Can pets detect diseases in humans?

You have probably heard about dogs detecting skin cancer, diabetes, seizures and other human diseases. There are even a few cases of cats alerting their owners that something is wrong. Why is this? It’s believed that since pets’ senses are more heightened than ours, smells from changes in body chemistry are easily detected by a dog but are odorless or barely detectible to humans. Animals communicate biochemically, through body language and vocalizations, which is much more efficient than the visual or auditory clues humans tend to focus on. (In fact, people generally don’t even pay attention to obvious body language signals.) Dogs may have misunderstandings due to miscommunication but not nearly as often as we do. We have a complex system of biochemical signals too, we just don’t notice them.

If we compare our domesticated canines to their wilder cousins, acute awareness of diseases or injuries based on visual and chemical clues is a key factor for survival. Wounded prey are more easily caught, diseased prey may not be safe to eat, and decline due to age shifts the position of the oldster in the community. Younger, healthier members take over and carry on with the duties necessary for species survival.

The upshot of all this biochemistry is that dogs can seemingly “smell” disease. There’s much more to the process of pets detecting diseases than we may ever understand so there’s definitely a need for more proof to truly determine if the phenomenon does exist. Cancer specialist Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, who wrote about the phenomenon for the American Cancer Society’s blog in 2010, admitted to laughing when he first read about a study in which dogs supposedly sniffed out cancer. Then more studies came in and Dr. Lichtenfeld decided to take a closer look:

“Six dogs were trained to detect urine samples that belonged to patients known to have bladder cancer. While their 41 percent success rate wasn’t amazing, it was higher than the 14 percent “coincidence rate” determined by the researchers. Since then, dogs have been trained to discern other forms of cancer, including skin, prostate, lung, breast and colorectal cancers, with increasing rates of success.”

In another study:

“Two years after the bladder cancer study, researchers at the Pine Street Foundation in California trained dogs to sniff out both breast and lung cancer. Rather than sniffing urine samples, however, the dogs smelled breath samples from the patients. The results were startling — they had an 88 percent success rate with breast cancer and a 97 percent accuracy rate with lung cancer. The most impressive study took place early in 2011, in which dogs in Japan detected colorectal cancer with 98 percent accuracy by sniffing breath samples. This is more accurate that the traditional diagnostic tests for the disease.”

Our furry friends never cease to amaze, how fortunate we are to have such wonderful companions.Sandy early 00s

You paid HOW much for that luxury puppy purse?

As I google “luxury pet accessories” I’m thinking of $2000 designer puppy purses and expensive jewel encrusted collars. Ralph Lauren pops up as the second listing… *click* Ah yes, the $1950 puppy carrier, a couple overpriced leather collars and another carrier for $1800… No, wait… that’s $18,000! My jaw dropped.

Americans are spending more than ever on their pets in spite of a recession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we spent over 50 billion on our pets in 2011. That number is steadily rising and the American Pet Products Association estimates we will spend about $55.5 billion this year. Big numbers so let’s add a little perspective… that’s more than we spend on coffee and bottled water combined! Americans love coffee but we love our pets even more. There probably is a personal coffee maker for eighteen grand available somewhere but something tells me an $18,000 puppy purse is easier to find.

What is your “pet” guilty pleasure? Expensive food? Luxury dog bed? Designer cat collar? Whatever it is we do for our fur companions, it’s worth it!


Happy Dog

Next Topic: Spending On Pets

Is Your Pet Included In Your Disaster Preparedness Plan?

Disaster Preparedness

First Aid for pets

Having a back up for our pets during a disaster will save time and heartache if anything horrible were to ever happen. This blog will be a guest post from Dr. Brittany Barton of HEAL Veterinary Clinic in Dallas, TX. Her blog, Pet Pause With Dr. B, has a wonderfully worded, easy to read post on disaster preparedness and pets which also contains an extensive list of everything you need to protect your beloved pets as you would your human family (see below)

The recent devastating tornado activity in Oklahoma may have you scrambling to create a Disaster Plan for your family….but wait, what about your pets? Dr. Barton goes on to advise:

All of your pets should have collars with identification information, including your cell phone number and a back-up number of someone who lives outside of your area. But DON’T rely solely on this.  Approximately 60% of lost pets are found without their collar present.  Permanent identification is imperative in pets. Pet microchipping is an invaluable identification tool.  Members are able to list contact information, emergency secondary contact information and veterinary hospital information for each of their pets.  You can even list chronic medical conditions in the event your pet needs regular medication or special considerations.
Remember: If you move or any of your pet’s important information changes, you need to update the information with the microchip database. (This is simply done on-line)

Next Topic: Luxury Pet Accessories

Are you reading ALL Pet Food ingredients?

Lately we’ve heard a lot about looking at what is in pet food with an emphasis on protein being the first ingredient. While it’s true that protein should make up a large portion of our pets’ diets, there are many more factors involved in providing optimal and species appropriate nutrition. There are different forms of protein and not all of them are easily metabolized. According to Dr. Karen Becker from, “By-products are what are left after all the good stuff is harvested for the human food industry. Beaks, feet, feathers, wattles and combs are chicken by-products. There could be something beneficial thrown in, like the heart or gizzard, but because there’s such potential for undesirable pieces and parts in ‘by-products,’ it’s better to avoid them altogether.”

Grains like corn, rice and wheat are often seen in pet food in large amounts. These carbohydrates come in different forms, gluten meal, whole grain, flour, etc… Rice often comes in the form of brewers rice. Grain in any form is not a species specific ingredient essential for carnivorous diets, additionally corn is highly allergenic. No grain should be the main ingredient in your pet food.  Dogs are somewhat omnivorous so a small amount of fruit and vegetables make up a part of their balanced diet. However cats are obligatory carnivores, high carbohydrate pet food diets lead to diseases such as obesity, diabetes, liver disease and irritable bowl syndrome. Grain free diets are much more appropriate for both cats and dogs, see more here for a comparison between a high quality and a low quality diet. Often a raw is recommended as the best pet food for dogs and cats but it is very important to feed a balanced raw diet. Research and consulting a holistic veterinarian will help you decide what is right for your pets.

Our pets are what we feed them, we have an obligation to educate ourselves and provide them with a high quality diet so they can live a long and happy life!

Next Topic: Dog DNA

I love Halloween, don’t you?

Unfortunately many pets don’t! Someone knocks on the door every few minutes sending Spot into a flurry of barking to alert you, yet again, that you have visitors. You open the door to a group of little ghosts, goblins, witches and jack-o-lanterns who suddenly shout “TRICK OR TREAT!!” which sends Spot into another flurry of barking as these intruders surely should not be there! Meanwhile, Fluffy has been hiding since the first ghoulish creatures appeared, will not come out for dinner and you’re wondering if Fluffy’s brother, Tomcat, is with her or has slipped out the frequently opening front door.

Halloween can be a very confusing, and yes, scary time for our pets, especially those who are shy or not used to lots of activity. If your dog barks at strangers who come to the door or if your cat is skittish, it’s best to protect them from these stressful events right off the bat. Many pets escape from home on Halloween so the first precaution is to put them in a closed room, preferably one that is furthest away from the front door. Noise phobia can be soothed by having a radio on in the room with your fur kid making sure it’s loud enough to drown out the alien invaders that come for sweets. A favorite toy or blanket tops off the short term distraction created for maximum comfort on All Hallows Eve.

In addition to anxiety and stress, Halloween hazards for pets include food toxins from candy like chocolate and xylitol, opportunities to escape from home and susceptibility to cruel treatment by pranksters if outside. Plan ahead and Halloween can be both fun and safe for you and your fur family. Heck, your pet may even let you dress them up!

Next Topic: Pet Food Ingredients

Do pets get diabetes too?

Absolutely they do! Diabetes mellitus is not uncommon in dogs and cats. It occurs when the insulin-secreting cells of the pancreas are destroyed and the body is no longer able to regulate the essential nutrient glucose (sugar), this results in high levels in the blood and urine. The diagnosis of diabetes generally relies on different testing methods. Since the disease always results in an elevated blood sugar level, some form of measurement of glucose, in both blood and urine, is used.

Diabetes mellitus can strike at any age but typically appears in the middle to senior years (5 and older for dogs, 10 and older for cats.) Symptoms may be hard to notice at first, learn to recognize the signs early and contact your veterinarian as soon as they are noticed:

First Signs Seen with Diabetes Mellitus

  • Increased urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss, even though appetite is good or increased

Those are the first signs usually seen, your pet may exhibit one or many of them. Keep in mind they are also general signs of many diseases such as kidney failure or urinary problemshyperthyroidismCushing’s disease and more. A trip to the vet is the only way to diagnose for sure.

Signs as diabetes progresses:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweet/chemical smelling breath
    *from ketones, by-product of fat breakdown, since sugar can’t be utilized
  • Weak muscle tone and muscle wasting
    *cats may have “dropped hocks” walking crouch-like
  • Cataracts (dogs)
  • Seizures, coma, death

Treatment of diabetes involves controlling blood sugar with insulin as well as diet and exercise for essential weight control. The type of insulin your veterinarian chooses will be tailored to your pets specific needs to provide optimum regulation of blood sugar. A blood glucose curve will determine the right dose of insulin then curves will be done periodically to monitor your pet’s progress.


Next Topic: Pets and Halloween

Toxic Plants


Kitten in Plants

Literally hundreds of common plants, both indoors and out, have toxic effects on our pets causing everything from mild gastro-intestinal upset to death. Sometimes dogs and especially cats like to munch on grass and plants for a variety of reasons and sometimes for no reason at all. Try to keep poisonous plants away from your pets’ reach, a list of toxic plants compiled by the ASPCA, the Humane Society and the American Animal Hospital Association (AHAA) can help you determine if you have any poisonous plants around your home or yard. Here are some common toxic plants:

Next Topic: Diabetes

Pets eat rocks?

Does your pet eat bizarre things? Some pet owners don’t have to worry about their fur kids eating out of the trash or gobbling up inanimate objects, but others have to keep everything out of reach from their chow hound. When your pet eats table scraps, garbage, or spoiled food, also known as dietary indiscretion, they can develop symptoms similar to food poisoning in humans such as vomiting, diarrhea, weakness and lethargy. Sometimes the symptoms pass on their own with rest and a bland diet. More severe or longer lasting symptoms need veterinary treatment as pancreatitis is a major concern with gastrointestinal illness caused by eating spoiled or high fat foods.

Sometimes inedible household items are eaten and intestinal obstruction is a danger. A foreign object can lodge itself in the intestinal track causing blockage and your pet may require surgery to remove it. Socks, rocks, toys, plastic, wood, metal, jewelry, coins, silver ware, and Christmas ornaments are just some of the items pets have ingested, the list goes on and on. Linear foreign bodies like string, ribbon, yarn, and rubber bands can get caught up and stretch or tear the intestines. Cats often play with and eat stringy items so keep them out of reach of your feline family. Go to your vet if your pet is lethargic, has a painful abdomen, is vomiting, having difficulty defecating or has any other signs of illness. X-rays often reveal the offending object. Some of the most amazing things I’ve seen while working for veterinarians are x-rays of foreign objects in the intestines of pets. You can never predict what a pet will eat, take a look at the x-rays here, the belly is full of rocks! I’ always amazed, I bet you will be too!

Dogs eat rocks

Next Topic: Toxic Plants

Foods That Are Toxic To Your Pets

toxic food


Now that the holidays are here, there will be a lot of opportunities for your pet to have access to foods that are toxic to them. Who hasn’t been tempted to throw their pet a table scrap now and then? I mean, look at that face! How can you resist those puppy dog eyes or that kitty cat purr? Unfortunately, our pets can’t decide what is good or bad to eat so we have to do it for them. Below are some people foods that are toxic to pets and should be avoided.

Many pet owners know that chocolate is toxic and keep it out of reach. Sometimes the sweet temptation is too hard to resist and our pet ends up consuming it despite our efforts to prevent it. When this happens a trip to the vet is almost always necessary. The level of toxicity depends on the size of the pet, how much and the type of chocolate ingested (dark, milk, unsweetened bakers…) Different types contain different levels of Theobromine, the toxic chemical in chocolate. Contact or go to your veterinarian as soon as you find your pet has eaten chocolate no matter how much or what type.

Although once thought to be an urban legend, grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs. Many pet owners have used them for treats or snacks but the toxin, which is not known at this time, can potentially cause kidney failure. Some dogs may be more sensitive than others so the amount consumed can be a handful of raisins (more concentrated) or a pound of grapes. Some dogs will seek them out, keep them out of reach of your hungry hound!

The toxin in Macadamia nuts is also not known and, like grapes and raisins, the sensitivity of the pet to the toxin and the number of nuts causing toxicity may vary. Signs to look for are, weakness and inability to walk, especially in the hind legs, vomiting, staggering gait, depression, tremors and elevated body temperature.

Xylitol, a common artificial sweetener found in sugar-free gum and mints, nicotine gum, chewable vitamins, and oral-care products, can be fatal if ingested. In addition to causing a sudden sharp decrease in blood glucose, liver failure can occur within 12 to 24 hours of ingestion. Increasing use of the sweetener in our diets has, of course, increased the number of xylitol poisonings according to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Seek veterinary attention right away if your pet consumes xylitol.

When in doubt, don’t feed it to your pet. We love to spoil them but when it comes to treats, pet appropriate ones help keep our fur kids happy AND healthy. As I always say, better safe than sorry!


Next Topic: Dietary Indiscretion

Summer Time Pet Safety, How cool are you?

Flare from the sun

Sun Flare

Summer time means lots of outdoor fun and just like you, your pets need protection from the heat and sun. Pets can’t wear sunscreen of course and they don’t sweat through their skin like we do. Dogs regulate their body heat primarily by panting, as well as through the pads of their feet and their nose. If they are unable to expel heat quickly enough, they can suffer a heat stroke. Recognizing the following signs of heat stroke and can enable you to act quickly and help prevent an avoidable disaster:

  • Increased rectal temperature (over 104° requires action, over 106° is a dire emergency)
  • Vigorous panting
  • Dark red gums
  • Tacky or dry mucus membranes (specifically the gums)
  • Lying down and unwilling (or unable) to get up
  • Collapse and/or loss of consciousness
  • Thick saliva
  • Dizziness or disorientation

If the dog continues to overheat, breathing efforts become slowed or absent, and finally, seizures or coma can occur. ASPCA expertssay taking simple precautions will help prevent your pet from overheating. Make sure they have access to plenty of fresh water and shade while outside. Keep them indoors when it’s too hot and limit exercise in extreme summer temperatures. You should never leave any pet unattended in a car at any time. According to the Humane Society of the United States, on a warm day, temperatures inside a vehicle can rise rapidly to dangerous levels. On an 85 degree day, for example, the temperature inside a car with the windows opened slightly can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, the temperature will reach 120 degrees. Your pet may suffer irreversible organ damage or die. If you see an animal in distress in a parked car, contact the nearest animal shelter or police. You can also spread the word about the dangers of pets in hot cars by downloading fliers and posters at to distribute in your community.

Growing up in Texas I endured many a hot summer and have some of the best memories of time spent with my family and pets back then. Practice warm weather safety so you can have tons on fun in the sun with your pets too!

Happy Summer and stay cool!

Next Topic: Toxic Foods