lunes, 21 de noviembre de 2011

Train Your Tabby for a Tri-CAT-thalon

Teaching cats to run an obstacle course sounds as difficult as, well, herding cats।
But that's exactly what cat owners do to prepare for a cat agility competition। To prove their feline finesse, the pets must leap up steps and over hurdles, go through tunnels, and weave around poles.
As you might expect, not all kitties care to compete in a tri-cat-thalon।

Only about 30 percent of the cats actually finish the course in the regulation 4.5 minutes, an agility course ringmaster said in a New York Times article. But other cats careen through the course in under 10 seconds.

To motivate the feline athletes, trainers use a feather on a string or other toy as a guide।

“You have to get the cat to focus on the toy,” another cat trainer told the New York Times, “Cats will pretty much chase a feather on a string anywhere।”

Besides developing infinite amounts of patience in their owners, training and participating in these events benefits the cats physically and mentally, according to the group International Cat Agility Tournaments

"Cat agility contests are fun for you AND your cat,” states the ICAT website.

Some Tips for the Beginning Cat Trainer:

  • Start Young – You can teach an old cat new tricks, but it is more difficult.
  • Practice at Home – Over the bed, chair to chair, under the table, etc.
  • Play With Your Cat Every Day – Besides reinforcing training, this will increase the bond between you and your pet.
  • Cats Are Colony Animals – Cats form cooperative social structures, but not like dogs. Learn about cat behavior and use it to your advantage.
  • Train With Patience, Respect and Affection

Why? Tell Me Why!: Dog Leg Twitching

Why? Tell Me Why!: Cat Coloring

A Potential Giant Step Forward in Lymphoma Treatment

Lymphoma is one of the most common forms of cancer in dogs. Every time I diagnose one of my patients with lymphoma I have what boils down to a "bad news : a little bit of good news" discussion with my client.

First the bad news: Lymphoma in dogs is almost always a fatal disease. But the good news is that unlike some other types of canine cancer, we can sometimes manage it quite successfully for an extended period of time.

For the minimalists amongst us, prednisone alone can make a dog feel almost back to normal for several weeks to months. More aggressive chemotherapy protocols can help many dogs live happily for an additional year or even longer. While this might not sound like much, when you put it into the perspective of a dog’s short life, it is significant.

A new, experimental vaccine might make the "good news" associated with canine lymphoma even better.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recently tested a vaccine that is made by growing B-cells (a type of lymphocyte, the cells that become cancerous in lymphoma) from the patient’s own blood. These cells were then loaded with RNA that had been isolated from the dog’s tumor and injected back into the patient. Dogs in the study received three vaccinations after standard chemotherapy protocols achieved remission, and the progression of their disease was compared to a group of dogs that received chemotherapy only.

Dogs that were vaccinated and those in the control group both had similar rates of relapse. However, when treated with a second round of chemotherapy called a rescue protocol, dogs that were vaccinated had much better survival rates than those in the control group. Some vaccinated dogs were still disease-free after three years.

According to Nicola Mason, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and one of the authors of the study:

Though vaccinated and unvaccinated dogs relapsed with clinical disease at the same time, 40 percent of vaccinated dogs that relapsed experienced long-term survival after a second round of chemotherapy; only 7 percent of unvaccinated dogs that relapsed and were treated with the same rescue chemotherapy protocol survived long term. Furthermore, when the vaccinated long-term survivors did eventually die, they showed no evidence of lymphoma on full necropsy.

It appears that chemotherapy and the vaccine work together to improve survivability. The details of how this might work are still unclear, but continued research could lead to even more exciting results. As Dr. Mason said:

These dogs just received three doses of vaccine, three weeks apart. If we kept boosting the immune system in this way by vaccination, perhaps the dogs would not relapse in the first place.

The dogs in this study had what is called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the human medical world. Fingers crossed that this research will lead to great advances in treatment for both people and pets with this all-too-common disease.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Hypothyroidism ... Are You Sure?

Veterinarians often say that they see patients in clusters. One week might be "diabetes" week; the next is all about inflammatory bowel disease. Sometimes these clusters are real, like in cases of an outbreak of infectious disease, but more often than not they are probably just a chance occurrence. Whatever the reason, this month has been all about the thyroid gland for me.

I’ve already talked at length about my two hyperthyroid cats; let’s ignore them for the moment. The opposite problem, hypothyroidism, is much more common in dogs, but it is not always a straightforward diagnosis. Let’s look at the reasons why.

The thyroid gland manufactures a hormone that essentially sets a dog’s metabolic rate. When the thyroid gland does not secrete enough of this hormone, usually because it has been destroyed by an abnormal immune reaction, a dog’s metabolism sloowwws waaaay doowwwn. Typical symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • weight gain
  • lethargy
  • hair loss
  • recurrent infections
  • heat-seeking behaviors
  • and in severe cases, seizures or other neurologic problems, a thickening of the skin producing a "tragic" facial expression, and sometimes tendon or ligament injuries.

If your dog has some of these symptoms, blood work has revealed low thyroid hormone levels, and other conditions causing similar clinical signs have been ruled out, a tentative diagnosis of hypothyroidism is appropriate. I say "tentative" because the last stage of diagnosis should be response to treatment. If your dog’s symptoms improve with thyroid hormone replacement therapy after recheck blood work has confirmed that therapeutic levels have been reached, you now can be confident that your dog truly was hypothyroid.

Problems arise when a dog’s symptoms and lab work don’t match up well. Why? Because dogs that are sick with diseases completely unrelated to the thyroid gland often develop low thyroid hormone levels. The condition is called euthyroid sick syndrome, and it does not require thyroid hormone replacement therapy. What is really needed is an accurate diagnosis and treatment aimed at the underlying problem, but this is sometimes easier said than done!

Also, treatment with some types of drugs (e.g., prednisone, phenobarbital, and sulfa antimicrobials) can result in low thyroid hormone readings and some breeds (e.g., greyhounds) naturally have a relatively low level of thyroid hormone in their blood stream. All this can cause dogs to be misdiagnosed with hypothyroidism when something else entirely (or nothing at all) is actually wrong with them.

The screening test for hypothyroidism is called a TT4 for Total T4. T4 is the form that thyroid hormone takes when it is travelling through the blood stream, and it is easy and inexpensive to measure. If your dog has a low TT4 but his symptoms don’t correlate well with hypothyroidism (especially if he is losing weight — always question the diagnosis if your dog is losing weight), it’s time for more diagnostic testing. The best confirmatory tests are a Free T4 by Equilibrium Dialysis, Endogenous Canine Thyrotropin (cTSH) Concentration, and/or Thyrotropin (TSH) Response Test. The results of one or more of these will usually differentiate true hypothyroidism from euthyroid sick syndrome and the other causes of falsely low TT4s.

If you have any reason to question your dog’s diagnosis of hypothyroidism, particularly if it was based primarily on a low TT4 level, ask your veterinarian to run a Free T4 by Equilibrium Dialysis, cTSH, or TSH response test.

Dr. Jennifer Coates