Authors Posts by Matthew Kearns

Matthew Kearns

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I recently caught a cold from my son, Matty, and it really knocked me on my butt. Fever followed by a terrible cough that has lasted at least two weeks. The ironic part  of the story is that about a week and a half into my cold, each one of my three cats developed a cough and started sneezing. My cats do not go outside and I wondered if I could give a cold to my cats.

After some investigation I couldn’t believe what I found. There are documented cases of cats with upper respiratory syndromes, and these same cats tested positive for the human H1N1 influenza virus.

I graduated veterinary school about 20 years ago, and all of the focus was on zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans and not the other way around) or diseases that could affect herd health (say a cow that develops a respiratory disease that is either fatal or affects productivity). Through the years since I graduated, there have been smaller studies evaluating what infections we humans can give our pets. Now, there is definitive evidence that the human H1N1 influenza virus can be passed to cats. 

Sneezing, the sniffles, lethargy and coughing may be signs that your cat has the flu. Stock photo

The human-to-cat transmission of the flu is not the first time that examples of cross-species contamination has taken place. I also found examples of experimental infection of pigs with the H1N2 human influenza virus. Not only did these pigs show symptoms of the flu about four days after infection, but they also passed the disease along to uninfected pigs. More recently, the canine influenza virus outbreaks that keep making the news appear to be a mutation of an H3N8 equine influenza virus. What in the name of Sam Hill is going on?

It seems that the problem with these influenza viruses is their ability to mutate, or change their genetic sequencing. One of the better examples recently (2009) was a human outbreak in the United States where the influenza virus responsible included genetic material from North American swine influenza, North American avian influenza, human influenza and a swine influenza typically found in Asia. That means this particular strain of flu virus was able to incorporate genetic material from three different species. UGH!!!!!

The most important question is this: How do we prevent this infection in our feline family members? The unfortunate dilemma with this constant mutation is there is no effective influenza virus vaccine for cats at this time. Therefore, it is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid contact with your cat until at least the fever breaks. I can tell you from personal experience this is easier said than done.

My cats sleep with me, follow me around and (they’re a bit naughty) even jump on the kitchen table to see what I’m eating. The good news is that if your cat does break out with symptoms it is restricted to an upper respiratory infection.

Symptoms include lethargy, coughing, sneezing and a purulent (snotty green) discharge. If you do see a greenish discharge from the eyes or nose, antibiotics may be indicated due to a secondary bacterial infection. A much lower percentage of cats progress to a lower respiratory infection (even pneumonia). This can be quite serious and possibly fatal because it is viral and antibiotics are ineffective unless there is a secondary bacterial component.

Until a feline influenza vaccine is developed, my advice is that when you break out with the flu, good general hygiene is best even at home. If you cough or sneeze, cough or sneeze into your arm rather than cover you mouth with your hands. Make sure to regularly wash your hands or carry around the waterless hand sanitizer.

Lastly, if your cat develops signs, contact your veterinarian for advice or possibly an appointment. Good luck my fellow pet lovers.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

You wouldn’t leave the house without a warm coat if it was cold out, so why should your dog? Help your dog keep that chill away with a winter coat. Stock photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Who knows when the next winter “bomb-cyclone” followed by an arctic cold front will hit Long Island. Here are a few important facts and tips to help our pets get through another winter:

Although dogs and cats have “built-in” fur coats, they are still susceptible to the elements. Prolonged time outside in low temperatures can be as dangerous as it is for us. Certain long-coated dog breeds (huskies, malamutes, German shepherds, golden retrievers, etc.) do much better in the cold weather than short-coated breeds (boxers, Chihuahuas, Boston terriers, etc.).

The very young, the very old and the debilitated have more trouble thermoregulating (maintaining normal body temperature). Frostbite occurs more readily in areas with less hair (e.g., the ear tips, nose, bottom of the feet/pads, etc.). A good tip would be to make sure indoor/outdoor pets should be limited in their time outside unsupervised (especially at night when temperatures drop) and signs of frostbite and exposure should be noted and treated.

The very young, the very old and pets with underlying/debilitating disease should be limited in their time outside altogether. A sudden loss of hair or other irregularities in these areas with known exposure should be examined by a veterinarian (either your regular veterinarian or emergency veterinarian if your regular veterinarian is unavailable). If you have a short-coated breed look for a sweater or coat. These are easily found at pet stores, online or through catalogs.

Arthritis affects older pets more commonly but can affect pets of any age with an arthritic condition. Cold weather will make it more difficult for arthritic pets to get around and icy, slick surfaces make it more difficult to get traction. Care should be taken when going up or down stairs and on slick surfaces. Boots, slings and orthopedic beds can be purchased from pet stores, online or through catalogs. These products will help our pets get a better grip on slick surfaces or icy surfaces and sleep better at night to protect aging bones and joints.

Supplements can be used to protect joints against the effects of arthritis. The most common supplements that are recommended by veterinarians are very similar to the ones we take for ourselves. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are supplements that help to protect the lining of the bones inside joints and maintain the proper amount of joint fluid for lubrication.

Supplements are best started early because they act more as a prophylaxis than a cure. Advanced or severe cases of arthritis may not respond to supplements, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are used in pets for these cases. The newer prescription-strength anti-inflammatories are safer in older pets and do not have some of the disturbing side effects of steroid- or cortisone-based anti-inflammatories. Talk to your vet.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories should be used with caution and only under the supervision of a veterinarian. Pets metabolize these medications differently than humans and some are poisonous at any dose (i.e., acetaminophen and acetaminophen-containing products are toxic at any dose to a cat).

Skin and nails become dry and brittle in the cold, dry winter weather. This makes them more likely to crack, tear or break off. The rock salt used to melt ice can be very irritating to our pet’s feet. Also the snow can cover broken glass or other sharp objects that our pets may run through without seeing it. Try to confine your pets to a safe portion of your yard when playing or walk them on a leash only.

Cut nails regularly to prevent overgrowth. Try to cover your pets’ feet with something or gently wipe or rinse off the bottom of their feet when they come inside if you know they stepped in the salt (the same type of boots made to help geriatric, arthritic patients get a grip on slick surfaces can also protect our pets from sharp objects or irritating materials).

Cold weather can be very difficult on pets with diagnosed respiratory or cardiac conditions. The cold air causes constriction of the airway, and this can exacerbate any underlying conditions as well as indirectly put an added strain on the heart. Older pets or pets diagnosed with either of these conditions should be limited in the time spent outdoors or not let out at all on very cold days. Most pet stores sell Wee-Wee Pads, and I have met many owners that were able to train their pets to use them indoors.

I hope these tips help to get our pets through the rest of this wicked winter we are experiencing.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

Studies have shown that having a pet in your life significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I had a classmate in veterinary school who simply described his cat as “good for the head.” What he meant by that statement was when the stress of classes and studying became too much he could always count on his cat to ease the burden. Well, science is backing up this claim. Having a pet in your life can be good for the head and the body.

Let’s start with the head. How do we know that interacting with a pet reduces stress? Well, a recent study revealed that just the act of petting something reduces stress. This study put individuals in a stressed state and then offered them a rabbit, a turtle, a toy rabbit or a toy turtle. Those individuals who petted a real rabbit or turtle showed a significant reduction in stress compared to those that petted a toy rabbit or toy turtle.

Other studies have revealed that people with significant mental illness such as bipolar disease and schizophrenia benefit from pet ownership. Many people with significant mental illness live at home and do not reach out to the health care system and see their social circles shrink. Pet ownership decreases the loneliness and feelings of isolation that come with that.

One schizophrenic in an article I read stated that he was able to keep the voices in his head at bay by concentrating on the singing of his birds. Another study observed the act of walking or grooming a horse has been successful in reducing depression, anxiety and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in both survivors of childhood abuse and veterans.

A third study focused on comparing human social support and pet attachment support in combatting depression in geriatric patients. What they found was there was no relationship between human social support and depression, but there was a significant positive influence in pet attachment and depressed mood.

Now, we can move on to the body. Studies both in the United States and abroad have concluded that just sharing your life with a pet significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack or stroke, reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and lowers cholesterol. In addition, owning a pet motivates us to exercise more.

The national physical activity guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, but a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis states only about 50 percent of Americans get that total.

In contrast to this data, research shows that dog owners walk an average of 22 minutes more per day. Not only do dog owners exercise more, but also the type of exercise is healthier. The type of exercise is described as at a moderate pace, which refers to getting the heart rate up.

This holiday season consider a pet as a gift for yourself. Consider it a New Year’s resolution, as well as a gift.

Thank you to all the readers who enjoy this column. I would like to also thank Heidi Sutton, editor of the Arts & Lifestyle section, as well as all the staff at the Times Beacon Record News Media for another great year.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

Long Island is an ideal environment for many species of ticks, specifically the deer tick.

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I commonly get the question, “What month can I stop using tick preventatives?” My answer is always, “That depends.” It used to be that somewhere around late October/November until late March/early April one could stop using flea and tick preventatives. However, with changing climate conditions and parasite adaptation this is no longer true.

The tick life cycle contains four stages: egg, larval, nymph (young adult) and adult. After the larval stage hatches out from the egg, it must feed and go through a molt between each successive stage. Ticks are sensitive to environmental changes throughout their life cycle but, ironically, are most resistant to temperature changes. It has to be below 35°F for ticks to even “overwinter.”

Overwinter is a term that refers to a process many species use to pass through the period of the year when “winter” conditions (cold or sub-zero temperatures, ice, snow, limited food supplies) make normal activity or even survival difficult or near impossible. During the overwinter period all activity nearly completely ceases until conditions become more favorable. If conditions become more favorable (above 45°F) ticks will set out in search of a host.

To kill a tick temperatures must be consistently below 10°F for many days in a row. If the tick is able to bury itself in the vegetation below a layer of snow, even below 10 degrees may not kill them. It is pretty routine even in January to have one or two days that are in the 20s during the day, dropping to the teens or single digits at night followed by a few days in the 50s.

Ironically, as resistant as ticks are to colder temperatures, they are much more sensitive to higher temperatures and humidity (or lack thereof). Eggs will desiccate, or dry out, and die during hot dry periods. The other life stages are at risk for dehydration due to increased respiratory rate in an effort to thermoregulate (control body temperature) and questing (looking for hosts).

Hotter, drier temperatures mean less vegetation. Less vegetation causes multiple problems for ticks: less protection from the elements and less vegetation for hosts.

The white-footed mouse is the primary host for the larval stage of the deer tick. This mouse survives on vegetation, and less vegetation and less resources for the mouse means a subsequent decrease in the mouse population. A decrease in population means less hosts. Less hosts, less ticks survive from the larval stage to adulthood. Fortunately, and unfortunately for us, the northeast United States rarely sees prolonged droughts. Even if we have hot, dry periods during the summer, we usually make up for it in the fall. It is an ideal environment for many species of ticks, specifically the deer tick.

In summary, it is my feeling that the tick season is 9 to 10 months out of the year. You may be able to stop applying preventative during the months of January, February, and March (this depends on temperature), but the rest of the year ticks are active.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

Above, Cairo. There are an estimated 600 military dogs on active duty right now in Afghanistan and Iraq.

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I recently watched the movie “Megan Leavey” and realized that although recent events have forced many Americans to take sides on loyalty to First Amendment rights versus loyalty to the flag (as it stands for the sacrifice the military, police and rescue services make on our behalf), one belief is united: Man’s best friend has always been there for us, especially in times of war.

A quick review of dogs in the military reveals that their use goes as far back as the Egyptians (as seen in ancient murals) for both offensive and defensive purposes. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Attila the Hun, Spanish conquistadors, Napoleon and Frederick the Great all used dogs during times of war. These war dogs were unleashed on their enemies, used to guard prisoners and even to carry packs with supplies and messages.

In World War I dogs were used by the Germans to help the wounded on the battlefield. The Sanitatshunde, or “sanitary dogs” would head out onto battlefields in search of wounded soldiers. These brave dogs not only carried water and medical supplies to the wounded but also returned and guided soldiers to their injured comrades. One of the most famous American dogs, Rin Tin Tin, was actually rescued from a German training kennel by an American soldier at the end of the war.

The United States started incorporating dogs into the military services beginning in World War II. In 1942, the American Kennel Club and private citizens (including breeders and trainers) established the Dogs for Defense (DFD) organization. Later that year, the DFD was taken over by the U.S. Army Quartermaster. The dogs in the DFD were initially used for domestic sentry duty, but their role was quickly expanded to search and rescue, hauling, scouting and carrying messages. By 1944, thousands of military service dogs were used in the islands of the South Pacific and across Europe to help turn the tide of the war.

During the Korean War military dogs and handlers would routinely lead patrols to alert the troops of the possible presence of the enemy. This was expanded during the Vietnam War into what were termed Combat Tracking Teams (CTT).

The CTT consisted of a military dog, handler, team leader, visual tracker and radio operator. The job of this special unit was to make contact with the enemy, as well as detect any recent enemy activity in the area. Around this time the military also realized the canine’s sensitive sense of smell could be used for more than detecting the enemy. In 1971, programs were developed to teach military dogs to detect both bomb materials and narcotics. After the war U.S. Customs found these drug-sniffing dogs invaluable.

As recently as 2011 a military dog named Cairo (in photo above) was used in the SEAL team Operation Neptune Spear (which was responsible for killing Osama bin Laden). Today, military dogs are used in all capacities previously described. There are an estimated 600 military dogs on active duty right now in Afghanistan and Iraq. So, let’s tip our hats to these true American heroes.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

Harvey, Irma, and now Jose still pose a threat. I recently read an article that referred to a study that documented 16 percent (mostly low income and elderly) of people interviewed would not evacuate without their pets, and 44 percent of those who refused to evacuate during Hurricane Katrina did so in part because they did not want to leave their pets behind.

I started thinking of what I would do with my own animals should there be a disaster or simple emergency at home. Although we haven’t had devastation on Long Island since Hurricane Irene or Hurricane Sandy, I think a checklist to be adequately prepared for emergencies or evacuations (especially on short notice) for our pets should be a priority.

Have an evacuation plan. This includes a “safe haven.” Find out ahead of time if there are any shelters that take animals during a disaster, pet-friendly hotels to go to or an out-of -own relative or friend that will take both you and your pet during a disaster.

Find out ahead of time if there are any shelters that take animals during a disaster.

Put together a first aid kit. A basic first aid kit for your pet should include: blanket, thermometer, penlight, sterile 4×4 gauze pads, sterile dressing (small, medium, large), roll gauze, 1- and 2-inch white tape, nonstick (Telfa) bandages, triangular bandage and safety pin, cloth strips, Betadine or triple antibiotics, scissors, tweezers, instant cold pack, hydrogen peroxide, splint, veterinarian’s phone number, local emergency clinic’s number, poison control telephone number, glucose concentrate (e.g., Karo Syrup or other syrup), canned dog or cat food and bottled water.

Once you have your first aid kit prepared, you will be ready for most emergencies. Here are some tips on handling most general emergencies:

• If an animal is frightened or in pain, it may bite (even friendly dogs or cats). If you find an injured animal, consider using something to muzzle (small piece of rope, a tie, etc.) or throw a large thick blanket over the pet to pick it up. Please do not get yourself hurt trying to help a scared, injured, potentially dangerous animal.

• Anything makes a good stretcher (flat piece of board, old door, etc.). If your pet has a bite wound or penetrating wound, try to keep the wound clean and moist until your pet can be transported to your regular veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital. Moistened clean cloths, gauze, etc. can be used. If there is excessive bleeding, direct pressure should be applied (consider an ACE bandage, other). Do not try to remove anything that is impaled into the pet.

• Bone fractures can be immobilized with a splint. A splint can be made up of rolled up magazines or newspapers, cardboard, a metal hanger or wood. If it is an open/compound fracture, cover it with a clean moistened dressing. If the animal cannot or will not allow a splint, just try to keep it confined until you can transport it to either your regular veterinarian’s office or an emergency veterinary hospital. Hopefully none of this will be necessary. However, in order to reduce stress and trauma to both you and your pet both during and after a disaster, it is important to plan ahead.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. 

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Marijuana has now become much more of a mainstay in the United States. Starting in 1937 marijuana was illegal throughout the United States. This lasted until the Compassionate Use Act was passed in California in 1996. There are now eight states (and the District of Columbia) that legally allow the use of recreational marijuana and 20 states that allow the use of medical marijuana.

There are also advertisements on the internet that sell a variety of cannabis products for pets that include capsules, oils, butters, tinctures, infused chews and dog treats. Now, before you start asking your veterinarian to become Dr. “Cheech and Chong” or Dr. “Method Man,” I must print this disclaimer: The law does not approve the use of medical marijuana for pets in any of these 50 United States or the District of Columbia.

The chemical substances derived from marijuana products are called cannabinoids. There are actually over 80 cannabinoids derived from the Cannabis plant but, only two are of real importance for our purposes: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is found in the marijuana plant, while CBD is found in hemp. THC has a psychotropic effect (what gets people “high”) but CBD is the nonpsychotropic compound found primarily in hemp.

What, historically, are the uses of marijuana and hemp? Human studies have shown that marijuana helps with glaucoma, nausea related to chemotherapy, neuropathy (nerve associated pain) and spasticity. There are also anecdotal studies that marijuana products can help with seizures. Both THC-based and CBD-based cannabinoids have an effect on cognition, immunity, inflammation, preventing cell death and cancer, pain, emotional memory, nausea and appetite stimulation. There are studies that state that cannabinoids have potent antibacterial effects against MERSA.

There are (as mentioned above) a large number of these products available without a prescription (many of them hemp based). In order to ship these products without a prescription, they have to contain less than 1 percent of CBD and 0.3 percent of THC. Unfortunately, this has opened the door to some unscrupulous entrepreneurs. Many of the hemp-based products sold on the internet are derived from industrial-grade hemp and only used for fiber.

If one remembers from previous articles on supplements that the supplement industry was able to get Congress to pass the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in 1994. This act, in a nutshell, stated that no supplement (human or veterinary) can claim to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure a particular disease. However, general claims that link a particular supplement to the prevention of particular diseases are allowed.

There are many benefits to the use of cannabis products. Unfortunately, medical marijuana is unavailable for pets, and “let the buyer beware” when choosing cannabis products. I’ll keep you updated to any changes as I find out.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

Common foreign body risks in barbecues include corn cobs, peach pits, aluminum foil and skewers.

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Aaaah, summer’s here and we know it by the smells in the air. Tantalizing aromas of steak, sausage, chicken, burgers and dogs. After dinner it’s marshmallows (sometimes with graham crackers and chocolate). I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love it (including our pets). As gratifying as it is to have friends and family over, we have to be careful of our “unofficial tasters” hanging around the barbecue.

Grease

Be very careful of grease both dripping from the barbecue and on the ground. Hot grease from drippings can cause burns to the skin and mouth, and old grease can grow mold and bacteria on it. Lastly, large amounts of grease can lead to severe vomiting and diarrhea and, potentially, a life-threatening condition called pancreatitis.

Raw meat

Dogs and cats don’t always wait for the food to be cooked before they decide to jump up on the counter and take some. Although many pet owners feel that the raw diet is the way to go, for pets raw chicken and beef can have some serious bacteria like various Salmonella species and E. coli, which will proliferate in the hot summer sun.

Foreign bodies

A foreign body in this context refers to anything a pet would be silly enough to swallow that will get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract. Common foreign body risks at barbecues are corn cobs (my favorite because you can see them on X-rays and know what they are), peach pits, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, string to bind roasts, bones (chicken, pork, beef) and skewers (wood or bamboo for shish kebab or teriyaki). Bones and skewers are the most dangerous because they not only have the potential to form an obstruction but can also penetrate the esophagus, stomach or intestines and lead to a life-threatening peritonitis.

Toxicity

Things like onions and garlic can cause significant gastrointestinal upset and, in larger amounts, GI bleeding. Fruit salads that contain grapes and snack mixes that contain raisins and toxic nuts like macadamias should be kept out of reach of our pets. Any fruits with pits should be either avoided (see “Foreign bodies” above) or carefully picked up. Things like ice cream and chocolate should also be kept away from pets. Large amounts of chocolate could lead to serious issues besides just an upset tummy (things like irregular heart rhythms, seizures, difficulty breathing) and, although most dogs tolerate dairy products, some are lactose intolerant (almost all cats are lactose intolerant as adults).

Heatstroke and burns

Pets (dogs particularly) may stay close to the barbecue even if it is out in the sun to be close to potential scraps. These guys don’t have the option to take off their coats, so make sure that plenty of water (with a few ice cubes is nice) is available and also make sure your pets have access to inside or the shade. Also remember that those grills can remain quite hot (especially charcoal grills) long after the barbecue is over, so make sure your pets do not have access to that area when no one is actually either grilling or monitoring that area. So, have fun in the sun and LIGHT THOSE GRILLS!!!! Just make sure our pets are not too close when you do.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and their dog Jasmine.

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

“My dog ate three grapes (or raisins). Should I be worried?” We get a phone call like this at least once every week to every other week. That’s a good question because we, as a veterinary community, are still looking for the exact answer. Let’s take a closer look at grape and raisin toxicity to see if we can shed some light on what we do know about this nebulous topic.

What portion of the grape or raisin is toxic? Unfortunately, the exact toxic substance to dogs in grapes and raisins is still unknown. Neither the color of the grape, nor seeded versus seedless makes a difference. As a matter of fact, the one portion of the grape that has been ruled out as a cause of kidney damage is the seed or grape seed extract.

Theories arise as to which component of the grape is toxic. Some experts feel that high concentration of a type of sugar component called monosaccharides, whereas others blame a compound called tannins.

Additional theories do not implicate anything in the grape itself, but rather the growth of certain fungi on the grape and toxins produced called aflatoxins, or pesticides sprayed on grapes. More recent evidence points toward something in the meaty portion of the grape or raisin because veterinary toxicologists found that raisins that have been cooked (in cookies, breads, cakes, etc.) are less toxic than grapes or uncooked raisins.

How much is too much? This answer is also unclear. There does seem to be a genetic component associated with which individual dogs are more sensitive to grapes or raisins.

An article published in 2009 reviewed the charts of almost 200 dogs over a 13-year period. The study found some dogs ate over two pounds of raisins without developing any signs of poisoning, whereas others developed irreversible kidney failure with as little as 3 grams of grapes or raisins.

Just to give you some perspective as to how much 3 grams is: Your average grape weighs 5 grams, and a raisin weighs about 0.5 gram. As little as one grape or six raisins could be toxic to your dog. However, some dogs will not get sick or require large amounts of grapes/raisins before any damage is done.

Is there an antidote to this type of poisoning? The short answer is no. This is truly an example of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The patients that did better in the same 2009 study were those in which the owners witnessed the ingestion and brought them to a veterinary clinic immediately. The veterinarians were able to induce emesis (force vomiting) and give activated charcoal ASAP. Patients that were already showing symptoms of toxicity such as lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting and increase in thirst/urination were less likely to make a full recovery.

In conclusion, veterinarians are still not sure as to what portion of the grape/raisin is poisonous, nor which dogs are more sensitive to grapes/raisins. Therefore, keep grapes and raisins away from your dog when possible and, if you witness your dog eating grapes or raisins, bring him or her immediately to your veterinarian’s office or an emergency clinic for treatment.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Spring has sprung and as I look at my waistline it is obvious I put on a few extra pounds during the winter months. Fighting obesity is a year-round battle in both people and pets. The questions arise however: Are there factors predisposing pets to obesity? If so, what are they?

Breeds

Studies have shown that certain canine breeds such as cairn terriers, West Highland terriers, Scottish terriers, Shetland sheepdogs, basset hounds, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, dachshunds, beagles, cocker spaniels and Labrador retrievers all are predisposed to obesity. Conversely, site hounds (greyhounds, Italian greyhounds, whippets, Afghan hounds, etc.) seem to be more resistant to obesity.

Feline breeds including the domestic short hair, domestic medium hair, domestic long hair and Manx breeds are predisposed to obesity. Unfortunately, it is estimated that regardless of breed, approximately 25 percent of all cats owned in the U.S. are obese.

Exercise/Environment

This one is kind of self-explanatory. Dogs and cats that are more active or are encouraged to exercise have less problems with obesity. It is important to differentiate between consistent, low-impact exercise versus trying to lose all the weight in one day. We don’t want to predispose our pets to heat stroke or orthopedic injuries.

Spay/Neuter

In both cats and dogs the loss of certain hormones associated with the reproductive system will affect metabolism. Through studies it is estimated that the calorie requirements drop by about 25 percent after a spay or neuter.

Ironically, all of the feeding recommendations on the cans and bags of dog/cat food are by an association called AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). The AAFCO recommendations are based on studies on intact dogs and cats (dogs and cats that were never spayed or neutered).

I could see that if one follows those recommendations one would be going to the store more often to buy more food. Unfortunately, that also means that we are overfeeding our pets. Therefore, the recommendation at our clinic is to decrease the amount of food by approximately 25 percent (from what is recommended on the packaging) after your dog or cat is spayed or neutered.

Age

As dogs and cats age their calorie requirements drop. In your average sized dog it is estimated that its overall calorie requirements drop by approximately 20 percent past age 7. Although I could not find similar data in cats, I would say from experience the same is true for them. There are some dogs and cats that are more active and may need more calories, but this is something to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

Nutrition

This topic is easy. Cheaper brands tend to use lower quality proteins and carbohydrates that predispose to obesity. If possible, spend a little more now on a higher quality diet and it will pay off in the long run. I hope this information helps us to win the battle on obesity and improve the quality of life for our pets.

Thanks for reading, Dr. Matt.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.