Prebiotic or Probiotic: Good for What Ails You and Your Pet?

The yogurt aisle in the grocery store has become intimidating. Although I have my favorites, most of the little cartons now seem to be claiming health benefits beyond providing nutrition. Labels and advertising campaigns extol the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics in our diets. But what are they and how do they help aid in our health? And, could these aids be beneficial to our pets?

To start, pre- and probiotics are classified as functional foods since the food has a function other than a nutritional one.

Prebiotics are food for beneficial bacteria and these compounds are not digested, they are fermented and enhance growth of good bacteria. Prebiotics consist of fiber, which serves as nutrition for the millions of bacteria residents in our (and our pet’s) intestinal tract, promoting the growth of good bacteria, which in turn promotes intestinal health. Reports indicate prebiotics improve colitis symptoms, strengthen the immune system, and prevent colon cancer. Common foods such as whole grains, bananas, onions, garlic, and artichokes are considered prebiotics. Food may also have a prebiotic fiber as an additive.

Probiotics are the good bacteria themselves and they may occur naturally in some foods or be used to fortify others. Probiotic yogurts contain live cultures of good bacteria designed to repopulate the intestinal flora to generally promote digestive health or to be used after a disease or medication has disrupted the normal balance of intestinal bacteria. For example, Bifidobacterium lactis is a component of a very popular yogurt promoted to improve digestive health. Lactobacillus is another common probiotic bacteria.

Prebiotic pets

You may not know it, but your pet may already be receiving prebiotics in your pet’s food as treatment of gastrointestinal upset. At least two pet food companies, Iams and Purina, add prebiotics to both dog and cat foods. Iams uses fructooligosaccharides derived from beet pulp in some of its tummy-friendly foods and Purina adds aleurone derived from wheat.

Probiotic pets

In addition to recommending my patients’ owners visit the yogurt aisle to help combat tummy upset from antibiotic administration, I can also prescribe probiotics specifically designed for pets. One such product contains two probiotic bacteria: Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus in a tasty powdered form. The other contains a different organism, Bifidobacterium animalis in a chewable tablet. Both have helped to resolve diarrhea in patients of mine.

Veterinary use of probiotics is not limited to just dogs and cats. The intestinal bacteria of Guinea pigs and rabbits are uniquely sensitive to antibiotics. Following antibiotic treatment, overgrowth of a bad bacteria known as Clostridium occurs. The AMC’s exotic pet specialists commonly prescribe a probiotic containing yeast from tropical fruits, Saccharomyces boulardii, to combat this problem.

If you have a pet with recurrent stomach problems, ask your veterinarian about pre- and probiotics.

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The Pen Cap May Be Mightier than the Sword…

But it can’t beat a bronchoscope!

One thing I love about pets is their unpredictability. You just can never guess what they will do next. Here’s the story of Barcley, the French bulldog and the nearly fatal pen cap.

The beginning seemed innocent enough: a dog playing with a bright blue highlighter pen. Suddenly, he couldn’t breathe and his owners rushed him to The Animal Medical Center. Quick administration of oxygen and a sedative by the ER staff seemed to alleviate the breathing problem enough to allow a chest x-ray to be taken.

No one would have predicted the x-ray would show Barcley’s windpipe contained what looked like the cap of the bright blue highlighter!

The ER staff had to think quickly and cleverly. Barcley needed anesthesia and a bronchoscope to remove the highlighter pen cap, but the standard anesthetic plan of placing a breathing tube into the windpipe was out of the question; it was already full of the highlighter cap. To further complicate matters, Barcley is a brachycephalic (short nosed) dog, a type of dog known to have a greater risk of anesthetic complications.

Dr. Stacy Burdick of The AMC's Internal Medicine Service was called in at 1:30 am to perform the procedure which took 20 minutes, but seemed like a lifetime. She placed a small rubber tube in the windpipe to deliver oxygen and administered an injectable anesthetic agent into Barcley’s vein. Dr. Burdick cautiously advanced the bronchoscope down Barcley’s windpipe. She was worried the windpipe could have been damaged as the cap went down, or worse, the windpipe could tear when she pulled it back up.

On the right, you can see what Dr. Burdick saw when the cap came into view. The cap blocked the entire lumen of the windpipe. Knowing she had to work quickly to restore the delivery of oxygen to the lungs, she passed a special grabber device through the bronchoscope, grabbed the cap and gently pulled it gently out through the mouth as she pulled out the bronchoscope.

Barcley’s life was saved from the pen cap by the mighty bronchoscope and the skilled Dr. Burdick.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Potty Training Your Cat: Are You Kidding?

A cat and dog owning client of The Animal Medical Center called about a month ago wondering if I had heard of toilet training for cats. I guess he hasn’t seen Jinxy, the potty trained cat of the “Fockers” movie series. I had also seen the CitiKitty products in November 2010, when I attended the No Place Like Home Pet Products Showcase, which had included CitiKitty in their list of exhibitors.

CitiKitty is just one of several cat toilet training kits available. The concept seems simple. The device attaches to a toilet seat and you put litter on the device at the same time you take away the litter box. Gradually you remove the rings in the device until the entire device is removed and your cat stands on the toilet seat while eliminating in the toilet. An automatic flusher is even available to facilitate cleanup!

After that initial call, I didn’t hear from the owner for a while. Then a couple of weeks ago he and I had a good laugh about what had happened next. Uli, his Chartreux cat, performed brilliantly with the CitiKitty device, successfully using it on the first try. Tonka, his dog, looked at the CitiKitty device as a buffet option and ate all the cat litter, resulting in a severe case of tummy upset and diarrhea.

The next part of the plan included a baby gate to allow Uli in and keep Tonka out and the training started again. Because Tonka is a French bulldog, he could not jump over the gate and Uli could. Uli used the training device until too many training rings were removed. Then he rebelled by using the bathtub as a litter box.

So what went wrong? My friend called the CitiKitty helpline and after some discussion with them, thinks he possibly rushed Uli by taking the rings out too fast. He is going to try again when his travel schedule allows him to be home to monitor the situation. Perhaps Uli should have had more positive reinforcement with a special tasty treat during the training process, as CitiKitty recommends.

But why all this fuss? What’s wrong with an old-fashioned litter box? In places like New York City, space is tight and having your cat use the toilet means you don’t need a litter box taking up valuable space in your apartment. Pregnant women should not scoop cat litter and this is an easy way to eliminate that task from the to-do list. Clay litter is very dusty and may contribute to respiratory problems in some cats and definitely contributes to landfills, making a potty trained cat a green cat.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

How Do You Know if Your Dog is in Pain?

I get asked this question daily by at least one worried dog owner. Since dogs can’t talk, how do we identify a dog in pain?

Dogs and Pain
Sometimes identifying pain is easy. Dogs hit by a car or suffering from another traumatic injury are obviously painful. Here is a photograph of an Irish Setter, with two reasons to be in pain. The leg on the right side of the photo looks red, sore and swollen. This skin change is induced by radiation therapy used to treat a bone tumor and it will resolve now that radiation is completed. The swelling is caused by a bone tumor. Bone tumors are particularly painful and tend to cause limping, which is what clued the dog owner in to Jack’s problem. Treatment is already making him walk better.

Back Pain in Dogs
A dog with a slipped disc in the back (intervertebral disc disease) typically cries and whines, without external signs of injury, but the dog owner can readily determine there is a pain problem. Sylvie, shown here after her back surgery, came toThe AMC because her owners noted her crying when they picked her up. Later, they noticed she was having difficulty walking. Examination at The AMC identified her back as the source of the pain and she had surgery to remove the disc and relieve the pain.

Signs of Subtle Pain
Extreme pain is reasonably easy to identify; subtle pain may not be so easy to spot. With hospitalized patients, we look for changes in the sleep-wake cycle, a decrease in appetite or poor grooming habits. We also watch how the dog sits or lays in its cage. Painful dogs may hide in the back of the cage or sit in a strange fashion to protect a painful area of their body. Licking, rubbing or scratching a particular area of the body may also indicate a painful area. Whining and crying are not reliable pain indicators, but we monitor these behaviors in our hospitalized patients in case they indicate pain in a particular individual.

If you think your animal is in pain, a trip to the veterinarian is in order. In the past few years, new drugs to treat pain have been developed for dogs. Keep in mind, painful animals are typically frightened and even the most docile pet can bite when handled if it is experiencing severe pain. If your dog is injured and needs transportation to the ER, consider using a muzzle, or if you don’t have one, a necktie to gently tie his muzzle closed while he is handled because you don’t want to have to go to the ER too.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Pet Related Injuries

The popular press reported last week how an accidental head butt from Martha Stewart’s French Bulldog Francesca resulted in an injury requiring nine stitches to repair the damage to Ms. Stewart’s lip. The accident occurred when the sleeping Francesca was startled by Ms. Stewart saying goodbye. Francesca jumped up — crashed into Ms. Stewart and illustrated the consequences of not letting sleeping dogs lie.

Ms. Stewart was not likely the only one seen in the ER last week with a pet related injury. A national sample of ER visits from 60 hospitals over a six year period reported 7,456 visits were related to falls caused by pets. On a national level, this would translate to nearly 90,000 fall injuries associated with cats and dogs per year. Researchers also found dogs were over seven times more likely to cause falls than cats were.

Women were twice as likely as men to be injured by pet related falls. The elderly had a highest rate of fractured bones, but children 0-14 years of age were frequently injured as well.

In addition to being injured in animal related falls, children are also the most frequent victims of dog bite injuries. A boy, aged 5-9 years is the typical dog bite victim and children are commonly bitten in the face and neck. Bites often occur when children try to take food away from the family dog or unknowingly approach an unfriendly dog.

Awareness of these types of injuries is just the first step in prevention. The Animal Medical Center’s veterinarians recommend teaching your pet manners through obedience training — one method of minimizing behaviors which might precipitate a fall, such as pulling on a leash or jumping up on people. Unneutered male dogs are more commonly involved in bite injuries than female dogs. Preventing bite injuries is just one reason The AMC’s veterinarians recommend neutering male dogs at 6 months of age. Children should be educated regarding appropriate behavior around dogs and should always ask permission of the dog owner if they want to pet a dog they meet on the street.

This blog may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog from WebMD.

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For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.