Entries in Pets (34)


Multistate Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Pet Turtles?

Zoonar/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Many children love caring for small pets such as turtles or lizards. But could having them around boost children's risks of contracting Salmonella infection? The answer is yes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC says reptiles (such as turtles, snakes and lizards) and amphibians (such as frogs and toads) can be a source of Salmonella in humans.  These creatures can easily pick up Salmonella germs lurking in their tanks or aquariums after being shed in their own droppings.

"Many people don't know that turtles and other reptiles can carry harmful germs that can make people very sick. For this reason, turtles and other reptiles might not be the best pets for your family, especially if there are children 5-years-old and younger or people with weakened immune systems living in your home," Casey Barton Behravesh DVM, DrPH, Deputy Chief of the CDC's Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch said in a CDC release.

The CDC warning comes as the agency, along with government and state health officials, is launching a collaborative investigation into six overlapping, multistate human Salmonella outbreaks.  The CDC says the outbreaks are linked to turtles or their habitats.

More than 160 Salmonella illnesses have been reported from 30 states, 64 percent of those cases have occurred in children age 10 or younger.  Twenty-seven percent of the cases reported in children have been in infants one year or younger, the CDC says. Fifty-six percent are hispanic.

The CDC suggests these tips when handling turtles and other reptiles:

  • Don’t buy small turtles from street vendors, websites, pet stores, or other sources.
  • Keep reptiles out of homes with young children or people with weakened immune systems.
  • Reptiles should not be kept in child care centers, nursery schools, or other facilities with young children.

ALWAYS wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after touching a reptile or anything in the area where they live and roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available. Adults should always supervise hand washing for young children.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rabbits Are Adding Flab to Their Fluff, Study Finds

Zoonar/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Pet bunnies better hop to it.  A new study in the British journal, Veterinary Record, notes that, like their owners, their waistlines are expanding at an alarming rate.

The review charted the weight of 41 rabbits over a two-year period and found that about 10 percent of them had packed on so many pounds, they needed to seriously consider salads.  Females were twice as likely as males to be portly, and neutered individuals of both sexes were 5.4 times more likely to be overweight compared to their virile counterparts.

The statistics on bunny fatness may not be quite as “hare raising” as they are for humans, but they are climbing.  In general, rising obesity rates in our animal friends is a well established fact.  For example, an annual Association for Pet Obesity Prevention survey of more than 500 pets revealed that approximately 53 percent of cats and 55 percent of dogs are now overweight or obese.  The fact that such an organization exists speaks volumes.

Vets say they are seeing increased obesity in their patients of all species.

“Animals used to have to work hard for a living,” said Dr. Marty Becker, a veterinarian at the North Idaho Animal Hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho.  “Now, cats have gone from mousers to moochers.  Dogs have gone from guard to lard.”

Besides getting their pets’ tails off the couch or out of the hutch, Becker advised owners to help their pets practice the art of portion control.  He pointed out that a lot of pet lovers equate food with love, constantly stuffing their fur-and-feathered companions with high-fat snacks and super-sized meals.

“Pets are happy to eat whenever and whatever you give them and when you give them free choice they will eat themselves into the grave,” he said.

Often, owners don’t even realize there’s a problem.  Becker said that when asked to gauge their pet’s body size, most owners rate them as ideal even when they obviously sport too much blubber.

As for bunnies, Becker says a far greater percentage of them than the study reported seem to be trading in their carrots for carrot cake and consequently are tipping the scales too far.

“Some of them have so much skin and fat they remind me of a bean bag chair.  You can’t even figure out where everything is on them,” he said.

Unlike other kinds of animals, it’s not always easy to tell if your rabbit is roly-poly.  According to Becker, they should resemble an hourglass from the top and have a “wasp waist” from the side.  Like other species, they should have just a hint of  fat covering their ribs.  But this doesn’t hold true for all breeds of rabbits.

“An annual checkup is the best way to tell if your rabbit is at its ideal weight,” Becker said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Woman Fights Infection From Dog Saliva

WSBTV(DECATUR, Ga.) -- At 32 years old, nursing student Hannah Rinehart is hooked to a ventilator, her body healing after an amputation of her hands and feet.

The Decatur, Ga., woman, who is also a three-time cancer survivor, is fighting a rare bacterial infection, called capnocytophaga, which is found in the saliva of dogs but rarely affects people, her father, Doug Johnson, said.

During a weekend of yard work, Rinehart contracted a high fever, but held out seeking medical attention until her appointment that Monday, July 2, with her oncologist.

The married nursing student, who also has a business degree, changed careers after she successfully battled Hodgkin's lymphoma three times. The cancer first appeared when she was 18, Johnson said.

After the cancer re-appeared for the third time when she was she was in her mid-20s, Rinehart had a stem-cell transplant from her brother that has so far been successful, her father said.

Rinehart left the hospital seven years ago in July, hoping she'd only be back as a nurse.

But on July 2, on the recommendation of her oncologist, she was wheeled into Northside Hospital in Atlanta with a high fever. That evening, her father said, she went into septic shock.

"Her blood pressure was low and her kidneys and lungs were weakened," he said.

Doctors sent a sample of the bacteria attacking Rinehart's body to the Mayo Clinic, where it was identified as capnocytophaga, a common bacteria found in dog saliva that rarely harms the health of humans.

There's no way to directly tie the infection to Rinehart's 1-year-old puppy, her father said, but the family has its theories.

"Hannah would throw the ball for the dog and it would mouth her hand and forearm and she'd get scratches," Johnson said. "What we suppose is the fact she has had two bone-marrow transplants, her immune system is probably not that strong as a regular adult."

The infection continued to cut off circulation to Rinehart's extremities, leaving her parents and husband Mark a difficult decision to make.

"To not respond to the situation as it stands now would not be a display of faith, but rather a crude act of negligence," Mark Rinehart wrote on his wife's Facebook page before the surgery.

On July 26, doctors amputated Hannah Rinehart's hands and feet. "It was very obvious it needed to be done at that point," her father said. "We had been praying and just watching it get worse."

Rinehart has been sedated since the surgery, but has continued to make improvements.

Her 103.7-degree fever went down to 98.6 degrees Tuesday night, Mark Rinehart said.

And despite having another health obstacle thrown in her path, Rinehart and her family, who are devout Christians, are confident she'll be able to live a normal life.

"She is very strong. I don't even really remember her complaining about [the cancer] at all," her father said.

"We get the news and then you'd find out what to do and she kind of plugged away and kept going. After this, she'll be able to carry on and have a great life."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Dogs, Cats May Help Kids Avoid Respiratory Illnesses

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Having dogs or cats during infancy may actually protect children from respiratory illnesses during the first year of life, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests.

Finnish researchers followed 397 children from the time their mothers were pregnant through age 1.  They found that those who were exposed to dogs at home had fewer respiratory illnesses or symptoms compared with children who didn't have dogs.  Children with dogs also had less-frequent ear infections and needed antibiotics less often than children never exposed to dogs.

Cats offered similar protective benefits, but to a lesser degree.

The findings, wrote the authors, suggest that early contact with dogs or cats may ramp up infants' immune systems.

"We speculate that animal contacts could help to mature the immunologic system, leading to more composed immunologic response and shorter duration of infections," they wrote.

The amount of time a dog spends inside the home also has an impact on children's respiratory health.  Children who live in houses where dogs are inside less than six hours a day are at lowest risk for respiratory problems.  The authors believe it could be because dogs that are inside track less dirt.  More exposure to dirt leads to more exposure to different types of bacteria, which can help strengthen the immune system.

Other studies also suggest that pets can lower children's risk of certain illnesses.  Research out of the University of California, San Francisco published in June found that dust in homes where there are dogs may protect children against respiratory syncytial virus, a common cause of potentially severe cold-like illnesses.

But the Finnish study didn't include parents with allergies to dogs or cats.  Parents with these allergies are more likely to have children with the same allergies, and having pets around very young children who are allergic may be unsafe.

"If an infant has an allergic predisposition, their reaction will be more pronounced than an older child's," said Dr. Nina Shapiro, director of pediatric otolaryngology at UCLA's Mattel Children's Hospital, meaning that if an allergic infant is exposed to a dog or cat, it can potentially be dangerous.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Fospice Program Provides Homes for Elderly, Terminally Ill Pets

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It may be hard for an animal lover to imagine, but many elderly and terminally ill dogs and cats are abandoned by their owners just when they need their people the most.

And that's where the ASPCA of New York City's "Fospice" volunteers step in.  These volunteers open their hearts and their homes to animals at the end of their lives.  The animals chosen for the Fospice program are not adoptable, and are instead placed in homes that are part foster, part hospice.

"It's a very special call, and not everybody is up for it or can do it.  But we've never had anybody drop out of the program once they've gotten in," said Diane Wilkerson, director of volunteer programs.

The program grew out of a need to place animals that weren't easily adopted out.

"We started to get this subset of elderly dogs and cats.  Sometimes it was animals that had a terminal illness," said Wilkerson.  "They weren't suffering, they could still move along, but it brought back their ability to be adopted.  So we got to thinking about how we could help these animals out and decided to hybrid hospice and foster."

While the baby animals tend to get adopted quickly, the same isn't true for older pets.

"They love to be around people, they're still eating their food, but they're at the end of their lifespan and not just suitable for adoption," said Dr. Jennifer Lander, director of Medicine at the ASPCA of New York City.  "People aren't coming in and saying I'd like a 15-year-old Labrador Retriever, they're coming in looking for puppies or younger animals."

There's a wide range in the health of the dogs and cats in the program.  Many are simply old; others have a more serious condition.

"In years past, when an animal was diagnosed with cancer or organ failure, it was sort of a death sentence but it doesn't mean that it's a death sentence on that day," said Lander.  "It's a matter of watching and managing and doing what you can do while balancing quality of life."

The shelter provides full support for the Fospice parents, including all medical care and even sheltering the animal if the family needs to go away.

"We consult with the foster parents like they're the owners or adopters and they get literature with a lot of information.  They get websites to refer to so they really understand the animal's medical condition, and they have a support network so when they have questions or problems we can answer," Lander said.

People who are interested in a Fospice-type program should call their local animal shelter and ask if there's a subset of the foster program -- very common in shelters around the country -- that deals specifically with elderly and terminally ill animals.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pet Therapy: Some Hospitals Allow Patients' Own Dogs to Visit

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- Many hospitals around the country have pet therapy programs, in which a trained owner-volunteer will bring a dog to the hospital for patients to enjoy. These programs have been said to help patients with their mood, pain, and comfort levels.

But a growing number of hospitals have taken their pet therapy programs even farther, allowing patients to have visits from their own pets.

"When there is a patient in the hospital that will be here for a significant amount of time, we think it is important for them to have their entire family here," said Jamie Snow, Assistant Director of Child Life and Social Work at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. "And some people consider their pets family members."

The program started at Texas Children's four years ago, when administrators were approached by an organization called PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support) Houston, a non-profit organization that helps to sustain the relationships between pet owners and their pets during a prolonged hospitalization.

Here's how it works: a social worker or child life specialist, hearing that a patient has a pet at home, speaks to doctors who can approve a visit. Then PAWS is contacted. They ensure that the pet is vaccinated and has a bath before the visit. A PAWS volunteer will meet the pet and family members at the entrance of the hospital where they perform a "behavior check" to make sure the pet's temperament is good for a hospital environment. They then take the pet to the patient's room.

"We have never had any bad events from an animal visit," said Tricia Lewis, a nursing director at the Methodist Hospital System in Houston, Texas, who worked with PAWS to pioneer the personal pet visitation policy at her hospital over a decade ago. "No bites, no infections."

Dr. Loreen Herwaldt, a professor of medicine at the University of Iowa Colleges of Medicine and Public Health, and Jean Pottinger, an infection prevention expert for University of Iowa Healthcare, helped bring the personal pet policy to their hospitals. Pottinger, too, said there have never been any infections that were attributable to animals at her hospital. And she said there has been no documentation of any bad outcomes from pet visits in her hospital.

Herwaldt said there is likely good reason for the lack of infections from the animals. "[The patients] were living in very close contact with these animals before they came in and have been exposed to the organisms the animal is carrying," she said. "They will be going back to that environment as well. We make sure [the patients] wash their hands before and after the visit."

Hospitals take other precautions to reduce any risk of infection. Barriers are placed between animals and bed sheets, and the sheets are changed after the animal leaves.

The experience has been positive for patients, said Donna Dishman, co-founder and executive director of PAWS Houston. She said the first personal pet visit was remarkable. The patient was an 83-year-old woman in intensive care, diagnosed with breast cancer.

"[She] was not eating, not responding, and had given up," Dishman said. "When we put her dog on her bed, she started talking, and started eating."

"Often there are people who are not doing well, and don't respond to staff and people but for some reason make an effort to speak when animals come around," said Dr. Lisa Portnoy, a veterinarian and animal program director for the NIH Clinical Center.

Such programs may become even more common as hospitals strive to find special ways to meet the needs of patients and their families.

"I think that when we think about a patient-centered environment, we have to think about what is meaningful to health and well-being to the patient," said Linda Laskowski Jones, Christiana Care Health System's Vice President of Emergency and Trauma Services in Delaware, where a personal pet visitation policy is also in place. "The framework has to include animals. That is important to health and recovery and comfort."  

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


7 Ways Dogs Can Help Your Health

Janie Airey/Lifesize/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Dogs may be good at more than fetching sticks and greeting you after a long day at work. As it turns out, simply having them around may lessen your kids' chances of getting the common cold.

Owning a dog may improve the health of children in that household, according to new research from the University of California, San Francisco. In a study of mice, researchers found that the house dust from homes with dogs worked to protect against a common cold strain, the respiratory syncytial virus.

"Mice aren't identical to humans. There are obvious differences," explains Dr. Susan Lynch, co-investigator of the study and a professor at UCSF. "But we can do things in the animals that we could not possibly do in humans, and we can get samples to examine disease that would be very difficult to assess in humans."

Animals fed house dust from dog-owning homes did not exhibit the usual symptoms of RSV, including mucus production and lung inflammation. In fact, their symptoms were comparable to animals that weren't exposed to the virus in the first place.

So what's the big deal about RSV? It's a virus to which almost everybody has been exposed within the first few years of life. However, it can be severe -- and sometimes fatal -- in premature and chronically ill infants. It is the leading cause of bronchiolitis, which is an inflammation of the small airways in the lung, as well as pneumonia in children under 1 year of age in the United States, and it is associated with increased risk of developing asthma.

What excited researchers is that this work may help explain why pet ownership has been associated with protection against childhood asthma in the past. Their thought process is as follows: exposure to animals early in life helps "train" the immune system, which plays an integral part in asthma development. In short, there is reason to believe that germs, such as those associated with dogs, may be good for children's health under certain circumstances.

"Everybody appreciates the fact that we're all missing something big in asthma," says Dr. Robert Mellins, a pediatric pulmonologist at Columbia University in New York. "People have appreciated that viral infections clearly have an association, and this kind of experiment is interesting because it suggests a mechanism of how that could come about."

The study is far from the first to suggest the health benefits of having a canine in the family. The following are six other ways that owning a dog may improve your health and well-being.

Dogs and Cardiovascular Health

Could owning a dog keep your heart healthy? Research has supported a connection between owning a dog and reduced risk of cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. In addition, a study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that male dog owners were less likely to die within one year after a heart attack than those who did not own a dog.

Dogs and Anxiety

For people with all forms of anxiety, having a dog may be an important coping mechanism. This is especially true in times of crisis. A study out of the Medical College of Virginia found that for hospitalized patients with mental health issues, therapy with animals significantly reduced anxiety levels more than conventional recreational therapy sessions.

Dogs and Loneliness

Dogs function as important companions and family members, but certain groups may benefit more than others. The elderly, particularly those in residential care facilities, often become socially isolated once separated from immediate family. Researchers in Australia have found that dogs improved the well-being of residents by promoting their capacity to build relationships.

Dogs and Rehabilitation

In the setting of a severe illness or prolonged hospitalization, therapy dogs can be integral in the process of rehabilitation. A review of the literature looking at the function of service dogs proved that dogs can assist people with various disabilities in performing everyday activities, thereby significantly reducing their dependence on others.

Dogs and Activity

Before a dog is introduced into the home, the most commonly asked question is, "Who is going to walk the dog?" Turns out this responsibility may be important for the health of the family as well as the dog. Studies from the American Journal of Public Health and the American Journal of Preventive Medicine have shown that children with dogs spend more time doing moderate to vigorous activity than those without dogs, and adults with dogs walk on average almost twice as much as adults without dogs.

Dogs and Doctors

With all of these specific health benefits, could dogs keep you away from the doctor altogether? A national survey out of Australia found that dog and cat owners made fewer annual doctor visits and generally had significantly lower use of general practitioner services.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Startling Birth Control Ad for Pets

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Parents of teens know that at that certain age they can’t avoid having the dreaded “sex talk” with their kids, but what about with their pets?  What if pet owners started thinking of their pets as their teens when it comes to avoiding pregnancy?

That’s the dramatic, but humorous, approach taken in a new series of public service announcements and advertisements produced by the Best Friends Animal Society, the nation’s largest sanctuary for homeless animals.

In the spots, voiced by NCIS: Los Angeles actress Linda Hunt and Modern Family star Eric Stonestreet, parents appear to be reacting to their kids’ promiscuity, only to have the kids replaced by their pets.  In other words, once you start thinking of your pets as your kids, it’s a lot easier to think of what needs to be done to keep them from delivering offspring.

Called “Prevent more. Fix at month four,” the campaign is the first national effort to educate pet owners on when, not just why, they should spay and neuter, according to the Society.

“We felt it was important to present the messaging in an attention-getting way that didn’t make people feel guilty or sad,” Amber Ayers, the society’s senior marketing and creative manager, told ABC News. “When we looked at the research, most people planned on spaying or neutering their pets, but there was just a lot of confusion about when to do so and this leads to the ‘oops’ litter. ”

The Utah-based non-profit says it hopes the ads will grow into a “cultural movement.”

“We are hoping to maintain long-term traction by shifting the mindset of our country,” said Ayers.  “It will become commonplace to fix your pet at four months, reducing the number of pets that enter, and ultimately never leave our shelters. ”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Warm Weather Causing Allergies in Pets Earlier This Year

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Springtime brings flowers and warmer weather, but along with all the benefits of the season come the dreaded symptoms of allergies.  Eyes water, noses run and a layer of yellow pollen seems to coat everything in sight.

And it turns out even pets are affected.

Vets and pet owners have noticed their furry friends scratching and sneezing earlier than usual this year, corresponding to the unusually warm weather.

“I’ve noticed a lot of changes,” said Martha Grossman, the owner of Lily, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel.  “She’s had her flea medication and everything but she’s just scratching a lot more lately.”

“Dodger rolls around in the grass a lot,” said Diana Battaglia of her Boston terrier.  “A lot more than usual.”

According to veterinary dermatologist Dr. Heather Peikes, pets fall victim to the same allergies as people.

“They even have the same symptoms,” Peikes said.  “Runny eyes, running noses, itchy skin, ear infections.”

And while allergies affect both people and animals every year, Andy Mussoline, a spokesman for Accuweather, says it’s happening much earlier this year.

“The Eastern two-thirds of the country are experiencing an especially high pollen count,” Mussoline said.  “This is due to a combination of factors.  Typically during normal springs, we have cold fronts moving through and changes in the wind.  The fresh air pushes the allergens out.  But now there aren’t many cold fronts moving through, which creates stagnant air.  At the same time, the very warm weather has created a high pollen count earlier than usual.”

Dr. Peikes says the treatment for pet allergies is similar to the treatment for humans.

“There’s allergy testing, allergy shots, air purifiers and even antihistamines that can help pets with allergies,” she said.

But Peikes says always consult with a vet before taking any action.  Some treatments may be safe for humans, but not for your pet.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Warning Signs of Arthritis in Pets

Janie Airey/Lifesize/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Millions of Americans are living with the pain of osteoarthritis, and so are millions of pets.

According to veterinarians, it's one of the most under-diagnosed conditions in their field, and unlike their human counterparts, animals must suffer in silence.

Since pets can't express that they're in pain, vets say there are certain warning signs owners should watch out for, ranging from physical signals to behavioral changes.  And while the joint damage caused by osteoarthritis can't be reversed, the pain can be treated.  But early diagnosis is critical.

"Arthritis is easier to diagnose in dogs," said Duncan Lascelles, professor of surgery and pain management at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.  "We ask them to perform certain activities, like going for walks or jumping in the car to go for a ride.  We go and do activities together, so if we're observant, we can see alterations in the animals' ability to perform them."

Dogs may not want to walk as far, or may appear to tire easily, he said.  They may also hesitate before jumping or walking.

"Dogs may also be slow to rise on their back legs, or may limp, or they may bunny-hop instead of using their normal stride," said Marty Becker, a veterinarian in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and a columnist for

Cats don't move around as much and are lower to the ground, but there are certain cues that they may be in pain.

"They may be less likely to jump on window ledges or onto furniture, or people may start moving furniture to help the cat and not realize the cat is actually in pain," said Lascelles.

Cats may also not use the litter box if it's too high and may stop grooming themselves, Becker said.

Arthritis isn't common only in dogs and cats.  Rabbits and horses often suffer from the condition, and Lascelles explained that food-producing animals are known to suffer from it as well, but don't survive long enough to experience the disease's negative effects.

Pets in pain may also act differently than they normally do.

"People become irritable and short-tempered when they're in pain, and the same thing happens to pets," said Lascelles.

The pain may cause pets to snap, growl or exhibit other aggressive behavior, even toward their owners.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio