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Dr. Matthew Kearns

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

The holiday season is a time of gathering and thanks but, during these stressful and uncertain times, it can be difficult to find anything to be thankful for. The exception is pet ownership. One thing I hear over and over is, “I am thankful for my pets.” Now, more than ever, pets provide stress reduction and help to fend off loneliness. They are good for mind and body.

How do we know that interacting with a pet reduces stress? I read about a study where individuals were induced into a stressful state and then offered a rabbit, a turtle, a toy rabbit, or a toy turtle. Those individuals that pet a real rabbit or turtle showed a significant reduction in stress compared to those that pet a toy rabbit or turtle.

More recently, a study comparing pet owners (dogs and cats) to non-pet owners during COVID found that owning a pet reduced the feelings of isolation by having an individual (even if not human) to talk to throughout the day. Some of the participants even relished the fact that they were able to spend more time with their pets during lockdown than before. This is so important in the new era of online meetings, classes, etc.

Pet ownership also benefits physical health. Previous studies both in the United States and abroad have concluded that just owning a pet significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack or stroke, reduces the risk of type II diabetes, and lowers cholesterol.

Even before COVID it was known that owning a pet motivates us to exercise more. The national physical activity guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week but a CDC analysis states only about 50% 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.

A more recent study found that dog owners were more likely to take their dogs for walks during COVID and, as a result, lost more weight than non-dog owners. So let us give thanks to the furry, four-legged members of our family who enrich our lives every day.

I give thanks to all the readers who enjoy this column. I would like to also thank Heidi Sutton, editor of the Arts and Lifestyle section, as well as all the staff at 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.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I recently had a client from our clinic call who was interested in adopting a cat. The individual our client was adopting the cat from mentioned that she herself had tested positive for COVID-19 and had recovered (the cat never exhibited any symptoms). Our client was concerned that the cat could be an asymptomatic carrier and potentially infect her with COVID if she adopted.

I would like to be clear: there is no evidence of risk at this time. There are documented cases of both dogs and cats that have tested positive for COVID (some exhibited symptoms), there are no cases that dogs or cats have spread COVID to people. This question got me thinking: what diseases should we be concerned about?

Any infectious disease that can be spread from animals to humans is termed zoonosis (plural zoonoses), or a zoonotic disease. The human population most at risk for zoonotic diseases are young children (under 5 years of age), the elderly (over 65 years of age) and the immunocompromised. This following list of zoonotic diseases is not a complete list, but rather the most common I have seen in dogs and cats.

Intestinal Parasites: Giardia and Toxocara species (roundworms) are common. These parasites can be quite significant, especially if you have young children in the household. This is why veterinarians always recommend bringing in a fecal sample with new pets or on an annual exam.

External Parasites: Fleas and ticks can not only suck blood and irritate the skin, but also transmit disease. Ticks carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, and many other diseases. Fleas carry Bartonellosis, or cat scratch fever, and bubonic plague. Certain mites such as Sarcoptic mange can lead to scabies.

Skin Infections: Dermatophytes, or ringworm, is very contagious. I usually see cases of ringworm infections in kittens that spread to humans. Certain bacteria such as Staphylococcus spp. can be of concern. Both dogs and cats carry numerous bacteria in their mouths that are dangerous so any bite or scratch should be evaluated immediately.

Viral infections: The most dangerous viral disease carried by dogs and cats, Rabies, has a vaccine available for prevention. Make sure both for your pet’s safety, as well as your own, you keep them current on their Rabies vaccine.

Remember to keep your pet safe, as well as yourself during these uncertain times. Remember to bring a fecal sample to your pet’s annual exam, stay current with vaccines, and maintain parasite control. Also check with your own veterinarian with any other concerns you may have.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. Have a question for the vet? Email it to lei[email protected] and see his answer in an upcoming column.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

This year more than ever I consider my pet my best friend and most loyal companion. I love that social distancing is not necessary when we get together. Therefore, I always want to make sure everything we do is safe and there are some things to look out for in the fall. Here is a list of common hazards to avoid:

Acorns — Acorns swallowed whole can become intestinal obstructions in smaller dogs and cats. In addition, the meaty inner portion of the acorn contains a poisonous compound called gallotannins. Gallotannins are extremely irritating to the lining of the stomach and bowels. Small amounts cause mild vomiting and diarrhea but large amounts could lead to severe bloody vomiting, diarrhea, and shock secondary to dehydration and bleeding.

RodenticidesIn the fall the cooler temperatures force rodents inside and the use of rodenticides increases. If you are forced to use rodenticides make sure to put in places where no accidental exposure to your pets is possible. 

Mushrooms  Certain types of mushrooms contain a toxic component called amanitin. Amanitin causes rapid hepatocellular necrosis, or liver cell death. A single mushroom can be potentially lethal depending on the size of your pet. There is no specific antidote so if you suspect your pet has ingested this get them to your veterinarian as soon as possible to make them vomit, as well as other decontamination procedures and care.

Old rotten and moldy food — If you do have people over for a get together make sure to clean up old food. Bacteria and mold that grow on food (and it doesn’t take long in the warm, moist weather we see in the summer) release certain toxins when ingested that can lead not only to vomiting and diarrhea but also potentially kidney, heart, and central nervous system damage. Also certain bones (especially hollow bones like chicken bones) can lead to either obstructions or perforations of the bowel.

Antifreeze Toxicity — More and more companies are using propylene glycol (which is harmless to pets), however many still use ethylene glycol. Even small amounts of ethylene glycol can cause permanent, even fatal kidney damage. Consider switching to propylene glycol-based antifreeze if you haven’t already.

Halloween Candy — everyone knows that chocolate is toxic to pets but other problems include wrappings that can lead to an intestinal obstruction or choking hazard. Some sugar free candies also contain xylitol which is toxic to dogs. Make sure all Halloween candy is in a safe place out of reach of pets.

I hope these tips help to keep this fall safe for you and your pet.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. Have a question for the vet? Email it to lei[email protected] and see his answer in an upcoming column.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

When a client brings their pet into my office and states that they are drinking more and urinating in the house a few common diseases come to mind. One prominently on the list is Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s disease is caused by hyperadrenocorticism, or an overactive adrenal gland. The adrenal glands are two small glands that sit in front of the kidneys and are responsible for homeostasis. Homeostasis, as described to me back in veterinary school, is “keeping our bodies even in an uneven world.”

The adrenal glands produce hormones that regulate blood pressure, control electrolyte balance, produce precursors to the sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone), and control metabolism and immune function. The portion of the adrenal gland that causes Cushing’s disease is called the zona fasciculata. This portion of the gland is responsible for producing cortisol, or the body’s natural cortisone.

Cushing’s disease is most often found in Poodles, Boston Terriers, Pomeranians, Maltese, Beagles, Dachshunds, and Cocker Spaniels.

Normal concentration of cortisol is imperative in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Cortisol also plays a crucial role in the immune system by acting as a natural anti-inflammatory. The overproduction of cortisol leads to the symptoms associated with Cushing’s disease. These symptoms include increased thirst and urination, increased appetite, hair loss along the back, abdominal distension, muscle weakness, increased risk of common infections associated with suppression of the immune system such as skin, or urinary tract infections.

Cushing’s disease is much more common in dogs than cats. Any dog can develop Cushing’s disease but breeds more at risk are Poodles, Boston Terriers, Pomeranians, Maltese, Beagles, Dachshunds, and Cocker Spaniels to name a few.

Diagnosis of Cushing’s disease is made with bloodwork. Screening tests will usually reveal an increase in certain liver enzymes. There may be other changes but the hallmark is an elevation in liver enzymes. The definitive diagnosis is made with what is termed an “adrenal stress test.” Basically, a baseline sample of blood is taken, followed by medication to stress the adrenal glands. Additional samples are taken to measure how the adrenal glands respond. Additional testing such as ultrasound or MRI are recommended but not required for diagnosis.

Once a diagnosis of Cushing’s disease is made medication is dispensed. Older medications such as mitotane or ketoconazole are still used but have more side effects. A newer medication called trilostane is much safer. Follow up bloodwork is used to monitor treatment and either adjust dosages, or consider other medications.

If your pet (especially your dog) is drinking more and urinating more bring them to your veterinarian right away. Cushing’s may be the cause and early diagnosis and intervention is always most successful.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. Have a question for the vet? Email it to lei[email protected] and see his answer in an upcoming column.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

During this hot weather I am always concerned with heat stroke and predisposing factors: heat, humidity, and underlying disease.

One condition that is a risk factor for heatstroke is laryngeal paralysis. The larynx, or voicebox, is not only essential for communication but also plays a protective role in preventing aspiration. When food or water gets caught in the back of the throat the larynx snaps shut and the body stimulates a cough to clear the food/liquid to prevent aspiration.

The larynx also helps control body temperature. When a dog starts to overheat, they pant to release heat and reduce body temperature. The larynx aids in this function by dilating to allow more air to pass. If the entrance to the larynx is no longer able to dilate, the dog cannot control body temperature and is at risk for heat stroke.   

The most common cause of laryngeal paralysis is considered idiopathic degeneration of the recurrent laryngeal nerve. “Idiopathic” is a medical term for “we don’t know.” We know there is a cause but just do not have the diagnostic test to identify it. The recurrent largyngeal nerve atrophies and signals to the muscles of the larynx no longer transmit. Trauma to the neck and neoplasia (tumors/cancer) are also causes. Hypothyroidism has been linked to laryngeal paralysis.

Large to giant breed dogs are more at-risk including Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, St. Bernards, Bouvier des Flandres, Bull Terriers, Rottweilers, Huskies, Malamute and many others.

Symptoms of laryngeal paralysis early on are subtle and include a change in the pitch of the dog’s bark and intermittent coughing when eating or drinking. Later symptoms include stridor and difficulty breathing. Stridor is also described as “roaring” where rather than just panting, one hears a harsher, coarser sound.

Diagnosis of laryngeal paralysis is made by direct examination of the larynx while breathing. This involves a very light plane of anesthesia. Other diagnostics like bloodwork and imaging (x-rays, etc) of the neck are also indicated to rule out secondary disease processes.

Surgery is the treatment of choice for laryngeal paralysis. The procedure is called a crico-arytenoid laryngoplasty where one side of the larynx is permanently sutured open. Most dogs do very well after surgery. However, the surgery does increase the risk of aspiration. A change in lifestyle (how and what your dog is fed) is indicated. The use of a medication called doxepin (Sinaquen®) has shown improvement of laryngeal function in some cases but no controlled study has been performed to confirm its efficacy.

Laryngeal paralysis is not a death sentence but diagnosis of this condition and intervention early on is key. Stay cool everyone.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. Have a question for the vet? Email it to lei[email protected] and see his answer in an upcoming column.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

My last article focused on some general potty-training techniques. This article will focus on crate training.

Crate training is a wonderful way to give your puppy the guidance it needs. Crate training originates from a “den theory” observed in wild dogs. Wild dogs are nomadic by nature, but they do settle down for part of the season to mate and raise pups. Males hunt and females search out a den. This den is a safe haven away from other predators and the elements. Wild dogs also 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.

The primary goal is always, ALWAYS make the crate a “safe area” for your puppy. Do not isolate the crate 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.

A favorite toy or a treat before you put your puppy in the crate is a great distractor/reward. A crate is most effective, but a crate does not always have to be a crate. You can baby gate off a portion of the kitchen, give a room, etc.

Avoid leaving your puppy in the crate too long. This could lead to them soiling the crate (if left with no choice). Remember from our last article that puppies can only physically “hold it” for so long. A good rule of thumb is to 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. For example, an 8 week (2 month) old puppy can hold it for 2 + 1, or 3 hours.

Puppies can usually 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. Remember that eating and drinking will stimulate the puppy to go to the bathroom, so allow extra time to bring them back outside after they eat and drink. If the puppy soils the crate just clean it up. We want the crate to be a safe area away from punishment if it is to be effective. 

Do not try to force an older dog into a crate or you may be at your veterinarian’s office for broken nails and teeth (as they do anything to get out of the crate). That is not to say that you cannot crate train an adult dog but it takes time, patience, and the guidance of a behaviorist or trainer. It is much easier (and less expensive) to start at a younger age, remain patient, and consistent. I hope this helps and good luck. 

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. Have a question for the vet? Email it to lei[email protected] and see his answer in an upcoming column.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

COVID is terrible and let’s face it: sheltering in place, and social distancing stinks!!! One silver lining is I have seen a large number of new puppies at my clinic and new puppies need potty training. 

Understanding the physiology of elimination in puppies is crucial. Puppies have a smaller anatomy and, because their bladder and bowels are physically smaller, they fill quicker. Some trainers recommend going outside with the puppy every hour in the beginning. However, a good rule of thumb is, take the number of months old the puppy is plus one hour. For example, if a puppy is two months old, he or she can last two plus one, or three hours total (puppies can usually last longer at night). 

Also, the act of drinking and eating stimulates their bladder and bowels, so try to take them out both before and after meals.   

The old saying, “you get more bees with honey than vinegar” is true. Positive reinforcement goes much farther than negative. Either go outside with the puppy or be present when they go in their designated spot. I personally feel it is okay to train a puppy outdoors at a very young age if one is careful. If you take your puppy outside, make sure he or she is only allowed in an area that is clean and free of anything potentially toxic, material that could cause a choking episode or potential intestinal obstruction, and free of ticks or excrement from stray or wild animals. 

We can also use commands such as “make a pee” or “make a poo” and when the puppy goes give lots of praise, a treat, or both. You may sound a little mentally unbalanced to your neighbors in the beginning, but it pays off in the long run. 

If your puppy has an accident and you do not catch him or her in the act, do not scold, but rather just clean it up (even if you only leave the room for thirty seconds). The puppy will not remember that they did it, but will remember a screaming owner. This will cause the puppy to be afraid of you and look for a more discrete place to go. 

If you do catch your puppy in the act it is okay to say “NO” or clap your hands to get their attention, but never spank them. Rather, quickly pick your puppy up, carry them outside to finish, and give them lots of praise if they do. When you do clean up use something to neutralize the odor like an enzymatic cleaner.   

I hope this information helps. My next article will be on crate training, an excellent tool to teach the puppy to hold their bladder and bowels.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. Have a question for the vet? Email it to lei[email protected] and see his answer in an upcoming column.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

My last article (issue of April 30) describes the benefits of spaying or neutering dogs and cats for both medical and behavioral reasons. Overall, dogs and cats that are spayed and neutered live longer than unspayed and unneutered pets, so the question of “when” is usually before, or after puberty. Full disclosure is that there is far more published data on the advantages and disadvantages of spay/neuter in dogs than cats. This article also focuses on dogs and cats that were not spayed or neutered before adoption/rescue. 

Studies have shown a significant reduction in euthanasia at shelters that employ an early (8 to 12 weeks old) spay/neuter program. Euthanasia is still the number one cause of death for pets in the United States so I want to make clear that I applaud shelters and rescues that employ juvenile spay/neuter programs. 

The risk of certain types of cancer associated with the reproductive tract (mammary, ovarian, uterine, testicular) decreases significantly. Prostatic cancer remains unchanged neutered versus unneutered males but prostatic cancer is very uncommon in dogs or cats, so it is not really an issue. The risk of other types of cancer may actually increase in spayed/neutered purebred large to giant breed dog: specifically, osteosarcoma (bone cancer), splenic hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumor, and bladder transitional cell carcinoma. These studies only evaluated risk in purebred dogs. Purebred breeds at higher risk include Golden Retrievers, Newfoundland, Irish Wolfhound, German Shepherd, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Rottweiler.

Non-cancerous developmental disorders in dogs such as hip dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament rupture (the veterinary equivalent of anterior cruciate ligament) were in higher percentages in spayed and neutered patients. One should keep in mind that many of these studies compare dogs that were spayed or neutered before six months of age, which means before puberty.

Obesity and urinary incontinence (females only) are increased in spayed or neutered dogs. The studies that also covered obesity specifically also noted that owners that were obese tended to have obese dogs regardless of spay/neuter status.

In conclusion I have started to discuss with owners when to spay or neuter their pets. I still recommend spaying/neutering cats by, or before, six months of age. I don’t make recommendations for when to neuter dogs, but rather explore with owners pushing back the spay/neuter date until around a year of age to allow the dog to go through puberty (as long as there are no unwanted behaviors developing). 

I do not recommend leaving dogs or cats intact throughout their lives unless they are breeding animals but that is just my opinion. I would recommend discussing the pros and cons with your own veterinarian before making a decision as to when the right time is for your pet.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. Have a question for the vet? Email it to lei[email protected] and see his answer in an upcoming column.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I was listening to a radio program and they had a segment on how COVID-19 was affecting animal shelters and rescues. The reporter was interviewing the director of a “no kill” shelter and the director was concerned that they might need to change their policy if adoptions fell off. 

Preventing unwanted puppies and kittens is still the main goal of spay/neuter programs because it is estimated that over 10,000 pets are still euthanized every day in the United States (this equates a euthanasia approximately one pet every 11 seconds). 

I still have pet owners that come into my clinic that are concerned about the long-term health concerns with spaying their dog or cat. These are responsible clients that I know would not allow an “accidental breeding,” but there are both health and behavioral benefits to spaying and neutering dogs or cats.

Males: The elimination of the sources of testosterone will dramatically reduce the risk of roaming, as well as fighting behavior. Other unwanted behaviors such as marking, mounting and certain types of aggressions towards humans are also lowered dramatically or eliminated altogether. 

The smell of male cat urine is significantly diminished. The risk of testicular tumors is altogether eliminated and other types of tumors such as perianal adenomas and transmissible venereal tumor (TVT) are dramatically decreased. Other non-cancerous medical conditions such as benign prostatic hyperplasia, prostatic cysts and abscesses, and perineal hernias are minimized.  

Females: The elimination of the hormones estrogen and progesterone terminates the heat cycle, as well as all symptoms/behaviors associated with the heat cycle. These symptoms in female dogs include “spotting,” or small amounts of a blood-tinged vaginal discharge. Spaying eliminates having to buy those specially equipped “doggy diapers” I hear so much about. 

Female cats do not normally have this type of spotting, however behaviors associated with the feline heat cycle can become maddening. The howling and rolling around have had my clients call our hospital wondering what is wrong with their cat. I try to diplomatically explain that these dramatic gestures are your precious kitty’s way of saying “I NEED A MAN!!!” 

Healthwise, removal of the ovaries and uterus eliminates the risk of a condition called pyometra (an infection of the uterus), as well as uterine and ovarian neoplasia. Spaying dogs and cats dramatically reduce the risk of TVT and mammary (breast) cancer.

Overall, the benefits of spaying or neutering (if you do not plan on using your pet for breeding) outweighs the risks of not performing this surgery. However, there has been a shift in the veterinary community’s position as to when is the best time to schedule these procedures. In my next article I hope to discuss “the when” in spaying or neutering our pets.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. Have a question for the vet? Email it to lei[email protected] and see his answer in an upcoming column.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM 

COVID-19 has brought into focus just how a pandemic can cripple society on so many levels and how important vaccines are in our lives today. Developing a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 has become the “holy grail” of human medicine. 

Vaccines are defined as a biological preparation of weakened or killed microorganisms, or portions of the DNA of these organisms (viruses, bacteria, or rickettsiae) to stimulate the immune system to prevent or ameliorate disease. 

The word “vaccine” comes from the Latin, vacca, which means “cow”, because the first vaccine was actually derived from cowpox. Dr. Edward Jenner, an English physician that lived in the 1700’s, discovered that humans inoculated with the fluid from the blisters of cowpox helped prevent the development of smallpox. Since that time vaccines have been used to prevent disease, as well as the development of new vaccines to prevent or treat cancer. 

How do vaccines work? 

Puppies and kittens are born without an immune system. The protection they receive comes in the form of maternal antibodies (antibodies from the mother) in colostrum (the first milk from the mother). These antibodies are absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract into the newborn puppy or kitten and these maternal antibodies protect them for the first four weeks of life.  

After the first four weeks of life the protection from maternal antibodies declines and they will have to develop their own immune system to fight infection. Unfortunately, there is a window (between the ages of four to eight weeks) from when a puppy or kitten gradually loses protection from maternal antibodies, BUT before their own immune system begins to develop and is able to start to fight infection. That is why veterinarians recommend keeping puppies and kittens away from other dogs and cats before they start the vaccinations. Many infections can be very serious (eg., parvo, distemper, rabies, feline leukemia, etc.) and possibly fatal if the kitten or puppy is exposed before they have adequate immunity to it.  

The goal of vaccines is to administer them before our pets are exposed to the infection naturally but after the pet has the ability to use the vaccine. This means at an age where the puppy or kitten have lost a majority of the protection from their maternal antibodies yet old enough for their immune system to use the vaccine to fight infection (ideally between the ages of eight to nine weeks). 

Administering vaccines before eight to nine weeks is controversial because maternal antibodies can interfere or inactivate the vaccine and the puppy or kitten will receive little (if any) protection. Don’t worry. There are established vaccination protocols for a pet of any age. 

Remember during these difficult times to not forget about the health of our four-legged family members. Call your veterinarian’s office to make sure your dog or cat is up to date on their vaccines.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. Have a question for the vet? Email it to le[email protected] and see his answer in an upcoming column