Q: My son had pinworms and the pediatrician said that our dog may have given them to him. Where did my dog get them from?
A: I have tackled the questions a few times over the years. The quick answer is that the dog doesn’t have them, so he/she did not contract them from anywhere or anything. Dogs actually do not have pinworms. Pinworms are small white worms that live in the large intestine. The human form of pinworm Is called Enterobius vermicularis. These infections are typically seen in young children and are transmitted by swallowing the worm eggs. The infections are typically not severe, but more of a nuisance and an irritation on the rear end. The treatment is relatively simple as well. The eggs can survive in the environment for up to two weeks. Good handwashing after using the restroom is the best prevention. Pets cannot spread the human pinworm and they cannot be infected with the human pinworm either. While it is possible for pinworm eggs to be present on an animal’s fur (transferred by a human) and then picked up by petting the animal and ingested, the problem is not due to the pet – the problem is hygiene and not washing your hands. Your pediatrician is not the first one to suggest pet banishment for this alleged offense. Your veterinarian can certainly have a conversation with them if they feel comfortable discussing the life cycle of this parasite. Alternatively, a physician colleague that they refer infectious disease cases to might be willing to discuss this parasite in detail and set the record straight that this is not a disease passed from pet to human.
Q: My veterinarian wants my dog to have a dental cleaning and this involves general anesthesia. I am worried that something might happen to my dog. How safe is it?
A: There are many procedures that we perform which involve general anesthesia. You didn’t mention the age, breed, etc. of your dog, but it all starts with a comprehensive physical examination prior to any anesthesia. Often, laboratory analysis will also accompany this evaluation since our patients cannot tell us how they have been feeling. If the examination findings are good and the laboratory values are also excellent, the risk is low, provided good decision making and attention to detail. The same goes for general anesthesia for humans. The medications used are either very similar or identical between veterinary and human medicine for general anesthesia. It is the medication selection, dosing and monitoring that make the difference between safety and complications most of the time. Anesthesia is not a “one size fits all” process. It is the medication and what it is combined with in the animal’s body, how that medication is absorbed, metabolized and eliminated that determines how the episode is going to progress. Minor complications may turn into major complications if not caught early, so intensive monitoring is in order to uncover challenges as soon as possible. We never refer to cases as “routine” because no anesthetic case is exactly the same. Each patient deserves and requires our undivided attention during the procedure to make sure that anesthesia is safe and effective, allowing the procedure to be completed. All parts of the equation – the animal, owner, equipment, veterinarian, and staff help to determine the outcome. I included owner in that equation because we ask you to do some things pre-operatively that may factor into the outcome as well. Fasting prior to a general anesthetic procedure is a requirement. The number of times veterinarians see our patients vomit up a full portion of dog food, or a full meal of bacon, eggs and toast, prior to the procedure is unfortunately often. When we all do our part and pay attention to detail, general anesthesia can be very safe and effective.
Q: My dog sleeps with us in our bed. Is that REALLY ok?
A: First of all, you are not alone – in the last survey I read, over 50 percent of dog owners and greater than 60 percent of cat owners share their bed with pets. Surveys in other developed nations are similar, showing that this is not just an American thing to do. Assuming that the dog (or cat) is socialized and house-trained (which excludes you being bitten and attacked while sleeping or waking up to a wet bed or a smelly present in your bed), we are mostly going to be concerned with things that your pet might have internally or externally that could affect you. Diseases that pets carry than can be transmitted to humans are called zoonotic diseases or zoonoses. These zoonoses are plentiful in our pet population, but some simple steps can aid greatly in their prevention. Here comes the public service announcement: we recommend that your pet receive regular examinations, vaccinations and medications to eliminate and control parasites. Very young children or immunocompromised persons (HIV/AIDS, transplant and cancer patients) and other family members that may be more susceptible to infectious disease should be excluded from your pet slumber parties. We are always asked about what things we can get from our pets – the list is long, so here are some things to think about: Infections that cause diarrhea, like Campylobacter jejuni and Salmonella sp., and the protozoa Cryptosporidium sp. and Giardia intestinalis. Bubonic plague passed from fleas. Chagas disease, a protozoan parasite that is gaining prevalence here in the United States transmitted by the “kissing bug”. Fungal infections like Dermatophytosis (ringworm). Echinococcinosis, a tapeworm infection. Larval migrans caused by hookworm and roundworm larvae. Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection passed through urine. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, infections spread by ticks that might reside on the dog. Rabies, a viral infection the pet might acquire from another animal contact (like flying bats) that is deadly and so easily prevented with simple and regular vaccinations. Obviously, the reason people sleep with their pets is for what they receive from the pet in the way of psychological comfort, not the other things I just listed. New studies performed with wearable activity monitors while sleeping show that dogs appear to sleep fairly well no matter whether they are on the bed or off. For humans, you might get a little less sleep with your dog or cat on the bed because they will disrupt your sleep sometimes when they jump on or off the bed or reposition themselves multiple times per night. Some dogs snore louder than your significant other too. All in all, if your pet is healthy, well taken care of, examined regularly, up to date on vaccinations, dewormed regularly and treated for parasites, the risks are low. Time for a nap!
Q: We were all set to take our dog on vacation with us this year, but the airline told us that they refused to fly her (she is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel). Since when did airlines start banning certain breeds?
A: Commercial air travel with pets has certainly changed in the last several years. If you want to maintain your freedom of travel, you will have to fly privately. Beginning in 2011, some airlines began to exclude breeds of companion animals that are brachycephalic – from Greek roots meaning “short“ and “head”. These types of breeds cannot fly as cargo or baggage on most airlines. These animals are notorious for having breathing problems (brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome) amongst other maladies. United Airlines, for example, has restrictions on twenty-one dog breeds and four cat breeds. Lufthansa has a listing of five breeds of cats and five type of dogs. In the United Kingdom, there has been a large increase in the number of brachycephalic breeds recently. The British Veterinary Association has set out to counsel owners regarding the anatomical defects associated with the shortened face, including breathing abnormalities associated with overheating, sleep apnea and regurgitation. Also, eye diseases, difficulty in having natural birth (instead, requiring a C-section), skin infections and dental problems related to the shortened skull shape are being addressed. They have launched the “Breed to Breathe” initiative, trying to discourage further breeding of animals that have severe respiratory compromise. In addition to breed-specific transportation bans, there are rules in place to protect animal welfare for other reasons as well: Airlines will not transport pets as baggage or cargo if the temperature is excessively high or low (typically over 85 degrees or below 10 degrees); the total flight time is usually limited to eight to twelve hours as well; it is recommended that pets are NOT sedated during flight. You are typically required to provide proof that your pet is healthy enough to fly, usually in the form of a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection, otherwise known as a health certificate. This typically needs to be completed within ten days of departure and within thirty days of return for many airlines. The state, province or country you are flying to will likely also have requirements that must be met before the animal is permitted to land there. As you can see, there are lots of moving parts to this change in policy by the airline industry. They noticed that a small number of breeds accounted for the vast majority of accidents and deaths during transport and they took the necessary steps to alleviate the problem and to shield themselves from lawsuits, but essentially they acted to protect the pets.
Q: Our dogs sometimes “pass gas” and it can clear the room, if you know what I mean. What can I do to stop this?
A: Flatulence. Although slightly more socially acceptable when a dog has it, still undesired! Living in close quarters with dogs (and cats) is definitely less enjoyable when flatus enters the picture. Flatus is a byproduct of bacterial fermentation and there is typically a dietary cause associated with it. The most common culprits are highly fermentable fiber, indigestible carbohydrates, a sudden food change or what we like to call “dumpster diving” (dietary indiscretion). There are certainly some intestinal problems that may be associated with an increase in flatulence when they cause a decrease in absorption of nutrients from the digestive tract. If there is abdominal distension, abdominal pain or vomiting and diarrhea, there may be an underlying cause. We start diagnostics on those cases to try to find the culprit. If the patient is otherwise healthy, diet is often the target. Higher meat diets, with the resulting sulfur, indole and phenol compounds derived from their digestion often spur on the production of the foul smell. Anecdotally, the current “grain-free” diet fad in our companion animals seems to have increased the number of complaints on this subject. Manufacturers have altered the diet profiles to include different sources of meats, carbohydrates and fiber and some of these changes may have resulted in a bit more “wind production”, if you catch my drift. Probiotics (and prebiotics) may help by changing the GI microflora, but we have a lot to learn yet before we know exactly how we should dose products like these for individual patients. If the increase in flatus appears to be associated with a particular diet, then a change is typically recommended as a first step. We will typically suggest a lower fiber, more-digestible food as a start. Another interesting facet found in surveys of pet owners is that dogs that exercise more appear to have less flatulence problems. If your couch potato is clearing the room, it might just be time for them to get off the couch!
Q: My older dog has a hard time getting up from a sitting position. What is the safest way we can make him more comfortable?
A: There is a high likelihood that your pet has osteoarthritis. There are a plethora of options for pain and inflammation control. They all come with benefits and risks. Since you mentioned “safest”, I will touch on perhaps the most important piece of advice that we can give. Lean body condition is probably one of the most overlooked aspects. Greater than sixty percent of the dogs and cats that we see in our offices are overweight. There are pets that eat to live and then there are those that live to eat, but we all play a role in making them obese since we are the food providers for them. Keeping them light on their feet is one of the best ways to reduce pain and inflammation. You should be able to feel and SEE their ribs. You should be able to count thirteen ribs on each side of their chest. Pets with a few ribs showing and supermodels are in the same boat here, they both get yelled at for looking too skinny! The truth is, Americans feed their pets too much. Food is love. Obesity is rampant. If we feed the patient appropriately, and exercise to keep the muscles and bones strong, we have a much better chance of being able to move our body from place to place without so much trouble. Excess weight places a tremendous amount of stress on those aging joints. It is thought that excess fat in the body acts as an endocrine organ itself, creating chemical signals, like hormones which promote inflammation and pain. The cost of keeping our pets in good body condition is easy to swallow. Decreasing calories per day a bit is less expensive. Exercise does not have to cost anything other than a little bit of time. A gradual weight loss back to their ideal body condition is one of the best things you can do for your friend. Studies have shown that ideal body condition is associated with less disease and a longer lifespan. Many of us would be wise to join them in this endeavor!