New Travel Regulations Affect Service Animals

emotional support animal

“Can peacocks fly?”
“Pets on the fly”
“Delta tightens the leash on emotional support animals”

These are but a few of the clever headlines online and in print over the past few weeks regarding emotional support animals traveling in airplane cabins. The topic of traveling with emotional support animals came to the forefront when Delta Airlines announced that beginning March 1, 2018, it would require additional documentation for customers traveling with an emotional support animal. For travel after March 1, passengers will need to provide documentation from a certified mental health professional, a veterinary health form documenting the health and vaccination records for the animal, as well as confirming that the animal has appropriate behavioral training. I completed the veterinary health form for a patient of mine today. Forms were readily accessible on the airline’s website.

Can Spiders, Sugar Gliders or Hedgehogs Fly?
One of the issues highlighted in the series of articles with clever titles was the story of an emotional support peacock denied the opportunity to board his flight and occupy the seat his human purchased for the trip. The peacock, named Dexter, was trying to fly on a United Airlines flight, but even if he had switched airlines, he would have also been disallowed on a Delta Airlines flight for not meeting several requirements for a flying service animal: must fit under the seat, cannot occupy a seat intended for a person, must be a household bird. In addition, the emotional support animal cannot encroach on other passengers. Whoever was booked to sit next to the support peacock probably doesn’t know it, but they really dodged a bullet on that flight. I also found a report of some support bees that were not allowed to board a Southwest Airlines flight.

Delta Airlines has a very specific list of what animals cannot be accommodated in the cabin. I could not find a similar list for United, but Southwest Airlines will not accept rodents, ferrets, insects, spiders, reptiles, hedgehogs, rabbits, or sugar gliders, a list nearly identical to Delta’s.

Before You Go
Before traveling with your emotional support animal, service dog or any animal, you have some legwork to do before you buy tickets. First, check the website of your airline for their requirements for traveling with pets or support animals. If you plan to travel outside the United States, each country sets its own rules regarding animal importation. The United States Department of Agriculture maintains a very informative website to assist pet families in navigating these rules. Start early in getting your pet’s travel papers in order as some countries require preapproval and special blood tests for entry. One, you know what tests and documentation are required, make an appointment with your veterinarian to obtain the proper travel papers.

Are Purebred Dogs Sicker than Mutts?

westminster dog show

This week was the week New York City went to the dogs; the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was in Madison Square Garden on Monday and Tuesday and there were activities all over the city related to man’s best friend. The Animal Medical Center veterinarians were at the Show triaging dogs unlucky enough to get sick during the second longest running sporting event in the United States.

I always love to visit the rows and rows of cossetted purebred dogs in the benching area of the show. But all those purebred dogs made my veterinary mind drift to lists of diseases prevalent in certain breeds: Addison’s disease in Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers, renal dysplasia in Shih Tzu dogs, or cardiomyopathy in the Doberman pinscher, to name a few. I can also assure you all three of these diseases are not exclusive to purebred dogs and can be diagnosed in any dog.

Is Hybrid Vigor a Myth or “Dog”-Ma?
The list of diseases associated with purebred dogs is long, but does that mean purebred dogs are less healthy than the basic Heinz 57 model? Probably not. One way to assess health is to look at cause of death. In a study of over 70,000 dogs from North America where the cause of death was known, the number one cause in most breeds was cancer, but the number one cause in mixed breed dogs was also cancer! The fact that cancer is so common in our canine companions reflects the high-quality medical care available to dogs in the United States and Canada. Well cared for dogs don’t die of distemper or parvovirus, they get vaccinated. Dog owners use heartworm preventative and flea/tick medications to prevent parasitic and tick-borne illnesses. Few people let their dogs off leash unattended, protecting them against trauma from automobile accidents. Good health care allows dogs to live to a ripe old age where they are at risk for developing cancer.

Common Diseases Occur Commonly
A recent study of Border Terrier health from England looked at common disorders in this healthy, hearty breed. When seen by a primary care veterinarian, dental disease, ear infections and obesity topped the list of diagnoses in this group of British Border Terriers. Compare that to a widely published list of pet insurance claims and you see the same disease in a large population of insured American dogs, where ear infections and tooth abscess are included in the top ten list. Seems that no matter where you look, dogs all seem to have similar problems.

Lifestyle and Disease
Lifestyle may play as much a role, if not more, than breed does when it comes to health. The study of 70,000 dogs reported infectious disease as the most common cause of death in Treeing Walker Coonhounds. These dogs are commonly used as hunting dogs and their outdoorsy lifestyle may predispose them to infections. The bold Jack Russell Terrier most commonly fell victim to trauma, perhaps due to daredevil personality. Age plays a role in cause of death as well. Young dogs were more likely to die from traumatic causes, but rarely cancer.

The best way to have a healthy dog, purebred or mutt, is to keep him at an ideal body weight, feed a good quality food, make sure he has plenty of exercise and at a minimum, an annual veterinary visit. Hats off to all the Westminster competitors, all of us at AMC think you are all top dogs.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month

pet dentistry

Maintaining dental health is an important part of your pet’s preventive health care regimen. Dental health is so important at the Animal Medical Center, we have a Dentistry Service staffed by three veterinarians devoted to full-time dentistry for dogs and cats (and the occasional less common pet!). In honor of National Pet Dental Health Month, I have amalgamated some prior blogs on the topic of dentistry to serve as a resource for pet dental issues.

Inside the Mouth
Many pets resist an oral examination in the veterinarian’s office and completely refuse to let their family even have a peek inside their mouth. In the photo blog post, “Hound’s Tooth and Cat’s Teeth,” you can view some great images of the inside of dog and cat mouths. Better yet, you can see the magic a good dental cleaning can do for your pet’s teeth in some before and after photos highlighting AMC’s dentists’ work.

Dental Do’s and Don’ts
AMC’s dentists have a list of do’s and don’ts for your pet. I found the fact that tennis balls are a don’t to be fascinating. The felt on tennis balls abrades a dog’s tooth enamel, which is how the dayglow yellow balls landed on the don’ts list. Who knew? Our dentists recommend felt-less tennis balls.

Smile, If You Have Clean Teeth
Prophylactic tooth cleaning is generally recommended every 12-24 months, but certain dogs and cats have dental problems requiring a different protocol. Many pet families resist dental cleaning recommendations made by their veterinarian because of the need for anesthesia to properly perform a comprehensive veterinary dental cleaning. Read about anesthesia in veterinary dental care which explains why your pet will get optimal dental care only if the procedure is done under general anesthesia.

Have I convinced you to take better care of your pet’s teeth? Watch our video on dog tooth brushing to get you started. Check out the list of Veterinary Oral Health Council approved products and choose the ones that best meet your pet’s oral health needs.

Dog Etiquette in Public Places

dogs in public

I read a really instructive blog this past week, posted by a local dog training school. Since it is winter in New York City, where both the Animal Medical Center and the dog school are located, the blogger created a list of 20 places to warm up with your dog this winter. The list includes coffee shops, bars, hotel lobbies, and books stores — all places where you and your favorite pooch can spend a cold winter afternoon as an antidote to cabin fever. But before you zip up your coat and put your dog’s winter wear on him, review these guidelines on pet etiquette in public places.

Basic Manners for Both of You
As the person responsible for your dog, it is your job to see that she is under control. Keep her on a leash at all times and don’t leave her unattended for a minute. Train her not to bully other dogs and to be quiet. No one wants to listen to a barking dog every time another person or dog enters the bar.

Take Only a Healthy Dog
To protect your dog against diseases they might catch from dogs they meet, check with your veterinarian regarding vaccination recommendations. Canine influenza and kennel cough are two respiratory illnesses rapidly transmitted in places where dogs congregate. A rabies vaccine is a must since in most states it is legally required, and protects your pet if he is bitten by a strange dog. If your dog is feeling under the weather, be polite and stay home to protect other dogs.

Clean Up Your Mess
While the establishments on the list welcome dogs, they might not be prepared for any dog messes. Walk your dog before going inside and be sure your handbag contains poop bags and a few paper towels to mop up any accidents.

Bring Dog Snacks
Even though dogs are welcome, these businesses may not provide water bowls and dog treats. A collapsible water bowl that fits in your backpack would be perfect in this situation. Take some dog treats too as a reward for good behavior. To encourage your dog to be patient, consider taking their favorite chew toy or a feeding toy to occupy him while you finish your latte.

Ask Before You Pet
If you are a member of the public and see the most a-dor-able dog in your local bookstore, please ask before you pet. Adorable, does not equal friendly and if you startle a dog, the dog may snap or bite. If you are the accompanying human, be honest. If your dog is not fond of strangers, then ask members of the public not to pet your dog. My friend Susan was bitten by the dog of a less than honest person.
The remote possibility of a bite injury to a person is just another reason your dog needs to be up to date on his rabies vaccine.

Not Every Dog
Some people are gregarious and others homebodies who would never think of spending an afternoon hanging out in a hotel lobby. Dogs are no different. The homebodies will be restless, anxious and miserable in an unfamiliar environment surrounded by strangers. Let them stay home and invite their favorite dog friend over for a playdate or sleepover.

I hope everyone finds a great winter hangout and makes new friends while hanging!

Concerning Intestinal Parasites

pets and parasites

The New York Times published a disturbing article in last week’s Science Section.
The article highlighted the risk to humans of worms transmitted in the feces of dogs and cats to children. In Linnaean taxonomy, the worm is known as Toxocara (cati in cats and canis in dogs); in the veterinarian’s office, the worm is known as an intestinal roundworm.

Parasites from Animals to Humans
Toxocara infection in children provokes concern because after ingestion, the worms may ultimately migrate to the brain. Doctors are concerned the presence of the parasite may compromise cognition in children who are infected. Sometimes, roundworms migrate to the eye and compromise vision.

Toxocara is not the only animal parasite that can be found in the playground. Baylisascaris procyonis, the raccoon roundworm, rarely infects humans, but again, the resistance of children to handwashing puts them at risk for ingesting raccoon roundworm eggs when playing outdoors. Hookworm eggs, Ancyclostoma caninum, are shed in the feces of dogs and can migrate through the skin and cause itchy red skin lesions.

Protecting Pets and People
Because veterinarians know Toxocara and Ancyclostoma can be transmitted to humans, every puppy and kitten is routinely dewormed during veterinary visits for vaccinations. This practice makes puppies and kittens healthier and protects humans as well. To control Toxocara and other intestinal parasites on an ongoing basis in adult pets, monthly heartworm preventatives commonly include a compound that eradicates most intestinal parasites. Toxocara and other intestinal parasites still cause problems despite these efforts because stray dogs and feral cats are not routinely dewormed and can spread worm eggs when they defecate in parks, playgrounds and sandboxes. Children playing outdoors in areas contaminated with the eggs of Toxocara and other intestinal parasites can become infected if they forget to wash their hands before eating and ingest the eggs.

How You Can Help

  • Be a good citizen and pick up after your dog.
  • Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations regarding deworming your dog and cat.
  • Administer monthly heartworm preventative to prevent intestinal parasites in your pet.
  • Keep your dog on a leash to prevent him from snacking on raccoon feces.
  • Make sure your children wash their hands thoroughly after playing outdoors.
  • Prevent your children from eating dirt or sand while engaging in outdoor activities.

Everyday Medicine: Packed Cell Volume

packed cell volume

“Everyday Medicine” is an intermittent series of blog posts highlighting tests, treatments, and procedures common in daily Animal Medical Center practice. Some past examples of this type of blog post include “Cytology” and “Blood Pressure.” Today’s post focuses on packed cell volume.

What is Packed Cell Volume?
Despite the fact that a packed cell volume is measured dozens of times a day at the Animal Medical Center, most pet owners have never heard of packed cell volume, sometimes referred to as a hematocrit. If one of your pets has experienced a serious issue with anemia, then you might have heard your veterinarian talk about this test. Also known as PCV, packed cell volume is one measure of the number of red blood cells in the blood. There are other methods to assess the number of red blood cells, but these take more time and much more sophisticated laboratory equipment. The laboratory can count the number of red blood cells; there are millions in a drop of blood. The oxygen-carrying protein hemoglobin contained inside of red blood cells can also be measured; like red blood cells, hemoglobin decreases when a patient is anemic.

How is PCV Measured?
First, a blood sample is collected from the patient, typically about ½ teaspoon. Some of the sample is sent to the lab, but a drop or two is placed into a very thin glass tube called a capillary tube. One end of the tube is filled with a soft clay which acts as a stopper to keep the blood in the tube. The tube is placed in the centrifuge and in just a couple of minutes, the centrifugal force “packs” the red blood cells in the bottom of the tube and leaves the clear plasma above. The PCV is the volume percentage composed of red blood cells in the tube. In a normal dog or cat, the PCV is 35-50%.

But Wait, There’s More to a PCV Than Red Blood Cells
The remainder of the volume in the capillary tube is a few percentages of white blood cells and platelets in a section called the buffy coat. A bit more than half of the tube is plasma, or the liquid component of blood. The PCV not only gives a clue to anemia but if the percentage of plasma decreases, dehydration may be part of the diagnosis. In a normal patient, plasma is clear. If plasma is bright yellow, that signifies jaundice and testing of the liver will be necessary. The capillary tube can be snapped open and the plasma put on a handheld device that will measure the protein level of the blood. High protein indicates dehydration; low protein suggests there is protein loss or severe malnutrition. If the percentage of white blood cells increases, then veterinarians worry about infection or leukemia.

When Do Veterinarians Use a PCV?
Because a PCV gives information about anemia, blood protein and hydration status, nearly every patient coming to an animal ER has a PCV obtained. A PCV is a common preoperative test because a PCV is quick and easy. The small volume of blood required for a PCV means the test can be repeated in the operating room without taking excessive amounts of blood from the patient. Any veterinarian monitoring a patient with anemia may rely on a PCV for quick assessment of the patient’s status.

Given its simplicity, speed with which the results are available and the helpful information obtained, the packed cell volume is clearly an everyday test.

Proteinuria in Pets


When your pet has an annual physical examination, your veterinarian will often request a urine sample. Once you collect the sample, your veterinarian will have the urine analyzed in the laboratory. Urinalysis is a test which assesses nearly 20 different parameters. This blog post will focus on one particular parameter of the urinalysis, protein.

Protein is Not Normal
In a normal dog or cat, very little protein passes through the kidneys and into the urine. When a routine urinalysis identifies an increase in urine protein, a number of tests are performed to determine the source of the protein. If the source is thought to be the kidneys, a follow-up test called a urine protein creatinine ratio is performed. This ratio helps us determine if the protein in the urine is elevated to a level where medical intervention is needed. Multiple assessments of a pet’s protein creatinine ratio may be necessary before a diagnosis of excessive protein in the urine is made. The condition where excessive protein is lost in the urine is called proteinuria.

Causes of Proteinuria
Chronic kidney disease is probably the most common cause of proteinuria, but veterinarians see it in pets with other chronic diseases as well. Diabetes, Lyme disease, and Cushing’s disease have all been associated with increased urine protein levels. But a bladder infection or fever might cause increased protein in the urine. The key to determining the cause of proteinuria is a complete diagnostic evaluation which will include blood tests, blood pressure measurement, and possibly even an ultrasound.

Protein is a Problem
Proteinuria is problematic on several levels. Protein in the urine signals a problem with the kidneys. The leakage of protein though the kidneys damages the kidneys and decreases their ability to remove waste products from the body, leading to kidney failure. Loss of protein in the urine can deplete the protein in the body, putting the patient at risk for swelling of the limbs and blood clots. High blood pressure has also been associated with protein loss in the urine. In both dogs and cats with chronic kidney disease, proteinuria correlates with an increased risk of death from chronic kidney disease when compared to patients without proteinuria.

Treating Proteinuria
Once a diagnosis of proteinuria has been established, any underlying disorders, such as Lyme disease, will be treated. Successful treatment can resolve the proteinuria. If the cause of the proteinuria is chronic kidney disease, then lifelong treatment will be required. Non-drug interventions include a kidney-friendly diet and anti-inflammatory supplements like fish oil. Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors like enalapril or benazepril, and newer medications like telmisartan (an angiotensive receptor II blocker) are administered to decrease protein loss. If pets have high blood pressure, antihypertensive medications will be prescribed and blood pressure monitored. Some pets with serious protein loss need medications to prevent formation of blood clots.

Help Keep Your Pet Healthy
You are part of your pet’s healthcare team. Your efforts in collecting a urine sample helps veterinarians like me take better care of your pet. Better care means you and your pet can have more healthy and happy years together.

Keeping Animals Healthy in the Winter

pets in winter

Winter can be a harsh time for everyone, animals included. Diseases spread more easily when everyone is cooped up inside; cold weather can be hard on pet feet and wildlife struggle to survive. Here are a few suggestions to keep the animals in your life healthy during the long winter months, which have only just begun!

Plan Ahead When Boarding Your Dog
If you are making a quick trip to somewhere sunny and need to board your dog at the kennel, make sure he is up to date on vaccinations and is well protected against infectious diseases. In any place where dogs congregate, boarding kennels, doggie daycare or dog shows, infectious diseases can spread quickly. Ask your veterinarian if she recommends one of the canine influenza vaccines. Vaccines are available for both strains of the canine influenza virus and also against Bordetella bronchiseptica, a common bacterial cause of kennel cough. You might want to check and see if the kennel serves your dog’s usual fare. If not, consider sending his food to the kennel to prevent tummy upset from an abrupt diet change.

Provide Food and Shelter for Outdoor Cats
My neighborhood in New York City does not have many outdoor cats, but outside of Manhattan, whole colonies of cats are threatened by inclement weather. Some animal shelters and rescue groups can provide shelters for these outdoor cats. If you are the caretaker of an outdoor cat, you can create a weather proof shelter from a large plastic tub. Here are directions provided by the Danbury Animal Welfare Society for a do it yourself shelter. If you live in NYC, the Mayor’s Alliance NYC Feral Cat Initiative has workshops on building cat shelters.

Also remember to feed dry food in the winter as canned food can freeze and become inedible. You may also need electric water heaters to keep fresh water available even on subzero days.

Backyard Birds
Winter time brings beautifully colored birds like blue jays and cardinals to backyard feeders. To keep your pretty winter visitors as healthy as possible, follow these suggestions from Oregon State Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Colin Gillin:

  • Use feeders made from non-porous material like plastic, ceramic, and metal. These are less likely than wood to harbor bacteria and other diseases, which can kill backyard birds.
  • Clean feeders, water containers and bird baths monthly by rinsing with soapy water and then dunking the feeder in a solution of one third cup of chlorine bleach per one gallon of water.
  • Install multiple feeders to prevent all visiting birds from congregating in one place where illness can readily spread.

If you find injured wildlife, birds or mammals, don’t try to rehabilitate them yourself. To find the appropriate rescue group, check this blog post about injured pets and wildlife for resources.

Summing Up 2017: AMC’s Top Blog Posts

AMC blog

The end of the year is often a time of retrospection. So for this final blog of 2017, I asked the AMC webmaster to give me a list of 2017’s most popular blogs. Seeing what was important to AMC blog readers might give me some insights to provide more great pet health information in 2018.

Here are the top five blog posts and their links:

  1. Traction Control: Tips for Preventing Dogs from Slipping and Sliding
  2. Rat Bite Fever and Pet Rats: How Concerned Should We Be?
  3. Toe Tumors in a Dog: A Cancer Survivor’s Story
  4. Tail Amputations: Are They Really Necessary?
  5. Home Euthanasia: The Pros and Cons

Human Factor
One common focus of the popular blog posts is the human factor in our pet’s health. Take for example the blog post on tail amputation. The genesis of this post was a call I took on a radio program about pet health. A tail amputation had been recommended for the caller’s pet and she was hoping I knew of an alternative procedure because she didn’t want to amputate her pet’s tail. The tail is such an expressive piece of anatomy, that we humans cannot imagine our pet without one; however a tail amputation is much less traumatic for the pet than for the family. The tail tends to heal poorly and surgery to repair a tail is fraught with complications. Amputation avoids that issue.

Defying the Odds
Everyone loves a champion and the post about a dog surviving not one, but two different toe tumors, was a story of observant owners, a resilient dog, and great cancer care. The take home message from this post applies to both dog and cat owners: if something about your pet is not right, seek veterinary care while the problem is small and correctable.

Shared Diseases
The popularity of a blog post on rats was surprising since rats are not the most common pet. But, this post was written when rat bite fever was in the news due to the death of a child from the disease, and rat owners must have been looking for reliable information. Given that the author of this post was the head of AMC’s Avian and Exotic Pet Service, Dr. Kathy Quesenberry, the source of the information was undisputedly sound.

Common Problems
Elderly dogs who slip and slide on tile and wood floors worry their owners because of their risk for injury. Based on the popularity of this post, it is a common problem in need of a solution. I think this post was popular because it offered a variety of simple solutions to protect your senior dog from fall injuries due to slippery floors.

Making the Right Decision for your Pet
I was not surprised at the popularity of the blog post on the pros and cons of home euthanasia. That post was written straight from my heart and was based on the distress I hear in pet family voices when they are facing the euthanasia decision. My only hope is that those reading the blog found the guidance they needed to make this difficult decision.

For me, the unifying theme of the 2017 top blog posts is the caring pet families lavish on their furriest members. Their concern encompasses veterinary care, home care, end of life care, and the hope that their caring will be rewarded with a healthy pet. So, a toast to a healthy and happy New Year for you and your pets from all of us at the Animal Medical Center

Genetic Testing for Your Dog

dog DNA

Watch the news or read the paper and you are sure to come across a story where genetic testing plays a role, such as these stories:

But what about dogs? Has science advanced to the point of genetic testing for dogs?

Several companies provide a test like “23andMe” for dogs, except dogs have 39 pairs of chromosomes – 16 more pairs than we do! These tests can tell you about the genetic background of your dog and suggest what breeds lie behind that fuzzy face or those flopped over ears. Some tests report on traits like coat color or expected adult body size. Think of this type of test as the dog version of PBS’s “Finding our Roots” minus Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates.

Finding Law Breakers
Most cities have laws requiring dog owners to pick up dog waste. To enforce those rules, some neighborhoods require residents to keep a genetic “fingerprint” of their dog on file. If dog waste is not removed, the DNA contained in the feces can be analyzed and matched to the DNA of resident dogs. Owners are then fined based on the DNA analysis. Reports indicate this type of program improves neighborhood hygiene.

Determining Health
Possibly most important to dog families is the health of their furry member. Veterinarians use a variety of different genetic tests in daily practice. Australian shepherds, Collies and Border Collies (to name a few) have a genetic mutation resulting in increased sensitivity to certain drugs. These breeds can be tested for the mutation and the dangerous drugs avoided in dogs with the mutation. I use genetic testing on certain tumors where mutations in genes help identify the exact diagnosis or determine the course of treatment. Genetic testing can also be used to determine if bladder stones are due to an inherited predisposition. Other genetic tests can be performed in dogs used for breeding to decrease the transmission of inherited disorders of the eyes or hemophilia.

Genetic testing can even help you with your last-minute holiday shopping. The Wisdom Panel, Pawprint Genetics, and Embark are having holiday promotions for their canine DNA tests. Might be the perfect gift for your favorite dog.