Recently the FDA has warned veterinarians that there may be a correlation with Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and specific ingredients in pet food. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the muscles of the heart. In DCM the muscles weaken, causing the heart to enlarge and not function correctly. Signs of DCM include lethargy, coughing, difficulty breathing, and episodes of collapse. Certain breeds such as Cockers, Boxers, Newfoundland, and others are affected due to genetic factors. However, the FDA has noted DCM in breeds not typically affected.
The common factor in the dogs reported to the FDA – diet. The dogs were being fed grain free diets with legumes (peas, lentils, etc.) or potatoes as the main ingredients. Some dogs tested had taurine deficiencies, others did not. Early reports indicate that the dogs ate these foods as their primary diet for periods ranging from months to years. The dogs improved when their diet was switched to a balanced diet. Most of the dogs also needed medication. At this point the FDA is working with veterinary cardiologists, nutritionists, and manufacturers to determine the underlying cause.
The grain free craze in pet food was started as a marketing plan by certain dog food companies. There is no scientific evidence that grains cause problems in most dogs. For the 10% of dogs who have a true food allergy, 95% of those allergies are to a protein source, not a carbohydrate. If you feel that your dog has a food allergy, please talk to one of our veterinarians so we can develop a plan to address your concerns. At this point, grain free diets are not worth your dog’s heart.
Ann E. Bastian, V.M.D.
A couple of weeks ago my veterinary class celebrated our 25th class reunion. I couldn’t attend because I was at a horse show, but I started thinking of all the changes that have occurred in veterinary medicine in the time I have practiced.
- Pain medicine has advanced greatly, and our understanding of pain has also improved. 25 years ago, dogs rarely got Bute or aspirin, which we now know universally causes stomach ulcers. Today we have different classes and choices of pain medication. Infusions of pain medication are routine but underheard of then. While we are currently struggling with an opioid shortage, we still have many more choices then we use to have. 25 years ago, cats had nothing for pain. Due to their unique metabolism, we still have only a small amount of choices compared to dogs, but at least we have something.
- Drugs available for anesthesia are safer and we have more choices. We also have drugs that allow us to safely sedate your pet in the office and then reverse the drugs and send your pet home shortly after a procedure
- Flea control consisted of shampoos, dips, sprays and bombs. Today’s choices include topicals, orals, and collars.
- We have a better understanding of the role of diet in our pet’s health. Dog and cat food has better ingredients, made into better formulas. Dog food companies are now actually changing diets to change the gene expression of animals to control disease.
- Veterinary specialists are more readily available and accepted. In my first practice the closest specialty hospital was over 2 hours away. It only offered limited specialists. A lot of times, we did things because we were the only option for our clients. It was fun because it allowed us to stretch our wings and do procedures that we are obligated to refer today. My first boss told me he felt sorry for me, because he predicted correctly that as my career went along we all would be sending more and more to the specialists.
- As I write this, I am on call for our patients. Our hospital is one of the last hospitals in the county that take emergency calls. 24/7 emergency clinics are commonplace now, providing supervised care for patients. This allows our patients to have the best care possible and allows veterinarians and their staff to have a work/life balance that didn’t exist before. At the first hospital I worked at, I got 3 days off out of every 14 days. That schedule was commonplace.
- The internet didn’t exist, so our research was limited to books and phone calls to specialists we had a relationship with.
- Dental care has advanced, and we understand the relationship of periodontal disease to the health of the rest of the body.
- Allergy treatment has improved just in the past 2 years, and as a result we are able to keep a lot of pets comfortable without having to resort to treatments with long-term side effects.
I don’t feel as if I have been practicing for 25 years (my mother can’t believe she has a daughter that has been a vet for that long either). I can only imagine what the next 25 years will bring.
Ann E. Bastian, V.M.D.
April showers bring May flowers, and what do May flowers bring? Itchy dogs and cats. With the re-emergence of spring, the flowers and trees are in full bloom. While we are all enjoying this welcomed weather, the pollen count is through the roof. That means if your pet suffers from atopic dermatitis (aka – seasonal allergies), your pet is probably itchy. Animals show their allergies differently from their human families. While human allergy sufferers experience itchy eyes, runny noses, and scratchy throats, our pets show their allergies through their skin. That means they itch, their ears get infected, they get skin infections, and they lick and chew.
Luckily, we now have an arsenal of tools to help our pets. Topical products can help control secondary skin and ear infections. That can take the form of shampoos, ear drops, and wipes. We can test your pet to see what specific things they are allergic to. We can then order allergy shots or oral allergy drops to help desensitize them (just like people get allergy shots). There are a variety of oral medications to help control the itch as well. Steroids are very effective, but carry a host of side effects, especially if used for the long term. Anti-histamines can help with mild cases. There is a combination product of a small amount of steroids and antihistamine to combine the best of both worlds. Cyclosporine can help to decrease the immune response in both cats and dogs. Elimination diets are available for dogs and cats with food allergies.
A newer product on the market has given relief to those dogs for who nothing else has worked. Apoquel is a cytokine inhibitor, that works on the JAK1 receptor. This does not allow the allergy cascade to start at the cellular level. It is appropriate for dogs over one year of age, and has a good safety record.
Whatever your pet’s allergy issues, our veterinarians can work with you to find the best solution for your pet.
Ann E. Bastian, V.M.D.