By MEGAN TREMELLING, DVM, LVS

This summer, a Wisconsin woman died of an infection caused by a bacterium called Capnocytophaga canimorsus, and a Wisconsin man suffered serious illness requiring multiple amputations from the same organism. The infections are believed to be derived from contact with family pet dogs. This is scary stuff for those of us who share our lives with dogs, but there is no need to panic about Capnocytophaga.

Capnocytophaga species are found in the mouths of healthy dogs, cats, and humans. Normally it does no harm, but under certain circumstances, it can cause disease. Studies estimate that up to 74 percent of dogs and up to 57 percent of cats have Capnocytophaga living in their oral cavities. In short, if you have a dog, odds are very good that it carries Capnocytophaga.

In spite of how common Capnocytophaga is, however, serious infections are exceedingly rare. Nobody knows exactly how many cases occur, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received only 12 case reports in 2017, and only about 200 cases have been reported worldwide since this type of bacteria was first identified in 1976.

Capnocytophaga infections can be transmitted by bites from dogs or cats, or through close contact with an animal, especially contact with its saliva. Since humans also frequently carry Capnocytophaga, it is possible to develop an infection without any animal exposure.

Most of the time, Capnocytophaga is not your main concern after a dog or cat bite. Other bacteria, such as Pasteurella, Streptococcus, and Staphylococcus, cause many more infections. Rabies is uncommon in the United States but is so deadly that any possibility must be taken very seriously. Lastly, deep puncture wounds of any origin can result in tetanus.

When Capnocytophaga does cause problems, they can vary widely. Local cellulitis (tissue swelling, redness, and pain) is the most common finding associated with bite wounds contaminated by Capnocytophaga. In more serious cases, the bacteria can spread to other parts of the body such as the heart, brain, or joints. When the infection affects the whole body in a condition called sepsis, there can be long-term effects from infection, including gangrene that necessitates amputations; heart attacks; or kidney failure. About 3 in 10 people who develop sepsis due to Capnocytophaga will die.

Most people who are exposed to dog saliva don’t get Capnocytophaga infections because their immune systems protect them. However, there are factors that can affect your immune system’s ability to keep you safe. One of the most serious risk factors is having had your spleen removed as a result of an injury or illness. Other risk factors include alcohol abuse, old age, or immune compromise due to disease such as cancer, diabetes, or HIV, or taking certain medications such as chemotherapy or glucocorticoids. Some people do get sick with no known risk factors.

Capnocytophaga infections are hard to test for. The bacteria are very difficult to grow in a lab. Fortunately, new technologies such as PCR amplification and gene sequencing are becoming increasingly useful for identifying challenging organisms like Capnocytophaga. The good news is that Capnocytophaga can be treated with common antibiotics, and so far antibiotic resistance isn’t a big problem. However, treatment must be started quickly, without waiting for a lab to confirm the infection.

There are ways to reduce your risk of a Capnocytophaga infection. Don’t let your pets lick faces, wounds, or irritated skin, and wash with soap and water after handling your animals. Minor bite wounds should be washed thoroughly with soap and water. See a health care provider if the wound is deep or serious; if it becomes red, painful, warm, or swollen; or if you feel feverish or weak. You should also see a doctor if the dog was acting strangely or is not known to be vaccinated against rabies. Most people who are going to become ill with Capnocytophaga will do so within 3 to 5 days after exposure, but it can take as little as a day. If you have any risk factors such as immune compromise, you should see your doctor right away for any bite wound that breaks skin, even if you don’t feel sick.

By MEGAN TREMELLING, DVM, LVS

Ever since humans realized the value of animals, we have wanted to provide some kind of medical care to keep them healthy. And for as long as medical care has existed, people have realized that what works for humans does not necessarily work for animals. However, the importance of veterinary medicine to human health has always been clear.

Veterinary medicine is as old as written history, with Sumerian texts making reference to doctors who treated oxen and donkeys. At the time, illness was believed to be due to malign spiritual forces, and seers and priests were considered to have a role to play in protecting the health of both humans and animals. However, clinical practitioners had developed a tradition of practical medicine in spite of them.

One of the earliest veterinarians, in the sense of a healer who treats animals but not humans, was Shalihotra, son of Hayagosha, said to have lived in Uttar Pradesh, modern India, sometime in the 3rd millennium BCE. The Sanskrit work credited to him is a large treatise on the care and husbandry of horses, including notes on the anatomy of elephants. He was one of many writers in the Indian tradition that discussed veterinary science and may have been trained by the same teachers who laid the foundations for Ayurvedic medicine in humans.

Legend has it that the Chinese veterinarian Zhao Fu was practicing on horses during the Western Zhou dynasty in the 10th century BCE. Unfortunately, he was performing bloodletting procedures that have not stood the test of time. Textbooks of traditional Chinese veterinary medicine were produced regularly and discussed the use of acupuncture and herbal medicine.

By the time of the Roman Empire, veterinarians were recognized as professionals whose work was important enough to the state that they were exempted from public duties, like architects and physicians. The most important veterinary work at that time was the care of horses because they were important to the Roman military, to the post and to the huge horseracing industry.

Modern Western veterinary medicine is usually dated to 1761 when Claude Bourgelat founded the first European veterinary college in Lyon, France. The idea of improving animal care by training practitioners with rational scientific principles soon caught on. Veterinary schools began opening around the world. Daniel Salmon who spent his career in public health and identified the bacterium Salmonella earned the first DVM degree granted in the United States in 1872.

Working in clinical practice or public health, as many veterinarians do, does not lend itself to fame and fortune. Many of the most prominent veterinarians are people whose names are not familiar to the average person, although their work has freed us from diseases that have plagued humans since antiquity. In 1892, Leonard Pearson introduced tuberculin testing to the American dairy industry. In the 1920s, Swiss-born veterinarian Karl Friedrich Meyer developed safe canning procedures for food, saving many from botulism. French veterinarian Camille Guérin worked with physician Albert Calmette to develop one of the first vaccinations against tuberculosis for humans in 1921.

In recent years, American veterinarian James Thomson developed the first human embryonic stem cell line. Australian veterinarian Peter C. Doherty won a Nobel Prize for his research in immunology. Two veterinarians have gone into space, including Martin J. Fettman, a veterinary clinical pathologist who flew on a NASA mission in 1993, and Richard M. Linnehan, who undertook no less than 4 space flights from 1996 to 2008.

Many veterinarians have written about their experience. Most famous of course was Alf Wight, who wrote under the pen name James Herriot. His endearing stories of mixed animal practice in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1940s, published in a series including “All Creatures Great and Small,” inspired innumerable young people to pursue veterinary medicine (your correspondent included) and were made into 2 films and a television series. Louis J. Camuti and Baxter Black are two other veterinarians who have charmed audiences with their writing.

Of course, there are many veterinarians who have turned their talents from practice to less clinical fields. They have served in the U.S. Senate and the Cabinet. The first President of the Gambia was a veterinarian, Dawda Jawara. John Boyd Dunlop, who developed the first practical pneumatic tire in 1887, was a veterinarian. Peter Ostrum, who as a child played Charlie in the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie, is now a large animal veterinarian in New York. Debbye Turner, who took time out from veterinary school to be Miss America in 1990, is a popular TV host and motivational speaker.

Finally, in case there remains any doubt that veterinarians have greatly contributed to the quality of life for humans as much as for animals, no review of famous veterinarians would be complete without a mention of Elmo Shropshire, famous for recording the immortal Christmas song, “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”

Did you know that 12 million cats and dogs are diagnosed with cancer every year? With new advancements in veterinary medicine, veterinarians can now diagnose and treat cancer with greater success. There are even veterinary cancer specialists who can provide expert cancer care to your pet. Early detection is crucial when it comes to cancer. Cancer is the number one cause of disease-related deaths in older cats and dogs, and detecting cancer early can make all the difference in the life of your pet.

For young and adult pets, schedule annual visits with your family veterinarian for a full checkup. For older or senior pets, schedule checkups every six months. Animals age quickly, and regularly-scheduled checkups will allow your vet to determine any changes in your pet before they may become severe issues.

Look for these early warning signs of cancer.

Be observant of any changes in your pet’s physical appearance and behavior. Not all cancer warning signs are apparent right away, with some changes developing over time.

Here are the top 10 warning signs of cancer in cats and dogs. If you notice any of these, contact your veterinarian to check things out as soon as possible. Depending on the cancer type and stage, your pet’s health can deteriorate very quickly, so it’s always best to get an exam. When in doubt, get it checked out.

1.) Enlarged or Changing Lumps and Bumps
Once or twice a month, take a few minutes to feel your cat or dog’s body for any lumps, bumps or abnormal swelling. Check for swollen lymph nodes, which can be a sign of lymphoma. Lymph nodes are located throughout the body but most easily detected around the jaw, shoulders, armpits, and behind the legs. Make a note of any bumps (their size and location) to make sure they aren’t growing or changing shape over time.

2.) Sores that do not Heal
If your pet has an open wound that will not heal, it could be a sign of something more serious, such as an unresolved infection or cancer. Tell your veterinarian as soon as possible and have it checked out.

3.) Chronic Weight Loss or Weight Gain
If there is no change in the diet or food, but your pet is gaining or losing weight, this could be a sign of illness. Weight loss or weight gain can indicate a possible tumor in the stomach. Another related symptom could be chronic vomiting or diarrhea.

4.) Change in Appetite
Is your dog or cat eating more than usual? Eating less than normal? Are they trying to eat foods they were previously uninterested in? Drastic changes in your pet’s appetite could be a sign of cancer.

5.) Persistent Cough
There are many reasons why dogs might have a persistent cough. For younger pups that were recently adopted or placed in boarding, a persistent cough could be a sign of kennel cough. In older dogs, a dry persistent cough could indicate a tumor near the heart or lung cancer.

6.) Persistent Lameness or Stiffness
You may find that your pet is limping on one foot or no longer wants to walk or exercise. Persistent lameness or stiffness can be a sign of osteosarcoma or bone cancer.

7.) Unpleasant Odor from the Mouth
A foul smell from the mouth can be a sign of oral cancer. Not all pets that have oral cancer exhibit pain or have trouble eating, so it is a good idea to consult your veterinarian if they have persistent bad breath.

8.) Difficulty Breathing, Eating or Swallowing
A tumor in the mouth or neck can put pressure on the area and make it difficult for your pet to eat or drink. A tumor near the esophagus, nose, or lungs can block airways, making it harder for your pet to breathe.

9.) Difficulty Urinating or Defecating
Dogs and cats can develop tumors in their urinary tracts, which can make it difficult to urinate. Similarly, if you see your pet is having trouble defecating or there is a sustained foul odor from the rear, a mass near the anus may be the culprit.

10.) Bleeding or Discharge from Any Opening
Consult your veterinarian if your pet experiences any unexplained bleeding or discharge from any opening. Bleeding is a common sign of cancer and other illnesses. Oral cancer can cause gums to bleed. Nose cancer can cause the nose to bleed.

Regular wellness exams will provide your veterinarian the opportunity to check for signs of cancer, but you can take a more proactive approach to your pet’s health by looking for these warning signs regularly. Your furry family members depend on you to keep them healthy for as long as possible. And they’ll be sure to thank you for catching their cancer early with cuddles, love, and loyalty!

Courtesy of PetCure Oncology