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Monday, December 29, 2014

Monitoring skin masses on pets can be easier using a common tool

As someone who cares for other people's pets on a daily basis, I can tell you that my smartphone is an invaluable tool and I am never without it. I can stay in touch with my clients easily, make last-minute changes to my schedule on the fly — or even check the ever-changing weather forecast.

It is an essential tool in the direct care of my charges. One example is simple but helps me stay on track: if I have a suddenly finicky eater (whether it is behavioral or health related, many pets tend to eat a bit less when their people are away), I can take a photo of their feeding bowl in the evening to see how much food they might have consumed overnight. When I can return early in the morning, I can look in their bowl and compare.

Caring for pets effectively is all in the details, whether you are a pet owner, a veterinarian or a caregiver.

Any change that one sees with their pet is important, but there is one that can cause considerable concern: skin masses.

Some are benign, others malignant. At times they can progress at a snail's pace, which can lead us to feel like there isn't much to pursue. Skin masses can also appear suddenly and grow swiftly. Then, of course, we feel compelled to get to the vet and take action right away.

The truth is, when any skin mass shows up, we don't really know what's going on beneath the surface.

Many are lipomas — frequently referred to as fatty tumors — which tend to not cause issues and can disappear and reappear as quickly. Not all fall into this category, though as the lumpy bump could be something more pressing, for example, a mast cell tumor (MCT). Gretchen has had one for years that I decided to leave alone. My Lab, Bruiser, who has since passed, had a MCT that emerged and then grew to the size of a grapefruit overnight and needed surgical removal. (Bruiser also had fatty tumors that would come and go.)

It's understandable for financial or other reasons, that when a companion animal makes a visit to the vet's office and there's a skin mass is in question, that a wait-and-see approach is necessary.

That said, it could be kind of difficult for some pet owners to judge how large or small a skin mass looks on any given day when compared to the week before should they decide to forgo an immediate biopsy as gradual changes in reduction or growth can be hard to detect.

Using a simple trick can help mitigate that problem, and help with the compliance that your vet needs to help your pet be their best.

The solution: using your smartphone, take a weekly picture of the lump — with a ruler beneath to help give more accuracy with regard to size and shape. You'll feel more empowered when dialoguing with your clinician, and they will appreciate the clear communication. After all, their goal is to help your pet be healthy and comfortable.

Click here for other ways that your smartphone can be a useful tool in caring for your pet.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a contributor on MLive -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Area safe haven & hospice devoted to cats with feline leukemia also aims to educate people on prevention

There's a population of cats whose immune systems are so profoundly affected by a virus that it puts them at risk of developing other diseases like blood cancers, anemia and fatal infections — usually upper respiratory — and because of that, it greatly shortens their lifespan.

Feline Leukemia, a retrovirus, abbreviated as FeLV (and referred to as "fee loo") is highly contagious among felines, though it's important to note that it's not transmissible to other animals nor humans.

FeLV is also preventable. Why it is then that the virus continues to infect cats?

That's actually a complex question to answer, but really, it boils down to human responsibility.

Cats can be vaccinated for FeLV (dependent on individual risk and exposure), but for many reasons, that doesn't happen, whether it's because cat owners are lax about having their pet's vaccinations completed or kept up to date — if they're are done at all.

Failure to sterilize pet cats compounds the issue, not to mention the overpopulation problem as a whole, and the rate at which felines can reproduce.

The failure to sterilize cats is a multi-faceted contributor: intact male cats have a penchant for fighting other males no matter if they are feral, stray or simply allowed to venture outside, and in many cases resulting in direct contact through bites (the virus is spread through saliva and other body fluids). The virus can also be transmitted during mating, grooming and infected mothers can pass the disease to their kittens.

Kittens have immune systems that are far less sophisticated than adult cats, and are at special risk.

"If we can get kittens to their first birthday, that's fantastic," says Leona Foster, founder of Ann Arbor-based Leuk's Landing.

Leuk's Landing serves as a permanent safe haven for FeLV-positive cats of all ages, and has done so since 2007. It's also a cat hospice, as it's not uncommon for resident cats there to die within two years of arriving. Foster does not adopt out the cats that come into the facility — it's too hard to successfully rehome FeLV-positive cats because of the virus' transmissibility to other healthy family cats.

Foster's idea for the organization came after wanting to do something more meaningful than besides simply having a successful career. She loves cats — she has a handful of her own at home — and after chatting with her veterinarian, Dr. Tina Kaufeld who noted that there was a niche that needed filling, she felt moved to create the sanctuary, which is one of only 20 or so in the country devoted to cats with FeLV.

With a current residency of 36 cats, Foster gets calls from cat owners, shelters and rescues from all over the country with inquiries about space at Leuk's Landing for 'just one more cat'. After noting that there is currently a waiting list of 45-50 cats, it's hard to ignore the noticeable tinge of angst in her voice.

"I have to say 'no'; it's so hard," but in order to keep things manageable in the organization, it's necessary.

"Stress is the number one enemy of cats with this disease."

With over 35 cats in residence, it's easy to see how things could get dicey in close quarters. The cats get along surprisingly well, as Foster tells it, despite their having different histories.

Though Leuk's Landing is a 501(c)(3) non profit organization and is funded by donations, Foster also spends a considerable amount of her own money to get the things necessary to help the animals. Veterinary needs are a large part of the budget.

Then there's the nitty-gritty work. Volunteers fill in the gaps with daily chores and one-on-one time needed with each cat — with Foster doing plenty of the hands-on work — which includes feeding, medicating, tending to litter boxes and of course cleaning. Ensuring that feeding dishes and the like are properly sanitized is a must.

Spending individual time with the cats is therapeutic not only for the animals, but the humans. Foster says that despite the emotional hardship that comes with doing this sort of thing, it's of course tremendously rewarding, even on one's worst day. In fact, as Foster and I chatted, one of the cats BeeGee, was on her lap, luxuriating in the attention. He and the other residents are not unlike any other cats without the disease in that regard: they love in interact, to play, to be with humans. They just need that extra bit of care to stay as healthy as possible, for as long as possible. If you're at Leuk's Landing, though, the end usually comes before too long. It's hard, but Foster keeps things in perspective.

"These guys just love life. In looking at them, you just say to yourself, 'If they can do it, then we [as humans] can.' You can change, you can adapt... you can acclimate to what life brings."

She explained that before a cat is accepted into the sanctuary, it must be absolutely clear that they are FeLV-positive. Sometimes the test, called an ELISA test, can be wrong, and testing two or three times is sometimes necessary to ensure that the reading is correct.

It's sad, "hearing the number of situations when an animal control or shelter have a cat that tests positive once, then they decide to move forward and euthanize immediately."

She goes on to say that happens a lot with mother cats and their young offspring. (It seems important to interject that just because one or more in the group tests positive, it doesn't mean that each one actually has the disease.) It's understandable that so many cats given the diagnosis are euthanized, given the level of detail, care and resources that is needed to ensure that an infected cat stays healthy, and cats free from the disease stay that way.

Foster's voice noticeably brightens when she reflects on what has changed for the better the years since the sanctuary opened.

"I'm finding that more and more people are willing to give these cats a chance," and she credits social media and the Internet as a whole in dispelling myths that are perpetuated about cats with the disease — and in helping to educate people about how to prevent it.


For more on Leuk's Landing, click here.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer, most recently as a contributor for The Ann Arbor News. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Addressing obesity in dogs may be more nuanced than previously thought, according to new study

A new study reveals that obesity in humans and canines share similarities, including one that's unexpected.

In the latest issue of the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, an abstract fleshes out the study. 14 beagles were included — seven of them fed a commercial food to increase their weight (which happened, they gained about 11 lbs. each), while seven other beagles were fed a restricted amount of the same food to maintain their optimal weight.

After six months, researchers tested the fecal samples of all of the dogs. Those who were at an optimal weight had higher amounts of desirable microbes called Firmicutes in the gut, while dogs in the other group harbored more Proteobacteria, a less-favorable Gram-negative bacteria.

The obese dogs also had a less diverse level of intestinal microflora than their thin counterparts, which is also been demonstrated in humans.

It's thought that Proteobacteria may lead to an increase in lipopolysaccharides (which form a protective membrane within the cell wall of Gram-negative bacteria) — something that has a negative effect on the immune system of mammals and has even been tied to weight gain in mice.

Though more research is needed to further understand the role of gut bacteria and weight in dogs, it seems to make sense to keep our pets on the lean side, as it appears that doing so allows for more-favorable types of Firmicutes to thrive, while staving off the growth of Proteobacteria.

Here's another theory stemming from the study: the decrease of serotonin in obese dogs may increase the likelihood of keeping the weight on, as the neurotransmitter increases appetite.

Optimal body condition also helps to add to a pet's overall health — one of the most important being the reduction of the effects of arthritis, as less weight means less stress on the joints. Click here for my interview with Crystal Eberly, DVM of Washtenaw Veterinary Hospital more on strategies to safely reduce weight in dogs.

For more on other findings of the study, Association of Obesity with Serum Leptin, Adiponectin, and Serotonin and Gut Microflora in Beagle Dogs, click here.


Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.