Avoid a hot dog!!

During the summer months, animals suffer a lot with the heat. It is not easy to carry a “fur coat” around when thermometers are above 25° C. Here are some tips to help our pets enduring the hottest days.

 

Image from openClipart-Vectors, pixabay.com

By Ricardo Ribas

 

Imagine yourself in your pet’s skin performing the daily routines with high temperatures. How would you feel if you were left for a long time in a locked car on the sun with a fur coat. All this in midsummer! The idea itself is suffocating. But how many trips to the supermarket led to this situations? Dogs and cats are highly susceptible to the heat specially because they have few sweat glands, which are necessary to control and maintain body temperature. The majority of the dog’s sweat glands are located in their pads and tongue, reason why dogs often walk with the tongue hanging when they are tired or feeling hot.

 

Frequent problems during summer season

Ticks and flea infestations are very uncomfortable for the animal because of the itchiness and the skin irritation they produce. Additionally, both parasites are carriers of other diseases, reason why the importance of controlling and prevent their infestations. There are various products on the market in the form of sprays, shampoos, collars, tablets, etc. The veterinary can assist making the best choice. For instance, heartworm disease is a pathology caused by a parasite, which is transmitted to the dog or cat by the mosquito bite. Once infected the animal, it will lodge in the pulmonary arteries and heart, causing coughing, tiredness, wheezing, weight loss and if left untreated, can lead to death. The control of mosquitos is usually the best preventative measure.

 

Since pets do not sweat through the skin, extra baths during the summer months are not necessary or advised. The frequent use of shampoos and soaps – even those indicated for dogs and cats – remove the natural oiliness of their skin causing dermatological problems. In fact, the animals should only be bathed when they are really dirty and is important to keep the coat suitably dry. Wet hair attracts bacteria and fungi that can cause diseases called mycosis. If your dogs have long hair, the best option is to trim the hairs during the hot months. Seasonal trim provides a great relief ensuring a good hygiene.

 

Heat shock

Direct exposure to sunlight, especially when temperatures are high, should be avoided as much as possible. Often dogs suffer from heat shock, especially when they are left inside cars on hot days. The owners have the best intentions not to leave the animal at home alone, but as most stores do not allow dogs, and the most practical solution is to leave the animal “just a little” in the car. However, sometimes the time flies inside the shops particularly with air conditioning and the owner takes longer than normal… These distractions however can lead to serious problems that ultimately can cause the animal’s death. In hot days, the temperature inside the car can easily reach 60° C within few minutes? Exposure to heat causes initially an increase in the body temperature and dehydration. The animal will then show difficulty breathing, starts salivating, presents with anxiety, fever, dry skin, vomiting and bloody diarrhoea, and in extreme cases will suffer cardiac changes. If you notice these symptoms, remove the animal immediately from the sun and give him water to drink. Then try to lower his body temperature by wrapping him with moist towels or spraying him with warm water. Take all these precautions as calmly as possible. Avoid to pour cold water over his back as the shock created by different temperatures can be dangerous. Finally, take your pet to the veterinary immediately, since this is considerate an emergency.

 

Food Care

During the summer the food intake should be similar to the rest of the year. However, due to the heating, it is important to take extra care as food spoils quickly. Avoid leaving meals on the sun and remove them from the plate ideally after 30 minutes. It is also important to keep moist foods refrigerated until served and dry foods in cool, dry and ventilated places. It is normal that during hot weather, the animals have less appetite and are less energetic. This is generally normal behaviour and not a reason for concerned.

Always have fresh and clean water available for the animal to drink, making sure is it is kept away from the sun and is changed regularly.

 

Pay attention to the walks

In hot days, go for walks at the cooler hours of the day to avoid sunburn or burning of the paw caused by scorching floors. It is important to be well prepared if taken the animal for long walks. Animals should be physically well prepared before beginning a rigid exercise program. Forcing animals to a strong exercise beyond their physical capacity, especially in warm weather, can led to exhaustion. These are characterized by a rise in body temperature, cardio-respiratory problems, dehydration and potentially death. When walking puppies, take extra care as young animals can get tired very quickly. Puppies need a lot of rest to be able to allocate a lot of their energies to their grow. Also, if you have an old or obese animal that walk slowly, spare them from too much effort.

 

Image from stylemotions, pixabay.com

Beaches and pools …

Both swimming pools and beaches are places to avoid taking your dog. Dogs are often infected by a parasite called Ancylostoma caninum, that is eliminated by their stools and easily spread to people, causing skin problems. Children are particularly affected. If you are still keen to take your pet with you to the beach, make sure you deworm him beforehand.

It is also important to be careful when taking the dogs to swim in the sea or in swimming pools. Often dogs with drooping ears – where ventilation is less effective – suffer from ear infections due to water accumulation. To avoid these problems, place cotton in the ears before take the animal to the water. After swimming in the sea, is also important to wash their hair with fresh water to remove the salt, avoiding skin irritation.

Finally, always keep in mind that swimming pools are very dangerous places for dogs, as only a few animals can make their way up the vertical stairs. The vast majority, when dropped too long in the water will drown themselves from exhaustion. Further attention should be payed when dogs are accompanied by children in the pool as the animals may try to lean on the children causing them to drown.

 

Burns and skin cancer

It is important to take in consideration that the animal’s fur will not protect them from sunlight. All animals are at risk of developing sun burns and skin cancer. It is important to protect the dog from the sun whenever you take him to the beach. Avoid lying in the sun and always take fresh water with you so that the animal can drink whenever feels the need.

White-haired animals are particularly more susceptible to these diseases and extra care should be taken.

 

Ricardo Ribas

Veterinary doctor, doctorate in veterinary sciences and researcher in the area of oncology in London

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Your dog is pregnant? Learn how to prepare for the great moment…

Whilst is very important to take care with your pet during pregnancy, preparation for delivery is also crucial.

Photo from ulleo, pixabay.com

The day has arrived! Your dog is finally ready to give birth. Don’t know what to do? From gestation to delivery, learn all you need to make sure everything goes well.

The pregnancy in a dog lasts on average 63 days, but varies depending on the breed and the number of foetuses. If you have doubts about whether your dog is really pregnant, there are some signs that you should consider. As a rule, there is an increase in the volume of the belly and the breasts and the animal tends to becomes more docile and calmer, spending more time sleeping and resting. In addition, there is a gradual increase in appetite due to the higher demand of energy and nutrients necessary for the development of the embryos. From the second half of gestation, the dog starts showing a clear and viscous discharge.

During pregnancy

Once you suspect your dog is pregnant, you should take her to the vet to confirm the diagnosis and to make sure that everything is going well with the pregnancy. It is also important to keep an eye on the female throughout all this period and if she experiences any signs of sickness, vaginal bleeding or discharge, don’t wait to take her to the vet for advice.

Food is particularly essential during this period. Pregnant dogs need more calories and nutrients so it is important to make sure they ingest increasing amounts of protein as well as supplement in calcium, minerals and vitamins that are crucial for the embryo development. The veterinarian can recommend a good commercial food containing supplements specific for pregnant females. Also be aware that the total amount of food should increase gradually during pregnancy to the point that by the end of this period, the dog should be eating approximately 30 percent more food each day. It is also very important to have fresh and clean water always available. Finally, make sure the pregnant dog continues exercising, but avoiding strenuous or stressful activities particularly during the second half of the pregnancy.

The birth day approaches…

Before giving birth, it is very important that the future mother becomes familiar with the place where delivery will occur. You should prepare a wood or cardboard box with sufficient space for the female to be comfortable, allowing her to lie down and to stretch her legs. You can cover it with newspapers, which must be changed every day. It is also important to keep the box in a warm and quiet place so that the animal can feel comfortable. When the delivery time approaches, the female will show some restlessness, loss of appetite, thirst, frequent urination, fast breathing, pain symptoms and she will be looking at hot and dark places. Usually, delivery is a natural event, and the animal should be able to perform it on its own.

The time has come!!

The birth begins with the first abdominal contractions and finishes with the birth of the puppies and placenta expulsion. It should be up to the dog to choose the right place to give birth, and if she refuses to do it in the box, do not contradict her. Moreover, some females demand full attention from the owner during delivery, while others prefer to be on their own. In the later case, make sure you are attentive and keep an eye on her without her noticing.

They were born…

Once puppies are out, generally the mother breaks the umbilical cords with her teeth. If this does not happen, you can cut the umbilical cord with disinfected scissors at a distance of two to three centimetres from the puppie’s belly. Also make a ligature with a thick wire about one centimetre of the belly. Finally, disinfect the animals navel. It is natural for the mother to lick the puppies after birth to make sure they are clean and to stimulate their breathing. If this does not happen, rub the animals with a soft towel. If the puppies still not breathe or cry, hold them upside down so they can release the mucus from the throat and nostrils allowing them to start breathing.

The best food for the puppies

As soon as the pups are born, they should start sucking the first milk from the mother. The milk produced immediately after delivery is called colostrum and is very rich in a type of proteins called antibodies, that helps protecting the new-borns against diseases. If the puppies are having trouble getting to the mother breasts you can help them to reach them. Similarly, if the puppy is having difficulty breastfeeding you can use a bottle of milk powder. Cow’s milk is not recommended since it has ccomponents that are not digested by dogs, leading to diarrhoea. It is also important to take in consideration that during breastfeeding, the mother is spending a lot more energy so the amount of food intake should be increased.

One step independence

After delivery, the mother will want to remain in the box, going out only to eat, drink water, defecate and urinate. Little by little, she will spend less time with the puppies. Intensive contact with the offspring finishes with weaning which occurs approximately 30 days after delivery and coincides with the growth of the teeth. At this point, the puppies can start eating their own commercial foods.

6 alerts to take into account:

• During and after birth, avoid the contact of the female with males, as sometimes males can kill the puppies due to jealousy.

• Make sure you take the mother and puppies to the vet 24 hours after delivery to certify that everything is normal.

• If needed, the tails should be cut around the third day after delivery.

• Wait at least 50 days after delivery to separate the puppies from the mother and between each other because only at this point they learn to relate to other animals.

• Do not get surprised if the puppies are born with their hind legs first.

• It is normal for the mothers to eat dead dogs and placentas.

Out of Curiosity

Pregnancy durations vary widely within the animal kingdom. Here are some examples:

Mouse21 days
Rabbit31 days
Dog63 days
Cat63 days
Pig115 days
Sheep151 days
Goat151 days
Monkey164 days
Chimpanzee240 days
Gorilla257 days
Human280 days
Cow283 days
Horse336 days
Giraffe430 days
Whale535 days
Elephant617-645 days

By Ricardo Ribas

Veterinary, Doctorate in veterinary sciences and Researcher in the field of oncology

Can animals help finding the cure for cancer?

Image from AnnaliseArt, pixabay.com

By Ricardo Ribas

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a group of pathologies characterized by the abnormal and uncontrolled multiplication of the cells. Under normal conditions, cells grow and divide in a controlled and organized fashion to produce new healthy daughter cells, allowing the growth and regeneration of the body tissues. However, occasionally cells undergo changes turning them abnormal and with carcinogenic properties. In the majority of the cases, organisms have mechanisms capable of destroying and controlling the reproduction of these cells, but in some circumstances these defences fail allowing their multiplication and the formation of tumour masses. Cancer cells also have the ability to separate from the tumour and travel to other parts of the body through the blood and lymphatic system giving rise to secondary tumours which are called metastasis.

 

Cancer in animals

Cancer is not a disease unique to humans. Animals can also be affected by the disease and in some species with incidence rates similar to those found in the humans. This is the case of dogs and cats, in which cancer affects approximately 1 in 4 animals, being one of the main causes of death in these pets. Despite the fact that the prevalence of the disease has recently increased due to the increase in life expectancy, cancer is a very old disease known to have affected dinosaurs millions of years ago.

 

Both in humans and in animals, older cells are more prone to suffer alterations and to become cancerous, which is the reason why the incidence of the disease tends to increase with the age. For instance, in dogs and cats, cancer accounts for about 50% of deaths in animals over 10 years of age. However, other factors can also increase the risk of contracting the disease. For example, just like in humans, animals living with owners that smoke have a higher risk of developing certain types of nasal, oral, lung and lymphoma cancers, just as excessive sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer. It is also known that animals exposed to certain chemical agents, radiation and some viral infections, as well as bad diet and sedentary lifestyle have an increased risk of developing the disease.

 

Genetics and Cancer

Not only environmental factors are responsible for cancer. Genetics also play a very important role, reason why different species and breeds of animals possess different predispositions for certain types of cancer. It is known that the Tasmanian demons are the only animals affected by a type of facial tumour that is transmissible through physical contact. On the other hand, elephants show a much lower incidence of cancer compared to other species and humans even although they have many more cells. This is because elephants have several copies of a gene responsible for fighting cancer. Similarly, Greenland whales also have certain genetic mechanisms to prevent the onset of cancer. Nevertheless, one of the most interesting species on the planet are the naked mole-rats. Despite the fact that they live much longer than other rodents (sometimes surviving up to thirty years), naked mole-rats are immune to cancer. And scientists have discovered the reason why. This is because these animals produce a protein called hyaluronic acid, but in a version much bigger than the one produced by other species and humans. The presence of this big protein makes it very hard for the cells to aggregate to each other, making it very difficult to form tumours.

 

What are the most common types of cancer in animals?

In both dogs and cats, lymphoma is the most common form of cancer. Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affect the blood particularly the white blood cells (lymphocytes) and the lymph nodes. In dogs, lymphomas have genetic origin affecting predominantly breeds such as Boxer, Basset Hound, German Shepherd, Poodle, Bulldog, Rottweiler, St Bernard and Beagle. Labrador is the most susceptible breed affecting 1 in 8 animals. Conversely, in cats, lymphomas are usually associated with previous infections by certain viruses, which leads to the increased risk of developing this disease by more than 60 times. In both animals, the symptoms can be varied according to the organs affected and may include: swollen lymph nodes, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy as well as increased thirst and urination. Recently, a group of scientists discovered a type of lymphoma in clams, affecting the cells of their hemolymph (a fluid equivalent to mammalian blood) and usually leading to the death of these molluscs.

 

Skin cancer is also common in dogs and cats. Although it can affect any part of the body, it is most commonly found in areas around the eyes, ears, nose and mouth as well as areas with little hair, particularly in light-skinned and hairless animals. Similar to the humans, the main cause of the disease is the exaggerated sun exposure. The animal initially presents irritation in the skin that progresses to crusts, loss of hair, difficulty in healing and reddish bumps on the skin. In more advanced states, it can lead to the development of bleeding ulcers, the destruction of nearby bone tissues and metastasis to the lymph nodes and lungs which may culminate in the death of the animal. However, not only mammals can suffer from skin cancer. Recently, scientists have observed the presence of melanomas in a population of coral trout that inhabit the great barrier off the Australian coast. This is the result of the increased exposure to high levels of ultraviolet radiation due to the large hole in the layer of ozone in this region.

 

Another type of cancer that commonly affects pets is breast cancer. This type of cancer affects predominantly elderly females that have not been castrated. In particular, Siamese cats are at high risk. It is important for the owner to be aware of signs of breast cancer such as the presence of hard lumps around the nipples, skin ulceration and the presence of swollen or inflamed nipples. The veterinarian can confirm the diagnosis by taking a biopsy.

 

Although less frequently, many other cancers can affect pets. Bone cancers are relatively common in dogs of large breeds and sometimes amputation is the only appropriate treatment. Also cancers located in the lungs, thyroid and liver are relatively common in older animals, but, any organ can be affected.

 

Future Prospects

The good news is that due to the great efforts and scientific developments of recent years, approximately half of all cancers diagnosed in pets are curable if they are identified early. Therefore, the awareness of the owners for this group of pathologies is essential to allow an early detection and appropriate treatment in order to prevent the progression and metastisation of the disease.

 

Encouragement of scientific research is of paramount importance to continue to provide better knowledge of cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment strategies in humans and animals. Possibly a better understanding of the defence mechanisms used by elephants, Greenland whales or naked mole-rats, may allow us to develop new strategies to combat the disease so that in the future no human or animal will die of cancer.

 

By Ricardo Ribas

Veterinary doctor, doctorate in veterinary sciences and Researcher in the field of oncology

When immunity goes wrong!

Image from mohamed_hassan (pixabay.com)

The immune system is the part of the body responsible for the defence and protection against diseases and infections. Under normal conditions, it is able to detect and attack external agents (such as bacteria, viruses, toxic substances, etc.) and to distinguish them from the healthy tissues of the organism. However, in certain cases, and for unknown reasons, the immune system does not recognize its own tissues and begins to attack healthy cells. This set of pathologies are called autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases are characterized by a variety of symptoms depending on the organ affected but it is known that both environmental and genetic factors play a preponderant role in the origin of these diseases.

 

Allergies are another type of diseases that involve the immune system. These are characterized by an excessive and disproportionate response of the immune system to substances or particles normally harmless to the body, called allergens. Allergies have been increasing in prevalence in the last decades, particularly in industrialized countries, emphasizing the importance of scientific research to better help us understanding these diseases.

 

Similarly to the humans, both allergies and autoimmune diseases can also affect animals. In dogs and cats, allergies are extremely frequent and are usually caused by agents similar to those that cause allergies in humans, such as pollen, dust, plants, certain foods, insect bites or chemicals such as medicines, perfumes or cleaning products, etc. The symptoms can vary according to the allergen, often leading to itching; inflammation of the skin, ears or legs; watery eyes; sneezing; vomiting and diarrhoea; coughing and difficulty breathing. The best remedy for the allergies is to reduce exposure to the allergen, but there are also some medicines available in the market, such as antihistamines, to help reduce the symptoms. Even though any animal can suffer from allergies, some breeds of dogs are more susceptible, such as Terriers, Setters, Retrievers, Pugs and Bulldogs.

 

Autoimmune diseases are usually less frequent but more serious than allergies. The symptoms are diverse according to the part of the body that is attacked by the immune system. For instance, hypothyroidism is a condition in which immune cells attack the thyroid, the organ responsible for regulating the organism’s metabolism. Animals suffering from this condition appear lethargic, lazy and gain weight, and in certain cases, if it affects the muscles of the head and muzzle, it makes them shrink, giving the appearance of sadness. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia is another example of a devastating autoimmune disease, primarily affecting healthy animals. In this condition, the immune system destroy the blood cells and the animal have pale gums, lethargy and intense tiredness. In extreme cases, it is necessary to carry on blood transfusions or administer medicines to suppress the immune system. Female dogs from breeds such as Cocker Spaniels and Water-dogs are particularly susceptible to this pathology. Thrombocytopenia is an autoimmune disease that attacks platelets, the blood components that promote coagulation and stop bleeding. Initially, the symptoms are subtle such as presence of bruises in areas such as the gums, ears and belly, but if remained untreated with suppressors of the immune system, the disease can lead to severe haemorrhage in the lungs. Female from Water-dog breed are particularly vulnerable.

Other autoimmune diseases can affect the skin causing hair loss, whilst others can affect the muscles leading generalized and abnormal weakness and fatigue. Masticatory myopathy is a specific autoimmune disease that affect particularly the chewing muscles.

 

Like humans, dogs, cats and horses can also suffer from Lupus, a generalized autoimmune disease that affects several organs simultaneously. The symptoms are very diverse according to the organ affected but can include arthritis, alopecia, high temperature, anemia, loss of appetite and loss of weight. Shepherd Germans and Water-Dogs as well as cats from Siamese, Persian and Himalayan are among the most affected breeds.

 

Besides dogs and cats, also horses, pigs and cattle can suffer from allergies and autoimmune diseases, and even chickens can experience autoimmune hypothyroidism.

 

Awareness of the pet owners for this set of diseases is essential to enable early detection and appropriate treatment.

 

Dr. Ricardo Ribas, PhD

Veterinary doctor, doctorate in veterinary sciences and researcher in the area of oncology.

When animals get Dementia…

Image from yandrymildred, pixabay.com

The nervous system is the part of the body responsible for the coordination of actions and behaviours. To achieve that, it uses a complex network of nerves and cells responsible to transmit messages between the brain, the spinal cord and the other parts of the body. The cells responsible for this are called neurons and have properties that allow them to transmit very rapid and precise signals to the other cells in the body.

 

Nervous systems are present in most multicellular animals, with the exception of the sponges and very small “bloblike” organisms. But the nervous system varies a lot in complexity between the animals. Just like humans, animals are born with a fixed number of neurons and with the exception of the elephant, humans have the largest number of neurons in their body (approximately 100 billion), followed by gorillas (33 billion) and chimpanzees (22 billion). Cats and dogs have approximately 800 and 160 million neurons, respectively. One characteristic of the neurons is their inability to divide or multiply, resulting in progressive loss as the animal gets old. This is usually the result of natural ageing processes, but in some cases, neurons can be destroyed at a faster rate than normal resulting in neurodegenerative diseases. These are debilitating and incurable pathologies characterized by a progressive and irreversible destruction of the neurons.

 

Recently, the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases has been rising in humans and domestic animals mainly as a result of the new scientific advances in medicine and subsequent increase in life expectancy. But not all neurodegenerative diseases occur in the elderly. Some are hereditary and can affect young animals and children.

Currently, there is no cure for these diseases and the only therapies available are designed to delay cell death and slow down disease progression. Consequently, early detection of the symptoms is of paramount importance to prevent disease progression. Nonetheless, the diagnosis becomes more difficult in animals, given that the symptoms are less obvious than in humans.

 

Many neurodegenerative diseases are very similar between humans and animals. For instance, dogs and cats can often suffer from a type of dementia equivalent to the Alzheimer’s disease in humans called “cognitive dysfunction syndrome”. Just like in humans, this pathology tends to affect predominantly elderly animals and is a result of the accumulation of a protein (beta-amyloid) that is toxic to the brain. With the time, this neurotoxin form deposits that will cause changes in the brain and slowdown of the mental function, resulting in alterations in behaviour and in the daily routines. The animals often lose memory and experience walking problems, incontinence, anxiety, aggressiveness, changes in sleeping patterns and disorientation in familiar places. Cats can also suffer from excessive night-time vocalization. Currently, it is not possible to stop or regress the progression of this disease and the treatments are designed solely to reduce the animal symptoms.

 

Equally, animals can suffer from a disease similar to Parkinson’s in the humans, characterized by tremors, difficulty in walking and balancing, muscle stiffness and slowness. However, whist in humans this disease is more frequent in older people, in animals, this condition tends to affect mainly young animals. This is because in the animals, this is often a result of a hereditary condition, caused by a mutation in an important protein called dopamine. Dopamine is responsible to transmit the nervous signals, so once mutated, causes problems with the animal’s movement. Since all mammals produce dopamine, this condition can affect many species such as dogs, cats, horses, rabbits and monkeys. However, it is rare in older animals, because the majority of the species don’t live long enough to reach old age.

 

Finally, pets can also suffer from pathologies similar to the “multiple sclerosis” and “amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” (ALS) in humans. In dogs, this is called “degenerative myelopathy” and is a genetic and progressive disease strongly associated with a mutation in a protein. Once mutated, the protein starts destroying the nerve cells, causing weakening of the hind limbs that can progress to total loss of limb function and incontinence. This pathology is most frequent in adult and large dogs, particularly breeds of Rotweiller, German Shepherd, Siberian Husky, Collie and Labrador, but it is rare in cats.

 

It is therefore of paramount importance that the owners are aware and attentive to changes in behaviour and symptoms in their pets, to help dealing effectively with the problems that may arise from these pathologies, allowing a happier and healthier life.

 

Ricardo Ribas, PhD

Veterinary doctor, doctorate in veterinary sciences and researcher in the area of oncology

Diabetes: Animals with sugary blood

Image from andremsantana in Pixabay.com

Diabetes is a very old disease, firstly described in records written back to the Egyptian times. It is a common but complex pathology characterized by the abnormal rise of the sugar levels in the blood. After eating, the food is broken down and converted into a type of sugar called glucose. Glucose is then transported by the blood to the different organs to be used as a source of energy by the cells. But for the glucose to get inside the cells it needs the help of a hormone called insulin. Insulin is produced in the pancreas and diabetes takes place when the pancreas loses the ability to produce insulin or when the cells fail to respond adequately to it. In both cases, glucose is not capable to enter the cells resulting in an abnormal accumulation and increase of the levels of glucose in the blood. Most importantly, and if not controlled, this can bring serious complications and can even result in death. 

There are two types of diabetes. The type 1, or insulin-dependent, occurs when the cells from the pancreas do not produce any insulin, whereas the type 2, also named as insulin-independent, occurs when either the cell from the pancreas produce a reduced amount of insulin or when the cells of the organism do not respond adequately to the hormone. 

But diabetes is not a pathology unique to humans. All mammals produce and need insulin to be able to carry glucose inside the cells, so diabetes can affect a broad range of animals, such as monkeys, pigs, sheep or horses. Nevertheless, dogs and cats are the most afflicted by the disease affecting as much as 1 in 100 animals. Not surprisingly, studies have suggested that the incidence of diabetes has been rising in recent decades. This is mainly the result of the recent rise in life expectancy as well as the increase of unhealthy lifestyles in pets due to their closer proximity with human. Changes in diet, obesity and reduced physical activity are increasing risk factors accounting for the recent surge in number of cases observed in pets.

However, just like in humans, genetics can also increase the risk of the animals to suffer from certain types of pancreatic and immunologic diseases. For example, in humans, type 1 diabetes tends to affect more frequently Europeans, particularly those from northern Europe, whereas black and Asian individuals are at lower risk of contracting the disease. Equally, animals of different breeds undergo distinct risks for the disease. For instance, dogs from breeds such as Samoiedo, Terrier, Schnauzer, Collie and Poodle, as well as the Burmese cats, are more likely to suffer from diabetes than Boxers, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers, who present low risk. Sex also plays a major role. Whilst in dogs, the females are more susceptible to diabetes, in cats are the males the most affected. But it is not just in terms of sex that dogs and cats differ. Whilst almost all cases of diabetes in dogs are type 1; the vast majority of cases in cats are type 2 (80-95%), similarly to what happens with humans. 

It is therefore very important to raise the owner’s awareness for the symptoms of diabetes in their pets. Unfortunately, just like in humans, the symptoms of diabetes in animals is very unspecific, making it difficult to diagnose the disease. Animals often show an excessive increase in hunger, thirst and in the volume and frequency of urination together with weight loss. In more advanced cases animals can suffer from blindness caused by cataracts (characterised by opacity in the eyes). The sooner the diagnosis is made, the better the prognosis, but unfortunately, most owners are only aware of the condition when it is already at an advanced stage and hospitalization is usually the only option. Nonetheless, in most cases, once blood glucose levels are lowered, the animal can return home. Daily insulin injections as well as exercise and proper diet are generally effective measures to control the disease and prevent future complications. 

It is important to understand that once regulated and monitored, many diabetic animals can live a happy and healthy life. 

Diabetes in Normal and Natural Conditions  
Recent studies have shown that some animals can also use “diabetes” in normal and natural conditions. That seems to be the case for the Grizzly Bears. During spring, they respond normally to insulin to prevent the breakdown of the fat tissue, but once hibernation starts, their insulin stops working and they become insulin-resistant to allow the breakdown of their fat storages throughout the winter. Once hibernation terminates, the insulin recovers and restarts working normally. Similar mechanisms have been seen in dolphins indicating they can also make themselves resistant to insulin during periods of fasting being able to switch diabetes “on and off”. 

Ricardo Ribas, PhD 
Veterinary doctor, doctorate in veterinary sciences and researcher in the area of oncology

Animals with a Broken Heart!!

Image by Mohamed Hassan, pixabay.com

Cardiovascular diseases are pathologies that affect the heart and the blood vessels (veins, arteries or capillaries). Similarly to humans, the incidence of these diseases has been increasing in animals, mainly as a result to the recent advances in medicine and subsequent rise in life expectancy.

The majority of cardiovascular diseases in dogs and cats are the result of old age, usually attributed to the natural aging of the heart and the blood vessels, but in some cases also caused by injury and infection. Examples include myocardial disease (weakening of the heart muscle), cardiac arrhythmias or valvular problems (characterised by the deterioration of the heart valves, not allowing them to totally close). Nevertheless, cardiovascular diseases can also have a genetic origin. These are rare and tend to affect younger individuals, often leading to further health issues and increased susceptibility to other diseases. 

However, the prevalence of these pathologies are not the same in all species. For instance, certain animals are resistant to a diet-induced blood vessel disease called atherosclerosis, characterised by the narrowing or blockade of arteries due to the buildup of plaques made of fat, cholesterol or calcium, showing the importance of the genetic component in some of these diseases. On the other hand, the prevalence of certain types of congenital heart malformations also seem to differ between species. For example, it is known that the blood pressure is higher in giraffes and turkeys than in other species. Also some irregularities in the heart beating are normal characteristics in dogs, horses and moles but can have serious consequences in other animals. Furthermore, the incidence of these diseases also vary between breeds. For example, certain breeds of pigeons have a higher incidence of atherosclerosis than others, whilst some breeds of turkey are more prone to suffer from high blood pressure. Equally, some congenital heart diseases are known to be more common in purebred dogs, such as Boxers, German Shepherds and male Cocker Spaniels.

As well as in humans, animals can also live with heart disease for long periods without showing any symptoms, hence early diagnosis is essential to delay the onset of these. Symptoms can emerge either slowly or suddenly after intense exercise, and in some occasions can even be fatal. Dogs and cats are susceptible to heart disease at any age, so it is important for owners to be alert to symptoms such as tiredness, intolerance to exercise, dry cough, shortness of breath, weight loss, abdominal bloating or loss of consciousness (fainting) caused by the lack of blood reaching the brain. More rarely, animals can also show signs of swelling of the legs, jaundice (yellow eyes, skin or mucous membranes) and cough with blood. 

In addition to heart diseases, older animals are also susceptible to pathologies affecting the blood vessels. For example, hypertension is a common problem in cats that suffer from hyperthyroidism or kidney disease and can lead to the formation of blood clots potentially resulting in cerebral ischemia, usually referred as stroke. Stroke happens when there is a disruption in blood supply to parts of the brain. This can lead to a variety of symptoms depending on the area of the brain affected as well as the severity of the incident. As well as in humans, animals can also suffer from two types of stroke: ischemic (caused by reduced blood supply) or hemorrhagic (caused by accumulation of blood). Ischemic stroke occurs when a clot of blood or other material is lodged in a vessel, blocking the blood from reaching certain areas of the brain and leading to cell death. Hemorrhagic stroke is less common and occurs when a vessel ruptures, normally as a result of trauma or disease, damaging the cells due to excess blood inside the skull. The symptoms of stroke in pets are usually sudden but can vary depending on the location and the severity. It is therefore important for the owner to be alert to symptoms such as inability to move, incoordination, head tilt, abnormal eye movements, blindness, convulsions, loss of consciousness or behavioural changes.

The prevention of cardiovascular diseases is therefore of paramount importance. Healthy eating and regular exercise are key to keep the animal in good physical condition. On the other hand, it is important that the owners are aware and attentive to any symptomatology in order to allow an early detection and prevent problems that may arise, enabling a happier and healthier life. 

by Ricardo Ribas, PhD

Veterinary doctor, doctorate in veterinary sciences and researcher in the area of oncology