Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dog Nutrition And Proteins: The Building Blocks of Life

Thinking of making your own dog food? Worried whether you'll be able to provide your dog with a complete and balanced diet? Understanding the function of essential nutrients is a place to start.

Essential nutrients

Food keeps your dog alive. It provides your dog with energy, the building blocks for tissue growth and repair, and enzymes to regulate his physiological processes.

An Essential nutrient is a nutrient that is needed for your dog's body to function properly, but that his body cannot synthesize at all or in sufficient amounts to maintain health. Such nutrients have to be provided through your dog's diet.


Proteins are vital nutrients that serve as a source of energy, as structural elements, and perform a number of other vital functions in the body. Proteins are complex molecules that consist of chains of amino acids. If a protein was a necklace, amino acids would be the beads. Although the number of amino acids is relatively limited, they can be combined in many different ways to produce all the different proteins that your dog’s body relies on.

When your dog eats protein, say from a meat source in his food, it is digested and broken down into amino acids that are then reassembled to form new proteins in your dog's body.

Some amino acids can be synthesized by your dog's body, and some cannot. Those that cannot are referred to as essential amino acids, and they have to be present in your dog's diet.

There are 10 amino acids that are essential to dogs: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Proteins are present in all living matter, including plants and microorganisms. However, not every protein contains all the amino acids required by dogs, and not all proteins are easy to digest. Protein quality is measured by both digestibility and the so-called amino acid score, which indicates how many of the essential amino acids are present in the chain. Your dog’s food as a whole needs to contain all the essential amino acids. Every protein source individually does not have to be complete.

Plant proteins are more difficult to digest and have lower amino acid scores because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. That's why balancing proteins in vegetarian diets can get complicated.

The good news is, that eggs, meat, poultry, and fish are all both highly digestible and with high amino acids scores. This means that using the above ingredients as protein sources in a diet gives your dog the amino acids he needs.

Generally, if a high-quality animal protein source is included in your dog's food, balancing proteins is the least of your worries.

What to watch for

Keep in mind that proteins are used as a source of energy first. Only after energy requirements have been fulfilled can the remaining amino acids be utilized for other specific functions. Therefore, if your dog has higher energy demands than normal or if he in on a restricted protein diet you need to pay closer attention to making sure he gets all the essential amino acids that he needs.

Proteins and allergies

Proteins play an important and somewhat contradictory role in your dog’s immune response. Antibodies are proteins and are essential to the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses, bacteria, and other foreign invaders.

Interestingly though, it is foreign proteins that the immune system often reacts to during an allergic response. If your dog is allergic to pollen, his immune system is reacting to pollen proteins. When a dog suffers from food allergies, the protein sources are likely offenders – but remember that protein is found in both meats (e.g., beef) and plants (e.g., corn).

Dog Food Standards by the AAFCO

Related Articles
Feeding Your Dog: Commercial or Home-cooked?
Dog Nutrition and Carbohydrates: The Essential Non-Essentials 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Useful Tips: Visual Chart

If your dog is dealing with a complicated or long-term medical condition, you might find it useful to keep track of his symptoms and progress in a visual chart.

I started putting some information down when we were dealing with Jasmine's chronically bad stools. I found that I might remember what happened a day or two back, but that's about how far back I could recall things accurately.

First I started keeping a journal, but I found it was quite overwhelming and it was really hard to see progress and compare one day/week to another. I figured that keeping a visual tool where I could see in a glance what went on in a past week or month would be helpful.

This tool has been helping us for a long time now. I can see how she felt from day to day, what she ate, what medication she was on etc. I can see how each treatment might or might not be working, whether there are other aspects affecting her condition (such as weather or air quality). I can see how much progress we made from the previous month or the previous year.

Our vets and I find this to be a very helpful tool. Because Jasmine's issue is tricky, my chart got quite complex, as we are looking for a clear pattern. Of course, you only need to keep track of the things that you and your vet find relevant for the issue your dog is dealing with.

Our vet has a similar blank chart available on his website to track the quality of life for dogs who are dealing with severe arthritis and other conditions that have a profound effect on quality of life. This again is a tool to see how well the treatment is working and whether medication or strategy needs to be adjusted.

If you and your dog are lucky, you will never need such tool. But if you and your dog are struggling with a chronic health issue you will find it useful.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jasmine Saves Us From A Mosquito Disaster

When watching any of the disaster movies, it always drives me crazy how people don't take a cue from what the animals are doing. When you see the animals run, you should do the same! Instead, in every one of the movies, as all the birds suddenly take off or all the animals stampede by - the hero is just standing there wondering what to do. It's time to get out of there, now!

Animals really seem to know so much more about these things while we remain oblivious. Is it because we are so out of touch with our instincts, or is it because we are so full of ourselves that we simply won't accept the possibility of something going wrong in our world? Probably a bit of both. I know one thing. If my dogs are running, I am running too!

Of course, this isn't always true. Some dogs do suffer from fears and phobias and react to things that are of no particular danger to anyone. But knowing your dogs and being able to tell whether you should worry also could prove very useful one day.

There is research into using dogs for early earthquake detection for example. People's lives have been saved by their dog detecting smoke or fire before it was too late.

This week we are enjoying time at Jasmine's Ranch, an 80-acre rural property in northern Ontario which we are fixing up to become a dog retreat. Jasmine and J.D. truly love being up here and spending their days outside. It's been quite hot and Jasmine's is also appreciating her cooling vest - yes, it does come in handy.

Right now we are staying in a trailer. It does have some human creature comforts, and since we are up here to enjoy the nature and work this is good enough accommodation for us at this time.

Jasmine adores her place and to her, this is a true home. She usually gets a bit pouty every time we return to the city. She cannot understand why did we go back to the city again, having such a great place picked out.

It is very quiet up here and there aren't many things to bark at or protect the place from, though we do have a bear den little further back on the property.

However this time Jasmine saved us from disaster the first day here (no, not from a bear, thankfully). At this time of the year, with the type of weather we're having, the moment the sun sets swarms of mosquitoes to come out and surround our trailer. No one would survive unharmed without screened windows. There is no leaving the trailer at that time of the day!

After dinner, while we were sitting inside the trailer, the mosquitoes started buzzing at the screens. Jasmine, who was sleeping on the bed, suddenly got up and started pacing back and forth between us and our little kitchen area. She was quite agitated. I got up trying to figure out what was bothering her and to calm her when I noticed couple mosquitoes buzzing around her. I thought that some must have gotten into the trailer when we were coming in. But there was another and another ... Something was wrong! There were too many here! The mosquitoes had found a way in somewhere!

We started looking and there it was. Last fall we cut a little hole in the screen to get the propane hose through for our heater. Then we forgot all about it. The mosquitoes found it very quickly and decided to launch an attack through there! Even though we reacted to Jasmine's warning fairly quickly there were already so many mosquitoes inside we spent quite a while killing them while getting chewed up. I believe that if she had not warned us, someone would have found our dried up carcasses and could write a vampire movie based on that!

Thanks to Jasmine who noticed the problem right away, I'm still around to write about it.

Our dogs are amazing creatures who know and understand things that to us, as smart and literate as we may be, are simply beyond our reach. I for one have a big respect for dogs' instincts and ability and I always take their reaction into consideration.

It might be a good idea for you to do so as well.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Ticking Bomb

by Lorie Huston, DVM

Ticks are external parasites that attach to the skin of a dog and then proceed to feed off of the dog’s blood. Not only are ticks uncomfortable for the dog, they can also carry a number of diseases that can be passed on to the dog. Some of these diseases can be deadly if not caught and treated early in the progress of the disease.

In addition to being a threat to the dogs in a household, ticks can also “hitch-hike” into a home on a dog’s fur and then find their way to a human host. In other words, they can attach themselves to the human members of the household rather than the canine members. Just like in dogs, a tick will feed off of the blood of a person and may also pass disease on to that person.

There are numerous varieties (species) of ticks that infest dogs and the most common types vary depending on geographical location. Tick exposure is most common during the warmer months. However, even in colder temperatures, under certain environmental conditions, ticks can still remain active.

Ticks can attach anywhere on the body of a dog but are most often found around the neck, in the ears, between the toes or in the area between the legs and the body.

Common Tick-Borne Diseases

Some of the most common diseases carried by ticks include
  • Lyme disease,
  • ehrlichiosis,
  • anaplasmosis,
  • babesiosis, and
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
All of these diseases are transmissible to dogs and all of them can be passed to people as well. It is unlikely that a person would contract one of these diseases through direct contact with an infected dog. However, dogs can transport disease-carrying ticks into the home or yard where the ticks may then choose a human host.

Symptoms of these tick-borne diseases can range from mild to quite severe and even life-threatening in infected dogs and dogs may be infected with more than one disease simultaneously.

Controlling Ticks

Controlling ticks can be difficult, especially if the pet frequents tick-infested areas on a regular basis. A thorough examination of your pet’s skin on a daily basis is the best form of prevention. Any ticks found should be removed promptly. However, some types of ticks are extremely small and may not be easily visible, especially in long-haired dogs.

There are numerous topical medications that can be applied monthly to control both fleas and ticks. The use of these products is advantageous for dogs that are apt to become infested with ticks. However, these products are not without the potential for side effects. Always read the label directions for any product used on your dog and follow the directions carefully. Do not apply products that are inappropriate for your pet’s species, age or weight range.

When walking, keep your dog in the center of paths and walkways. Avoid tick-infested areas, if possible.

Discourage wildlife from visiting your yard and garden. Many types of wildlife carry ticks and can leave them in your yard and/or garden when visiting. Though ticks are most common in wooded areas or areas with high grasses, do not rule out the possibility of ticks being present in your manicured yard or garden if birds, squirrels, raccoons, skunks and other types of wildlife visit there.

How to Safely Remove a Tick from Your Dog

If you find a tick on your dog, grasp the tick’s body firmly close to where the tick’s head is attached to your dog’s body. Apply gentle but steady traction backward (away from your dog’s body) to remove the tick.

Never handle a tick without wearing gloves. Remember that the tick can cause human infection as well. Take the necessary precautions to avoid contact of any tick blood with your own skin. Discard of live ticks by placing them in a small container of alcohol to kill them.

After removing a tick from your dog, clean the area of attachment with alcohol or another disinfectant. A small scab and minor amount of swelling may be present at the attachment site and is expected. However, if the swelling does not regress within a few days, if you see any discharge from the wound, or if you are unsure whether the tick’s mouthparts were removed when you removed the tick, a veterinary visit is recommended.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dominance Or Ambition?

Do you find it interesting that even though we have shared our lives with dogs for ages, the urge to analyze the living daylights out of them is relatively new? It makes me wonder what created the need.

Did you also notice that we can't settle on any one truth about anything? And if we do, it's just a question of time before such truth is challenged?

Take a look at the topic of dominance, a word which is likely soon to be banned from the dictionary. For a long time, almost all behavioral problems were easily explained. Your dog is being dominant, and that's why he does this or that. The recipe for fixing all these problems was also very simple. You have to be dominant over your dog and he will stop doing that.

Of course, there is clearly a big issue with this – what does dominating your dog mean? For many people, this only became an excuse to bully their dogs. That is a good enough reason for banning the word right there.

The theory is that dominance is simply about access to resources and that the importance of a rank varies with their quality and availability. If plenty of resources are available, rank becomes unimportant. This would certainly make sense. The question is, what constitutes a resource? Food, of course, but what else? Does it matter who gets to go first through the door or who gets to rest in the shaded spot? There are opinions that it doesn't matter who goes first and who goes second.

And yet, until recently, it was believed that these things are of the utmost importance. So how is it then? Do these things matter to our dogs and should they matter to us also?

Takun and J.D.

At the time we got J.D. Jasmine was about five years old. Our daughter was working with me at our home and was bringing Takun, her Chihuahua, with her to work. We would all go for walks together.

When we brought J.D. home he was a tiny little thing, just a tad bigger than Takun. They spent most of the day playing and having a great time.

When we went for a walk through, Takun was always making sure J.D. walked behind her and would get very upset when he got ahead of her. She took the matter very seriously. Jasmine, on the other hand, couldn't care less who was walking where. Why did it matter to Takun and not to Jasmine?

Of course, this lasted only for about a couple of weeks. By then J.D. was twice the size of Takun and couldn't care less what her opinion of the pecking order was.

Coming through the door

While Jasmine is a very lenient leader and doesn't try to control her housemates' every move, there are things she feels very strongly about. Coming through the door is certainly one of them. Whether we are going for a walk, or whether they're getting out of the truck, she is the dog going first and that is that. It doesn't matter so much when we are coming back.

Same applies to human attention. She ought to get it first and she ought to get the most.

Clearly, who goes first does matter, at least under certain circumstances.

The what and the how

Different things might be important to different dogs under different circumstances. The other question is how the priority access to the prized resource is gained. Is it a chance draw? Is it about who can bare their teeth the most and bark the loudest?

Dominance or ambition?

I believe that because the access to resources does matter to dogs, so does the rank. What is interesting though, it is my observation that true dominance is not at all what we consider the meaning of the word. Dominance doesn't mean being pushy and it doesn't mean asserting oneself by all means. Dogs who do those things are not really dominant, just would like to be. I like to call them alpha-wannabes. True dominance is about confidence and earned respect.

Jasmine and Sonya

I believe that truly dominant dogs are few and far in between. These dogs hardly ever get into fights. They don't seem to assert themselves, other dogs just yield to them.

Sonya is a female German Shepherd, a couple of years older than Jasmine. We used to meet her on our walks quite frequently. She is very calm and regal, though they would play also. Jasmine, who is normally always the queen bitch everywhere she goes, turns into a submissive puppy. She loves Sonya and it doesn't bother her at all Sonya outranks her. Sonya never did anything to get Jasmine to submit to her. It was self-understood. When she sees Sonya, Jasmine gets so excited, she assumes almost a fetal pose when running up to greet her. (Yes, it's quite a sight – a dog running curled up into almost fetal pose!)


I do believe that there is such a thing as a dominant dog. However, what we often perceive as dominance is really an ambition instead. There is a difference between the two. When you see a dog exhibiting a strongly dominant behavior, he's probably more of a bully than he is dominant.

Which in turn also means that dominating one's dog does not equal bullying him.

Whether or not we, as humans, actually need to dominate our dogs, that is another question altogether.

Related articles:
What makes a dog a bully?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sandy's Extracapsular Repair

by Luanne

Sandy's conservative management for her ACL injury had to be abandoned. While the brace was helping with her knee, it was causing problems with her ankle. The decision has been made and Sandy had her extracapsular surgery on Thursday.

Despite Luanne's worries, the surgery went well and Sandy is now at home recovering. Sadly, it was discovered that Sandy's meniscus suffered substantial damage and a large portion had to be removed. This damage didn't seem apparent back in December and it is possible that the meniscus got damaged since.

A joint that is not stable is also more vulnerable to arthritis. The possibility of further joint damage is something that you need to consider when making a decision about your treatment options. I do know dogs that did well with conservative management, but this was not in Sandy's cards.

The good news is that the surgery is now done and Sandy is on her way to getting her life back. I will be following her post-op here. Let's keep Luanne and Sandy in our thoughts.

Meanwhile, a note on extracapsular repair.

It is very likely that if your dog injured his ACL you will be presented with TPLO (or TTA in some cases) as the only viable options, particularly for a large breed dog. If you do some online research, the information you'll find will only confirm that.

I even talked to an owner who felt terrible for choosing extracapsular repair because all she could find were expert opinions preaching against it. A setback caused by an unfortunate slip on ice made her question her decision. Setbacks can happen with any type of surgery. The more you learn about your treatment options beforehand, the more confident you can be about your choice.

Extracapsular repair is an older type of ACL surgery and it is now often presented as inferior. We opted for this type of surgery for our Jasmine because it is the least invasive and because we believed that it has a good chance to be successful. We are now over a year post surgery and Jasmine's legs have full function and are as good as new.

Our vet has been successfully using it for many years for both small and large breed dogs. Coincidentally I was also talking to another veterinarian recently who also believes that once healed, there is no difference between the two.

Here are two example studies comparing the TPLO and extracapsular (lateral suture) repair:
Comparison of short- and long-term function and radiographic osteoarthrosis in dogs after postoperative physical rehabilitation and tibial plateau leveling osteotomy or lateral fabellar suture stabilization.
Effect of surgical technique on limb function after surgery for rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament in dogs
So if the results are the same, why is TPLO often presented as the only right option?

There can be a number of reasons, one of them being that the residents at teaching hospitals have to perform a certain number of TPLO procedures to graduate. Then, after their graduation, the TPLO is the surgery they are most comfortable doing.

It seems that the TPLO might be more forgiving during the post-op. On the other hand though, if there are TPLO postoperative complications, they can be much more serious.

Often it is simply a question of preference. You do want your surgeon to be experienced and comfortable with the type of surgery he's going to perform on your dog. But you don't want to limit your options.

There were some more anecdotal reasons that came up during our discussion, quite likely also true, but I am not going to go there.

Getting familiar with all your ACL injury treatment options will help you to make the choice that is best for you and your dog.

This policy doesn't apply only to ACL injuries, but for any health issues, you and your dog might be facing. Always know and understand your options!


Did conservative management work for your dog? Do you have an ACL injury story to share?

Related articles:

Talk To Me About ACL Injuries
ACL Injuries in Dogs: Non-Surgical Alternatives?
ACL Injuries in Dogs and Stem Cell Regenerative Therapy
Newest Surgery For Ruptured ACL In Dogs
Preventing ACL Injuries In Dogs
ACL Injuries In Dogs: Xena's Story 
ACL Injury Conservative Management: Sandy's Story
Surviving The Post-Op: After Your Dog's ACL Surgery
Talk to Me About Arthritis
Don't Forget the Physical Therapy


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Knowledge Is Your Friend: Brittni's ACL Injury

Brittni's story is shared with us by Lindsay Stordahl, owner of a dog running and pet sitting business called Run That Mutt. She also writes about her dog Ace at

I had never heard about knee injuries in dogs until my golden retriever Brittni tore her ACL at age 5. Now I know that anterior cruciate ligament injuries are fairly common in all dog breeds.

ACL injuries can happen to any dog of any age and any breed. Brittni was an active, healthy dog who just happened to slip on the ice the wrong way. She actually slid right into my dad's parked truck and injured her knee.

Dogs are generally good at hiding their pain, or maybe we humans are not very good at noticing the signs.

When Brittni tore her ACL, it was not obvious to us how bad her injury was. She limped some but still walked around and was basically her usual self. If your dog limps for more than 24 hours, it's better to be on the safe side and contact a vet. If a dog's ACL is partially torn, you don't want her to tear it further so keep her as still as possible until she sees a vet.

Brittni developed some arthritis in her knee most likely because we did not take her to the vet right away. The longer you wait to start treatment, the more likely it is for the dog to further injure herself or develop more severe arthritis. We had no idea she had torn her ACL until we took her to the vet at least a month later when her limping got worse.

Treating a dog's ACL injury

At the time we were presented with two options for treating Brittni's knee injury. We lived in a small town close to Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota so we were fortunate to have a lot of resources. Ex-rays showed that in addition to a torn ligament and arthritis, Brittni also had hip dysplasia in both hips.

The vet explained that our dog's knee would not recover on its own. We had two treatment options, one involving surgery and one not.

The nonsurgical option would require Brittni to wear a brace on her leg. This didn't seem like much of a treatment to us.

The second option involved surgery to repair and stabilize the knee.

Today it is also possible to treat your dog's partial ACL tear with regenerative stem cell therapy. Stem cell therapy is a groundbreaking new regenerative treatment now available for dogs. Whether stem cell therapy is a good option for your dog's partially torn ACL depends on the degree of the ACL damage.

This wasn't an option for us at the time of Brittni's injury 10 years ago, but it's something dog owners should ask about today. The process involves a minor surgery to extract fat tissues from the dog. Stem cells are then extracted from the tissue and injected into the cells where the dog needs treatment.

Because our dog was only 5 years old and we believed she had a lot of years left, we went with the surgery to repair her knee. She was expected to have a full recovery, although the rehabilitation process would take a good four months. If our dog had been a few years older, we may not have chosen the surgery. This is something each individual dog owner must decide.

I always suggest dog owners decide now how much they are willing to spend on their dog's medical bills before an accident or illness occurs. It's better not to make important decisions based purely on emotions during a crisis. Plan ahead.

Helping a dog recover from an ACL injury

Recovering from a torn ACL is a long process that shouldn't be rushed. We actually scheduled our dog's surgery right when school got out for the summer so I could be home to help with her recovery and rehabilitation process. Be very aware of what this process involves before you decide on a treatment plan.

Physical therapy is important for strengthening the knee. We started with simple stretches and strengthening exercises that our vet showed us how to do. If these stretches aren't done correctly or often enough, the knee won't be able to gain back the flexibility and strength needed for full recovery. It's also important not to work the knee too hard or there is a risk of re-injuring it.

We were eventually able to take our dog for short walks and then slowly build up to multiple short walks and then longer walks. For a lot of dogs, the most difficult part will be staying calm and quiet during this important recovery time. Our dog was fairly laid back and was content to nap in her "cubby" under a desk in the kitchen. More active dogs will have to be kept in a kennel to make sure they don't try to run around.

If you have access to hydrotherapy, I highly suggest it. We were given this option but chose not to go this route because of costs and scheduling. We would've had to drive at least an hour for each appointment, and Brittni was very anxious in new places.

At the time, we thought doing pool exercises with her would be more stress than it was worth. Looking back, I believe hydrotherapy would've made a big difference in Brittni's recovery, especially because of her weakened hips due to hip dysplasia. Although she was eventually able to run and walk just fine, she would always have arthritis and slightly less mobility in her knee then she once had. Hydrotherapy could've helped her build more strength and flexibility.

Minimizing the risk of injuries

Dogs do not always have an "off switch" when playing or working, even if they are injured. If a dog is very excited or fixated on something, she may continue running on her injured leg without showing any signs of pain. Think of a border collie obsessively herding sheep or a Lab mindlessly retrieving a ball - they don't know when to quit. It's the owner's job to make the dog take breaks every now and then to help her relax and to make sure she is not injured or overheating.

I am very aware of knee injuries in dogs because I exercise dogs daily through my dog-running business.

Any dog can tear her ACL whether she is an "athlete" or not, but there are some ways to cut back the risk of injury:

  1. Feed a high-quality diet
    Look for foods that have high-quality protein sources as the first three ingredients. High-quality protein is real meat such as turkey, duck or chicken, not "poultry" by-product or "animal" by-product. This could be just about anything. There are dozens of natural and organic dog food brands out there to choose from.

  2. Keep your dog at a healthy weight.
    An active dog will be more likely to have healthy joints and muscles. She will not be carrying around extra pounds that put unhealthy stress on the body.

  3.  Ease into activities with a warm-up and stretching.
    A dog is more likely to injure herself during a sport or game that requires a lot of quick stopping and starting, jumping, twisting, etc. To help your dog warm up, go for a light jog with her and then gently massage and stretch her muscles. This is especially important before sports like herding, agility or flyball.

The more you know about ACL injuries and dogs, the more you can do to prevent injuries from happening in the first place as well as plan for the best recovery if an injury does happen.

Has your dog ever had a knee injury? What was the recovery process like for your dog?

Related articles:
Talk To Me About ACL Injuries
ACL Injuries in Dogs: Non-Surgical Alternatives?
ACL Injuries in Dogs and Stem Cell Regenerative Therapy
Newest Surgery For Ruptured ACL In Dogs
Preventing ACL Injuries In Dogs
ACL Injuries In Dogs: Xena's Story 
ACL Injury Conservative Management: Sandy's Story
Surviving The Post-Op: After Your Dog's ACL Surgery
Talk to Me About Arthritis
Don't Forget the Physical Therapy


Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Perplexities of Pancreatitis

Guest article by Jennifer Coates, DVM

If your dog has recently been diagnosed with pancreatitis, it may seem like you have not been getting straightforward answers to your questions.  The disease can be confusing, and not just for owners but for the veterinarians who treat it as well.

Pancreatitis can be no more serious than a mild “tummy ache,” or it can be a killer.  Pancreatitis may be a one-time event with an obvious underlying cause, or it can occur over and over again despite the best treatment.  Pancreatitis may have no long-lasting effect, or it may lead to severe complications down the road.  And to top it all off, it is impossible to determine what a dog’s outcome might be at the disease’s onset.  What initially looks like nothing serious can rapidly become a nightmare.

Let me go over the basics of this disease and try to clear up some of the confusion.

What is the Pancreas?

The pancreas is an abdominal organ that lies next to a portion of the small intestine.  It has two major roles.  It produces the hormone insulin that plays a critical role in regulating blood sugar levels, and it manufactures digestive enzymes that are pumped into the intestinal tract in response to a meal.

What is Pancreatitis?

The suffix “itis” means “inflammation of” in medical jargon.  So pancreatitis simply means inflammation of the pancreas… but that is where the simplicity ends.  The inflammation can develop for a number of reasons, one of the most well known is the ingestion of an especially fatty meal.  Dogs that get into the trash or are fed lots of table scraps are at higher than average risk for developing pancreatitis.  However, many dogs come down with the disease when there is no recent history of such an event.  In these cases, an underlying problem like obesity, infection, metabolic disorders, trauma, breed predilection (e.g., schnauzers) or recent abdominal surgery might be to blame, but often a cause is ever found and we never know why the pancreas became inflamed in the first place.

But once the inflammation causes the pancreas to leak digestive enzymes onto its surface and into the abdomen, the situation starts to snowball.  These enzymes are very irritating, essentially continuing their digestive function but now outside of the intestinal tract, and they incite even more inflammation.  Permanent damage to the pancreas and surrounding organs is possible.


Diagnosing pancreatitis is also not always easy.  (What else did you expect?)  A dog with a “typical” case of pancreatitis has a poor appetite, is lethargic, vomits, has diarrhea, has a fever, and his belly hurts.  However, these symptoms are seen with many other diseases, and not every dog with pancreatitis looks like this, so diagnostic tests are necessary.  Routine blood work may show an elevation in two pancreatic enzymes, amylase and lipase, but even if these levels are normal, pancreatitis is still possible.  A more sensitive blood test called a cPLI is often run if the diagnosis is not clear.  X-rays, an abdominal ultrasound, a urinalysis, a fecal examination, and even exploratory surgery may be necessary to diagnose some cases of pancreatitis and/or rule out other diseases that have similar symptoms.


To stop the cycle of inflammation, the pancreas must stop secreting its digestive enzymes for a period of time.  How is this done?  By restricting what a pet eats.  Dogs under treatment for pancreatitis are usually not offered any food or water by mouth until their symptoms are under control.  To support the body and deal with dehydration, intravenous fluid therapy is usually necessary, although mildly affected dogs might be able to get away with fluids injected under their skin.  If a dog is not beginning to recover after several days, he may need to be fed via a tube that is surgically inserted into his intestinal tract below where the pancreas empties or perhaps receive nutrition directly into his bloodstream.

Nausea and pain-relieving medications are a very important part of pancreatitis treatment.  Antibiotics are often used in case a bacterial infection is involved and to prevent the formation of pancreatic abscesses.  If an abscess develops, surgery will be required to drain it.  Plasma transfusions can be a life-saver in severe cases of pancreatitis.

Once a dog is able to eat and drink again, he will usually be offered small, frequent meals of a low-fat, easily digested diet and will be closely monitored for relapses.  Low fat diets may be prescribed in the long term in an attempt to prevent future flare-ups.  If the pancreas has been severely damaged, it may not be able to perform its normal functions of producing insulin and digestive enzymes.  Diabetes mellitus or pancreatic insufficiency can result, and if these or other complications develop, additional treatment will be necessary.

Many dogs with pancreatitis recover uneventfully and go on to live normal lives, but these are the lucky ones.  Unfortunately for some, pancreatitis can be a life-altering, or ending, disease.


Jennifer Coates, DVM graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999.  In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado.  She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-speak Deciphered for the Non-veterinarian. Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics.  Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.

Related stories:
The House Is On Fire! Bridget's Pancreatitis

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Review: Dictionary Of Veterinary Terms

Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-speak Deciphered for the Non-veterinarian
by Jennifer Coates

Do you talk to your vet and have the feeling that you are speaking totally different languages? Do you come home and can barely remember what was said, let alone having a clue what it meant? Do you feel that you need a special dictionary to figure out what is actually wrong with your dog and what the treatment is?

You are not alone!

Here is good news for you - such a dictionary does exist! Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-speak Deciphered for the Non-veterinarian offers easy-to-understand explanations of just about all veterinary terms you might encounter.

I for one like to understand what health challenges my dogs are facing, what diagnostic tools are being employed and what my treatment options are. I spend countless hours learning about the conditions my dogs are dealing with. But sources are many and getting a clear understanding of the situation isn't always easy.

I love that in the  Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-speak Deciphered for the Non-veterinarian I have a solid foundation for my research right at my fingertips. I can tell you that my copy will get worn out very quickly.

Even if you're not such a knowledge nut as I am, this book will guide you through the maze of veterinary terminology. By understanding your dog's condition you will be better equipped to deal with it.


Find Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-speak Deciphered for the Non-veterinarian at Barnes & Noble; try these coupons.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Viral Infections: Cosmo's Battle with Parvovirus

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate, that is one of the big questions today. However, even the experts who believe that we are over-vaccinating our dogs agree that there are at least three infections for which vaccination is a must. These are rabies, parvovirus, and canine distemper.

Canine parvovirus

Canine parvovirus is an acute, highly contagious disease that is often deadly, particularly in young puppies. It spreads quickly and primarily attacks the intestines and bone marrow of the infected animal.  Dogs typically start to show symptoms about a week after they have been infected with the virus.

Symptoms of parvovirus infection include lethargy, vomiting, and severe and often bloody diarrhea. This leads to rapid dehydration and the possible onset of secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia. Death from parvovirus infection can sometimes occur within 48 to 72 hours from the onset of symptoms!

Protecting your dog from exposure to parvovirus is virtually impossible and vaccinating is imperative. Vaccination will prevent most, but not all cases of parvovirus infection.

If your dog starts showing any of the above symptoms, particularly if he has not yet received all of his vaccinations, take him to the vet immediately. His chances of survival depend on how quickly he gets diagnosed and treated.

Parvovirus treatment consists of medications to relieve nausea, fluid therapy, antibiotics to treat or prevent secondary bacterial infections, and sometimes plasma transfusions and anti-viral drugs until his immune system can fight off the infection.

Cosmo's Story

Cosmo is a one-year-old Chihuahua and parvovirus survivor. Here is his story.

It happened on a Sunday just before we were to take Cosmo in for his 3rd and final Parvo shot that week.

We have a yard that is fenced in on 3 sides so we have to keep him on a leash when we go outside. Even then he is really fast at grabbing odd things and eating them before we can stop him.

It was the 2nd time out of the day when he immediately grabbed a dead mouse the cat had left. It was a struggle getting it away from him. Then on the other side of the house he got his nose right in a pile of fresh, very nasty looking poo that was not his. It was bigger than what he could do, and it wasn't there earlier.

By 5 that evening he wasn't looking too good, then he started to vomit and had some diarrhea. I started to think that the neighbor had been poisoning rodents because he feeds the birds and lots of the feral cats in the neighborhood had disappeared.

Cosmo got worse as the night went on. I stayed up with him all night offering him water even though he was vomiting it right back up. I kept giving him water, and he knew he needed to keep drinking. Every hour he would go through a bout of vomiting and diarrhea. He was so uncomfortable  and dirtied about 15 towels.

We only had a few more hours before the vet would be at work, but it seemed like days. We called the vet the moment they opened, but already they had some emergencies to deal with and couldn't take us for another couple of hours.

I had seen Parvo when I worked at the vet’s office. Cosmo’s diarrhea didn't have that distinct smell and no blood, but the vet said it was Parvo, which seemed like an even grimmer situation than a poisoning.

Poor Cosmo stayed at the vet for about 7 days and was on IV fluids the whole time. Everyday the report from the vet was “You may have to make a decision” or “He's not out of the woods.” If he had never got the first 2 shots needed, he would not have made it two days.

Finally we got him home, even with the vet saying “he is still not out of the woods.” He was so skinny! He could only eat i/d food and would still barf sometimes, so we had to feed him very carefully.

It took him about 3 weeks to get off the i/d and start to look better. His intestinal fauna was still messed up so I asked the vet for some beneficial bacteria, His poo got back to normal a few weeks later. It took him about 2 months before he got his proper weight back.

It took him about 2 months before he got his proper weight back, and in that time he grew in height faster than he gained roundness.

After being in the vet office for a week, he not only recovered but also learned how to bark. He is now fine and a very smart fellow. The vet said he is totally immune to Parvo and will never get it again no matter what.

Knowing the health challenges your puppy might be facing is crucial. Be an educated owner!
Cosmo's story is brought to you by Tiny Pearl Cat's blog, check out Cosmo's page.

Canine parvovirus at Animal Health
Canine parvovirus: What is it?

Related articles:
Alien Invasion: Your Dog And Infections


Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Many Faces Of Arthritis: Viva Has Spondylosis

Spondylosis is a type of osteoarthritis that affects the spine. It is common in older dogs, although dogs with early stages of the disease will often show no symptoms. It is characteristic of abnormal bony growths, or osteophytes, around the joints between vertebrae.

Osteophytes/bone spurs

Osteophytes are bony growths that form in response to damage to a  joint. These are typically seen in advanced osteoarthritis and form as the joint unsuccessfully attempts to repair itself.

Osteophytes themselves are not painful but can lead to pain, stiffness, lameness, restricted mobility and muscle weakness when they are traumatized or interfere with a joint’s movement. As the disease progresses they can even fuse together, which further restricts spinal movement but may actually lead to a lessening of pain. If osteophytes press on nerves exiting the spinal canal in the lower back, hind end weakness, muscle wasting, incontinence and an inability to sense where and how the feet are placed can develop.

Spondylosis is typically treated with drugs to control pain and inflammation. Depending on the case, surgical treatment to remove the spurs and relieve pressure on nerves is available.

Often dogs can find relief with alternative treatments such as acupuncture and physical therapy.

Viva's Story

Viva is a five and a half years old Hovawart who has had her share of bad luck in life. Abandoned by her first family, she ended up in a local shelter. It didn't take long before she got adopted, only to get dumped in the shelter once again. She was overweight and generally in poor condition.

Fortunately, she did find dedicated parents after all!

Among other issues, her new parents noticed her decreased mobility and other signs that Viva was in pain. If that was the case, it could also account for her reactive behavior.

After examining Viva, her vet found some evidence of back problems but didn't seem overly concerned with her gait, although she would move stiffly and drag her feet when walking. X-rays were taken and Viva was diagnosed with spondylosis affecting three joints in her lower back. To slow down the degeneration Viva was put on glucosamine and omega 3/6 supplement and the vet suggested treatment with pain medications and steroids. Her parents didn't like the sound of the potential side-effects of such treatment and decided to research alternative options.

Realizing that there indeed are a number of alternative treatments available, they booked a consultation with a holistic veterinarian who studied Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) in China and specializes in joint diseases.

Impressed by the thoroughness of the initial exam, they began seeing new hope for Viva. The exam started by taking Viva for a walk to observe her gait. During the walk, her new vet noticed all the issues Viva's parents were seeing. After they returned to the exam room, the vet completed the physical examination. She also found that Viva's muscles were weak and not supporting her back properly.

The suggested acupuncture treatment and physical therapy sounded better than drugs and that's what Viva's parents decided to do.

Viva got her first acupuncture treatment that day and started an exercise program involving swimming, underwater treadmill, and uphill walking.


Viva started to improve with just one acupuncture treatment! In a short time her mobility and agility increased, she is more playful now, and less reactive. If she continues to get better at this rate, her buddy Kenzo will soon have a hard time keeping up with her!

When Viva visited her regular vet this week, the vet's jaw dropped all the way to the floor. The difference in Viva since her last visit was remarkable!

Drugs are often not the only answer!


To read the whole Viva's story visit Kenzo the Hovawart blog.

Spondylosis in dogs
What are Osteophytes?

Related articles:
Talk To Me About Arthritis
Acupuncture Is Not Voodoo
When Modern Medicine Doesn't Have The Answer
Four Paws, Five Directions: The Theory Behind The Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine
What To Expect During A Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine Exam 
Healing You Dog With Food: More To Food Than Nutritional Value?  
Don't Forget The Physical Therapy
Underwater Treadmill