The Animal Doctor

DEAR READERS: Nearly 1 in 3 drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 2001 and 2010 have had a safety issue detected in the years after approval, according to a report by Dr. N.S. Dowling and associates published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. While most of the safety concerns are not serious enough to require withdrawal of a drug from the market, the finding highlights the need for ongoing surveillance of new drugs in the post-market period.

So-called “fast-track approval" and the revolving doors between corporations and regulatory agencies -- coupled with deregulation, staff and science advisory panel downsizing, and the anti-science attitude of the current administration -- do not bode well for consumer, animal and environmental protection. Government serving corporate interests first is exemplified by the long-standing immunity of vaccine manufacturers from prosecution afforded by government protection. (For more information, visit hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation.)

Pet food monitor Susan Thixton writes: “Most pet food consumers understand that the FDA is a regulatory authority over pet food. But many don’t know that the FDA works with most state departments of agriculture in regulating pet food. Many consumers believe the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) enforces law with pet food, but ... they don’t. AAFCO has no regulatory authority at all." For details of how the regulatory control breaks down with pet food, see truthaboutpetfood.com.

Nor is the FDA the only government entity overseeing the safety of farmed animal feed. At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approves feed-through pesticides, and the United States Department of Agriculture approves biologics (vaccines) that are added to animal feed. The EPA also establishes tolerances for pesticides on raw agricultural commodities and feed ingredients. The EPA is responsible for ensuring that all pesticides sold in the United States do not cause unreasonable risks when they are used according to label directions and precautions. Flea and tick products for pets are regulated by either the FDA or the EPA. The FDA is responsible for regulating animal drugs; however, some products to control external parasites come under the jurisdiction of EPA. According to the FDA, “(The) FDA and EPA work together to ensure adherence to all applicable laws and regulations. In general, flea and tick products that are given orally or by injection are regulated by FDA.”

While many good people -- scientists, human and animal doctors, lawyers and other professionals -- work for these agencies, their collective efforts are limited by the lack of self-regulation and ethics in most industries and the business world, and often undermined and even blocked by other governmental agencies and branches. Such profit-driven anti-democratic activities are a challenge to civil society and the rule of law, and they are a reminder to all elected to political office that they are there to serve the public interest first and foremost.

DEAR DR. FOX: My 10-year-old rat terrier has had seizures for the past two years, and they last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. They're mild, with shaking and rigidity in the legs.

How big a concern is this? I have taken her to the vet as I always do for her annual physical. We discussed the seizures, and I was advised to bring her in for monitoring once or twice a year, and if conditions worsen then further steps will be taken. -- D.D., Boca Raton, Florida

DEAR D.D.: Seizures, caused by many factors and thus often difficult to control, can be debilitating, emotionally and physically stressful and have fatal consequences. Some forms of seizure can be controlled with drugs, phenobarbital and cannabis being effective for many dogs. If the frequency, intensity and duration of seizures increase, then pharmaceutical intervention is called for.

Possible prevention may lie in making organic coconut oil the main fat source in your dog’s diet, this oil being shown to help prevent and shorten seizures in some dogs. Applying an ice pack to the lumbar region of your dog’s back when a seizure is occurring may lessen its severity and duration.

THE FLATTER THE FACE, THE SICKER THE DOG

The Nationwide Brachycephalic Breed Disease Prevalence Study notes that short-nosed breeds from pugs to mastiffs are more often affected by common conditions, not just known issues associated with brachycephaly.

A bio-statistical analysis of the pet health insurance claims of more than 1.27 million dogs over a nine-year span shows that even after removing conditions linked specifically to brachycephalic breeds, dogs with the structure common to these animals are less healthy than dogs with a more normal canine appearance. Common conditions include greater prevalence than seen in dogs with normal muzzles and skulls of: digestive and respiratory problems; cancer; skin diseases; various eye, ear, anal gland, dental, bladder/cystitis and heart issues; patellar and inter-vertebral disk luxations and other spinal conditions; and greater susceptibility to hyperthermia or heat stroke.

In summary, the flatter a dog’s face is, no matter how appealing or standard for the breed, the more general health problems -- in addition to serious ones specifically caused by the facial deformation they will suffer compared to dogs with normal skulls and length of muzzle. For details, visit nationwidedvm.com/studies-and-research.

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)

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