These Must-Have Tests Could Save Your Pet’s Life

By Dr. Becker
YouTube video here

Although your veterinarian can learn a great deal by performing a hands-on physical examination of your pet, there are some very important aspects of his or her health that can only be evaluated with diagnostic tests.

Some people think if their pet looks healthy and there’s no change in behavior or appetite, then blood tests and other diagnostics are unnecessary.  But this isn’t true for pets any more than it is for people.

Almost all metabolic and organ issues that plague pets start with biochemical changes that can be picked up in blood tests weeks to years before an animal becomes sick enough to exhibit symptoms.  If you wait until your pet is showing signs of disease, it may be too late to reverse the illness or cure it.

Reactive Versus Proactive Pet Care

Many problems brewing beneath the surface don’t produce symptoms until the disease is full-blown and, heaven forbid, even fatal.  Waiting for symptoms to appear is a reactive approach.

Many of us in the holistic veterinary community have clients who think they’re taking a holistic approach to their pet’s health when they’re actually being reactive.

For example, they wait until their dog is coughing to ask for a heartworm test, or until their cat is drinking tons of water and urinating constantly before they ask for a kidney function test.

Allowing pets to get sick before identifying significant health issues isn’t a holistic approach.  The paradigm shift holistic vets are trying to encourage is a move away from reactive medicine toward proactive medicine.  Proactive veterinarians focus on identifying lifestyle obstacles before disease occurs.

Proactive Pet Care Saves Lives

If we’re capable of identifying disease early and stopping it from occurring, why wouldn’t we?  Taking a proactive approach gives us the opportunity to address minor biochemical changes early on, and prevent them from becoming major health issues.

We can prevent organ failure if we know the body is leaning in that direction.  We can prevent irreversible degeneration that robs pets of good health and long lives.  But we have to know it’s occurring in order to address it, and we won’t know if we don’t check.

I’ve heard countless times from clients that, “My dog was fine until he suddenly got congestive heart failure,” or “My cat was fine until I took her to the vet yesterday and she was diagnosed with kidney failure.”  The truth is those conditions didn’t develop overnight.  They occurred slowly, over time.

The dog with congestive heart failure and the kitty with kidney failure have been brewing those conditions for quite a while.  But because the pet parents and veterinarian weren’t regularly monitoring the health of those pets, serious organ degeneration occurred right under their noses.

Even if your vet isn’t proactive, you can be.  Ask him or her to measure your pet’s vital organ function with the appropriate diagnostic tests.  You’re entitled to a copy of the results, which you can review and keep track of from one year to the next, taking note of any changes that occur.

If you have no choice but to visit a reactive versus a proactive veterinarian, you’ll need to act as your pet’s advocate.  Don’t ever be afraid to speak up on behalf of your animal companion.

Keep in mind that most abnormal test results were once normal.  It’s how quickly we catch the change from normal to abnormal that can mean the difference between fixing a problem early, or potentially losing a pet to a disease we could have identified early on.

“I wish I would have known,” is something no proactive vet ever wants to say or hear.  Put another way, “I wish I would have known,” means, “I wish I would have checked.”

We have the ability to check — to monitor your pet’s health — and that’s what I’m encouraging you to do.  This is especially true for senior pets and pets with chronic health challenges.

Fecal Exam and Urinalysis

If your dog goes on lots of outdoor adventures, I recommend once or twice yearly fecal exams to check for signs of intestinal disease and parasites.  Indoor house cats who have no exposure to potentially infectious poop from other animals are off the hook for fecal exams.

A yearly urinalysis (or more frequently if your pet is older or prone to infections or other problems involving the urinary tract) is used to assess the overall health of your pet’s urinary tract, including the kidneys and bladder, and to check for other health indicators, such as glucose regulation and liver function.

A complete urinalysis measures the function of the nephrons in the kidneys and gives information about your pet’s metabolic and fluid status.  The test is also used to evaluate substances in the urine that might indicate an underlying disease process.

Blood Tests

Blood tests help your veterinarian proactively monitor your pet’s internal organ health, and also help to determine causes of illnesses accurately, safely and quickly.  Blood tests also allow your veterinarian to monitor the progress of medical treatments.

However, while these tests indicate where your pet’s body may be having a problem, they don’t tell us how or why the problem is occurring.  It’s also important to know that currently there are no blood tests that definitively detect cancer, and not every organ has a specific serum marker for cancer.

Complete blood count (CBC).  The CBC is the most common blood test performed on pets and people.  A CBC gives information on hydration status, anemia, infection, the blood’s clotting ability and the ability of your pet’s immune system to respond.

The CBC is essential for pets with fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, pale gums or loss of appetite.  Also, in the event that your pet needs surgery, a CBC can detect bleeding disorders and other unseen abnormalities.  The results of a complete blood count include:

HCT (hematocrit) measures the percentage of red blood cells to detect anemia and dehydration

Hb and MCHC (hemoglobin and mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration) measure the oxygen-carrying pigments of red blood cells.

WBC (white blood cell count) measures the body’s immune cells, including lymphocytes, monocytes, neutrophils, eosinophils and basophils. Increases or decreases indicate disease or infection.

Platelets measure cells that form blood clots.

Retics (reticulocytes) are immature red blood cells.  High levels indicate regenerative anemia; low levels indicate non-regenerative anemia.

Blood chemistry profile.  Blood chemistries are common blood serum tests that evaluate your pet’s organ function, electrolyte status, hormone levels and more.

They are very important in evaluating the health of older pets, pets undergoing anesthesia, pets with vomiting and diarrhea, pets that have had toxin exposure, pets on long-term medications and pets with endocrine or internal organ disease.  Blood serum measures include:

ALB (albumin) is a serum protein that helps evaluate hydration, hemorrhage and intestinal, liver and kidney disease.
ALP (alkaline phosphatase) elevations may indicate liver damage, Cushing’s disease, active bone growth in young pets or arthritis or bone degeneration in older pets.
ALT (alanine aminotransferase) is a sensitive indicator of active liver damage but does not indicate the cause.
A bile acids test is a paired serum sample taken before and after meals, which measures how well the liver is able to recycle bile acids.
Amylase is a digestive enzyme for carbohydrates, and lipase (LIP) is a digestive enzyme for fats. Elevations may indicate pancreatitis or other pancreatic dysfunction. The definitive test for pancreatitis is the PLI (pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity) test.
AST (aspartate aminotransferase) increases may indicate liver, heart or skeletal muscle damage.
BUN (blood urea nitrogen) indicates kidney function. An increased blood level is called azotemia and can be caused by kidney, liver or heart disease, urethral obstruction, shock or dehydration.
Ca (calcium) deviations can indicate a variety of diseases. Tumors, hyperparathyroidism, kidney disease and low albumin are just a few of the conditions that alter serum calcium.
CHOL (cholesterol) is used to supplement a diagnosis of hypothyroidism, liver disease, Cushing’s disease and diabetes mellitus. Fortunately, since pets aren’t plagued with arteriosclerosis like humans are, even a significant elevation in cholesterol doesn’t result in blocked arteries, stroke or heart attack.
CL (chloride) is an electrolyte often lost with vomiting and Addison’s disease. Elevations often indicate disease. If your pet has both sodium and chloride abnormalities, you should ask your veterinarian to check for adrenal disease.
CREA (creatinine) is a sensitive marker of kidney function and perfusion. This test helps distinguish between kidney and non-kidney causes of elevated BUN. BUN and creatinine go hand in hand. There’s also a third test called the symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA) test that can also identify early kidney disease.
GLOB (globulin) is a blood protein that often increases with chronic inflammation and decreases with chronic infections and a weakened immune system.
GLU (glucose) is blood sugar. Elevated levels may indicate diabetes mellitus or persistent hyperglycemia as the result of a carbohydrate-based diet. Low levels (below 40) can cause collapse, seizures or coma.
K (potassium) is an electrolyte lost with vomiting, diarrhea or excessive urination. Increased levels may indicate kidney failure, Addison’s disease, dehydration, urethral obstruction or inappropriate doses of certain drugs. High levels can cause heart problems.
Na (sodium) is an electrolyte lost with vomiting, diarrhea, kidney and Addison’s disease. This test helps indicate hydration status.
PHOS (phosphorus) elevations are often associated with kidney disease, hyperthyroidism and bleeding disorders.
TBIL (total bilirubin) elevations may indicate liver or hemolytic disease. This test helps identify bile duct problems, gall bladder stasis and certain types of anemia.
TP (total protein) indicates hydration status and provides additional information about the liver, kidneys and infectious disease.
T4 (thyroxine) is a thyroid hormone. Decreased levels often signal hypothyroidism in dogs, while high levels indicate hyperthyroidism, commonly diagnosed in cats. A complete thyroid panel is necessary to accurately assess thyroid health.

Tests for Tick-Borne Disease

If you live in an area where ticks are abundant, I recommend asking your veterinarian for an annual or even twice-a-year SNAP-4Dx test or an Accuplex test to check for tick-borne diseases, including heartworm, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis.  Regardless of what you do to manage fleas and ticks on your pets, research shows mosquitoes can transmit tick-borne diseases, and none of us can completely prevent mosquito bites.

Especially in the midwest and the east coast of the U.S., it’s a good idea early in the year and at the end of tick season to check for tick-borne illnesses, which thankfully are fairly easy to treat and cure when they are identified before they create chronic disease.

Titer Testing and Vaccinations

I also recommend titer testing in lieu of automatic re-vaccination for all diseases other than rabies, which of course is required by law.  Titer tests are simple blood tests you can ask your veterinarian to do that provide information about your pet’s current immunity to the diseases he’s been vaccinated against in the past.

Immunologist Dr. Ron Schultz states that any positive titer result — any number above zero — means your pet’s immune system is capable of mounting an effective response and no vaccine is needed.

Some of my clients say, “Hey, I think it’s just cheaper to vaccinate.  My dog has only had one vaccine.  What’s the harm in doing it?”  My response is it’s much safer to titer test, even in pets who’ve only had one vaccination, because chances are they’re protected for life and don’t need additional vaccines.

If the titer is low, I will give the vaccine at no charge.  I give a single parvo or distemper vaccine if a dog’s titer is low.  I don’t give combination vaccines.  In 19 years, I’ve never given a free vaccine because none of my patients have titered low after their puppy shots. So this is something to keep in mind when it comes to re-vaccinating your pet.

Additional Recommendations

Three other tests to consider are a fasting insulin test, a vitamin D test and a dysbiosis test.

Fasting insulin test.  In humans, one of the best predictors of longevity is the fasting insulin level.  Very few veterinarians measure this, but I think it’s an underutilized test that can evaluate a patient’s metabolic health and fat-burning adaptedness.  Michigan State Diagnostic Lab runs this test for $18.  In my opinion, it’s one of the best things you can do to evaluate your pet’s ability to manage metabolic diseases, including cancer.

Vitamin D test.  Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic, and we’re beginning to learn that deficiency in pets may rival that of humans.  Dogs and cats can’t make vitamin D from sunlight so they must get it from their diet.

Unfortunately, the synthetic vitamin D used in many commercial pet foods can be difficult for dogs and cats to absorb and unless impeccably balanced, many homemade diets are deficient in vitamin D.  Vitamin D testing is an add-on to routine bloodwork, but you can ask your veterinarian to include it.

Dysbiosis test.  We know that 70 percent of the immune system is located in your dog’s or cat’s gut, and many pets suffer from gut-related disorders that create malabsorption, maldigestion and ultimately, a weakened and dysfunctional immune system.

Identifying and addressing a leaky or dysbiotic gut is critically important in re-establishing good health, especially in debilitated, chronically ill and aging pets.  The Texas A&M Gastrointestinal Laboratory has just released a test to measure the level of dysbiosis in the canine gut.

The takeaway today is that monitoring a pet’s internal environment is actually quite empowering, because we’re able to address minor changes before disease occurs, and in many cases we can prevent degeneration, which is always our goal as proactive pet parents and veterinarians.

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Are We Over-Vaccinating Our Pets?

Did you know that, unlike most other veterinary drugs, the dosages for vaccines are not based on the size of the animal?  It’s scary but true.  A 5-pound cat, for instance, may receive the same dosage of a rabies vaccine as a 150-pound Great Dane.  Instead of body weight, these vaccines are based on the minimum immunizing dose.

Over-vaccinating animals can not only make them sick, but can cause potentially fatal autoimmune reactions.

“Over-stimulation of the immune system can be problematic,” veterinarian Deborah Wolf told KOMO. “There are (also) potentials for — especially in cats — injection site cancers. We want to protect them without over-stimulating the immune system, and running them down and creating new problems.”

Rabies vaccination laws for animals vary by state.  Most states do not allow veterinarians to give partial doses of the rabies vaccine based on a pet’s size or health.  Until 2011, rabies booster vaccinations were usually given annually to pets.  But that year the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) updated its guidelines to recommend that core vaccines be given to pets only every three years.

WHY ARE SOME VETERINARIANS OVER-VACCINATING PETS?

Why do some veterinarians continue to put the health of pets at risk by unnecessarily vaccinating them every year?

“A lot of people do what they told,” Dr. Dale Porcher, of Shores Animal Clinic in West Palm Beach, Fla., told CBS12.  “I think a lot of people have not stood back and questioned why are we doing this.”

Rabies and other vaccinations also happen to be a major source of steady profit not only for veterinary practices but for the Big Pharma companies, like Pfizer, that manufacture them.  Last year (2016), pet owners in the U.S. spent $5.81 billion on vaccinations, CBS12 reports.

Yet some veterinarians who don’t want to over-vaccinate their patients are being punished for taking measures not to do so.

Dr. John Robb, who practices in Connecticut, was put on probation Feb. 1 by the State Board of Veterinary Medicine for reducing the dosage in rabies vaccinations for small dogs. From now until 2042, he cannot vaccinate any animals for rabies.

“You’re telling me that if there’s a law that would force me to kill my patient, I would have to do it?” he told News 12 Connecticut.  “You know what the state board said?  ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘You are crazy.’”

Is it safe to give smaller pets lower dosages of vaccines?  Dr. Lisa Boyer, who practices in Loomis, Calif., doesn’t think so.

“Immunologists say vaccines are not dose-dependent, that you need enough antigens to stimulate the immune system,” she said.  “It’s not a weight-versus-dose question.  My 7-year-old [child] and I get the same vaccine.”

VIDEO below: “Vets Are Now Challenging the Government”

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CONNECTICUT MAY BE THE FIRST STATE TO PREVENT VACCINE OVERDOSING

To help prevent pets from getting sick from being over-vaccinated — and to prevent veterinarians like Dr. Robb from getting punished for trying to keep pets healthy — Connecticut state representatives Pam Staneski and Fred Camillo introduced the bill H.B. 5659 in January, 2017.

The new law would allow vets to adjust vaccine dosages and skip rabies booster shots in the best interest and health of an animal.  The bill recommends a titer test — a simple blood test — that can determine if a pet is adequately immunized.

If H.B. 5659 manages to get passed, Connecticut will become the first state to allow animals to be tested for rabies antibodies instead of being automatically vaccinated every few years.

DON’T LET YOUR PET BE OVER-VACCINATED

It’s important to ask your veterinarian about the vaccinations your pet is receiving.

If your vet recommends annual vaccinations even though your pet has no health or other issues that would require them, you might want to let your vet know about the latest AAHA vaccination guidelines – or perhaps find another vet.

As Dr. Porcher told CBS12, your veterinarian’s primary concern should be “your pet’s health and not their profit margin.”

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Why Breeding Dogs is a Problem, Even if the Breeder is ‘Reputable’

File:FEMA - 38417 - Dogs at a shelter for displaced pets in Texas.jpg

Despite the fact that nearly 62 percent of Americans have a pet, there are still more than 70 million homeless dogs and cats living in the U.S.  Of these 70 million needy animals, only around six to eight million enter shelters each year.  Although they only take in a fraction of America’s homeless animals, these shelters are mostly packed to capacity and strapped trying to function with limited funds.  Yet, regardless of this wealth of pets looking for loving homes, only around 20 percent of Americans adopt their dogs from shelters.

So where are the other 74 percent coming from?  Well, breeders.

You can find virtually any breed of animal in your local shelter – purebred or mixed – but consumers continue to pay hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars for dogs from breeders.

Some believe that by purchasing their dogs from a special breeder they will somehow be getting a “superior” pet, however, not only is this false but there are a number of other reasons that breeding dogs is irresponsible and harmful no matter how good their reputation may be.

The Myth of Purebred Superiority

Consumers looking for a new family pet are willing to pay exorbitant amounts for a purebred dog because they’re told that the puppy has been raised in a loving environment and will grow up to have a friendly disposition with minimal health problems.

However, there is no way to really tell because in many cases, it’s dependent on the individual dog.  While there may be breeders that take precaution to avoid inbreeding (which often leads to significant health issues), and are selective with the dogs they do breed, making sure to raise them in loving environments, there is no definitive “rule” that guarantees these animals won’t suffer from health or behavioral problems early or later on.

You can never forget that breeders are still trying to run a business at the end of the day, so it is only in their best interest to advertise the benefits to owning a purebred, and even perpetuating the myth that certain positive attributes cannot be found in shelter dogs.  Ironically, the Humane Society estimates that 25 percent of dogs in shelters are purebred.

What Distinguishes a “Reputable” Breeder

Now, when we refer to “reputable” breeders, it’s merely to differentiate between those that breed their animals “responsibly,” and those that don’t.  A lot of consumers don’t do research prior to purchasing their new four-legged family member, and as a result, end up buying their new best friend from cruel puppy mills.  Others rely on the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) inspection certification to ensure that the dogs they purchase are both purebred and don’t come from an abusive background.  However, an exposé into the AKC’s inspection program revealed that many of these certified breeders subject their dogs to puppy mill-like conditions as well.

Although the AKC is considered the highest authority on purebred dog standards, Ed Sayer’s, the President of the ASPCA, stated in the New York Times that a number of the raids his organization has carried out involved commercial breeding facilities that were registered with the AKC.

Many puppies who come from puppy mills suffer from serious health problems as a result of reckless breeding.  For example, the New York Times highlighted the story of one woman who purchased a puppy from an AKC breeder only to find out the puppy suffered from a number of abnormalities as a result of reckless breeding practices; the breeder had passed AKC’s inspection only two weeks prior.  Two months later the facility was raided and all of the dogs were removed from the breeding facility.

When a representative from the AKC was questioned as to just how many breeders have AKC registered dogs in the country, they admitted that they did not have those figures. While the AKC may not believe they’re responsible for all breeders, their approval of these substandard facilities is deceiving to consumers and frankly, they should be held accountable for the breeders they certify.

The Question of Overpopulation

Reputable breeders have a passion for breeding dogs and many do genuinely love the animals they care for, but that does not address the very real problem of what breeding pets does to the existing pet overpopulation problem.

According to the ASPCA, 1.2 million dogs are euthanized in shelters every year because of lack of space, resources, and people who are willing to adopt these animals.  No matter how you look at the issue, the idea of producing more dogs to meet the “demands” of people who are willing to pay thousands of dollars for a purebred pup while there are hundreds of thousands of purebred dogs waiting in overcrowded shelters is incredibly irresponsible.

The fact is, all dogs deserve a loving home, but when these dogs become commodities who are bred for profit, it doesn’t matter how well-meaning or qualified the breeders are.  If we wish to put an end to the gross pet overpopulation problem and provide loving forever homes for dogs who truly need it, there is no real justification for the perpetuation of dog breeding.

So please, be a Green Monster and always adopt, don’t shop!

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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Alert: US Dog Food Recalled After Discovered To Contain Fatal Dose Of Euthanasia Drug Pentobarbital

Alert: US dog food recalled after discovered to contain fatal dose of euthanasia drug

Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food has recently issues a recall on some of their products after traces of pentobarbital were found in their food.

Pentobarbital is a sedative normally used to euthanize horses, cats, and dogs.

Evanger’s Hunk of Beef Dog Food is currently the only product suspected of contamination.  The manufacturer is subsequently voluntarily recalling all Hunk of Beef items bearing lot numbers that start with 1816E03HB, 1816E04HB, 1816E06HB, 1816E07HB, and 1816E13HB, and have an expiration date of June 2020.  The FDA reports that the second half of the bar-code should read, “20109,” and it can be located on the back of the product label.

These five lots of food are the sole focus of the recall, as they were all produced with the same lot of beef from the same supplier that is specifically used for the Hunk of Beef product.

The FDA reports that while the majority of the potentially contaminated food has been pulled from store shelves, they advise that “if consumers still have cans with the aforementioned lot numbers, he or she should return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.”

So far, five dogs have reportedly been affected by consuming this tainted product, and one sadly passed away.  The deceased pup had consumed food bearing the lot number 1816E06HB13.

Talula, the pug who passed away, had eaten the food on New Year’s Eve.  Three other dogs in the same household also experienced negative effects from consuming the pentobarbital-tainted food. Mrs. Mael, the pets’ parent, commented, “I fed them one can and within 15 minutes, they were acting drunk, walking around, they couldn’t … they were falling over.”

Fortunately, Talula’s three “siblings,” Tito, Tank, and Tinkerbell, survived after an emergency trip to the vet.  Talula’s post-mortem examination revealed that pentobarbital was the cause of death.

Evanger’s has reportedly paid for all of the dogs’ medical bills and donated to an animal shelter in Talula’s honor.  The dog food company has also paid for the medical bills of two other dogs.

In a statement, Evanger’s said, “We feel that we have been let down by our supplier, and in reference to the possible presence of pentobarbital, we have let down our customers.”

The company, which claims to only use USDA-approved beef for their food, also commented that they had thought “something like this seemed impossible.”  Evanger’s has also “terminated” a 40-year relationship with their beef supplier — which also supplies to other pet food companies.

The source of contamination is still not yet known, but the company says that they will continue to investigate.  It is the first recall Evanger’s has had to issue across their 82 years in the pet food industry.  (RELATED: Learn more about toxic food ingredients at Ingredients.news)

Oddly enough, the FDA has already examined the potential side effects pentobarbital may have on pets: the federal agency has even conducted a study on how much of the sedative needs to be present in a dog’s kibble to do harm.

The research, done some 15 years ago now, concluded that the most pentobarbital a dog would likely consume was 4 micrograms per kilogram of bodyweight per day — an amount they concluded was “harmless.”  Of course, these findings only pertained to dry kibble; Hunk of Beef is a canned food.

Regardless, the FDA has suspected that pentobarbital was present in dog food for at least the last 15 years — they even noted in their study, “Presently, it is assumed that the pentobarbital residues are entering pet foods from euthanized, rendered cattle or even horses.”

While the researchers found pentobarbital poisoning to be unlikely, it has become a reality: the amount of phenobarbital in dog food — at least canned dog food — does have the potential to be harmful.

And it certainly makes you wonder:  is pentobarbital in human food, too?

Sources:

BBC.com  Feb 7 2017

NPR.org  Feb 7 2017

FDA.gov  Feb 3 2017

FDA.gov  Feb 28 2002

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Urgent Food Poisoning Alert for All Dog Owners

Image result for dog and xylitol

Available in EspañolDisponible en Español

Recently a 3-year-old Pug named Bruce in Overland Park, Kansas discovered a tin of sugar-free Mentos and helped himself.  Within a half-hour, Bruce was lethargic. Fortunately, his owner connected the dots between the Mentos and Bruce’s rapidly deteriorating condition.

After calling the veterinarian’s office, as he picked Bruce up to rush him out to the car, the dog went limp.  Once at the vet’s office, he had a seizure.  The mints Bruce had eaten contained xylitol, a sweetener that is highly toxic to dogs.  It’s a sugar alcohol extracted from corn and corn fiber, birch, raspberries and plums.

Xylitol is used to sweeten a wide range of products, including sugar-free gum and mints, nicotine gum, chewable vitamins, certain prescription drugs, dental hygiene products and baked goods.

Xylitol can also be purchased in granulated form as a sugar replacement to sweeten beverages, cereals and other foods.

Fortunately for Bruce, the veterinary staff quickly treated him with glucose water and monitored him closely.  He survived the initial crisis, but they don’t know yet if there has been permanent damage to his liver.

The Number of Products Containing Xylitol Is Exploding

Xylitol poisoning in dogs is reaching epidemic proportions according to some sources. The sweetener is being used in an ever growing list of products because it’s as sweet as sucrose, but with only two-thirds the calories of sugar.

It’s less expensive than other sugar substitutes, tastes better and causes little if any insulin release in humans.

Just a few years ago, xylitol could be found in less than a hundred products in the U.S., primarily limited to sugar-free gums, candy and foods.  Today it can be found in a wide range of health and beauty products, food products, over-the-counter drugs and supplements and prescription medications.

Until fairly recently, xylitol was found primarily in products not normally given to dogs. Poisonings were usually the result of dogs like Bruce sampling human foods, candy or gum on the sly.

However, xylitol is now being found in certain peanut and nut butters.  As most dog guardians know, our pets love these creamy butters.  Many people use a dab of peanut or nut butter to hide pills or supplements they give to their dog, or they fill a Kong with the gooey stuff as a special treat.

Peanut and Nut Butters Containing Xylitol

Dr. Jason Nicholas, who runs Preventive Vet, has compiled a list of nut butters containing xylitol:1

Go Nuts, Co. Almond Butter

Almond Butter – Chocolate Almond Butter

Peanut Butter – Dark Chocolate Mint

Peanut Butter – Natural Chocolate Flavor

Peanut Butter – Natural Flavor

Peanut Butter – Organic Maple Flavor

Krush Nutrition Nutty By Nature Peanut Butter Brownie Batter

Nutty By Nature Peanut Butter Cookie Dough

Nutty By Nature Peanut Butter Snickerdoodle Cookie

Nutty By Nature Peanut Butter Thick & Creamy

Nuts ‘N More® Almond Spread – Almond Butter

High Protein + Almond Spread – Almond Butter

High Protein + Almond Spread – Chocolate Almond

High Protein + Almond Spread – Cinnamon Raisin

High Protein + Peanut Spread – Chocolate Peanut

High Protein + Peanut Spread – Peanut Butter Flavor

High Protein + Peanut Spread – Pumpkin Spice

High Protein + Peanut Spread – Toffee Crunch

Peanut & Protein Spread – Sesame Cranbutter

Peanut Spread – Peanut Butter Flavor

Peanut Spread – Toffee Crunch

P28 Foods High Protein Spread – Almond Butter

High Protein Spread – Banana Raisin

High Protein Spread – Peanut Spread

High Protein Spread – Signature Blend

Protein Plus PB Hank’s Protein Plus – Almond Butter

Hank’s Protein Plus – Banana

Hank’s Protein Plus – Caramel Pretzel

Hank’s Protein Plus – Chocolate Chip

Hank’s Protein Plus – Coconut

Hank’s Protein Plus – Honey Maple

Hank’s Protein Plus – Plain

Hank’s Protein Plus – Snickerdoodle

These are specialty nut butters sold primarily in nutrition stores and online, but the fact that xylitol is now being used in these products is a heads-up for dog parents everywhere of the importance of reading ingredient labels.  It’s probably just a matter of time before more mainstream peanut and nut butters also contain xylitol.  As Dr. Ahna Brutlag, associate director of veterinary services for Pet Poison Helpline explains the seriousness of the situation:

“First, dogs fed straight peanut butter as a treat or fed treats baked with xylitol-containing peanut butter may certainly be at risk for harm.

Second, a dog that nabs the entire jar of xylitol-containing peanut butter and happily gorges on his or her treasure without anyone knowing could quickly become extremely ill. If this occurred during the day while the owners were not home, it’s possible the dog could die before people returned.”2

You should be aware of any product in your home containing xylitol, and especially anything you might consider offering to your dog.

Xylitol-Related Dog Poisonings More Than Doubled in 7 Years

Each year as the number of products containing xylitol expands, sadly, so do the cases of poisoning in dogs.  In 2007, the first year the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA-APCC) started tracking cases of xylitol toxicity in dogs, the Center received 1,764 calls.  In 2014, they handled 3,727 xylitol calls.3

That’s over a 200 percent increase in just 7 years, and includes only the cases called into the ASPCA-APCC.  There are other animal poison control centers that receive calls, as well as unreported cases of xylitol-related illnesses and deaths.

The Toxicity of Xylitol Depends on the Species and Dose

Although xylitol is safe for humans, the sweetener’s effect varies by species.  In people, rhesus monkeys, rats and horses, xylitol causes little to no insulin release.  However, it has the oppositeeffect on dogs, ferrets, rabbits, cows, goats and baboons.  Its effect on cats is unknown.

Humans absorb xylitol slowly, and the sweetener when ingested orally is absorbed at from 50 to 95 percent.  However, in dogs, xylitol is rapidly and fully absorbed within about 30 minutes.  Just a small amount of xylitol can cause a dangerous insulin surge and a rapid drop in blood sugar.

The toxicity of xylitol in dogs is dose-dependent.  The dose required to trigger hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) is approximately 0.1 grams/kg, while the amount needed to cause liver failure is about 0.5 grams/kg.  Most gum and breath mints typically contain .22 to 1.0 gram of xylitol per piece of gum or mint.

This means just a single piece of gum or one mint may cause hypoglycemia in a 10-pound dog.  For more detailed information and graphics on how much xylitol is dangerous to different sized dogs, as well as a comparison of xylitol versus chocolate toxicity in dogs, take a look at this Preventive Vet page.

Determining the Amount of Xylitol in a Product

Currently, product manufacturers aren’t required to list the quantity of xylitol on package labels, and while some companies will reveal the amount in their products, many are reluctant to do so.

In some cases, you might be able to use the placement of xylitol on an ingredient list to estimate how much is in the product.  In the U.S., ingredient lists for foods must be organized in descending order based on weight.  The ingredient weighing the most is at the top of the list.

In most chewing gum ingredient lists, xylitol appears in fourth or fifth place, making it clinically insignificant.  But if it appears as one of the first three ingredients, extreme caution should be taken.  In fact, I recommend dog guardians avoid or very carefully secure any product that contains any amount of xylitol, no matter how small.

When it comes to medications and dietary supplements, U.S. regulations do not require manufacturers to list xylitol by name on package labels.  This is because the sweetener is often categorized as an “inactive” or “other” ingredient, and such ingredients don’t have to be listed in order by the amount contained in the product.

To confuse matters further, when xylitol is named in these products, it is often part of an alphabetized list, which could lead pet owners to assume — perhaps in error — that there is a very small amount in the product.  That’s why it’s best, in my opinion, to either avoid or very carefully store any product that contains xylitol in any amount.  Dr. Nicholas has compiled a fairly comprehensive list of products containing xylitol here.

Symptoms of Xylitol Poisoning and Required Treatment

Symptoms of xylitol intoxication in dogs include vomiting, weakness, lethargy, loss of coordination, seizures and collapse.  Hypoglycemia is usually evident within an hour or two after a dog ingests xylitol, but symptoms are occasionally delayed for several hours.

Treatment depends on how quickly it is given.  Vomiting is induced in cases where the xylitol has just been ingested.  Once a dog develops hypoglycemia, IV dextrose must be administered until the animal can self-regulate his blood glucose concentrations, which typically takes from 12 to 48 hours.

In dogs who ingest enough xylitol to cause liver toxicity, liver enzymes must be closely monitored, as evidence of hepatic necrosis can show up one to two days after ingestion. Should the liver begin to fail, the dog will require IV fluids, dextrose, hepatoprotectants (substances to help support and repair the liver), and regular monitoring of blood clotting activity.

When xylitol exposure is caught early in a dog and treated effectively, the prognosis for a full recovery is excellent.  The prognosis for dogs that develop hepatic failure is less optimistic.

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Can YOUR Lifestyle Habits Actually Kill Your Pet?

A growing body of evidence continues to point to secondhand smoke as the primary cause of certain kinds of cancers and other health problems in companion animals.

Dogs living with owners who smoke are at particular risk for lung and nasal cancers.

smoking with pet

Cats trapped in smoke-filled environments are at risk for malignant lymphoma, a common feline cancer which in under a year takes the life of three out of every four cats that develop the fatal disease.

“The evidence is striking,” says Steven Hansen of the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center.

“Most veterinarians believe pretty strongly secondhand smoke presents a strong danger to dogs and cats with pre-existing respiratory problems,” he says.

“And extrapolating, why would you expose a healthy animal?”

Dr. Becker’s Comments:

It’s probably not a huge surprise to learn that just as human health is at risk from second and third-hand smoke, so is the well-being of four-legged family members in smoking households.

Cigarettes and other tobacco products contain deadly toxins, and toxins poison every living thing, including beloved companion animals.

I have personally witnessed the devastation pet parents feel when I inform them their precious pet has developed a cancer that is linked to exposure to cigarette smoke.

As a pet owner, it’s difficult enough to hear that your dog or cat is seriously ill.

But many people who learn it is their own bad habit or that of a family member that caused their pet’s illness, experience tremendous feelings of guilt on top of the anxiety and sadness that comes with caring for a very sick or dying pet.

Smoking-Related Cancer in Dogs

Your dog is aging about seven times faster than you are. Compared to the lifespan of humans, everything in your dog’s lifetime is sped up – including how quickly toxins act on his system and how fast diseases like cancer develop as a result.

Some breeds of dogs exposed to second and third-hand smoke are more prone to develop nasal cancers.

Dogs with long noses, like collies, German shepherds and most varieties of hounds, are more likely to develop tumors in their noses and sinuses than other breeds. Survivability rates for canine nasal cancer are dismal – most pups die within a year.

Symptoms of nasal cancer include sneezing, bloody nasal discharge, and swelling in the nose or sinus area.

Canine lung cancer from cigarette smoke occurs more often in short-nosed dogs like pugs, boxers, Pekinese and other brachycephalic breeds. Their shorter nasal passages allow more carcinogenic smoke particles to reach their lungs.

One study found that dogs living in smoky environments have a 60 percent greater risk of lung cancer. Chronic coughing, extreme fatigue and weight loss are some of the warning signs of lung cancer in canines.

Cats Get a Double Whammy from Cigarette Smoke

A Tufts University study concluded that cats living with smokers are twice as likely to get malignant lymphoma as kitties living in smoke-free homes.

Part of the reason for the increased risk is that in addition to inhaling tobacco smoke, cats also ingest the toxins from cigarettes when they groom themselves. Grooming activity moves carcinogens from your kitty’s fur into her mouth and bloodstream.

All pets in a smoking household are at some risk of developing disease, including birds. Birds are very sensitive to inhaled pollutants, and they can also be harmed by tobacco and nicotine residue on items (and people) in their environment.

It’s Not Just About the Smoky Air

There are other ways your dog, cat or other pet can be poisoned by tobacco products, including:

  • By eating any portion of a cigarette or cigar
  • By drinking water that is contaminated by a cigarette butt
  • By ingesting a stop-smoking aid like nicotine gum or a nicotine patch

Nicotine is toxic to pets, and eating a cigarette, chewing tobacco, or even just a portion of a cigar can be fatal.

Signs of nicotine poisoning include drooling, constricted pupils, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, seizures and cardiac abnormalities. If you think your pet has ingested a nicotine product, call the Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 immediately and/or get him to a vet or emergency clinic right away.

How to Minimize Your Pet’s Exposure to Smoking Products

  1. Don’t smoke inside your home or any place your pet spends a lot of time, and don’t allow others to poison your pet’s environment, either. Remember, it’s not just about contaminants in the air. Smoke particles cling to everything inside a home, so the rug your dog lies on, or the comforter your kitty naps on are coated with cigarette residue if people smoke indoors.
  2. Don’t leave butts for your pet to find, in ashtrays, other receptacles, or on the ground.
  3. Dispose of nicotine gum or patches appropriately.
  4. After smoking, wash your hands before handling your pet. If your dog likes to snuggle in your lap, change to clothes you haven’t smoked in. If your kitty likes to rub his head against yours to claim you as his own, make sure he’s not being exposed to smoke particles clinging to your hair.
  5. And finally, consider quitting. If you haven’t done it for the sake of your own health, maybe concern for the health of your furry best friend will be just the incentive you need to give up your smoking habit once and for all.

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E-cigarettes and Pets

Electronic cigarettes – those battery-powered devices that simulate smoking – are becoming more common in households.  And while some manufacturers are using childproof measures, this frequently doesn’t deter dogs and their urge to chew.

Nicotine toxicity is not a new toxicity, and whether from cigarettes, patches, insecticides or gum, the level of toxicity and signs seen remain the same.

Here are some factors that make e-cigs and the liquid nicotine with them different:

  • Potentially a high nicotine concentration of 1 to 10 percent
  • The product may often be poorly labeled
  • Liquid formation that means absorption more quickly for faster onset of signs, leaving less time for decontamination efforts
  • While carriers may be propylene glycol and glycerin, there have been reports of them containing diethylene glycol, which can cause acidosis and kidney injury
  • Products may be flavored, such as milkshake or chocolate, making them more attractive to pets

Nicotine acts on nicotinic acetylcholine receptors that are present in the autonomic nervous system. It causes an initial stimulation of the autonomic ganglia at lower doses and blocks them at higher doses.

The body systems most commonly involved are the CNS, cardiovascular system and gastrointestinal tract. Initially excitation, tachypnea, salivation, lacrimation, emesis, diarrhea may be seen clinically. Those can be followed by muscle weakness, twitching, depression, tachycardia, shallow, slow respiration, collapse, coma, cyanosis, cardiac arrest, death.

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