Friday, July 20, 2007

Animal Medicine from A(cupuncture) to Z(oonoses)

144th Annual Convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association
July 14-18
Washington Convention Center

Attendance: 10,000 stewards of animal health and counselors of often-confused humans

Quick Take: Impressive range of sessions on breakthroughs and best practices, spanning companion animal health and behavior, farm animal medicine, and holistic health techniques.

Issues: Many, including: New vaccination protocols, the impact of physical conditions on behavior and vice versa, behavior counseling, complementary and alternative medicine, epidemic outbreaks, pet food poisoning.

Insight-Bites: Summaries of select sessions.


Storm Phobias

Rather than resort to drugs, Dr. Terry Curtis suggested products that have helped many dogs, such as DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) and anxiety wraps. Based on the theory that dogs sense storm build-up through electrical charge, the Storm Defender Cape has a metallic lining that discharges the dog’s fur and shields him from static charge build-up. Is it the lining or the caping that has the most effect? She’s not certain, but amused the crowd with a photo of one man’s attempt at a homemade “Foil Suit.” An easier way for cheapskates: rub the animal with dryer sheets.

Nuisance Behaviors

Step 1: Dispel owner notions that usually but needlessly guarantee failure: “My dog is dumb” “ trying to be dominant” ... “is being spiteful” ... and, “my dog already gets plenty of exercise.” (Then there’s the eye-roller, “Oh, I tried that and it didn’t work.”)

“First, find out ‘what is the client’s perception of the dog?’” said Dr. Emily Levine.

Management Techniques to Gain Control Now

“We all do what works,” said Jacqueline Neilson. “Unfortunately, aggression typically works to make threatening things go away or back off.” When people back off at a growl or exposed teeth, this reinforces the behavior. The solution is not to risk a bite, but to practice exercises with the aggressive dog in controlled environments and to manage the situation – preventing an incident. Avoid triggers of undesirable behavior to avoid unintentionally reinforcing and the potentially damaging behaviors that result.

Why food aggression training techniques that annoy and aggravate often fail, and sometimes trigger bites: Randomly taking the food bowl always creates stress and is perceived as a threat. Instead, randomly slip special higher-value goodies into the bowl.

Avoidance works: So for food-aggressive dogs, no long-lasting food treats...and feed meals behind closed doors...keep kids and others away from the dog’s bowl and treats.

For dogs with urinary problems, have a schedule they can count on and don’t expect a dog with a medically based problem to “hold it.” Take him outside before an accident can occur.

Don’t make your animal “hold it” too long. Realize that the feeling of relief of emptying a full bladder makes this act a self-reinforcing behavior.

A guiding principle: “Tell the animal what to do instead of what not to do.”

Maximizing Behavior Modification Success

Veterinary behaviorist Gerrard Flannigan imparted wise advice such as:

* Have all household members, including children, attend the behavior session.

* Document, not just describe: When needed, take a video to capture the problem behaviors.

* Meeting in person allows the pro to observe the people’s reaction to their dogs’ actions.

How to Help Puppies Become Better Dogs

Dr. Margaret Duxbury shared uncommon common sense:

* Have the dog do something before giving anything in return. Aim for 40+ rewarded interactions a day to establish good habits.

* Look for learning situations – and observe what pups are learning accidentally.

* Put breaks on toddlers and visitors. It’s not fair to put the pup in situations in which he feels the need to defend himself.

* Teach that hands never hurt – and that an approaching hand is a good thing.

* Control your visitors so they don’t undo your lessons.

Aggression Between Cats

Karen Overall’s many excellent tips included becoming aware of cat stressors: irregular and unpredictable feeding and cleaning times; absence of stroking, over-petting, unpredictable and unfamiliar manipulation, and changes in social environment.

Watch: are you sure the aggression occurs in absence of any provocation and without the cat signaling he is being annoyed?

Note that long-term caging has proven to be counterproductive. It’s important to avoid not only the development of problem behaviors but aggressive incidents. Why? Because, she said, animals learn behaviors at a molecular level and this changes their neurochemistry – making change all the harder.

Another tip: Take a video of the animal at home. When reviewing the video, fast-forward and the problems will jump out.


Many neurological conditions, endocrine disorders, skin disorders, chronic disease and other medical conditions are at the root of behavioral issues. Behavior can change brain chemistry and structure. Prolonged stress sets off a cascade of reactions that can leave us with overstimulated or suppressed immune systems.

Expert vets shed light in a track of sessions so content-rich that they defy summary, but here’s a snapshot of practical ideas:

* Help! Excessive grooming or indoor urination may be a cry for help. Dr. Ellen Lindell observed that many conditions that owners perceive as sudden onset turn out to have developed gradually. Roots can involve a change in owner’s schedule, a new addition (person or pet) to the household, a house remodel with attendant noise (or shuttling the dog in a crate), cutbacks in exercise, a medication change, diet change, or impacted anal glands.

* I itch, therefore I ache. Dr. Vinl Virga focused on attention-seeking and owner-reinforced behaviors, noting how discomfort and pain can change personality as well as habits. So will insufficient physical and mental stimulation. Can cats and dogs hallucinate? Absolutely.

* Stress and disease change behavior. Explained Dr. Gary Landsberg, anxiety and stress set off brain activity. Common outward signs include piloerection – raised fur – in cats and dogs. Chronic stress can alter the brain, in turn changing behavior and sparking aberrant behaviors such as head shaking, hallucinations, escape attempts, excessive grooming, and also hyperglycemia.

Any disease that affects the central nervous system can alter behavior, as can pain (arthritis, dental disease, injury), decreased sensory function (vision and hearing loss add to fear), and altered motor ability.


AVMA members noted interest in complementary and alternative medicine has quadrupled in the last decade. Many attended sessions on acupuncture, chiropractic, medicinal herbs, and holistic principles – and a hot emerging modality.

* Electromedicine: The Wave of the Future?

Dr. Ava Frick is an expert in this alternative to “chemical medicine,” which uses micro-currents to treat behavioral problems, relieve chronic pain, mediate storm phobias, alleviate phantom limb pain, restore function to paralyzed animals, sterilize wounds, speed up tissue growth, and heal wounds.
All at levels too low enough to sense.

Electromedicine is based on the proposition that biological processes are electromagnetic. Publicized by Robert Becker in his book “The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life,” the modality was used to treat surface wounds over 300 years ago when charged gold leaf was found to prevent smallpox scars. Work in 1960s demonstrated its use for accelerated skin healing; Becker maintained electrical activity is what enables salamanders to regenerate the cells of lost limbs.

Dr. Frick explained that all of the senses are based on pulse transmissions. Mircocurrent application helps the body’s hard and soft tissue “regain its capacitance so healing can begin.” She cited success with golden retrievers, horses and cats suffering from gaping wounds, fears and pain.

* Chiropractic:

Chiropractic care offers another treatment avenue; the practitioner mechanically corrects a structural problem without drug therapy and surgery. Derived from the Greek words for “hand” and “practice,” chiropractic employs the hands to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Gene Giggleman explained how correcting vertebral subluxations that create imbalance helps the body heal itself. When nervous interference disturbs biomechanical and neurological function, the chiropractor releases nervous energy to flow to the tissues.

A chiropractic adjustment is a specific force applied in a specific direction to a specific vertebra. On a neurological level, it affects both mechanoreceptors (movement impulses) and nociceptors (pain receptors). The goals: reduce pain, restore normal joint motion, stimulate neurological reflexes and relax muscles, improve range of motion, and “ affect extracellular and extravascular fluid flow.”

* Acupuncture

Dr. Joseph Kincaid discussed acupuncture techniques that could be used with or without needles. The ancient practice stimulates points on the body to release and disperse blocked energy within the body. “This is real science, not hocus-pocus,” he said.

Every vet and owner can help animals by conducting the 4 Examinations, based on the principles that history-taking is not enough; you must ask the animal how he feels.

He gave examples of food nutrition translating to energy and through energy, supporting immune function and healing the body. Disrputions of electromagnetic patterns throw off bird navigation and are largely responsible, he explained, for colony collapse disorder (CCD) imperiling bee survival.

Pathogens, parasites and predators can sense disruptions in a body’s healthy electromagnetic fields. This may sound like junk science – until realizing the reliance of even Western medicine on energy fields, such as in diagnosis. Example: the EEG, a picture of composite radiation of the energy put out by brain cells.

Notable quote: “Literature shows that when you put a needle in a dog’s butt to open up a flow, the dog feels great.”

Caveat: Good nutrition is a prerequisite for these therapies. The same surely goes for traditional therapies.

* Holistic Principles:

Dr. Robert Silver explained how concerns over overvaccination, processed pet food, increased incidence of cancers, and dead-ends with allopathic (Western) medicine are spurring more veterinarians nationwide to make referrals to alternative health specialists and integrate holistic treatments into their own practices.

Areas of increased interest include Ayruveda, which is Hindu Indian traditional holistic medicine based on body balance, integrating diet, herbal treatment, and yoga exercise. Herbal therapies were covered in detail by Dr. Stephanie Schwartz.


Laurie McCauley gave a lively presentation about canine rehabilitation tools and techniques.
The most important tool? Hands

Her novel, smart practices included targeted use of knuckles to motivate recovering animals to walk. Tailwork often yields rapid results. Smearing peanut butter along wall to persuade an animal to walk? Priceless.

Dr. Jacqueline Davidson discussed passive manipulations such as PROM – passive range of motion exercises.

Good points: Withhold medications during periods of increase to avoid masking signs of pain – since pain signals harm to the joint. Watch weight – excess will stress joints. And don’t subject the recovering animal to slippery flooring.


* Home-Made Diet Do’s and Don’ts

Given today’s increasing interest in home-cooked diets for pets , Dr. Korinn Saker warned that a fresh diet can be risky if not nutritionally customized to the individual. Her case in point: a very young Sheltie who suffered from skeletal changes and fractures due to an inadequate homemade diet.

Ingredient balance, quality and preparation are key. An expert review should be done before feeding a homemade diet. Evaluate factors such as sources and ratios of protein, carbs, fat, calcium and other minerals and vitamins. Online experts and computer programs are available to develop nutritious custom diets.

Tips: a human adult daily vitamin can be used, but not the gender-tailored varieties.

Dr. Robert Silver weighed in with the holistic perspective. He noted evidence that processing of foods, both human and pet, creates byproducts that have inflammatory and insulin dysregulating side effects linked to degenerative health conditions. Some kibble and canned foods contain potentially toxic byproducts. Reactive oxidative species can be created by food processing, leading to tissue damage down the road. Then there are chemical preservatives, aflatoxins and other mycotoxins occasionally contaminating commercial kibble, and basic lack of whole foods.

Interesting side-benefit of milled flax seed, a highly recommended addition to dog and cat diets: the fiber will help manage hairballs.

He agrees that the client tendency to substitute ingredients – “Recipe Drift” – can unbalance the diet.

Not ready to commit to daily homecooking for your pet? Dr. Silver suggests preparing at least one good homemade unprocessed meal a week. Also, people who eat healthy whole foods can make extra and share with their pets. Tip; Remove a half cup of kibble per each cup of fresh food supplements.

* Nutritional Myths: Fat is unhealthy and causes diarrhea? Panelists said not so. Balance is necessary for digestion and health. Dietary allergies are common? Dietary intolerance is more common.


* Pet Food Crisis – Lessons Learned: Panelists analyzed their own organizations’ responses to the melamine-tainted pet food additives from China that poisoned pets across the U.S. Lessons included: Convey facts as soon as they’re confirmed. Set up multiple channels for consumers and health professionals to get answers and to report cases. Establish linkages between industry associations and government agencies. Investigate immediately. The first consumer complaints were filed with Menu Foods Feb. 20. On April 2, the Chinese government was still denying its exports were contaminated, though its mislabeled rice protein and wheat gluten concentrates entered the U.S. in 2006.

And: take pet poisoning seriously, which the major media failed to do, preferring to chase wayward celebrities and rehash political hijinks – leaving bloggers to do the initial investigative reporting.

Wal-mart demonstrated a proactive response, programming check-out scanners to block the sale of recalled foods, noted Pet Central host Steve Dale.

* Mating Isn’t Just About Multiplying: In her talk on “Sexual Diversity in the Animal Kingdom,” Joan Roughgarden presented evidence to disprove Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, which assigned behaviors by gender and labeled same-sex sexual play as maldaptive social behavior. The Stanford University researcher said homosexuality has been documented in more than 450 unique vertebrate species, from bighorn sheep to bonobos, fruit flies to sunfish.

In the animal kingdom and other human cultures, straight and gay are not mutually exclusive. Those friendly copulations between female macaques? They foster social stability, akin to cooperative game theory, said Roughgarden. She regards the hetero/homo distinction is purely a cultural creation. Then there are co-fathering communities of birds. Viva la difference.

* Radiofrequency Surgery: Gaining fans due to its pinpoint precision, tactile feel while making incisions, cutting at lower heat than lasers thus enabling faster healing, scalpel-speed with less bleeding.

* One Health Initiative: Promotes collaboration between nonhuman animal and human physicians, researchers, and epidemiologists to improve public health. In the past 25 years, 75% of the emerging diseases have been zoonotic, such as avian flu and SARS. “Zoonotic disease a growth industry,” said keynote speaker Julie Gerberding, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The melamine-poisoned pet food crisis was a sentinel that triggered action before the poison-laced China exports spread too far in farm animal and human food products. In addition to pathogenic infections and deadly food additives, the effort will limit the destruction of potential bioterrorism. SARS, which sprung from the animal slaughter and marketing practices in some Asian provinces, reached an epidemic tipping point in 48 hours as it spread between guests in a hotel in which a research doctor was staying; it led to 8,000 ill and 800 dead.

On the domestic health front, Americans spend excessively but not wisely. “We need to get our voice heard over the cacophony of junk science,” said Dr. Gerberding. “We need to reach Dr. Mom” – with common sense messages such as “wash your hands!”

* End of Life Overtreatment: Per a Best Friends Animal Sanctuary vet, waiting too long before euthanasia is common. Technology exists to lengthen life, but quality of life is something vet should help their clients evaluate.

* Reconcile – a new separation anxiety drug: The first drug approved by the FDA for treating canine separation anxiety, the once daily, chewable tablets harness serontonin, “the civilizing neurotransmitter,” to reduce anxiety. Other anti-anxiety drugs such as amitriptylene and chomicalm affect multiple neurotransmitters resulting in wider-ranging side effects. Dr. Barbara Sherman emphasized it does not alone alone; it’s part of the medication, modification, management trinity.

* New Test Kit Detect Breed Ancestry in Mixed Breed Dogs: “Doctor, what is my dog?” Now vets can answer the question they’ve been hearing for 400 years.

Many characteristic breed traits and diseases are hereditary. Genetic screening can identify animals at risk of certain breed-linked diseases, drug sensitivities, and behavioral traits before onset of clinical signs. Based on blood testing of 13,000 purebred dogs, Mars Inc. developed the DNA-based Wisdom Panel MX kit that ID’s the breed heritage of mixed-breed dogs within 3 weeks.

* Farm Animal Aid: Downer cows were briefly in the news with the recent federal government decision to permanently prohibit slaughter of nonambulatory cattle for use as food. But they were also on the AVMA conference program as vets discussed treatment issues. For example, when lying down, a cow’s body weight can apply enough pressure to cause nerve and muscle damage. Physical therapy can help the animal stand on hind limbs; devices include hip clamps, slings and flotation tanks. Injury, calving trauma and poor nutrition can result in the syndrome. Nutritional therapy will help.

In his presentation on Herd Lameness Dynamics, Dr. Nigel Cook noted that cows kept standing on concrete walkways in intensively managed dairy herds leads to claw horn lesion development, and poor lying times are a significant risk factor for lameness.

Worth noting: There are economical methods for large-scale livestock operations that do not require the extreme confinement, deprivation and privation that dominate the industry today, wrote Nedim C. Buyukmihci, president, Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights and professor at University of California’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Labor cost savings from factory farming is offset by the cost of equipment, water, fuel and other factors, as well as compromised human health, soil health, depletion of resources that will be needed by future generations. He cited a pasture system developed by University of Tennessee proved more efficient and less costly than a traditional confinement system. There were less post-weaning losses and disease and better consistency in sow and pig performance.

* Other notable sessions: New vaccination guidelines summarized by Dr. Richard Ford (who predicts a 4-way lepto vaccine to arrive by year-end and explained the downsides of a vaccine adverse reaction database). NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci zipped through a survey of emerging and reemerging infectious diseases. Among arresting points: The problem with HIV/AIDS vac development: with all other diseases, the best path has been to study those healthy immune responses to the pathogen and mimic in vax. HIV not one spontaneous recovery from it, so can’t mimic body’s attempts to fight the disease.


* Holistic animal health

* Animal Protection

Animal Welfare Institute
Wealth of literature on Animals’ Legal Rights, Childhood Cruelty, Threatened Wildlife, Farm and Laboratory Animals (even those professionals who do not oppose animal research or use of animals for food and fiber still stress the need for compassionate treatment, environmental enrichment and prevention of physical and mental suffering among these animals who give their lives involuntarily to satisfy human demands); Alternatives to Animal Testing, Animal Dealers.

* AVAR Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights
Nonprofit committed to humane treatment; recommends modifying the Veterinary Oath to base it upon the interests and needs of the individual nonhuman animal. Information on animal lab standards, improving factory farm conditions, non-animal research alternatives, and healthy life-supporting diets for all.

* Veterinary Services and Locators

* Organic-related health news and food/farming

* Vaccination

AAHA Canine Vaccine Guidelines

AAFP Feline Vaccine Guidelines

A few of the many products in the exhibition hall:

* Health Supporting Supplements

Geri-Form intracellular nutrition for geriatric and convalescing animals.

Standard Process unique formulas

* New book

Blackwell's Five-Minute Consult Clinical Companion: Canine And Feline Behavior by
vets Debra Horwitz and Jacqueline Neilson (who spoke at the convention)

* Sorbay Pet Oral Care

* New Greenies animal dental products and Pill Pockets