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Welcome To Dr. Pinney's Pet Blog

Dr. Pinney's Pet Blog offers a glimpse into the dynamic and ever-changing world of veterinary medicine and pet health care.

In addition, our pet blog offers money saving advice and tips for the frugal pet owner in all of us!

Monday, Oct 10, 2011
Pet Health Insurance: Friend or Foe?
By Dr. Chris Pinney
Monday, Oct 10, 2011 01:02
In a recent article by MSN News, the consumer group Choice stated that taking out pet insurance could be a viable option for concerned owners in view of the soaring veterinary costs. The reason: Increased treatment options and technological advances have led to a steep rise in some veterinary costs. They came to this conclusion after reviewing pet insurance claims. And get this. The highest recorded claims they found were for an ear infection costing $8,780 and a snakebite costing $11,035!

There are three problems with this.

First, those fees are nothing short of OUTRAGEOUS for the medical conditions addressed. In other words, the veterinarians involved should be reprimanded by their respective State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners for overcharging and padding the bill. If it took that much effort on their part to diagnose and properly treat those conditions, they need to be sent back to school to hone their diagnostic and treatment skills.

Secondly, I doubt very seriously if the insurance company allowed these claims. If they did, they're not very smart at what they do. If they didn't, then the owners of these pets were left holding wallet-crunching bills.

Thirdly, contrary to what Choices recommends, this example illustrates the reasons why insurance is not the answer to the rising cost of pet health care. With third party payment, its just too tempting for veterinary health care providers to raise fees under the false assumption that pet owners won't be affected because of the insurance.

However, pet owners will be affected, simply because the insurance companies have to make money. Considering that the majority of pet owners have not purchased insurance (nor plan to do so) and that dogs and cats have short life spans, these companies are going to have a rough time making up the money they payout in claims. The result: High deductibles and lots of exclusions for preexisting conditions. Either way, the end result for pet insurance is the same - The owner ultimately pays.

Monday, Oct 03, 2011
Saving Money With Good Communication
By Dr. Chris Pinney
Monday, Oct 03, 2011 07:20
Veterinary visits aren't cheap these days. But in many instances, they can't be avoided. As a result, your goal should be to maximize the return on your investment. And one way to do this is to ensure effective communication with your veterinarian the minute you walk through the door.
Here are a few tips/recommendations:

1. Never leave an appointment without your important questions answered or without fully understanding your pet's treatment/management instructions. That said, you don't want to ask too many questions. Appointments are usually allotted 15 minutes each, so be sure to prioritize those you want answered the most. Write them down ahead of time.

2. Describe, but don't diagnose your pet's condition.

Describing accurate symptoms to your veterinarian, including time of onset, rapidity of onset (did it come on slow or fast?) and the character of the symptom, can often help your vet establish a diagnosis without having to resort to lots of diagnostic tests, which can save both time and money in the long run.

3.Don't be afraid to tell your veterinarian that you did your research on the Internet.

Some vets cringe when they hear a client has turned to the Internet for information. I don't. To me, it simply means that the client is being proactive about his/her pet's health, and that's a good thing. However, understand that what you find on the Internet may not, in fact, be correct (go figure!), so your veterinarian's assessment is all the more valuable. Yet, that information you glean from the cloud could help your vet reach a diagnosis that much faster.

4.Try not to distract your veterinarian with questions while she is performing an exam on your pet.

Doing so could cause her to miss physical clues pertinent to your pet's condition. Instead, let your vet ask the questions during the exam. Your answers to those questions will serve to complement the exam and enhance its effectiveness.

As you can see, good communication during a veterinary visit is cost-effective and very important to your pet's overall health. Do your research and formulate your questions prior to the visit. Not only will you save time that way, but you'll know enough to carry on a viable two-way conversation with your pet's health care provider.

Wednesday, Sep 28, 2011
It's More Important Than Ever to Keep Your Dog on Heartworm Prevention
By Dr. Chris Pinney
Wednesday, Sep 28, 2011 09:14
Veterinarians across the country have been notified by the large pharma company, Merial, that the drug Immiticide, used to treat heartworm disease in dogs, will be unavailable for an indefinite period of time. No real reason was given for this, but it does mean one thing: Many dogs currently infected with heartworms are going to suffer because of it.
Merial holds the patent for this drug, which means that demand can't be fulfilled by alternative manufacturers. Personally, I can't understand why the FDA doesn't yank that patent and allow other companies to manufacture the drug. Heartworm disease is just too prevalent to allow this to happen. If there were other fast kill treatments available, that would be one thing. But there aren't. Merial needs to do a better job informing the veterinary community about what exactly is going on. Hopefully steps are being taken to remedy the problem and prevent this from happening in the future.
Okay, enough ranting. The bottom line: Giving your dog his/her heartworm preventive medication every month is more important than ever. So be sure to mark it in big red letters on your calender. 

Sunday, Sep 11, 2011
New IPhone App and People with Ear Mites
By Dr. Chris Pinney
Sunday, Sep 11, 2011 01:07
There's a new IPhone app that's worthy of mention and it's called Dog Trainer Pro. It provides training and behavioral tips and advice for both puppies and adult dogs. The developer is a canine behavior specialist and  provides science-based advice. Many veterinarians refer to this site for info when faced with patient behavioral challenges, so you can bet the info offered is good!


Did You Know?

People can get ear mites from their dogs and cats! Although not considered a noteworthy zoonotic disease, there have been reports of ear mites infesting the ear canals of pet owners. Not only that, mites that are especially active can also cause itchy bumps on the hands and arms as well. 

One veterinarian actually placed mite-infested debris from a patient into his own ear to see if this was really true (I know, I know...). He found out it was. The way he described it, the mites seemed most active at night and not only that, the chewing sounds and movement going on within his ear kept him awake! Disgusting.

The moral to the story: Wash your hands after treating your pet for ear mites. And you might want to avoid that particular vet as well!

Here's your Insider Laugh of the Week:


Thursday, Sep 01, 2011
Why Older Dogs Gain Weight
By Dr. Chris Pinney
Thursday, Sep 01, 2011 01:03

As you might expect, dogs tend to pack on the fat as they get older. The biggest reason (besides lack of exercise) is this: As dogs grow older, they lose lean muscle mass, which in turn lowers the resting energy requirements needed to maintain them at their current weights. In other words, if you keep feeding the same amount that you always have, your dog will gain weight with each passing year. Oftentimes, a client will tell me that her older, obese pet "just doesn't eat that much" and she can't understand why her pet is overweight. Well, this is why.

As a result, it's a good idea to reduce caloric intake for dogs over 8 years of age by about 3% with each year that goes by (of course, this figure will vary somewhat with each individual, so check with your veterinarian before implementing such a calorie control formula). By doing so, you'll keep your pet at his desired weight and prevent those aggravating and expensive diseases linked to obesity.   


Here's a quick tip on how to stay dry....When a dog shakes to rid its fur of water, it all starts at the head. That said, if you control the head, you'll be able to control the shake. So next time you give your dog a bath and you don't want him to spray water all over the bathroom walls, gently grip his muzzle to control his head and temporarily thwart the chain reaction - at least until you can get a towel draped over him.


Have you ever wondered which is better, Heartgard or Interceptor? For the answer, check out this latest video posted on the Veterinary Insider YouTube Channel

Here's your latest Laugh of the Week:

Saturday, Aug 27, 2011
Medical Marijuana for Pets
Saturday, Aug 27, 2011 10:57
You knew it was coming...

A company out of Seattle is developing a transdermal pain patch for pets containing, what else, medical marijuana! The new "pot patch" could be made available to veterinarians sometime next year.

The company, Medical Marijuana Delivery Systems (MMDS), hold the patent for the patch, which will be marketed under the name "Tetracan". It will be made available for human use as well.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia currently allow human medical marijuana use and a number of others are considering it. The legalities of its use by veterinarians on animals has yet to be established, but it's currently under review. We'll have to wait and see.

Until then, if they could only develop a weight loss patch for pets to curb those munchies!

Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011
Veterinary Chiropractic Medicine
By Dr. Chris Pinney
Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 12:35
Here's the final installment on our series on Holistic Pet Medicine. The subject: Veterinary Chiropractic

As you may know, the focus of chiropractic medicine is centered on the spinal column, that portion of the central nervous system through which nerves course to and from the brain.

Chiropractic philosophy maintains (and rightly so) that all organ systems within the body are controlled by the nervous system. It does so through elaborate control systems (including those responsible for hormone production and release) and complex feedback mechanisms that coordinate all bodily functions and responses, including those related to health and to disease.

Any disruption of the free flow of nerve impulses throughout the body can disrupt homeostasis within the body and lead to poor immune function and subsequent disease.

Chiropractors target motor units along the spinal column. Each motor unit consists of two adjacent vertebrae and all of the nerves, muscles, ligaments, blood vessels, and ancillary structures associated with the joint formed by the two vertebrae. Either a "malarticulation" or a "fixation" of one or more of these motor units can disrupt the free flow of nerve impulses.

Such deviations from the normal anatomy and/or structural mechanics of the spinal column put pressure on and irritate the spinal cord, causing pain and/or preventing the body from mounting an effective response against other diseases. In addition, loss of motor unit mobility can slow the flow of spinal fluid, leading to malnourishment and degeneration of vital muscles, nerves, and other structures associated with the motor unit.

As far back a Hippocrates, spinal manipulations were used on people and pets to treat a wide variety of disorders. Today in pets, chiropractic adjustments are being used to treat lameness, hip dysplasia, intervertebral disc disease, non-specific joint pain, muscle spasms, and poor flexibility. In addition, chiropractic may be effective in managing gastrointestinal illness, musculoskeletal trauma, stress-induced exhaustion, and certain types of paralysis. Following chiropractic adjustments, many pets have been known to become more active and playful, exhibit increased appetites, and desire more interaction with their owners. The number of chiropractic adjustments required will depend upon the severity and duration of the problem and on the age of the patient. As a rule, the younger the patient, the fewer the adjustments needed to correct a malarticulation/fixation.

The chiropractic approach to treating disease in pets is becoming a popular holistic tool in veterinary circles today. I certainly feel it has its place in an integrative approach to pet health care. If interested in learning more, check out the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association website at

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011
Homeopathic Veterinary Medicine
By Dr. Chris Pinney
Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 11:28
Perhaps the most controversial of all alternative medical practices is homeopathy. The homeopathic movement found it origins in 18th century Europe and made its way to the United States in the early part of the 19th century. Well-known proponents of the day included Mark Twain, Daniel Webster, William Cullen Bryant and John D. Rockefeller.

In 1844 the American Institute of Homeopathy was founded. In fact, this was the first national medical society formed in the United States. Interestingly, the American Medical Association was founded two years later. One reason for this: To counter the threat that the homeopathic movement posed to conventional medicine!

In veterinary medicine, the use of homeopathy remains controversial primarily because standards have yet to be established that takes into account the species, breed, and size of the patient being treated. For example, a small kitten and a large horse may both be prescribed the same remedy at the same potency.

Many medical doctors write off apparent homeopathic successes in humans as "placebo effects". Unfortunately, this does not explain the anecdotal successes achieved in certain clinical cases involving animals. Certainly any scientist or research practitioner would agree that when working with living organisms, countless variables exist that we do not understand or recognize. Perhaps it is one or more of these variables that accounts for homeopathic treatment successes when they occur.

Homeopathy is based on the Law of Similars, or "like cures like". This law contends that agents that cause disease symptoms at standard doses can cause the body to mimic those symptoms when introduced in extremely diluted doses and stimulate the body to cure the underlying disease. The goal of the veterinary homeopath is to support and strengthen the pet's "vital force", which is responsible for maintaining health and internal harmony within the body.

Clinical signs, which are recognized as simply outward expressions of disease and not diseases in themselves, are caused by imbalances affecting this vital force. Homeopathic treatment is designed to stimulate and strengthen the vital force into restoring its internal balance. When in balance, the vital force is able to effectively call upon the natural body defense mechanisms to rise to the occasion and eliminate the disease from the body.

Veterinary homeopathic remedies are administered to animals either as tiny pellets (crushed and placed on the tongue) or elixirs. For best results, they should not be given with meals. Remedies are formulated using herbs, extracts, heavy metals, minerals, toxins, or any other substance that has the potential to stimulate the vital force at homeopathic concentrations. If administered at full strength, many of these substances could harm or even kill a patient! However, when diluted the homeopathic way, they purportedly stimulate the body to heal itself.

Dilutions are performed in a step-wise fashion, with the preparations succussed (shaken) after each dilution in order to increase potency and vibrational energy. This process of dilution followed by succession is termed "potentiation". The more dilute the remedy, the more powerfully it acts to stimulate natural healing.

Interesting, huh? In my mind, the jury is still out on this particular holistic approach to pet care. I can grasp the others (herbal medicine, acupuncture, etc.) and have recommended them at times, but it'll take a major paradigm shift before homeopathy will gain my endorsement. But, hey, that's just my opinion...

Thursday, Aug 04, 2011
Using Acupuncture on Pets
By Dr. Chris Pinney
Thursday, Aug 04, 2011 01:50

The word acupuncture comes from the Latin word acus, which means "needle", and punctura, which means "to prick".  Acupuncture involves the stimulation of specific points on the body in order to produce chemical and physical responses within the body.  This ancient form of medical therapy is thought to have originated in the Far East over 7000 years ago.  Due to the close interdependence of man and animal throughout the ages, it has no doubt been used as a form of veterinary medicine for thousands of years as well. Ancient civilizations certainly practiced acupuncture on their animals, as evidenced by the antiquated acupuncture charts that exist for a wide variety of species, including horses, camels, water buffaloes, and even elephants! 

Several theories have been proposed in an attempt to explain the effects that acupuncture can have on pets (and people).  The first theorizes that stimulation of an acupuncture point directly blocks the transmission of pain sensation along select nerve fibers within the body.  A second theory postulates that chemicals called endorphins are released upon stimulation of an acupuncture point.  Endorphins, which are up to 100 times more potent than morphine, effectively block pain sensations and can circulate in the bloodstream for several hours at a time, providing a lasting effect.  Still another theory proposes that acupuncture stimulation causes select sensory nerve endings to transmit nerve impulses to the spinal cord and brain, and then back out again to glands located throughout the body.  Upon stimulation, these glands release hormones into the blood stream that can exert various influences on the organ systems within the body.

More than likely, the actual mode of action for acupuncture is a blend of these theories.  Interestingly enough, for acupuncture to work, a pet's nervous system must be intact.  Studies involving patients suffering from nerve damage have revealed that the beneficial effects normally gained by stimulation of a particular acupuncture are actually negated by the damage.

Acupuncture has been used with success in pets to control pain associated with intervertebral disc disease, trauma, hip dysplasia, and other forms of arthritis. In addition, it may also help speed healing in pets stricken with allergies, epilepsy, nerve injuries, chronic respiratory disease, and disorders of the stomach and intestines. 

Keep in mind, though, that acupuncture is only as good as the person performing it.  The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society establishes a Code of Ethics and provides acupuncture certification within the profession. To help ensure competency when choosing a veterinary acupuncturist, always select one who has been certified by a veterinary acupuncture specialty organization such as the IVAS. Check out their website.

Thursday, Jul 28, 2011
Botanical (Herbal) Medicine
By Dr. Chris Pinney
Thursday, Jul 28, 2011 02:28

Here's the first article in our series on holistic approaches to pet health care:

Botanical Veterinary Medicine

The use of herbs to fight disease dates back far beyond the advent of modern medicine as we know it.  Ancient people throughout the world, especially the Chinese and other eastern cultures, utilized herbs to treat illnesses and injuries arising from hunting and gathering, armed conflict, and recreational activities.  Written documentation on the use of herbs for medicinal purposes apparently first appeared in ancient Egyptian culture. By 1000 BC, this knowledge had made its way across the ocean to Greece, whereupon Greek scholars such as Socrates, Pliny, Descordes and Krateus expanded on it, refined it, and recorded their findings in a Materia Medica. During the Middle Ages, European and Middle Eastern practitioners continued to expound on the works of the Greeks and helped solidify the foundation of the modern herbal Materia Medica.

Certainly the usefulness of an herbal remedy in the past depended upon that herb's availability in a particular geographical location.  Unfortunately, herbal practitioners within the United States found many of the herbs contained in the Old World Materia Medicas could not be found in the New World.  However, thousands of years before Columbus set foot on the shores of the Americas, local herbs had been used by Native American tribes to prevent and combat disease.  This knowledge of New World herbal remedies was quickly assimilated into the new Euro-American culture and ultimately grew with subsequent westward expansion, leading to the formation of a Materia Medica dealing specifically with native New World herbs.

Thanks to the knowledge imparted by these pioneers in botanical medicine, today's veterinarians have valuable weapons at their disposal. Indeed, herbs can provide a powerful formulary against disease in pets.  In fact, many of the active ingredients found in herbs are the same ones used in today's modern drugs. These active components include tannins, polysaccharides, glycosides, alkaloids, turpoids and essential oils.

Drug companies extract and isolate these constituents from the whole plant, then potentiate their strength in a laboratory, rendering them highly effective (and highly toxic). However, there has been a paradigm shift in recent years regarding herbs and their active ingredients. Scientists are now recognizing the therapeutic importance of certain "phytochemical" constituents found in whole plants that are absent in isolated extracts. Research is finding that these constituents may not only improve the effectiveness of the active ingredients within a patient's body, but also may lessen the risk of harmful side effects that the ingredients may cause. 

Herbal remedies may be eaten, drunken, or applied externally as poultices.  Both fresh and dried herbs can form the foundation for a particular remedy.  However, with the exception of topical poultices (such as aloe vera poultices for burns), most herbal products used in veterinary medicine are made from dried herbs. These dried herbs are crushed and formed into pills or enclosed within gelatin capsules, made into tea-like preparations, or pulverized and mixed with alcohol to form elixirs. Herbal elixirs can be administered to pets in the same way as any other liquid medication, or they can be added directly to a pet's food. Pills and gelatin capsules can be administered directly or cleverly disguised in a treat.

Factors that can affect herbal potency include the method of drying used, the age of the herbal preparation, and the stage at which the plant was originally harvested.  For example, dandelion leaves are most effective if harvested before flowering, whereas blue violet is best collected after flowering.  Herbs that have not been dried properly may be contaminated with mold, which can certainly adversely alter their effectiveness.  Also, the older the herbal preparation, the greater is the chance of a loss in potency due to natural degradation or mishandling. 

As a rule, potency of herbal remedies will tend to diminish rapidly after one year on the shelf.   In order to improve shelf life, herbal products should be stored in dark, airtight containers and in cool, dry locations away from direct light.

When addressing an illness, veterinary herbalists rarely use only a single herb, but rather use a combination of herbs.  Doing so offers two powerful advantages.  First, combining certain herbs will create a synergistic attack against the targeted disorder.  Secondly, herbal combinations can be used to help dilute out undesirable side effects that may be caused by one or more herbs in the formula.

Herbal treatments in animals are usually prescribed for no more than two to four weeks at a time. Standard dosages are usually continued for two to three days following the disappearance of clinical signs, and then slowly tapered off over a week's time.

Herbal remedies cannot be used indiscriminately, nor, as mentioned above, should they be used long term. Realize that adverse interactions can occur with existing medications that your pet may be taking. Also, certain herbal remedies, given at improper dosages, can cause significant bodily harm. For instance, white willow and white oak bark contains salicylates and can be highly toxic to cats. 

With more people turning to the Internet as their source for information, it is vital to remember this: Although this resource and others can indeed provide valuable information concerning herbs and their application in pets, they can also be the source of dangerous misinformation concerning dosages, duration of treatment, and applications of herbal treatments.  For your pet's sake, always validate any information you may gather with a veterinary professional trained in botanical medicine and, of course, never administer a herbal preparation without first consulting him/her.