Holiday (and everyday) hazards: Xylitol Toxicity- read your labels!

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol commonly used as a sweetener that is apparently non-toxic to humans, but quite toxic to dogs and other animals that metabolize it differently. Found in more and more food products that our pooch friends can't seem to keep their lips off, the most recent concern is that it is showing up in more peanut butter brands. Peanut butter is commonly fed to dogs in homemade treats, slathered on dog toys and used to more easily get pills down. Other sources of Xylitol are toothpastes, gums, mints, and baked goods such as cookies and muffins especially marketed to diabetics as low sugar.

Most everyone knows to keep their dogs out of the chocolate treats this time of year, and hopefully Xylitol has become well-known as a hazard as well. Poor dogs—they can't keep their mouths off foods.

Don't think the cats are too clever for harm, they just have different preferences—string, ribbon and tinsel (why??) These can become lodged in their intestines and require emergency surgery to remove.

Both dogs and cats can get into the toxic plants—holiday or otherwise. Watch out for poinsettias, lilies, and other seasonal lovelies.

Here is a recent article on holiday safety for our beasts:

Brits and their dogs

UK dogs We have a lot in common with the British, not only a shared language (which is not always recognizable as the same language- we are like Darwin's finches: send us off to isolated islands and watch how our language adapts in parallel as we find our own niches…) We also share our love of animals, especially our dog and cat companions. 

Dogs go everywhere in the UK. The beach, streets, cafés, trains, busses, castle gardens,... 

They are mostly on leashes and when they are not, they still seem to know who they are with and keep up despite detours to catch a sniff. At least in our little town and on our travels, we have not seen stray dogs.

The people are so used to dogs being around that they don't generally stop to pet them. People seem to understand that the dogs are focused on their owners and don't try to distract them. A dog on the train is generally ignored and ignores everyone very much like a working service dog. It is amazing how well-behaved British dogs are in a crowd. The seasoned travelers are well socialized and focused on what is expected of them next. The dogs are not unfriendly and most people seem to enjoy watching them from a distance—especially as they romp on the beach so carefree! There just seems to be a harmony of understanding in the general population that you don't mess with someone else's dog. Of course there are risks to this lifestyle and possibly more bites. Or maybe not with so many well-socialized dogs and dog-smart people?

Not to forget the cats, there are plenty of "crazy cat ladies and gents" here as well. We see more outdoor cats here, but many with collars and beds set up on porches to come home to. And the best thing I've learned so far is that the Bristol University vet school clinic has been a "cat friendly" practice for over 20 years (long before it became a "thing"). They keep the cats separated from the dogs and do their best to make the veterinary experience a quiet, low stress one. 

My husband has been collecting UK dog photos and I will link some here soon.
The cats have been a bit more elusive so far. No photos yet. 

Herbal Education and I passed my exam!

Jim Duke In August, I attended a 5 day intensive veterinary herbal medicine course in Maryland. The course included multiple herb walks, hands on labs and lots of great information from the leaders in veterinary Western herbal medicine. At the end of the course, I stayed an extra day to take the certification examination for the VBMA (Veterinary Botanical Medicine Association) and passed!! Once I have my cases written up and approved, I will be a CVH "Certified Veterinary Herbalist" with the American College of Veterinary Botanical Medicine (ACVBM). This has been a long process including years of graduate level coursework, studying up on the actions, interactions, chemical constituents and identification of over 110 specific herbs for the test and many more in the course!

While in Maryland, my classmates and I had the honor of meeting ethnobotanist Dr. Jim Duke* and touring and exploring his medicinal herb garden, the Green Farmacy. What a fascinating life he has led! He spent many years traveling in tropical jungles seeking out plants with medicinal qualities studying them and using them personally. "Down to earth" is an understatement and if longevity and vitality count for anything he seems to have found the secret! Dr. Duke has contributed much knowledge on plants, their chemicals and uses—traditionally and scientifically. 

*James Duke, Ph. D, author of many plant books including the Green Pharmacy and that Peterson's Guide to Medicinal Plants sitting on your shelf—or at least mine... He's also a pretty good blue-grass bass player and writer of quirky plant songs.

Here are a couple of bits and bobs on Dr. Duke: (yes, I'm writing from the UK now!)

A New York Times interview from 1991:

The Green Farmacy Garden:

Duke's famous phytochemical database:

Sabbatical Info

My family and I will be leaving in two months for Britain, where we will spend 6 months on sabbatical (September 1, 2015-March 1, 2016). My husband, Radford Davis, will be working with the University of Bristol, Veterinary School, developing an international public health curriculum.

During our stay in the UK, I will be spending my time (when not exploring the country and it's herbs!) writing on a few chapters for an upcoming animal hospice textbook and helping to develop an animal hospice and palliative care certification training course with the IAAHPC (International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care). I will also be helping out at the IAAHPC booth at the “London Vet Show” in November and hoping for some interesting conversation with European colleagues!

My phone will not work from the UK, but I will still have email communication and would be happy to consult on non-emergency needs if that is helpful.

Ready for any emergency!

BWCA This has been the year for first aid training for my family. Along with renewing CPR and First Aid training in January, my girls (teenagers now!) and I attended an amazing Mental Health First Aid course this month put on by Youth and Shelter Services here in Ames. I cannot say enough positive things about that unique training in helping people cope and get help in anguishing situations. If the opportunity comes around again, I highly recommend it.

If that wasn’t enough, we topped off our education with a full weekend course of Red Cross Wilderness First Aid training with our Girl Scout troop. It feels like we should be prepared for anything! I just hope some of it sticks in those quick retrieval files in our brains.

After all of that preparation, our Girl Scouts had a wonderfully fun and “uneventful” trip (at least as far as our emergency training went!) canoeing in the Boundary Waters last week. Knowing what to do when camping in lightning storms did come in handy!

Being prepared as much as possible ahead of time can definitely make a difference in a real emergency and helps with that “remain calm” part as well. Here is a link to detailed emergency planning info for animals:

AVMA Animal Emergency Care

As I try to reiterate often, most true emergencies need more than I can offer with a housecall visit.
The most important thing for us here in Ames is to keep the emergency number handy for the Iowa State Vet College which is open 24 hours: 515-294-4900

Update: Canine Flu has reached Iowa

This just in… the canine influenza virus that started in Chicago is now being seen in Sioux City, Iowa. Again, the best prevention is going to be avoidance — especially for the little puppies and seniors. As much as you can, avoid public places where dogs congregate for a while, including kennels, dog parks, groomers, and be careful in vet offices too. All of these places should be cleaning and taking precautions after seeing sick dogs, but it never hurts to ask. Luckily most animals recover well, but this sounds like it is a bit worse than the usual “kennel cough” respiratory infection. Hopefully this will run itself out quickly.

See the previous blog for more facts and basic prevention.

Influenza virus in Chicago may also affect cats - update

It has now been reported that the outbreak of canine influenza virus in Chicago is due to a different flu virus - H3N2 - which until now had only been seen in Korea, China and Thailand. The same basic precautions apply, though it is uncertain if the available vaccine will cross protect for this new virus.

Key points:
  • Though not known to be infectious to humans, this flu virus (H3N2) has infected cats as well as dogs.
  • The virus has not yet been seen in pets in Iowa or Ames, but be careful when traveling, especially in the Chicago area. Leave your dog at home if you can. Most cats would rather not travel anyway.
  • During an outbreak avoid places where your animal can have contact with others such as dog parks, kennels, groomers, pet stores and other areas where dogs and cats may come into contact with unfamiliar animals. Hopefully these places will be taking precautions and cleaning well.
  • Good hygiene and early identification of ill animals is the best practice to avoid spread of the disease. (Teach your dogs to wash their hands!)
  • Keep any dog or cat with a cough or respiratory signs isolated from other susceptible animals and clean items that come into contact with an ill animal before contacting healthy ones.
  • The virus is easily killed with disinfectants as well as soap and water, but it can live on surfaces for up to 24 hours.
  • If your dog or cat becomes ill, especially developing a cough, respiratory signs or fever, contact your veterinarian and they will use special precautions to care for your animal while avoiding spread to others.
  • Most dogs recover within 2-3 weeks from infection as the virus runs its course. Some may become more ill and require hospitalization and supportive care. A few dogs have died during this outbreak. Very young puppies and elderly dogs are the most susceptible.

The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) has updated its fact sheets to reflect this new information:

Canine Influenza Virus

I have gotten a few questions from people concerned about the recent outbreak of Canine Influenza Virus (CIV - H3N8) in Chicago and wanted to get some information out.

The short of it is that similar to human flu, most dogs infected have recovered just fine after showing signs of
coughing, runny nose, fever, and sometimes decreased energy and a decreased appetite. Very few dogs, mostly young puppies and elderly patients, have become seriously ill with pneumonia, and deaths have occurred. It is a viral disease, so the main treatment is supportive care, which includes rest, lots of fluids, and potentially hospitalization. Antibiotics may be needed for secondary bacterial pneumonia.

Since it was first recognized in kenneled greyhounds in 2004, this virus has caused periodic localized short-lived outbreaks mostly in animal kennel and shelter situations. Prevention of spread during these outbreaks by isolating infected animals and avoiding social exposures through daycares, dog parks and kennels has been the primary method of control. The virus, though highly contagious between dogs, is readily susceptible to disinfectants.

There is a vaccine available, though it is not routinely recommended at this point, and does not prevent infection, but may reduce the severity of signs. At this point it is readily obtainable, though many veterinary clinics have not kept this vaccine on hand. Certain lifestyle exposures may indicate a stronger need for the vaccination of some individuals.

Awareness of clinical signs, especially coughing, and possible exposures are our best approach for timely treatment and containment of the disease. There has been no indication that this virus is infectious to species other than dogs. So far, it has not become a concern in our area, but if you have any questions feel free to
contact me and I will try to find the answers!

Here are some informational links for more details:

April 22 is Earth Day!

There is a lot of talk about what we can do to care for the Earth, things like reducing our consumption of natural resources, re-using and re-purposing items, recycling, decreasing our “carbon footprint,” carpooling, biking, gardening and eating local foods. Funny, this is what my “Depression-era” Grandparents did, and that way of thinking is still being passed on in my family. Some may call it “cheap” or “frugal,” but hey, now it’s called “Green living”! In my housecall business, I obviously have to drive, but I try to combine trips for deliveries and vet visits with other driving needs, especially currently with all of the activities my children have around town. For more tips on reducing our impact look here.

Caring for our Earth is important as this amazing creation is our home and of any species on the planet, we as humans have the most power for change—for better or worse. Apparently there was an inspiring dance performance in the Museum of Natural History in Washington DC not long ago (
heard about it on NPR) depicting the effects of unsupported overpopulation and climate change, it wasn’t all dark and dismal though, with some awareness, coming together as a global community, working together and in the end appreciating the wonders of the world.

I love it when art and science come together—they touch our feelings and emotions along with our ability to reason and act. Good news! The same is happening right here in Ames, Iowa!

Earth Day Event in Ames Iowa - Saturday April 25th “All Species, One Earth”

My good friend, wildlife rehabilitator Marlene Ehresman, and the
Iowa Wildlife Center, in cooperation with Story County Conservation and others, will be celebrating on Saturday April 25th with an "All Species, One Earth" parade at 2pm downtown, exhibits in the library and a concert in the evening. This link has the Facebook page for the event and a great video interview with Marlene, Mark Widrlechner and Jeri Heid at the Ames Public Library. Come join us in the parade as your favorite species—animal, plant or human! Artist Molly Nagel is putting on mask-making classes with Ames Parks and Recreation and Reiman Gardens April 11 and 12. Last I checked there was still room!  

Spring is here!

Time to remember the heartworm preventatives!

As I am spending my spring break enjoying as much sunshine as possible, I will refer you back to last year’s spring blog for details and links on heartworm disease, fleas and ticks, parasites and other nasties that come out with the warm spring sun!

February is National Pet Dental Health Month

Here is your reminder!

Maintaining the dental health of animals requires a bit of extra effort on our part, but it’s really not as bad as it seems. Regular toothbrushing decreases plaque build-up which causes tartar and periodontal disease to develop. Daily brushing is ideal, 2-3 times a week would be great, weekly is better than nothing. The enzymes in animal toothpastes help to do some of the work breaking down the plaque, so just getting the flavored enzymatic toothpaste on the teeth is accomplishing something! The biggest hurdle is creating that habit for yourself and getting your animal used to the idea by going slow and keeping it a positive experience.

Cats have their own special dental condition to watch out for called “feline tooth resorption”. Occasionally cats will develop this inflammatory condition where their teeth actually “dissolve,” often below the gumline first so we don’t see it. The tooth root is exposed and this is very painful and cats will sometimes chatter their teeth when you touch them in these spots. These teeth usually need to be removed as treatment. You may notice your cat having trouble eating, but surprisingly, they will sometimes continue to eat and it can be hard to notice a problem until it has really progressed.

Regular physical exams, including checking the mouth are important to identify dental problems
the first sign, really, is bad breath. An animal with bad breath may very well have dental disease going on including infection along the gumline. The primary treatment for this is dental cleaning under anesthesia. Dental radiographs are often necessary to identify problem teeth that may need removal or other treatments.

Some animals, just like some people, have worse dental problems than others and need more frequent dental cleaning. As a housecall veterinarian, this is not a service that I offer, but I frequently recommend having it done at a local clinic to keep your animal’s teeth as healthy as possible. During February, many clinics are offering discounts on dental products and thorough cleaning under anesthesia. Now is the time to make that call if you’ve been putting it off!

And to come full circle, home dental care including brushing and dental treats is a great preventative if you want to reduce costs on dental cleaning while maintaining your animal’s general health.

Here is a link to my “
Dental Care” page for more resources.

Lessons From My Cat:

Cat and book
Take time every day to relax
Cats are masters of self care—get plenty of rest, keep yourself clean, and avoid stress—find a quiet, peaceful hangout. 

Animals have such a gift of being present in the moment. We fight our active “monkey brain” trying to shut it off and relax into what is happening in the here and now (even monkeys are much better at it than we are!) We think about the past and what we might have done differently, or worry about the future and what might happen IF...

We can never truly know and understand how animals perceive the world, but if we take time to observe them, they do seem to have their priorities in a different order than we do. They have no dreams of grandeur (my cats have already achieved that, just ask them), no great plans to save the world, they’ll just adapt along with the rest of nature. We share #1 Self-preservation - which includes food, water and safety from threats. After that for our domesticated companions, well, it’s a good time to nap, explore, practice hunting skills, and maybe enjoy some companionship from the human caregivers that take care of the rest. What a life!

While hanging out with my cats this winter, I have been doing some reading / re-reading ...

For more on what animals are thinking:
Unlocking the Animal Mind by Franklin McMillan, DVM
and the much heavier textbook version:
Mental Health and Well-Being in Animals edited by Franklin McMillan, DVM

Dr. McMillan discusses animal quality of life from lab animals to shelter animals and companion animals through the lens of the emotional well-being of animals, how they feel. 

We know of the studies linking human health and healing to having companion animals in our lives, but the reverse is also true. McMillan talks about how we can improve our animals' health by supporting their emotional health along with their physical health. The connection between emotional health and physical health in humans is becoming more & more evident, and well, funny thing, that connection is there for animals too. We can reduce our blood pressure by reducing our stress levels, animals can help us with that, and we can help them de-stress and live healthier at the same time!

For sick animals, petting, rubbing their cheek, or even a whole body massage can stimulate those "feel-good" healing chemicals (endorphins!), which in turn can stimulate the immune response as well as other healing mechanisms within the body. Of course as with humans, animals are individuals and respond differently to touch due to many factors, from personality to early socialization, which affect their comfort level with physical touch. Respect that in your animals and just maybe, if you can develop that comfort and emotional connection with a gentle touch and voice while they are healthy, you may be able to help them when they are sick as well.