Blog Posts by petMD

  • Is Your Pet a Lefty or a Righty?

    Image: Susan Schmitz / Shutterstockby Dr. Ken Tudor, DVM |

    Throughout my entire veterinary career, I have maintained that my patients had right or left handed preferences. Subtle observations of preferences or behaviors during my exams suggested to me that, like us, each side of their brain dominated different activities. This week's issue of the The Economist describes studies by Italian scientists that demonstrate the direction of tail wagging is determined by whether a situation was pleasant or unpleasant.

    To Dogs, Left Is Sinister

    Two years ago Giorgio Vallortigara and his group at the University of Trento in Italy demonstrated that dogs wagged their tails to the right when greeted by their masters. The same dogs wagged their tails to the left when encountering an unknown dominant dog. Left unanswered by this early study was whether the right or left signal was meaningful to other dogs.

    In the new study, Vallortigara and colleagues used electrodes to monitor the heart rates of dogs subjected

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  • Is Your Pet's Shampoo a Cancer Risk?

    Image via Thinkstockby Dr. Patrick Mahaney, VMD |

    We all want the best for our canine and feline companions, but sometimes we owners may unknowingly be sickening our pets. One of the most glaringly obvious circumstances where pets were sickened or died as a result of the recommendations of animal-health professionals is the 2007 melamine pet food crisis.

    Dogs and cats that consumed dry (kibble) and moist (canned) foods containing melamine-contaminated wheat gluten produced in China suffered kidney failure and death. Wheat gluten is a grain by-product which provides a cheaper alternative to muscle meat protein or whole grain carbohydrates. Melamine is a plastic which increases nitrogen content and protein levels (as determined by laboratory testing) when added to wheat gluten.

    As a result of certain pet food manufacturers' efforts to keep their production costs down by using poorer-quality ingredients, our companion animals suffered life-threatening toxicity. This trend to use

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  • How Holistic Medicine Can Save Your Pet

    Image: Kristy Andrews / via Flickrby petMD |

    Keeping Your Pet Healthy, Naturally

    Like its owners, a pet's health can also benefit by eating healthier foods and finding the right medical care when it is needed. However, this medical care need not always be traditional in nature.

    For example, acupuncture can be used to relieve pain and strengthen the body's immune system; herbal medicines can serve to enhance nutrition, improve body synergy, and as a remedy to ailments when nothing else works; and homeopathy can treat the deepest constitutional causes of your pet's diseases.

    petMD's Yahaira Cespedes spoke with Nancy Scanlan, executive director of the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association (AHVMA), to bring us more on the developments in this exciting field of veterinary medicine.

    Is holistic veterinary medicine hocus-pocus?

    The idea of holistic medicine may conjure up images of a rustic apothecary and ineffectual diagnostic measures, but holistic medicine is a progressive industry

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  • Tips to Slim Down Your Fat Cat

    Image via Thinkstockby Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM |

    I don't like fat cats. I have nothing against them personally, but when I see one in practice I can't stop myself from thinking about the myriad ways those extra pounds will likely shorten their lives and/or diminish their enjoyment of what time they do have left. Perhaps a more nuanced way to rephrase my initial comment is, "I don't like what fat does to cats."

    Obesity is linked to a higher incidence and/or increased severity of osteoarthritis, hepatic lipidosis (a potentially fatal type of liver disease), diabetes mellitus, and some types of cancer. Looking at the big picture, research has shown that lean animals live longer and healthier lives than do those who are overweight. Since owners have more or less complete control over what and how much house cats eat, the question becomes, why are we feeding them to death?

    I think the answer lies in two aspects of modern pet ownership:

    1. We love our cats, and one way to show that love

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  • Honor Dogs in the Military

    U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stacy L. Pearsallby petMD |

    Over the past several generations, the canine has served alongside our men and women of the military, not only as a trusted ally, but also as a friend. Even today, certain missions require abilities that neither humans nor advanced technology possess, thus the need for the military or "war dog."

    During the height of the Roman Empire, "war dogs" were used to break the first line of enemy offense. Feared for their ferociousness, the trained attack dogs were equipped with mail armor and spiked collars. Napoleon would later make use of the dog's superior senses by chaining them to the walls of Alexandria, thereby warning the city dwellers of any impending attacks.

    The United States military would not make extensive use of dogs until 1942. After setting standards for training the dogs and their handlers, the U.S. Army called for the donation of American pet dogs to serve in World War II. Some of the breeds included the Doberman Pinscher, Rottweiler, Boxer,

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  • Tips for Socializing Your Dog

    Image via Thinkstockby Dr. Ken Tudor, DVM |

    Urban legend and veterinary recommendations caution owners not to enroll their puppies in socialization classes until they are fully vaccinated. This creates a dilemma for puppy owners. Full vaccination programs for puppies are not complete until the puppy is 16 weeks of age. Veterinary behaviorists tell us that between the ages of 3-16 weeks are the most important in canine socialization.

    Generally the fear of disease, especially parvovirus, is so great for owners and veterinarians that too few puppies are exposed to other dogs during this socially critical period. A recent study featured in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association should put minds at ease and end the vaccination versus socialization dilemma.

    The Puppy Vaccination Study
    Researchers collected data from twenty-one veterinary clinics in four cities located in the U.S. The information included age, breed, sex, vaccination status, canine parvovirus diagnosis, and

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  • 5 Pet Poisons in Your Purse

    Image: Yasonya / via Shutterstockby petMD |

    Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control based out of Minneapolis, MN, released their list of the "top 5 pet poisons" found in your house. The source? Your purse! That's right; your handbag is a reservoir for lots of things toxic to dogs and cats. Here are the five most common purse items that are toxic to pets.

    1. Sugarless Chewing Gum and Breath Mints (xylitol)
    Have sugarless gum or mints in your purse? Most sugarless gums, including some Trident, Orbit, and Ice Breaker brands, contain xylitol, a sweetener that is toxic to dogs. Some sugarless mints, flavored multivitamins, toothpastes, and mouthwashes may also be made with xylitol. When ingested, even small amounts of xylitol can result in a life-threatening and rapid drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia); large amounts of xylitol, meanwhile, can cause liver failure. As each product has various amounts of xylitol in it, contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at 855-213-6680 if you suspect

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  • The Nose Knows: Diagnose Your Pet by Their Smell

    Image via Thinkstockby Dr. Ken Tudor, DVM |

    Early in my veterinary career, I met a colleague in a neighboring rural practice that shared with me that he was anosmic from birth. This inability to perceive odor also meant that he could not taste most of his wife's marvelous cooking. He was given the worst, foul smelling veterinary cases, and attended to them with little discomfort while his technical staff wretched.

    Although envious on the one hand, it made me realize that smell was a very powerful diagnostic tool. I lamented his inability to use this skill in his own cases.

    The Smell of Dental Disease

    Unfortunately not all of our patients are happy to be at the veterinary hospital. I have many that require a muzzle for every veterinary visit. Although the muzzle protects the staff from bite injuries, it inhibits examination of the patient's mouth. But the muzzle does not inhibit the odors from the mouth.

    Severe dental disease has a very characteristic odor of infected tissue with a

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  • The 5 Most Common Kitten Illnesses

    Image: Africa Studio / Shutterstockby Dr. Lorie Huston |

    Ideally when you adopt a new kitten, the kitten will be healthy and without any medical issues. However, that's not always the case. There are a few problems that seem to occur with relative frequency in young kittens. These are the conditions that I see most commonly in my practice.

    Upper respiratory infections are one of the most common illnesses I diagnose in young kittens. Characterized by sneezing, coughing, runny eyes, runny nose, lack of appetite, and lethargy, upper respiratory infections are extremely contagious and easily passed from one kitten to another. Adult cats may be infected as well but the symptoms are generally most severe in kittens.

    Ear mites are also extremely common in kittens, though cats of any age can be infected and this parasite is contagious to other cats. The most common sign of ear mites is a black/brown discharge in the ears that appears similar to coffee grounds. The kitten's ears are usually itchy as well, and

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  • What Causes Cancer in Pets?

    Via Shutterstockby Dr. Joanne Intile, DVM, DACVIM |

    Hearing the news that your pet has been diagnosed with cancer can be both devastating and terrifying at the same time. It is natural to have many questions about exactly what the diagnosis means, what might happen to your pet as the cancer progresses, and what options you have for treating the disease.

    One of the most common questions I am asked by owners during an initial appointment is, "What caused my pet's cancer?" I can definitely appreciate why this is an important piece of information they would want to understand. Unfortunately, this is a very difficult question to answer accurately, as in nearly all cases cancer is typically caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences, many of which may have occurred years before the diagnosis was made.

    The fact that certain types of cancers occur more often in particular breeds of dogs and cats lends much evidence to the concept of a genetic cause for the disease. We

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