When the Food and Drug Administration banned cold-care and diet products with the ingredient phenylpropanolamine, or PPA, the recent action came at a price for many pet owners. The time-release versions of these over-the-counter products had been used as a tool in battling urinary incontinence in spayed female dogs.
But people whose pets have this messy problem should not get disheartened, because PPA and other treatment options will likely remain available through veterinarians.
"The first thing to remember is that urinary incontinence is not a disease in and of itself," said Dr. Katherine James, a veterinarian with the Davis, Calif.-based Veterinary Information Network, an online service for veterinary professionals. "It's a symptom, like vomiting." A thorough work-up by a veterinarian must be done to pinpoint the underlying causes of the leaking, she said, so an appropriate treatment regimen can be prescribed.
Giving over-the-counter medications meant for humans is a practice that should always be done on the advice of a veterinarian, or at least not done until after checking with the vet. Medications don't react the same in pets as they do in people. Tylenol, for example, can be deadly to a cat. While some veterinarians have recommended the timed-release versions of PPA found in over-the-counter diet products -- now off the market -- others have always argued that giving such medications to a pet is a bad idea because other ingredients besides PPA are in the mix.
Dogs who drip or leave puddles behind need to be checked out by a veterinarian to determine if the problem is just a weak sphincter (the muscle that controls the flow of urine), or if other health problems that produce an abnormal amount of urine are involved. One of those possibilities is diabetes, which will need to be treated as part of any treatment plan to control leaking.
In the typical leaky spayed female, said James, the problem is worse when the dog is asleep or at rest, after which owners will find wet spots where the animal was reclining. The problem is more common in large dogs than in small, and the risk seems to increase slightly for those animals who were spayed before their first heat.
Why are spayed females prone to these problems? The lack of the female hormone estrogen weakens the sphincter. Because of this hormonal problem, James says her first treatment choice isn't PPA at all, but the estrogen-replacement medication diethylstilbestrol, or DES. But there have been availability problems with this drug, too.
"There wasn't a use for it in people," said James, "so it was taken off the market. It was hard to get for a while." It's possible now for veterinarians to purchase the drug through special pharmacies that buy the product in bulk and prepare it for use in animals.
While DES presented problems in humans, it seems to be quite safe for dogs at prescribed doses, says James, and is more convenient for owners. PPA needs to be given two or three times a day, while DES is given daily for a week. If it seems to be effective at that point, the dosage goes to once every five or seven days.
For cases that don't respond to DES alone, said James, PPA is often added to the mix. The two medications complement each other, as they work on strengthening the animal's sphincter in different ways.
James says that people whose animals will still be treated with PPA shouldn't worry (in most cases) about using a medication that was deemed dangerous to humans.
"Dogs don't have as many risk factors for stroke as humans do," said James. "In the case of dogs with heart problems or high-blood pressure, though, those risk factors should be considered and discussed with your veterinarian."
PETS ON THE WEB
If you're interested in lizards, then www.cyclura.com is the place to be. Loaded with lots of information on these interesting creatures (in several languages), the site celebrates the lizard both as a pet and in the wild. Special attraction: Six Webcams trained on various collections of lizards. (While I was watching one of the Webcams, I swear one of the lizards was looking at the camera so intently I started to feel as if he were watching me!)
Another Webcam promised the image was updated every 30 seconds, but for five minutes, the lizard never moved. I was beginning to think the setup was broken, when the reptile finally shifted his head. I guess there just wasn't any reason to run around that day in Lizardville.
Cats love to nibble on plants, especially the tender shoots of new grasses. You can delight your pet by keeping a windowsill garden, sowing a new crop of alfalfa, rye and wheat grasses every couple of weeks. Long, shallow planters are ideal for grasses, and decorative ones can be found inexpensively at any garden or home center. Your cat may also enjoy pots planted with parsley and thyme, although you may wish to allow these plants to become more established before putting them where your cat can chew on them. The same can be said of catnip, and of valerian, another plant that offers mood-altering benefits to some cats. Unless you want to find these plants uprooted by a very happy cat, you're better off growing them out of reach of your pet and cutting off sprigs for your pet to enjoy.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Would you please mention the problems caused by buying a pet on a whim? The release of Disney's "101 Dalmatians" in 1996 focused attention on the breed. Dalmatian puppies were bred in anticipation that an increased demand for spotted puppies would mean a profit.
While some of these breeders were able to sell their pups, many were not, and entire litters were abandoned or turned into shelters. Pups who were sold to unprepared impulse buyers were later abandoned, and there were few homes for the adult dogs. The only recourse for so many Dals was euthanasia.
The Dalmatian Assistance League/Dalsavers intends not to let history repeat itself with the release of "102 Dalmatians" this winter. Our goal is to educate the public with the message of responsible dog ownership. No one should adopt a dog without careful thought. Do some research and meet lots of dogs before you select a pet. Get your dog only from a responsible breeder, rescue group or humane organization. Once you have your pet, spay or neuter it. If you have already bred a litter, take responsibility for the lives you created and find new homes for any that have become homeless. For more information, go to www.dalsavers.com or http://thedca.org. -- Denise Powell, Santa Rosa, Calif.
A: About a year after the live-action "101 Dalmatians" came out, I got a call from a man who wanted to find a new home for a Dal. A year earlier, he had given the puppy as a Christmas gift to his 84-year-old mother, a woman who rarely left the house and used a walker to get around.
The man said his mother was now in the hospital with a broken hip, after the rambunctious young dog knocked her over. Next, she'd likely be entering a nursing home for good. The man was angry at the dog and was trying to find the animal a home only because his wife insisted. The caller preferred euthanasia as an option, the death penalty for a dog who'd committed a crime, in his opinion.
I tried to explain that it wasn't the dog's fault, and I steered the caller toward some organizations that might have been able to help. I don't know what happened in the end to the woman or the dog, but I do know this is one tragedy that could have been prevented. Even the smallest amount of research would have revealed that a young Dalmatian isn't a good match for a housebound elderly woman.
The handsome Dalmatian was bred to trot for hours effortlessly and stylishly under the wheels of a carriage. Is it any surprise that these dogs will not be content leading a couch-potato life? Without exercise, active dogs will turn to digging, barking and general "hyperness" that in many cases will land them in a shelter.
Anyone who's thinking of getting a Dal needs to consider the exercise requirements. Think, too, about white fur covering clothes and furniture. And don't forget health problems: As many as one in 10 Dals are deaf, a birth defect reputable breeders fight by having their dogs tested before breeding.
Every prospective pet owner needs to remember that you can't return a dog the way you can a sweater that doesn't fit or is the wrong color. Here's the bottom line: See the movie. Enjoy the movie. But think long and hard before falling for a breed that may not suit you.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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