and Christie Keith
Universal Press Syndicate
The hottest topic at last month's Western Veterinary Conference wasn't big cures or earth-shattering breakthroughs in disease prevention. Rather, it was improving the quality of life for aging, sick and injured pets.
More than 6,000 veterinarians covered a million square feet of Las Vegas trade show space and picked up the latest information at some 700 hours of scientific presentations. But the biggest audiences were at the dozens of presentations educating veterinarians on new pain-management techniques, with more than 100 veterinarians turned away from one such symposium.
At the Vet-Stem booth, Dr. Julie Ryan Johnson was spreading the word about a procedure newly available to treat dogs with some forms of joint disease -- without drugs. Using stem cells extracted from a dog's own fat, veterinarians may be able to control pain and inflammation for as long as a year and a half. What's more, the therapy, which has long been used in equine medicine and is now being studied in people, may also improve symptoms caused by autoimmune disorders and liver disease.
"The dogs are doing things they hadn't done in a long time," Johnson said. "The stem cells make the dogs feel so good, they're tugging at the leash. Their owners are so happy to see them bouncing all around."
Quality of life is about more than managing pain, of course. For instance, hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs suffer from chronic renal failure and various forms of heart disease that leave them depressed, unable to exercise and unwilling to eat. Two new therapies -- a drug newly available in the United States and a new supplement still undergoing testing -- have the potential to make life something to enjoy rather than endure for countless pets.
In animals with renal failure, the kidneys become unable to filter toxins. As those toxins build up, cats and dogs feel extremely sick. Human patients with kidney failure often benefit from dialysis or transplants, but for dogs and cats, such procedures are often unavailable or unaffordable.
The new drug Azodyl, developed by Vetoquinol, uses specially formulated probiotic supplements to digest some of the toxins from the intestine, a process it calls "enteric dialysis." While Azodyl is currently undergoing an independent trial by the Veterinary Information Network, it's more promising than proven at this point. But if either Azodyl or some other method of enteric dialysis proves successful, it may allow pets to feel healthier and may even help reduce future damage to the kidneys. (Cat owners interested in the ongoing study can get more information at www.vin.com/ART/Protocol.htm.)
And for dogs with cardiac illness, there's new hope, too. The drug Vetmedin (pimobendan), newly approved in the United States after eight years of use in Europe and Canada, isn't a cure for heart disease, but it can make dogs with some kinds of cardiac illness feel a whole lot more like living.
By increasing the flow of blood both to and from the heart and making it beat more efficiently, this drug can greatly improve the ability of dogs to enjoy near-normal activity and appetite levels. Some dogs even live longer when Vetmedin is added to their treatment plan, either because of the drug's direct effects or because their owners can delay euthanasia.
Not all of these procedures or therapies are right for all pets, of course. If you think your pet would benefit, work with your veterinarian to determine if these or other innovations can improve your pet's quality of life.
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Feline siblings can, will mate
Q: This nitwit I work with got two cute kittens at the end of last summer from the same litter, male and female. (At least she went to the shelter!) She didn't take either cat to the vet, and now the female seems to be pregnant.
Because the cats go outside at will, the father could be any cat, I guess. But we got into a disagreement because she said it could be any cat except the pregnant kitty's brother. (She says she read that brother and sister cats won't breed.) I think it probably was the brother, since he's at hand. What do you think? -- W.P., via e-mail
A: It could be the brother, it could be a neighborhood tom, or it could be the brother and any number of neighborhood toms. That's because it's perfectly possible that the kittens have multiple dads.
Your e-mail reminds me of a phone call I received a few years back from a woman who couldn't understand how her dog kept getting pregnant. She swore to me that the dog was never left outside unattended and was never walked without a leash. No dog could have gotten to her anyway, she said, since the dog's own son was always with her, and he didn't like other dogs.
I asked her if the male had been neutered and, as I guessed, the answer was "no." I told her it was highly likely that the father of the puppies was also their brother. She seemed shocked and didn't want to believe me.
"Don't they know they're mother and son?" she asked.
The dogs neither know nor do they care, I told her. If the dogs aren't altered, they'll do what dogs do in such situations. Mother-son, father-daughter, siblings, no matter. And yes, cats will happily do the same under the right circumstances.
In other words, blood relations don't count for much. So tell your co-worker not to count on an imaginary feline prohibition against incest to keep littermates from mating. I tried to encourage the woman with the two dogs to get them altered, and I hope you will encourage your friend with her two cats to do the same.
At the very least, getting her pets altered will make them better pets in addition to not adding to the number of kittens trying to find homes every year. (Also, her cats will be perfectly happy and less at risk of illness or injury if she keeps them safely inside.) -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting PetConnection.com.
Beware of training that punishes pups
-- In response to the popularity of television shows such as "The Dog Whisperer," the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has issued a position statement and guidelines on the use of punishment for dealing with behavior problems in animals. As reported in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the veterinary behaviorists want people to know that punishment-based training is difficult to time correctly, can actually strengthen unwanted behavior, and can cause fear or aggression in an animal or physical damage.
-- Gordy, an 8-year-old black cat, became the 100th kidney transplant recipient in the feline renal transplant program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. UPenn began this program in 1998, and one important requirement is that the donor cat -- almost exclusively rescued from a shelter -- goes home with the recipient cat and his family.
-- DVM Newsmagazine reports that a new study suggesting a link between toxoplasmosis and schizophrenia may offer hope for possible treatments for the roughly 2 million Americans who suffer from the mental disorder. Toxoplasmosis is caused by parasites, usually through exposure to cat feces or from the unsafe handling of meat. -- Dr. Marty Becker
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Some house manners need to be taught
Just because your dog excelled in obedience class does not mean he knows your house rules. If your dog knocks people over or starts barking every few minutes, you need to work on setting some limits. Increasing exercise and training is a good start, but your dog needs to learn emotional control, too.
Obedience classes teach dogs to respond to a command. Behavior modification methods teach emotional response. Dogs need to learn how to exercise natural behaviors in acceptable ways to keep them indoors with the family. Helping your dog learn how to relax around the house is just as important as taking your pet to obedience classes to learn how to sit on command.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Highlander Hybrid: Green, with room for dogs
The first wave of alternative-fuel vehicles wasn't exactly dog-friendly, starting with the two-seat Honda Insight that barely had room for a bag of groceries, much less a big dog.
The Toyota Prius added a hatchback and more room for everything, but the popular hybrid is still awfully small if you're planning a family road trip that includes the dog.
That's why dog lovers should welcome the newest wave of greener sport utilities, including a quartet of redesigned hybrids: the Toyota Highlander and the Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner/Mazda Tribute cousins. They're all roomy and comfortable, are pricier than non-hybrid equivalents, but have cleaner engines that sip less gas.
I tested and liked them all, but I absolutely loved the biggest and most expensive of the bunch, the Highlander. (It was also the least fuel-efficient.)
Toyota's redesign for 2008 adds more usable cargo space. The third row of seating folds completely flat, and the second row almost flat, with a tiny gap between rows when the seats are folded down.
That gap, along with the $39,000 base price (for the well-equipped Limited I tested) was about the only fault I could find (Highlander hybrids start at $34,000). With gas prices continuing to climb, you can't beat a roomy SUV getting 25 mpg while powering up a steep grade at highway speeds. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Little dogs, big dental problems
According to Banfield, The Pet Hospital's medical database, DataSavant, the top 10 breeds most susceptible to periodontal disease are:
1. Toy poodle
2. Yorkshire terrier
5. Shetland sheepdog
6. Cavalier King Charles spaniel
8. Standard poodle
Pet Top gives new life to old water bottles
The Pet Top makes it easier for your dog to drink water from a recycled plastic water bottle without the gagging that sometimes comes with squirt bottles.
The maker says the product will fit on any plastic water bottle (some new bottle designs may require a $2 adapter).
Even better, it's made in the United States, works with any size dog and is dishwasher safe. The cost is $8, which includes shipping, from www.pettop.com or 1-866-738-8677, or it can be found in pet boutiques. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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