Tags Posts tagged with "Dr. Matthew Kearns"

Dr. Matthew Kearns

While these tumors develop most commonly in mixed-breed dogs, boxers, Boston terriers, Labrador retrievers, schnauzers and beagles are at a higher risk. Stock photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

Cutaneous mast cell tumors are the most common skin tumor in dogs (estimated to be at least 20 percent of all skin tumors in dogs), and one of the most commonly encountered tumors in veterinary medicine. Mast cell tumors can be quite aggressive and cause multiple symptoms (all bad). Where do they come from? What do they do? How do we treat them?

Cutaneous mast cell tumors are malignant skin tumors made up of mast cells, cells normally found in tissues throughout the body. Mast cells contain primarily histamine, a vasoactive protein (a chemical that affects the diameter and tone of blood vessels) and are responsible for allergic reactions. 

Small amounts of histamine cause swelling, itching and redness of the skin. Large amounts of histamine trigger constriction of the airway, dilation of the vessels and an unsafe drop in blood pressure (anaphylaxis). 

Mast cell tumors develop most commonly in mixed-breed dogs. However, boxers, Boston terriers, Labrador retrievers, schnauzers and beagles are pure breeds that are at higher risk. If you have one of these breeds and you see a lump on your dog’s skin, bring it to your veterinarian’s attention as soon as possible.   

Diagnosis of cutaneous mast cell tumors is relatively straightforward and minimally invasive with a procedure called a fine needle aspirate and cytology. This involves obtaining a sample of cells with a needle attached to an empty syringe and sending the sample to a laboratory for evaluation by a veterinary pathologist. Once diagnosed, the best treatment is surgical removal, and the surgery does have to be somewhat aggressive by requiring wide margins. 

“Wide margins” refers to taking a certain amount of healthy tissue around and below the tumor, as well as the tumor itself. This poses the challenge of closing the “hole” you leave behind. 

Why do we take such large and aggressive margins? Mast cell tumors are graded as one, two or three based on aggressiveness, and it is impossible to tell from a fine needle aspiration anything beyond the diagnosis of mast cell tumor. Previous studies have stated that certain margins, both width and depth, help ensure you get all of the tumor the first time.

What do we do for patients that may be too old or debilitated for anesthesia/surgery, or the location of the tumor makes it impossible to remove fully with surgery? There are options such as chemotherapy, radiation and even injections directly into the tumor. All these alternative protocols help, and a small percentage actually completely resolve, or remove the tumor.

If you see a lump pop up on your dog’s skin (especially if you notice it pops up quickly), bring it to your veterinarian’s attention immediately.  

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

July 4th can be a very stressful time for our pets. Stock photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I commonly get this question around this time of year, “What can I give my pet (usually my dog) for all the fireworks before, during and after July 4th?” One point I tell pet owners to keep in mind is fear of loud noises is a natural, instinctive behavior in dogs and cats, telling them to seek shelter temporarily, alerting them to potential predators in the area, etc. However, I agree that when a pet is oversensitive to this noise stimulus to the point where they cower, shake, pace, urinate/defecate in the house, destroy furniture or even try to climb on your lap that becomes a big problem.     

Supplements: Alpha-casozepine, L-theanine (green tea extract) and aromatherapy (lavender, chamomile) are the safest and also have the widest range of efficacy in my opinion. I have had feedback from owners that report these supplements or homeopathic remedies are either “just what the doctor ordered” or are now of the opinion that I am more “snake-oil salesman” than veterinarian. My advice is it’s great to try these but have a backup plan.

Over-the-Counter Medications: The only over-the-counter medication that has been evaluated for sedation is diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Diphenhydramine can cause drowsiness, and I have heard a few owners tell me it is enough; but I have found that it is more effective for dogs that suffer from motion sickness during travel than sedating a dog climbing the walls from a noise phobia. My advice is the same. Have a backup plan.

Antidepressants and SSRIs: These medications can be quite effective; the mainstay of antidepressants in veterinary medicine is a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) called clomipramine (Clomicalm). The mainstay of selected serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) is fluoxetine (Prozac). The problem is these medications can take a minimum of three weeks and sometimes up to 8 weeks to get to steady therapeutic levels. That means starting before Memorial Day, and my experience has been that pet owners (myself included) do not think that far ahead.

Benzodiazepines: The mainstay of benzodiazepines in veterinary medicine is alprazolam (Xanax). This medication has been studied extensively for all sorts of anxiety and phobias in dogs. It is helpful, but I have to admit that I have been less than impressed with the results with the use of benzodiazepines by themselves. These medications are designed to be used in conjunction with a TCA or SSRI where the TCA/SSRI is a maintenance medication and the benzodiazepine is situational. The problem is what is described above: It takes one to two months of steady use of the TCA or SSRI for the addition of a benzodiazepine to be effective.

Phenothiazine: Phenothiazines are tranquilizers, and the most widely used phenothiazine tranquilizer in veterinary medicine is acepromazine. Using acepromazine to sedate a dog is wonderful if one is looking to keep them still (and not destroy the house), but it does not address phobias or anxiety. I do prescribe it routinely around the 4th of July because it works so well in a “real time” basis, but I do not recommend it as a long-term medication. 

Dexmedetomidine: This medication is the newest kid on the block. Initially used for sedation prior to procedures, dexmedetomidine (Sileo) is now used to treat anxiety on a short-term basis similar to acepromazine.  

There are several choices for sedating our dogs for noise phobias this July 4th. Please check with your veterinarian to determine which is both effective and safe for your dog. Have a happy and safe 4th of July.  

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

Never leave a pet alone in a parked car for any amount of time. Stock photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Here we are, getting ready for another great summer on Long Island. This article will address preventative care and safety issues for the best summer ever! 

Fleas and ticks are more and more prevalent every year. Luckily, there are plenty of flea and tick preventatives available including topical medications, collars and oral medications. Some are administered monthly and some last for several months.  Preventing fleas will help with skin irritations and allergies. It is best to speak with your veterinarian to discuss which option is best for you. This is based on efficacy (especially when fighting the deer tick), safety, cost and which works best for your pet.  

Vaccines are an integral part of maintaining any pet’s health. It is important to make sure your pet is updated on all their vaccines if you want to walk around, visit dog parks, etc. Remember, vaccines are also required by law in Suffolk County at all boarding facilities. Certain groomeries/doggie day care facilities require them as part of their policy. Be sure to check before you arrive or you may be postponing your trip to go to the vet’s office to update vaccines.

Remember to keep ol’ Fluffy and Fido hydrated with cool water throughout the day, and if it is very hot or humid, limit their outside time. Early symptoms of overheating include excessive panting, difficulty breathing, drooling and weakness. If the overheating is not corrected, it will lead to vomiting, bloody diarrhea, stupor, collapse, seizures and possibly death. 

Never leave a pet alone in a parked car for any amount of time. A car can reach in excess of 20 degrees from the outside temperature within 20 minutes and the consequences can be deadly.

We are surrounded by the best beaches anywhere! However, be aware of glass, sharp rocks, debris, etc. A good piece of advice is to think of your pet like a 2-year-old: Everything is interesting, and everything seems to go in their mouths. This can lead to inadvertent obstructions. 

Signs of a blockage include vomiting, lack of appetite and lethargy. An X-ray will usually confirm the diagnosis. Many times IV fluids and medications to control nausea allow the obstruction to pass on its own. Sometimes, surgery is necessary. If any of the symptoms mentioned are seen, better to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. 

When one thinks of summer, delicious barbecue food is the first thing that comes to mind, but just remember many of these foods can be very dangerous to your pet. Keep any kind of bones and/or raw meats (chicken, meat, fish) out of the reach of your pets. Also, make sure your pets stay away from grills, grease and hot surfaces. Avoid leaving around alcohol, raisins, grapes, nuts, chocolate, onions and any artificial sweeteners.

Lastly, remember to be aware of pets around fireworks. It’s best to keep your pet inside or at home if fireworks are going to be part of your summer celebrations to avoid them getting injured or burned. If your pet (usually dogs) suffers from noise phobias, remember to talk to your veterinarian as early as possible. Many anti-anxiety medications take three to four weeks to reach therapeutic levels. I hope everyone has a fun and safe summer!

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

If it wasn’t for the side effects, corticosteroids would be a magic bullet. Stock photo
Getting to the source of the itch

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

My last column introduced the seasonal allergies that our pets can suffer from, also known as atopic dermatitis. This second part of the two-part article focuses more on the treatment of atopic dermatitis. The treatments we will discuss only focus on systemic medications. It does not include supplements, topical creams/powders/sprays, medicated shampoos/conditioners, etc. I’ll make sure to cover that in the future. 

Now, if we remember from the first part of the article, atopy is defined as, “a genetic predisposition to develop a sensitivity to allergens (proteins in the environment).” The body develops antibodies against these allergens (primarily IgE) and, once a threshold is reached, the IgE antibodies trigger signals to certain white blood cells called basophils and mast cells to release inflammatory chemicals into the system (primarily histamine). This release of histamine triggers all the itch and secondary skin and ear infections that frustrate both pet owners and veterinarians. What is out there to help with the problem?


Antihistamines block the histamine receptors on nerves, vessels, muscle cells and the lining of stomach and small intestine. They are readily available without a prescription and safe so they can be an excellent first choice. Unfortunately, antihistamines do not block the release of histamine from basophils and mast cells but rather block the receptors on the cells of the organs they affect.  

Now, you can’t block every receptor with medication so it very much depends how severely the individual pet responds to an atopic, or allergic, reaction. Pets with mild allergies will do well with antihistamines. However, pets with more severe forms of allergies either do not respond well or respond temporarily to antihistamines and eventually need a stronger medication.


Corticosteroids, glucocorticoids, or “steroids,” as they are sometimes referred to, are all cortisone derivatives. Systemic cortisone medications are prescription only. However, corticosteroids are inexpensive and very effective at treating atopic diseases. They block the production of all cytokines (mediators of inflammation) and, if it wasn’t for the side effects, would be a magic bullet. Short-term use is relatively safe and very beneficial. Side effects include drinking/urinating more, eating more and panting. 

However, long-term side effects include gastrointestinal upset/possible ulcers, a suppressed immune system, diabetes mellitus, liver damage, pancreatitis, thromboemboli (blood clots), increased risk of urinary and other types of infections, lethargy and, sometimes, aggression. 

We, as veterinarians, try to transition patients with chronic, recurrent skin and ear problems to other, safer long-term medications.


These prescription medications are more effective than antihistamines and safer to use long term than corticosteroids. Medications like Atopica (cyclosporine) and Apoquel (oclacitinib) block a specific receptor and prevent specific cytokines associated with the allergic itch. These are newer medications with minimal side effects and safe to use long term but are more expensive than antihistamines or corticosteroids.

Biologic therapy 

This is the newest kid on the block. Biologic therapy uses the body’s immune system to target cytokines, or chemicals that induce inflammation. Cytopoint (lokivetmab) is a once monthly injection that induces your dog’s immune system to produce antibodies against a specific class of cytokines called interleukins. Interleukins have been linked to the itch in allergic or atopic dermatitis.

Multiple factors play into what medication we choose: severity, age of pet, pre-existing disease and cost of medication. I hope pet owners will start the discussion with their own vet as to which medication is best for their pet.  

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

Allergens are classified into four major categories in veterinary medicine: pollens, mold spores, dander and dust mites. Stock photo
Getting to the source of the itch

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I expect at some point there will no longer be any snow on the ground. Once that happens I will truly suffer with burning eyes, runny nose, sore throat and an intermittent cough. Ugh, my wretched seasonal allergies are back!! 

Well, just like us, pets can also suffer from seasonal allergies. Pets can suffer from all of the signs I mentioned above but, most commonly, they suffer from itchy feet, recurrent ear infections and rashes all over the body. 

This phenomenon of seasonal allergies is known as atopy, or atopic dermatitis. Dermatitis stands for “inflammation of the skin,” or a rash. Atopy is defined as “a genetic predisposition to develop allergies to allergens” (proteins in the environment). Atopy and atopic dermatitis hiccup in the immune system. 

The immune system produces immunoglobulins (Ig), or antibodies, to protect us against infections and parasites. There are five major classes of immunoglobulins: IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG and IgM. These antibodies work with white blood cells to trigger the release of cytokines. Cytokines are chemicals that fight against/kill bacteria, viruses, fungal infections, parasites and even cancer cells. The antibody IgE is the antibody associated with allergies. IgE has a beneficial effect by protecting against certain parasites, particularly gut parasites. 

Unfortunately, these same IgE antibodies recognize allergens, or proteins associated with allergies, the same as parasites. This fools the immune system into producing more IgE antibodies that trigger a certain white blood cell called basophils into releasing large amounts of cytokines (particularly histamine) into the system. This release of histamine causes a systemic reaction that triggers inflammation of the skin all over the body. 

Allergens are classified into four major categories in veterinary medicine: pollens, mold spores, dander and dust mites. Each of these allergens is going to be in higher concentrations at different times of the year. Pollens are high when grasses, weeds, flowers and trees bloom, which is late spring/early summer through late fall. Mold spores are from decaying plant material and occur from late fall/early winter and late winter/early spring. Dander and dust mites are around in the cold winter with low humidity.  

We mentioned at the beginning of the article that pets can suffer from all the same symptoms of hay fever, but it is less common than skin rashes and ear infections. Why is that? Those same allergens that are in the air also land on the ground, and research has found pets that suffer from atopic dermatitis are triggered by percutaneous (through the skin) absorption. 

These pets have defects in the lining of their skin so the allergens are literally absorbed through their feet and other areas where the skin is exposed (stomach, face). Many times if we see pets that have a severe pododermatitis (inflammation and infection of the skin on the feet) that is a clue that atopy or a seasonal allergy is afoot (no pun intended). Once we diagnosis atopic dermatitis we next need to treat it. We will discuss how to treat this condition in my next article.

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

Symptoms of a concussion can be as subtle as mild lethargy to as severe as coma.

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

There is so much attention recently on the effect of concussions on the human brain. Starting with the studies run through the NFL, we parents are now looking at the risks and long-term effects of concussions on children that play contact sports. My son Matty is only in the ninth grade and before he can participate in lacrosse this spring, he has to take a test that evaluates his brain function. If, during the season, he sustains a head injury, he will retake the test to see if he did receive any brain injuries that may require he sit out for a while.

We don’t have specific tests for dogs or cats, but there are ways to evaluate your pet for a possible brain injury. Starting the process of evaluating our pets for concussions requires we, as owners, know what the most common causes of brain trauma and injuries are. These include brain injuries from vehicular accidents and all sorts of blunt trauma to the head like getting hit with a baseball or baseball bat/blunt instrument, a fall from a porch or deck, getting kicked by an animal or running into something like a tree or wall. Smaller dogs can get these injuries falling from their owners arms, rough housing with larger dogs or being attacked by larger dogs (where the smaller dog is picked up and shaken). 

The initial injury comes from a decrease in the blood flow to the brain secondary to brain edema (swelling) or bleeding. Unfortunately, this increase in pressure leads to a secondary increase in arterial blood flow/pressure to the brain and decreased venous blood drainage. This combination of initial swelling after trauma and the body’s response to the increased pressure is what leads to cell death and long-term effects. 

Symptoms can be as subtle as mild lethargy to as severe as coma. More subtle symptoms are squinting, reluctance to move, decreased appetite and sleeping more. Your veterinarian may be able to pick up additional symptoms related to pupil size, reactions to stimuli (light, sound), systemic blood pressure, heart rate and temperature.

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, either your veterinarian or an emergency veterinarian can also give you an idea of prognosis of recovery and possible long-term complications.

Head injuries need to be seen immediately. If your pet is very lethargic or comatose, make sure to be careful moving your pet. Also try to keep your pet’s head above the rest of its body to improve drainage. More severe cases of head trauma require hospitalization, intravenous fluid therapy, supplemental oxygen and medications to regulate blood pressure and reduce intracranial edema.

In conclusion, if a head injury occurs, please monitor your pet closely or, better yet, have it evaluated by your veterinarian ASAP.

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

Stock photo

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.