One of my blog readers shared last week that her daughter’s dog was recently diagnosed with tetanus and is undergoing treatment. Poor doggie! I am fervently hoping that her dog responds and will have a complete recovery! She asked if I could write about tetanus and shed some light on this infection in pets. In truth, I think we are much more aware of tetanus in ourselves than in our pets. We all know that we are supposed to get a tetanus shot at least once every 10 years, and if we get poked in the foot by a rusty nail, we need to get a booster shot. What’s the deal with this infection? [Read more…]
Archives for March 2014
In keeping with the creepy-crawly theme for early Spring, today’s post highlights a news story from this week about Lyme disease. We probably all know people and pets that have had to deal with the debilitating effects of this disease. Did you know that ticks collected on Long Island in the 1940’s carried the Lyme bacteria? We tend to think Lyme disease is “new,” but it really has been around for a long time. Why does it seem like more and more infections occur now? It’s partly because the infection is being diagnosed and reported more often. But it’s also related to the deer population, which has rebounded from practically nil in Southern New England in the early 20th century. Human behavior is also a factor: we are increasingly building and living in previously rural areas, thereby increasing our contact with ticks. [Read more…]
My blog post from last week generated much discussion. Some of you shared that you had similar issues with a senior pet that became sicker following vaccination. (And I felt sad each time I read your story). One person said that she discussed skipping vaccines for her senior dog, and her vet was supportive of this decision. (Insert happy dance here!) There are a couple of points that were raised with which I’d like to spend more time because I’d like to be clear about where I stand. [Read more…]
Something troubling happened during one of my appointments last week. I was called to help a family say goodbye to their 14-year old dog, who was diagnosed with a heart murmur and enlarged heart about a year ago. In spite of using heart medications and improving her diet, her condition worsened. She had been experiencing seizure-like activity (actually I believe she was having something called syncope, which is loss of consciousness due to lack of blood flow to the brain). She had very low energy and stamina and was having frequent accidents in the house. Her family made the difficult decision to euthanize her, based on her poor quality of life. We sat and talked about her, how she loved to go for walks and had an uncanny ability to know when there was chocolate on the table. During this sharing time, I learned that she had received several vaccines only a few months ago at her regular veterinary clinic.
In the days since that appointment, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the fact that this geriatric dog with a serious heart condition received no less than three vaccines within the past three months. Why was this done? For what medical reason did this dog require vaccination? Was she at great risk of contracting any of these diseases?
The answer is that there was NO medical indication for any of these vaccines. She had a vanishingly small risk of contracting these diseases, because she was not in contact with other dogs. She literally had to be carried into the backyard during the day and wasn’t able to go for walks anymore. Furthermore, she had received repeated injections of these vaccines over her lifetime, meaning with great likelihood that she had immunity. Can I give you incontrovertible evidence that she was immune? No, because I don’t have that data.
My point is that vaccines are not water. When they are injected into a body, a whole series of events takes place in the immune system. There is growing evidence that many types of cardiovascular disease have an inflammatory component, meaning the immune system is ramped up and spitting out chemicals and cells with the goal of solving the problem. When we introduce vaccines into this pro-inflammatory environment, we are 1) taxing an already stressed immune system; 2) diverting the body’s limited resources to respond to foreign particles (all components of a vaccine are foreign); and 3) probably not even getting the expected response out of giving the vaccine in the first place (which is a boosted immunity).
I cannot predict how, or even if, things would have been different for this sweet little dog had she not been given vaccines. I do strongly believe in the adage “above all, do no harm,” which is part of the Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians. We veterinarians don’t have anything quite so eloquent in our oath, which I have included below. I remember clearly reciting this on the day I graduated from veterinary school, with tears in my eyes and thanks in my heart that I had achieved my goal. Given that our oath does include the protection of animal health and welfare, I regret that I even have to write about this topic. My hope in doing so is that I can encourage you to speak up on your pet’s behalf.
The Veterinarian’s Oath
Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.
I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.
I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.
Last week I shared a list of currently marketed products for heartworm prevention. The last two I mentioned were Trifexis and ProHeart 6. If you do a Google search with either of these search terms, you will find a mix of official websites for the products, sites selling the products, and sites with negative press about the products. You don’t have to read for too long to realize the situation is complicated and people have taken sides. Let’s start with some history about Trifexis. [Read more…]
So we’ve established that we don’t want our pets to be infected with heartworms. My friend Dr. Melissa McFarland commented on my last blog post via Facebook, reminding me that we vets are facing a shortage of the drug used to treat heartworm infection. As of the end of last year, the FDA has allowed the drug manufacturer to import limited quantities of drug into the U.S. from Europe, to augment the small amount being produced domestically. This will hopefully allow dogs with the most severe infections to be treated. Dr. McFarland also commented that she personally treated SEVEN cases of heartworm in southcentral Pennsylvania last year. This highlights how the heartworm has become more prevalent in areas where it once was considered rare. In contrast, during my first year in veterinary practice 15 years ago, the entire clinic (with four vets) had only a couple of cases.
It’s March, and although we still have a lot of snow on the ground here in the Northeast, soon the mosquitoes will be buzzing. In addition to making us bumpy and itchy, mosquitoes carry diseases. For dogs and cats, the threat is heartworm, which is now found in all fifty states. The mosquito carries the immature form of the worm, which is transferred into a dog or cat’s bloodstream during the bite. It takes 6-7 months after the mosquito bites a dog for the worms to mature to adults, at which point they start producing the infective form called microfilariae. By 3-4 months after the mosquito bite, immature worms have reached the lungs, and they will eventually be forced into the right ventricle of the heart. [Read more…]
Over the past month I’ve been writing about aging changes and ailments that affect our senior pets. I thought I’d wrap up this topic (for now) my offering you a checklist that you can use to objectively evaluate how your dog or cat is doing. It’s something I would encourage you to use every six months or so, because things can change fairly quickly. Remember, 6 months in a dog or cat’s time is like 3-4 years in our lives! [Read more…]
To round out our discussion about senior pets and the aches and pains they experience, today’s post focuses on using acupuncture and laser therapy. Appropriately, today marks the beginning of Acupuncture Awareness Week. Millions of people receive acupuncture treatments each year for relief of chronic pain conditions, including back, headache, and knee pain. Acupuncture has been practiced and studied in Asia for thousands of years and involves stimulating anatomical locations on the body using very thin needles. Western science has documented that acupuncture causes release of endorphins (pain lessening chemicals), immune system stimulation, and blood pressure regulation. [Read more…]