ASK DR. CHIP - JUNE EDITION

Want to be featured in next month’s newsletter? Email our very own Dr. Chip at info@petsplusus.com and make sure you reference ‘Ask Dr. Chip’ in the subject line.

About Dr. Chip

Dr. Chip Coombs is Pets Plus Us’ Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO), and has practiced veterinary medicine since 1976, initially in the United Kingdom, then in Western Canada and, finally, in Toronto, where he owned a multi-veterinarian practice for 33 years.


Question:

Dear Dr. Chip,

I have seen the advertisement for Dog Rocks in the spring edition of Modern Dog. I am wondering if this product is safe in my German shepherd’s water. She is female.

Thank you,

Kathy

Answer:

Hi Kathy,

Although at first blush I would be sceptical of the efficacy of Dog Rocks, it is likely safe to say that they would likely do no harm. Apparently, they are designed to absorb impurities in the water which is claimed to cause the urine burning on the lawn. However, it is widely believed that the grass stains from dog urine is due to the concentration of nitrogen. If you consider that lawn fertilizer has nitrogen as a main component and if you accidentally spilled some in a concentrated area, the central part of the spill would kill the grass, but around the periphery you would see the grass flourish, as the concentration was much less. So, it is with grass burns from dog urine. The central portion is dead, but the grass thrives on the outside of the dead circle. The nitrogen is a normal metabolite/ end product of protein metabolism. Because females urinate in a more concentrated spot than males, they tend to cause more of an issue. There are no panacea solutions of which I am aware other than minimizing the impact by:

  1. Feeding a diet that your veterinarian feels meets but does not exceed your dog's protein requirements. Less excess protein means less nitrogen in the urine.
  2. Keeping your lawn well-watered and pouring water on a spot just urinated on by your female dog.
  3. Adding lots of water to your dog's meal to increase its overall water intake and thus dilute the nitrogen concentration in the urine.
  4. Train your dog to urinate in one specific area to minimize the whole lawn being affected and perhaps even training them to use a designated area that is a large patch of pea gravel (no pun intended!)

There is no question that due to individual variations between dogs, some are more inclined to burn the urine than others. If you ultimately try Dog rocks and find that they help, please let us know!

Cheers,

Dr. Chip


Question:

Hello.. 

I have a 3-year-old, Purebred GSD. I was feeding a ‘premium’ quality dog food for pretty much the first two years of his life. (I’ve had him since birth and have his mom as well) He began experiencing Grand Mal Seizures following eating his meal (usually the evening meal) at about 2 1/2 years old. He was otherwise healthy and worked up extensively by my local veterinarian. We found that he also began to form peri-anal fistulas, inflamed skin/ ears and gums (head shaking, scratching ++). He was started on Prednisone for inflammatory issues, Tacrolimus cream for his rectal issues and phenobarbital for his seizure response. We cannot get him off of the prednisone (negative response to trying prednisolone as a safer alternative) and are currently working with cytopoint to control the inflammatory issues as anything with Hydroxizine in it effects his Phenobarb levels. We have also added Keppra as a safer alternative for his seizure and use it along with the Pheno. He has just started to increase his liver markers and is also getting a veterinarian approved milk thistle product (Demarin). Anyway, I am convinced that the root of this issue is related to this ‘premium’ food that I was feeding him, as they have since been entertaining a ‘Class Action’ law suit in the U.S. We have tried a course of different types of food, and he has endured inflammatory response (from itching to seizures) to pretty much every form of meat protein. I am learning that there have been more sick dogs that have been fed this brand of food. There is nothing in his lineage that makes any sense to this, so I have been looking at nutritional causes.  My question to you is, do you feel that a particular dog food could cause this? I am aware of the importance of the GI tract and the immune system and am pretty convinced that this dog good ruined him.

Thank you for your time,

Linda

Answer:

Hi Linda,

In my over 40 years as a veterinarian I have not come across personally nor read any documented, evidence-based cases of a particular dog food causing such a plethora of medical problems. Developing skin problems, usually allergy based, secondarily to a particular protein in a food (any food) is commonly seen in practice and the solution is determining the actual type of protein(s) and eliminating them from the diet.

There have, indeed, been product recalls in the pet food industry due to a variety of different problems. The most devastating being a product recall from a large number of pet food manufacturers who imported from China what they thought to be and were told was a protein supplement, but ended up being melamine which is toxic. The disaster that followed ended the life of far too many pets. All reputable food goes through quality testing and content analysis on a very regular basis, in some cases every batch.  If a product is found to contain an imbalance or something not intended to be there, it would be recalled.

The situation you face with your own dog sounds most unfortunate. The age-old argument in science is what portion of any disease is due to the environment (which includes food, water and air exposure) and what portion is genetically based. Every disease has its own idiosyncratic influence, but the reality with virtually every disease is that genetics and environment are both involved with long term outcome. For example, we know that smoking cause cancer and death; yet there are many people who have smoked their whole lives and lived to an elderly age. Obviously not recommended, but clearly the people who survived this insult for a lifetime had something genetically going for them that allowed them to avoid a premature death - or perhaps those that succumb have a gene that makes them more susceptible to the negative impact of smoke.

I would ask your own veterinarian who knows your dog's issues and the food(s) that were fed, but for me it would be a first for a food to have caused all these problems.

Cheers,

Dr. Chip


Question:

Hello, bonjour,

My 2-year-old pure bred Pomeranian is excellent on a leash but dislikes walking very far. She gets excited about “walkies” and her harness/leash but once outside she either wants to get in the car or just hang out in the front yard. She doesn’t even want to walk down the (5) steps! I’ve had her for just over a year. 

She is a large Pomeranian (often called throw-back) and weighs 20lbs which vet says is approx. 2 lbs too much so I’m trying to increase her activity. She has recently had a vet appointment with full testing of blood etc. and she is good. No heart or any other issues. 

Do you think there could be a medical reason for this? She runs around inside like a puppy and is happier about walking when I have a young grandchild to join us. Maybe she needs a companion dog? But I am retired and spend most of the day/night with this little princess. BTW ... her name is ZuZu ❤️

Thanks,
Wendy

Answer:

Hi Wendy,

I suspect that ZuZu is lacking motivation more than anything else in her lack of desire to join you on your daily outings. She checks out internally and 2 years of age it is a little early for thyroid issues to (yet) be a factor. However, 20lbs is a very large Pom. Obviously, your veterinarian is the best one to guide you, but it also sounds like a weight loss program is in order. As the weight drops, she should naturally become more active. As you note, it’s a double-edged sword, for at her present weight levels, she is less inclined to want to walk which would help to burn off the extra calories. I suspect it would be worthwhile to have a conversation with your veterinarian about putting her on a reduced calorie diet, for the best way for any of us to lose weight is simply to eat less. This method is far more effective than any exercise program, although the exercise is very beneficial in other respects.

The one bonus in the meantime is that if she loves your grandchild and is far more active when your grandchild is around, the obvious benefit to you both is ensure that you get grandmother visits much more often than in the past. It would be therapeutic for you both!

Cheers,

Dr. Chip


Question:

Hi, 

My dog is 10 years old and has been house trained since 2008. However, he recently started urinating at home - generally on my personal belongings (whereas the very occasional "accidents" over the years have happened on the floor). He has peed on my bed multiple times, sometimes just after having gone out for a walk. He has also peed on my gym bag and on the sofa. I started tying him up in a corner when I leave home, he still has room to roam a bit and has access to his bed, toys and food/water. He then began urinating right where he stands, multiple times a day. 

He recently had a full physical exam that came back very positive - all of his internal organs and functions look great, I'm told... I am taking him back to the vet to rule out a urinary tract infection that could be causing this. But I suspect this is a behavioral problem - and it is so sudden and so odd that I'm having a tough time understanding it. 

Do you have any thoughts as to what could be causing this problem? Any tips on how to manage it would also be tremendously helpful. 

Thank you! 

Souki 

Answer:

Dear Souki,

Ruling out a urinary tract infection or issue would be the first step. If everything comes back as normal, then a behaviour problem would be the next issue to address. These can be challenging to solve, and I don't have enough information to even begin to offer you any counsel. However, when you visit your veterinarian for the urinary system check-up, certainly discuss it with them. The fact that this has been a "sudden" onset would imply that something has changed in your home from the perspective of your dog and that change might be very subtle. The fact that there have been minor issues in the past of him urinating on your personal items just reinforces the thought that this, too, is behavioural. It could be territorial behaviour, secondary to another dog visiting, another dog has moved into the neighbourhood, or even you having to come home with the scent of another dog on your clothing. It could be stress related which can be even tougher to figure out, because what might stress him out might seem trivial to you. For example, some friends or relative came to stay, or someone has left or moved away, or your daily routine has changed, and he is being left alone for longer periods than previously. The potential list goes on and on which is why it best to have a conversation with your veterinarian to go over all the possibilities.

The sooner you start the conversation, the better; for the longer the problem goes on, the tougher it becomes to resolve. I hope you find the solution quickly.

Cheers,

Dr. Chip


Question:

My 8-month-old Shih Tzu puppy was to be getting his neuter as well as an umbilical hernia fixed.  When I had the pre-surgery blood work done his liver enzymes were at 386, significantly higher than the normal range which ends at 125.  Needless to say, he did not have the surgery.  Beau is taking a support supplement for the next 45 days to boost his liver before we do another fasting bloodwork to see how the liver is doing. 

I've been trying to figure out what might be responsible for it.  One thing my vet told me was that his liver might be trying to rid his body of something toxic he has eaten.  I've had a couple of people tell me that they've been told that Shih Tzu’s as a breed have difficulty handling a high protein diet. I've not been able to find any solid information or research to confirm this. However, I did switch my puppy to a different puppy food a few weeks before we had the bloodwork done. I went and checked, this new food was 70% protein.  His previous puppy food was only 40%.  

Could this be the reason why his liver enzymes were so high? The other thing I'm wondering about is his tendency to pounce on any dandelion he sees and promptly eat the head before I can stop him!!!  Are dandelions toxic to dogs?  

I’m hoping you will have some answers for me!

Thanks!
Shelley (and Beau)

Answer:

Dear Shelley,

Oh, so many questions that I need to ask to help you out - LOL! The first thing to note is that one isolated blood test does not make a disease present. It could very well be a temporary aberration or even laboratory error. If Beau consumed some toxic substance that could account for the temporary elevation, then you could expect that on the recheck the values will have lowered significantly or returned to normal. In the meantime, I would not worry about the situation, because nothing is yet known for certain. Having just one liver enzyme test elevated is far less significant than most or all of them being elevated at the same time.

On the recheck, if this liver test is still elevated, then your veterinarian will want to do further blood tests - most likely one called Bile Acids. This test not only verifies the functionality of the liver, but specifically whether or not there is a congenital problem that occurred when Beau was born. The problem is called a portosystemic liver shunt and refers to how effectively the liver can detoxify the bloodstream. Shih Tzu's are one of the smaller breeds that tends to be overrepresented in small dogs with this condition.

If the food you are feeding Beau truly has a protein level of 70% (on a dry matter basis), this would be far more than he requires, and I would strongly suggest you discuss an alternative with your veterinarian. Most puppy foods only need to be in the 25-30% range on a dry matter basis. Now, having said this, I suspect the high protein diet is not the cause of the one liver enzyme test elevation. I suspect that the protein levels being reported on the labels you are reading are on an "as fed" basis. In other words, the moisture in the food has not been taken into account and as such it is very challenging to compare levels. The only accurate way to compare labels is on a Dry Matter basis and although pet owners can do the math, it is tedious!

As for the dandelions, they are certainly not toxic on their own and plenty of people add them to salads. However, I would be cautious if unaware of any lawn or weed fertilizers.

Cheers,

Dr. Chip