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Scary Pet Health Headlines...What's the Scoop?

In recent weeks, pet owners have been bombarded with scary sounding headlines, including updates on canine flu outbreaks. As we mentioned on the show, two other news stories have persisted in the news and may be frightening some pet lovers. Deaths from A Dog Lick and Link Between Dog Diets and Deadly Heart Disease have generated a lot of concern and a lot of questions. So, what's the real scoop and just how concerned should YOU be?

Let's look at the deadly dog lick story first. In Wisconsin, a woman died within about 48 hours after getting nipped by her new puppy. Doctors thought she might have had the flu, but she ended up testing positive for a bacteria named Capnocytophaga canimorsus. This little bug normally lives in the mouths of pets, both dogs and cats, and is not usually a concern. But, between one woman dying and another Wisconsin man having his limbs amputated, it's easy to see how people could be frightened.

The reality of the situation is that this is an EXCEEDINGLY rare situation and if you stop to think about it...we have hundreds of millions of pet owners interacting with hundreds of millions of pets every day and there have only been about 50 cases going back more than 35 years. True, the scary part is that in specific individuals, the infection has a very high mortality rate (about 30%), but it's important to note that you are more likely to win multiple lotteries AND get struck by lightning multiple times than you are to die from this infection. The common factors in most of these cases include some sort of immuno-compromised person (those people without functioning spleens are highly represented) or severe alcohol abuse in people over 40.

Dr. Scott Weese at the University of Guelph has an amazing blog (Worms and Germs blog) that answers a lot of questions about Capnocytophaga canimorsus. Bottom line...your pet probably has the bacteria in his or her mouth, you should NOT be afraid and attempt to give up your pet, and you are very unlikely to get this infection. HOWEVER, you should make it a point to wash your hands frequently after pet interactions and seek medical attention if you feel ill.

From rare bacterial infections to something a little more common, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs and a POSSIBLE link to specific diets. In July of 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement after hearing concerns from veterinary cardiologists over cases of dogs not normally at risk for developing DCM showing up with the disease. At this time, the common link in these cases is that all of the affected pets were eating some sort of grain free diet, most often containing legumes (peas, lentils) as the carbohydrate source.

The concern here is that tests showed these pets had very low levels of taurine, an amino acid that is important in heart health as well as some digestive processes. Normally, dogs can make enough taurine by themselves as long as they have sufficient amounts of methionine and cysteine (both are amino acids) in the diet. It should be noted that proteins from legumes tend to be low in these pre-cursor amino acids. Now, I am not a biochemist nor a nutritionist, so I won't attempt to go into how this all affects the dogs, but you might enjoy this article about taurine and how it is utilized by the dog written by Linda Case, dog trainer and former canine nutritionist at the University of Illinois.

Dr. Brennan McKenzie also has a very nice summary of what's happening with this story at his blog, SkeptVet. Dr. McKenzie is the president of the Evidence Based Veterinary Medical Association and a fellow Certified Veterinary Journalist. Between Linda Case and Dr. McKenzie, I think you will get a good overview of this story without a lot of unsubstantiated hype.

Bottom line...we still don't now if or how DCM and grain free diets are connected. Nutrition and how each individual pet processes his or her food is complex. If you are feeding a grain free diet, odds are that your pet is going to do just fine. BUT, do let your veterinarian know about the choice of diet for your pet and monitor for any odd signs, especially exercise intolerance, coughing, or shortness of breath. If you are seeing these signs, seek veterinary attention as soon as you can.

So, that's the scary headlines for this month? What pet health stories are YOU hearing or reading that have you concerned?


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