Let’s Talk Turtles…….

I don’t know about you, but for the past month and a half, turtles have been just about everywhere around here.  My dogs can’t take a walk without sniffing them out and yes, even putting one in their mouths when I’m not looking.  These mainly land-based creatures have their pick on where to go and roam, and that includes neighborhood streets and driveways.  I’ve even heard some of these turtles wandering up driveways into garages lately.

Our most common turtles are the genus Terrapine, and they commonly come out of their hibernation in mid-to-late March around here and begin their feeding and mating once the average temperature goes above 65 degrees.   They feed on anything they find, including snails, grubs, fallen fruit, caterpillars and other worms.  Our garbage remains are not out of the question!

Once the mating begins each Spring, the average egg clutch varies from one to seven per female turtle.  The gestation period is about two months.  Our common local box turtle will stay active all through warm weather, until they have to seek hibernation accommodations by burrowing underground once Jack Frost announces his presence.

little turtle walk ahead, just a few days old

I have always referred to turtles as amphibians, but there is a lifestyle preference of some of these shelled creatures verses others.  Our box turtles prefer land, but tortoises of course are truly amphibious.  I recently came up on a two-foot tortoise in my neighborhood, just a few blocks up from the bayou.  Both tortoises and turtles as a group live long lives, and tortoises live longer than other turtles, according to Thomas H. Boyer, DVM, DABVT who practices in san Diego, CA..  He has studied chelonians, or painted turtles, and has evidence that most of them live 50-100 years.

Says Boyer “I’ve seen several desert tortoises that were in their eighties.  All the desert tortoises I’ve seen that were really old lived in a yard with Bermuda grass, which has a nutritional profile similar to what they eat in the wild.  Conversely, the most common health issue in them is poor nutrition”.  Boer added that most turtles tend to not die of old age, but from man and other predators.

Along with dogs, coyotes, wolves and foxes, large birds and snakes can also prey on turtles.  As well-intended as man may be, turtles die from getting in the wrong place at the wrong time (like a street or driveway), and tortoises get hurt by way of fishing nets, fishing lines or fish hooks.  One of the saddest moments I had this Spring was when I accidently crushed a turtle with my truck tire only because the poor thing chose the cool shade d my tire as his resting place.

As independent as turtles are, many turtles die in captivity when they are removed from their natural habitat.  So, while well-intended, many attempts at keeping box turtles as pets fail because of variables that differ from their true homes.

Dr. Chris Duke

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10 Reasons Why Joint Damage Can Get Worse Without Attention

Anterior Cruciate Ligament

We see it just about every week in practice:  A hurt shoulder, hip, knee, elbow or ankle.  Most joint injuries are sprains, thank goodness.  Yet, dislocations, fractures or ligament tears that affect joints have a need to be surgically repaired within a reasonable amount of time.  Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ recently wrote in our trade journal Veterinary Practice News that untreated joint damage like those mentioned above can really hurt pets when surgery is put off too long.  These reasons included:

  • Pain. Simply stated, although a pet with, let’s say a torn ACL of the knee, may have acute pain at first, chronic pain stays around.  This will probably lead to a permanent limp and hesitance to ever try and put the affected leg down properly.
  • Degenerative joint disease. This is a common sequel of non-surgical intervention.  The aforementioned chronic disease tends to compound negatively this effect on the joint.
  • Decreased range of motion. One may rationalize that this may not mean much to a couch-potato dog, but it sure will determine the activity level of an active family pet or a working dog.
  • Muscle atrophy. After weeks of damage, anyone can see the muscle atrophy on the affected limb of a dog.  It becomes easily visual after awhile, and this is muscle often never recovered back.
  • Exercise intolerance. These pets seldom want to walk or run as they used to, because of chronic pain.  Particularly in working dogs, this is critical.  This also commonly leads to:
  • Weight gain. A consequence of many of the above changes is decreased activity, which invariably causes weight gain.  Unless the pet owner decreases the food intake to match the decrease in activity, weight gain is inevitable.
  • Contralateral limb damage. We’ve seen it many times in practice.  One limb is damaged, so the opposite limb must compensate to bear the load.  The common result?  Yet another joint damaged on the opposite leg. We can at least limit the damage to one leg if we can tackle the problem head-on in the beginning.
  • Other injuries on the same leg. For example, meniscal tears on knees after the initial ACL rupture.  The medial meniscus often times give way once the damage from the ACL tear sets in awhile.
  • Distant problems. The changes in gait problems and posture can affect all three other limbs, as well as the spine.  Weight shifting and compensation (as mentioned in #8) can indeed cause a cascade of other orthopedic events for years after the injury.

Now I know that just after injuries happen, we in general practice try to alleviate pain and inflammation initially.  Optimally, surgical repair of joints in pets is optimal one to two weeks after initial injury.  However, I always caution pet owners that putting off surgery to repair affected joints too long may not only cause the 10 things that Dr. Zeltzman mentioned, but my #11:  That the pet may give up trying to use the affected limb for good because of the psychological acceptance that they cannot rehabilitate the limb anymore.

That’s a premise true in pets and people, amen?

Dr. Chris Duke

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DNA Testing in Dogs: Does It Have A Place?


About once a month, I get asked a question by a client that isn’t really clinical, but just interesting.  Pertaining to mixed-breed dogs in particular, is sending in hair, saliva or blood samples useful in determining the breed mix in a certain dog?  Up until now, I’ve been ambivalent on the subject, and given such responses as “does it really matter?”, or “if you want to spend money on it, go ahead-but it makes no difference to me”.  But a new company is rolling out a testing service on both mixed and pure-bred dogs with a different perspective.


Embark (gotta love the “bark” part of the name), is making available a saliva submission test to see not only the genetic makeup of a said dog, but also look at breed markers to establish risk against certain congenital or developmental conditions.  According to GenomeWeb and reported this past in the Brakke Animal Health e-Newsletter, the Embark DNA test will not only serve as mechanism with which to assess breed origin and ancestry, but also define disease risk and heritable traits of the dogs tested.


If we think through on this rationale, we would be better equipped to make hardline recommendation on spay/neuter, let’s say as opposed to allowing for breeding in a given individual dog.  Furthermore, specific blood tests and/or imaging could be done on a regular basis to track any suspicions that might have been raised by certain heritable diseases in a given blood line.  The Golden Retriever project based at Texas A & M, for example is one such program, monitoring cancer incidences reported by pet owners over a span of years.   More and more breeds, I believe will have similar organized programs in the future, with regular testing, bloodwork and imaging protocols.


The goal, of course, is to have dogs that live longer, fuller lives as a result of genetic selection and preventive medicine.


The Embark testing service will not be for everyone, as the stated cost of their DNA testing program is $199.  This is a significantly higher cost as opposed to the first generation DNA testing services for dogs that only stated percentages of purebred traits from submitted samples, and according to some consumers were questionable in their results. For client convenience, the service includes a mobile app, and the service should be available to the pet-owning public soon.  My understanding is that once the sample is mailed in, results will be reported to the pet owner within four weeks.


The service should be available directly to the pet-owning public soon, according to their website www.embarkvet.com..   As a veterinarian, I would like to be aware of such test results so that I can help follow-through on the necessary medical recommendations for the pet afterwards.  As always, we need to work in partnership with dog owners to achieve the desired full, long life everyone wants!


Have a great week with your pets!


Dr. Chris Duke

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Cutting Through Some Of The Hype In The Dog Food Market

Pet food

At times, I can only shake my head at some of the print, television and on-line marketing that I see from those peddling dog foods.  There has always been a fair amount of the “we’re better than them” advertising in this, but I believe that the digital age has brought the dog food market competition to another level.  Not only do corporate manufacturers push the envelope in their opinions, but bloggers (many uncredentialed) jump in the fray as well.  An unfortunate outcome is that a consumer may respond to the last, loud voice that they heard prior to purchase.  Today I’ll tone it down to a hopefully rational discussion of how to choose a good dog food.  Keep in mind, I have no affiliation with any particular dog food brand.


First, let’s talk about the all-meat and raw diet market.  Recently I visited family in Charlotte and walked into a local pet store.  The total concept of their food stock could be summed up in two words that really don’t match up well:  natural and meaty.  Along with a freezer that they stocked with raw meat products, this store (I kid you not) carried the following dog food brands:  “Call of the Wild”, “Wild at Heart”, Taste of the Wild”, “Primal”, “Precise Naturals”, “Natural Balance” and “Origins”.   Why can’t anyone simply say “it’s a well-balanced dog food” rather than naming the food after one of the two-word current dog food trends?  Sure, a meat protein is nice to be included in a dog food, but we’ll sum up more of that in the food allergy discussion.


The anti-grain trend is another bandwagon that many dog food manufacturers have jumped on.  Bloggers just about outright claim that wheat, corn, rice and barley are the root of all evil because they cause all the skin allergies.  While it is true that a dog that has been allergy tested might react to a given grain, these are not proteins.  Protein sources are the majority of what dogs test positively for when testing is done.  And the big clincher?  According to most veterinary dermatologists, only 15-20 percent of all dog allergies originate from food.  My personal opinion is that many “people” consumers relate to the anti-grain (particularly wheat) trends from their own diets, and want their dogs treated similarly.


The “we’re the best dog food for every dog” mentality simply won’t wash.  Dr. Andy Roark, a veterinarian with his own on-line blog, states this very well, when he shares that in search of the best dog food for our pets we may avoid certain allergies, but run headlong into others by trial and error.  For example, a dog allergic to pork and beef may not benefit from switching off a food (that he or she may be doing well on) that contained chicken and egad-grains.  So, the bottom-line answer is that the best dog food for your dog is the one that they thrive on well.  Allergy talk aside (see your vet for this), there are many other attributes we use to judge dog food compatibility.  Hydrolyzed proteins ae also a popular option when clients of mine opt out on allergy testing.  A dog’s body will not respond with an allergic response from hydrolyzed proteins the way they would normally respond to a conventional protein source in their diet.


My simple questions amount to this:  Does your dog like the taste?  How is the skin coat, musculature and other subjective observations about your dog going?  And finally, how is it coming out the exhaust pipe?  If these all have affirmative responses, keep calm and keep feeding what you’re feeding.


Dr. Chris Duke

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Feeding Your Older Cat

Rear view od senior man sitting on the bench in the park with tabby cat on his shoulder

Cats: They’re notoriously mysterious. They hide their illnesses well, often rule the home, and only want affection when they’re in the mood for it. Some cat breeds have average lifespans of nearly 20 years, while others might only live for 10. Most cats will begin to show visible age-related changes between 7 and 12 years of age. There are metabolic, immunologic, and body composition changes, too.


While some age-related changes are unavoidable, some can be managed with diet. It’s beneficial to start your cat on a senior diet at about 7 years old. Why? Foods specifically designed for senior cats help to maintain health and optimum body weight, slow or prevent the development of chronic disease, and minimize or improve clinical signs of diseases that may already be present.
As your cat ages, he or she will be more susceptible to particular health issues, including:

  • Deterioration of skin and coat
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • More frequent intestinal problems
  • Arthritis
  • Obesity
  • Dental problems
  • Decreased ability to fight off infection

Just like humans, cats who receive regular preventive health care and eat healthy diets will be less likely to suffer from age-related health conditions. Not sure what to feed your feline to help him or her age gracefully? Ask us—we’d be happy to help.

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What’s The Best Dog In America? An Update

group of dogs is looking up

Here’s the one you’ve been waiting for!  That pooch over there on his or her bed, or maybe the one out in the yard is set to get his or her due.  After all, how can mine not be #1, right? But before we open the envelope on the #1 dog breed in America, perhaps we need a few qualifiers:


First of all, there is a profound difference between the most popular dog breed in America, and the “best breed”.  It never ceases to amaze me that when folks lose their beloved dog, when they are in the market for a replacement, what do they most likely choose?  That’s right, the breed that they love so much.  To that individual or family, they have a “best breed” in mind.  It always warms my heart to see folks return with a new puppy after a loss of their previous dog with us.


Back to the topic: Recently, the AKC listed its m popular breeds in America, and I’ll announce them in order, followed by a caveat.  According to the AKC, the #1 breed was the Labrador retriever, followed by the German shepherd, the golden retriever, the bulldog, and the beagle.  I could keep going, but you get the gist of the top five here.  My caveat?  The most “owned” breed in America is the mixed breed of dog-and that’s I think kind of cool.  The AKC just doesn’t track them!


The Labrador retrievers aren’t just Johnnie-come-latelies to the list.  This is the 25th consecutive year that they have topped the list.  They were the #1 dog in 28 of the 50 states.  Now I didn’t vote in this contest, and I would have recused myself if asked, because my “Jake” and “Flo” represent the chocolate and black sub-breeds of Labradors in this discussion.  But frankly, from a Chihuahua to a Mastiff, I see them all in my practice and love them all.


So what is your favorite breed?  That is a different question altogether, isn’t it?  Years ago news commentator Paul Harvey had such a contest question where he posed the question:  What’s the best town in America?  The trick answer was “you’re living in it”.  Mr. Harvey respected the personal opinion of one who loved the sense of community they were familiar with.


Using that same logic, what’s the best dog breed in America?  That’s right, the one or ones you have!


Dr. Chris Duke

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Tips for a Safe Memorial Day Trip with your Pet

Man and dog traveling by car

Are you one of the millions of people who will hit the road over the long Memorial Day weekend? The American Red Cross wants everyone to have a safe trip and has some travel safety steps everyone can follow to help them enjoy their trip.

DRIVE SAFELY With more people on the roads, it’s important to drive safely. Be well rested and alert, use your seat belts, observe speed limits and follow the rules of the road. If you plan on drinking alcohol, designate a driver who won’t drink.

Other tips for a safe trip include:

  1. Give your full attention to the road. Avoid distractions such as cell phones.
  2. Use caution in work zones. There are lots of construction projects underway on the highways.
  3. Don’t follow other vehicles too closely.
  4. Make frequent stops.
  5. Clean your vehicle’s lights and windows to help you see, especially at night.
  6. Turn your headlights on as dusk approaches, or during inclement weather.
  7. Don’t overdrive your headlights.
  8. Don’t let your vehicle’s gas tank get too low. If you have car trouble, pull as far as possible off the highway.
  9. Carry a Disaster Supplies Kitin your trunk.
  10. Let someone know where you are going, your route and when you expect to get there. If your car gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along your predetermined route.


SOURCE: http://www.redcross.org/news/article/Red-Cross-Offers-Memorial-Day-Weekend-Travel-Safety-Tips

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What Motivates Dogs To Bark?


The Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2015; 10(3): 204-209) published the results of their study, mainly addressed at “nuisance barking” in dogs.  It was re-published in the February, 2016 Clinicians Brief.com for practicing veterinarians.  I kind of questioned use of “nuisance barking”, because as a veterinarian I always want to have a pat answer to a situation, and never broad brush such a thing as a dog bark as something in the nuisance category.  After all, the bark is the way dogs outwardly communicate, right?  They’re trying to tell us something!


Before reading the body of this article, I mentally composed my own list of why dogs bark.  I came up with these:  Time to get fed, time to go out and use the potty, there’s someone at the door, I or someone here needs help, there are other dogs barking in the neighborhood-so I chimed in, there is a (fill in the blank)-rabbit, raccoon, armadillo, cat, person, strange dog or other living thing in my yard, or simply “I need attention”.  You may have your own submission, and that’s great.  Sometimes, yes my “Jake and Flo” barking at two am is a nuisance, but once again, there’s usually a reason.


Back to the article.  In this pilot study, 25 dogs reported to be nuisance barkers were fitted with bark-counter collars.  Their owners not only tracked the barks, but filled out a questionnaire at the end of the seven-day study.  What were some of the findings in the study?


-Of these dogs, barks per hour ranged from 10 to 500 per hour.  Yes-that’s 500.

-64 % of these dogs barked more when their owners were absent.

-In four of the 25 dogs, a repeating stimulus caused barking at the same time every day.

-The number of dogs in a given neighborhood did count.  Barking increased when more dogs were in a given region.

-Those dogs that had received behavioral training did bark less overall.

-There was no correlation between barking frequency and exercise levels, age, or hours spent alone.

-Patterns correlating to boredom or separation anxiety were not significant.


That last point was surprising to me.  This study disputed the long-held belief that most dogs only bark for a 10-15-minute window after an owner leaves because of separation anxiety or boredom.   This study showed that nuisance barking can be triggered by various environmental stimuli.


So why is this study relevant to veterinarians and pet owners?  Once aware of underlying causes, perhaps we can see less animal surrenders, therefore keeping more dogs in homes, and in turn strengthening the human-animal bond.


Dr. Chris Duke

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Five Dental Problems In Dogs That We Deem Emergencies


It makes sense.  Teeth are too important to overlook.  If the mouth has a major issue and a dog can’t eat, then the rest of the dog can’t be nourished, right?  Over the past two weeks I’ve had three of these top five emergencies (according to Clinician’s Brief) that I personally dealt with in dogs.  To be fair, I’ll touch on all five on their list.  By the way-my three thus far have happy endings.


#1:  Hard tissue trauma: That’s where either the mandible or maxilla have a structural dislocation, whereas either lower or upper parts of the mouth can’t allow for proper prehention or chewing of food.  A recent case of mine had ben in a dog fight and three teeth on the upper arcade were actually flipped up 90 degrees, so that they were “coming straight out atcha!”  We repositioned the upper arcade to its rightful position quickly.


#2:  Soft tissue trauma:  This could mean the gums or the tongue.  Tongues that get traumatized (like cut or sliced) require immediate surgery-and man can they bleed because of their vascularity!  Recently I had a case where due to an automobile encounter, the chin was actually pulled away from the tongue on a small dog.  We had to re-build the chin, which wasn’t easy working against gravity during the healing phase.


#3:  Tooth fractures or avulsions:  Every person knows what pain a broken tooth can cause, as due to an injury the pulp is exposed.  This pulp exposure also can lead to infection and eventual tooth loss if not treated promptly.  Whether root canal or extraction is opted for, the key eventually is for patient comfort and functionality.  As for avulsions (teeth knocked sideways or backward), if the tooth is presented with a viable socket within a reasonable amount of time, many of these teeth may be straightened and preserved.


#4:  Inability to open the mouth:  This is obvious I know, but there usually is an underlying cause to why this happens.  Mysoitis of the masseter muscles can affect dogs as an autoimmune problem.  Abscesses can cause in the back of the mouth causing innervation issues due to pressure.  Cancers can interfere at times too.  Veterinarians often have to sedate these patients to get a good look at why things mechanically can’t work in a dog mouth.


#5:  Anorexia due to a deteriorating dental picture:  Yes, dental abscesses can get so severe that dogs can’t eat.  It is rare that I see pet owners on the fact that we need an “emergency dental intervention”, but there are times when it is necessary.  I’m not talking a little gingivitis or tartar buildup, but swollen, pus-pockets in and around the gum lines causing discomfort, dead tooth roots and even fever from systemic disease in some cases.  These are big in risk/reward, because when we get the dental situation restored, these dogs get back to being themselves rather quickly.  I just had one of these cases this past week.


If you ever have one of these five issues affecting your dog, see your vet as soon as possible.  After all, time is nutrition and health.


Dr. Chris Duke

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Easter Pet Poisons


The veterinarians at Pet Poison Helpline receive hundreds of calls this time of year from pet owners and veterinarians concerning cats that have ingested Easter lilies.

“Unbeknownst to many pet owners, Easter lilies are highly toxic to cats,” said Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS assistant director at Pet Poison Helpline. “All parts of the Easter lily plant are poisonous – the petals, the leaves, the stem and even the pollen. Cats that ingest as few as one or two leaves, or even a small amount of pollen while grooming their fur, can suffer severe kidney failure.”

In most situations, symptoms of poisoning will develop within six to 12 hours of exposure. Early signs include vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy and dehydration. Symptoms worsen as kidney failure develops. Some cats will experience disorientation, staggering and seizures.

“There is no effective antidote to counteract lily poisoning, so the sooner you can get your cat to the veterinarian, the better his chances of survival will be,” said Brutlag. “If you see your cat licking or eating any part of an Easter lily, call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline immediately. If left untreated, his chances of survival are low.”

Treatment includes inducing vomiting, administering drugs like activated charcoal (to bind the poison in the stomach and intestines), intravenous fluid therapy to flush out the kidneys, and monitoring of kidney function through blood testing. The prognosis and the cost – both financially and physically – to the pet owner and cat, are best when treated immediately.

There are several other types of lilies that are toxic to cats as well. They are of the Lilium and Hemerocallis species and commonly referred to as Tiger lilies, Day lilies and Asiatic lilies. Popular in many gardens and yards, they can also result in severe acute kidney failure. These lilies are commonly found in florist bouquets, so it is imperative to check for poisonous flowers before bringing bouquets into the household. Other types of lilies – such as the Peace, Peruvian and Calla lilies – are usually not a problem for cats and may cause only minor drooling.

Thankfully, lily poisoning does not occur in dogs or people. However, if a large amount is ingested, it can result in mild gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting and diarrhea.

Other Dangers to Pets at Easter Time

Pet Poison Helpline also receives calls concerning pets that have ingested Easter grass and chocolate.

Usually green or yellow in color, Easter grass is the fake grass that often accompanies Easter baskets. When your cat or dog ingests something “stringy” like Easter grass, it can become anchored around the base of the tongue or stomach, rendering it unable to pass through the intestines. It can result in a linear foreign body and cause severe damage to the intestinal tract, often requiring expensive abdominal surgery.

Lastly, during the week of Easter, calls to Pet Poison Helpline concerning dogs that have been poisoned by chocolate increase by nearly 200 percent. While the occasional chocolate chip in one cookie may not be an issue, certain types of chocolate are very toxic to dogs. In general, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the greater the danger. Baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate pose the biggest problem. The chemical toxicity is due to methylxanthines (a relative of caffeine) and results in vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, an abnormal heart rhythm, seizures, and possibly death. Other sources include chewable chocolate flavored multi-vitamins, baked goods, or chocolate-covered espresso beans. If you suspect that your dog ate chocolate, call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline immediately.

Spring is in the air and Easter is a wonderful holiday. Remember that your pets will be curious about new items you bring into your household like Easter lilies, Easter grass and chocolate. Keep them a safe distance away from your pets’ reach and enjoy the holiday and the season.


SOURCE: http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/pet-owners/seasons/easter/

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