• Amazing Mushroom Medicines

    What if a pharmaceutical company developed a drug for veterinary (or human) use that powerfully improved immune function, acted as a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic, promoted liver detoxification, enhanced brain function, lowered blood pressure and improved blood glucose regulation? That would be a very useful and popular drug indeed. But because pharmaceutical drugs almost always act by a singular and focused effect on the body, no such drug exists. There is, however, a medicine from the natural world that has all these benefits and more: medicinal mushrooms. While some enjoy them more than others, most people are familiar with mushrooms used for food. From the simple white button mushrooms you’d find at any grocery store to the more exotic shiitakes used in many Asian dishes, mushrooms are used in cuisines throughout the world. Many people don’t realize, however, that mushrooms have also been used as medicines by certain cultures for thousands of years. The oldest human mummy, more than 4,000 years old, was found to have a type of medicinal mushroom in his medicine kit. The ancient Chinese so highly valued the reishi mushroom that it was reserved for use by nobles only. More recently, especially in Japan, highly concentrated extracts of particular mushrooms are used for their potent anti-cancer effects.   One of the most highly studied chemical components common to most medicinal mushrooms is B-glucan. This large polysaccharide (complex sugar molecule) is responsible for stimulating a weakened immune system or balancing a overactive one. Although not completely understood, B-glucans are thought to influence the complex system of immune cells in the lining of the intestinal tract. Because of these immune-enhancing effects, medicinal mushrooms have been used with good effect in veterinary and human medicine for treating viral diseases, recurrent bacterial infections and even cancer. Their ability to[Read More…]

  • Medical Cannabis & Pets

    I admit I was very skeptical when a client told me that he had “cured” his yellow Labrador of cancer using a medicinal cannabis extract. “Right,” I thought, “likely another overzealous marijuana advocate.” I had heard reports of cannabis being used as a treatment for glaucoma and assorted other maladies in people, but I figured it was just a ruse to promote legalization of marijuana. A few years ago, however, I became a bit more open minded. I saw a piece on television about a renowned neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who reported a case of a young girl who had severe seizures that were effectively controlled by a special strain of marijuana. Dr. Gupta explained that there are certain strains of cannabis that have low levels of THC (the chemical that gets people ”high”), but high levels of another cannabinoid called CBD. This turned out to be a big deal, because CBD now appears to have many other potential medical benefits and can be extracted from hemp. Hemp is a variety of cannabis that has been grown worldwide for centuries, primarily for fiber. Products and supplements made from hemp are completely legal here in Oregon and in all other states too. More on that later. In the last year or so, I’ve seen a dramatic upswing in the number of clients who ask me about the use of cannabis (marijuana or hemp) products for their pets. It’s understandable, being that Oregon is one of a few states that have legalized marijuana for medical, and more recently, recreational use. Many people have heard of cannabis being used for a variety of medical conditions in humans, and wonder if animals could also benefit. I’ve had several clients admit that they have been taken it upon themselves[Read More…]

  • New Spay & Neuter Considerations

    When I was in veterinary school in the early 1980s, I adopted a dog named “Jake” from a friend. The dog was a very good-natured, handsome mixed breed about five years old. Thinking about him all these years later, I’m struck by the fact that Jake was unneutered, and I had no problem with that at the time. As I recall, it didn’t seem unusual back then to have an “intact” dog, and I don’t remember anyone making an issue over it either. Since then, however, attitudes here in the US concerning spaying and neutering dogs have completely changed.   These days, except for dog breeders, most people accept that all male dogs should be neutered and female dogs spayed. You can’t even adopt a dog from most animal shelters that isn’t already “fixed.” This change in attitude over the last 30 years has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of stray and unwanted dogs in the US, which is obviously a very good thing. Veterinarians like myself have assured our dog-owning clients that neutering and spaying is the responsible thing to do to avoid unwanted litters of puppies, as well as reducing some behavioral and medical problems. When it comes to what age puppies should be sterilized, the answer coming from most animal shelters has been ”as soon as possible.”   I have always been more comfortable waiting until a dog is at least six months old before spaying or neutering, but an article I read several years ago suggested that dogs who are sterilized prior to becoming fully physically mature have an increased incidence of injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of the knee. These injuries are so prevalent today in medium to large breed dogs, some veterinary orthopedic surgeons report that ACL injuries make[Read More…]

  • Do Animals Get Bored?

      A client recently asked me how to keep his dog from getting bored while at home alone for hours at a time. Should he leave the TV or radio on for her? Give her a big bone to chew on? Consider getting another pet as a companion? Before giving him any advice, I asked him why he thought his dog was bored. “I’m not sure,” he replied, “I’d certainly be bored at home with nothing to do, so I figured she would be too.” All of us who live with companion animals make assumptions about what they are feeling at different times and situations. Angry, fearful and happy are all pretty easy emotions to judge, but what about boredom? I see many dogs in my practice that are brought in for destructive behaviors or excessive barking when left home alone. Isn’t that proof dogs get bored? Not necessarily. Some dogs get separation anxiety when left alone for even a few minutes, much less a few hours. This is more an issue of separation causing a negative emotional response, not a lack of mental stimulation that humans associate with boredom. What about a cat that urinates on your bed when you come home late from work? Some animals are very routine oriented, and get out of sorts when schedules are shifted. It seems clear that animals can be quite aware of the time of day, and can become anxious if things don’t happen when they usually do. But once again, does that imply that they can suffer from boredom? Most of us feel bad for our pets when we have to leave them alone for an extended period of time. It may be comforting, however, to realize that unlike humans, animal’s brains are not likely able to ponder the future[Read More…]

  • Fun with Foxtails

    OK…I’m kidding. There’s absolutely nothing fun about foxtails. In fact, I’d rank foxtails right alongside ticks as among the most despised realities of life with animals here in Southern Oregon. Every year about this time, the rain stops and the grass turns from green to brown.  One particular type of grass, commonly known as ”cheatgrass” (Bromus tectorum—an invasive species, by the way), develops seed heads that dry out and disperse a profusion of agents of misery and pain known as foxtails. These angular winged-shaped, pointed-tip seeds most commonly penetrate the cavities between a dog’s toes, but are able to make their way into ANY body orifice—mouth, eyes, nose, ears…you name it. Cats and livestock can be occasionally affected by them too. Due to their uniquely nefarious shape, foxtails are able to move in only one direction: forward. They migrate deep into body cavities and tissues and cause, as you would expect, severe discomfort and a dramatic inflammatory response. A foxtail in the foot will result in visible swelling, redness and pain in the webbed area between a dog’s toes. If they get into the tissue around the eye, they can cause severe irritation and even an ulcer on the surface of the eye. In the nose, dramatic and frequent sneezing results. Any dog that suddenly starts shaking its head this time of year is highly likely to have a foxtail in its ear canal. A gagging dog could very well have foxtails that have penetrated the tissue around the tonsils. I’ve even seen foxtails migrate through the upper mouth behind the molars and cause an abscess behind the eye. Treatment for foxtails involves removal from the affected site, and frequently requires sedation by a veterinarian, and sometimes surgery. I have been able to non-surgically treat some dogs with foxtails between[Read More…]

  • The Paws of Time

    A couple of weeks ago I was looking over health records for our Goldendoodle, Gibson, and I was stunned to realize that he is almost nine years old. Time certainly flies. It doesn’t seem so long ago that a client gave him to me when he was just a four-month-old ball of blonde curly fluff. But here he is, nearly a decade later—at an age when many dogs are slowing down and developing health problems that are considered “normal” for an older dog. But Gibson hasn’t slowed down a bit. He has no arthritis, minimal lumps and bumps on his skin, his eyes are clear and bright, and his teeth are white and beautiful. He’s never had an ear infection or skin rash, and only the very occasional stomach upset after snacking on something irresistible he discovered on a trail. We’ve certainly been fortunate to have such a healthy dog; but I believe it’s more than just good luck. While it’s true that time takes its toll on every living thing, getting old isn’t necessarily synonymous with sickness and disability. I’ve seen many patients in my veterinary practice that were well into their teens, but were still active and vital, with no significant disease present. On the other hand, I’ve seen dogs and cats that were barely middle-aged with problems such as arthritis, skin tumors, dental disease and cataracts—again, all commonly associated with “normal” aging. Genetics certainly do play a part. Generally the larger breed dogs seem to age faster than small ones. But one of the—if not the most important— determinants—is diet. Basically, there is no way a dog or cat (or human for that matter), can exist solely on commercially processed foods and maintain health in later years of life. (See my article, “The Kibble Conundrum” http://animalkindvet.com/kibble-conundrum). Fresh meats[Read More…]

  • Of Cats and Kibbles

      The longer I practice veterinary medicine, the more I am convinced of the importance of nutrition in animal health care. Certainly all animals (and people) need an excellent diet to have optimal health, but domestic cats seem to suffer an inordinately high level of ailments with a direct nutritional cause. I would even say that over 75% of the clinical problems in my feline patients could have been prevented with the proper diet. So what’s a “proper” diet for a cat? Contrary to what those Cat Chow commercials would have you believe: it doesn’t come from a bag. To understand why diet is so important to a cat’s health, we need to look at some history. Cats began their close relationship with humans when agriculture became established in what is now Western Asia, 10,000–12,000 years ago. Stored grains attracted rodents, which in turn encouraged the local wildcats to hang around these early towns and villages. A mutually beneficial relationship developed where people tolerated the presence of these primal cats for vermin control, and cats thrived on the readily available food source. So whereas primal dogs adapted to live with humans eating people’s leftovers, cats have always preferred the rodents and birds that were plentiful in human habitations. Dogs genetically adapted to become much more omnivorous than their wolf ancestors. Cats…not so much. Unlike dogs, cats remain like their wild ancestors: strict carnivores. When we get away from feeding cats what is appropriate for their species, we run into problems. One of the primary problems with dry cat food (kibble) is that it doesn’t even remotely resemble the natural food of a cat. First of all, it’s dehydrated. A mouse (or sparrow) is approximately 75% moisture, and kibble has less than one tenth of that. A cat eating mostly dehydrated  food[Read More…]

  • Something Fishy

    When I first started my veterinary career more than 30 years ago, nutritional supplements were virtually unheard of in small animal medicine. Vitamins have had a long history of well-accepted use, but food- and plant-based “nutraceuticals” have only been an accepted part of most veterinary practices in the last 15 years. One of the most popular supplements in both animal and human health today is fish oil, also known as omega 3 fatty acids. It is commonly prescribed by veterinarians for a wide variety of clinical conditions, but how beneficial is it, and are there any potential adverse effects from its use? So what’s so great about fish oil anyway? Why is it one of the most popular dietary supplements for animals and people alike, generating over a billion dollars in sales last year? Certain types of fish and other marine animals, especially colder water species such as salmon, have high levels polyunsaturated (omega 3) fatty acids in their flesh. Research has shown that these fats have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, and have been touted as being able to reduce the incidence of heart disease in humans. Veterinarians most commonly prescribe omega 3 supplements to help treat allergic skin cases in dogs and cats, but some studies have suggested that they may have benefit in dementia and cognitive decline in older pets as well. Other potential uses include arthritis and even cancer. While there there is a considerable amount of research in both the animal and human fields, the results are definitely mixed, and certainly not definitive. There is good evidence that overuse of fish oils can cause problems with blood clotting and vitamin E deficiency. So with a lack of definitive clinical benefit, and a possibility of adverse effects, why use fish oil supplements at all? There[Read More…]

  • Spice Up the Season!

    Looking out at the fog that has settled into the valley below our Applegate home, it’s hard to believe that just a short time ago we were watching the news for wildfire alerts and wondering if was ever going to rain again. Now that we are well into winter here in Southern Oregon, we should take a moment to consider the effects this season has on the health and well-being of the animals under our care. But first, my wife Becky and I would like to express heartfelt gratitude for all our new friends and acquaintances here in the Rogue Valley. Not very long ago, we bid farewell to Portland and steered a packed-to-the-ceiling U-Haul truck southward toward a very uncertain future. It was Thanksgiving eve, and we drove through the night, sharing the cramped confines of the vehicle’s cab with an array of anxious pets and traumatized houseplants. Now, four short years later, we feel that we are truly “home,” and we’re grateful to be part of this vibrant community. I would also like to thank everyone who has supported me and helped me to build my veterinary clinic into the successful practice it is today. It wouldn’t have been possible without the exceptional level of care, compassion and love that people here have for their animals. We are all fortunate to live in such a place. Now back to the subject of winter. When the mercury drops, there’s nothing quite like the comforting flavor of fresh pumpkin pie. So why is it more appealing during the winter holidays than, say, during the Fourth of July? Think about the spices that go into a pumpkin pie:ginger,nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. All these spices are considered “warming” and “pungent” or invigorating, so it seems pretty obvious they’d be more appropriate in the colder, damper, darker and less active times of the year. I frequently see older dogs and[Read More…]

  • Of Paws and Patterns

    This afternoon I examined a dog at our clinic that had been diagnosed with a disease of the parathyroid gland—a tiny nodule that sits on top of the thyroid gland and controls the calcium levels in the bloodstream. In this particular dog’s case, the glands were enlarged and were secreting an excessive amount of a hormone that caused the animal’s blood calcium level to be elevated dangerously high. The recommended treatment was to surgically remove the enlarged glands, but it was a very expensive procedure, and the surgeon could not be certain of the results. The client came to me for a second opinion and to find out if there were any alternative treatments that could help her beloved pet. When I first took a look at my patient, I was instantly struck by his extremely dull, dry hair coat.  An area of skin on his belly that had been shaved for an ultrasound exam had almost no regrowth of fur even six weeks afterward. His tongue was dry and pale, and I had a hard time feeling his pulse on the inside of his thighs. The client told me that her dog had become more anxious in the last year or so, while at the same time his joints had gotten stiffer and his overall energy level had decreased. Although I spent a considerable amount of time going over this dog’s medical history, blood tests, X -rays and ultrasound results, his appearance and behavior changes were even more striking and important to me—but the conventional veterinarians hadn’t thought to mention these changes in their medical records. How could the observations that one physician finds essential to understanding and treating a patient be completely ignored by another? Modern medicine, veterinary and human alike, has made enormous strides in the last[Read More…]