ingest the residue left behind in the environment. When burned, cigarettes release an amazing 7,000 chemicals including ammonia, arsenic, benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, lead, mercury, nicotine, toluene and uranium-236. Beside the smoker, other family members suffer secondhand exposure when they breathe the fumes. Eventually, the chemicals settle out of the air onto surfaces creating a residue. Thirdhand exposure occurs when chemicals are ingested, absorbed through the skin or inhaled through dust. Pets may also come into contact with these chemicals when they lick a smoker. These chemicals persist in the environment for months even with cleaning.

Dogs and cats who live with a smoker have an increased risk of cancer. The length of the dog’s nose will determine what kind of cancer they may develop. Dogs with long noses like Greyhounds and Dobermans have higher risks of cancer developing in their nasal passages because the cancer causing chemicals settle out there. The chemicals make it to the lungs in dogs with short and medium length noses.  This predisposes them to lung cancer. Cats have increased risk of lymphoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth when they live with a smoker. The risk of a cat developing lymphoma increases by three times when they live with a 3 pack a day smoker. The squamous cell carcinoma occurs when cats groom the toxic chemicals from their fur. The risk for this aggressive cancer increases two to four times.

To prevent secondhand smoke, many people will smoke outside. Unfortunately, this does not prevent thirdhand exposure to pets and children because the toxic chemicals from tobacco contaminate the smoker’s hands and clothing. The chemicals are transferred to the children and pets through thirdhand contact. As mentioned above, pets are at the greatest risk if they lick the smoker.

For more information of the effect of smoking on pets, please check out the FDA website. Here’s the link:


-Bertone, E.R., et. al. ‘Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Risk of Malignant Lymphoma in Pet Cats’ J. Am. Epidemiology 2002; 156:268-273.

-Matt, G.E., et al. ‘When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure.’ Tobacco Control 2011: 20(e1) 1-8.

-Reif, JJ. et al. ‘Cancer of the oral cavity and para-nasal sinuses and exposure to harmful tobacco smoke in pet dogs’ Am. J. Epidemiology 1988:  147(5):488-492.

-Schick, S. ‘Thirdhand smoke: here to stay’ Tobacco Control 2011:  20(1):  1-3.

-‘Be smoke-free and help you pets live longer, healthier lives.’ U.S. Food and Drug Administration Animal Health Literacy, last updated 9/22/16.

Histiocytic Sarcoma in Bernese Mountain Dogs, Retrievers and Rottweilers

Hstiocytic sarcoma (HS) is a malignant disease found most often in Bernese Mountain dogs, retrievers and rottweilers. Males are more commonly affected than females and it can occur at any age. It is also called Histiocytic sarcoma complex, malignant histiocytosis and disseminated histocytic sarcoma. There are two forms of the disease, localized or disseminated. The localized disease occurs when a lump or lumps are found in one specific area, usually on the legs and these have not spread to the lymph nodes. Localized HS tends to invade skin, subcutaneous tissue and joints. The disseminated disease occurs when tumor cells spread beyond the local lymph nodes to the lung, liver, spleen, gastrointestinal system, eyes, central nervous system, skin, muscles, bone and/or the bone marrow. The tumor is thought is arise from interstitial dendritic cells that become malignant.

The signs of HS vary widely due to the many different organs that can be involved. In the early stages of localized disease, most dogs have no clinical signs of disease. Usually, they come in for an examination after a lump is found. As the disease progresses, lethargy, anorexia, lameness and coughing are the most common clinic signs. Unless a mass is found and biopsied, diagnosis can be difficult due to the nonspecific clinical signs. Anemia is the most common abnormality on general lab work. Dogs may also have decreased numbers of white blood cells, increases in liver enzymes and an increased number of histiocytes in the blood and bone marrow. X-rays may show masses in the lung or mediastinum. These masses leak fluid causing pleural effusion affecting the dog’s breathing. X-rays may also show destruction of bone or joints.

Surgical removal of solitary nodules is the treatment of choice at this time. Dogs without evidence of cancer spread who underwent amputation of the affected limb lived 6 months. Dog who had chemotherapy with amputation lived an average of 19 months. Dogs with disseminated disease fare far worse. In one study, half of the dogs with HS responded to chemotherapy and lived an average of 6 months. Dogs who responded poorly to chemotherapy only survived for about 2 months.

To clarify, HS is not the same as cutaneous histiocytoma. Histiocytomas are benign tumors of young dogs. These pink raspberry looking masses occur in thinly haired areas on the legs, head and neck. They grow quickly and can resolve on their own. I see them most often in Boxers and Dachshunds although Cocker Spaniels, Great Danes, Shetland Sheepdogs and Bull Terriers are also reported in the literature.


-Shell, Linda. ‘Malignant Histocytosis/Histiocytic Sarcoma’ Associate Database, VIN, last updated 12/11/2003.

-Skorupski, Katherine. ‘The Histiocytic Diseases: A Clinical Perspective’ Canine Medicine Symposium 2009, UCDCM2009, VIN


Macadamia Nuts are Toxic to Dogs

As a veterinarian, I caution people about giving human food to dogs. That’s because dogs and people metabolize food differently. Macadamia nuts, raisins, grapes and sugar-free gums are some of the human foods that are toxic dogs. Although the exact mechanism for the toxicity is not known, it is thought to be from a serotonin like compound that may come from the nut, processing the nut or a contaminate associated with the nut. More information on serotonin syndrome may be found by visiting Dr. Nelson’s prior post or clicking here. Clinical signs start with weakness of the rear legs, vomiting and lethargy. As the toxin builds, the dogs often experience muscle tremors and weakness. The hind leg weakness progresses until the dog cannot stand.

Like most toxicities, treatment focuses on removing the toxin and treating the symptoms. If the dog isn’t vomiting already, this is one of those toxins in which it is recommended to remove the nuts from the stomach. If too much time has passed since ingestion, then activated charcoal is given to absorb toxins from the gastrointestinal system. To avoid aspiration into the lungs, charcoal is only given to conscious animals that can swallow. Enemas may also be needed to evacuate the nuts. Symptomatic treatment is tailored to the individual patient but often includes intravenous fluids and cooling with tepid baths, fans and  ice packs wrapped in towels on abdomen, neck and paws.

Unlike other compounds, the toxic effects of macadamia nut poisoning are relatively short-lived. With prompt medical attention, most dogs will make a full recovery within two days.

IMG_1905 (1)


-Shell, Linda. ‘Macadamia Nut Toxicosis’ Associate Database, VIN, 01/02/2006.


Serotonin Syndrome in Dogs and Cats

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in the central nervous system (CNS) which includes the brain and spinal cord.  It is also in the peripheral nervous system which is basically, the rest of the body. It is synthetized from an amino acid called tryptophan. According to Dr. Sharon Gwaitney-Brant, this important neurotransmitter is involved “. . . in the regulation of many CNS functions including personality/behavior, sleep, appetite, aggression, temperature regulation, sexual function, motor control, and pain perception. Peripherally, serotonin is involved in platelet aggregation, and stimulation of smooth muscle contraction regulating vasoconstriction, bronchoconstriction, intestinal peristalsis and uterine contraction.”

Serotonin syndrome is the term used to describe the clinical signs that occur when too much serotonin is found in the body. In veterinary medicine, the most common cause is an overdose of serotonergic drugs and supplements. The common history is when a veterinarian prescribes a drug that increases serotonin levels without knowing that the dog or cat is on a supplement that does the same. In my experience, this occurs most often when amitriptyline, buspirone, clomipramine or fluoxetine are combined with St. John’s wart. I have also seen it when animals are on a combination of serotonin elevating medications or when a dog or cat has been transitioned from one drug to another without allowing enough time for washout of the first drug. The worst cases occur when animals ingest large quantities of serotonergic drugs.

Signs of serotonin syndrome fall into three general categories depending upon the area of the nervous system being stimulated and can vary greatly from mild lethargy or restlessness to coma and death. The syndrome usually starts soon after ingestion with diarrhea, vomiting and a mild fever. As it progresses, dogs and cats are often ataxic which means they walk like they are drunk. By the time I usually see them, the animals are often experiencing seizures, are struggling to breathe and have dangerously high body temperatures of >105 F. If not quickly controlled, disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) occurs which usually results in the patient’s death.

As with all intoxications, quick medical care is the key to helping these patients. If you think your pet may be suffering from serotonin syndrome, bring them in for immediate care.


-Gwaltney-Brant, Sharon. ‘Serotonin Syndrome’. Associate Database, VIN, last updated 05/23/2011.

-Gwaltney-Brant, Sharon. ‘Serotonin Syndrome’. International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Symposium 2015.

Zika Virus in Dogs and Cats

Zika virus was first discovered in Africa back in the 1940’s in a monkey with a mild fever. Since then, the disease has spread all over the world. In humans, the virus causes a birth defect called microcephaly which means ‘small brain’. In animals, the virus has  been found primarily  in non-human primates. Most exposed monkeys and apes show no signs of illness. A small number will develop a mild, short-lived fever.  The virus tends to appear in monkeys and apes that live close to humans who have the virus. A recent study of Brazil’s monkeys identified the virus in a small number of monkeys. So far, no monkey or ape babies have been born with microcephaly from Zika. It is unclear at this time whether the monkeys and apes are getting the virus from humans or vice versa. The prevalence of the virus in non-human primates is also unknown.

Other than the non-human primates, there  is no evidence of Zika virus infections causing disease in other animals. One study from Indonesia performed in the 1970’s found that the virus could infect livestock and bats but there are no documented cases of any of these animals transmitting  Zika virus to humans. More research is needed to determine if Zika is a zoonotic disease meaning animals can infect people (examples are rabies, ringworm and leptospirosis) or a reverse zoonotic disease meaning people infect  (example is MRSA ).

Like dengue fever, yellow fever and West Nile virus, Zika virus is transmitted  by mosquitos of the Andes species. Female mosquitos need the protein contained in blood to lay eggs. When mosquitos bite, they inject saliva into the wound that contains an anticoagulant to keep the victim’s blood from clotting. Their saliva can contain all kinds of infectious agents including viruses, bacteria and parasites (heartworm disease, malaria, etc.) contracted from prior victims. Once infected, a single mosquito can transmit disease to many animals and/or people.  When monkeys and apes are infected with Zika, they develop antibodies against the virus in approximately 14 days. The antibodies clear the virus out of the blood stream stopping the spread of the disease. Since monkeys and apes are quarantined in screened in facilities for 31 days when entering the United States, this should prevent the disease spreading into local mosquitos. Currently, it is unknown if monkeys and apes are reservoirs for the disease.

The bottom line is that Zika virus is not a threat to dogs and cats. There are no studies that show canines or felines can be infected with the virus or spread it to humans.


-‘Questions and Answers: Zika Virus and Animals’, ARIZONA VETERINARY NEWS, Aril 2016.

-‘Zika and Animals: What we know.’ CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION, Update June 8, 2016.