Friday, March 25, 2011

Canine Vaccinations Decoded

Do you ever feel confused when you take your dog to the vet and receive the news that he is due for his DAPP, Rabies and Bordetella booster? Do you wish that you knew what each of these vaccines protects against, whether they are necessary and how often you should give them? Well, at the end of this little article, I hope I will have uncovered some of the mystery surrounding canine vaccinations.

According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), there are two types of vaccinations - those they consider core vaccines and those that are considered non-core. Core vaccines should be given to every dog no matter lifestyle or locations where the dog may live. These include rabies, distemper, adenovirus, and parvovirus. Non-core vaccines are given when and if a dog can become infected with a disease due to it's lifestyle or the area of the country where he/she lives or visits. These include bordetella (or kennel cough), Lyme disease, and leptospirosis. Other vaccines that may be given include parainfluenza, hepatitis, and coronavirus.

AAHA recommends that puppies receive an entire schedule of vaccines including boosters periodically during their first year of life to build the immune system. Your veterinarian can recommend the best vaccine schedule for your puppy.

After year one, AAHA recommends that all vaccines be repeated at the puppy's first annual checkup. Thereafter, vaccines for parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus, hepatitis, parainfluenza and coronavirus can be given every three years. Each city or state determines how often the rabies vaccine should be given. In the Austin area there are different rules depending on what city or county you live in. In Travis county, rabies vaccines can be given every 3 years, once it can be shown that a dog has received two rabies vaccines one year apart.

In other words, if you adopt an older dog with an unknown vaccine history, your dog will need to receive a rabies vaccine when he is adopted (if he hasn't already) and a another one a year later, before your dog can move to the 3 year schedule. It is recommended that this approach be taken for all of the remaining core vaccines as well. When you adopt a dog from HOTLR, you will receive a vaccination record for your new dog. Make an appointment with your veterinarian within the first few weeks of adopting to introduce your new dog to the vet and to transfer the medical records you have been given to your veterinarian. You may discuss with him/her at that time the approach you decide to take regarding your new dog's vaccination schedule.

Here is a short description of each of the canine diseases that most veterinarians vaccinate against:

Core Diseases:

Rabies - deadly virus that affects the nervous system and is fatal. Rabies is transmitted through the saliva and most often through bite wounds. Rabies causes paralysis, manic and aggressive behavior before death. Rabies can be transmitted to humans.

Distemper - also a deadly virus characterized by discharge from the nose and eyes, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, labored or difficult breathing, and seizures. Some dogs may develop hardened or thickened foot pads and chronic encephalitis Distemper is transferred through direct contact with secretions, urine or feces from an infected dog. There is known cure.

Adenovirus - Two strains CAV-1 and CAV-2. CAV-1 causes canine infectious hepatitis and attacks the liver. Symptoms include loss of appetite, lethargy, jaundice, coughing, fever and vomiting. The cornea of the eyes can become cloudy or "bluish". This disease attacks the liver and kidneys. It is spread through the nasal secretions, saliva, blood, urine and feces of an infected animal. CAV-2 presents as a respiratory infection. There is no cure and treatment is largely supportive. Death can occur without warning. Though dogs can recover from this disease, it can lead lesions on the kidneys and permanent damage to the cornea.

Parvovirus - is a virus found mostly in puppies although adult dogs can get it too. It is highly infectious. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea often with blood, high fever and dehydration. Again, treatment is supportive including 24 hospitalization with intravenous fluids. There is a high mortality rate in young puppies. The virus is spead through contact with feces and can survive on inanimate objects for months.

Coronavirus - another less serious virus that affects puppies. Coronavirus causes diarrhea, however vomiting is rarely associated with the disease. Because it is difficult to differentiate between parvovirus and coronavirus except through labratory testing, it is sometimes mistaken for parvo. While death may still occur, death rates are much lower than with parvo.

Canine Infectious Hepatitis - see adenovirus

Non Core:

Leptospirosis - This disease has recently reemerged after many years in the background of infectious diseases as populations have begun to move into former agricultural and forested areas. This disease is spread by contact with urine of an affected animal and can be transmitted through contaminated water sources including those where cattle or other animals may frequent. Dogs can get lepto through contact with urine from many wild animals including many of those that may visit your backyard (squirrels, raccoons, skunks, etc.) The disease attacks the liver and kidneys of the animal and while most dogs due recover within several days, the disease can continue to be shed in their urine for several weeks. This disease is contagious to humans. Dogs that camp, hike, swim or spend any amount of time outdoors are good candidates for this vaccine.

Parainfluenza - one of many viruses known to cause infectious tracheobronchitis or "kennel cough". Dogs may exhibit discharge from the nose and eyes as well as a dry, hacking cough. Sometimes a dog will gag from the force of the cough. This disease is highly infectious and while symptoms can disappear within 6 - 10 days, an infected dog can shed the virus for up to 14 weeks.

Bordetella (Kennel Cough) - highly contagious respiratory disease that can cause tracheitis, bronchitis, or laryngitis. It may be caused by a combination of bacteria and/or viruses and/or mycoplasms. Symptoms include discharge from the nose and eyes, a dry cough, swollen lymph nodes and possibly a fever. Dogs that are often in boarding kennels, dog shows or other places with a large dog population should be vaccinated regularly. Your vet can make the best recommendation for your dog and his/her lifestyle.

Lyme disease- tick borne disease caused by a bacteria carried by the common deer tick. Symptoms may not appear until 2 to 5 months after the infected tick bite. Symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, lameness and joint swelling. Severe kidney disease appears in a few cases and can be fatal. This disease is usually treated with antibiotics although antibiotic treatment is recommended for up to 30 days. This vaccine is recommended for dogs that are exposed to areas with heavy infestations of the deer tick. These occur mostly in the northeast United States, however, cases have been reported in the Austin area.

Again, should you have questions regarding your dog's vaccinations, it is best to have a discussion with your veterinarian to understand which vaccines and how often your dog should be vaccinated.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pain Management and Your Senior Pet

I once read that pet owners are special people because they know that they will outlive their pets, and they accept the eventual sadness that will come with the loss of a pet, in exchange for the happiness and joy that they will give their pet and receive from their pet during the years they are together. If there was one thing I could change about my dogs, it would be that their lifespans could be lengthened. It is difficult to watch them grow old.

Probably one of the first signs that age is affecting your pet (besides the sweet grey whiskers that pop up on their chins), is the slowing of their movements. They are slow to get up from their beds, may avoid using the stairs, or may develop a limp. In early stages, they may seem more painful in the morning or late at night and behave relatively normal during the rest of the day. They may lack the same energy for a game of fetch, avoid jumping or choose to sleep rather than go for a walk. Chances are they are suffering from arthritis. Arthritis also known as degenerative joint disease, is a painful swelling and inflammation of the joints. This pain impacts the dog's mobility. If your dog has been diagnosed with a genetic orthopedic issue, or has injured himself in some way, he may show signs of arthritis at an earlier age. But by the age of 7, the number of cases of arthritis doubles.

What can you do to treat this condition? A trip to the veterinarian is a good place to start. A senior blood panel is a good idea to get a baseline of your pet's liver and kidney functions and overall health. Your vet will probably recommend xrays of some of your pet's suspect joints to determine if the degenerative process has begun. Once a diagnosis has been reached, your vet may recommend surgical, medicinal or physical therapy or a combination of all three. Fortunately, there are many types of drugs that act in a variety of ways, at a relatively low cost that will help you manage your pet's arthritis and allow him to remain active.

Cayman (pictured above) will be 13 at the end of May. He suffers from arthritis in his knees, hips and spine. Yet, every single day, around 4pm, he is at my desk asking to go out to play. He wants to chase his tennis ball and still feels well enough to tell me it's time to play. He is on some form of all the medications listed below. Although, at first, it may seem overwhelming, once you understand how each medication is relieving his suffering, and see the results of this treatment, then giving him his meds becomes as easy as feeding him his meals.

Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM - If your dog is suffering from mild or early stages of arthritis, your vet may simply recommend the natural supplements of glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane). These supplements support joint health by acting to keep cartilage healthy as well as protecting cartilage from destructive enzymes. There are a number of products that your vet can recommend to ensure your dog gets the proper dosage of these supplements. It is important to keep in mind that these supplements are not pain relievers, but simply work to bolster joint health. I started all my pups on these treats around the age of 5. I use Joint Max Triple Strength Soft Chews. I follow the directions on the package based on my dog's weight and simply plop these treats into their dog bowls with their meals. Be sure to check with your veterinarian and go with the product that he/she recommends.

Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories (NSAIDs) - NSAIDs work by reducing the inflammation and swelling at the joint. Think of these drugs as your doggy's "ibuprofen". You may be familiar with NSAIDs already if your dog has had any surgery, as these are most often given as take home meds post-operatively. Theses drugs require a prescription from your vet and are specially formulated for dogs. Drugs in this class include Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Etogesic, Metacam and Zubrin. It is important to discuss these drugs with your veterinarian and their potential side effects, as they have been known to cause stomach upset and occasionally stomach ulcers. For these reasons, be sure to follow your veterinarians instructions carefully, discontinue if vomiting occurs, and do not give in conjunction with corticosteroids. It is not recommended to ever give your pets the human forms of aspirin, ibuprofen or acteminophen due to the same concerns stated above.

Tramadol - If your dog has had surgery recently, you may also be familiar with the drug tramadol. Tramadol is a human medication used for pain and acts similar to an opioid (such as morphine). It works by helping to block pain signals to the brain. It is used extensively in veterinary medicine to treat post operative pain and chronic pain (such as cancer pain and arthritis). It can be used in conjunction with NSAIDs, but also alone. It has a wide window of dosage and can be adjusted to fit the needs of the patient. It can be given every 6 - 8 hours alone or with food. Tramadol is bitter to the taste and may need to be well hidden in food to be given. It can also cause mild sedation. If you think that your pet is "too sedate" on the drug, speak to your veterinarian and consider lessening the dose before discontinuing its use.

Gabapentin - Gabapentin is another human drug that is also useful for animal patients. This drug works primarily for neurological pain and is used most often in cases of chronic pain such as that associated with cancer and arthritis. If your pet has been diagnosed with arthritis in the spine, or seems weak in his back end, then gabapentin may be a good choice. When used in combination with NSAIDs, gabapentin can be effective at lower doses. Similar to Tramadol, it also has a wide window of dosage and can be adjusted to fit your pet's individual pain level.

Adequan - Adequan is an injectable drug that slows the progression of arthritis in the joint. It is manufactured by the drug company Novartis and was originally developed for horses. It helps keep the cartilage in the joint healthy and intact thus keeping the bones in the joint from rubbing together. It is administered by your veterinarian. Treatment involves two injections per week for four weeks and then a monthly maintenance injection after the first month. For the drug to work properly, it is important to keep up with this schedule.

If you aren't afraid of needles, ask your veterinarian about the possibility of learning to give the injections at home. I currently use Adequan for all four of my Labs. I can give the injections by myself. I find the best opportunity is to slip in the shot while they eating their meals. They don't even flinch because they are so engrossed in their food.

Again, do not be overwhelmed by the recommendations above. Once you begin a drug protocol for your pet, give it some time to work. Start small and add other medications slowly until you feel like your pet has reached a reasonable level of comfort. Don't give up until the pain stops.

Both tramadol and gabapentin can be called into a local pharamacy for very reasonable prices. Joint supplements can be purchased over-the-counter in many different forms also at reasonable prices. NSAIDs and Adequan are a little more expensive. Save money on Adequan by learning to give the injections at home. Talk to your vet about purchasing NSAIDs in bulk to see if you can receive a price break that way.

Last, medicinal therapy is not the only choice for pain management in our elder pets. Here are a few other tips to make sure your pet feels good well into his senior years.

1)Weight management is equally important. A lean weight will lessen the pressure and stress his/her aging joints need to support.

2)Feeding your dog a healthy diet is also important. There are a variety of senior diets available at retail stores that specifically address senior pet health issues. Ask your vet for a recommendation.

3) Moderate exercise. Let your dog tell you how he feels and judge the amount of exercise accordingly. Exercise helps to keep the joints mobile and lubricated. Moderate walks and swimming are wonderful ways to exercise your aging pet.

4) Holistic pet therapies. Don't forget to consider canine massage, physical therapy, acupressure and acupuncture. Remember your last massage? Didn't you feel fabulous afterward? Give your senior pet the same gift. Physical therapy exercises can also help keep your pet flexible and mobile. Ask the physical therapist about exercises you can do at home. Check with your vet for a recommendation for a physical therapist near you. Acupressure and acupuncture are also holistic alternatives that can help your pet feel better.

Unfortunately, we can't stop our pets from aging. But we can help them live a long, comfortable life. Is it all worth it???? Look at the face above....doesn't that say it all???

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Keep the Grass Green and Your Pets Safe

One of the best parts about living in central Texas is the beautiful springs that we enjoy. While big portions of the country continue to dig out of the snow, we Austinites are already busting out the shorts and flip-flops. After a record breaking cold winter, the sunshine is out, the breezes are blowing and blooms are bursting into color in every direction. Guess it's time to start the old yard work....

My yard looks mighty tired this spring compared to other years. My mulch has blown away, my plants are brown and kinda crunchy and some of my oldest plants may have succumbed to age and the multiple nights of freezing temps.

What can I do to make my yard healthy and beautiful while still keeping my dogs safe?


First, pass on the cocoa mulch. Cocoa mulch is a fine, sweet smelling mulch that contains both theobromine and caffeine. Both chemicals are harmful to your pet. Because of the sweet smell (some say it smells like a chocolate Poptart), dogs may be inclined to try a bite. Even a few ounces of the mulch can be dangerous to your pet.

Dogs that ingest and become ill from eating cocoa mulch will show much the same symptoms of those that overdose on chocolate. Vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain are early symptoms, but higher does can produce restlessness, excitability, increased heart rates, tremors, shaking and even seizures. There are several varieties of mulch that can be used in place of cocoa mulch. For example, cedar or pine mulch provides a good substitute.


This next caution comes from personal experience. We all dream of a velvety green lawn to play in with our dogs. To get the beautiful green lawn that we all seek, some choose to toss around some compost. One popular brand of compost in central Texas is the beloved Dillo Dirt. Probably most famous for "subbing in" for mud at the ACL (Woodstock Wannabe) Rain Fest in Zilker Park a few years back, Dillo Dirt is made right here in Austin. According to the City of Austin, Dillo Dirt consists of "yard trimmings collected curbside and treated sewage sludge" which is cured at 170 degree Fahrenheit temperatures to kill all the plant and human pathogens it may contain.

It's not so much that ingesting Dillo Dirt is toxic to your pet, although the thought is not exactly pleasant. The problem with Dillo Dirt and all types of compost is that dogs that eat large quantities could develop a serious gastric obstruction. Large amounts of compost can become "wadded up" in the intestines causing a blockage. Once a blockage has occurred, surgery is the only treatment.

My 13 year old Lab ate loads of Dillo Dirt last year and developed a serious obstruction in several places in his bowel. Although his veterinarian was brilliant, at his age, the four hour surgery nearly killed him. For five days and nights, we transported him to the Emergency Clinic and his regular veterinarian. The toxicity released into his body from the blockage caused him to develop a heart arrhythmia. Even though my vet assured me that the arrhythmia would resolve itself (and it did), you certainly never want to hear that your "sweet old man" has any type of heart problem. The surgery took its toll on us as well as Cayman. Not only the emotional exhaustion that comes with a life threatening event, but the financial toll as well was considerable ( and I work for the animal hospital that performed the surgery and received a significant discount).

Natural compost made from your "leftovers" can also be harmful to pets. Moldy food, and certain fruits and vegetables, bacteria and other pathogens could cause your pet to become very sick.

So, my advice, steer clear of the Dillo Dirt and reserve your compost for a fenced in garden....


Thinking about sprucing up your flower beds? We highlighted the dangers of the Sago Palm which is used in lots of central Texas yards. Other common plants to our area that are toxic to dogs include the caladium, Elephant Ears, oleander, Lantana, and mushrooms. Symptoms vary in presentation and degree of seriousness. For a complete list of toxic plants, check out the ASPCAs Poisonous Plant list.

Pesticides and Insecticides

Most pet owners are aware of the dangers of insecticides and pesticides. The key is keeping our pets from coming into contact with them. Rat poison is by far, one of the most toxic poisons to dogs. Dogs that ingest rat poison suffer several types of neurological effects - the severity of which depends upon the amount eaten. Muscle tremors, seizures, paralysis and brain swelling can occur. Successful treatment is largely dependent on how much poison was eaten and how quickly treatment begins. Treatment includes administration of activated charcoal and induced vomiting to clear the system of the poison and hopefully block absorption, as well as IV fluids to keep the animal hydrated. A mutli-day hospital stay is probably necessary as well.

If you must use poisonous substances in your yard to control pests, be sure to read the cautionary statements on all packaging and supervise your pet when he/she is in the yard.

For more information on keeping your garden and yard safe for your pets, check out the ASPCA's article Pet-Safe Gardening.

Friday, March 4, 2011

New "Kids", Walks and Other Stuff

New Kids on the Block - This past week HOTLR welcomed 3 new Labs into the adoption program. Sundance is a big yellow boy and his litter/housemate Moonshine is a sweet black girl. Ginger is a large yellow girl who was hit by a car and is currently undergoing veterinary care to fix her dislocated hip. If you are interested in fostering one of these beauties, email us at To learn more about these pups and the other dogs in the HOTLR program, click here.

New Products for a Walk - Spring time is here and that means that you will be spending more time outside with your furry friend. Make sure you are prepared with all the proper gear.

Okay, so this first product is not new. We've talked about it before. But recently, we had someone inquire on our Facebook page about the Easy Walk Harnesses we use at HOTLR. I can't say enough about these harnesses. They work like magic. The difference between the Easy Walk Harness and other types of harnesses is that they attach to the leash in the front on the chest. This places pressure on the dog's chest when they pull and causes them to slow down. Other harnesses typically have leash attachment loops on the back. This creates pressure on the back and neck and could potentially hurt your dog. Additionally, with a leash attachment in the front, you can actually attach the leash to your dog's collar and to the harness simultaneously giving you extra control if you need it. They work even for the most challenging dog. Don't believe me? Give one a try. I bet you'll love it...The Easy Walk Harness is sold at most Petco and Petsmart locations. Also, check your local family owned pet store, or order on the Internet.

If you have multiple pets, sometimes it's a challenge to walk both at the same time. The leash coupler makes walking multiple dogs much easier. Two short extensions are connected by one main ring. Each of the leash extensions attach to the front ring of each of your dogs' harnesses. Then you attach one leash to the middle ring. Now you are able to walk two dogs at the same time with just one leash. Genius!! I actually have two couplers and walk three dogs at once!! So cool!! Available at Petsmart and Petco, you can also purchase your coupler here.
What about walking your dog at night? During the short days of winter and the hottest and most humid days of summer, it may make more sense to walk your dog after the sun goes down or before the sun comes up. Afraid that people may not see you? Check out the SeeSpot lighted dog collars. The dog collars contain LED lights and AAA batteries and are made of sturdy nylon. The collars are easily adjustable with velcro closures and come in both red and blue nylon.

Austinite Brad Beneski designed these collars after worrying about his deaf dog at night. Because his dog couldn't hear him, Brad wanted to make sure he could always see her. Hence, the SeeSpot collar was born. So not only do the collars alert other people to you and your pup, but they also allow you to keep a close eye on your dog at night.

On a recent walk at Turkey Creek dog park with Brad to demo the collars, I was surprised to discover that they are actually water resistant. Brad's dog, Sonny (a yellow Lab rescued from Town Lake Animal Shelter) had his on and was frolicking in the creek. The collar was completely submerged, but the lights kept on blinking. Brad did tell me that if the lights do go out if your dog overdoes it in the water, simply let the collar dry out over night.

These collars are not be used as a dog's main collar, but as a supplement to the collar he /she already has. There are no leash attachments or rings for identification tags. Also, the limited color selection may dissuade some designer dogs from their purchase. But remember, these collars are about safety and functionality....not fashion. To purchase your SeeSpot collar, click here.

Last, let's talk about the Chuck It Ball Launcher and the Chuck It Rubber Tennis Balls. If your retriever is an Olympic star (or maybe just a pup who enjoys a good chase), then these ball launchers are for you. They can launch the ball way further than this human arm can throw and there's a scoop at the end of the Chuck It launcher stick that keeps you from having to pick up a wet, slimy ball. The Chuck It used to come with tennis balls. As you know, tennis balls can hurt your dog's teeth as the outer covering of the ballacts as sand paper against tooth enamel. Recently, Chuck It started carrying their own brand of rubber ball that fits perfectly into the scoop. These rubber balls not only are better for your dog, but they last longer and float too! Perfect dog toy? You betcha!! The Chuck It ball launcher and Chuck It rubber balls can be found at any dog supply store including Petsmart, Petco and your local dog store. Of course, they can be purchased on-line as well.

California Pizza Kitchen - Don't forget it about the California Pizza Kitchen event that will be held March 9 and March 10. Both the Domain and Barton Creek Square Mall stores will give 20% of your purchases to Heart of Texas Lab Rescue. There is one small catch. You must show up with the HOTLR flyer. Think CPK is all about pizza? Not so fast, check out their menu of goodies here. Don't forget to Dine Out for HOTLR Dogs at CPK next week!!!