Category Archives: Uncategorized

Ear Mites..

Ear Mites
By Dr. Karen Burgess

What exactly are ear mites?
Ear mites are microscopic bugs that physically resemble ticks and reside in the ear canal and skin of cats and dogs.   The adult ear mite may be visible using a magnifying glass as a small moving white dot.  Ear mites produce debris and discharge in the ear canal that can easily be misdiagnosed as a yeast or bacterial ear infection if not looking specifically for ear mites.

What are the signs of ear mite infection?
Ear mites live and breed in the ear canal, specifically on the surface of the skin.  During this process the mites feed on oils and ear wax and subsequently cause inflammation in the ear canal producing a black discharge and general ear inflammation.  Infected pets will often have painful itchy ears, head shaking, crusting on the skin around the ears, and notable ear discharge.  The adult ear mite can travel outside of the ear canal to the surrounding skin and fur making systemic treatment preferable to treating just the ears.

How do dogs and cats get ear mites?
Ear mites are highly contagious and transmitted by direct contact.  Cats contract ear mites more commonly then dogs.  It is not uncommon to diagnose ear mites in pets coming from shelter or group housing situations.

How are ear mites diagnosed?
A microscopic examination of debris from the ear will typically show actual ear mites or their eggs.

How are ear mites treated?
There are a variety of treatments for ear mites.  Topical ear drops have been a common ear mite treatment with some products available even over the counter.  A disadvantage of topical treatment is that they do not kill ear mite eggs and thus involve twice daily ear drops for a minimum of three weeks.  For some pets this can be uncomfortable and difficult to accomplish.  Tresaderm is a prescription topical that does kill eggs and only requires twice daily treatment for two weeks.  Neither topical product addresses mites that have migrated out of the ear canal.  Alternatively the topical product Revolution can be applied twice (one month between doses) to the skin between the shoulder blades.  This treatment effectively kills mites in the ears and on the skin.  Another treatment option is the dewormer ivermectin which can be given as an injection or orally.  This treatment is considered off-label meaning it is not appropriate for all pets.  All pets in the household (including ferrets and rabbits) should be treated simultaneously.  Pet bedding should also be washed. 

Can humans contract ear mites?
Ear mites are not considered contagious to humans.

Vaccine Side Effects

Vaccine side effects
By Dr. Karen Burgess


What are the risks associated with today’s vaccination?
Just as is the case with humans, for the generally healthy pet vaccinations are considered a safe and effective means of preventing disease in an individual pet and the population as a whole.  Risk from vaccination is minimized by ensuring a pet is healthy prior to administration and giving vaccinations based on a specific patient’s exposure risks.  While rarely dangerous, side effects of vaccination to monitor for include…

  • Common and mild symptoms, considered normal post vaccination-for the first twenty four hours after vaccination a pet may be sluggish showing signs of lethargy, mild vomiting or diarrhea, decreased appetite, and mild fever.  Soreness at the vaccination site may also be present.  If an intranasal vaccine has been given some sneezing may be noted.
  • Severe vaccine reaction warranting immediate medical attention-a small number of animals may experience an allergic type reaction of vaccination anywhere from immediately to several hours after vaccination.  Symptoms of concern include swelling of the face, hives, intense itching, difficulty breathing, repeated vomiting and diarrhea, and collapse.

Infrequently, in the weeks after vaccination a non-painful lump may be noted where a vaccine has been given.  While these will typically self-resolve, please notify us if a lump is noted.

If your pet has had a severe reaction to a vaccination additional precautions will likely be taken prior to any future vaccination.


Feliway (Cats Only)

Feliway  (Cats Only)
Synthetic Phermone
By Dr. Karen Burgess

Brand name and formulations

  • Feliway, Comfort Zone
  • Spray and electric diffuser (plug in device)

What is Feliway used for?
Feliway is used to help alleviate stress or tension and the resulting bad behavior that cats may experience in an environment.  Changes in the household, situations of inappropriate elimination, scratch marking, and addition of new pets or people are all acceptable uses for Feliway.  Many cat owners use Feliway to improve their cats overall attitude in particular with a multi-cat households.  An 86% success rate has been reported with the use of Feliway.

What is Feliway?
Cats produce a natural facial pheromone (chemical that relays a message, similar to a scent) that they use to mark their territory, in particular when they feel safe, calm, or “friendly”.  Feliway is a species specific synthetic version of this scent thereby only affecting cats.  By mimicking the cat’s natural scent it creates a sense of security or familiarity in what otherwise may be a novel, stressful, or uncomfortable situation.  As a side note, Feliway was developed by rubbing cotton balls on cat cheeks, thus no cats were harmed in the process.

How is Feliway spray used?
Clean any soiled areas in the case of inappropriate elimination with an appropriate pet stain eliminator avoiding overly strong smelling products (i.e. bleach, ammonia).  Test the Feliway spray on surfaces to ensure they will not be damaged.  Then spray affected areas daily for thirty days; do not stop even if improvement in behavior is seen.  Allow cats back into an environment fifteen minutes after application.  If trying to prevent damage to new furniture or items, apply daily to items for two weeks.  Application can also be discontinued if the cat is seen rubbing their head against the item.  If multiple cats are in the environment duration and frequency of application may need to be increased.  Never apply Feliway spray directly to a cat.

How is Feliway diffuser used?
The Feliway diffuser uses electrically produced warmth to dispense pheromone into an environment approximately 750 square feet in size.  Plug the diffuser into an outlet that is not obstructed vertically thus allowing appropriate circulation and avoiding damage to items such as furniture.  Use the diffuser in rooms being soiled or most commonly used by family cats.  Improvement in behavior may be noted quickly or take several weeks.  Use for a minimum of four weeks and keep plugged in twenty four hours daily.  The diffuser vial should be replaced when empty or at six weeks even if a small amount of liquid remains (normal for device even when “empty”).  The spray formulation should never be placed in the diffuser as it is alcohol based vs. the oil based diffuser formulation.  Replace the diffuser apparatus after 6 refills.

What other concerns may there be with Feliway?
Use of the diffuser in households with birds is discouraged.


(Ingestion of fecal matter)
By Dr. Karen Burgess


What is coprophagia?
The ingestion of feces from any source is called coprophagia.  While not appealing to humans, coprophagia is not an abnormal behavior in dogs. Ingestion of feces can however allow for transmission of parasites and impact a pet’s relationship with their family for reasons of hygiene.

What causes coprophagia?
There are a variety of theories as to why dogs would eat fecal matter including boredom, normal den cleaning behavior, and nutrient imbalance.  In some cases, it may simply be tasty to a dog, as in the case of cat feces.  An examination by a veterinarian should be performed to rule out any medical causes.

What problems can coprophagia cause?
Exposure to parasite eggs or disease causing bacteria is the primary medical concern with coprophagia.  From a human standpoint the issue is more one of general hygiene or the “yuck” factor.

How can coprophagia be addressed?
To address coprophagia both the enticement of the fecal material and the behavior need to be addressed.  Remedies include attempts to make the stool less tasty and modifying the behavior.  Options include:

  •  Changing the diet to a lower protein diet, canned diet, or the addition of oil to the food change the taste of the fecal matter.
  • Giving more frequent smaller meals may also help if hunger is contributing to the behavior.
  • Adding pineapple juice, Adolph’s meat tenderizer, or canned spinach to the diet which all may make fecal matter less appealing.  For-bid and Potty Mouth are both over the counter products that can be added to food as another option.
  • Tabasco, PopRocks, wasabi powder, or other unappealing substances can be applied to fecal matter thus deterring ingestion.
  • Meticulous and immediate cleanup of fecal matter is recommended, but this may not address ingestion of other animals’ feces.
  • Keeping dogs on leash, rewarding appropriate behavior (coming to sit after defecating to allow appropriate time for cleanup) and ignoring inappropriate behavior (ingestion of feces) are also helpful.
  • Increasing exercise to alleviate boredom
  • Providing meals in a food ball to increase mental
  • Finally, for some pets wearing a basket muzzle to prevent coprophagia may be necessary.

Instructions for For-Bid
Recommended dosing-dogs less than 20# ¼ packet twice daily for 5 days, for greater than 20#  ½ packet twice daily.  Owners may want to moisten dry food before sprinkling with powder.  Steroids will negate the effect of For-Bid.




By Dr. Karen Burgess

Obesity has become an extremely important health problem in the Western world, not just for humans but for dogs and cats as well. Obesity in pets is associated with joint problems, diabetes mellitus, respiratory compromise, and decreased life span; recent estimations suggest that up to 35% of dogs and cats in the U.S. suffer from obesity.

Why Obesity is Bad
A common justification for over-feeding treats is that a pet deserves a higher quality of life as a trade off for longevity. While this might on some level makes sense (after all, a pet munching on a treat is certainly getting a great deal of satisfaction from doing so), the other consequences do not make for higher life quality in the big picture. Here are some of problems that obese animals must contend with while they are not enjoying their treats and table scraps.

The over-weight animal has extra unneeded stress on joints, including the discs of the vertebrae. This extra stress leads to the progression of joint degeneration and creates more pain. Weight management alone decreases and can even eliminate the need for arthritis medications. The problem is compounded as joint pain leads to poorer mobility, which in turn leads to greater obesity.

Respiratory Compromise
The obese pet has a good inch or two of fat forming a constricting jacket around the chest. This makes the pet less able to take deep breaths as more work is required to move the respiratory muscles. Areas of the lung cannot fully inflate, so coughing results. The pet also overheats more easily. Many cases of tracheal collapse can be managed with only weight loss.

Diabetes Mellitus
Extra body fat leads to insulin resistance in cats just as it does in humans. In fact, obese cats have been found to have a 50% decrease in insulin sensitivity. Weight management is especially important in decreasing a cat’s risk for the development of diabetes mellitus.

Hepatic Lipidosis
When an overweight cat goes off food or partially off food because of illness or psychological stress, body fat is mobilized to provide calories. Unfortunately, the cat’s liver was not designed to process a large amount of body fat. The liver becomes infiltrated with fat and then fails. A stress that might have been relatively minor, such as a cold, becomes a life-threatening disaster.

Reduced Life Span
A study of age-matched Labrador retrievers found that dogs kept on the slender side of normal lived a median of 2.5 years longer than their overweight counterparts.

Unwillingness to Accept Therapeutic Diets
If the pet should develop a condition where a therapeutic diet is of great benefit, the pet that has been maintained primarily on a diet of table scraps may be unwilling to accept commercial pet food of any kind, much less a food modified to be beneficial for a specific disease process. This unwillingness will hamper treatment.

Increased Surgical/Anesthetic Risk
Obesity poses an extra anesthetic risk because drug dosing becomes less accurate. (It is hard to estimate a patient’s lean body mass for drug dosing if it is encased in a fat suit.) Furthermore, anesthesia is inherently suppressive to respiration and adding a constrictive jacket of fat only serves to make proper air exchange more challenging. And still further, surgery in the abdomen is hampered by the slippery nature of the extra fat as well as difficulty visualizing all the normal structures through the copious fat deposits. One never knows when a pet will require an emergency surgery (to say nothing of regular teeth cleanings).  So is the enjoyment of all those extra treats really worth it?

How did my Pet get so Fat when he doesn’t really Eat that much?
One might think weight management might be easier for a pet than it is for a human. After all, the pet relies completely on someone else for feeding and exercise so it should follow that if the humans in control can regulate feeding and exercise, the pet should lose weight. It seems like this would be true but, as with humans, there is tremendous individuality with how different pets store the food they have eaten. Beyond this, sometimes it is hard to know what a pet is eating or the owner may not have a good sense for how much should be fed. Here are some factors involved:

A cup of food depends on the cup
When food packages refer to a certain number of cups of kibble being appropriate for a certain body weight, they are referring to an actual measuring cup. This may seem obvious but many mugs, coffee cups, and other scooping cups may not be equal to a cup measure. If you do not have a cup measure, you can often get one from your veterinarian’s office as most manufacturers of reducing diets for pets provide free cup measures.

The package guidelines are just guidelines
Many packages of food include on their label some sort of feeding schedule that indicates how much food should be fed to a pet of a certain weight. This information is also available on most pet food web sites as well. The problem is that each pet is an individual and just as one person weighing 150 lbs can be obese and another person of the same weight may be skinny, the same is true of pets. These guidelines are meant as a starting point only. If your pet is too fat on the recommended feeding schedule, then you should reduce the amount of food or change to a diet that is higher in fiber so that a satisfying volume of food can still be eaten without adding calories.

Some animals simply have the genes that predispose them to obesity. Dog breeds with genetic tendencies towards obesity include the: Golden Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, Beagle, Shetland Sheepdog, Boxer, Cairn Terrier, Basset Hound, Cairn Terrier, and Labrador Retriever.

Children at home
It is almost impossible to keep children from providing extra treats to their dog. This may include snacks spilled during play (pets have no “5 second rule”) or purposely feeding the pet unwanted food under the dining table. Similarly, pets that are allowed to roam (usually cats) often find food left out by neighbors, either to purposely feed their own pets or strays, or as unsecured trash. It is almost impossible to control the diet of an outdoor cat.

Slow metabolism
Some pets do not burn calories efficiently; they simply have a slow metabolism. This might be genetic as mentioned or it might be the result of a disease such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease. Testing for health problems such as these is helpful to get the best treatment for resolution of the obesity. It seems like increasing exercise and eating a healthier diet would be easy to accomplish for a pet but it generally does not turn out that way.

Underestimation of the power of treats
Many people express their affection for the pet by providing regular treats, and the pet happily obliges by begging or even performing cute behaviors. For some people, feeding treats to the pet constitutes a major part of the human-animal bond and they do not wish to give it up or reduce it. Pet treats are often high in calories, though, and four or five treats readily converts into an extra meal’s worth of added fat. Free feeding of dry food encourages the pet to snack as well; meal feeding represents better calorie control.

Sterilizing a pet is good for public health (fewer strays means fewer dog bites, less public resources needed for animal shelters etc.), good for a better house pet (less urine marking, tendency to fight or roam), no unwanted litters, reduced risk of many diseases, etc. The change in the hormonal picture, though, creates a tendency to form more fat cells (creating increased fat storage capacity – especially in female cats), and typically slows metabolism.

What can be done: Diet and Exercise

This sounds simple but in fact when one simply tries to cut back on food, it just does not seem to work. As with humans, a more formal approach seems to work best. This means feeding a prescription diet made for weight loss (typically “lite” or “less active” diets are meant to prevent weight gain, not actually cause weight loss), feeding a measured amount, and coming in for regular weigh-ins at the vet’s office.

This means:

  • There must be control over what the obese pet eats. That’s easy enough if there is only one pet and roaming is not allowed, but trickier if there is more than one pet in the home. Use your ingenuity to feed the pets separately.
  • Feed in meals. Leaving food out encourages snacking. Feeding in meals makes it easier to feed multiple pets different foods or different amounts of food.
  • Commit to regular weigh ins. Know what the goal weight is and how long it should take to reach this goal/or how to tell if the pet is on target. It is important not to try to go too fast. If the weight loss is not on track, sometimes it is necessary to feed more rather than less. Your veterinarian can contact the clinical nutritionists at the pet food company so as to make the best recommendations.
  • Consider interactive toys that can be used when you are not home or where your own participation is minimal.

As an initial step in obesity management, be sure to rule out health issues that might specifically cause obesity.   For more specific information, consult your veterinarian or see or

Nutrition, Choosing Pet Food

What makes a good pet food?
By Dr. Karen Burgess

Pet food quality is an often discussed but poorly understood hot topic.  Ask ten people and you will likely hear ten different opinions on how to best feed your pet.  Unfortunately the pet food industry is not well regulated allowing many well-intentioned but often uninformed opinions to circulate.  Feeding decisions are often based on descriptive marketing, emotion, and passionate beliefs.  Addressed in this article are several objective ways to evaluate your pet’s diet.  While pet food is a 21 billion dollar industry, your pet is a one and only, and these tools will help make the best feeding decisions for them.

Essential in the selection of an appropriate pet food are the following:

  • Trust in the company producing the food, knowing that they have the ability to develop a safe product from recipe to the bag you open
  • Finding a food your pet does well with, there is not one right food for all pets, finding a product that your pet enjoys and thrives on physically is essential
  • Affordibility, good pet food does not have to be expensive
  • Accessibily, are you able to obtain fresh bags when needed

How important is the ingredient list?
While ingredient lists are the primary focus of many, it is one of the most misleading and easily manipulated areas in pet food production.  It is important to look at the complete nutrient profile of a food not just one or two individual ingredients.  For this reason, it is one of the last things Dr. Burgess would recommend using to choose an appropriate pet food.  Some common myths with regard to ingredient lists include

Myth-Whole meat such as chicken listed as a top ingredient makes for a better pet food.

What most do not realize is that ingredients are listed in order of weight from high to low before processing.  But this includes water which in the case of meat is typically 75% of its weight.  In addition, using chicken as an example, bone is included in the definition of chicken.  Thus a pet food could contain very little meat relative to bone and still have chicken listed as a top ingredient.

Myth-By products are low quality and undesirable in pet food.

Using chicken again as an example, by products which include liver, organ meat, and brain are often very nutritious and while not regularly eaten by people in the US, they are considered delicacies elsewhere.  It is the quality of the by-product being used that is important which comes back to a pet food company’s commitment to produce a safe and nutritious food every time.  This involves process and quality controls throughout.

Myth-Grain is not good for dogs and of no nutritional value.

Dogs are not pure carnivores and can absorb nutrients from non-meat food items.  Gluten intolerance is also extremely rare in dogs.  Often grain free foods are higher in calories and fat then traditional pet foods leading to weight gain and digestive issues for some pets.

Myth-Corn is a filler and if found in a pet food means it is lower quality.

Ground cooked corn is very easy for pets to digest and a good source of energy, fatty acids, antioxidants, and carbohydrates or energy.  Ground corn flour is considered a good protein source.  While often suggested to be allergenic, corn has been shown to be less of a problem than other proteins including dairy, wheat, chicken, egg, beef, lamb, and soy.

Other little understood facts.  All dry pet food contains preservatives.  Processed food can be as simple as peeling, cooking, or chopping of an item.  Just because a food is processed does not make it inferior.

Is the food manufacturer’s contact information readily available on the packaging?
Probably the easiest of the criteria to understand, it is surprising how difficult it can be to find contact information for a pet food manufacturer.  A reliable company should be easy to get ahold of and eager to answer a consumer’s questions about their product.  Information that should be readily offered includes caloric density of the food and complete nutrient analysis (NOT just minimum and maximum values).  Pre production regulation of pet food does not exist and problems are only addressed after complaints have been made and ironically proof is only required that a particular ingredient is unsafe, not that it is safe or of actual value.  This makes trust in a pet food company that much more important.

Who creates the diet (makes the formulations) and what are their qualifications?
Passion for pets and a love of cooking does not qualify someone to create a consistent quality nutritionally balanced pet food.  Unfortunately as far as the pet food industry is concerned, no real experience or education is required to develop pet food.  Nutrition is an extremely complex science.  Pet food development should involve a veterinary nutritionist or PhD in nutrition.  Larger companies such as Hills retain full time employees with these qualifications.

What is the diet’s AAFCO certification?
AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) is a “voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies”.  They are the primary means by which pet food is regulated in the United States.  While having no regulatory power, AAFCO establishes nutrient guidelines for pet foods.  AAFCO statements are discussed in more detail in a separate handout, but foods are either formulated to meet AAFCO nutritional standards or have been fed to animals in an AAFCO approved food trial setting (more desirable and more expensive).

Where is the diet manufactured/produced?  Does the company own their plants or are they subcontracted/co-manufactured?
A co-manufacturer (or co-packer) is a company that is contracted to make pet food, provide ingredients, and often even develop the diet.  Large pet food companies like Hills and Purina will typically own their own plants and control the manufacturing process from ingredient delivery through distribution.  This involvement with the product from beginning to end is both an investment financially and contributes to the overall quality of the final product.

What type of testing is done on the food to ensure its safety (i.e from bacterial contamination) and consistency from bag to bag?
Ingredients are tested by suppliers, but proactive pet food manufacturers will independently test ingredients before accepting them into their plants to ensure their safety and quality.  Large manufacturers will test their food numerous times during the production process to make sure their product is reliable and safe from start to finish.  Hills will not release product from their plants until batch cultures and analysis are completed.  Feeding trials and palatability testing are not required but very beneficial in the development of a successful food.  Likewise shelf-life and packaging testing are not mandatory but obviously essential for a reliable product.

How well are the nutrients in the pet food analyzed?
Analysis of the nutrients in pet food is legally required in the US.  However the frequency is not.  Higher quality pet foods will have their fat, fiber, protein, carbohydrate, and moisture composition analyzed throughout the production process.  While this is more expensive it ensures that the final product retains the nutrient profile promised.

Are claims made by the company reputable?
Anecdotal claims are common in the pet food industry, and package labeling laws make these difficult for owners to determine what are opinion and what are fact.  Independent testing and peer-reviewed journal articles are reliable references that pet food companies should be able to provide for claims made.  Also be aware that advertisements and website claims for pet food do not have to be true, only the pet food label is regulated.

Cryptorchidism, Canine

Cryptorchidism in Dogs
By Dr. Karen Burgess

What is cryptorchidism?
Derived from crypto- meaning hidden and orchi- meaning testicle, cryptorchidism in pets is the failure of one or both testicles to descend into the scrotum.  Normally, testicles are manually palpable in dogs by 8 weeks of age.  In delayed situations this may occur as late as 6 months.  The missing testicle is typically felt just under the skin along the body wall/abdomen or within the abdomen in which case it is not palpable.

Why would a pet be cryptorchid?
The overall incidence of having a retained testicle in dogs is up to 9%.  While reported in many breeds there are certain predisposed for cryptorchidism (ex. Yorkies, smaller breeds, Siamese cats).  The trait is heritable passed onto from parent to offspring.  For this reason it is not recommended to continue breeding animals that are cryptorchid.

What are the symptoms of being cryptorchid?
Most commonly there are no significant clinical signs of this condition.  The real risk is seen if the retained testicle converts into a tumor which is not that uncommon.  These tumors can cause numerous symptoms including abdominal pain, skin issues, and bone marrow shutdown.  In rare instances the undescended testicle can twist on itself causing a very painful and dangerous condition known as testicular torsion.

How is cryptorchidism treated?
Neutering or castration is the treatment of choice for retained testicles.  Removal of both testicles eliminates future risk of tumor development.  Removal of a retained testicle is technically more difficult at times involving two to three incisions.  Recovery should not be significantly more involved but proper pain management is essential.

What are the risks to not neutering a cryptorchid pet?
The primary risk is development of testicular cancer which is at least ten times greater than in normal dogs.

What is the prognosis with cryptorchidism?
Excellent with early neutering.

Prostate Disease

Prostate Disease
By Dr. Karen Burgess


 What is the prostate?
The prostate is a gland located beyond the bladder in the male urinary tract.  The urethra passes through the prostate.  In young dogs the bladder is within the pelvis while in intact adult males it can naturally drop into the abdominal cavity.  The prostate is responsible for providing fluid to transport and nutritionally support sperm.  Depending on when a pet is neutered the prostate will either discontinue further growth or shrink as much as 80% in size.

What are symptoms of prostate disease?
Common signs include difficult, painful, or bloody urination or defecation as the diseased prostate puts pressure on the urethra below or colon above.  Narrowing of the urethra an also cause a thinner stream or prolonged time to complete urination.  Incontinence may also be noted.  While in some dogs with prostate disease there be no visible signs, in severe cases systemic signs such as fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, anorexia, or abnormal gait may also be noted.

What diseases affect the size and health of the prostate?
The prostate enlarges naturally in intact males with age.  This is termed benign prostatic hyperplasia.  While not harmful in and of itself, the enlargement can predispose to other issues (infection, cysts) and lead to pressure on the urethra and thus urination issues.  The prostate gland can become infected with bacteria typically secondary to a urinary tract infection.  This can then lead to abscesses or pus filled pockets of fluid.  Prostatic abscesses can be life threatening.  Tumors of the prostate gland while less common in dogs than humans can also develop.  In some cases tumors in other locations such as the testicles can also secondarily affect the prostate.

What testing is involved with prostate disease?
Palpation of the prostate via rectal exam is often the first step looking for abnormal size, shape, or discomfort.  Radiographs may further help define the prostate gland.  Ultrasound is another imaging option to look at the interior structure of the prostate.  This may performed externally through the abdominal wall or via the rectum.  General blood and urine tests are used to determine other potential complicating factors.  A sample can be obtained directly from the prostate via a needle or in some cases a urinary catheter.  In some cases a surgical biopsy may be necessary.

How is prostatic disease treated?
Treatment is based on the involved disease process.  Very commonly castration (neutering) is necessary to lower hormone levels and thus decrease the size of the prostate.  Bacterial infections, some tumors, and benign prostatic hypertrophy all require castration for any decent chance of successful treatment.  Oral antibiotic therapy if necessary is often for a prolonged period of time.  With some forms of prostatic disease surgery may also be necessary.  Prognosis is directly dependent on the specific disease diagnosed.

Mammory Tumors

 Mammary Tumors
By Dr. Karen Burgess

What is mammary cancer?
Mammary cancer or better known as “breast cancer” in humans is an abnormal growth of tissue in the mammary gland.  25% of dogs spayed after their second heat will develop mammary cancer at some point in time.  Of these dogs, half will have malignant tumors and half will have benign tumors.  Benign masses do not cause risk to the animal as a whole while malignant masses tend to spread to other parts of the body (metastisize) or cause additional local damage.  The only way to differentiate between these types and determine the specific behavior is to perform a biopsy of the tumor’s tissue.

What causes mammary cancer in pets?
Cancer is caused by a variety of factors, many that are still unknown thus making it that much more difficult to prevent.  In general genetic damage or mutations to cells initiates excessive duplication of cells and eventually what is diagnosed as a tumor.  The greatest correlation to occurrence has been made with lack of early spaying.  Dogs spayed before their first heat have close to a 0% chance of developing mammary cancer.   This incidence increases to 7% and 25% after one and two heats respectively.  Obesity at 1 year of age and high fat diets have also been linked to mammary cancer in dogs.  For cats early spaying has similar benefits.

What are signs of mammary cancer?
Most commonly a palpable bump is felt along the mammary chain on the belly.  There are often more than one of these at the time of diagnosis.  While redness, pain, and discharge are also possible, they are not as common.

How is mammary cancer diagnosed?
A sample of the abnormal tissue is collected and submitted for histopath (microscopic) analysis.  This typically takes anywhere from three to five days after submission.  This will not only differentiate between benign and malignant but will also determine cell of origin and grade which directly affect prognosis and future tumor behavior.

How are mammary tumors treated?
If diagnosed early, prior to spread, initial treatment of choice is surgical removal of the mass.  Sometimes the associated lymph node will also be removed.  Prior to any surgery xrays of the lungs and general blood work are recommended to look for any additional concerns including obvious spread to other areas of the body.  Spaying may also be indicated in pets that are still intact.  Based on the tumor’s histopath results, additional drug or radiation therapy may be indicated.

What is my pet’s prognosis?
Prognosis or survival is almost solely dependent on pathology results, tumor type, and evidence of spread at time of diagnosis.  While 50% of tumors are malignant, 70% of these are cured with surgery.

Addison’s Disease

Addison’s Disease
By Dr. Karen Burgess

What is Addison’s disease?
Addison’s disease, or hypoadrenocoticism, occurs when the adrenal gland fails to produce adequate amounts of hormone.  Dogs and cats have two adrenal glands that are found next to the kidneys.  These small glands have different layers that are responsible for releasing several hormones and substances that profoundly impact the whole body and are essential for life.  Addison’s disease is a deficiency of cortisol and aldosterone.  Cortisol is necessary to deal with stress and aldosterone is essential for water and electrolyte balance.

How do pets get Addison’s disease?
While infection or trauma to the adrenal gland can cause Addison’s disease, the most common cause is immune related.  The immune system is very powerful, designed to “fight off” anything identified as foreign.  In cases of auto-immune disease, the immune system for unknown reasons attacks itself, or in the case of Addison’s disease the adrenal gland.  Addison’s disease also occurs secondary to drug therapy for another condition called Cushing’s or with long-term use of steroids.  When pets receive steroids orally or topically it can cause the adrenal glands to stop producing steroid or go dormant.  If therapy is stopped suddenly the adrenal glands do not automatically turn on and start producing hormone again, thus creating a crisis situation.  Pituitary disease rarely causes Addison’s disease.

What does a pet with Addison’s disease look like?
Unfortunately Addison’s disease does not have one “look”.  It is more commonly recognized as a disease that mimics or masquerades with vague and non-specific symptoms.  Owners may notice gastrointestinal signs (vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss) that come and go, changes in thirst or urination, or even shaking at odd times.  Mild signs often self-resolve.  When a pet is experiencing an Addisonian Crisis it is a medical emergency.  This is when the disease has affected hydration or electrolytes to the point of potential collapse and sudden death.  Hospitalization and emergency supportive care are necessary to treat the Crisis situation.

How is Addison’s diagnosed?
While testing of electrolyte values may hint at the presence of Addison’s, an ACTH test specifically diagnoses the disease by measuring cortisol levels.

How is Addison’s treated?
Fortunately the prognosis with Addison’s is good and there is essentially a cure in the form of medication that replaces lacking hormone.  Depending on the type of Addison’s disease present, there are oral and injectable treatment options.  Monitoring of electrolytes will be necessary on a regular basis.  Special attention should be paid during stressful times as these are common times of decompensation and may require extra supplementation.