Even Pets Have Breasts

Even Pets Have Breasts

October is widely known is Breast Cancer Awareness month for people.  In fact here in Kingston, where I work we have done an annual fundraiser to support local breast cancer organizations.  Well, lately it’s also become a month to raise awareness for the risk of breast cancer in pets too!  Yes that’s right, Fluffy and Bella can also get breast cancer.  Unlike women though, your pets can’t check themselves for lumps.

Feline mammary tumor

Feline mammary tumor

Cats & dogs have multiple breasts, or mammary glands, that are aligned in two chains.  Normal swelling can be noted if pregnant or nursing but in any other case, a lump may be abnormal.  After animals have been spayed, they can accumulate fat in there areas and these would non-concerning lumps.  You can feel along the chain for an abnormal lump that would be at least the size of a small marble.  This is when you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian, not waiting to see if it goes away.  It can only get worse if you wait until it’s the size of a lemon.

Your veterinarian will start with a general exam then discuss some diagnostics to further evaluate the lump.  Just feeling the lump is often not enough to be able to tell you everything you need to know.  No, we don’t have a mammogram machine in our office.  Our diagnostic plan can include a fine needle aspirate to try and get some cells to look at under the microscope but sometimes this is not sufficient.  Alternatively, we can move forward with chest x-rays to assess for spreading of the tumor and then surgery.  Submitting the whole lump to a pathologist will give us a more certain diagnosis to be able to determine future treatment and prognosis.

Canine incision after removal. Surgery was delayed for months

Canine incision after removal. Surgery was delayed for months

Surprisingly, we have some good statistics when it comes to breast cancer cases in dogs.  It’s a 50-50 chance of the mass being benign.  Unfortunately, in cats the numbers are 90% malignant and only 10% benign.  Surgery can often involve the removal of the lump and the one next to it, or sometimes the entire mammary chain.  Typically, when your veterinarian is talking about breast cancer in your pet they are focusing on middle aged or senior pets.  You can help your pets by making sure to spay them.  Spaying before their first heat cycle greatly reduces the risk of breast cancer.

So do your pets a favor, check them for breast lumps.  And if you see a lump, don’t wait to see if it goes away…it won’t!

breast cancer dogs

The Very Basics of Ears & Teeth

The Very Basics of Ears & Teeth

When it comes to taking good care of your pet, several things that YOU can do at home can go a long way towards keeping your cat or dog in good health.  Doing some of these simple things can also help cut down on veterinary visits which will keep your pet’s stress levels lower (unless they love visiting the clinic – we have awesome treats!) and your wallet happier.  Regardless, even good at home care does not eliminate the need for an annual visit to your family veterinarian.

An ear infected with Pseudomonas

An ear infected with Pseudomonas

The ears are one of the best parts of a dog or cat….they can be pointed or floppy but always soft and your pet will most likely enjoy a good scratch or rub behind them.  But what about the inside?  Most pets will not need their ears cleaned, especially cats if they are kept indoors.  My cat is 13 years old and I’ve never had to clean her ears but outdoor cats are more prone to catching ear mites.  Pointy ears dogs are less likely to need cleanings than dogs with pendulous ears (labs, hounds, etc.).

Typically for cleaning ears, I only recommend doing it for dogs who go swimming, pets who have had previous or chronic ear problems, or for current treatment of a ear condition.  Usually 1-2 times a month is sufficient unless they have a current problem.  Mineral oil, vinegar, and water = BAD!  It is best to use a labeled ear cleaner that also acts as a drying agent because no matter how thorough the cleaning is, not all of it will get out so the drying aspect helps evaporate moisture. canine ear The ear canals have a vertical & horizontal section.  Pour the cleaner in (warning: they may shake it all over you!), massage the ear at the base, then wipe out the gunk with cotton balls, gauze, tissue, etc. just don’t use Q-tips and you won’t have to worry about hurting them.

Got teeth? Something I like to know of all my patients as the teeth are more important than many people realize.  Healthy teeth are great, but unhealthy teeth can make pets not want to eat, can make them irritable, or infections from the mouth can spread to other organs in the body.  We want your pets to keep their teeth, honestly we do…removing them is not enjoyable and at least they don’t have to hear the dentist drill.  Aside from that, dental procedures can be costly if postponed repeatedly.

Before dental cleaning

Before dental cleaning

Teeth after cleaning

Clean teeth after cleaning

webmd_photo_of_brushing_dogs_teeth2

Photo: WebMD

Fortunately, there are things you can do to help it just takes some commitment.  It’s best to start brushing when they are young to get them used to it.  Using a child’s toothbrush is best and you do have to use a pet enzymatic toothpaste (Colgate, Crest, Aquafresh, etc. can all damage their teeth).  It’s best to do it daily but let’s be real; life gets in the way between work, kids, relaxing time, etc.  Set a realistic goal and aim for 3-4 times a week.  Another option is using a veterinary recommended dental diet.  This kind of food has a larger kibble size and does not break as easily so it provides more mechanical scrubbing action on the teeth, much like brushing.  This won’t eliminate all the tartar but it certainly will slow down how fast dental disease can progress.

dental-kibble

This is just part 1 of 2 of a reader requested post as part of my collaboration with Miss Edie the Pug who is really popular on Facebook & Twitter.  Be sure to check back next time for a chat on noses, eyes, and nails!  If there’s anything more you would like to know about, leave a comment below!  Thanks for reading & sharing!

When a “Stroke” Is Not Really a Stroke…It’s Vestibular Disease

When a “Stroke” Is Not Really a Stroke…It’s Vestibular Disease

 

“I think he had a stroke!”  This is one of the most common lines in hear in a veterinary clinic for a not so common condition.  Vestibular disease is something that we can mostly see in dogs but I have seen in a couple of cats.  It can be very scary to a pet owner but in actuality is typically not as bad as they may fear.dizzy face

Have you ever been seasick?  Or sat in a swivel chair spinning around then tried to walk normally afterwards?  If not, try it now…  I’ll bet you’re stumbling all over and probably dizzy as all get out.  Great, now you know what these animals are experiencing.  The human medical condition most closely related would be vertigo.

Vestibular disease occurs when a portion of the middle ear is affected causing this imbalance.  This area of the ear canal is innervated by the vestibulocochlear nerve (cranial nerve VIII) and it is responsible for both hearing and balance.  In some cases, the facial nerve (cranial nerve VII) can also be affected as ear_diagram_petthey are directly adjacent to each other.  This is where some people see a recognizable sign of a stroke, as defined in a human, when the face seems paralyzed or drooping of the lips on one side.  This is not as commonly seen as the other signs.

The visible signs of vestibular disease do tend to cause some alarm because it can be so disturbing.  Ataxia, or stumbling around and being unable to walk is typically the first sign noticed and oftentimes can be severe enough that animals will fall down or be unable to walk.  This is an example of a severe case.  Many patients will also have a head tilt, leaning towards the affected side.  This can be absent if both sides are affected.  Also disturbing is nystagmus, which is the technical name for a repetitive twitching of the eyes – here is a great video examplehead tilt

So why is is not a stroke??  A stroke involves a blood clot being lodged into a vessel preventing flow and oxygenation to an area.  Vestibular disease does not involve blood clots.  In a young dog, we often target a middle ear infection as the cause for this condition.  In an older dog, they could have a brain lesion (inflammation or a tumor) or most commonly we see this in older dogs and we don’t know the reason (we call this idiopathic).

A physical exam will be needed with your veterinarian to help narrow down the cause of the problem.  We will look in the ear to assess the canal and ear drum.  Evaluation of the eyes and their movement can help CatEarExamus determine which side is affected.  In older patients, we will often recommend some baseline blood tests to check for other problems that might be complicating the diagnosis or treatment.  In some cases, we may recommend radiographs (x-rays) of the skull to help evaluate for ear issues related to a structure called the bulla.  If we do suspect a brain lesion, we may refer you to a specialist for more advanced imaging.

There is some good news despite all this!!  The overall outcome for these cases is positive for a large majority of them. For ear infections, we can treat with systemic antibiotics.  For the other causes and ear infections, we treat the patient symptomatically to help control the nausea and motion sickness.  Aside from this, sometimes it just takes good nursing care at home and the tincture of time.  Again, many of these patients do well and recover though in a very few instances a slight head tilt may remain.

Wrapping up here, I just want to say that this condition is not as scary as one might initially think.  It’s still wise to have your veterinarian check your pet over and provide recommendations to help them manage.  Not all cases can be easy to figure out but hopefully I’ve helped you to remove some of fear you might experience if you see this in your pets.

Pet Vasectomies…Are You Nuts?!

Pet Vasectomies…Are You Nuts?!

 

A reader has asked me about vasectomies in cats & dogs and why they aren’t being recommended.  I’ll do my best to answer and have a discussion about this but also use this as an opportunity to discuss the more common procedure of orchidectomy, or otherwise known as castration or neutering.  I have chosen not to include any graphic medical photos though they really would emphasize some of the complications & problems.

I’ll be honest.  A vasectomy on a cat, dog, chinchilla, horse, and other animals is not something that I was taught in veterinary school.   Neither did my wife who graduated 2 years after me or the vet students or recent graduates (within the last 2 years) that I spoke to.  This really means that the first barrier to actually doing the procedure is actually most veterinarians not knowing how to do the procedure.  The procedure is described in some surgery textbooks but the caveat is that there are two ways to do the procedure.  This typically means there are risks to both ways as neither procedure is perfect.

EnlargedProstate radsSome complications can include scrotal swelling, bleeding, and failure of the procedure (meaning if not done properly by someone familiar with the procedure, a pregnancy can still occur).  There are also options for chemical castrations but there is similarly a possibility of complications particularly due to the technical skill needed to carry out the procedure as well as the chemical that is being placed into the body.

I always love doing surgery and learning new procedures.  So why do we veterinarians recommend castration as opposed to vasectomies?  The real issue is hormonal influence and behavioral tendencies of intact dogs.  Certainly, a dog or cat that has had a vasectomy will not be able to impregnate a female but they will still have the impact of testosterone on their body.  This is the reason the zoos often do vasectomies in their population of animals so that they can’t rampantly breed but will still maintain the behavior they would often exhibit in the wild.

Let’s be honest though…your cat is not a bengal tiger and your dog is not rare breed of wolf.  Sex hormones are good foraggressive dog helping manage weight.  Dogs that are intact do have a slightly higher metabolic energy requirement but not as significant a difference as seen in female animals.  Weight problems do not tend to be an issue as long as you manage food intake and proper exercise.  Additionally, we do not recommend neutering before 6 months as doing the procedure too early can cause bone growth to go longer meaning that dogs will get larger.  This is not necessarily a good thing as it can lead to bone & joint problems.  Testosterone replacement appears to be more effective in humans than in dogs and is not a practice typically carried out in companion animal medicine.

cat fightCats & dogs that are intact do have a higher tendency to fight and roam.  From my time working in an emergency clinic, it would be a fair approximation to say that about 80% of dogs that I saw that were hit by cars, they were intact males.  Animals that are still intact also run the risk of testicular cancer.  More commonly though, the prostate becomes enlarged due to the hormones and this can cause enough swelling of the prostate gland that animals can having difficulty defecating or urinating.  There can also be an increased risk of perineal hernias which can cause further problems defecating or even the incredibly painful testicular torsion.  Lastly, have you ever smelled the urine of an intact cat?  Would you really want that in your house?

Feasibly, the benefits to castration far outweigh any potential gain from your cat or dog “keeping their manhood.”  Neutering your dog just makes sense in terms of pet over-population and the control of unwanted behaviors.  It is also a simple and cost effective procedure that can be done by your family veterinarian.  Maybe someday there will be a larger place in the veterinary community for this procedure but for now I’ll leave you with this classic line I found from Texas…neuter bumper sticker

A Day in the Life of a Veterinarian

A Day in the Life of a Veterinarian

 

A lot of people have always asked, “how do you do it?”  Most often, they are referring to the act of euthanasia and relieving animals suffering.  But our profession is more than that.  And no, it’s not just playing with puppies and kittens though sometimes that is the best part of our day.  All this in consideration, I thought I would take you through a recent 24HourIconday I had with all the ups & downs that may come with it.  Just to preface this, it will try to be like an episode of “24” except no explosions, car chases, or Kiefer Sutherland.

 

My job at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic is scheduled from 9am to 6pm every Tuesday.  The particular Tuesday we’re looking back at happened like this…

 

Charlie Taylor waiting7:00am – The buzzing of the alarm goes off.  Yes, it’s good to be alive but the sound is still unpleasant.  The morning begins as I get ready for work and take care of all 5 of our own family pets.  Then I leave the house with 30 minutes to go before work.

 

9:00am – I arrive at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic and have a quick look at the schedule.  It’s a full morning as I’m completely booked up with appointments from then until noon.  Alright, time to start!  The first appointment looks to be a simple one – a dog with an ear infection.  But the owner just cleaned the ears at home!  This makes a diagnosis more difficult but we agree on a symptomatic treatment plan and they depart.  In the next room, a family awaits with their kitten they just adopted from the humane society.  No problems but they want to establish a relationship and just have a general health check up.  I examine the kitten and deem her healthy so we have a discussion on feeding & litterbox use before they depart.

 

A healthy puppy I vaccinated

A healthy puppy I vaccinated

This continues over the next few hours.  Vaccines on a middle-aged dog, itching & scratching for 3 weeks on another dog (he had fleas!), a cat urinating outside of the litterbox and her owners are frustrated by it…that was just the next hour.  I had a few more appointments involving a mixture of vaccines, skin & ear problems (which are very common in the summer), and a case of diarrhea in a dog that eats whatever he wants.

 

11:30am – I came to my last appointment of the morning which was a cat who had a 3 day history of being lethargic and breathing a little heavier than normal.  His owners were concerned but had not felt this was an emergency so he was not brought in earlier.  As I examined this kitty, I could see an abnormal movement in his breathing pattern and I could hardly hear any lung sounds.  I was suspicious of a pleural effusion, which is a build up of fluid in the chest surrounding the lungs which makes it difficult to breathe.  I was given consent to take an x-ray (radiograph) and the diagnosis was confirmed.  I went over the possible causes and prognosis with the owner then explained how we would have to drain the chest which they agreed to do.

 

More normal lung capacity in a cat

More normal lung capacity in a cat

Pleural effusion in a cat

Pleural effusion in a cat

12:15pm – I spent the next 45 minutes getting the patient ready and doing the procedure of tapping the chest.  The intricate details of this will be told at another time.  Once we were finished, the cat was breathing much better and I called his owners with an update.

 

1pm to 3pm – This is the time of day on Tuesdays when I can get caught up on records, phone calls, filling prescriptions, maybe have a bite to eat, or take my dogs out if I brought them to work that day.  On rare occasions, I’ll end up seeing an emergency if the other doctors are fully booked or I could get an emergency surgery (which everyone I work with knows I would drop everything in a heartbeat to help a patient).

 

3pm to 5pm – Appointments start up again with another mixture and variety of vaccines, a limping dog that we determined was a likely sprain, and a check eye.  For the check eye, the owners aren’t sure what happened but this particular cat is squinting and has a discharge.  I try to get a look at the eye but this particular cat is not very happy,

Example of fluorescein stain

Example of fluorescein stain

possibly because he is in pain.  I get one of the veterinary technicians to hold onto the cat by wrapping him in a blanket.  We are able to get his eyelids open and put some numbing drops in there.  When I look again, I can see some cloudiness and we decide to stain the eye.  I explain the findings to his family and we get him set up with some antibiotics and pain medication to go home.

 

5:30pm – Appointments have run over by a bit and my pleural effusion patient is waiting to be discharged.  The prognosis is not great but they are going to take him home for as long they can keep him comfortable.   I would dearly love to get out on time and get home to my dogs as I know my wife will be at work late (her shift runs an hour later than mine this day) but a few more medication refills have been added to the list as well as the records I still have to do.  I’m also reminded that a client is waiting by the phone to hear about some blood tests we did yesterday.

 

By the time I’m done, admittedly with a brief social break to chat with a co-worker, I’m finally done just after 7pm and begin the commute home.  It’s time to take care of my own pets with a walk outside, some food for both them and my wife & I, and then I settle in with some television as I put the final touches on my next blog post.  It was a busy day and I’m thankful that I didn’t have to euthanize an animal.  And sometime around 11pm I’ll finally get some sleep and rest up for the next day.  Not everyday is like this where it can be a bit hectic but everyday is different which is part of the fun and enjoyment of being a veterinarian.

Jennifer & I with Charlie & Taylor...the cats don't pose well

Jennifer & I with Charlie & Taylor…the cats don’t pose well

To see what else I might be up to on a more daily basis, be sure to like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter!  Also comment below if there is something you would like to know more about or hear my perspective on.  Thanks for reading & sharing!

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