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By MEGAN TREMELLING

Nobody wants fleas and ticks on their dog. Even people who don’t like spending a lot extra on caring for their dogs don’t want those parasites getting into their homes and biting the humans. Therefore, valuing your dogs’ health and comfort and preventing external parasites is an important part of their overall care. Many people were worried to hear that the FDA had issued an alert in September about a potential danger associated with some flea and tick products that are part of the isoxazoline group: Nexgard (afoxolaner), Bravecto (fluralaner), Simparica (sarolaner) and Credelio (lotilaner).

What exactly is the problem? It seems that some dogs that have been treated with isoxazolines have developed neurologic symptoms, including tremors, ataxia (wobbly gait) and seizures. It is important to understand that millions of doses of these medications have been given to dogs, and that the fact that some dogs developed neurologic signs does not prove that the symptoms were always, or ever, caused by the medication. After all, some of those dogs probably broke a toenail after receiving the treatment, too. The reason this is different is that it is possible that in some cases the medication did cause the problem. We just don’t know enough to be sure. As with every new group of drugs, pre-release clinical studies can only teach us so much, and we learn much more when the medications are approved and used in large numbers of pets with a wide variety of concurrent medical conditions and medications on board. The FDA has more data on these medications than anyone else, and so far their official word is that “the isoxazoline class [is] safe and effective for dogs and cats.”

To get to a more complete understanding, veterinarians are researching possible adverse effects from isoxazolines and similar drugs, including neurologic changes and vision changes. In the meantime, for very young dogs and for dogs that have a history of seizures, tremors, ataxia, or vision loss, isoxazolines may not be the best choice. For dogs with no history of those problems, there is less reason to believe that these medications cause any significant danger.

As with so many things in life, all medical treatments come with risks and benefits. Veterinarians think in terms of minimizing risk because it is impossible to eliminate it. Isoxazolines have the advantage of being very convenient and very effective at killing fleas and ticks and, for most dogs, the benefits far outweigh the risks. I use one for my own dog.

Of course, if you are not comfortable using an isoxazoline for any reason, you should talk to your veterinarian about whether it is the right choice for your dog because many other options exist, with their own benefits and risks. If you think your dog may be having problems caused by an isoxazoline, you need to talk to your vet about that, too. It isn’t as simple as saying “it’s safer not to give the medication” because most of the time that just isn’t true. The benefits of flea/tick medications are enormous and very well documented; they reduce sickness and death from very common diseases that are transmitted by these parasites.

Stories like these sometimes cause people to reach for “natural” remedies in hopes that they will be safer. Unfortunately, they can be, in some cases, far more dangerous than carefully-tested and properly-prescribed medications. Herbal extracts and essential oils may have their uses, but flea and tick control is not among them. On the other hand, harmful effects, including death, are well-documented, especially when used incorrectly. Safety aside, I do not condone putting anything with a strong smell on your dog if you can help it. A dog’s nose is so sensitive that applying any strong smell to their bodies, where they cannot get away from it, is unlikely to be appreciated.

You may feel that your dog is at low risk for getting fleas and ticks, but if he ever sets paw on the ground or comes in contact with dogs that do, then he has the potential to be exposed to them no matter how meticulous your yard care. Never seen a flea or tick on him? You might not; they are pretty good at hiding. However your veterinarian can tell you whether you have a problem and help you find the solution that is right for your pet.

By KERRI WIEDMEYER, DVM, WVRC

Bloated may be how we all feel after a nice holiday meal, but Bloat in a dog is a very different kind of bloat. Bloat, otherwise known as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), is a very serious condition that occurs when the stomach fills with gas and then rotates, causing further distension and a series of severe complications.

How Do Dogs Get Bloat?

That is the million-dollar question. No one knows the exact cause of bloat; however large breed, deep-chested dogs are more likely to bloat than other breeds. Older dogs are also more commonly seen with bloat than younger dogs. In some cases, eating or drinking large amounts and then being active is thought to cause bloat. There is also thought that eating out of elevated food dishes may increase chances of bloat as dogs may swallow more air when eating.

Unfortunately, there are many times when dogs present with bloat with no predisposing cause; and, although it is much less common, small breed dogs can bloat.

What Does Bloat Look Like?

Dogs with bloat can be restless and unable to get comfortable or lay down. They will hypersalivate/drool and try to vomit, but nothing will come out. They can have very distended abdomens that can be very painful. They may also have very fast heart rates and changes in breathing. In severe cases, they may collapse or be unable to stand. It is very important that if you see any of these signs that you have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian immediately. As veterinarians, we understand that each dog can show different variations of these signs; if there is any concern, an owner can always call a veterinary clinic and ask their opinion.

Why is Bloat an Emergency?

Bloat sets off a cascade of damaging events to the body. As the stomach fills with air, it expands and starts to cut off blood returning to the heart. The expansion of the stomach then puts pressure on the diaphragm, making it difficult for the dog to breath. The stomach then starts to rotate, cutting off the blood supply to the stomach. When the stomach rotates, it can entrap the spleen and thus cause damage or cut off blood supply to the spleen and even rupture blood vessels. All of these changes lead to the dog going into shock. Blood pressure drops, arrhythmias and internal bleeding can occur as well as sepsis. Unfortunately, death can occur in a matter of hours if bloat goes undetected and untreated.

All of these changes happen very quickly, which is why it is so important for an owner to recognize the signs of bloat and get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

How do you Treat Bloat?

Unfortunately, there is nothing that an owner can do at home. It is imperative that the dog gets to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Typically, a radiograph will be performed to diagnose a GDV. These dogs then require pain medication, intravenous fluids and emergency surgery immediately. The surgery consists of de-rotating the stomach back to its normal position and then tacking it to the body wall. This is called a gastropexy. If the spleen was involved in the twisting, then it may have to be removed as well. Even after the surgery is performed, these dogs are not out of the woods. There are many complications that can still arise after surgery and it is very common for these dogs to be in the hospital for multiple days. As many as 15 to 30 percent of dogs will not survive bloat even with immediate care and surgery.

Preventing Bloat

Today many people are putting their minds at ease early on by getting prophylactic treatment done. If you own a large breed dog that is more likely to bloat, a gastropexy can be performed when the dog is spayed or neutered.

This procedure will not prevent the stomach from distending with gas, but it will prevent the stomach from twisting/ rotating. The “twisting” is what makes a GDV a surgical emergency. Preventing this by tacking the stomach at an early age will likely save an owner from some sleepless nights and an expensive emergency surgery.

Other considerations to try and prevent bloat are feeding several small meals a day, discouraging drinking large amounts of water at one time, allowing some time between eating and activity, and feeding on the floor.

Hopefully knowing some of these preventative tips will decrease the chances of your furry family member bloating; however, if you see the signs listed above do not wait! Get that loved one to a veterinarian.

By MEGAN TREMELLING, DVM, LVS

In January, someone tried to take a peacock on a United Airlines flight, claiming it was an emotional support animal (ESA). Last June, a 50-pound dog that was traveling on Delta as an ESA badly mauled the face of another passenger. So much for the friendly skies.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not opposed to the idea of ESAs. Animals can be an incredible balm to the human psyche even when it is in perfect working order. Mental health is extremely complex, and if somebody needs their dog with them to be able to manage, I’m not going to criticize. Fortunately, the TSA views ESAs as aids that allow people to live their lives, going a step beyond the job of “pet,” and so ESAs are allowed in airports and airplanes. Traveling with a disability can be challenging enough without the airlines placing undue burdens on the people who need these animals to get by.

On the other hand, when an airplane cabin starts to resemble a petting zoo, and passengers are being taken away by ambulance, clearly there is a flaw with the system. A big part of the problem, of course, is the irritating phenomenon of people pretending their dogs are ESAs, or even service animals, when they really aren’t.

Why would someone pretend to have an ESA or service dog, instead of admitting that their dog is a pet? For one thing, traveling with a pet can be challenging. People are understandably wary of putting their pets in cargo, given some tragedies that have occurred there. Whether in cargo or in the cabin, there are fees to be paid, and the airline may turn your pet away if there are already too many animals on the flight. ESAs and service dogs, however, sometimes travel for free, and are more likely to be accommodated in the cabin regardless of the number of animals on the airplane or the size and weight of the dog.

This does not change the fact that pretending your pet is an ESA is clearly unethical in all cases, and is criminal in some areas. There is quite simply a limit to the number of animals that can fit on a given airplane before things get disruptive. Like disabled parking permits, those spaces should be reserved for people who actually need them.

In an attempt to reduce abuse of the system, some airlines have begun to use more stringent restrictions on ESAs. Delta, for example, has quite an extensive list of animal species that are not permitted on board. United now requires customers with ESAs to bring “a veterinary health form documenting the health and vaccination records for the animal as well as confirming that the animal has been trained to behave properly in a public setting.”

Owners are notoriously bad at assessing their own animals’ behavior, so I can see why the airlines want to get a third party to vouch for the dog, but many veterinarians are wary of going on record stating that their patients have been trained to behave properly. For one thing, even a dog that is well-mannered under ordinary circumstances may find the conditions on an airplane to be a little much. Let’s face it, after standing in line at security, navigating the hubbub of the airport, and then getting squeezed for hours into a cramped space that makes deafening noises and ear-popping pressure changes, even the humans are just about ready to bite somebody. There is no way that I or any other veterinarian can tell whether a dog that behaves nicely in the clinic will continue to do so in flight.

People who genuinely need ESAs will be the ones to suffer if they can’t produce the paperwork the airlines now expect. Even service dogs from an accredited training program, which are expertly-trained to tolerate quite challenging conditions without causing trouble, may find it hard to get on board.

It remains to be seen how to best balance the needs of people with disabilities who rely on their animals to function and the other passengers’ basic expectation of reasonable safety. Veterinarians, representatives of the air travel industry, and disability advocates are attempting to work together to find a way to ensure that genuine service dogs and ESAs are accommodated without putting other passengers at risk. But one thing is clear: pretending your pet is a service animal is not okay.