Back in history it was very uncommon for people to take medication for mental issues. People that were treated medically were considered crazy. Going to a psychiatrist was the last resort and was done secretly and accompanied by feelings of of shame.
Nowadays things have changed, people are aware of the importance of good mental health. Our modern society is striving to improve the quality of life, hence there is an increase in the number of people seeking help and counseling.
Today it is common and legitimate to use medications not only for severe mental problems but even for mild mood disorders. Today, depression and anxiety and other mental disorders are talked about openly and the medications for such issues are not considered different than any other medications taken for any other medical problem.
Veterinary medicine has also changed and developed over the years. We now know that pets also suffer from mental problems that alter their own lives along with their owner’s life. Many of the dog's behavioural disorders are misinterpreted by the owners as mischief. This behaviour usually annoys and aggravates their owners. This results in an anger reaction of the owner that may exacerbate the dog’s problem. This vicious cycle can be resolved by understanding the dog’s behaviour and the management options.
The most common behavioural problem in dogs is separation anxiety. Separation anxiety in dogs is usually manifested by destructive and inappropriate behaviour when the dog gets left alone even in a familiar environment. The most common complaints I hear from owners are that the dog constantly howls, barks or whines, destroys by chewing various objects in the house including furniture, doors and windows. Some dogs urinate and defecate in the house despite being house trained. These dogs will usually express extreme excitement when the owner returns home.
This condition is extremely irritating for the dog’s owner but it is crucial to understand the nature of this behaviour. These are symptoms of severe stress. Dogs are social creatures, they consider the family as their “pack” in which they are an equal member. It is not natural for dogs to be separated from their owners and some dogs get very distressed by it. When they express destructive behaviour it is not done out of vindictiveness, it is their way of trying to free themselves. Soiling the house may represent a sign of severe emotional distress.
Because we can not converse with the dog, the diagnosis of separation anxiety is tentative and is done by ruling out other medical problems that may result in a similar behaviour. Puppies may show destructive behaviour as a part of teething and not due to separation anxiety.
Punishing the dog will not help to solve the problem. On the contrary, when you punish your dog when you return home, it may associate the punishment with your return rather than with the mischief it caused. This may stress it even more when you leave home the next time.
The management of this condition is not straightforward. This problem will not go away on its own. It requires perseverance in a process that is meant to ensure the dog that when you are leaving you are not deserting it and you will be back. I strongly recommend to the owners of dogs who suffer from behavioural problems to consult a behavioural specialist. The treatment process usually involves desensitization training in which the dog learns to cope with periods of separation that are gradually extended. It is also important to create a safe area for the dog in which it will feel secure and its ability to cause damage will be limited. The key is to confine the dog without making it feel isolated. Leaving an object with your smell such as shirt may help the dog feel closer to you.
Behavioural modifications are available for dogs. These medications are similar to human antidepressants and anxiolytics. Most people find these medications very effective in reducing their dog’s stress level without sedating them.
Another common mental problem is OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). This is a repetitive behaviour. It can range anywhere between constantly running back and forward on the exact same path up to a destructive behaviour of either animate objects or even themselves (obsessive licking for an example). Some of these obsessive behaviours can be harmless, but in other cases they can be successfully managed with medical treatment.
Owning a dog with a behavioural disorder will affect both the dog’s and the owner's quality of life. There is no need to suffer any longer. If your dog is trashing your house or showing other mischievous behaviour, it is not done necessarily to spite you, it is very possibly a call for help.
Similarly to humans, tumors are very common in animals, especially in the senior animal population. According to research, cancer is the cause of almost 50% of deaths in pets over 10 years of age. It is important to understand that not every tumor is cancerous.
By definition, a tumor is any abnormal growth of cells. Tumors, or as frequently called by vets, masses, can be either benign or malignant. Benign neoplasms do not grow aggressively, do not invade the surrounding body tissues and do not spread throughout the body. Malignant neoplasms on the other hand, tend to grow rapidly, invade the tissues around them and may spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body. Only malignant tumors are considered cancerous.
The diagnosis of tumors is done by pathological examination of the specific tissue involved.
The most common diagnostic procedures that are done by vets are either Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) or biopsy. In fine needle aspiration, the veterinarian uses a needle and a syringe to obtain a sample of cells from the mass. The advantage of this procedure is that it is fairly simple to perform. In many cases this procedure does not require anesthesia, sedation or any other preparation unless it is done on an internal organ. The disadvantage of this method is that the results are not guaranteed as reliable. A much better method of diagnosing the nature of the tumor is by obtaining a real biopsy of the tissue. This requires cutting a piece or the whole tumor out. This procedure yields much more reliable results, but usually requires some sort of sedation or general anesthesia.
The sample that was obtained then gets sent to a special laboratory to be assessed by a pathologist. The pathologist will determine the nature of the cells and whether the tumor is benign or cancerous.
Cancer is a very broad term. Diagnosing a tumor as cancerous is just the first step in determining the severity of the condition and the prognosis of the pet. Different cancer tumors have various levels of aggressiveness in terms of rate of growth and ability to metastasize and affect more organs. If the tumor is diagnosed as cancerous the veterinarian will likely recommend additional tests such as blood tests, x-rays or ultrasound to assess whether the tumor has spread.
Early detection is extremely important in managing most cancerous tumors.
In general tumors can develop anywhere in the body. They can be external or internal .External tumors are usually easier to detect and diagnose. If you notice any lump or mass on your pet, get it to be checked by your veterinarian. External tumors may also apear as wounds that do not heal.
Internal tumors are harder to detect. Internal tumors are usually manifested by symptoms related to the organ affected. The most common symptoms that are associated with cancer in general are decreased appetite and weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding or discharge from any body opening, persistent lameness or stiffness, difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating and of course any abnormal swelling or enlargement of a tissue.
Unfortunately the cause of most tumors is unknown, hence cannot be prevented.
Spaying your dog at approximately 6 months of age can significantly reduce the chances of mammary tumors. Neutering males prevents testicular tumors as well.
Once a tumor is diagnosed as cancerous, the treatment depends on the type of the cancer and the severity of the condition. Each tumor is treated differently depending on its nature. In general, the most common treatment includes surgical excision of the mass if possible and/or Chemotherapy.
Your pet’s overall health is also important and your veterinarian may recommend dietary changes or other things to help your pet better respond to treatment. Once you have a diagnosis, your veterinarian will discuss the best treatment options for your pet and the risks and side effects associated with each option. Pain management is also recommended in many cases.
Unfortunately, sometimes the condition is too advanced to attempt curative treatment and measures will be taken only to try to improve the pet’s quality of life.
Early detection can be crucial in affecting the course of the disease and the prognosis of your pet. Please consult your veterinarian about more information on tumors and their best medical management.
Over the years of working as a veterinarian, my list of “special” patients, keeps expanding. One of the most memorable cases I will always have in my repertoire is Zeiss. Zeiss is a dog of the Catahoula breed. Zeiss was about 3 months old when he first came to see me at my practice. You could smell Zeiss' presence in the premises before you even saw him. Zeiss and his owners were miserable. He was just starting his life. Instead of having a joyful experience of adopting a new and adorable puppy, his owners had experience so much grief of seeing him suffer, lose his fur, his skin was red and extremely irritated and his entire being was just miserable. They came to see me as they were very desperate, but soon we found out the root of Zeiss' problem. It was a mange of Demodex mite. Two months into the treatment, Zeiss is doing SO much better, and both he and his owners are loving life again.
Demodex is a type of mite that occurs naturally in dogs' hair follicles, in low numbers. In a normal healthy dog, Demodex stays subclinical and does not cause any problems to the dog. In some cases there may be suppression of the immune system due to various possible causes. Some of the conditions that suppress the immune system are: fighting a concurrent disease, old age, very young age, nutritional deficiency, stress, and more.
When the immune system is suppressed, the mite population overgrow leading to a reaction that can range between mild irritation and hair loss on a small patch of skin to severe and widespread inflammation, and secondary infection affecting most or the entire dog’s body. Demodex infection is called Demodicosis or Demodectic mange.
The clinical symptoms of Demodicosis are hair loss, the skin becomes dry and scaly, there is redness of the skin, pustules (pimples), and the skin is warm to the touch. The condition sometimes involves irritation and itchiness, and sometimes not. Typically the dog emits a strong, very unpleasant odor.
Early infestation usually involves lesions on the face, around the eyes, or at the corners of the mouth, and on the forelimbs and paws. An advanced infestation can spread and cover most of the dog’s body.
The diagnosis consists on finding the Demodex mite in a skin scraping sample taken from the affected dog, under a microscopic examination. In order to take a sample that would yield a conclusive result, the skin scraping has to be done deep enough to reach the hair follicles. Typically, a sample is considered legitimate if the area has been scraped until blood appears. Because the mite is a normal inhabitant of dog’s hair follicles, there is a discussion whether finding the mite on a slide is a conclusive diagnosis.
In advanced cases, an underlying condition that promoted the demodectic mange development, should be looked for. Occasionally, other tests may be required in order to pin down the underlying condition.
Early, mild localized cases, may heal on their own. Localized demodectic mange is considered a common puppyhood ailment, with roughly 90% of cases resolving on their own with no treatment.
Generalized cases can be very challenging to resolve. There are few products and protocols available for treating demodectic mange. In my own experience, I have found that dipping the dog in a special solution, once or biweekly for few weeks is the best protocol for eradicating the infestation. Antibiotics are often required for the treatment of secondary bacterial infection of the skin.
The condition is considered infectious, however, dogs can only transmit the mite in a very close contact - for example puppies and a nursing mom. The transmission of these mites from mother to pup is normal (which is why the mites are normal inhabitants of the dog's skin) but when the puppy's immune system is not strong enough it can lead to the development of clinical demodectic mange.
In normal contact between dogs, the disease should not pass.
Although humans and cats can also suffer from demodectic mange, the mites are specific to their hosts, hence the disease cannot be transmitted to other animal species, nor to people.If any of what is mentioned here raises a red flag regarding your dog, take it to see your vet. Generalized demodicosis is a severe, life debilitating condition. Nobody wants to see their once furry friend in that condition. Plus, honestly, nobody wants to share their life with a smelly dog. Do not procrastinate, seek veterinary help. Remember that there are few different options and protocols to successfully treat demodicosis. If one route does not lead to healing, seek more information from your vet on other treatment options.
Eating endlessly but still losing weight, that would sounds like a dream come true to many of us. However, for the feline population, this phenomenon is a sign of a serious, yet quite common metabolic disorder called Hyperthyroidism.
The thyroid glands are organs situated in the neck and secrete hormones that are responsible for the pace of all of the processes in the body (also known as metabolism).
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces excess of its hormones and every function of the body tends to speed up resulting in multi-systemic disease.
Hyperthyroidism is probably the most common endocrine (hormonal) disorder in cats. It occurs in middle age-older cats, with no breed or sex predilection.
In the vast majority of cases the increased thyroid hormone production is due to a benign (non-cancerous) change but a malignant (cancerous) tumor known as a thyroid adenocarcinoma can also be an underlying cause of some cases of hyperthyroidism.
Cats affected with hyperthyroidism usually develop a variety of clinical signs, which are usually quite subtle at first, but then become more severe as the disease progresses.
The most common symptom is weight loss despite an increased appetite. Many cats also show signs of restlessness, increased drinking and urination, intermittent vomiting and diarrhea.
The multi-systemic effects of hyperthyroidism lead to a variety of symptoms depending on the affected organ. Also, as this disease occurs mostly in older cats, some affected cats will have other diseases that can complicate and even mask some of the clinical signs.
The most common secondary complications of hyperthyroidism are high blood pressure, cardiac failure and renal failure.
In my experience, many cats are unfortunately diagnosed much too late when they have one of the most devastating outcomes of the cardiac dysfunction, associated with hyperthyroidism - back legs paralysis - resulting from a blood clot lodge in the main blood vessel supplying the back legs. This condition has a very poor prognosis for recovery.
On physical examination, your veterinarian can assess the cat’s body condition. One or two enlarged thyroid glands can often be felt as a small, firm mass in the neck.
Hyperthyroidism is easily confirmed by a blood test, measuring the level of the hormones associated with the thyroid gland. A general blood and urine test are also recommended in order to assess the secondary effects on the body organs.
Due to the toxic effect of the thyroid gland hyperfunction on the heart, it is important to assess the heart function. The first and easiest test is measuring the cat’s blood pressure. If secondary heart disease is suspected then an electrocardiogram (ECG), and a chest X-ray or ultrasound may be indicated.
Despite the possibility of horrific outcome of hyperthyroidism, if caught on time, it is actually fairly easy to manage. The most common treatment for hyperthyroidism is life long anti-thyroid drug administration. Radioactive iodine therapy also exists but it is not readily available in most of the veterinary practices. Surgical removal of the glands is also an option.
Clinical signs associated with hyperthyroidism can be quite dramatic and cats can become seriously ill with this condition. However, I find that because this condition progress over time, many cat owners have a hard time noticing the weight changes in their pet. I was witness to a few cases where the owners only noticed the change in their pet after spending a few days away, on a vacation for example. This is where an annual health check at your vet comes in handy. Your veterinarian can notice abnormalities that you as the owner may overlook. If diagnosed on time, most cases of hyperthyroidism are controllable and prolongation of life, while maintaining a good quality of life is very possible.
Read more Dr. Oz's Vet Advice articles
- Arthritis in dogs Jul 18
- Travelling with pets Jun 23
- Treating bite wounds May 6
- Tick borne diseases Mar 28
- Understanding Feline Flu Feb 19
- Back pain in pets Jan 15
- A new pet for Christmas Dec 18
- Prostatic gland abnormalities in dogs Nov 20
- Patellar luxation Oct 31
- Euthanasia - the time to say goodbye Sep 26
- Cats, claws and your furniture! Sep 11
- Cats and abscess injuries Aug 14
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