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Pet Health

The rise of heart disease in dogs: is there a pet food link?

By News, Pet Health

By Dr. Nigel Gumley

The Food and Drug Administration in the US recently published the third report looking into a possible link between pet food and heart disease in dogs (see https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/news-events/fda-investigation-potential-link-between-certain-diets-and-canine-dilated-cardiomyopathy ).  The history behind this investigation started with a concern with dogs being diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in breeds not usually associated with this condition.

DCM occurs when the heart muscle weakens over time and is unable to pump blood effectively around the body.  It is a well-known genetic condition in breeds such as Newfoundland dogs, Great Danes and other giant breeds, but also in Dobermans and King Charles Cavalier Spaniels.  Affected dogs can present with an acquired heart murmur or abnormal heart rhythm heard on a routine veterinary exam, or may present clinically with exercise intolerance, coughing and heavy breathing, or even fainting and collapse.  In extreme cases, dogs can die suddenly.

Since 1 January 2014 until 30 April 2019, the FDA has received reports of 515 dogs and 9 cats with DCM, but 222 of these have been reported since 1 December 2018, suggesting that more dogs are becoming affected.  Many of these dogs are of breeds where DCM is not an expected genetic disease.

An association has been suggested between certain pet foods and dogs developing DCM, with the finding that over 90% of these are “grain-free” and over 93% contained peas and/or lentils.  Common brands include Acana, Taste of the Wild, Blue Buffalo, Fromm, Merrick, Natural Balance, Orijen and Nutro, among others.  The FDA and affiliate laboratories have failed, to date, to find any difference in these diets and other foods with respect to protein, fat, moisture, fibre, starch, and some amino acids previously associated with heart disease such as cystine, methionine and taurine.  Taurine has specifically been suggested since there has been a rise in Golden Retrievers diagnosed with DCM and finding that the dogs are taurine-deficient.  While the diets are normal in taurine content, possible factors might be resulting in poor taurine absorption or metabolism.

As of this time, the FDA is conducting more tests and working with owners of affected dogs to investigate for other possible links, such as plant poisonings and exposure to heavy metals.   Specialists are collecting blood and urine samples and conducting serial heart checks in affected dogs to look for other evidence of causes.  Pet food companies are also working with the FDA to examine how pet food may play a role.

At Cedarview Animal Hospital, we have found two pets this year with suspiciously poor heart contractility and both were being fed grain-free diets.  Both dogs were otherwise apparently healthy but has suspicious findings on their exams and routine tests and showed reduced heart function on heart tests.  While we can suspect heart disease from clinical signs such as new heart murmurs, coughing, breathing problems, or exercise intolerance, more specific heart tests such as a cardiac ultrasound or echocardiogram are needed to find evidence that DCM is a concern.

We will continue to watch for more information coming out of the FDAs investigation into this syndrome and potential links to pet food.  It is unlikely that most dogs fed grain-free foods will develop problems, but anyone concerned with the condition may want to avoid this category of food or any of those listed by the FDA.  For clients concerned with whether their pet may be affected clinically with heart disease, please call us for an examination of the pet and discussion about how to investigate further if needed.

Echinococcus tapeworm emerging in Ontario – how to protect your dog and yourselves

By Parasite, Pet Health

Since 2012, we have been receiving reports of dogs developing a serious disease caused by the tapeworm, Echinococcus multilocularis (E. mulit for short).  While tapeworms are not unusual in dogs and cats, most are more of a nuisance than a serious health concern.  E. multi is a new game in town.

microscope image of E. multi tapeworm

Microscope image of E. multi tapeworm

This tiny parasite (3 mm long as an adult) infects wild canids, particularly coyotes and foxes.  Microscopic tapeworm eggs are ingested by an intermediate host, typically small rodents, and dogs and cats become infected when they ingest these rodents.  In this situation, the dog or cat will develop the intestinal adult parasite in their gut and begin shedding tapeworm eggs also.

adult coyote standing in the snowUnlike common tapeworms, however, dogs and people can become accidental intermediate hosts for the disease by accidently ingesting the tapeworm eggs directly from contaminated from coyote or fox feces.  In this situation, the tapeworm can form cysts in the liver or lungs of the dog or person, a condition known as Alveolar Echinococcus, and this is what we have been seeing since 2012.  A dog may present with expanding and large cysts within its liver or lungs, gradually destroying the normal tissues.  In people, this condition can take 5 to 15 years, making diagnosis difficult.

A recent study of Ontario coyote populations demonstrated 23% of fecal samples were infected with the tapeworm, raising concerns for pet and human health.  Please read the article from Dr. Scott Weese of the University of Guelph for more information: https://www.wormsandgermsblog.com/2019/01/articles/animals/dogs/echinococcus-multilocularis-ontario-canada/ or at https://www.emultiontario.com/.

Prevention of Echinococcus can only be directed at the intestinal form of the disease by treating dogs regularly with Praziquantal, a safe and effective dewormer.  Dogs that may be at risk are those that may ingest rodents or wildlife poop.  Unfortunately, the Alveloar form of the disease that develops from eating coyote feces is more difficult to prevent.

boxes of Interceptor PlusWe now carry Interceptor Plus for prevention of tapeworms in dogs.  As you may be aware, monthly Interceptor pills are used for Heartworm, roundworm, hookworm and whipworm prevention during the summer and fall.  Interceptor Plus contains Praziquantal also and can be used to prevent Echinococcus infection.  Used for this purpose, it can be given monthly during anytime of the year that the dogs are considered at risk (may eat rodents or coyote/fox poop).

Please take the time to read the attached information on E. multi and speak to our staff if you have further questions or would like to use Interceptor Plus for your dog.

 

Dr. Nigel Gumley

Cedarview Animal Hospital

Canine Influenza

By Pet Health

Sick as a dog concept - Dog in bed with scarf and water bottle on its head.

We have recently had a few questions regarding the Canine Influenza Virus and would like to help clear up any confusion.  There have been pockets of outbreaks of the virus in the US and Asia over the past several years, but we’ve been mostly spared here in Canada, until recently.  In December 2017, there were 2 confirmed cases in the Windsor-Sussex area in dogs imported from Korea.  Several other dogs that had been in contact with those affected showed signs of a mild respiratory disease, but test results are still pending. 

The influenza virus is spread via the aerosol route (cough or sneeze), through direct contact with affected dogs (licking or nuzzling), through contaminated objects (dog dishes, toys, bedding, clothing) and by people who have been handling dogs with the Influenza virus.  The virus does not survive for a long time in the environment, but is highly contagious because as a newer virus, dogs have no natural immunity against it. 

Signs of the Canine Influenza Virus can include:

  • fever
  • lethargy
  • cough
  • discharge from the eyes and or nose (either clear or mucopurulent)
  • Dehydration
  • Increased respiratory rate or effort
  • Malaise

Dogs may go on to develop pneumonia, but in mild cases, symptoms may be minimal.  Most animals recover without incident.  There currently appears to be no risk of humans contracting the virus from their dogs, but this could change if the canine and human flu viruses mix together.  Cats have a slight risk of contracting it from dogs.

Dogs of any age, breed or vaccine status are susceptible to the virus, and those who visit areas where there is known influenza activity carry the greatest risk of contracting the disease.  For dogs traveling in the United States, you can check the level of influenza activity at your destination at https://www.dogflu.com/outbreak-map.  Also at greater risk are dogs traveling from Asia (including rescues), and dogs who are in contact with dogs traveling from the US or Asia (at dog shows, trials, etc). 

Fortunately there is a new vaccine against the Canine Influenza Virus.  While not every dog needs the vaccine, here are situations in which it may be worth considering:

  • Dogs traveling to areas in the US or Asia where there is flu activity
  • Dogs that may have contact with dogs from Asia
  • Dogs that may have contact with dogs traveling from the US (at dog shows, dogs from kennels, etc).

Consider the vaccination also in dogs with increased risk of serious complications if the Influenza virus were to be contracted (for example dogs with heart or lung disease, senior dogs, and flat-faced dogs such as bulldogs or pugs).  Like the human Influenza vaccine, it is designed to reduce the risk of disease but does not guarantee protection.  

We should have the vaccination in stock soon.  If you are interested in the vaccine, or in learning more about the disease, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  Also, check out this blog which has very up to date information:  https://www.wormsandgermsblog.com .

Animal Health + Human Health + Planet Health = One Health

By Pet Health

As we become more interconnected globally, it is apparent that veterinarians, doctors and scientists need to work together to ensure the healthy future if animals, humans and the planet.

The recipe for success is:

Animal Health + Human Health + Planet Health = One Health

None of the three components in the above “recipe” work alone – just as in baking, one must mix the right high quality ingredients and use proper tools to make the recipe work well.  When all of these efforts mix well together, we can enjoy one health!

How are these interconnected?

Historically, about 75% of human infectious diseases originated in animals (thing plague or tuberculosis), and outbreaks of diseases like West Nile virus and Zika virus remind us that new diseases keep emerging.  Familiar diseases in Canada include rabies and certain pet and wildlife parasites that can be transmitted between people and animals (zoonoses) with or without vectors (pests that carry and spread diseases).

Both animals (big and small) and people need a healthy environment within which to thrive.  Taking care of our pets to keep diseases and parasites in check allows us to provide a barrier to risks like feces contamination of watercourses and groundwater that can spread to the wider animal community and people.

Protection of our precious environment is an exceptionally important mission in itself, but it is also important to maintain the living area of wildlife so they can find enough food an are not crowded out by development, are not subjected to harmful pollutants, or even undergo extinction.

We are all part of the web of life and need to manage our pets, livestock, living areas and the food supply for sustainability.

The take home message is that by protecting your animal’s health you also help provide for the health of the humans and protect the environment as well.  We need to work together to protect the animals we live with and the animal communities who share our planet environment.  This is a global effort!

(8.09.2016) Dr. Kathleen Cavanagh, Online Editor, CVMA