Tags Posts tagged with "Veterinarian"

Veterinarian

President of Strong Island Rescue Frankie Floridia, the Pit Bull Chocolate and SCSPCA Detective Jennifer Pape at the Animal Medical Hospital of Centereach. Photo by Kyle Barr

A dog who was maimed after a knife attack in Brentwood has found safety with a Centereach animal hospital and a North Shore-based animal rescuer.

At about 5:30 a.m. Nov. 20, Suffolk County police responded to a domestic dispute in Brentwood, according to a release put out by SCPD. Malik Fields, 25, was allegedly involved in a dispute with his girlfriend during which police said he stabbed two of the family’s six dogs. Detective Jennifer Pape of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was also brought onto the scene by SCPD when it was discovered one pit bull named Storm had been stabbed and was bleeding profusely, according to Pape. Fields’ family brought Storm to a West Islip animal hospital where he was euthanized.

“Stabbing cases are rare, but in a year we investigate about 3,000 animal cruelty complaints,” Pape said. “It’s heart wrenching — it’s why I do what I do. They’re innocent, it’s why we need to protect them.”

Several hours after the initial disturbance, after authorities had already left, Fields’ family discovered another pit bull named Chocolate had also been stabbed, according to Pape. The family called Frankie Floridia, president of Sound Beach-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, seeing if he could help take the dog to a veterinarian. Floridia called Pape, who rushed back to the scene. Soon after, the family brought the dog to the Animal Medical Hospital of Centereach at about 1:45 p.m. where Chocolate immediately went into surgery.

“I knew one dog had passed away and so we had to go fast to make sure everything was OK with the [other] dog, that was my main concern,” Floridia said.

Chocolate received a 12 inch laceration across his left shoulder. Photo by Kyle Barr

Veterinarian Dr. Charles Greco said the dog had a 12-inch laceration deep along his shoulder that had cut into his left-side deltoid muscle. After being sedated, Chocolate was out of surgery after approximately 30 minutes. The veterinarian said he performed the surgery pro bono, yet this wasn’t the worst case he’s seen in his career.

“I had one case years ago where a dog was stabbed 40 times,” Greco said. “This dog had nothing to do with this [dispute], he just happened to be there.”

Chocolate is now in stable condition and is in the care of Floridia, who said he had been told by the family the dogs did not instigate or intimidate Fields. Despite the harm inflicted upon the young pit bull, Chocolate is still friendly and calm among strangers, willing to sniff their pants legs and walk around freely.

Fields was charged with two counts of aggravated cruelty to animals, according to the SCPD. He was arraigned Nov. 27, though Field’s lawyer could not be reached for comment. An order of protection was issued for the dogs by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, which prevents Fields from interacting with the four other dogs, who were uninjured at the alleged incident and are still living with the family at the Brentwood house. In the meantime, Floridia did not want to give details on his plans for the dog, but he said he will work to make sure Chocolate goes to a caring home.

“We have good plans for him,” he said. “I’m going to do what’s best for the dog.”

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Raccoons are naturally occurring hosts for the Leptospira bacteria. Stock photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

May and June always kick off the annual checkup season and with all our exams, we discuss vaccines. When I talk about vaccines like distemper, rabies, kennel cough and Lyme, I always see a nod of understanding. However, when I bring up the leptospirosis vaccine, the quizzical look on people’s faces always reveals a lack of knowledge on this disease.

I think the reason is that as little as 10 years ago, leptospirosis was limited to very rural areas primarily where dogs had more of a risk of coming in contact with wildlife. The more “suburban sprawl” we see brings us (and our pets) in closer contact with the natural reservoirs of this disease. 

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by various strains of the Leptospira bacteria.  This bacteria is carried by many wild animals. Naturally occurring hosts are raccoons, opossums, foxes, skunks and various rodents. Raccoons and skunks are scavengers as much as hunters, so they will commonly venture into our yards to knock over garbage pails etc., in search of food.

It has also been estimated that approximately 90 percent of rats in major cities carry leptospirosis, so it has become more of an urban threat than previously realized. These hosts shed, or pass, the bacteria in their urine, contaminating both the environment and water sources. Not only can these hosts carry the bacteria without showing symptoms of disease, they also can shed the bacteria for extended periods of time.

Once in the soil or water, the Leptospira bacteria is very hearty and can survive for weeks to months waiting for another host. The bacteria can gain access to a new host through the membranes of the mouth (drinking contaminated water) or through abrasions and cuts on the skin (from the soil). Once in the bloodstream the bacteria travels to the kidneys and starts to divide.  When the bacterial numbers are high enough, the new host will start shedding bacteria via the urine. 

No specific breed of dog appears to be more susceptible or resistant to the infection. However, middle-aged dogs (as compared to young or old) and male dogs (compared to female) appear to be at higher risk. It is theorized that middle-aged male dogs are more likely to wander and get into more trouble (so far as coming in contact with a natural host). 

The most common organ system affected is the kidneys, but the Leptospira bacteria can also affect the liver, lungs and central nervous system.  Once the bacteria reaches the kidneys replication, as well as inflammation, damages kidney cells.

The symptoms of leptospirosis can be quite general in the beginning. Anything from a drop in appetite and an increase in thirst to vomiting, severe lethargy and in some cases death.

The good news is that leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics and other supportive care (IV fluids, IV medications etc.). The bad news is many times the initial infection is cleared but there is permanent damage to the kidneys. 

An effective vaccine is now available to prevent this disease. So, check with your veterinarian if your dog is at risk (dogs that get out of the yard, are in contact with many other dogs, have wildlife nearby and standing water) and should be vaccinated.  Let’s keep our dogs safe this summer.

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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When we hug our dog, we are removing their instinct to flee, which can lead to significant stress. Stock photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I was somewhat taken aback when I saw plastered all over the internet that a hug is stressful to dogs. This hullabaloo came from an article published in Psychology Today. I didn’t have access to the entire article but the author, Stanley Coren, stated that in a review of over 250 images on the internet of dog owners hugging their dogs, he noted signs of stress in four out of five dogs. 

Coren is a psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, as well as an award-winning author. He has dedicated his career to researching dog behavior, so I truly believe he knows what he is talking about. 

Coren states that dogs are cursorial by nature. What does this mean? It means that dogs have limbs adapted for running and, as much as they will use their teeth to defend themselves if necessary, their first instinct is to flee. When we hug our dogs, what are we doing in their eyes? We are removing that first instinct to flee. This can lead to significant stress, even the potential for the dog’s perceived need to defend themselves. 

Now, I know that dogs are social beings and do like contact. However, I do agree that their idea of acceptable contact may not be the same as our own.  As much as we see dogs as part of the family, they see us as part of the pack. We may talk to a dog, but a dog will communicate with us as they would other dogs and this communication is mostly through body cues. If these cues are ignored by humans (particularly children who cannot understand the differences between human and canine behavior) or other dogs, the risk of aggression and bodily harm becomes very real. 

When we hug our dogs, we are removing their instinct to flee, which can lead to significant stress.

My own dog Jasmine loves to sleep in bed with my son Matthew. However, much to Matty’s chagrin, she will only sleep by his feet. Jasmine will tolerate Matty pulling her up to sleep next to him but always eventually moves back to his feet. If he tries too many times to change her position, she will jump off the bed and find another place to sleep. 

Jasmine’s reaction is nonconfrontational, but what if she were not of such a laid back temperament?  She would be face to face with my son where he is restraining her movement. Therefore, I think it is important to look for more subtle cues so we can intervene before disaster occurs. 

What are cues of stress in dogs?  In general terms a relaxed dog will have its ears forward, mouth open and a general look of happiness. A worried dog has its mouth closed, ears back or down, wrinkles around the eyes or forehead and is usually shrinking back.

Beyond these body cues are what are called “stress signals.”  Stress signals are signs that a dog is very worried and trying to communicate to others (another dog, a human) that, “I am not a threat.” However, if these stress signals are ignored (by other dogs or children), the dog may feel it has no option other than act aggressively to defend itself.

Stress signals include: a raised paw, yawning (when they are not tired), licking their nose, tail tucked, slouching or slinking, barking and retreating or hiding. If a dog is restrained (hugged) when showing these body signals or cues, things could get out of control quickly. 

I hope this article is helpful in not only explaining the differences between how dogs view certain behaviors compared to how we humans view them, as well as signs of stress to avoid conflict.  Now go give your dog a . . . scratch behind the ears!

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Not sure how many families received a puppy as a gift this holiday season but I love to see appointments that say “New Puppy” on them. One of the most common topics discussed is how to potty train the newest member of the family.  Crate training is a wonderful way to give the puppy the guidance it needs.

The idea of using a crate to train a puppy comes from a “den theory” in dogs.  Although wild dogs are nomadic by nature, they do settle down for part of the season to mate and raise pups. The males will hunt and the females will search out a den. This den is a safe haven away from other predators and the elements, and  residents instinctively go to the bathroom outside the den. 

If the crate is treated the same way, it can be a nice, safe area for the puppy. They will usually sleep and allow you to sleep. You can go out to run errands knowing that the puppy will not go to the bathroom, destroy things, or get into anything dangerous. The primary goal of the crate is to always, ALWAYS, make it a “safe area” for the puppy. Do not isolate the crate away from the rest of the family and never use the crate as a form of punishment.

When you (or other family members) are home, the door to the crate should be left open to allow your puppy to go in and out as they please. Give your puppy a favorite toy or a treat when you put her in the crate before you leave the house.  Although a crate is most effective, a crate does not always have to be a crate. You can baby gate off a portion of the kitchen, give a room, etc.

Be careful how long you leave your puppy in the crate so that they do not become used to soiling in the crate (they will if left no choice).  Most pet owners purchase or adopt a puppy between 8 and 12 weeks of age. This is good because it is a very impressionable age and allows you (as the puppy’s “parents”) to help them make good choices.

Remember that puppies can only physically “hold it” for so long at that age. A good rule of thumb is count the number of months old the puppy is and add one to come up with the number of hours the puppy can hold it. So an 8- week (2-month) old puppy can hold it for 2 + 1 = 3 hours. Some puppies can hold it longer at night. However, when you first get a puppy, it would be a good idea to get out of bed to let them out (or even set an alarm clock) to take them outside, SUPERVISED, to go to the bathroom and praise them when they do.

Also remember that eating and drinking will stimulate the puppy to go to the bathroom. Therefore, allow extra time to bring them back outside after they eat and drink to give them the opportunity to go again. If for some reason you get there too late or an unexpected accident occurred, just clean it up. Remember, the crate must be a safe area away from punishment if it is to be effective. 

Some puppies that have been in a pet store or shelter situation for too long can be negatively conditioned as well. If a puppy is left in a crate from five or six at night (when the shop or shelter closes) to eight or nine the next morning, they will get used to eliminating in the crate (cage) and come to believe that is normal. Those are exceptional cases and will require the guidance of a veterinarian that specializes in behavior or a Certified Animal Behaviorist to re-train.

Do not try to automatically force older dogs into a crate. I can’t tell you how many broken teeth and nails I’ve seen in my career because a dog owner decides they are going to put a young adult dog in a crate at 8 months to a year old because the dog has become destructive when the owner is not home. That is going to be like jail, and if it were me I would freak out also. That is not to say that you cannot crate train an adult dog, but it takes time, patience and the guidance of a behaviorist (that means extra moolah as well). It is much easier (and less expensive) to start at a younger age, remain patient and consistent.

Congratulations on your new puppy and good luck!!!!!

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 17 years and is pictured with his son Matthew and their dog Jasmine.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Flea allergic dermatitis was something that I used to only warn pet owners about in the summertime. However, with warm spells in the fall and winter, as well as the flea’s ability to set up shop in our homes, we really have a year-round problem.

Before we can address the problems fleas cause and how to treat/prevent them, we must understand the life cycle of the flea. The flea has four stages in its lifecycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

An adult female flea can lay up to 2,000 eggs in a lifetime and eggs will usually hatch in one to six days. Once the eggs hatch, a slender, white, segmented flea larva forms; it looks similar to a maggot but, luckily, is too small to see with the naked eye. These larvae are not blood suckers, but rather feed on organic debris in the environment. The organic debris can be outside — leaves, dirt, etc. — or inside — carpet fibers and fibers from furniture or bedding.

After five to 11 days, the larvae will spin a whitish, loosely spun, silk-like cocoon, where they develop into pupae. The pupal stage, because of the outer cocoon, are very resistant to the environment and insecticides. The pupa is usually fully developed at seven to 14 days. However, the pupa can develop into an adult flea as quickly as a few days, or slowly, for many weeks, up to 180 days, depending on environmental conditions.

Once the adult flea emerges from the cocoon, it immediately starts looking for a host — our dogs and cats — for a blood meal. Fleas find hosts via various stimuli: body heat, movement, and exhaled carbon dioxide. Once a host is found, the flea feeds through a long, slender mouthpart called a proboscis. Before feeding, the flea pumps anticoagulant-containing saliva into the wound to prevent the blood from clotting. It is suspected that the anti-coagulant proteins in the saliva may be responsible for what is called Flea Allergic Dermatitis.

Luckily, fleas do not carry many parasites or organisms that cause significant disease in our pets. The most common parasite associated with fleas, in my experience, is tapeworm. This parasite is significant in younger pets but I will usually take tapeworms, seen on the fur, or in the stool, as a clue that there is an undiagnosed flea infestation in adult dogs and cats. More commonly, fleas lead to FAD.

Now, I understand that any dog or cat that has a flea infestation is going to be itchy. However, dogs or cats with FAD will break out with a rash that is much more severe from very few, or even a single, flea bites. More specifically, cut your pet in half — just kidding!

Actually, make an imaginary line dividing your pet into two halves: toward the head, and toward the tail. If the rash is primarily in the half of your pet towards his or her head, it is probably not FAD. If it is toward the tail, which would include the ventral (lower) abdomen, inguinal (groin), base of tail, and back legs, then one should put FAD at the top of the list.

Previously, we had to not only treat our pets with foul smelling, and even dangerous, shampoos, powders and dips, but also many times expose ourselves to noxious chemicals to treat the environment, like “flea bombs.” More recently, we found that although fleas need a host and will bite humans, they cannot live on us. More specifically, by treating our pets, we can treat the entire environment.

Nowadays, there is a large selection of flea preventatives that are much safer and treat the pet specifically. Some of the older products, and still best advertised, are now available over-the-counter. This is a double edged sword — the products are much safer and readily available without a prescription, but these products are ones in which I personally see significant failure and suspect resistance.

If you are seeing a specific rash that resembles FAD, even if you are using flea preventatives, see your veterinarian to not only get relief for your pet, but also to discuss alternative flea preventatives.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Whew!! Hurricane Joaquin has drifted out to sea! Unfortunately, we have become all too familiar with natural disasters — think Superstorm Sandy. If another disaster were to occur, would I be prepared not only for myself, but also for my pet? What about for everyday emergencies?

Believe it or not, many of the same precautions and treatments we would use on ourselves we can also extend to our more “furry” family members: a basic first aid kit specifically for our pets, an emergency plan available in advance, etc. A basic first aid kit for your pet should include a blanket, thermometer, pen light, sterile 4×4 gauze pads, sterile dressing (small, medium, large), roll gauze, 1 and 2 inch white tape, Telfa non stick bandages, triangular bandages and safety pins, cloth strips, betadine or triple antibiotics, scissors, tweezers, instant cold pack, hydrogen peroxide, splint, veterinarian’s phone number, local animal emergency clinic’s phone number, Poison Control’s phone 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 at home. 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. Consider using something like a small piece of rope or a tie to muzzle your pet, 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 — a flat board, an old door, etc.

*If an animal is vomiting for whatever reason, do not offer any food or water for at least three hours. We know there is a concern of dehydration, but many times that is the time an animal needs to rest the stomach, if it is a less serious cause of vomiting, and giving any food or water too quickly may make things worse. If you are very concerned, it is better to check with or visit your regular veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital before considering food or water.

*For bite wounds or penetrating wounds, try to keep the wound clean and moist until the animal 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. 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 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 them confined until you can transport them to either your regular veterinarian’s office or an emergency veterinary hospital.

*If you suspect your dog has ingested poison, call a veterinary emergency poison hotline. If possible, have both the trade name and the generic name of the poison.  Do not try to get the animal to vomit before speaking to a veterinary emergency poison control representative or licensed veterinarian. Certain poisons, particularly those that are caustic, may cause more damage on the way back up, and if your pet is disoriented from the poison, you risk aspiration and aspiration pneumonia.

The emergency clinic I work for recommends the National Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 299-2973. They are staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with veterinary toxicologists. There is a $45 consult fee, but it is well worth it. I hope this information helps to make us all better prepared for emergencies.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years and is pictured with his son, Matthew, and his dog, Jasmine.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

In the Aug. 13 article we focused on the causes of chronic otitis externa (external ear infections). This article will focus on treatment. First, relieve yourself of the guilt that you did not treat the “infection” correctly. If your pet has chronic ear infections, that usually indicates some predisposing factor (usually genetic in origin). Second, get over the frustration of assuming that because we veterinarians use the term “ear infection” that if treated once, it will never return. 

Chronic otitis externa is a problem that can be managed, not cured.  Therefore, general maintenance of the ear is much better than waiting for things to get out of control. Talk to your veterinarian about ear cleaners, or if you look for an ear cleaner at the pet store make sure it states that it is a cleaner and a drying agent. This means it will have some isopropyl alcohol and usually propylene glycol to not only break up the wax but also to dry the lining of the ear canal.

Those dogs (or cats) that produce excessive wax should have their ears cleaned regularly (once to twice weekly).  If your pet’s ears are really inflamed/infected, you will need medication from your veterinarian to get things under control. However, once the infection clears up, maintenance cleaning is imperative. I have many a pet owner tell me how guilty they feel about cleaning their pet’s ears because they know it hurts and the pet runs away.

However, these same owners usually wait until there is a full-blown infection. Therefore, it is much easier to clean the ears when there is no infection, as compared to waiting until the lining of the ear canal is inflamed and sensitive.  Remember, “an ounce of prevention…”

There are some cases that get so out of hand that your veterinarian may suggest sedating your pet to obtain samples for testing (ear cultures, etc.), as well as a deep ear flush to evaluate the ear drum and the middle ear behind it. Although the problem may originate in the external ear canal, it can progress to a middle ear infection (otitis media) and systemic medication may be indicated. 

Talk to your veterinarian about exploring the underlying causes of the ear infection. As we discussed in the previous article, it is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of recurrent ear infections are secondary to allergies. Newer, more accurate blood tests can diagnose food allergies, seasonal allergies or both. Avoiding certain foods (including treats), as well as managing seasonal allergies can decrease (or sometimes eliminate altogether) the need for cleaning the ears at all. 

As a last resort, there are two surgical procedures that can be performed in severe cases. The first is called a lateral ear canal ablation. This procedure reconstructs a portion of the external ear canal so it more resembles a human ear canal. This allows better airflow and makes cleaning and treatment easier.

The second procedure is called a total ear canal ablation and bulla osteotomy, or TECA-BO (pronounced, “teeka-boo”) for short. This is reserved for end-stage ear canals where over the years so much scar tissue has developed, no medication can be introduced into the canal. This procedure involves removing the entire external ear canal and part of the middle ear as well.

A percentage of patients lose their hearing, but it will eliminate a significant source of chronic pain. The good news is that in almost every case, the patient is deaf before the surgery secondary to chronic disease. 

I hope this sheds a little light on a confusing (and sometimes frustrating) disease in pets. 

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years and is pictured with his son, Matthew, his dog, Jasmine.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

“Ooooooh … those itchy ears. My dog or cat is constantly scratching or shaking its head. I feel terrible for them and it sometimes keeps me up at night. My vet calls it an ear infection. It clears up on the medication but once finished it keeps coming back. Why does this happen?”

That is the million dollar question (actually, I’m sure millions of dollars are spent on ear infections every year).  To call every dog or cat that comes in with itchy ears an ear infection is misleading. 

These pets have otitis externa, and “otitis externa” literally means inflammation (not infection) of the external ear canal. Although we veterinarians commonly dispense medications with antibiotics and antifungals in them, the bacteria and yeast we are treating are considered natural flora (in the ear canal at all times in lower numbers).

So why do we get “flora gone wild”?  Usually some other primary trigger is involved and the infection is secondary overgrowth. Examples are parasitic infections (ear mites), pets that swim or get baths and get water (and shampoo) in their ears, ear tumors (both benign polyps and cancerous tumors) etc.  However, the most common cause of recurrent otitis externa is allergies. I consulted with a veterinary dermatologist, and she estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of all recurrent otitis externa in dogs is related to allergies. 

To understand why an allergy would cause such problems in the canine and feline ear canal we first have to describe the anatomy. Unlike a human ear canal, which has a shorter external component in a horizontal direction only, the canine and feline external ear canal is much longer and has both a vertical and horizontal component. Therefore, there is a much greater distance from the opening of the ear canal to the ear drum. This shape and extra distance plays a critical role in otitis externa.

Also, the healthy ear canal is lined with three types of cells: epithelial cells (those similar to skin), ceruminous cells and apocrine cells (cells that produce earwax).  Just like the epithelial cells of the skin, these cells will be replaced every few days. The new cells push the old (dead) cells out to the entrance of the canal, and the small amount of earwax produced in the healthy ear migrates out with the dead epithelial cells.

However, if the lining of the ear canal becomes inflamed, it narrows due to swelling and excessive earwax is produced. This not only overwhelms the ability to clear the wax, it also leads to a warm, dark and moist environment and allows the normal bacteria and yeast to overgrow and a true ear infection is produced.

This will clear up with medication but, if your pet is exposed to the same trigger, it will come back again. Certain breeds such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, cocker spaniels, shar-peis and many others may have complicating factors such as hair in the ear canal, floppy ears, narrow ear canals or a combination of these things. Now, this does not mean that every member of these breeds is guaranteed to have chronic ear infections, rather it means that if you have a member of these breeds and they have even low-grade allergies the ears can spiral out of control quickly.

In my next article I will describe how to manage chronic or recurrent otitis externa.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years and is pictured with his son, Matthew, and his dog, Jasmine.

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By Gerard Frank Schafhautle

Wild dogs, such as wolves, are carnivorous by nature, whereas domesticated dogs have adapted to more omnivorous diets. Therefore, there are plenty of plants that, in moderation, may be consumed by our canine comrades. Some examples include carrots, blueberries, white rice and yes, peanuts. Whether butter in a jar or nuts in a bag, peanuts are generally a safe choice (in moderation) compared to many other plants that we call nuts.

Ironically, peanuts are not actually nuts, but rather legumes, like peas and beans. The true nuts are those from trees, such as walnuts, pecans, hickory, hazelnuts, macadamia, cashew, Brazilian nuts, Cocoa (Chocolate), and acorns. Before venturing into the harmful effects of tree nuts, allow me to explain an oddity in the nut family that was not mentioned — almonds.

Almonds come in two varieties: sweet and bitter. Bitter almonds are more related to the fruit tree family of peaches and apricots. If you were to crack open the pit of an apricot or peach, you will see one or two seeds that look suspiciously like almonds. Bitter almonds and the center of a fruit pit all contain a cyanide-related chemical called benzaldehyde as well as other harmful chemicals, which are capable of symptoms ranging from lethargy to fatality. So be careful of bitter almonds and pets, as well as letting them chew on a fruit pit.

Nuts from trees can be contaminated with a mold type fungus called Aspergillus. This type of mold fungus secretes a type of poison called aflatoxins. Aflatoxins can cause damage to the liver and potentially lead to cirrhosis (scarring), or carcinoma (cancer). Best not let your fluffy family members eat any fallen tree nuts.

Although chocolate tastes great, cocoa products contain theobromine, which is deadly to your pets in even small amounts. Theobromine is found in all forms of chocolate and cocoa butters, in increasing concentrations from white chocolate (the least) to dark chocolate (the greatest). Theobromine is a stimulant that could lead to irregular heart rhythms and seizures. Both could be fatal.

Nuts of the arboreal nature may contain one other toxic substance harmful to your pets. Walnuts, American black and English, amongst other species, are formed under a thick leather skinned exterior. The space between the nut’s shell and this protective barrier is filled with a soft black resin full of tannins. Tannins are substances that act as astringents which bind proteins and amino acids in the body. The effect is rapid onset vomiting and diarrhea, followed by life threatening and sometimes fatal kidney and liver damage.

Peanuts. Finally we come around to the safe “nut” — well , almost. Peanuts are high in fats, which can clog up the liver and pancreas, which can lead to pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas and/or hepatitis, inflammation of the liver. These issues are easily treated by your veterinarian by switching your dog to a bland, low-fat diet and halting the “treating” of peanut butter in a hollow bone toy. Chemicals originating from tree nut consumption are much more difficult to treat, and may require special attention by the animal poison control hotline or an emergency veterinary clinic or hospital.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Do not allow your dog access to any human-edible tree nuts. Keep your veterinarian’s office phone number, as well as the closest after-hours veterinary emergency clinic and animal poison control hotline, in a spot that is accessible to all family members. Finally, if you feel the need to treat your pet with a few peanuts or some peanut butter, do so in careful moderation. Be safe, be wise, and be informed.

Gerard Frank Schafhautle has worked for Dr. Matthew Kearns at Countryside Animal Hospital in Port Jefferson for 6 years. He has a certification in Animal Science and will be attending Stony Brook University this fall, working toward an undergraduate degree in Biology.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I recently authored a two-part series entitled “A Long (and Fat) Winter’s Night,” with ideas on the management of the obese patient. However, if your pet is not obese but the long winter has affected them, what do we do? Stiff, creaky joints may make it difficult for him or her to rise. Just doesn’t seem to be able to finish those long walks (or even have the willingness to take them).  These are difficult to see in our aging babies but are also something that can be addressed. Physical therapy along with low-impact exercise can be helpful in not only improving our pet’s mobility and stamina but also has a positive effect on their sense of well-being.

Before I discuss physical therapy and low-impact exercise specifically, I would recommend that all pet owners visit their veterinarian’s office to rule out possible underlying or concurrent disease. This may be something that you already do during an annual wellness exam. However, if you’ve missed a few years, please do make an appointment to have your four-legged family member examined and consider some basic diagnostics (if warranted) such as blood work, X-rays, etc. If all is well, then let’s get started.

The one good thing about physical therapy (unlike missing a dose of medication) is every little bit helps. If you can perform certain exercises and therapies only once daily instead or more often, remember every little bit helps.

Heat Therapy and Massage: It has been shown that heat therapy causes vasodilation and improves circulation to tissues. This increases tissue oxygenation and transportation of metabolites. It has been proven that five to 10 minutes of heat before physical therapy and exercise can reduce joint stiffness and increase range of motion. Make sure to use a blanket or towel as an insulating layer between your pet’s skin to prevent burns. After heat therapy, gentle massage therapy manipulates muscles and tissues around joints to reduce pain, stiffness, muscle knots/spasms, increase blood flow and promote relaxation.

Range of Motion and Stretching Exercises: This type of exercise helps improve joint motion and flexibility in patients. Simple flexion and extension exercises are excellent. Find a part of the house where your pet will feel most relaxed and least likely to try to get up and move around. Manipulate each affected joint only as far as your pet will tolerate initially but hold for 15 to 30 seconds at full flexion and again at full extension. Repeat the process for three to five repetitions.

Low-Impact Exercise: The most accessible (and most commonly used) low-impact exercise is controlled leash walks.Controlled leash walks (slowly at first) will help to achieve the most normal gait possible. Slow walks increase flexibility, strength and weight bearing. After slow walks have been mastered, then we can increase the pace, incorporate gentle inclines or different surfaces (e.g., sand) to further develop endurance, strength, balance and coordination.

Swimming: Swimming is somewhat controversial in veterinary medicine. Some believe swimming (because of the non-weight-bearing component) is the ideal at-home exercise for older patients. Others believe the movements are too “herky-jerkey” and could lead to hyperextension of already arthritic joints. First, access to a pool that has stairs that the pet can walk in and out of is important (this eliminates swimming in the ocean or above-ground pools). Make sure active swimming only continues for five minutes before taking a break. It would also be a good idea to purchase a pet-specific life jacket to ensure that if your pet does tire there is no risk of drowning.

There are other physical therapy modalities such as therapeutic ultrasound, therapeutic laser, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), underwater treadmills, etc. Unfortunately, these modalities are neither readily available nor inexpensive so I thought I would concentrate on therapies one could do at home. If interested in more advanced therapies, make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss them.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 19 years.